Indianapolis Motor Speedway
100th ANNIVERSARY INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE
Second-, third-place finishers' transcript
JR Hildebrand, Graham Rahal
Sunday, May 29, 2011
MODERATOR: Obviously JR, don't even know where to start.
JR HILDEBRAND: I don't, either.
... my disappointment is for the team and for National Guard as a sponsor.
Obviously, we decided we were going to take an alternate fuel strategy. If we could save fuel at the beginning of the stint, we could make it with that sort of extended caution. We were looking good to be able to do that. You don't have a lot of time to look up at the podium driving down the front straight at 230.
I was entirely aware of where we were at until five or six to go, when it started to shuffle out. I had just gotten by Dario and was informed that we were leading the race.
At that point, it was a fuel and kind of tire strategy game trying to get the car to the end. We were looking OK on fuel, but obviously having to run rather slow from a relative pace standpoint to keep the mileage where we needed it to be.
On the last lap, the cars that previously been cycling around in the lead that had pitted were all coming out of the pits and were up to speed. I was aware there were some cars coming with some heat towards the end of the race, like the 98 and the 9 were the two guys quickest toward the end.
Certainly, I was aware of the fact that I had some gap on them. But I then, on the last lap, started catching some other cars coming out of the pits as I was cycling through (Turns) 3 and 4. I guess as it happened, I ended up catching the 83, I think, going into Turn 4, a fairly inopportune area.
I quickly decided, knowing that the cars in second and third were coming pretty strong, that rather than downshifting a bunch, you know, sort of risking slowing the car way down coming onto the front straight to stay behind him, I thought I'll breathe it and go to the high side because it was a move I used earlier in the race to get around some slower cars in a fairly similar situation.
I guess just with the tires as worn as they were, the run being as long, that sort of stint of the race being as long as it was, there were a bunch of marbles on the outside. Once I got up there, there wasn't a lot I could do.
MODERATOR: We'll take questions.
Q: We can only imagine what sort of emotions you're going through. How bad do you feel?
HILDEBRAND: I mean, this is not really about me at this point. You always show up to try to win. But for me, my disappointment is for the team and for National Guard as a sponsor. It's one of the those things, as a driver, you never really know what you're going to expect. We knew we had a fast race car. We knew if the race came to us, we may be in a position to sort of finish top three, top five, wherever that might be, depending on how it panned out.
But as a driver, I'm smart enough as a rookie to not expect, no matter what's going to happen, I'm going to come to the Indianapolis 500 my first year and be in a position to win the race.
As it turned out, we most certainly were. We were in a position that we should have won the race. So for me, it's not so much that I'm pissed off or disappointed that my face isn't going to go on the Borg-Warner. Just with this team, Panther Racing has finished second three years in a row now with the National Guard sponsorship, I felt like we had an incredible opportunity to get on a big stage for those guys.
Q: As you made that move around the 83, suddenly you realized you were in the marbles, what was the thought?
HILDEBRAND: Is this over the public PA (smiling)?
HILDEBRAND: There were a few choice words going through my head at that moment, really fast and frequently until I hit the wall. They were still going through my head there, I guess.
I guess I was fortunate to have hit the wall far enough around that I could still -- I mean, I was like Flat Chad after I hit the wall to try to get the thing across the start/finish line.
It's a helpless feeling driving the race car when you get in a situation like that. It can happen on road courses, it can happen at other places. It's most extreme at a place like this where it truly does turn into a one-groove track towards the end of the-race. That was certainly my mistake to have judged it otherwise.
Q: This is four straight second places for the Panther team. What were John's words to you at the end?
HILDEBRAND: John was great. I mean, he's just so proud of this group of guys for putting up such a tremendous effort throughout the day. That was certainly a welcomed face and emotion for me walking down the pit lane. Sometimes you never know what you're going to get from a team when you've just lost the Indy 500 by a spot or whatever.
But he's a real driver's owner from that perspective. He's ultracompetitive, but at the same time he can understand I think the emotions of what the driver goes through, as well.
Q: You kept the car going. Did you still think you might have a shot of getting there before Wheldon caught you?
HILDEBRAND: I did for a second. The mirrors on our cars really aren't that great. It was tough to tell down the back straight. I took a glimpse to see where he was at. He wasn't anywhere near the near vicinity around the car, where the mirrors are more suited to be able to see. There was certainly a split-second where I thought, "Oh, shoot, maybe I'll pull a Terry Labonte at Martinsville or Bristol or whatever it was that year (smiling)." Obviously, no such luck.
Q: How close did you think Wheldon was to you on the back straight? You said you couldn't see him. Never mind the finish, would you do the same move again? Would you do it differently?
HILDEBRAND: Well, I mean, to answer the first part of your question, I knew coming out of Turn 2 that he was in the short chute between 1 and 2. At that stage, I obviously knew that he was rather close.
In terms of distance on the track, that's a little bit tough. Spotter could have said car lengths to give me maybe a little bit more information about where he was at. But I knew that he was close, relatively close, and I knew that he was going a lot quicker than we were, as well.
Then to the second part of your question. Is it a move that I would do again? No. I think the only reason I did it in the first place was that it had worked at different stages earlier in the race. But in hindsight, I think with the tires being as used as they were at that stage, that last run after the caution being for so long, it's obviously a learning experience for me, that the marble buildup is quite severe.
Q: As you were sliding down the fence toward the finish line, was there anything you were able to do to hurry the car along?
HILDEBRAND: I was flat on the gas, man. What are you gonna do at that point?
Q: (No microphone.)
HILDEBRAND: I mean, after I hit the wall, I was not slowing down to the start/finish line. Obviously, I got to the point that I couldn't steer it anymore. I was making every effort at that point to try to lessen the blow.
Q: It's been an odd month in that the Penskes haven't performed. Ganassi was there. Panther has taken on the biggest teams, like Andretti. How do you feel about the little guy coming on? What was it about May that allowed the little guys this year to compete against the big guys
... if it were two laps longer, I'd probably be drinking milk right now.
HILDEBRAND: I mean, I could give you a fairly complicated answer to that in terms of what I would really say. I think in a general sense, and this is just speculation on my part, it has nothing to do with anything.
But, you know, I think that with these cars, we've gotten to a point that, yeah, you can kind of rub on them and make changes all day long. But they're effectively kind of the similar formula that we've been running for quite some time here.
I guess as I've experienced a little bit on the road-course side, it's not difficult to overcomplicate what you're doing. In the end, it's still just another race car.
I can't say that's what's made other teams do more poorly than you might expect, but I think that's a part of what's allowed us to continue staying up toward the top of the sheets all month. We had a fairly simple outlook on what we were going to do, and we stuck to a game plan.
I'd certainly give some credit to Buddy Rice coming along for this weekend, that he's obviously quite a low-anxiety personality. Between the two of us, it's kept the mood of the garage area sort of relaxed. I think that's an environment that you make better decisions in, so...
That would be my two cents.
Q: You seem remarkably composed for someone who lost the Indy 500 by crashing on the last corner.
HILDEBRAND: I'm pretending well, I guess (smiling).
Q: It must be churning you up.
HILDEBRAND: Yes. If that's a question, yeah.
You know, like I said, it's not really like a personal thing right now. Maybe down the road it will turn into a personal thing that I'll just be pissed off at myself for not doing whatever. In the end, it's really more about the people, for me at least, this team has worked so hard, it's such an integral part of being here at Indianapolis and being successful at Indianapolis, that's really where the sort of heartbreak is for me right now.
I certainly wasn't planning my victory speech. But being here on Memorial Day weekend, driving the National Guard car with so many servicemen and women out here for this weekend, it's really a treat to be a part of that. It would have been an outstanding feat to be able to get up on the top step of the podium for them, as well.
Q: Is there a glimmer of hope?
HILDEBRAND: I heard something about the yellows, blah, blah, blah. You know, yellow flags have determined this race in the past, if you would recall. I'm sure Mr. Paul Tracy would be happy to come in here and talk to you a little bit more about that (smiling). We'll discuss how it shakes out.
I would have to say, for whatever it's worth, Dan obviously must have done quite a job because he was a few steps behind those cars that were up at the front prior to that stint. So good on him to get up there, as well.
MODERATOR: Thank you for coming in, JR
Graham, you've ran the Indianapolis 500 before. Driver with great promise. Results haven't been what you were looking for. We watched a guy walk out of here that's down with a second-place finish. How are you feeling with a third-place run?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously, I feel great about it. At the same time if it were two laps longer, I'd probably be drinking milk right now.
I mean, I feel great about what my guys did today. Someone just told me we passed 67 cars today and didn't win. I mean, both guys finished ahead of me, I passed Hildebrand probably four times today and I passed Wheldon once.
We knew we had probably one of the best cars out there. At the end, we were running probably a little bit too much downforce to do some of those big numbers, which is why Dixon passed me after that last restart. I didn't quite have the pace out front. But in traffic, I was as good as anybody.
It feels great, to be honest. My Service Central guys did a fantastic job all day staying levelheaded. We went down a lap with 70 laps to go, got the wave-around. That took us from fifth back to 17th. We worked our way all the way back up.
I mean, it feels really good to be sitting where we are right now.
Q: What was your view of JR there?
RAHAL: I don't know. I'd have to look at it. I've made that mistake before. I don't know how close Wheldon was to the back of him. You know, that's a tough spot. He must have gotten really high.
Q: He was going around a guy, the 83 car.
RAHAL: OK. Well, anyway, I did the same thing and made the same mistake twice. But I had run fairly high there earlier. A couple of guys had. The grip was OK up there.
I think Firestone did a fantastic job creating a tire for this race. Truthfully, the marbles were never bad. You could always kind of pick a lane, whether it be outside, inside, not too wide, but you had some freedom to run. Otherwise, I wouldn't have passed, as I said, 67 guys. It wouldn't have been possible.
But they made a tire that was strong enough in which you could do that. It was dead consistent for me. I know a lot of guys were falling off, but our car was really good. In the long run, probably we were the best car out there today.
But as far as JR, you know, obviously I feel bad for him that he was in that position. Certainly he was in that position because of what the team had done for him, to get him off strategy and put him in that place. Like I said, I passed him four times today, and he was never quicker than us.
Overall, I would say that you learn from the mistakes that you make and you move on.
Q: You were doing a lot of passing in traffic. Seemed like three or four guys throughout the race would be back, then fight their way up to the front. What happened there that you just couldn't get over the edge? I'm talking about all of you. Anything in particular?
RAHAL: What do you mean 'get over the edge'?
Q: Get up to the front and keep it.
RAHAL: In my circumstance, it was the downforce level we picked. We picked it because we knew where we were starting, we picked it because we knew we were going to have to be good in traffic. We were excellent in traffic.
We never made a single tire pressure change or wing change. We don't have adjustable wing pillars, so whatever we picked is what we were running. A lot of guys could probably trim out near the end.
That was probably it flat out for me. If you saw the last restart, I took the lead from Oriol, then Dixon passed me a couple laps later. I know a wing angle they're running, and it's far less than us. The straight-line speed is going to be higher.
At the end, I would say the same is true for Wheldon. When I came out of the pits on cold tires, he flat out had more pace than me. I just couldn't quite keep up.
Q: Did the Ganassi cars all have similar strategy? If not, were you just really surprised that you beat guys that have won multiple Indy 500s?
RAHAL: I don't know what their strategy was. Obviously, I saw Dario come in on that last yellow. But am I surprised? Not really, because I could have told you last week I thought we probably had the best race car of any of our teammates.
We don't debrief together. But when you hear the mumblings from the other trailer, as far as what they're thinking or how they're feeling, I don't think anybody felt as confident in their race car as I did. So I'm not surprised.
They were obviously faster than us I think today in outright pace. But our strategy was pretty simple. What I'm most impressed about is we never did anything off strategy. I thought to get to the front we were definitely going to have to do that. But we didn't.
Overall, I mean, like I said, my Service Central guys just did a fantastic job all day. I don't think we lost a spot in the pits all day. I don't think we hurt ourselves at all on or off the track. I don't think I made any mistakes. Overall it's just a good day.
Q: Graham, for just people looking at this, they might consider what Dan was able to do with his first start with this team a surprise. Can you explain why it is or is not necessarily a surprise for the way that turned out and also if you've had a chance to talk to your dad?
RAHAL: I don't see what Dan's done as a surprise at all. Dan is a fantastic driver. He's always proven it, particularly here. He's won here before. That team, from what I see, that was a three-car team this month. Tagliani, Wheldon and Bell. I'm not surprised. My hat goes off to Dan. He's a great guy. Did a fantastic job today. Did exactly what he needed to do.
As far as talking to dad, I saw him briefly, said a couple of words, then kind of just came over here. I'm sure I'll see him more this afternoon.
Q: You've been coming here a lot of years. You've observed it as a son, as well. Do you have any opinion why the results, let's say Las Vegas favorites, did not perform and the unexpected teams did so well?
RAHAL: 'Cause it's Indy flat out. I mean, that's what I put it off to. This place, when you think you got it figured out, it bites you. I mean, it's Indy. It's so tough.
But I thought today was so special, the whole thing. The atmosphere was fantastic. The crowd looked great. The whole buildup to it was incredible. It was a very special day, so...
But as far as those guys that you thought were going to dominate and didn't, it's this place.
Q: (Question regarding Penske.)
RAHAL: I was surprised about that, actually. I'm not going to lie to you there. I raced with a Briscoe a couple times, passed Helio a couple times, passed Will. They didn't have it. You could see Briscoe just did not feel comfortable all day.
Yeah, I'm pretty surprised that they weren't faster.
Q: There was a lot of talk with the weeks leading up to the race about the double-file restarts, scrutiny about it. How did it feel out there?
RAHAL: It felt good. Honestly, the changes they made, letting us just race, I thought the restarts were great. There was a lot of passing opportunities, plenty of excitement. I haven't watched a race tape, but I thought that the excitement was incredible inside of the car.
The last restart I passed seven positions, and there were three lapped cars in there, so 10 cars in one corner. Really, I think that it gave you the opportunity to do that. People get bogged down; it moved the cars around just enough you had to be almost on the grass on (Turn) 4 to make it work. It was good fun.
I'm not sure that's going to work on the road courses, but I think on all the other ovals from here on out, that's the way it should be. Let us go racing. Put it in our hands. Don't give us 20 rules to work by. That's just going to make it harder and more confusing.
Q: What was it like to lead briefly the Indy 500?
RAHAL: It felt good. But obviously my focus was go as fast as I possibly can. I had Dixon breathing down my neck. I could see that. It felt nice. But I hope that's not the last laps I lead here.
Q: In recent years one of the complaints has been not enough American drivers. Now we have two that finished two and three, almost one and three. Do you think this is going to attract more Americans?
RAHAL: I don't think that the results attract more Americans. I think what it comes down to is IndyCar racing, I think it's on the rise. We saw it today. Ticket sales were up huge. You could visibly see the difference from this year to last year in the crowd size.
I think that's what attracts people, because that's what attracts sponsors. That's what will attract drivers, is the opportunities that the sponsors present them. Clearly in my case of Service Central, I'm here because of them. JR is at Panther because of National Guard. That's what is going to attract people, is the opportunities they see.
I think as far as a show, today was far more passing than I thought would ever be possible around here. I thought it was a helluva lot of fun, that's for sure.
I think what it comes down to is IndyCar racing, I think it's on the rise.
Q: You mentioned earlier you don't have the adjustable front wings. Is that by choice?
RAHAL: No, rear wing pillars. That's not necessarily by choice. There's two ways to look at it. It's an advantage. At the end there under yellow, you could crank a little wing out of it, you're going to go faster. At the same time, there's a story about the Ganassi boys a long time ago. They were telling me they took out rear wing accidentally and added front wing on Jimmy Vasser, which is obviously going to turn the thing like a top. You can shoot yourself in the foot, too, with it.
Really, it just came down to we're a new team as of five months ago. We haven't gotten around to that. There's a lot of other things we need to do before making an adjustable rear wing.
MODERATOR: Thank you for coming in.
RAHAL: We're riding high, second and third. Feels fantastic. To be the highest-finishing Ganassi car, I'm not disappointed with either.
MODERATOR: Thank you, Graham.