Do you have a ‘love-hate’ relationship with your home track in Toronto? “Yeah, no I love coming home to Toronto and this race is something that I’ve been coming to since I was a toddler and a lot of my earliest memories of anything, never mind racing memories come from right here. It’s a special place.
To get to come back here and now be on the other side of the fence and the guy on track putting on a show for the Canadian fans is something very special. As you said, it’s a little bit of a love-hate relationship because I’ve never got particularly well here, which is unfortunate. There’s always another year and here we are again so hopefully we can turn that around.”
How has your season been to date claiming the most wins? “It certainly hasn’t gone the way that anyone would have predicted, to have three wins at this point, but then also five races or something outside the top-10. We certainly haven’t been the model of consistency.
We’ve been fast and obviously the wins have been great and I wouldn’t trade those for anything because they are all so special and to get to win at this level is very difficult. To have a team capable of doing what we’ve done this year is phenomenal so we just need to keep doing what we have been doing because some of the bad results haven’t necessarily been caused by things on our end.
Some of it is luck and some of it is getting caught up in other people’s things, it’s just part of the sport. We just need to keep our head down and hopefully we can get the GoDaddy car back up front this weekend.”
How do you compare Toronto to tracks you have had success on this season? “It compares favorably because two of the wins have come on street circuits so that is certainly a strong starting point and with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) having won the race last year, we’re coming here with a good base and that’s going to be so important because with this doubleheader format we only get one practice session before we head into qualifying.
That’s part of the challenge, that’s part of the charm of this place and hopefully we can take what we’ve learned at places like St. Pete and Brazil and Detroit and Long Beach and try to apply it here and hopefully it works.”
What did you learn from the dual races at Detroit that could apply to Toronto? “Stay away from the tires and don’t hit spinning cars. Those would probably be the first two lessons that I learned there. The big problem with Detroit for us was that we had rain in qualifying for the first race and why that’s a problem is one of the big challenges about this format is the tire allocation that we’ve been given and how to use it.
Probably by design they’ve given us too few tires to use and it’s going to force us to be a little bit creative with our tire strategy throughout qualifying and the two races and because one of the sessions in Detroit was rained out for qualifying, we weren’t as pressured with tire allotment. There’s going to be a lot of guys trying to figure out what to do.
We don’t have decade’s worth of experience on how this works and engineers hate that so I think you’re going to see a bunch of different tire strategies, which is going to be exciting and it’s going to be interesting to see at the end of Saturday and end of Sunday who nailed it and who came up with snake eyes.”
Have you ever done a standing start and what are your concerns with the start tomorrow? “I’ve done lots. I’ve probably done four seasons of open-wheel racing that were standing starts so I’m used to them, it’s been awhile. I haven’t done them for a couple years now, but everybody is in that boat.
Some guys I don’t think have ever done them in Formula cars, which is a little scary to think. The big concern is just that we haven’t had a ton of time to practice them. We were going to do them at the start of the year and then we weren’t and then we were going to do them in Long Beach and then we weren’t and then we were going to do them in Detroit and then we weren’t.
The teams haven’t been quite as active or pro-active I should say on testing and practicing this. We’ve never gone through the procedure or lining up and going through the lights as a series so there is a serious risk of somebody getting it wrong, which will look pretty silly.
Then of course the other issue doing a standing start on a street circuit is that if somebody does stall, there is nowhere to go. That’s got big potential for issues. That all adds to the excitement and that is why everybody should be here on Saturday to see what happens. It’s either going to be really impressive seeing 25 IndyCars from a standing start rocket into turn one or it’s going to be pretty spectacular what goes wrong.”
Are there any concerns with mechanical issues from the start? “No, the cars are certainly up to it. The engines are up to it and all the components are there to do it. It was always on the plans to do it, it’s just something that’s been delayed for various reasons. Now we’re going to test it out for the first time at the start of a race.”
What is the impact of dual races on you and the crew? How do you prepare for them? “It’s going to have a tremendous impact on everybody involved. The drivers have all really amped up their physical training in the weeks leading up to these events because normally and especially in Toronto, this is a particularly physical street circuit and you’re pretty beat-up on Monday and you’re dehydrated.
Some serious medical issues can come from that. The drivers are being very proactive on this side of things. A lot of us have physical trainers and 'physios' with us for any medical problems that might crop up. Nutrition is obviously very important. Making sure you’re staying on top of what you’re eating and how much you’re eating and for the crews, normally these guys have a week to tear a race car apart and re-prepare it and rebuild it for another race and now they have to do it overnight.
Its long nights and early mornings and long days. It’s very draining on everybody involved, but at the end of the day it puts on a good show for the fans and the fans appreciate having two races then that’s what we’re going to do because they are the reason we’re here.”
Is this the best you have felt of your chance to win Toronto this year? “It’s probably the worst I’ve felt because now the expectation is higher and I still am expecting some sort of bad luck to come into play. It is a bit of a double edge sword because certainly with the year that we’ve had statistically on paper it’s the best chance that we’ve had and it’s one of those things where you want to come here and do so well, but at the same time history just hasn’t been kind to us.
Every track you have good races and bad races. It just seems like here I have way, way more of the latter and way too few of the former. We’ll see. You have to stay positive and we have to keep our heads up. Ultimately, you have to treat it like any other race and we’ll go up there and do the same job we would if we were in St. Pete or if we were in Long Beach or if we were in Brazil or if we were at Barber or any other track and we’ll see how it all plays out.”
You’ve talked a lot about idolizing Greg Moore as you were growing up. What was it about him as a driver and/or as a person that really drew you to him? “I think it is both things. It wasn’t one or the other it was the combination of the two I think that made Greg such a unique person. His fight on track was obvious. His passion for the sport was obvious.
I remember watching him win his first race and he came off turn four at Milwaukee and he was fist pumping the air four hundred feet before the finish. I mean Michael Andretti was not that far behind, but he knew he was getting it. I will never forget that. I loved that about him, but outside of the car he was such a genuine human being.
There’s a lot of people that can drive a race car well. There’s a lot of people that are in the spotlight for one reason or another. More often than not they don’t come across as genuine humble people and Greg did. As a young kid even I could see the difference between him and the other drivers off track more than anything else. I think that is what really drew me to him.”
Craig Hampson rejoined your team this year what’s your relationship with Craig and what have his contributions been? “Yeah, we have been going steady for about two years now. It’s getting pretty serious. No, Craig (Hampson, engineer) and I obviously worked together at Newman/Haas in 2011. As a rookie coming into the IndyCar series to get to work with somebody as accomplished as Craig and as experienced as Craig it was beyond anything I would have imagined.
I tried to bring some of that influence to Andretti Autosport when I arrived last year. When the opportunity came up to bring him back it just made too much sense to not do it and obviously it’s been a good match up to this point. He brings a work ethic to the team on top of his wealth of experience that really just motivates everybody and certainly motivates me.
We have an understanding we speak the same language. We are both realists. He’s maybe a little bit more of a pessimist than I am, but that is okay we balance each other out. At the end of the day we have a very common goal. We both are willing to work very hard to achieve it.”
We know that you have retired your Kimi Raikkonen impression… “Although (Dave) Despain always tries to get me to do it when I go on Wind Tunnel.”
Have you replaced it yet have you got a new shtick? “No I haven’t had time to think of someone else yet, but I will come up with something at some point.”
What about having Paul Tracy in the booth for Sportsnet this weekend does that terrify you? “Not at all. I think it’s going to be great. I mean everybody loves Paul for his candidness. That is what we need in the booth. Nobody knows what is going on in a race more than that guy he’s done enough of them and won enough of them. He’s won here a couple of times. I think more than anything the fans are going to get a kick out of it. Hopefully he has got some nice things to say.”
You said that when you were younger meeting Mario Andretti here and getting his autograph was one of your favorite moments. Can you comment on what the Andretti name in Toronto means? “I mean it’s legendary. It’s probably more recognized even in Toronto than Tracy or Villeneuve or Moore because of the success that Michael (Andretti) had here especially winning seven times. When I used to come to this race my family and our friends we would do a pool.
We would rip up the spotters guide and put all the names into a hat. Every year whoever pulled Michael Andretti we just gave them the money at the start of the race and seven times out of 10 they were right. It was pretty simple. The name has a tremendous amount of power and influence in this town and to be associated with that just makes our position that much stronger. It’s really an honor to be associated with them.”
Recently I’ve noticed in your social media efforts commenting on Canadian karts and grassroots events. Can we expect to see you more involved in any formal development program in the future? “That is absolutely the plan. I have pretty big goals on ways of trying to give back to the Canadian racing community especially the karting level.
We are so fortunate to do what we do and I know that I wouldn’t be here without the phenomenal karting community that Ontario had and Canada had when I was coming up.
I have seen it go through the years, everything is cyclical, and I’ve seen it go through really strong periods and some weaker periods as well. I want to get to the point where I’ve got enough influence to try and bring back a strong championship.
That is my ultimate goal is to get a karting series started and give young karters a chance to get all the good drivers in Canada together in one place race against the best, make it worth their while and kind of give them a little bit of a taste of what it’s like as you move up through the ranks and pursue the career of a racing driver.”
What is the key to winning or not losing here with the layout of this track? “As I said before this track is very much a set-up compromise. I think the team and driver that nail that compromise the best are going to be successful. We’ve got to make both kinds of tires last the black and red Firestones are going to be used during each race.
Maximizing both of those takes a set-up compromise and just the track in general the mix of high speed, low speed, concrete patches, asphalt patches, all these things require a compromise in the set-up as well. You really have to be the guy that is averagely good around the entire place.
If you are really strong in one place and weak in another people are going to take advantage of that and it’s going to be tough to stay in front. It really is about averaging out the best. The kind of trick in Toronto is you are never going to have a car that feels really good because in one corner or another you are going to be struggling.
It’s just trying to find one that is equally as average and mediocre around the whole lap. It’s such a hard thing to accept as a driver and the engineers. We are all such perfectionist we want to be great everywhere, but this track just doesn’t let you do it. That is one of its quirks and one of the reasons why we like the challenge so much.”