2010 INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
May 30, 2010
An interview with:
Dan Wheldon - 2nd finisher
THE MODERATOR: Interesting to be up there in a nice spot, Dan.
DAN WHELDON: To tell you the truth, I first and foremost want to thank the National Guard for giving me the privilege and honor to drive their racecar, which obviously Panther Racing allow. It's incredibly rewarding when you hear a lot of the stories about what the soldiers do. It kind of blows your mind. But when you meet people that are on the line fighting for us to allow us to run this country freely is for me an honor.
Hopefully I put a great smile on their face, the troops overseas, obviously the people that are based in the U.S. But we came up a little short, but it was a fantastic result. I think the Indianapolis 500 was big this year. I got to thank Izod for that, too. I think they've done a phenomenal job of bringing a lot of different mainstream media to this event. I was downtown Indianapolis with my wife and son last night. We kind of got caught up in the chaos because there was Vanity Fair parties, GQ parties. It's great to be part of the IndyCar Series right now. For me personally, this event has always been the greatest event in the world. It's essential the biggest sporting event in the world. I'm very proud to be part of it.
Second two years in a row is not good. I have to make sure I improve that one more spot next year. It was a good race. I think everybody at Panther Racing did a phenomenal job. I perhaps should not have been so disciplined. Back in the day, I probably would have ignored some of the instructions I got on those last five laps. As I've got older, I think I'm a bit better behaved.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q: Dan, how did you conserve fuel to get to the end? How did you conserve fuel and use your 'push to pass' button?
DAN WHELDON: I was out of 'push to passes'. That's why it took me long to pass Tomas Scheckter than I would have liked. It was funny. My engineer, David, I should apologize to his wife, because I've been calling him disgraceful hours during the night with ideas and stuff like that. I have to say, if anybody knows my wife, she's the best wife out there. But to put up with me during this month and have a 16 month old running around has been quite an experience for us. I know she's back there. But her putting up with me this month is hard.
But we had a little story during the Long Beach race that he told me. I had an idea that he was telling me what we call a fib in England, which is a lie, which way you want to look at it. When it went green for that last stint, he told me I was good to go. I had that feeling he was telling a little story then.
I took it upon myself to save fuel early on in that stint. I was lifting through the middle of every corner at one point just to kind of set myself up for the end. I was still able to run a relatively good pace doing that once I got past Scheckter.
It allowed me to basically maintain that pace right up until the end of the race where a lot of the other cars dropped off. But, you know, it's definitely a team effort. I think, you know, the strategy that the team called, they always do a great job of that. They could have crumbled under the pressure. This is a big event. It's particularly big when you have the National Guard on the side of your car. They pulled through and did a great job.
Q: The situation with Graham Rahal early in the race, do you think it was worth for him to get a drive through?
DAN WHELDON: I can guarantee you Robin Miller from SPEED thought it was my fault. He's his number one fan.
No, it was totally out of order. He put me on the grass at over 220 miles an hour. He totally deserved I think that penalty. I think the rules are in place. I think Brian Barnhart does a phenomenal job. It's tough for him because he's got to allow the drivers to race, but you've got to be able to put on a show.
At the end of the day, if you want to block somebody intentionally, you can very much do that, but it gets incredibly dangerous. When you do that, somebody's going to get hurt.
So I think everybody knew clearly going into this race what defined blocking. He didn't adhere to that rule. He got the right penalty. That's no laughing joke. I have to say that here in my first year I did the same, got punished for it. I'd like to think I'm one of the cleaner guys out there and learned from that. Obviously as a veteran of the series, I've been around a lot longer than people like Marco, I don't want to say veteran, but it's one of those things you need to adhere by the rules and set an example.
Q: You've had incredible success at this Speedway, a win, two seconds. What is it about this track that suits your driving style?
DAN WHELDON: You know, I think it's the fact that I bug my engineer at all hours of the morning. You know, I've been blessed when I've come to this track. I've driven here for Andretti Green Racing, which is now Andretti Autosports, Target Chip Ganassi Racing, and now Panther Racing. Everything organization, although they're different, they all bring great racecars to Indianapolis. When you're in that position, particularly I really felt that this year. Qualifying didn't go according to plan, but every day and after qualifying we were on track we were very competitive. When you have the opportunity to win, you've got to put every effort into it because you might not get that.
I'd like to think I have a very good feel for the racecar. I'm sure that the engineering staff would say I'm incredibly demanding. It's on races like this where if you're detail orientated, methodical, you can prepare what is a very good racecar. It doesn't matter where you start, you can get to the front. You have to have the whole team, too. Again, the team did phenomenal pit stops. They had a great strategy. I believe myself and my engineer work well to the point of being able to get, you know, good racecars. It certainly pays off, especially at a track like this.
Q: Dan, when it was coming maybe 10 laps to go, reminiscent of the old Andretti Green team with Dario out front, you and Tony. Did you have any thoughts about going back to those days?
DAN WHELDON: No. The only thing I thought is, I'm going to catch these guys. I have Packy Wheeler as my spotter, primary spotter. He knows my mentality. I think Marco gave it away a little bit that he was struggling on fuel. I saw him let Tony by. I knew both those cars were going to struggle because I thought they were pretty much on the same strategy.
Dario, I didn't know. But I was confident of the fact that I saved quite a lot of fuel early on in that stint. It's very difficult when you're in that situation, you know, when your engineer or your strategist tells you you're OK to the end. What I always do is I look at the number of laps to go and look at how much fuel is left in the tank. That wasn't adding up when he first told me I was clear.
In that situation, you have to be disciplined. There's always the hope of a yellow. But the way this race played out, the way the races have played out during this year, there's been a lot of green stops. That's when I took it upon myself to save the fuel early. If you try and save it right at the end, it's very, very difficult. I knew because of that I was in a pretty good position.
I was hungry to win, but the team were getting on my butt about saving fuel those last three laps. Maybe if I was young like Rahal and Marco Andretti, myself back in the day, I would have totally ignored them, tried to run Dario down when I saw him slowing down. I knew it was close. Just one of those things.
You know, that's all I thought about. I live in the present. I didn't think of those days. We have a great team at Panther Racing. I think as everybody can see, we're continually getting better. The team work incredibly hard. If you look at the No. 20 car, that was competitive all month. I told Eddie he's not allowed to leave, he's got to come back for more races. The team do a good job. Very happy the position I'm in right now. Just would like to win this race again.
Q: A little bit of elaboration on the last lap. From above things looked chaotic. What were you thinking the last lap and whether you could get to the finish line? Were you wondering about the caution benefitting you then?
DAN WHELDON: You know, on the last lap, I was thinking, I can see Dario struggling. I could tell he was hanging on. Like I say, I could tell by the pace he was running at the start of the stint that he was going to be even closer than I was. The downforce levels all the same, what have you. I knew he was going to be struggling. My spotter was telling me, Let's go run him down. The team were telling me to really bring it home. I thought that was going to be the opportunity where I might be able to pick him off. That's all I was focused on. Then obviously when the yellow come out, I knew obviously Dario was safe. It was one of those things.
I have to say often when the yellow comes out, it's kind of one of those chances for a breather. That wasn't the case on this last one because you still had to make sure you save fuel to get around to the flag. Yeah, at that point there was not much I could do other than just conserve when the yellow came out and kind of push Dario a little bit to see if he did run out, but he made it past the line.
Q: How do you keep track of your own fuel with the guys around you, still concentrate on the racetrack? How hard is that?
DAN WHELDON: You get used to it. You know, it's part of this race. What makes this race so fantastic is everything that goes into it. You know, you see the team effort. But it's the families of these team members. These mechanics, they're in this garage at 6:00 in the morning. They're here till 10:00 at night. It's all the details.
As you do more laps around here, as you get more confident in yourself, understand how races play out through strategy, but also through historical data, you know there's things that you have to keep an eye on. Around here, that's certainly one of them.
Typically towards the end, you know towards the end of a stint the car goes out a little bit. I have to say the Firestones were very good this year. But it's management. That is one of the things that makes this race great. You drive a hundred percent all the time, but you've got to keep up with the controls in the cockpit. You've got to maintain good fuel mileage at a high pace.
This track, if you can do that, you're good at that, it makes a difference. I have to give credit as well to Honda. Honda have been very, very impressive. I've been with them since end of 2002. Again, these motors are turning some rpms and some speeds. At the speeds we do, they get great fuel mileage and you never see them break down. Proud to be associated with them. They did a very good job.
Q: In all the preparation work the week before, very cool weather, then you drive in 85 degrees, the track very hot, how hard is it to prepare a car with so little time?
DAN WHELDON: You know, that's a good question. I mean, you call it the month of May, but now it's the two weeks of May. You know, we really didn't have any very hot conditions. Obviously, the teams, and the National Guard help us, by trying to track the conditions for key moments of the month of May, like qualifying and obviously the race. We knew it was going to be very hot. That's why we ran a ton on Sunday to have an idea of what we needed from the racecar.
When I get in the racecar, typically a lot of the tracks I know the feel I want to get, particularly for the longer events. I knew I wanted, and we were able to get pretty close to that, on the Sunday. There were definitely some things I wanted to try. We did a little bit more running than we would have perhaps liked on Carb Day. On Carb Day I think some of the guys on the team will say this, I'm never one to say the car is perfect, I always want more. I was probably down playing how good I thought the car was. It's just making sure you have that feel. It was definitely the feel I needed today, certainly the last three or four stints.
Q: If there hadn't been a yellow, could you have caught Dario?
DAN WHELDON: He was definitely slowing down. It's always very difficult to answer a question like that. He said he did burn out softer and stuff like that. I guess you'll never know. But I'll be interested to see how much fuel was in both cars after they come out of tech. I would definitely say we were closing him down at a high rate. Like I say, it's very difficult to answer that one.
Q: You and this team make no bones about your desire to win the Indy 500. Even though this is a runner up finish, these are solid points. Based on your experience, how do you balance those two emotions out, coming up short here but also recognizing it's a good day for the championship?
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, I mean, it's a good day. But I can tell you, if I have to race till I'm 86 years old, I'm going to race till I win another Indianapolis 500. It's an amazing event. It truly is. Yeah, we have Texas coming up. But, honestly, it's important after a race like this, it would be perhaps different if you win, but after this event you download the readings of the racecar with the engineer just to make sure you have a good baseline to start from next year, or if we test in the winter, then you focus about the next race coming up, Texas.
I think we're in pretty good shape for that race. So we'll be able to download probably more than we would have normally for this race and not Texas. It's one of those things. It's such a great race. It's disappointing not to win. But, like I say, the team did perform very, very well. Anytime you can finish second in the Indianapolis 500 is a good event.
Am I a hundred percent happy? No. Especially as I feel I could have gone a little bit quicker those last few laps had I perhaps not been as disciplined as I was. But nonetheless, we got a good result and we'll carry that momentum to Texas and hopefully that will propel us to a great second half of the season in the championship.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for coming in, Dan. Congratulations.