Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is during the off-track time prior to the start of the Indy 500 on Sunday. They will return to the track on Carb Day.
Indianapolis, Ind. – With the countdown to the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 underway, the 33 drivers and their crews can’t wait for the world’s biggest race to start. But there’s work to be done and a series of parties and appearances to be completed before the race is flagged off mid-day on Sunday. Also, the final on-track test, Carb Day, is scheduled for Friday. And Carb Day is highly important to the drivers and their teams.
Today, the drivers gathered for 1-on-1 interviews with the media. For this session, the starting line-up was split in half with 17 drivers in one session and 16 in the final run.
Fast qualifier Ed Carpenter along with team benefactor and pro-golf star Fuzzy Zoeller garnering considerable attention as did three-time 500 winners Helio Castroneves and Dario Franchitti. Others with a big draw were Marco Andretti, Scott Dixon, Ryan Hunter-Reay, A. J. Allmendinger, Tony Kanaan to name a few.
Carpenter was his usual calm self. “It is hard to come into the 500 with a strategy because there is so much that can happen,” he said. “When I think about a strategy, the most important part is being in the lead or among the leaders after that last pit stop. What happens before that doesn’t mean a whole lot. Last year I started 27th and worked my way to the front. We have to do our job, execute and have great pit stops without me making any mistakes. We then have to be in position for that last stint.”
Added Zoeller, “All drivers will be excited until the engines start and they take that warm-up lap, the professionals have a way of relaxing, to do what they do best, just like in golf.”
Marco Andretti starts on the outside of the front row with youthful teammate Carlos Munoz sandwiched between Andretti and Carpenter. Said Andretti, “I think we have the team (Andretti Autosport) to beat. For me, finesse wasn’t part of my vocabulary until this year, but this year I have been practicing patience. And I am hoping it will help me. I have a whole new approach – being relaxed. When you get in trouble, it was when you force the issues.
“We’ve been knocking on the door for several years. I was close in 2006, 2007 and 2008. 2008 was one of my best races as a driver. In 2012, we led the most laps. This year, so far, I have had a decent month.”
While Dixon and Franchitti are mired in the sixth row, they aren’t overly frustrated; at least they won’t admit to it.
“You have to put yourself into a situation where you have a shot at winning at the end,” he commented. “It is Indianapolis and a 500-mile race. There are many curve balls and you can have days when the carpet can be pulled from under you. It is about summing up the competition and thinking about the end. It is a real team effort involving strategies and great pit stops. This is a hard race to win; to get everything right in a three-hour period is pretty tough.”
Starting 16th is almost a good-luck draw for Dixon. “Dario won from this position a year ago and Dan Wheldon did the same in 2011. It may be a good thing, although I’d like to be in the front row. A second win would be fantastic. To be lucky to race here is special and to win here is a dream come true. To be on a short list of 67 people that have won it is fantastic, and once you win it, it is a great relief.”
Regarding his teammate, he added, “He’s struggling with the car but once he hits his stride going, he can be pretty ruthless.”
Said Franchitti, “Qualifying is one thing and we proved last year that you can win from anywhere. While qualifying is important, the race is what it is all about. You have to have a good car with horsepower. A fast car is most important and that allows you to be in contention. And then you have to have good pit stops, a good strategy and stay out of accidents. If you have these pieces, you have a chance.”
Regarding Honda power plants not quite up to speed, Franchitti noted that condition existed in 2012, but once the race engines were installed, everything changed for the better. “Scott and I finished one-two in the race. If Honda makes a similar step up, we will be all right; if they don’t, it will be tough.”
As usual, Castroneves exuded confidence. “I feel like we have a great car and a great team, and now we just have to put ourselves in a good spot,” he said. While nestled in the third row with Andretti drivers Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe, the three-time winner believes he has a good group around him. “The good news is that they are fast and their cars are handling well. It is just a matter for us to keep pushing forward,” he said.
Looking ahead to a possible fourth win, the flashy driver commented, “I think it is great to have three 500 winners in the race. The Indianapolis 500 is all about tradition, and that’s what fans like, so hopefully we can get it done for them.”
Allmendinger triggers a lot of fan attention and even though he has race in the Brickyard 400 a few times, he doesn’t believe that experience will help him at all. “I have never seen the Indianapolis 500, and I am very calm about it at this time,” he said. “On Sunday, I will be really nervous and trying not to throw up before the race. Helio (Castroneves) and Will (Power) have been great teammates from the beginning, and I hope I can help them out. At this time, I believe all three of us have a chance to win it.”
Although team owner Roger Penske was not present last weekend, he was in communication with his drivers from his European location. “Roger has been telling me to be patient. He picked me because he thinks I can win the race,” Allmendinger said. “He’s always in communication with us no matter where in the world he is. He was happy with my qualifying run but then told me, we have got to start focusing on the race.”
As for his goal on Sunday, he said with gusto, “Win. Anything else doesn’t work. That’s why Roger is paying me.”
Winning is what it is all about for every driver in the field, ranging from pole winner Carpenter to 33rd starter Katherine Legge.
Time will tell what happens between now and Sunday afternoon, but to the person, every driver can’t wait for the privilege of racing in the Indianapolis 500.