IndyCar Driver Q&A from St. Petersburg

Team Penske

Penske Drivers answer questions

Josef Newgarden
Will Power
Simon Pagenaud

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We are joined now by the three members of Team Penske. Starting with Mr. Simon Pagenaud.

Simon, here we are, another 2018 season in St. Pete. You're on a team with two other series champions, including yourself. What do you think it's going to take your particular car to win the championship this season?

SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, hi, everybody. Welcome to a new season. I guess it's always awesome to be here because it's such a beautiful place, great weather, and we got new cars. Very excited.

I think all three of us have done a great job working on the car, trying to understand how to make it better for which tracks. Temperature, it seems to be quite sensitive to temperature. So we'll see if it's a hot weekend, it could be quite interesting.

Personally, the 22 team, we've got quite a few new members on the car. We have to work on pit stops. Personally just keep doing my thing, working into details as much as possible.

IndyCar is all about details. As a racer, it takes a long time to perfect every single thing to win a race. I think that's why when you win it's so rewarding. That's all we're going to keep trying to do. Hopefully it wins us another championship.

But hopefully we keep it in the house and win another one for Team Penske.

THE MODERATOR: Josef Newgarden, our reigning series champion.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Josef, we've seen it everywhere, that Defend the 1 slogan you've been working with throughout the off-season, defending that championship, moving over to the No. 1 car in a that honorary role reserved for the season champion.

St. Pete hasn't been unkind to you, but two top-10 finishes is where you currently stand. How important is it to you to get the season off to a good start in St. Pete?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It's important. I think just to start with that, you got to have a good first weekend. Doesn't have to be a win. We'd like to win the race here. Obviously it would be good to come out with that to start the season. But I think just having a smooth, clean weekend is really critical to kind of get you going for the full season. Just helps you come out of the gates, helps everyone feel pretty good about what you're going to do this year.

I think that's our goal, to be clean throughout the weekend. If we have the speed for the win, we're going to try to do that.

There's a lot of new variables. It's a whole new car. The aero kit is completely different. The engine is completely different. Like Simon said, we've been working closely with everyone to get the details right. Particularly on the engine, it's fun working with Chevrolet trying to maximize what we have. I think we feel pretty good about what Chevy has been able to deliver for us this season. Certainly they've been rock solid over the last six years, winning six manufacturers championships in a row, it's pretty impressive.

I think we have the speed. Hopefully that rings true in the first session, we see that. We certainly feel good about the reliability, the engine, the mileage we can get out of those engines.

It all starts with that, trying to get that package right, figuring out the aero kit too and, to boot, just being able to run. Hitachi is pretty good. I've always been a little jealous of Helio, running the Hitachi car. I always thought it was a really cool car. Getting the honor to drive that this year with the No. 1, it's pretty cool. Hopefully we have a good weekend and a great 2018.

THE MODERATOR: Joined also by Will Power.

Will, you're sitting here next to the past two series champions. You have something that they maybe don't heading into St. Pete, which is at least a mastery of qualifying here at St. Petersburg. Seven of the last eight poles. Your thoughts on heading into this weekend and getting back into that title position.

WILL POWER: Yeah, I would give up a few of them for some wins. But, yeah, obviously we have good cars around here. I think the last couple years it's been Penske 1-2-3-4 actually. Obviously we have the right package.

But this year, very different car, different aero package. I think we're all kind of anticipating what that might feel like. I think it's tough when you test at Sebring because it's such a high-grip track, you don't really get a taste of what it will be like here.

With Team Penske, three very experienced drivers, we seem to get on top of things pretty quickly. So I expect us to be right up there this weekend.

Chevrolet has done a lot of work in the off-season, what we think was a bit of a gap with Honda. It's hard to tell with the body kits, but we'll know this weekend.

Yeah, I'm looking forward to it. I'm more ready for this season than I have been for any season for a long time. Yeah, really looking forward to it.

Actually I've been drilling Newgarden on the rower. He's trying to keep up with me. As you can see, he's built his muscles up some more, but he still can't get me. We've been pushing each other pretty hard. He rows out of shirt, mind you.

Is that all the info you guys need (laughter)?

THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. Noticing how bulked up you seem, do you have a championship new workout regime or if you did this for the Penske Games?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: It's a new year, a new me. So, yes. I don't have a new workout book coming out like Danica. I'm working on it for the years to come.

It's funny, because Will is joking. It's been very competitive this off-season with the fitness. We've been talking about the rower, who can do what on the rower. Will seems to think he's very fast at running now, so we're going to have to have a running competition from what I understand in the next week or so. It is fun.

The Penske Games, it's fun when you get all of us together for six or eight hours. Some people don't last very well for six hours together. I think some of the NASCAR guys were getting a little tired towards the end. Yeah, they weren't ready for the full day.

Everyone is super competitive. Like you can tell they're all racecar drivers because they're very competitive until they understand they're not going to win at something, then they just lose all interest in that particular game.

But they are fun to do. We all have a good time. We all get along. I think between just us on the IndyCar side, we have a good working relationship, which really I think is what helps our performance so much. We always talk about it, but I think that's a critical key to why we're so quick, because we work well together, get the most out of each other.

Q. (No microphone.)
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, the cloning part has been quite interesting. It's just changing suits sometimes. I have to prepare my bag for sure, think about it.

No, it's been great. Actually there's more to come in the Games. I think you guys are going to love it. I personally love it. I suck at it, but I love it. I think because I'm so bad at it, actually people love it. So thank you for the support because I definitely didn't do too good again this year.

It's awesome. I think it was a great idea from the marketing team at Team Penske. I think it's a great way to show our personalities, who we really are. It's the only time that you can be yourself. It's more in the action than the words. I think it's really cool. We actually love doing it. It took us several days of filming. Some NASCAR boys were antsy to go home, but we made it.

Q. You guys lost seven races last year as a team.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Thanks for reminding us (laughter).

Q. Now you have a new car. How can you improve on that? Is the new car an advantage or disadvantage?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think the new car is an opportunity. It's an opportunity for us to do a better job at figuring it out quicker because 2018 is going to be kind of who figures it out the quickest. Whoever comes out of the gate really strong I think will have a strong chance for the championship.

So new car, new dynamics, trying to figure out a new setup. It's not as easy as it looks. Even with all this pre-season testing we've done, you don't exactly know what you're going to need at St. Pete, you don't know what you're going to need at Barber, the GP, Road America. Every weekend I think you're going to see people experimenting with setups, taking big jumps, trying to figure it out. Hopefully we do our homework and can capitalize on that better.

I think we have a good working relationship where we can figure things out really quickly on a race weekend. If we can do that, yeah, maybe we can improve on our win count from last year, not lose seven races.

But I thought we were pretty good last year. I thought we did a pretty good job. We all worked together. We lost a couple, but we still got it done as a team at the end of the day. If we do the same thing, I think we'll all be happy with it.

WILL POWER: We lost seven races, but that's not bad, to be honest. Pretty much what Josef said. It's going to be about working this car out as quick as you can. I don't think it's going to be about fine-tuning on the race weekend. It's going to be finding a philosophy that actually works with the car.

Yeah, I think in our situation that's good because so much experience within our team, not only with drivers, but engineers, everyone. We have a lot of resources.

Yeah, I think it will be a way more competitive championship just simply because everyone has exactly the same car. I don't think you'll see the same guys in the Fast Six week in, week out, in qualifying. I think it's going to be very mixed up, very mixed up. It's going to be one of those sort of years.

I also think there will be a lot more yellows because you can follow so much closer. It will kind of be like the DW12 days, which mixed up the races a lot. I think it will be an exciting season for fans, absolutely.

Q. Given the higher degradation of the tires, does that mean that in qualifying you're only ever going to be able to get one really hot lap out of the reds?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: For me it's track to track. I think we'd all agree on that. If you're talking Barber or Sonoma, yeah, it's one lap pretty much. But I think around St. Pete here, actually the quick lap was the third lap. I don't think that will change dramatically. The lap you were able to produce the best time at Sebring was very similar, so I think the buildup — I don't think it's going to be too far off.

There's tracks where it's one lap, you have to nail it. At Sonoma, you'll probably see a little bit more deg towards the end of that first lap than you did last year. The tires seem to go off pretty quick at Sonoma. You will be working towards sort of those difficulties.

But I don't think it's going to be a huge shift where it's one lap at St. Pete. I think you'll have a couple buildup laps to the peak performance of the tires.

Q. Will, since you've been there longer than those two, what is it like without Helio?
WILL POWER: Well, he's actually here this weekend. He's still there. He's parked right next to me. We'll have to see if it goes on.

I think Josef kind of takes his spot as far as energy and loudness in the engineering office. Although Helio wasn't that loud in the engineering office. He would jut sit there and plod away. You are like, Well, the car is like that. Very, very animated. But it works. That's how he won the championship. He just distracted us enough that we never got our cars right and he did (laughter). I'm going to have to start being real loud and obnoxious.

Q. So not much has changed without Helio?
WILL POWER: Yeah.

Q. Less hair gel?
WILL POWER: Yeah, definitely less hair gel. Newgarden, he worries about his hair a bit. Not like Helio.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Helio, oh my gosh, if you've ever seen Helio's toiletry bag. First off, he has two. There's not just one. One of them is just filled with, like, hair product. That's it. I mean, he's got like a regimen to take care of that thing. It's impressive, okay? That's all I'll say.

Q. I don't know how much you guys followed Daytona and Speedweeks, but Penske was in a position, they won the first two races, 1-2 in two races, and Roger was asked several times what is the expectation when teammates have a chance to win the race. You guys in IndyCar, that comes down between two guys more than it does in NASCAR. What is your understanding from Roger when it's teammates racing? What is the understanding of how it's supposed to go?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I think it's pretty clear. I think we're allowed to race. That's also what is attractive for a driver that comes to drive for Team Penske. We are allowed to race as hard as we can as long as we don't take each other out. It would not be a pretty sight to see two Penske cars in the wall together. That's something we have to keep in mind.

At the end of the day we also have to keep in mind that we have to work together all year long, for many, many years to come hopefully. So that's where it lies. That's where we have to be professionals. But we're allowed to race.

We're probably going to race for the championship, all three of us. At the end of the day, every point counts.

Q. Will, you mentioned a few minutes ago you can't really learn too much from Sebring. About an hour from now, what sort of things are you going to be sensitive to because it's game-on now?
WILL POWER: I think the track will be pretty green to start with. You can't put too much weight on the first session. You'll just start the process of what you go through heading into qualifying, kind of understanding what the biggest issues are with the car, you know, whether that's very loose on entry, a lot of understeer, whatever it may be, then you just start down the track of trying different things that might work for that.

Yeah, I mean, on a street course, it's always a slow process over the weekend because it just grips up so much, which can really change the way the car behaves.

Q. Will, I remember at the end of the season at Sonoma you said with the universal kit coming onboard you'll never see that level of downforce again. You seemed very reflective and disappointed you're not going to run a car with that much downforce. With this new universal kit, drivers will have to adapt. Do you see that making a difference between one driver's ability and another? Do you think we'll see more spread or variation? How about between the three of you, who do you think is going to adjust the best?
WILL POWER: Honestly, I think it will be a tighter field just simply because everybody has the same car. The car in a way is a bit easier to drive because you haven't got all that weight back there. When it gets loose, it's easier to catch.

I think everyone just adapts to what the driving style is of the car. I mean, a good driver is a good driver because he's adaptable. I don't think it's going to separate the competition all that much. Honestly, it's turned it, simply because of what they did with the weight, a more nimble racecar, which is easier to drive and predict, a lot more fun to drive.

Q. (No microphone.)
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, I think it's a great car that you can really manipulate with the brakes, the steering, to get the balance you want to get. I think also having less downforce, obviously the balance through the corner has a tendency to shift more. You notice it more because you have less grip. You're going to see more power slides out of the corners. I think on ovals we're going to start seeing a little bit of a slide, too. Phoenix, I had a blast personally. I thought the formula was really awesome.

I've had some good cars in my career. In Le Mans, for example, those cars were pretty phenomenal. I think the IndyCar, the last three years, were incredible to drive on the one lap, one car on track. From a racing standpoint, I think this is a better formula simply because we have less downforce, less wake behind the other cars, and it's easier to follow.

That's the thing, IndyCar is staying true to its value. We want good racing, a good show. That's what we're all about. So I welcome that.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.

SPM Drivers

Harvey and Wickens
Harvey and Wickens

Jack Harvey
Robert Wickens

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined by two members of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. Unfortunately James Hinchcliffe was pulled away very last minute for a competition obligation. We'll keep you posted on his availability throughout the weekend.

We are joined by Jack Harvey and Robert Wickens.

Robby, I know in all of the media availabilities you've been having throughout your announcement, you've been saying, I'm just waiting for this moment to get to St. Pete, to finally get my chance in IndyCar.

Now that it's here, how are your thoughts heading into St. Petersburg this weekend?

ROBERT WICKENS: Not a whole lot has changed. Actually my first time even in the city of St. Pete. It's a nice town, nice weather, good views.

But, no, the big thing, like I've been saying all along, now we're only an hour and a bit away from the first official session of the season.

I feel prepared. I feel relaxed. I feel excited to just get into it, yeah, get stuck in, as you would.

THE MODERATOR: We are also joined by Jack Harvey.

I know you've had a few opportunities in IndyCar so far, obviously some time up in the Mazda Road to Indy ladder system as well. Looking forward to this weekend in particular, kind of the start of something new for you. Your thoughts heading into the weekend, as well?

JACK HARVEY: I've been lucky. I've been here a few times in Indy Lights. First time I came here was my first race in North America. It was also my first podium. Followed up in '15 with two more podiums. St. Pete has traditionally been kind to me, at least in the past bit it has anyway.

I think the new thing about this year coming with Michael Shank Racing in partnership with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, we're still a new team. The expectations for the year I think are going to be somewhat modest but I think achievable and realistic.

I think, as Robby said, it's nice to be at the first race. We've done not that much, but an intensive testing program to get us here. Seems like everything has gone well. We've progressed every day, which is really the main thing for us.

We're going to run a selected schedule. Really it's just trying to do the best we can with what we've got. Honestly at the end of the year trying to give everybody a headache as to how do we get in the car full-time. First part of that puzzle is having a good weekend here.

THE MODERATOR: (No microphone.)

JACK HARVEY: I guess James would have been the perfect person to ask this question to. I drove the body kit. I haven't got completely comfortable with it, become normal to me. So going from the old car to the new car for me, it was a little bit of a change.

Didn't have that much experience in it, so it was kind of easy to just jump in the new car, take the new car on the chin, kind of see exactly what its characteristics were.

I think that's probably a little bit of an advantage in some ways. Obviously I take the experience and have to adapt a little bit.

But, yeah, James is probably the best person to answer that because he has the experience of several variations in IndyCars.

ROBERT WICKENS: I think in terms of this weekend, it's going to be interesting. On ovals, when we did the open test in Phoenix, the last hour was kind of an unofficial pack session: everyone put fuel in, go drive around with other people to see how the car reacted in traffic.

But in testing, private testing, stuff like that, whatever it's called, in Sebring and Sonoma, stuff like that, you're so busy working on your car setup, you don't really go find another car to get really close behind. You might catch someone on cold tires that eventually moves out of your way. We haven't raced really on a road course yet with this kit. I think it's going to be unmarked territory for everybody.

What we've learned on the ovals, the car really, like, sucks up in the draft a lot better than the old one. That's an indication there's probably going to be a decent amount of passing into turn one. If you get a good run, I feel like it's even better with this new kit.

THE MODERATOR: Questions.

Q. Personal expectations of what this season looks like for each one of you?
ROBERT WICKENS: I think for me, just constantly improving is kind of all I want to really do. The best-case scenario for me would be to walk away from this weekend with a top 10 in any form, whether it be 10th or obviously better.

But one little goal I made for myself in my rookie season is just try to complete as many laps as possible. From what I learned from my off-season studies of YouTube and everything else in IndyCar, you have to be there at the end of the race. These races are so long, there's kind of inconvenient yellow flags that you can't control. As long as you can put yourself in a decent spot in the last stint, I think that's all you can really ask for in your rookie season.

Hopefully we can start getting consistent top 10s, then you get the odd top five, consistent top fives, the odd podium. I think it can work forward that way.

As long as I can look back on the season and be happy with what I've done, hopefully not make too many stupid mistakes, I think that would be a success.

Q. Why is 2018 such a good year to come in as a rookie driver?
ROBERT WICKENS: To be honest, I think every scenario is different. Me speaking from my experience, 2018 was a good year because of two reasons. One, my previous job with Mercedes and DCM, they were stopping, like, in their championship at the end of 2018, so I kind of had to look for a new job anyway. I had some connections with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports from driving in Road America. Then with the new 2018 aero kit coming in, as a rookie, it's just one less disadvantage that you have. Everyone has to learn this aero kit together.

As a rookie, you have to learn the Firestone tires, the tracks, you have to learn how a race weekend works. If this was 2017, you have to learn the car that everybody else has been driving for a while.

Now it's more or less a brand-new aero kit configuration for everyone. That eliminated one disadvantage that a rookie had. That was why it was appealing.

The championship is on the rise. It's exciting, it's sexy. The new car looks great. I think the added attention just proves that.

Q. (No microphone.)
ROBERT WICKENS: To be honest, for a while there I kind of never thought I was going to get back in an open-wheel car. To be fully honest, I didn't really mind that idea. I was really happy where I was with Mercedes and DCM. Then circumstances changed and now I'm doing my childhood dream.

As a kid, I grew up watching IndyCar on TV. My hero growing up was Greg Moore. Then obviously I followed The PLAYERS team very closely. When I raced here last in North America in 2007, I raced with Forsythe. I had that Canadian history. I lived a tiny bit of my childhood dream.

Now to be back in North America is amazing. Driving an open-wheel car for the first time in almost seven years took a bit to get used to. Driving in a closed cockpit for so long, I forgot, like, what the wind really sounded like when you're going 200 something miles an hour. That took some getting used to, my head buffeting all over the place. The fresh air was nice. Apart from that, it took a lot of getting used to.

Q. (Question regarding the new car and getting the right setup.)
JACK HARVEY: Probably trial and error, I guess. Every driver has a particular feeling they're getting from their feet, their hands and their backside to then try and translate that to the team.

Really what you're looking at are changes that can make you feel comfortable, then changes that can make you fast. Sometimes a comfortable change, you feel better, but your lap time stays the same. I think that's honestly just working relationship between driver and engineer, engineer to driver, on-track performance, what's changing really.

I think we're both lucky that James has a good handle on last year's car this, year's car. Although there's a lot of new differences and new changes in the SPM engineering office this year, there's still a foundation of people who were there from last year, bouncing ideas off each other, three cars to test.

I know I come to the party a little bit late in testing, but already feel like we're contributing something. I think that's what's nice about this program. We went to Sebring first time with three cars and you can kind of delegate setup changes, then you come back together at the end of the day to see what was good, see what everybody else liked, what did I like, what did we dislike. All of those things kind of create a new direction or path to follow, experimenting.

Well, hopefully we'll have a good weekend and hopefully our testing has gone well and we see some results this weekend.

ROBERT WICKENS: What he said.

No, I mean, he did cover a lot of it. The big thing, like, I think what a lot of people don't understand is, like, 80 to 90 percent of the work is done before the race even gets there. It's all the work we've done in testing, it's all the simulation stuff that the engineers are running continuously every day 9 to 5, Monday to Friday, to find the optimum setup. Then you run it in practice and hope it correlates well and you have a well-balanced car.

But what makes or breaks your race weekend in any championship I've ever driven is doing your first practice with a well-balanced car. To do that you have to do everything in line, everything working properly before you even arrive.

I think time will tell how we did. Because it's such a new car, I think everyone is a little unknown to how well their simulation actually correlates into a real-life setup on the car. So far, through what we've learned in Sebring and Sonoma, we're not far off what our computers are telling us.

I think, yeah, to have a good weekend in any championship, I think Penske has been such a dominant force in IndyCar because they seem to just have four cars working on all cylinders right from the first lap of practice. Then from there, as a driver, you want to drive the same car every time because then you can fine-tune yourself. Instead of chasing how the car feels, you're just working on yourself as a driver.

I think that can really make or break the weekend.

Q. (No microphone.)
ROBERT WICKENS: James is pretty terrible. He's a terrible human being (laughter).

James and I, I'm sure a lot of you guys know now, we go pretty far back. We met when I was 12. He would have been 14, turning 15. We met as teammates in karting. He came into the karting team I was a part of. We kind of hit it off right there. Then we started a friendship, started hanging out. Now he's one of my best friends, one of my longest-lasting friends that I have.

It's crazy that we're sitting here today in St. Pete as teammates, as professional racecar drivers in IndyCar. For so long as kids, we dreamed of both making it professional. We both did, but in different routes. Now that we're back here, it just goes to show for any kid, you can't really predict the future. You kind of had your ideal plan. By no means did I have an ideal career path to make my way into IndyCar at 28 years old.

But I'm here. I'm happy. Like I said earlier, I'm living a childhood dream. It's pretty cool.

THE MODERATOR: Thank you.

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