SIMON PAGENAUD, NO. 22 PPG AUTOMOTIVE FINISHES TEAM PENSKE CHEVROLET, met with media at Barber Motorsports Park and discussed:
THE MODERATOR: Simon, first of all, how did the first practice go? Obviously it looks like some weather is moving in, so it might be a marker for you guys in terms of progress heading into tomorrow.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, this morning was interesting. We worked mostly on race setup. We had a few things we wanted to try from the open test here. The car was behaving pretty well on the tires, actually. It was a very interesting session. The track changed a lot, as well, which it always does at that time of the day between 11:00 and 12:00. It was certainly interesting.
But yeah, it's a shame it's raining because I had something I wanted to try, but I guess we'll have to deal with the weather, and we can always try tomorrow morning before qualifying.
THE MODERATOR: So you can't tell us what you wanted to try then.
SIMON PAGENAUD: You would have to kill me. I won't tell you.
Q: What's the start of the season been like to you? Obviously probably if not your strongest, one of your strongest starts to a season ever. What's that feel like knowing that you're kind of the one with the target on his back?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it feels great. I mean, I just want to continue that trend. We worked really well over the winter, really hard actually, to get the 22 group perfectly in sync. It's so enjoyable when it actually works out, when you actually get everybody to be on the same page and when things flow so well so easily. I'm so excited to see what's more to come. We still have more in our pocket, so it feels really good. Obviously there will be tough days, and those tough days when we do well, that's going to be the key. We already have a win in our bank, so we just need to keep going like this and score a lot of points, and we'll see where we end up, but so far I'm really, really proud of everybody and really pleased with the progress.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Q: Barber Motorsports Park, we hear a lot of compliments on its beauty and the challenges that it presents to drivers. What are some of your favorite things about the track?
SIMON PAGENAUD: I like the racing here because especially on restarts, you get a lot of opportunities to run side by side in Turn 1, Turn 2, Turn 5, even entry of Turn 8, so the first lap is very exciting. You can make a move. The weather every year is playing a card, as well, and I kind of like that. That's racing. You've got to play with the elements, and I remember I think it was 2014 when it rained at the beginning of the race and then it was dry at the end. I just love that kind of racing. I wouldn't mind a weekend like that.
Q: You won last week in Long Beach; what are you trying to do to keep that momentum going into this week?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, we come off three strong results with two seconds and a first place, so we're just going to keep focusing on the task, on the job like we've been doing, and just try to execute. I mean, qualifying is very important, but then the race car has to suit me for me to extract the best out of it, and then it's all down to strategy, me getting the fuel save that the guys need for good strategy. When I'm comfortable, we can do that pretty easily. We just need to stay focused and do the same thing, don't get too excited, and just have fun.
Q: Yesterday IndyCar officials announced the Fast Six is only going to be six minutes now, so I guess it really is a Fast Six. Four less minutes? How much more urgency do you think that's going to create?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, it doesn't really change much because at the end of the day, it's a six-minute guarantee, where before it could have been only two minutes of running, considering the rules, so it's fine. I mean, it doesn't really change the whole game. At the end of the day, you still have to do your fast lap, and now the difference is strategy like Helio and Roger had last weekend paid off for them. That's not going to be the case anymore because now everybody is going to get a chance to do his lap.
For example, we were on the other side of the deal last weekend. It could have been really bad for us because we didn't have a lap in before the red. Now it's not going to be the case anymore. Everybody is going to have a chance.
Q: Simon, you're on the Drivers' Council. How well received were the changes with pit exit commitment line? How well received was that change?
SIMON PAGENAUD: There wasn't much talk after Long Beach between the drivers, so I couldn't really comment on that. But I think at the end of the day, it's clear for everybody what we can and cannot do. As long as it's black and white for the drivers, it's pretty good. That's what we like. I would say personally, I think it's a good thing.
Q: You talked about last year and things not falling into place. Obviously same team, same group. The difference between what was an off-season for you one would consider and this tremendous start you have, the difference with the team and how you relate with the team.
SIMON PAGENAUD: I think it's more knowing each other. We basically brought people from outside last year to start this new team. Again, it's a fourth car. It's the first time the team fielded a fourth car for us, so we had to bring people over. They took people from the other cars, as well, to build that 22 team. Took us a while to hit the ground running and understand each other really well.
Now engineering strategy, the data guys, the mechanics, they all get along really well, so things are easy. It's just like when you start a new job at a new place. It takes time to understand how to get things flowing. That's exactly what we're doing right now. I would say that's the main difference, because quite frankly, we had the pace last year, we just didn't execute completely.
Q: Passing is at a premium at this track, so how important is qualifying going into Sunday's race?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, especially with the way the racing is right now with IndyCars. I mean, I'll tell you, this is the most fun I've ever had driving the IndyCars. It's really, really fast. The racing is a little bit more difficult because of all the aerodynamic we have on it, but the nature of IndyCar racing is still there. We can still be very aggressive. We have a lot of Push-to-Pass. We can make passes like I did in Long Beach, for example.
Here it's important to qualify up front because of how fast we run around the racetrack. If, like I said, it depends what's going to happen, if there are any incidents, that will create a lot of actions with safety car.
Q: Simon, when you came back here for the first time a few years ago in 2011 when it was a fill-in role and you got called up last minute, how much did that performance help lead you on this road back into getting in a full-time seat the following year?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, I think actually it's a really good question. 2011, that race here was probably what propelled my IndyCar career. I don't think I would have had a chance with Schmidt if I didn't have this opportunity to show what I could do here with Dreyer & Reinbold, so yeah, I finished eighth in that race just behind Helio. It was amazing. We started at the back. I had never drove this car before, never been at this track, so it was an amazing weekend. Everybody was really happy. And then it got me the chance to drive again to replace Justin in mid-Ohio. That was a strong run, and it got me another opportunity at Sonoma for HVM that same year. By then things were already done with Sam, so that really helped me to get ready for 2012, and then the three years at Schmidt were really useful to understand the game. Now I'm definitely in a different level, at a different level of my game. Things are a lot easier to understand. It's just like a chess game. But it's like if you had different rules of chess game. You just have to understand all the details before you can perfect it.
Q: Regarding Barber, this particular track, what would be the top three things that affect the ultimate outcome of the race?
SIMON PAGENAUD: That's a good question. I think what's difficult here is all the elevation changes makes it very difficult on us because it's a lot of corners are blinded, and at the speed we're traveling, you have to be inches perfect. It certainly makes it very difficult. The G-forces are really high in the IndyCars, so it's another component. The physical aspect is pretty much a very important one. And then confidence, I think, because you have to throw yourself through the corner with full confidence in yourself and your machine.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN, NO. 21 FUZZY'S ULTRA PREMIUM VODKA ED CARPENTER RACING CHEVROLET, met with media at Barber Motorsports Park and discussed:
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and get started with today's Verizon IndyCar Series media availability. Pleased to be joined by our reigning race winner Josef Newgarden.
Josef, you're one of only four drivers to ever win here at the track. What does that mean to you, especially considering that last year was your first career win.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I guess it's good if you win anywhere. You win an IndyCar race, and it's kind of a big deal. It's very difficult, as everyone knows, to win one of these races.
Barber is particularly tough because it's kind of hard on tires here. You have a lot of tire degradation throughout the race that you have to deal with. It's tough to beat the Penskes at that. They're normally really good at taking care of tires.
It felt great for us. We've always been kind of strong here from a speed standpoint, thereabouts in the top ten. Last year we made a good leap forward and got inside the top six. Then the race was really, really good for us, and we were strong and could really run with anyone, I felt, that day and could control the pace. Not cruise out front, but we just — we could do our thing. Saving fuel, and it seemed like a really clean run to the finish. So it means a lot.
I think this is one of my favorite race tracks. Thinking about it coming in, it's one of the best tracks we go to. It's so beautiful. They do just an amazing job, I feel like, at this facility. It's a pleasure to come here and run, and you get a lot of fans because of that. It's a great place for people to come watch an IndyCar race, and it's really a fun track to drive.
So to be able to win here and to get my first win, it's always going to be pretty special to me now.
THE MODERATOR: Despite the track and its beauty, do you feel it's one of your favorites because it's almost like a home race for you. You're from Nashville. It's probably one of the closest IndyCar races to Nashville aside from maybe Indianapolis.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, everyone's always said that it's my home track, which is fine with me. I grew up in Nashville, obviously, three hours away, and this was one of the tracks when I was a kid — kid. I was 16, 17. But when I was racing Junior Formula cars, this was one of my favorite tracks. I loved running Skip Barber cars around here. I always thought it was just a blast.
That was really the only car I had driven, other than the IndyCar, around here. It's not nearly as powerful, not nearly as fun, but to drive an IndyCar around here has been a treat. It's always been one of my favorite tracks.
It's close to home. It's one of my favorites, the place where I got my first win. It's going to be a very special track, I think, for me forever.
THE MODERATOR: A lot of factors there. How is the season going so far for you and your team?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: We've had a slow start to the year. It's not been as good as we wanted. It's not been as terrible as it probably could have been. St. Pete was tough for us. We had kind of an electrical gremlin that put us out of the race. That started the foot off really wrong.
And then I think Phoenix was a tough pill to swallow. I felt like we had really good cars there, both Ed and I, and we weren't able to capitalize on that. We finished sixth, which wasn't bad, but wasn't near the potential, I think, of what we had around there. That was tough. I think we had a winning car to compete there, and it would have been nice to race Scott and some of the other guys at the end.
And then Long Beach just was slightly underwhelming, we were in the top ten all weekend but couldn't really climb to the top five like we needed to. I think we could have finished higher than tenth at the end of the day, but probably sixth or seventh is where we lied that weekend. It just was what it was. We were a little underperforming there.
I think we've got a great team. There's no doubt about that. I've got a lot of confidence after what we did last year. That gives you a lot of confidence when you can go and compete at so many different tracks like we did last year. I don't have any lost faith in what we're doing. I think we'll be good this weekend.
A little weird first session, if anyone was watching that. Tires and the way the track sort of trended through the session. I think that's why you saw everyone so scattered. You saw Helio at the back. Will kind of back from midfield. We were midfield. Scott was midfield. It just was a little more scattered, I think, than people would normally see. That's just a strange session from tire usage and track temp in my opinion.
We'll see how it ends out over the weekend. I think we'll be a little bit closer to the front, but we've got a little work to do to be as good as last year, I think.
Q: You talked about this being a great track for you, but being the defending champ for the first time, there are a lot of extra things that come with that. How do you handle that for the first time? And dealing with also needing to get the work done for it.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think the biggest thing is people expect you to be really good when you come back. If you won somewhere, they're like, wow, you're going to go back and have a really easy time, right, because you guys were good last year? That's not always the case. Things change year to year.
We've got differences on the Chevy side with the kit that we've got to figure out. Confident in that, but that's one of the changes. And then the tires can slightly change year to year. The track can change slightly. Other teams can improve or drop depending. So there's a lot of things that change over season to season. I don't think it's a guarantee that you come back and just have a smoking fast race car again and you go out and win. You could be 12th the next year.
So I hope that's not the case. I think we'll be good. But that's kind of the biggest thing I've noticed. Everyone just expects you to be the guy that weekend again. You won here last year, so you're going to do it again, right? Hopefully, we can do that. I've got confidence we can.
Q: Josef, how much of the slow start you mentioned for the start of your season do you attribute to going back to a single car team on the road and street courses?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I don't think it has much to do with that. I think there's other difference that's we're working through. The kit side is a little different on the Chevy, and that's — it's been more different than I think we accounted for.
I don't think having only one car affects the way that we progressed through that over the winter until now. I think we've got pretty much the same group of people. We really don't have any differences. There's just, obviously, one less car on the road and street courses. Phoenix, we got Ed still there and working — I'm working with Ed just the same, and I think we had kind of a slow start at Phoenix too for what we did results-wise.
So I don't know if it's just trying to work out some of the gremlins right now with what we're doing process-wise each weekend. I feel like we're just not — we just haven't clicked as significantly as we did last year.
But last year was kind of the same thing. It took us a couple rounds to get going. We got a win finally and then kind of floundered a little bit in the middle and picked up again. Those swings are pretty normal. Ideally, you'd like to have no swings, just good at the start and even all the way across. I think we're trying to minimize that, but we certainly have a little bit of a downward dip. I don't know if it's so much because we were lacking one car. We've got the same people. So I don't think that's a huge factor.
Q: Josef, how different has the racing been this year, the fact that there were no cautions last week, there's only, I think, the one or two at St. Pete back to back. How difficult is it knowing there might not be very many passing opportunities if you don't have restarts?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, that puts an emphasis on qualifying. We were talking about that this weekend. You've got to qualify well, it seems like. For all you know and me, it could have like ten cautions here on Sunday for some reason. We haven't had many, and then all of a sudden, we have a bunch. That seems like that's normal to happen, right? We don't know when we're going to get a race that's caution free.
I don't know what's causing that. I don't think it's anything on the kit side. I don't think it's any other factors. It's kind of just strange when it happens. It's happened before too when we really didn't expect a caution free race, and we go caution free. I don't know if it's just all the drivers having a certain day and it's just the way it works out.
So, yes, to answer your question, we're thinking about that. I think we're just thinking qualifying is very important right now. Hopefully, we don't have — I mean, I don't know what's going to happen. I'd like to see some cautions in the race. I think it helps if you're, obviously, fifth or sixth, but if you're leading the race, no cautions is pretty good. It really just depends, but we're going to try to focus on qualifying well. That puts us in the best chance to do well.
Q: Josef, last year it rained on Saturday, obviously, throwing a wrench to the situation. It's forecast to rain today as well. How much is that going to set you guys back?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I don't think it's going to be bad. We weren't expecting to necessarily run the day yesterday. We thought it was going to rain all day today, and now it hasn't. We've already run P-1, which is more than we expected, and it looks like completely sunny skies for Saturday and Sunday. I don't think anyone is really going to be set back. Even if we miss practice 2, I don't think it will affect anyone too bad.
Q: You have a competition this weekend, but then early next week, you're involved in another competition, American Ninja Warrior. Tell us how excited you are for that and what you've been doing to prepare for it.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, so if no one knows, it's me Helio, T.K., we're going to do American Ninja Warrior next week, which is why I don't know why we said yes to that because I don't think any of us are prepared to do that challenge. It's a crazy cool opportunity because I don't think a lot of people get the chance to try that obstacle course. So we're going to try to do that.
I've had one day to really prepare for it. We've been on the road traveling so much, and you can't just go into the gym and do pull-ups. That's not how you train for that type of competition. It's very specialized. I don't know if anyone in here has seen American Ninja Warrior. It's all technique. Like it's all specific obstacles, specific techniques.
You have to find a gym that has these specific things to try, and I found one place in Indiana, or Indianapolis, that has kind of a mock setup of some of the obstacles that you have to do. I did that earlier on Tuesday this week and tore up my hand a little bit, and I had to stop. I was like that's all I can do for tonight. I've got to race this weekend. That's kind of my real job. So I had one day to test.
I was actually just talking to Helio about it, and he's kind of worried too. He's like, I've only done one day of training. I don't feel prepared. He's asking what I have done, and we were talking about the salmon ladder and some of the other obstacles. So I don't know how we're going to do. Maybe one of us will miraculously do really well and represent IndyCar. I'm hoping that's the case, but I don't know. I don't know how that's going to work out.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Q: What is your favorite turns to pass on here besides Charlotte's Web?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Oh, favorite turns on the track? Path?
THE MODERATOR: Best turns to pass on here.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I'm sorry. I thought you were saying best path for walking, I don't know.
To pass? Shockingly, you can kind of pass anywhere here, and I think the reason you can do that is because of the tires and the way they degrade. This track is a little unique in that it just really takes the life out of the tires halfway through the stint. And what you saw last year and the passing that you saw last year was attributed to that.
I think the good thing, we have great Firestone rubber — not a knock on Firestone, but it's just kind of the trait of this track. It takes the tires away pretty quickly after that new tire grip, and that creates instability at the rear. The car is kind of all over the place. You can get loose in any one of these corners really and someone can pass you.
Your hot spots are five. Five is always a big hot spot. Sometimes it can happen into nine shockingly. And my kind of favorite is into turn 16. That's probably my favorite spot. It's more of a low percentage passing place, but I really like getting guys out 12, 13, in the high speed and into turn 16. So that's another place you can look for.
THE MODERATOR: Josef, good luck defending your win this weekend.