1st – Helio Castroneves
2nd – Will Power
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with our Verizon IndyCar Series post qualifying press conference. Joined now by one of our front row starters, Will Power, who will be starting second in tomorrow's Desert Diamond West Valley Grand Prix out here at Phoenix Raceway.
Will, an improvement over last year. Broke Helio (Castroneves') track record for a second, then he got you in the end. Tell us about your run, if the conditions kind of calmed down a little bit from practice.
WILL POWER: Yeah, conditions were definitely better. It was just a little tough going second in line because of all the dust that had blown on the track. So, I was very unsure on the first lap.
The car felt really good, honestly. You know, Helio actually ran a little less downforce than me, so it was trimmed more. Yes, he was very fast.
I figured that he was going to knock me off, maybe Josef. But, yeah, good run. Good starting position. Tough track to pass.
You know, you got to get your position in the pits, I guess qualify well. See what I can do tomorrow to switch that around. Castroneves can be second, I'll be first. That would be nice.
THE MODERATOR: It seems like it's been a very rough start to the season for you results-wise. Everything that could go wrong, Murphy's law, right? What does that do to your mindset going into the next race and the next race, moving on in the season?
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]WILL POWER: I mean, at Barber, I did everything possible. It was one of my best races ever, best weekends. I got focused, got the car right. Qualifying, was really fast in the race. Got past back markers quickly. Couldn't ask for anything better. Then got a flat tire. That was unbelievable.
That was the race to get us right back in the game. I just can't believe it. Yeah, I guess you have runs like this. Nothing you can do. You just know that it will switch. It just does. You're doing the right thing, you're qualifying the front each week, eventually you're going to get a result.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Will.
Q. You're starting on the front row alongside Helio on the outside. I've had someone tell me that Indianapolis is actually better to start on the outside. I don't know if that relates to this track being a short oval. Does that give you any advantage?
WILL POWER: No, not on Helio. It's such a tight corner. It's way better to be on the inside here. Yeah, Indy, it's not bad to be on the outside. That's true. It's much more open. Yeah, tough here. No one ever runs the outside. But maybe on the first lap it will be okay.
Q. Could you speak to the physicality of this racetrack, how you think the race is going to go tomorrow night.
WILL POWER: Yeah. I think it's much cooler conditions this year, so physically it should be better. But it's more downforce, more grip. It's just so tough in traffic. You know, we keep trying – well, I do – to tell the series we need less downforce, give us road course horsepower, you know, speedway wings. Let us leave dark marks on the exit of corners. Here your corner speed is about the same as your bloody street speed.
I believe they should give us a formula similar to that, like give us a heap of horsepower, which we have potential for on the road course horsepower, and then take a bunch of grip away. That would be really cool.
Q. You tested here earlier. Did you notice anything concerning setup of the car, aero package for the race?
WILL POWER: Yeah, we did. You mean the open test here earlier in the year?
Q. The test in the daytime, not in the evening.
WILL POWER: The testing this afternoon?
Q. No, earlier.
WILL POWER: Yeah, no, we did. We learnt some stuff. It's always changing. But, you know, we got to run in traffic. It's so hard because you can't get a train of cars long enough that there will be in the race. The conditions are always a little bit different. But I feel like we got a good scope of adjustment in our car.
Q. I know the old Will Power would have maybe had a harder time with this start. I'm reading the book, seen you grow from putting negative results behind you and still be able to be positive and move forward. How well have you been able to do that?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I haven't even — like Barber was really disappointing, I have to say. Like, I just think about it on the drive home. Oh, man. You know, usually when you put a weekend like that together, you put everything right, usually you win the race.
But yeah, I mean, I got over it pretty quickly. But it's disappointing, it is, because it's such a competitive field, you don't get many chances at winning races.
But, yeah, just focusing forward. You know, I mean, when you've been around racing long enough, you know you're going to have bad runs, you're going to have really good runs. I mean, you do. It just happens like that. Things can't go your way all the time, and they can't go badly for you all the time. It's just percentages. It's math (laughter).
Q. Your location at the end of pit lane, is that a big advantage here? Is it harder to turn in because you're on a curve? Are you just more grateful to have a clean exit?
WILL POWER: Definitely grateful to have a clean exit. That made a big difference last year. So I'm hoping this year we have a yellow flag stop about, you know, 50 to go, 60-ish to go, right when everyone has one more stop to do. I'm about P2, 3-ish, hang on for the rest, win the race.
Q. How easy or hard is it to save fuel on an oval? Is it easier here because you can back everyone up because it's so hard to pass?
WILL POWER: It's definitely easier here to save fuel because you catch the back of the train, then you're just sitting there. No one can pass anyone. Generally, you know, someone will try, then they'll wash out, then they'll lose a position. It's really, really difficult. Yeah, I think track position race.
Q. You got to watch Helio celebrate with his little hat. How frustrating is that, especially being your teammate on top of that?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I just dislike him (laughter).
No, I wasn't even noticing. He's got (indiscernible) and everything.
THE MODERATOR: A hat and a crown, too.
WILL POWER: C'mon.
You know, this year it's been pole for me, pole for Helio, pole for me, pole for Helio. Let me work this out. Indy road course for me, damn it, pole for Helio. I wanted the 500 pole. But then maybe it works out in the race, so…
Helio and I are going at it because we're really close in poles. I think I'm 46 and he's now 49. He's, like, really trying to cement that position, but I'm going to take it from him.
Q. You mentioned the desire for more power, less downforce on a track like this. What is your thought on the downforce part? You take that away, add power, you have cars in the corner idling, not able to pick up the throttle. Is there a balance you think IndyCar should look at?
WILL POWER: If you take grip away, the cars will be what in the corner?
Q. If you're adding a lot of horsepower, taking a lot of downforce, cornering is going to suffer. Is there a balance IndyCar should consider?
WILL POWER: There's good balance actually. What we ran, like, from 2012 to '14, like at Milwaukee, you're like going down two gears in the corner. It wasn't really a full lift, but it was a lift. You know, I won the race in '14 because I had better traction off the corner. So that was a pretty good level.
You could hardly tell a difference from the year after, like, in speed, watching, but we had a lot more downforce and no one passed anyone. So definitely it needs to come with the tire, as well. Softer tire, more forgiving, slide more. Even something that just degrades a bit. At tracks like this… I mean, Iowa last year I thought was a great race. Felt they had it dead on, you know.
Q. You mentioned it's going to be difficult to pass. Is there room in there that it might surprise you to a degree, somebody is going to find a line or try something a little different that works?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I think, yes, could — if we could just open up a lane, like the outside of three, four, a couple cars start running the outside corner, that would really help. It's just the fact that a groove doesn't come in. No one wants to get up there, yeah.
It could be good passing. I don't know. I'm just going off last year, and a little bit of practice. It's felt kind of difficult. But it may be good. May be quite good.
Q. Will, is the tire that Firestone brought any different than last year? Somewhere I heard someone say that the tire is not degrading over the course of the stint because the track is fairly smooth. If it did degrade, that would help, I would think, enhance passing.
WILL POWER: Yeah, you're right. If it degraded more, it would help passing. But they brought a more durable right front tire. I think they fixed the front tire, had a couple issues last year.
The tire does degrade a little bit, but not like Iowa. It really degrades, creates some good racing. I think it could be a really good race. I expect it to be a really good race. I mean, it's a little harder than other tracks to get a run.
Q. Beyond you and Helio on the front row, it's JR and Josef on row two. You had the opportunity to race Josef in a different circumstance. How would you rate their race craft? How different is it them up there, knowing you're racing them?
WILL POWER: Yeah, Josef is a very good racer. JR, have to watch your bumper pods with him. Beyond that, he's all good. I think maybe now he's learnt not to knock off pods.
Yeah, good guys right there.
THE MODERATOR: Will, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.
WILL POWER: Cheers. Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue our Verizon IndyCar Series post qualifying press conference. Joined now by the pole winner for the race tomorrow evening, Helio Castroneves. This is Helio's second pole this season. Also a repeat pole winner here at Phoenix Raceway. He now has 49 career poles, which ties Bobby Unser for third on the all-time pole list.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Nice. That's what I'm talking about.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. Take us through your run and the conditions on track. We know it's been breezy today. It's been dirty today.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's been tough. Then they call us old. That's what I tell you. Experience is a big part of this. Today was really, really good.
First, I want to thank again everyone for yesterday, the celebration of myself and Tony 20 years. We had a nice time in Phoenix. Thank you again for everybody that show up.
The conditions were really difficult today because it changed from last year. Last year, we qualified in the afternoon, practiced at night. Now it was completely different. But the gust winds were horrendous.
We just decided to work obviously most on the race setup, make sure that the car would feel good. Big things that happened here in pre-season, probably it paid off today because we didn't have to go through a lot of change.
But again, in qualifying, yeah, my engineer did a phenomenal job. We calculated something in the car. It turned out to be a good one.
THE MODERATOR: With your younger new teammate this year, I know you've been talking a lot about how it even challenges you more. As you said earlier, we celebrated your 20th season in IndyCar last night. How rewarding is it to know you're still seeing these results despite the fact that we're celebrating milestones like that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's always great. Josef is an amazing talent. Huge congrats to him last race, he did a phenomenal job. It was a shame for Will, he was looking like he was going to take another win, as well.
To be honest, it's not about the age, but it's about having a great group of guys. Today we have a phenomenal group of talented drivers. I'm just honored to be part of this group. Day in, day out, they push me. I learn from them. That's probably why we keep up there.
So now we have a great chance tomorrow. Hopefully we don't have the same problem that we had in Long Beach. I already talked to the Chevy guys. Make sure we have a smooth start at least. But we're looking forward. Can't wait for tomorrow. Car is really, really good. Obviously qualifying is one thing, race is another, but I'm really confident for tomorrow.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Helio.
Q. You mentioned that the conditions in practice were terrible. Will said the same. Could you learn anything for qualifying, the car behavior, in hot conditions is different than cooler conditions?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: We had a little taste of it. We didn't go full of it because we knew the conditions would change so much from the morning or late — afternoon to the evening. We just had a taste a little bit how is going to go.
The toughest part, people don't realize, even though we going at night, it changed a lot. I remember. We probably had a change especially in track temps were probably 20 degrees to 25 degrees different. That change completely the racecar.
That's why big props for my engineers and everyone to put everything together in a right way. It was perfect.
Q. I think last year you led from the pole, then sort of had a problem going into turn one, a tire issue of some kind. I don't know if you ever figured out what happened there. Can you avoid having that happen again this year?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: If I'm not mistaking, I think Firestone came up and probably saw there was something wrong with that tire. With Juan Pablo was a punch. It wasn't the setup of the car. My other two teammates, which was Will and Simon, ended up finishing the race second and third.
We feel that Firestone did a good job. In fact, they change a little bit of the construction of the tires for this weekend. We feel that we haven't had any problems since then. I'm looking forward for tomorrow not having any issues.
Can't count with anything outside of our control. But we thinking positive here that it's going to be good.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. Good luck tomorrow.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you. Thank you, guys.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with our Verizon IndyCar Series post practice press conference. Joined now by JR Hildebrand, driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy's Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing.
JR, we'll talk about practice, but obviously, the question on everyone's mind is how is the hand feeling, how great does it feel to be back in a car?
JR HILDEBRAND: It definitely feels good to be back. It's a good place for us to be coming back. We were strong here in the test. I think with the kind of injury that I'm dealing with and the surgery that I had, an oval definitely is a little easier just literally turning left versus turning right even.
So it felt better than honestly I thought it would in practice. I didn't have any, like, major issues. I got a couple of different braces that I'm kind of playing around with and stuff like that. But felt like I got it pretty dialed in. Feel good about qualifying today and then the race tomorrow as well.
THE MODERATOR: You've obviously been contributing to this team for a long time, not as a full-time driver, but how difficult was it for you to kind of be on the sidelines knowing that was your car racing out at Barber?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, it was definitely different to be watching in that situation than it was last year, you know, or in years past when I've been stepping in for testing or whatever and doing that on behalf of other guys.
It was painful to sit there and watch, but I think was in the end the only, you know, feasible kind of way to get through that weekend. Just glad that it all feels good enough to get back in here.
THE MODERATOR: Now, all of that being said, it doesn't seem to have slowed you down very much, finishing second fastest in practice today. Your thoughts on the wind conditions and just practice in general for that first session?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, the conditions were, like, as crazy as I've seen them at a track in a long time. Just the amount of wind that we had, obviously as you guys were I'm sure very clearly aware, like the dust and all that kind of stuff was pretty crazy looking.
You know, we felt pretty good for where we were at in those conditions. For tomorrow it's going to be a guess what downforce level you want to run and those types of things just to get through the race and be good in different types of situations in the race.
We did as much race running as we could earlier today just to try to figure that out before, you know, doing more qualifying simulation stuff later on. But, you know, felt like we made a little bit of progress from when we were here at the test, certainly in the race running.
You know, the car's certainly got some speed in it. I feel like, you know, if we nail it this afternoon, we got a good shot at starting on the front row, for sure.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for JR.
Q. At any time during that practice, did the wind catch you out any?
JR HILDEBRAND: I was doing my first (qualifying) sim actually. It was like going through one, two. It didn't catch me off guard because you know that that's something that you might have to deal with.
But had a, you know, pretty good moment, you know, just getting sort of some tailwind going through two at the exit. So, you know, doesn't look like it's dying down much. It will definitely be something that everybody will have to deal with.
It's also kind of gusty. That at these places, it's no different at Indy than it was when we ran the Milwaukee Mile. It's the gustiness that actually is what really throws you off. It's not really the consistent wind in any particular direction, you can kind of get used to that and account for it. We'll just kind of have to see how it plays out.
Q. The dust on the track, did that affect you at all?
JR HILDEBRAND: You know, I was surprised that that didn't seem to be having a huge impact. I didn't personally notice it. You know, I was kind of thinking all right, you start trying to pass guys, get offline, are you going to notice that going into the next corner, the front tires maybe don't feel like they're totally in or something, like it takes 30 or 40 feet back on the racing line for everybody to scrub off and feel back normal. I didn't really see a lot of that out there and didn't experience much of it myself.
Like I said, was honestly a bit surprised that that didn't seem to be a bigger problem.
Q. A question concerning the wind conditions. Is there something that you can do with the aero package that the car is not so sensitive anymore against the wind, to feel better?
JR HILDEBRAND: You know, it's tough. You can add downforce. I mean, that's kind of the easiest solution when you get into these types of situations. Most cars, I felt, were able to run a little bit more downforce this weekend as compared to the test. There was, like, a slight spec change from IndyCar coming to the race that allowed all participants to run a little bit more downforce sufficiently. I think you're seeing that more or less up and down the paddock.
Other than that, it's a very difficult thing. Because the cars or so aerodynamically dependent, it's quite difficult to account for difference in wind one end to the other. I think the Silver Crown cars are probably less affected by a lot of wind than we are. Figuring that out will be the difference between being good tomorrow and great tomorrow.
Q. Not only the wind, but what about the sand situation, all the sand blowing on the track? Does it make it slippery?
JR HILDEBRAND: Like I was mentioning earlier, I didn't feel like that was as big of an issue. I think you'll notice that it will sort of accumulate offline. If you get into a situation that, sand offline ends up being just like marbles offline. But just kind of doing regular running, it didn't feel like the track was badly impacted by that.
Q. Was it hard having to sit out Barber, being you had just come back getting your full-time ride? Do you feel more confident coming back here being that you were so good at the test, this place has been good to you in the past?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, it was for sure tough going into Barber. It's hard when you're in a situation like that. You feel like it's kind of out of your hands. Like we didn't even get to a point that I was trying to get back in the car, figure out if that was possible there, just 'cause the doctors that worked on my hand were pretty firm in their feeling that even if I could sort out how to run there, it was going to be causing — I was putting myself at fairly significant risk for longer-term damage.
As we have Phoenix this weekend, regardless of the fact that we knew we would be competitive here based on the tests, May comes up in a hurry. You just don't want to get behind.
Tough spot to be in kind of all around there. But then coming here, to your second point, definitely feels good to be coming back here. It's a little easier to get back in a car at a place where you've been competitive, you know. There was no reason that we didn't expect to be competitive here again when we showed back up.
It's a good spot for us so far.
Q. How are you able to embrace your mentor role to Zach (Veach)? How did he progress over the course of the weekend? You made your debut in almost an identical fashion.
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, I filled in for Mike Conway at Mid-Ohio back in 2010 in sort of similar conditions.
Yeah, I mean, knowing this was going to be sort of a short-term thing, in particular, I wanted for the team's sake to be able to get as much as they could out of having Zach in the car in my absence. That in some ways sort of requires that Zach is up to speed.
But being a driver myself, being in that situation before, I know that it helps a lot to have somebody that, you know, is kind of just there to help you through whatever those difficulties and challenges are.
Barber is a really tough place. He had some testing time at Sonoma, which is not really super relevant going into Barber. And on top of that, like, we were not great there when we tested there previously.
You know, he was in for an uphill battle going in. He had a great attitude about the whole thing. I thought he made evident progression through the weekend. You know, was definitely helpful for the team and did a good job for himself.
Q. At Indy for two, three years you were the third car for Ed Carpenter Racing. Now this year there's not going to be a third car. Will that help the overall effort between you and Ed?
JR HILDEBRAND: I think so. I mean, like last year with Josef, Ed and myself, that was a really potent sort of combo of I feel like drivers and engineers and all that kind of stuff.
I think from the team's perspective, you know, having me there in the third car, that's always a little bit of a drain on, you know, the resources of the team and doing all that stuff.
I know Ed went into this year feeling like unless the team had a deal done way in advance with all the right people, that he was, you know, sort of opposed to doing that. He's ended up holding firm in that.
To answer your question more directly, I feel really good about what we're going to be doing there and know that at a bare minimum we'll be able to focus really intently just on what we're doing.
Ed and I, over the course of the last few years, we're looking for very similar things, driving a very similar way around there. We'll be looking to make good on it, for sure.
Q. You have a brace on your wrist. Are you doing anything different in the car to help your wrist?
JR HILDEBRAND: This is just my hand. So my wrist is actually sort of fine.
This is actually the brace that I started using in the car. I've got some carbon fiber stuff, other things like that. This has ended up being sort of the most comfortable. It's basically just to try to form fit it to the steering wheel, wear it under my glove. So it's just to kind of like disperse load in my hand to make it so I sort of can't grip super hard with my last two fingers.
In terms of what I'm doing in the car, that's all I'm doing in the car. To change it, we've moved things around, remade some steering wheel grips and things like that. But that's all things that guys do between weekends kind of anyway.
Other than that, it's just a lot of other stuff outside the car to kind of be prepped as well as I can be for getting in it that I wouldn't normally do.
Q. Do you have any concerns about mechanical problems on your car since your teammate spent some time in the garage today?
JR HILDEBRAND: No. I think it was just an isolated incident. Yeah, no stress on our side.
Q. When you're in the corner, have you adjusted? Are you pulling with it more? Have you changed your style when you go into the corner because of it?
JR HILDEBRAND: I don't know. I think I'm probably using my hand a little bit differently. But, you know, haven't noticed — I'm certainly not, like, consciously doing anything differently. Feel very, very much the same being here the last time around in terms of what I'm doing, where I'm putting the car, how I'm able to do that.
I was a little bit concerned getting out of pit box and stuff like that, which was no stress. You know, it's not affecting my, like, normal movement pattern, I don't think.
Q. If it was reversed and it was your right hand, would it be almost impossible here?
JR HILDEBRAND: I think it would definitely be tougher. That's where kind of like where it is on my hand and the severity of the injury were both, like, had a lot to do with where I could go and where I couldn't.
Because it's my left hand and where it is, sort of pulling with your left hand around here, that's definitely, you know, not as bad as it could have been otherwise. Like if we decided to switch directions, I think that would be, like, more of an issue, for sure. Thankfully that's not something that we do.
Q. It seems like you and Spencer have come from the back to the front in the two races you ran. You haven't really had the finishes you might have liked. Where do you think you need to improve? Do you think you just need better luck your way?
JR HILDEBRAND: You know, definitely as a group I think on the road courses, road and street courses, need to improve a little bit. We're working really hard to find where those areas are, what we can do as drivers and, you know, crews to be a little bit more dialed in when we show up at road and street courses.
That's a process that we're sort of, you know, continue to go through. But we've definitely made gains. I think the fact that our race pace tends to be pretty good is at least, you know, one positive among all the things that you work on.
So it will be a little bit of, you know, catching some breaks and things like that. But, you know, in the end I think we definitely feel like there's some pace that we need to be able to go get to compete on a more regular basis.
Q. Did you and Mikhail talk after the contact at Long Beach? Are you concerned at all with how he's been driving, since he's had a few other incidents besides yours?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, he came over and told me he didn't block me while I was still sitting in the car. Then he got a penalty 30 seconds later for doing that. Whatever.
I'm not — like, I don't have hard feelings about it, for sure. But, you know, I think that there's definitely a track record that, you know, he's begun to build up.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Good luck in qualifying.
JR HILDEBRAND: Thanks, guys.