Phoenix GP: Post-Race Press Conference

From left, Power, Pagenaud and Hildebrand
From left, Power, Pagenaud and Hildebrand

Drivers
Simon Pagenaud
Will Power
JR Hildebrand

Press Conference

THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with our post-race press conference. Joined now by our race winner of the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix, Simon Pagenaud. This is Team Penske's 450th win, their 100th win in open wheel racing on an oval. This is Simon's 10th win overall, and his first win on an oval.

Simon, congratulations. What does that mean to know that the Verizon IndyCar Series is all about diversity, now you have that diversity complete with an oval win?

SIMON PAGENAUD: It's phenomenal. I'm just as excited as I was in the championship. I think that's going to resonate to you.

I was very emotional at the end of the race there because I've been running after this. The desire to be good on ovals for me was really strong. I wanted to come to America and I wanted to embrace the sport, embrace the oval, and show that I could do the job.

But obviously, it took a few years. But, you know, unfortunately we don't race on oval that much. We only race I believe like five oval a year. When you don't have any background on oval racing, not even Indy Lights, it was difficult to learn the job and learn what it took to win a race on an oval.

So understanding the strategy, understanding placement of the car with the turbulences, compared to the guy in front of you, is very difficult to understand.

The biggest thing I think is to understand what the car needs to be like to be good throughout the race, give you the confidence to attack and be good in traffic.

I think today we had a phenomenal racecar, the best out there by far. The Penske cars I think were the best all weekend, but I think my car, the Menards car, was definitely a step above everybody else. I saw it very early in the race.

We were able to save fuel being behind Will, behind Helio. That helped us to stretch our window. We were a little lucky with the yellow that came out, but that's because we were able to stretch it, and it worked for us.

I take a little bit of luck after the start of the season. That was difficult at some points. But I am very, very, very excited, guys. I mean, it's just incredible.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]THE MODERATOR: You mentioned traffic. You were surrounded by traffic, as was everybody, throughout the entire race. How did you navigate your way through it and maintain that lead?

SIMON PAGENAUD: I mean, yeah, my car was very good out of four. I was able to keep a very tight line. Obviously, as you saw, we decided to go with a very low downforce configuration to try to pass people. Despite being low on downforce, we were still able to follow really close in traffic. That's how we were able to make some ground.

A lot of the back markers were very cautious today, which helped as well. Overall the car was just phenomenal all night long. We kept with it as the track changed as well. That made a difference. I think the last restart also, having so many cars between me and Will helped. With pace, I was just saving the tires at the end.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Simon.

Q. With your win tonight, it being your first win on an oval, you're essentially a threat to win anywhere. How would you grade yourself as becoming a very complete driver?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yes, that's the goal. That's my goal, is to be as complete as possible. I also look up to Dario Franchitti, I think was one of the most complete guys. Helio, as well. Dario has been a model for me for a long time. Obviously, my mentor Gil de Ferran. I can't wait to see the text I'm going to get on my phone tonight. I'm sure he'll be very proud. We talked about Phoenix last week together. It's been a great relationship. He's been helping me to understand this whole deal. Whether you're on speedway or short oval, it's very different. I won a championship without winning on an oval. Now if I can win on oval, it's going to make life different. That's very important to me.

Q. You not only win your first oval race, but you win it at Phoenix, guys like Rick Mears, Helio, Hornish, guys from Penske have won their races. What does that mean, adding your name to the legacy of this team at this track?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Was it Paul Tracy's first win, too? Maybe it was Penske. I don't know, anyway. At least I didn't get fired as quick as him (laughter). He's going to love this, Tracy. There you go, that's my quote for tonight.

Yeah, what did you ask, sorry?

Q. You're joining a lot of legends.
SIMON PAGENAUD: I mean, I'm just super proud. To me, short oval is probably the hardest skill to have to win an oval. Obviously, Indianapolis is more of a chess game, being there on the longer race, 500 miles. But here it's very physical. You got to stay very clear in your head, despite being taxed physically, and also you need to keep up with the car very aggressively with traffic.

Indy's a little different. Indy, you have more time, you have more time to reflect on the previous corner or the next corner. Here it's very much a bullring. It's very difficult to get right.

Q. In the early part, until lap 60 or 70, it looked like all the Penske cars were very equal. You could follow your teammates. At the end the gap was nine seconds. Is that because the traffic worked into your favor?
SIMON PAGENAUD: No. When I was behind Will and Helio, or Helio and Will, I was just saving fuel, saving the tires. But my car was much better than theirs. I saw it really quickly.

They were able to be just as fast on new tires, but they had more degradation than I did. It was a matter of picking my time when I wanted to be aggressive and use up the tires, and other times I was just behind them saving fuel as much as possible. That's what allowed us to go longer. That's why we were able to get that yellow in our favor.

It's a consequence of things, starting with a really good car, then being smart with it, just staying behind saving fuel, then the yellow, and that made the race.

Q. You mentioned this is your first win on an oval. Are you expecting now that Mr. Alonso will consult you for some very important advice?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Alonso asking me for advice? That would be cool. I don't know. I mean, I'm open to help him. Obviously he's not my teammate, so I don't know.

I'm very happy that he's coming. I think it's fantastic for the sport. People like you, Wolfgang, coming from Europe, are going to be very excited about the Indy 500. It's going to draw more attention from everywhere in the world, not only in America, to the race. I think it's phenomenal.

If he needs an advice, I'll give him one. But, you know, there's plenty of other drivers that can give him advice, too. He's got Ryan there, Ryan Hunter-Reay. Marco is really good at Indy. He's going to be just fine. The Andretti cars are really strong there.

He's going to be running up front. He should be just fine. I'm excited to see what he does. Is it Wednesday that he tests? I'm excited to see what he says after that.

Q. You've always been very goal driven. You said, I want to achieve this, win this. Definitely have stages. That oval win is something you've been seeking for a while. Now that you have it, what's the next goal for you?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Indy.

Q. Other than the 500? Anything driving-wise, skill set-wise that you think would be another achievement?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, I think running in traffic for me has always been a challenge. Running so close to other cars at this speed has always been a challenge. I'm definitely getting better at it. There's still room for improvement there.

But I think for me my biggest goal is to win Indy. Being as complete as possible, being a threat every single weekend is what I want to be. I want you guys to remember me that way, being a threat every weekend. That's going to be my goal.

I think the way I prepared for this race was better than before. So now I've got a better way of doing things.

Q. 450 for Penske as a team. Any special bonus for these milestones?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I'm super happy with my contract, so… Nothing to ask (laughter). Maybe Roger wouldn't be happy to see I'm not such a good businessman.

THE MODERATOR: I wouldn't put that on the record.

SIMON PAGENAUD: Delete what I just said (laughter). I have to think about that one. Thank you.

THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Simon.

THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with our Verizon IndyCar Series post-race press conference. Joined now by Will Power, who finished second in tonight's Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix.

Will, a third-place finish last year, so you moved up one spot here at Phoenix. Take us through your race and your thoughts on how everything turned out for you tonight.

WILL POWER: Yeah, it was a really good race. I felt like we had a great car, probably the strongest car, I do think so. We just got caught out by that yellow, obviously. Then there were a lot of cars between us and Simon.

I mean, I tried everything I could. I got a good restart, got past two cars. I couldn't get past Kanaan or Dixon, otherwise I would have, you know, had no problem closing that gap and making a race of it.

But it's good. I felt great. Feel energetic. I'm back to where I should be, feeling like I can make the difference. I'm not relying on fatigue or anything like that. Pushed hard the whole race, and felt really good.

THE MODERATOR: We talked about this a little bit yesterday, as well. With your string of bad luck this season, what does it mean to you to get a strong finish here, especially on a track like Phoenix Raceway?

WILL POWER: It was good. I would have loved to have got the win. But, you know, I'll take second. I need the points. You know, that's a championship-type day. Now we need that for the rest of the year, which we've been doing. I mean, we should have won at Barber. Had a great shot at winning here. St. Pete, you know, had the engine issue. Been good everywhere. Just a matter of finishing.

THE MODERATOR: We'll welcome JR Hildebrand to the press conference, as well.

JR, this has to be so rewarding for you to have to miss a race, come back from an injury, then have such a strong finish as you've had in quite a while.

JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, you know, I was definitely anxious to make good on the speed that we had here in pre-season testing. Team has a great short oval package. I know that from doing some testing last year.

So, you know, excited to get the result for the team, for sure. The car was bitchin'. I mean, I think at the end of the race we had obviously one of the top three, but I think we might have had the best car on the track.

It feels good to just have that in it, you know, know that we've got that in us for the next couple of races. It's a strong result heading into May. So no complaints, for sure.

THE MODERATOR: Questions for Will and JR.

Q. Will, you've been in this movie before where you come to Phoenix, dig your way out of a big points gap. Does this year have a different ending?
WILL POWER: Yeah, do you mean different ending at the end of the year?

Q. Yes.
WILL POWER: Yes. I'd have to say at this point last year I'm feeling a lot better physically. So that's a good thing. Can really push hard now. So, yeah, used to digging myself out of the hole (laughter). So we'll see what happens. We'll keep going. That's all you can do.

Q. Will, I think at the end the gap was nine seconds between you and Simon. What was the reason for that? Was it traffic related that the gap was so big?
WILL POWER: Yeah, it was. IndyCar was letting the leader — getting people out of the way for the leader and then not us. We just sat there while he got past everyone. So I don't — it made a bad race of it, honestly. The fact we just had to sit in traffic, you couldn't pass. But there was a blue flag for the leader and miscellaneous other cars. Strangely enough they decide to let cars go so we could race. It was really strange.

JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah.

WILL POWER: I don't understand the rule on what it is, whether they just decided they want certain people to race or not. But that's what was going on.

Q. JR, I think maybe for you, you had the same troubles with traffic.
JR HILDEBRAND: I guess for me, you know, the race for me ended up coming down to how you manage traffic. You know, there were guys — I think the thing that ends up being tricky at races like this is you've got guys that are a lap down but they're racing for top-10 spots. Usually when you're lapping cars on a road course, there are guys that are at the back, they're struggling, there's no stress to let you by.

We're racing against guys that are racing even harder than we were at times. So that ends up becoming a difficult thing to kind of manage. You have these like different differentials and speed, but everybody's racing each other just as hard as anybody else is.

It kind of became about picking opportunities to pass guys when that's the case. Then I sort of agree with Will, there was a little bit of inconsistency when we were catching up to guys that were already a lap down, were going multiple laps down to try to figure out how that procedure exactly was meant to work.

In the end for us, I can only say positive things for our race. We look forward to being able to make good on that going forward from here.

Q. How was your hand?
JR HILDEBRAND: It really wasn't that bad. I think I'll be dealing with some swelling. Going out for that final stint on sticker tires the first couple laps, it was like, Holy (expletive), the steering was super heavy.

In terms of my hand actually bugging me, it was no stress. I think we'll be good to go at Gateway on Tuesday and hopefully be ready to rock and roll for the whole month of May.

Q. JR, you seemed to be very competitive tonight. I'm wondering about Ed Carpenter's car. I don't know if you know what kind of setup he had. He seemed to be struggling a little more. I know he's been out of the car for a long time. Can you comment about how your team set up both cars.
JR HILDEBRAND: I definitely don't think it's Ed. You know, coming into this weekend, at the test, we were very much on the same thing, came into the weekend on very much the same thing, feeling good about our reads being exactly the same and all that kind of stuff.

For him, with the limited practice time and not being able to practice because they had a fuel leak or whatever in that first practice session, I think that's kind of where his weekend just went a little sideways. They basically were just in a mad thrash to get the car to go to tech inspection. They didn't really even get to do a full setup on the thing. He qualified poorly.

Then, you know, from here, no matter what, wherever you start, what downforce level you want to run around here. Can work running low on downforce, it can work running high on downforce. It's very dependent on how the track conditions actually develop, kind of how the race itself develops, like how many cars you're running around, is it strung out, are guys getting gapped up together.

I think, you know, from him being at the back, they ended up just kind of choosing a setup that was a little bit conservative. But in the end he still came through. I think he ended up seventh or something. I'm sure he's not psyched about that. But given the way the weekend went, that was a decent result for those guys. They'll be ready to turn things around in a hurry.

Q. JR, how much does having a good run here tonight build up some momentum for the month of May?
JR HILDEBRAND: I think it's definitely just something that we needed in the team, to be able to come to somewhere we knew we'd be good at. The first couple of races have been a little bit challenging, just getting things dialed in. The field is so stacked and competitive here in the IndyCar Series these days, it's difficult to come away with consistent, good results. This is somewhere we looked at on the schedule and knew we would have a fighting chance at it.

I think sort of coming away with a good weekend, executing at a high level, getting through everything, definitely builds some confidence going into the month of May, where we'll hope to do that again.

Q. Will, had you been able to get to Simon, do you think you could have passed him or could have made a shot at it?
WILL POWER: Yeah, we needed to do that in the second to last stint because we gained three seconds on him through the last pit stop exchange. I needed to be with him at three at that point. Otherwise, it's the same situation. It's very difficult to pass. He would have had to get checked up or something strange happen.

If he maintained the lead, I would not have passed him, I don't think. You know, something would have had to have happened. I needed to be able to be there for the last stop, then we had a great shot.

Q. Jones let you guys go. I think you caught Munoz. As a driver, every time JR would get closer, you would run up on the back of Munoz. How do you manage that, clearly having to look in your mirrors?
WILL POWER: Just managing the gap. I knew the win wasn't possible at that point. I was there behind Ed for quite a while. Okay, now I'm going to sit here, save my tires, no one's attacking me yet, just wait for that situation and start playing the accordion effect where you're making sure you get good exits. That's the game I played at the end there.

Q. (No microphone.)
JR HILDEBRAND: For sure I'd have taken it. I think it all just comes down to I obviously know what he's doing, I know what the car in front of him's doing. You can kind of gauge how this whole thing is going to work.

So in those situations, like third car in line trying to pass the second car in line, it kind of just comes down to do we all end up nailing our timing right or not. One out of 15 times, you know, somebody will screw that up a little bit. You have to be there to be able to capitalize on that opportunity.

There was a couple of times where I thought for a split second, like, coming out of turn two, maybe I had enough of a run. In the end, once I caught up to Will — I was quite good when we were behind a bunch of cars in traffic, to be able to kind of like pick a couple of guys off on the tail end of that. I think we were quite good in that type of situation. But once we got to where there was just one car ahead of something, we were all going a little too quick, and the gaps weren't changing quite enough.

On the flipside of that, I hauled ass and caught up to Helio and Josef. They were catching up to Ryan and somebody else, Hinch or something maybe. Those two guys were battling. At that point to get by the lot of those cars basically in one lap was just timing all the runs to pick apart guys that are checking up.

That's really what the game is that you play around here. Honestly, I think racing here is a lot like how we race at Indy. You're trying to have to get a run a couple laps ahead of time, to build a big run off of guys, off the corner to get the momentum, which is fun when it works for you, but definitely tough and requires some pretty significant differences in what guys are doing.

Q. We spent the first three races this season talking about how great the Hondas were. Looked like Chevrolet was struggling a little bit. Then we come here a short oval and Chevrolet pretty much dominated the weekend. Is this the start of Chevy's dominance showing this season?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I think so. I mean, in the oval races this year, Chevy's had a shot. Obviously some tracks suited the Honda a little bit better. But, you know, I feel like we're going to be good. I mean, we were good at Barber. I think we'll be good at Indy road course. Chevy's been working really hard to have a great engine for the 500, which I'm very confident in those guys because they do such a good job, between Chevy and (indiscernible), I think they could come up with something pretty good.

Just we'll see.

Q. JR, how big a result is this for your engineer, Justin Taylor? His first oval race.
JR HILDEBRAND: Boom, podium.

Q. How much confidence do you have in him? How did the two of you work together to keep the car as good as it was all weekend?
JR HILDEBRAND: It starts with just the development work that the team has done as a whole. We come into these places feeling really confident that if we don't touch anything and roll the thing out in qualifying or race trim, that we'll be kind of in the window. That goes a long way.

But Justin's been awesome, man. To come into this whole thing and not know the car, we're at a whole bunch of tracks that he's not seen. Certainly the oval aspect of it, it's a lot to get used to.

It's obviously my first time back in the car full-time with aero kits and all this kind of stuff. We're all sort of learning a little bit still as we go along.

It feels great for me and for I think on behalf of him and the team and some of the new guys that we've got to just be able to pull it out here. We knew we had speed here. It's different to execute in the race in a way that you can stick it on the podium. I think it's definitely the start of good things to come for us. Hopefully we can get on a little bit of a roll heading into the thick of the season.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations. We'll see you in Indy.

JR HILDEBRAND: Thank you.

WILL POWER: Thank you.

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