IndyCar Championship Contenders Q&A

Josef Newgarden

Will Newgarden wilt again under the pressure from Scott Dixon?
Will Newgarden wilt again under the pressure from Scott Dixon?

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the IndyCar media teleconference. As we approach the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season finale, we are joined by Josef Newgarden.

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Great to be here. Thanks for having me.

THE MODERATOR: Obviously not quite the kind of result you wanted on Sunday at Watkins Glen, but yet you still lead the points heading into Sonoma. Does that 18th-place finish change your mindset or your approach at all heading into Sonoma?

JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I don't think it will change our mindset or the way that we attack the season finale, but it does create less opportunity for error on the event. I think with the cushion we had before, it did create more of an open opportunity for some error during the event, and now it's less. I think the good thing about it is we can control our own destiny, and if we win the race, then that basically secures the championship. So it's in our hands to make it happen, other than us having to go there and rely on other people finishing in a certain position.

So that's the most comforting thing to me is we can control our own destiny, so we'll focus on going out, being fast, solving problems, and trying to win another IndyCar race.

Q. Each of your closest three competitors, they've all won at Sonoma before. Your previous best finish has been sixth place. What for you are the keys to performing well at Sonoma, to improve and get a better finish and lock up that championship?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I think qualifying will be good. You know, it's one of the first things that we need to focus on for the weekend. It's not the end-all-be-all to start up front, but I think it certainly makes your job a lot easier during the weekend when you start towards the front, if not at the very front, on the first row leading the race. That's going to be our main focus to start with, and after that we need to make sure we stay out of any mayhem, settle into the race. Like any weekend, you never know what can happen at the starts of races, and we want to make sure we get out comfortably at the start of the race and not get involved in any problems early on, and then after that I think it's about maximizing race pace, which is always difficult at Sonoma, just because of the tire degradation. It's probably the most difficult track we go to for looking out for the tires during a race stint. So being able to do that well over multiple stints will probably be the final key for us and hopefully helping us secure the championship.

Q. When you look at this race, this is a track where Penske has been traditionally pretty good in the past. How confident are you in being able to use their setups for the first time as opposed to coming in from a previous team standpoint at this race?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I'm happy about the fact that we have a good amount of testing. We'll be testing there this week, and then we have the test on Thursday, which everyone will be a part of. So there's a lot of time. Hopefully that just means that we have more time to sort through it.

Last time I can remember I was having that right before a race weekend is really Barber, at least specifically for a road course, where we had a test to go through things that had worked previously for Team Penske, and then I'd have to feel it myself and work on it for a day before we went to the race, and it worked out really well for us in that race. I think all year long, we've been trying to understand, at least me personally, I've been trying to understand what Penske has done in the past and how I fit into that equation, and I feel like we've been very good about figuring that out for the most part. Sometimes I've been a little bit behind to start a weekend, but for the most part we've been able to catch up when needed, and we're there in the end.

I feel good about that, and I definitely feel good about Penske's tradition there, or at least their historical data from there. They seem to have a fairly good idea of what works around there and what doesn't, and hopefully that at least makes our problem solving a little bit easier when we show up.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Q. I have two questions for you, and the first one is a segue off your answer and Penske's experience at Sonoma. You're going there and basically — I guess it looks like a winner-take-all scenario, and two of your three competitors are Penske teammates with experience there. What is your understanding — I know that Penske has been in this position before where more than one driver has raced each other for the title, but as the newcomer, what is your understanding of how it's going to work at Sonoma with three drivers in championship contention?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I'm sure we'll have some final instructions as we get near to the race weekend. We haven't had those talks yet, but normally we get to talk with Tim and Roger before the race, and we have an understanding of where everything is at and how it's transpired up to the race. So once we get deeper into the weekend, I'm sure we'll have a conversation as a group and everyone will have an understanding of what's expected and what they'd like to see take place.

But everything that I've seen, having been involved in the organization just for a short time this season, is that it's pretty simple. We're there as a team. We're there as a unit. It doesn't matter who wins the championship. It doesn't matter who wins the race. It just needs to be a Penske car. We work as a team, and so if one of us succeeds, we all succeed. So I'm sure the rules will be take care of each other, make sure you're looking after one another on the racetrack. You're allowed to fight hard, fight fair, and get the job done. That's normally what the MO is. I don't expect it to be very different, but I'm sure we'll have another talk, like I said, as we get deeper into the weekend.

Q. So in the waning laps, are you as aggressive as you are at Gateway if it's one of your teammates or both of your teammates there and you can go for the championship?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I mean, it's impossible to tell right now because I just (indiscernible) how strong I feel like I am inside the car, how strong I feel like we are as a group on the 2 car, how that relates to the other guys, how strong they've been in the race. Normally you sort of decide how aggressive you want to be depending on how it's unfolding for the race, and it's been different for me for different races this year. Pocono and Gateway are the two examples I think I can bring up where my aggression has changed, and I've chosen different aggression levels.

I think it will really just depend on how the race is unfolding. Hopefully there's not that scenario where we have to decide on being aggressive or not aggressive. I hope that we're just out front leading and we don't have to to have that decision. But when it comes down to it if you have a fast car and we're racing our teammates then I'm going to race them very hard and I expect them to race me very hard because we're all going for the championship. I just want them to be fair and clean about it.

Q. After Sunday at Watkins Glen, your error, what is that like — what happened that made your major points cushion slip away? Are you hard on yourself after that? Is that something that's hard to swallow? How do you process that?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, whenever I make an error, it's always difficult for me. I feel like I'm sure a lot of drivers are their own worst critics. But I never like making a mistake, and so whenever I make a personal mistake that was just on my own doing, it's always hard, and I'm always hard on myself for a while. It takes a couple days for me to get over those type of things.

The good thing is that the normally get focused forward pretty quick. Like today I felt like I had a great day with my engineer just focusing on Sonoma and we've got a good amount of time to try and work through that and get ourselves in a good place. Yeah, I try and move forward pretty quick, but it's always tough. I hate making personal errors and doing that to the team. It's tough, but hey, you've got to move on pretty fast, and we've got to do it quickly here because the final race is coming up.

Q. Josef, looking at how you've been setting up your cars this year, you say that you've had times when you and Brian have been kind of like talking about the kind of like hybrid setups sometimes with the Penske setup and some of the things that you bring to the table; now, you've had, I think, two, maybe three front row starts at Sonoma before when you raced for Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher, and you were the main threat to Penske. Does the fact that you have a test with Penske this week and also you have the open test on Thursday, does that give you enough time to come up with the ultimate setup combination between what you bring to the table and also what Penske already know about Sonoma?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I think so. I really think with the amount of time we have — like I was saying before, the last time we had that opportunity I think was Barber, and I got to pretty much start on what they've used in the past, and I worked on some things that worked for me in the past, and we worked that into the setup. For the most part, it just didn't translate, so we used some loans up before the race weekend and then we could kind of just keep going through various types of setup work to find something perfect for me. I think we'll be able to do that at Sonoma. I think what's worked best for me is working historically on what Penske has done. I think if I look at their data and look at their experience over weekends with each specific guy and what they did that worked and what they did that didn't work, I think going through all that and understanding it and just trying to acquire it has been what's been most successful for me. Yeah, just working with their experience has generally been the best thing for me this year, and that's probably what we'll do going into Sonoma.

Q. Should you be able to go off successfully win the championship and defeat Scott Dixon, who's become a master of winning championships in this generation, how extra gratifying will that be, because he really is one of the all-time greats?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Oh, yeah. I mean, I think it would be hugely successful if we're able to beat Scott. You've got to feel good about that with how high of a caliber he is. He's just one of the best. You know, on that same token, I teal like we have some of the best with Simon and Will and Helio, too.

You know, it'll be very gratifying hopefully beating Scott, and then I think the same thing with the other guys in the fight. There's a lot of good guys that you're going up against, so I don't think it's just limited to Scott, but for sure trying to beat all those guys, and hopefully if we're able to do it, it's going to feel great. It's going to be a huge accomplishment for us on the 2 car side.

Q. Josef, I'm wondering in what ways do you think you've evolved as a driver this year? What steps have you taken to put yourself in position to be a champion?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Hmm. Well, you know, you're always learning, as evidenced by Watkins Glen. Hopefully that turns into a learning experience for me and not just an error. So I think you're always trying to evolve on what did you do well, what did you not do well, what would you do differently, and hopefully I'm not leaving Sonoma saying, well, I wish I could have done this differently and more just I'm happy with how we executed and how we handled things.

You know, I think for me personally, just being more adaptive is what's been my biggest growth point this year, being able to adapt to a different environment that works differently than I've experienced in the past, being able to adapt to different setups that aren't necessarily in my comfort window. Not something that I've had my personal touch on right from the beginning, which is what I've been used to in the past with the teams I've worked with the in the past. So I think just being able to adapt throughout the year has been probably my biggest strength and growth, and I'm hoping that we continue to grow in that department and are able to use that going into next year after Sonoma this season.

Q. Is it an advantage or a disadvantage that your closest competitors for the championship are also your teammates?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Hmm, that's a great question. I don't know. I don't actually know to be honest with you. I feel like with the way Team Penske operates, you know, it sort of doesn't really matter. I think if anything, you've got to feel that it's maybe more of an advantage because you're going to race your teammates hard. I know they're going to race me very hard, but they're going to try to be as fair as possible with it, so I expect very hard racing from my teammates. They're going to try and beat me just as bad as I'm going to try and beat them, but there's a little bit in the back of the head there that they want to be as fair as possible. It doesn't mean they're not going to be hard with the way they race, but you've got to think there's got to be a little bit of fairness with it, too. I would say maybe that leans more toward the favorable side, but at the same time, I don't know that it really changes much at the end of the day.

Q. Let's be honest, you're looking at about three points here, whether it's a single points paying race or a double points paying race. It seems to me that having the rest of the field that's in contention be pretty much your teammates, that a dog pack mentality might be something you need to negotiate. Given that it's Sonoma and you're good on roads, do you think you might be talking to Helio and Simon?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: You know, I think honestly one of the greatest things about Team Penske is they let us race. They obviously want us to work together. We'll be working together to make the fastest race cars possible. That's kind of our first goal when we show up testing this week and when we show up next weekend is just to work together and make faster cars than everybody. If we have the fastest cars in the field, it makes our job way easier when we get to race day because if we're just faster than everybody, we don't have to worry about them as much. So we're going to work together as a cohesive unit to start with to try and get there. I think it's great for the fans. I think it's great for the integrity of motorsports that they let their guys race. Sometimes it hasn't worked out in a championship for their team because they do that, but you know, to me, it's the coolest situation in motorsports that you have such a powerhouse team that has the best of the best working together and they let them go at it and try and get it done on the racetrack. A lot of times it works out and there's a couple times it hasn't. But I like their approach to that, and I think it's cool that that's the way they operate.

Q. What would it mean for you to not only beat Scott Dixon, who's been arguably the best driver of the last 15 years, but what would it also mean to be the top dog at Team Penske, which has historically been the most dominant team this year?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, you cut out a little bit at the end of that question, but I think for us if we were able to be the champion this year, champions, with the No. 2 car specifically, you know, it feels a little different at Team Penske just having seen the inner workings of the team and how it operates. It seems like it's a line that we put out all the time, but it's really true, when one car wins, we kind of all win, and yeah, some on the 2 car, and we have specific guys that work on that and fill pit stops for a race weekend, but all four cars, they all work together. All the other guys from the other cars, they work on my car and vice versa, so everyone in the shop feels like we won when one of the cars does win, whether it's your car specifically or not.

I think we'll all feel good about it. I would feel very good about it just having been my first year on the team, and I didn't know how that was going to go. I obviously hoped that we'd be in this position and I hope that we're able to win the championship. But I also knew maybe that might not be possible with the first year and what we need to go through and learn together. I'll feel very good about it personally. I'll be really happy for everyone involved and being able to beat all the guys around us. They're some of the best in the world, so it's always gratifying when you're able to be on the top of that.

Q. I know you've been with this situation a couple years with ECR, but now you've got Tim Cindric on your pit box. Going into Sonoma how big is that for you as far as your confidence and mentality knowing Tim is calling your shots and he's been in this situation before?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: You know, Tim gives me confidence every weekend. I feel like I'm always learning something with him around. You know, it's made me up my game as a driver, probably just as a person in motorsports. He had so much experience, and he brings so much comfort to any group, I think, because you feel like he has his hand on the pulse, like he knows what to do, he's been there before. He's always thinking about how situations can evolve, how they can change, what answers you're going to need to have before you actually get into certain situations. You know, he brings just enormous comfort and confidence, I think. Even at Watkins Glen when it went kind of sideways with me making my error on the pit exit, it's just like, he's so calm about it and he's not bashing on me.

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon is poised to win another title
Scott Dixon is poised to win another title

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: Now we'll turn it over and welcome Scott Dixon. Scott is second in the championship just three points behind Josef Newgarden. Scott is seeking his fifth title, which would leave him behind only AJ Foyt, who has seven, for the most championships in IndyCar history. Welcome, Scott.

SCOTT DIXON: Good afternoon.

THE MODERATOR: You've been saying for a number of weeks that you just wanted to be within striking distance heading into Sonoma, and now that deficit is just three points as we mentioned. It's right where you want to be. How do you feel heading out there next week?

SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, pretty good. I think you'd always prefer to be leading by a healthy margin. But I think with the ups and downs and misfortunes we've had throughout the season, I'm somewhat surprised that we're still within striking distance for the points race, especially with Texas, Indy, Long Beach and St. Pete where we could have had a ton of points through those four alone. Definitely it makes for an exciting championship last race, which is what everybody expects, I think, out of the Verizon IndyCar Series and how is always is. But yeah, it's pretty tight. I think especially for the four of us, and then also with Will, who still has a very good chance with the double points system.

Q. With you only being three points behind Josef as opposed to being 47 points behind Juan Pablo in 2015, do you feel like you're in a more relaxed mindset being that you don't have nearly as much of a point deficit to make up in the last race?
SCOTT DIXON: No. Well, no, I definitely don't feel relaxed. I don't feel relaxed going into any race. I think the goal is still the same every time. It's to win the race first, and ideally if that happens, it takes care of the rest, especially with how tight the points are between Josef and I.

But you know, it still shows that obviously that's when it's possible, and that makes it very eligible for four of us that can have that swing.

I wouldn't say that it makes me feel any more relaxed or any more confident. There's still a lot on the line, and it takes a lot to beat the competition that we have in the Verizon IndyCar Series. It's a better position than what we were in 2015, but that guarantees you pretty much nothing. It's good to be in the hunt and have a tight gap right there, but we're still going to have to do our best to beat four of the closest competitors right there.

Q. Scott, the general consensus from most drivers at Watkins Glen is that track was made for IndyCars. So what's the consensus about Sonoma? Is it more technical or Mickey Mouse? How do you go about attacking that place?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, Sonoma is definitely a difficult place. It's quite low grip. The tires, last year at least in qualifying, you pretty much had a one-lap window, maybe two if you're lucky, so it's hard to get the front tires in for the first lap. By the time the fronts come in, the rears are kind of on their way out. It's got some pretty interesting low-speed corners, especially Turn 7. It's very easy to lose a ton of lap time in 7, also in 9A and B. So yeah, it's a track that, you know, requires a fair bit of compromise because you have some pretty high-speed, high-loading corners, especially on the approach to 2, going through 6 at the carousel.

But yeah, I think it's a very worthy IndyCar circuit. I think it's a fantastic spot for a Verizon IndyCar Series championship finale, especially for spectators, too, because it's one of those circuits that from most vantage points you have a very good advantage of being able to see the whole circuit.

Yeah, for me it's probably one of the toughest circuits to get right, to be honest, and it requires a lot of different thinking, I think, on the approach to setup at what we would typically do at a lot of other tracks.

Q. Winning a fifth championship, what does that mean to you? Do you ever think about those types of things, the history of IndyCar and your very prominent place in it?
SCOTT DIXON: It means that maybe Chip would hire me again, so that would be a good positive. Yeah, you know, I think as I've said before, I think with the stats and championships, you know, it's something to — maybe when you exit, I think you can look back on and hopefully you're proud of what you've achieved with the team I've been lucky to be assigned with 16 years plus now.

You know, I don't know. Five sounds great. Sounds better than four, so I'd absolutely love to get a fifth championship. But there's a lot of people we have to go through to make that possible. But yeah, when you start to look at those lists and how we're approaching the top parts of those lists, you know, it feels great. But my focus is definitely trying to win the race, and hopefully we can look at those later in life.

Q. Looking at how Penske qualified one, two, three, four last year at Sonoma and also the fact that they have testing this week and then you all get an open test next week, would you say that the fact that three of them are actually going to be squabbling over the title themselves and one of them just wants to win the race, would you say that that actually serves as an advantage for you because — I'm not saying that they're going to take each other out, but it could get fairly desperate there, and that may help compensate for the fact that they are traditionally very strong there?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it's definitely a factor that it's a circuit that they're very good at. Yeah, that would be ideal if they could take care of each other. But you can't rely on that again. We're going to have to definitely bring our A game. I know when we won it in '15 we had a mishap in qualifying and ended up ninth and were able to still storm through the field, and we actually picked up a couple in pit lane, but our car was very strong.

Qualifying is important. It doesn't mean everything, especially with how some of these road courses, strategies can play out, you know, as we've seen every year and this year, as well.

Sometimes being the leader and being out front can — you know, you kind of put yourself in harm's way with how strategy plays. But yeah, I don't know. I think when you look back at a race after a championship battle like that, you can praise somebody for doing the right thing, but that necessarily isn't always in their hands.

I don't know. That's the tough part, I think, with our sport sometimes is that you can have the fastest car and you can have a dominant race and it can be swept away pretty quickly. But it is what it is, and I find through the course of a full season, it typically evens its way out, and I know in this scenario, you definitely hope you're not on the bad side of receiving something like that.

Yeah, I don't know. I wish I could tell you that we were going to go there, get pole, lead every lap and win the championship and win the race, but you know, that's our aim, that's our goal. But reality might be a little bit different.

Q. One thing that strikes me is in your most recent championship battles, it's almost like the rest of your competitors, you're already in their head to a degree because of how successful you are in winning championships. Do you feel that is sort of the case this way because it seemed like the other drivers talked as much about Scott Dixon after the Watkins Glen race as you did.
SCOTT DIXON: I don't know. If it's true, that's good. But you know, it's — you know, I think it's a team effort. It's a team result. I think Ganassi are very strong at these high-pressure, coming-down-to-the-wire situations, and not just for myself but other championships they've won through the years. I remember being right there for many of Dario's, too, that worked out in similar fashion.

But yeah, it's nice to hear that, and you know, for us — yeah, I don't know. I think it's not necessarily a situation we thrive on. We would clearly like to be many points ahead and not having to worry about the last race, and you can go into a final just having to start or something like that. But yeah, I don't know. I don't really speak to my competitors on that front or hear what they have to say or read up on it. But for us, we'll just go out there and try and get the job done and treat it as an ordinary race, even though there is a lot on the line.

Q. Seeing how this season has kind of played out, you've only got the one win, but 15 top 10s, how important was qualifying at Indy to get that pole, knowing that with double points you finished 32nd, but here you are three points out? How much did earning the pole back in May actually affect to where you are today?
SCOTT DIXON: Well, I think every kind of race has its — obviously has its play on how the season works out. You know, you can easily say it was double points — I think we should have had at least a top 5 or top 10 at Indy, which would have been a lot more points. Texas would have been — we were either going to be first or second there. Other places where we could have had some victories and some other races, too, where we got crashed out. So it's — I don't know. You know, it's what makes a championship, right. It's the highs, the lows, the ups and downs and things that you should have done and shouldn't have done that play out to where you are, and you can't rely on saying, well, if we'd done this and that, it would have been totally different. It's just we're a strong team. I think we came up short on many races throughout the season, but it's still nice to be in this situation and to know that we're in a situation to try and win the championship, and that's — we set two goals every year. First one is the Indy 500, second one is to win the championship. We definitely didn't do the first one, and now we're in the hunt for the second, and that's what we're going to try to do. But I wouldn't single out Indy pole as — it is what it is. I've been hurt on that side before, and many others have, too.

Helio Castroneves

With double points on the line Castroneves has a real chance at the title
With double points on the line Castroneves has a real chance at the title

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome Helio Castroneves onto the call. Good afternoon, Helio.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Hey, good afternoon. How you doing?

THE MODERATOR: I'm well, thank you. Helio sits third in the championship right now, 22 points behind Josef Newgarden. Helio, obviously you were able to gain some valuable points at Watkins Glen over the weekend. What's your mindset heading into Sonoma?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm ready. I'm ready to go to Sonoma where we're going to be testing Thursday, and then be back next week. First of all, we'll be getting ready here for the hurricane to be honest. I'm just a little confused to go back or not. But other than that, championship is on the line. We're really looking forward to it. As I said in the interview before, it's mixed feelings. Obviously Newgarden with the secure lead and now so close to Dixon but at the same time opened up a very good chance for me, and obviously I'm going to do everything I can to make that up.

Q. You just said you were concerned about the hurricane, and you didn't know if you were going to go home, so where are you, and what are your plans right now?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, that's right. Right now we are a little bit confused. I'm in Fort Lauderdale, tomorrow leaving to Sonoma. My flight is scheduled to come back here on Friday. Definitely considering to go straight to Atlanta and wait until it waves bye, and then go back here and get ready for Sonoma.

But there was a lot of things in planning since we got a lead here on Tuesday or Thursday — Wednesday. I wonder if things are going to be okay. So I'm preparing right now, but we're going to be ready for whatever happens. We're going to be ready for obviously next week.

Q. Going into a good road course finish, you're only 22 points out. We learned that everything is on the table. In fact, I remember two years ago, Scott Dixon had 47 points to make up, somehow wrested control and won the championship. So it looks like you're easily within the envelope. What are your thoughts going into Sonoma, and what has been your biggest concerns about Sonoma as a racetrack?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, the good news is we do have a very good setup there the past few years. We've been able to really show that kind of like performance. And obviously as we saw it in Watkins Glen, anything can happen. So things outside of our control, that's something that concerns me sometimes. Some people might not be aware of what's going on and have an opportunity to show something, and those are the things that sometimes you don't have much control.

But hopefully at this point there is not much we can do. We've just got to keep bringing what we've been doing the whole season. We're not here at this position by luck. We're here because we perform as a team, as a group. Everybody in a consistent way, in a competitive way most of the time, and that's what we're going to have to continue doing.

Q. I am wondering, when you're racing Josef, do you see him differently? Do you think of him different than when you've had to race Newgarden in the past years?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, I — well, certainly knowing him a little bit more from outside — not outside racing but outside a different team. Now he's actually our teammate. No question, he proved for the entire team, and that's why Roger ended up hiring him, that he's here because of his talent. He's able to show that the entire season, and then we can see as a teammate what he has brought to the team. He definitely brought a very competitive edge, which is great. At least for me, it keeps pushing me as always.

As I always say, I hope my teammates keep me light on my feet. And it's great. It's great to have this situation again. We have five cars — sorry, four cars in mathematical condition to win this championship, but at this point, we've just got to keep being focused a little bit now since we have our chance, No. 3, the group No. 3. We're going to have to take the opportunity to strike. But we don't forget that Team Penske still — the goal is to have this championship with Team Penske.

Q. I wanted to ask how much of a distraction has it been to deal with questions over your future, and do you feel liberated in some way at the thought that this might be your final race on a road course in IndyCars?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I have not been a distraction at all. As I said before, as a group we focus on each race, and probably that's what keeps me focused and pumped and ready. I believe I'm experienced enough to be able to separate a lot of things, a lot of rumors, a lot of noise. Let's put it this way. But Roger, Cindric and I, we have an agreement. I enjoy to be part of this team, and we just want to continue to focus on this last race, which is extremely important for, as I said, not only for myself but most important, as well, having a championship for the team. Whatever future happens, I'm ready to go. But at this point, I'm really focused on this season and this last race of the season. We are looking forward to whatever happens in the future, and I'll be happy.

Q. How special is the relationship between you and Roger from a strategy standpoint since you've had him on your box, and described the competition on the box is he's trying to beat Tim and Brian and some of the other guys are also trying to win themselves?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's so funny, this relationship obviously happens with a lot of my teammates before, and I remember very definitively with Gilles, with Sam Hornish, also with Briscoe. It's kind of like really funny. And let me tell you, RP is more competitive than anybody in this team. Cindric obviously wants to beat him, and he wants to beat him and Kyle, and I want to beat all of them, as well, too.

I get used to Roger. He gives very good information on the radio, and I have to say, it's actually pretty good. Some people think it's quite a lot of information, but I have to say, sometimes when you focus, that information is so useful that you don't need to worry about looking in the mirror or things like that, and it's very practical.

Over the years it took a little longer, it took a little time, too, to understand, but once we clicked, it was really cool. He's definitely passionate about what he does, and again, every time he always keeps you in control, coaching you well, so it's been a phenomenal experience, and I'm really looking forward to giving a championship to him.

Simon Pagenaud

Can Pagenaud pull off back-to-back titles?
Can Pagenaud pull off back-to-back titles?

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We'll turn it over to our defending Verizon IndyCar Series championship Simon Pagenaud. Welcome, Simon.

SIMON PAGENAUD: Hi. How are you?

THE MODERATOR: Doing well, thank you. Obviously your situation this year is different from last year. Last year everyone was chasing you, now you're chasing a few other guys. What approach, mindset are you taking into next week?

SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, I thought we had to give a different show to all of you guys, make it more interesting, so we did it a completely different way this year.

Joke aside, it's definitely a much different situation. Quite frankly, we have nothing to lose, which is a very pleasant position to be in. All we've got to do is be aggressive and go to the front and try to win the race. It's a very simple way to look at it with not much pressure. The goal is just to be the best you can be on that day and try to win the race.

Q. Going into Sonoma and knowing that it's somewhat of a difficult track, what are you looking forward to accomplishing to counteract the uniqueness of Sonoma? What are you keeping in mind?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, I think it's very simple. Again, the goal is to repeat what we did last year there and dominate the weekend, which the Penske cars are usually very strong there, so I've got a really strong hope, and leaving Watkins Glen, I felt like we had a really strong chance to make it happen.

So you know, it's like every athlete when it comes to crunch time is being there, you've got to be there at the right time, and that's where the No. 1 team, we're going to have to bring our top A game to the table that weekend. I'm excited about it. I think it's going to be a great show. It's a great venue, too, to do it. Obviously for the partners of the teams, when you go to Sonoma, there's a lot to do and lots of wineries to see and vineyards, so it's a beautiful area to have an end of a championship.

Q. This year you are in a slightly different position than you were last year, but what do you think is going to be a little bit more challenging, fighting with three other teammates for the championship or just trying to overcome the points deficit, being that you're kind of in a winner-take-all situation?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, you know, actually my points deficit on Josef is less than Will's deficit on me last year, and quite frankly, all it took last year was for Will to have the problem he had for me to win the championship. I mean, again, I understand how possible this is, and right now I'm sitting here thinking I've got all the chances in the world to make it happen.

I don't see the points deficit being such an issue. I think the most important thing is to go into Sonoma very confident and just simply try to score maximum points. The rest you can't control. I can't control what Dixon is going to do, what my teammates are going to do. All I can control is me, and like I said earlier, those situations are my favorite. That's when I do my best. I'm very excited for it. This is exactly why I go racing, and it's going to be a lot of fun.

Q. You've got 12 top 5s and nobody else even has double digits right now. You've completed all 100 percent of your laps this year, and here you are fourth in the standings. What does that show about how talented and deep this IndyCar field is and how hard it is just to win a championship these days?
SIMON PAGENAUD: It's very hard. It's very hard. And I think it's even harder to repeat, quite frankly. You know, I've found myself in a great situation last year with a dominant performance, but repeating is even harder just because you have a baseline of things that worked the year before, and you're hoping it will do the same. But reality is you have to adapt to situations, and this year has been a very different year for me, which is no real explanation for it, it's just the way it is. But that's what I've found the most challenging thing in the next year of a championship.

That's where we are, but the championship this year has been very competitive, multiple winners, a lot more winners than usual, a lot of good luck and bad luck for some, a lot of good cars, as well, Honda making a jump compared to last year in terms of performance, so obviously that tightened the ranks between Chevy and Honda and made it possible for a lot more drivers to win.

So with all that in account, it's a much different year with a different aspect, and I'm quite excited about it. I think it's fantastic for the show. It's great for the series. I think the product that we have right now is phenomenal, and I think it's not the first year it happens, but IndyCar is definitely to me the most exciting sort of racing in the world right now.

Q. I know you worry about yourself you don't worry about what anybody else can do, but you do have to take into account the competitive nature of your competitors, your other drivers. How much does the recent history enter into your mind in terms of the aggression of Newgarden or anybody else, and how much aggression will everybody show going for it to win a championship?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it's a good point. I think all four of us or even five with Will, everybody is going to have to be very aggressive to make it work, and quite frankly, it's going to be who makes the best decisions, and that's personally without being pretentious, that's something that I think I do well. So that's why I think my chances to win this championship are very high. Again, I have to go into Sonoma with a lot of confidence, and that's exactly what I'm going to do, just like I did last year, and may the best win.

But you know, at the end of the day, if Helio wins the race, then he's probably going to win the championship. If Newgarden wins the race, then he's going to win the championship and so on. At the end of the day, I just have to focus the best I can and extract the best out of the car all weekend, and like I said earlier, just focus on myself because you can only control what you can control. I always say, I keep saying it, but there's no need to focus on the others when especially it comes to such a stressful and pressure last race. Yeah, it's going to be fun.

Q. One of the curve balls that all the drivers have been thrown this year have been like little tweaks to the Firestone compounds and that kind of thing. I was wondering if Penske this week are going to be able to try the new tires, and also how much bearing do you think adapting to those will have on how you'll qualify next week?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it's a good question. It is going to be a big change for sure, the tires that Firestone is bringing. The black tires are different. So my understanding is that the black tires from last year are becoming the red this year, which means the red we had in qualifying last year disappeared. It's really a shame because we had a fantastic car with it. It's a real shame for me, I think, for my team. But you know what, at the end of the day, we have a lot of testing at Sonoma, and you know, it's actually a good thing because, just like I said earlier in the call, I can't go back on the stuff that I learnt last year, so we're going to restart from a blank piece of paper, and I think that's a good thing because then we can focus on what really works with these tires without having any questions on last year and why was last year so good. I'm actually happy about that because it's been a tough thing to do this year, just focus on '17 when '16 was so good, and finding why was a difficult thing. So I'm quite excited, actually. I think it puts everybody on a level playing field, and we just have to do the best we can and learn those tires and go for it.

Q. And will Penske have those tires in the test this week, or do you have to wait until the open test next week?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I believe we have those tires, the black tires at least, but we're not going to test the red tires until race weekend, but that's the same for everybody. I do believe we're going to get the proper Sonoma tires.

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