IndyCar Fontana MAVTV 500 Saturday Press Conference

Graham Rahal savors the win
Graham Rahal savors the win
Lucille Dust/AR1.com

An Interview:
1st Graham Rahal – Honda
2nd Tony Kanaan – Chevy
3rd Marco Andretti – Honda

THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and begin today's Verizon IndyCar Series postâ€'race press conference. We're pleased to be joined by our secondâ€'place finisher Tony Kanaan. Tony finished second at Texas this year. This is his 74th topâ€'three finish, his third in 2015. You were up front for almost the entire race. Talk a little bit about your thoughts on the race and just the atmosphere out there. It seemed like a very exciting race.

TONY KANAAN: Yeah, exciting for you guys, that's for sure. A little crazy for us, but yeah, I tried to stay in the front all day just to try to stay out of trouble. It was a little bit of a closer race than we expected to be, but at the end, I think we all survived. A long day, very stressful, and fortunately we ended up under the yellow. We tried not to, so for the fans who would like to see a checkered flag under the green, but we tried; we red flag it with five to go and went back to green with three to go.

All in all, not a bad result, but obviously we came up a little short.

Q: Tell us how we have the conversation with the fans that you don't want pack racing and they want close racing. How do you walk that line with people?

TONY KANAAN: It's a fine line. It's definitely a fine line, but I think if I wasn't expecting â€'â€' in the middle of the race, I thought, man, the fans must be loving it, so hopefully we can pack this place when we come back if we're going to keep racing like this. But for us, people have to understand how stressful it is, and obviously we get paid and we are who we are because we can do this, but we can't forget that we lost â€'â€' I lost my best friend in exactly the same way in 2011.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]I understand what the fans want, and if we â€'â€' if you say we're going to have 100,000 people here and this is what we're going to do, I agree with you that we need to put it out there. To have 5,000 people out there and do this, it's stupid. To be honest with you, it's not anybody's fault. We can't say we chose the right or the wrong aero package because this is new, right? We went to Texas and it was okay, but I heard a lot of criticism about it being a boring race. So like you said, I don't have the answer. How can we make it so we can keep the drivers happy and the fans happy? I really don't. I wish we â€'â€' over the course of this year we can come up with something that â€'â€' a compromise for both of us, but really right now I won't know what to tell you.

Q: AJ Foyt said he loved racing like this when he was racing the car. Ed Carpenter just Tweeted, I love close IndyCar racing. Hate to see drivers badmouthing the series. If you want to race, race. If not, retire. How do you respond to that? You said that there's 5,000 people here, and if there were 100,000 people you might want to race that way. That seems a little disingenuous to me.

TONY KANAAN: Why?

Q: You want more people here than less?

TONY KANAAN: Are you risking your life out there? You're not. You're sitting in a chair and writing about it. So if you feel this way and you lose your best friend, you might say something like that. I have an opinion, and this is my opinion, so I hope you respect that.

Q: Tony or Marco, because you're both running up front all day, from a driver's perspective, from the outside looking in, it didn't look like there was a lot of falloff on tires, looked like everybody had decent grip throughout the entire fuel stint. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Marco Andretti
Marco Andretti
Lucille Dust/AR1.com

MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, it just really depended what downforce level you were running because you can make it to where your car is easy to drive, but it's too draggy, and you can make it to where it's quick in a straight line, but it's tougher to drive. You know, guys were making changes the whole race, I'm sure, so it was really tough to measure up.

I know for us it was really tough to lead. Like we were a little draggy out front, but the car was pretty good in traffic.

Q: This is a question for Tony, and Marco, if you want to chime in, you can. Is there something different here at the California Auto Club Speedway, I think it's like 12 or 14 degrees of banking, I saw four and five wide, just crazy driving, because I was up in the skybox, but how is that different from the Indianapolis 500 where the last 20 laps it was very exciting, somewhat flat track, and then Texas, we had cars going two wide sometimes, I think you and Helio went around for a couple of laps. How come here we have the pack racing?

TONY KANAAN: It's a different package. It's a different aero package. Those three tracks that you mentioned we didn't race the same â€'â€' with none of them. Indy was one package, Texas one was another one, and here was another one, so here we had more downforce than we ever had in the past two years, I think, two or three years, so that's what happens. When you add downforce, you can run multiple lanes, and when you run multiple lanes, you just have a pack racing.

Q: I'd like you both to answer this. Midway through the race, there was a tailwind. How did it affect the aero kit performance of your cars? Did it create push, more downforce, what?

TONY KANAAN: No, you just have to go through the gears quicker. Basically you're arriving quicker to one end of the track and arriving slower to the other end. When you have a tailwind like that, it really doesn't affect it. It makes your car actually to push a little bit going into the corner when you have a tailwind, and it's a little bit on the nose where you have the headwind. It's not really â€'â€' like the wind, I couldn't really tell it was bad. I mean, before this, I don't think we could tell.

MARCO ANDRETTI: He answered that so good.

Q: Question for Tony: This dramatic pack racing subject, was it mentioned in the drivers' meeting? Was there anything explained before the race? And can you maybe give some details about this decision by the race promoter?

TONY KANAAN: No, it was not talked about because we didn't know what to expect. We all had an idea, but we had an idea in Texas, and it didn't go the way we thought it was going to go. If you look, we choose to run a lot of downforce and a lot of people didn't and it ended up working for us. Here we did not know, so I don't think it was â€'â€' again, I don't think it's anybody's fault, it's just the nature of the track, the package that we chose. A lot of people like it, a lot of people don't. This is just the way it is.

I think it's good for everybody to have an opinion, and again, we need to â€'â€' if we agree with everything, it would be boring. I think for sure IndyCar is going to think about it. We're going to talk between, among ourselves, among the drivers, and at the end of the day, we're the ones driving, and we're going to give our opinion and maybe we'll be heard, because the last time that we talked, we lost a hell of a guy, and I would hate to see something like that ever again.

Q: Marco, months ago in Indianapolis, most of the drivers were struggling with speed. Now one month later it looks totally different. Do you think it's a turning point, that they've launched an evolution of this engine with more horsepower?

MARCO ANDRETTI: I don't know. All I know is everybody is pushing extremely hard. We know what we have to do. You know, I think it's just a different track. I think it's more grip limited here at some points, so you can pile on so much downforce that you can make the car good, as I said earlier. At Indy you're sort of â€'â€' you're either going to be good or you're not. As far as outright horsepower, I don't think it's terrible. I think we're a little draggy out front still, honestly. It was very hard for me to lead laps. But I could get to the lead, I just couldn't stay there.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]Q: Going forward, there are three more ovals, and Milwaukee and Iowa are both short tracks, so you'll have a different package for that, but then there's Pocono. So that gives you time to discuss with the officials maybe making a change. I don't know if the same effect from the pack racing here, if you don't change anything would occur there, but what I think you're saying is you don't want the cars to have so much downforce that they're too easy to drive, that everybody is close together; is that it?

TONY KANAAN: Yeah. I don't think Pocono will be the case. It's not the nature of that track. I think the two tracks that we were really close running was Texas and here, and those are behind us, so we need to get together and try to make sure that we find a solution for next year, whatever that is.

Q: Tony, on the last white flag lap, I don't know if I saw the white flag, but it seemed to me that you went across the line ahead of Graham. Am I incorrect?

TONY KANAAN: No, I crossed the line behind him, then I was making a pass, so I don't know how they determined â€'â€' I think if that's the timeline, before the yellow came out, he was ahead. But when I saw the yellow, I was ahead. But it's â€'â€' yeah, I don't know what they did, if they go back to the previous timing line, he was definitely ahead of me.

Q: Marco, you've been making progress all year, inching yourself closer and closer to first. Do you ever get the feeling that you just can't catch a break? And then I'd like to hear your take on the pack racing.

MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, I'm not going to sit here and feel bad for myself, no. I'm just going to keep working. You know, I think it's my 20th podium. I wish I had more wins than two. Almost 1,000 laps led. I wish I had more wins than two.

But we just have to keep pushing and hope that I have a long career ahead of me that we can really start racking them up. Our consistency is there, I just wish we were a little bit better.

Q: The fact that it was so fierce and so tight out there, was it just a matter of kind of waiting for the fuse to blow?

MARCO ANDRETTI: It's not what a driver thinks about during a stint, no. No, you're way off the mark with that. I mean, we're so busy just driving that â€'â€' you know, no.

Q: But was it fun? Did both of you have fun out there?

MARCO ANDRETTI: I mean, it's fun. It's definitely crazy, but it's risk and reward. I mean, in my opinion I think a good car should win the race, not one that's just taking the biggest chance, and I'm not taking anything away from Graham, he drove a heck of a race. But I'm sort of in the middle on it, maybe because I'm in the middle on age.

TONY KANAAN: We're all professional race car drivers. Whatever the package you're going to give us, we're going to go out and do it. Whoever doesn't want to do it doesn't have to jump in the car and do it, but I haven't met a single driver that did that.

Q: Did you have fun?

TONY KANAAN: I'm not going to say I had fun. It was a nerveâ€'racking race. But to me every day on the racetrack is fun. So yeah, I guess I did. Did I like it a lot, no. But there are many things that I don't like that they go without saying. I think it's â€'â€' again, I think it was a heck of a show for the fans.

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, we will see you in Milwaukee. We're now joined by our race winner for the MAVTV 500, Graham Rahal. This is Graham's second career win. Has last win was in St. Petersburg in 2008. Also his 17th career topâ€'three finish, his fourth this season. Also, this race held an IndyCarâ€'leading 80 lead changes for the entire race. Graham, that's a part of history that you just won. How does that feel for you?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it was a good day. Obviously it was pretty entertaining. I think there was quite a lot of action out there, and you know, from where we started to climb 19 spots, it feels good, and I think the biggest thing is right now for us being fifth in points, this is a big day. We needed to try to pull out a bit of a gap on Marco and Bourdais and Newgarden and those that are kind of right behind us. Obviously when Helio went out and Power went out, that was also an opening to try to catch up a little bit to them, but I think they're still kind of out of reach for us.

But yeah, that was nuts, but it was fun, and I think what today was was â€'â€' the downforce versus tire life combination was just right to produce four different lanes of racing, and that's what made it so entertaining.

THE MODERATOR: It was a very highâ€'paced race, obviously, also with the number of lead changes just very exciting. What are your thoughts on just the race in general and what it brought to the fans?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, those that came, I think they got quite a show. You know, I was thankful for Mother Nature to take care of us here today and put some clouds over our head. But it was a good day, and I think it's pretty entertaining, and yeah, for sure from a driver's perspective it was pretty nerveâ€'racking at times. I was going four wide outside of I think it was Kanaan, Montoya, maybe Briscoe or somebody, and I was like, man, I haven't done this in years and years and years, but the thing was, like I just said, here versus Texas is the width of this place and also that the guys were able to actually stay in the lanes and make it consistent and fun, so I always felt like when I went there, I was going to be given some room and make the racing pretty good.

Q: Do you feel kind of lucky coming out of the pit with the fueler still in it and then not having to come back in and making that a postâ€'race decision?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, well, obviously that would have killed us. You know, Phil, my fueler, he's being pretty hard on himself right now. I think he was concerned that we didn't get in all the fuel that we needed to, which we did, and unfortunately he tried to kind of jam it back in there. But Phil is one of the best in this sport. He's always very, very quick. My pit stops today were excellent. I mean, honestly, that was one of our biggest gains all day was pits. We passed a lot of guys on the in and out laps and in the pits, so that was pretty good. But yeah, we were definitely lucky with that one. Unlucky but lucky because I went out of pit lane, and I was like, the frigging thing won't shift. I mean, I couldn't figure out what it was.

And then I looked in the mirror, and I was like, you've got to be kidding me, not again, and then luckily it wasn't in all the way, so when I kind of moved the car back and forth, it finally popped out.

Q: Multiple close calls and looked like there were even some moments of contact during the race with your car. Can you talk about that a little bit?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, plenty of guys â€'â€' I'm sure guys were pulling â€'â€' I know Helio was pulling the finger at me. I've already heard that. I mean, I was clean â€'â€' when Helio hit me, I was clean outside, four wheels â€'â€' we were absolutely wheel to wheel on the outside of him, and he puts me in the gray going into 1, and I mean, flat out didn't give me an inch to the wall, and I just â€'â€' you know, well, I'm not going to lift, and he did and he crashed. So that's not really â€'â€' if you're going to put somebody in that place, then you need to suffer the consequences, and he did.

You know, Kanaan was always clean. I'm sure â€'â€' there was a lot of guys racing real clean. Kanaan was pushing me down to the white line and stuff, but the thing about a guy like TK is when he does that, you know when it comes corner entry he's going to give you your space, which is what happened the last couple laps there.

But there were guys, like Sato was going into 1 on the bottom lane and just shoots straight to the top of the track. I'm like, where the hell did that come from. But I got called for blocking and I don't know who else did, but you know, it's â€'â€' unfortunately right now, I mean, we're being told to give room and stuff, but nobody is, and yet there's no penalties for it.

When I was starting to get pushed around, I don't feel like it's right to be pushed around, so I just started to push back, and that's kind of the way it goes.

I mean, I think I touched with TK. I was on the bottom, but I think we just touched going into 3, and I don't think I ever actually touched Helio, but he definitely wasn't â€'â€' he was doing the normal Helio driveâ€'whereâ€'youâ€'want sort of thing.

Q: There's a lot of emotion coming out of this race, and some have said it's crazy, we shouldn't be racing like this, and others have said, it's racing, it's racing. Your opinion?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Look, I think it's racing. You know, we have taken ourselves to a place over the last few years to where we've reduced the downforce so far that we couldn't even race, to where it became a singleâ€'file sort of followâ€'theâ€'leader fast. You know, I don't think it needed to be quite as close as it was today, but I mean â€'â€' people â€'â€' some of these guys that sit and say that it was easy today, they should have beat me then because I can tell you it wasn't easy for me. It was very hard to pick a lane. It was very hard to figure out where to go, and when you've got one guy in front of me, the car drove one way. If it was a Honda, it drives differently â€'â€' like the wake of a Honda, the car is different than a wake of a Chevy, so you always had to be thinking who you're behind, what lane you're in, how can I find the grip, do I need to straddle the seam and everything, so it wasn't easy by any means.

Yeah, it was the closest racing we've seen in a long, long time, but it was very different than the old pack racing style where it was just flat and you place it where you want. You still had to pick the best spot. I think today we were very fortunate to be in the position that we were in. Very lucky after that red to hold the lead because TK was quicker than me today, and I felt like if I got out front on my own, I was in trouble, and luckily we just held him off enough.

Q: (No microphone.)

GRAHAM RAHAL: For the first yellow. Yeah, no chance. (Laughter.)

The first yellow, when they went red flag, it was very close between the three â€'â€' I was like, I think I left â€'â€' it felt like I was further ahead, but I came out of the thing third, so I didn't know which way it was going to go. But it's all good. TK has got enough wins. He can share some.

Q: Two questions: One, how surreal does this feel right now because it was seven years ago, you were just a kid when you won your last IndyCar race. To be here now, that's a long time, and just how surreal does it feel to be back?

GRAHAM RAHAL: It feels good. I mean, you know, I'm most happy for my dad and Dave and Mike and all our sponsors that kind of came back and gave us some life this year. This is a big, big deal for us. You know, there's a lot of people that made a lot of comments about myself and about our team and about our owners and everything else that weren't fair to be quite frank, so to kind of rebound the way we have all season, I mean, this feels good to win for sure, and I'm definitely looking forward to tonight, I can tell you that.

It's been a good year, and we've shown that it wasn't like a oneâ€'hit wonder that we were good at â€'â€' I don't even know, Barber or something. I feel like we're starting to find our form everywhere a little bit, and I think that's helping us in the big picture, and I told my guys, you know, I mean, my sights are still set on finishing in the top 5 in points. I don't know that we can win it, I really don't, but top 5 in points I think is achievable.

This morning we got together, and I said, guys, yeah, we start 19th, but this is our best opportunity right now. It starts here. These next three races are where we've been weak the last three years, and the next couple races are where we need to improve, and I think everybody did a good job, and seriously, enough can't be said for this team. I mean, you've got to understand, we're understaffed by a couple people, where we've never done a wind tunnel day. We've done one shaker rig deal. We don't have the resources others do, and these guys put their heads down, and they work damned hard, and I'm really proud of them.

Q: And also, you've come close to so many wins, but it was always one piece of bad luck, whether it be brushing the wall at Texas on the next to last lap or some of the other things that happened to you when you were at Ganassi. How did you keep the fuel situation from becoming that moment of bad luck?

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]GRAHAM RAHAL: Luck. Honestly. But you know, I feel â€'â€' sitting here now, I can tell you it's ticked me off before this year watching some guys win earlier this year and stuff, and I'm thinking, my God, how do they get so lucky. I've just never had luck like that. In Texas I made a mistake.

But I think I've always been a firm believer in everything in life happens for a reason, and I think it's really caused me to grow up, and I feel fortunate that today is the day that I got it. Hopefully we can move on from here and not make it another seven years.

But for sure I'm really, really pleased today, and I'm excited to talk to Dad. This is a big day for us. I'm definitely very, very excited.

Q: We talked at Pomona in November, and I've talked to a lot of drivers and they all have the confidence and the bravado and they all say they've got a great season coming up, but when I asked you to look ahead to 2015 there was something different in the way you answered the question that made me say, he really thinks he's got a great chance next year. What did you know in November that made you feel the way that you're obviously performing this year?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Truthfully I didn't know anything at all, but here's the thing. You know, when I look back at where we were then, I knew the people that were going to be in place, and like I said a minute ago, we're understaffed pretty badly, and we were sitting here and we were talking about it two days ago, who do we hire, and as I said to them, I said, guys, I know everybody is working hard, but maybe we ought to just wait until the year is over so we don't mess up what we've got here, and then you get somebody in and get them in early, September, and have them build through the winter, get to know the guys, work together. You can't throw a kink into what we have right now, and the team is the biggest part of that. I said that on that coolâ€'down lap, and it's true. The team is why this has come together, each and every one of those guys.

I knew then the chain of command that we would have. I felt more confident in those people that not only were they very, very talented but they understood the meaning of a team, which we didn't have last year, and we had most of these guys already on the team, but they just have all been shuffled around to places that suit them, and it's obviously worked very, very well.

Q: The way the Chevy has dominated in the series this year, did you ever wonder, did that really put you behind the 8â€'ball in getting that win?

GRAHAM RAHAL: It's hard to say.

My phone is blowing up.

It's hard to say, but I'll say this: Honda has worked tirelessly to put us in this position. Even today, did we have the outright fastest car? No, we didn't. But the thing ran well. The fuel mileage was good. It drove very well in traffic. Very, very consistent. And that's kind of been the strength of the car, and taking care of the tires and stuff.

And today our strength was the long run. But Honda â€'â€' Chevy has beat us pretty badly this year, but the thing I'm proud of is that Honda has not given up. Mr. Yamada, who is the president of Honda of America, who's here today, I saw him just a minute ago â€'â€' actually I flew from Columbus, Ohio, with him here earlier this week, so I'm telling him he's my good luck charm right about now. He's paying attention to what's going on here, and they're committed to making this thing better, and that's what I have confidence in.

Q: You mentioned just a little earlier in this conference that there's a difference between trailing a Chevy and trailing a Honda. Could you give us a characterization of what that's like? And then is one easier than the other?

GRAHAM RAHAL: The Chevy puts off a bigger wake, so it's harder to follow a Chevy, particularly if you get two or three of them in a line. Like if there were two or three Chevys in the high groove in 1 and 2, I was in trouble. If it was just Marco, which when I made my final move to the front it was just Marco in front of me, I could follow pretty clean out without a problem. For whatever reason, Honda seems to put off a cleaner wake behind it.

Q: Do you think that maybe the Chevys should maybe have something modified to where they're a little bit more even that way?

GRAHAM RAHAL: No. I mean, I know there's been a lot of talk this year about aero kits, this, that and the other thing, but the good thing about this is there's a lot of talk, right? That's kind of what we all wanted. It's in the media. People are paying attention to it. And one doesn't need penalized to help the other.

Actually frankly that's a positive of the Honda, and typically I would say Honda guys probably try to stick together a little bit more. You have to use each other because you've got to go outrun somebody, so you all work together. I'd say right now it's a positive. But that's on the superspeedway package, so we're going to go to Milwaukee next week, it's probably going to be a whole different animal.

Q: After the qualifying yesterday, 19th spot, did your team make any significant changes to the car, because I had the impression you were much, much quicker today during the race. And is there any big disadvantage being a oneâ€'car team compared to the other ones?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think, you know, one of your questions probably answers the other, which is the one thing that hurts us is that the oneâ€'car team aspect of this is that yesterday we couldn't go try different aero configurations or downforce levels. That's what bit us in the butt in Texas. We didn't have enough time to try things out so we just didn't put enough on, and I was not going to lie to you, I was nervous today about how we were going to go forward with that, and in qualifying, the car wasn't great in qualifying, but it was flat â€'â€' it was loose, but I was flat, no problem, all that stuff. But we just for some reason in qual trim we couldn't find any speed. I don't know, it was one of those weird things that you get sometimes that â€'â€' we were trimmed at the same level of Marco and he did 17 and we did 13, so there's pretty much no explanation for that, but these things happen at times.

I felt very confident in my race car, and I was kind of nervous about today because I saw yesterday Andretti, all three cars were running different aero configurations, and we don't have the freedom to do that, so it's a little bit harder on us. But the positive is that we've got really smart guys here, and I think our build quality of the car is excellent. You know, I think we felt confident going into the race today that we could put a good one in there.

THE MODERATOR: Graham, congratulations. We'll see you in a couple weeks.

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