IRL: Fontana: Top-three race finishers transcript (part 1)

IRL IndyCar Series Toyota Indy 400 October 3, 2004 MODERATOR: Let's get started with our post-race press conference. We're joined by our second- and third-place finishers, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon. Let's start with our third-place finisher, ...

IRL IndyCar Series
Toyota Indy 400
October 3, 2004

MODERATOR: Let's get started with our post-race press conference. We're joined by our second- and third-place finishers, Tony Kanaan, Dan Wheldon. Let's start with our third-place finisher, Dan Wheldon.

DAN WHELDON: Let's start with the champion. He didn't come second; he's champion.

MODERATOR: We'll defer to Dan's wishes and start with second-place finisher and 2004 IRL IndyCar Series champion, Tony Kanaan.

Tony, congratulations. Fantastic day for you. Why don't you tell us what your thoughts are at this moment?

TONY KANAAN: Well, I don't know. Dan looks happier than me. I think I haven't realized yet. So it was such a long weekend for us. I felt that a couple people did really like what happened to us yesterday. I had a lot of support of my team. Never got down. I knew I had a good car, so I knew I could pass cars.

I'm just very happy. I need to thank my team owners that believed on me, Michael (Andretti), Kim (Green), Kevin (Savoree). They put so much into this thing that when I see the effort that they put in, it makes me fight every day harder and harder. I give my heart and my soul.

My wife can tell you how much I've been thinking about racing lately. You know, I want to give this to those guys. They deserve, my sponsor, they're such great guys, they've been behind me on the good times and the bad times. Thank God the bad times, we didn't have many this year.

DAN WHELDON: Have we had any? We just had fun.

TONY KANAAN: Exactly.

With everybody's help, like I said, I don't think I won, I think we won. The best moment for my life was after I crossed the finish line, and we four of us did donuts on the back straight. That tells you how happy everybody was.

DAN WHELDON: Didn't even stall (laughter).

TONY KANAAN: I was amazed.

I'm happy. I can't express enough how happy I am. Probably tonight will be ugly, right, boss?

DAN WHELDON: Will tonight involve a lot of Jim Beam?

TONY KANAAN: A lot of Jim Beam.

DAN WHELDON: Just checking.

MODERATOR: Tony, how special is it to start from the back of the field and clinch the championship with a second-place finish, coming through from the back of the field?

TONY KANAAN: Well, it definitely tastes better. If you give me the option, I wouldn't start last. But as circumstances went, we had to, and we prove again that we have a strong team. We can start wherever the situation leads us, and we can make our way through.

It's remarkable that we have such a strong team.

You know, what can I say? It tastes better, for sure. Have a lot of work to do, but definitely it feels much better.

DAN WHELDON: Mike, I've never seen him so quiet.

TONY KANAAN: I haven't realized yet.

MODERATOR: We're joined also by team owner Michael Andretti. Michael, congratulations to you on your first Indy Racing League championship. What are your thoughts today?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It was just a dream day, really. It was tough for the weekend. We didn't qualify well. The guys weren't really happy with the car until the end. That's the beauty of this team: you don't give up, just keep working on it.

After the warmup, the guys, I could see they were a little more comfortable. I thought, "We might be a little bit better off than we thought." Then the race started, and I think Tony pretty much showed that he had a fast car right away. I think he was up to 10th on the first lap.

TONY KANAAN: I promised you 11.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I was happy about that. I thought he'd be 12. He did me a couple better.

The only thing that let me down was I told him to go out for the win, and he didn't get that. We'll let that go (laughter).

No, you know, Tony drove like a champion from the first race on. He proved that he is the champion this year. Dan has come a long way.

TONY KANAAN: The next one.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: He's going to be real tough next year. I'm really proud of the job Dan's done. The job for this team now is to get Dan second in the championship. That's what we're going to be focusing on for sure when we get down to Dallas.

MODERATOR: Dan, you are second in the championship. Strong finish today, your sixth consecutive top-five finish. That improves your hold on that second-place position with one race to go. What do you think about today's race?

DAN WHELDON: You know, to be honest, I've never been so close to a lot of people in one particular team. To me, today really doesn't matter. It's about Andretti Green Racing and Tony winning his championship. I mean, the stuff that he's done for me, I'm sure I've told you all this story before, but I wasn't driving particularly well at Motegi on the first day. In fact, I'll go as far as saying I was absolutely useless. There was one guy that sat down with me, me and my engineer, I should say, Eddie Jones, for an hour and a half. You know, there's not too much to do at the track at Japan. Everybody wants to get back to the hotel, we watched Dave Chappelle.

TONY KANAAN: Did some karaoke with Bryan Herta.

DAN WHELDON: He stayed with me for an hour and a half, really helped me along. I don't think outside of this team any other driver would do that for a teammate. That's why I'm incredibly happy for Tony. It means we're going to have a good night tonight, especially. I'm very, very happy, like I say, for the team.

I think it's incredible for Kim Green. He's kind of the one that's brought me into this team. I'm very, very proud that I could kind of help Tony win this championship. All in all, I'm just very, very happy. It's a unique team effort. I just hope it continues like it does.

I'm also very happy for Tony's wife. She's a big supporter of him. She's won this with him.

MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.

Q: Dan, he stayed with you for an hour and a half because Herta was stealing your shoes.

DAN WHELDON: That was the day before. I'm sure Michael was part of that and Dario (Franchitti). Don't just blame Bryan.

Q: The black flag, what they let go on in Chicago, are you surprised you got nailed on something that doesn't look anywhere near as the blatant as the stuff that went on in Chicago?

DAN WHELDON: I have a huge amount of respect for Brian Barnhart. I think he does an incredible job with the league. But the decision he made was completely wrong in my eyes. I think when you're making decisions like that, and he's made it and I accept that, but what I think he should do right now is he should go to the workshop, Andretti Green Racing, and he should overlook the data with my engineer, Eddie Jones. He'll see that what happened to me was completely out of my hands. Somebody crossed my wake, and it just sent me way up the track.

It's not like you want to be any closer to the wall than you can be. I'm sorry if I did that to (Sam) Hornish, but it certainly wasn't blatant. I'm very disappointed that he can make a decision like that.

I proved him wrong when I came back to third.

TONY KANAAN: I think he did you a good favor. Got you mad, and you drove quick.

Q: Tony, that last lap with Adrian (Fernandez), could you take us through it? You're there to win the race, you're there to win the championship, you have to focus on one thing. What were you thinking?

TONY KANAAN: Winning the race and the championship. Obviously, I had Kim Green before the start saying, "TK, I know you do your best, but think about the championship." He's trying to tell me to take it easy.

DAN WHELDON: I could tell you took it easy by the first lap. Real easy (laughter).

TONY KANAAN: I was thinking, if you win the race, you win the championship. If I finish second, I didn't want to start making counts, because I didn't know where Dan was at the time. The best way to win a championship, it's winning races.

I tried my best. Obviously, with one lap to go, if we don't make silly movements on the track, I think it will be really hard for us to get tangled. I gave enough space to him; he gave enough space to me.

You know, I drove on the inside, he drove on the outside. Whoever's going to be quicker was going to win the race. He had beat me on the line when the yellow came out. I was ahead of him when the yellow came out, but he beat me on the finish line.

To be honest, he was stronger. These type of tracks, there is no way you can hold somebody if he's stronger. He drove a good race. He came back. He was strong all weekend.

We started last, so I had to choose my setup a little bit -- with a little bit more downforce than a lot of guys just because I had to pass 21 cars (laughter). I guess I had to have a little more. That was my decision, and I knew it could cost me at the end. I did my best.

MODERATOR: We're joined by Kim Green and Kevin Savoree, the other two team owners with Michael Andretti. I'd like them to come forward and get their comments before we take any more questions.

We'll start on the end with Kim. Your thoughts on the first IRL title for your team.

KIM GREEN: I'm probably a little bit speechless, actually. It's certainly been a fantastic year. But really most of all I think it's just the teamwork. It's just outstanding teamwork. There's so many people that should be thanked individually, but no one more important than the other, from the people back at the race shop to the people in hospitality. Can't do it without all of our sponsors.

Certainly can't do it without an unbelievable engine manufacturer in Honda and the work they've put in in the last two years really getting ready for the IRL. It's just absolutely outstanding.

You know, I think probably, again, hasn't sunk in yet. I certainly refuse to discuss with anybody how to celebrate a championship until we've done it. That's a good problem to have. We're probably going to be a bit disorganized when we walk out of here, but that's fine. We've kind of done the job we had to get done. Certainly can't be prouder of these guys that sit up here and worked with me, and certainly other our two drivers, Bryan Herta and Dario, who have done a fantastic job all year.

The teamwork, the post-day engineering meetings, are a pleasure to be involved in with the four drivers working together on their car setups.

So I think I said I was speechless at the start. I'll shut up now and hand it over to a guy that's a huge part of our program, as well, in Kevin.

KEVIN SAVOREE: Thanks, Kim.

I mean, as everybody said, I'm just so proud of our team. It was about two years ago right now in Denver that we signed Tony. You know, obviously paid some pretty big dividends pretty quick. It was a long weekend there because Tony and his big friend Dario were going back and forth. "Go do this, go do that."

TONY KANAAN: Plus I took my boss out of the race, too, at that time (laughter).

KEVIN SAVOREE: Actually, a few times now that I think about it at the end of that season. After that rocky start, I mean, it's been a magic couple years. I mean, Tony was knocking on the door last year. To finish it off this year, it's so special.

As Kim and Mike and everyone said, there's a hundred guys that make this happen, not just owners or drivers or whatever. We're just so proud of the group we've put together in a short time. Again, one of our biggest partners is Honda. The job that they've done working with us is just incredible. Obviously, Tony mentioned 7-Eleven. I mean, funny enough, it was two years ago here that Tony met one of the executives at 7-Eleven and 7-Eleven said, "OK, we'll give him a go."

TONY KANAAN: We'll try.

KEVIN SAVOREE: Some pretty good decisions. This is the result. Thanks.

Q: Michael, Tony completed every lap of every race this year. That's incredible. Did you ever have a year like that?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I've never seen that, ever. I don't know if that's ever been done. I hope he finishes Dallas and is able to do that. I mean, again, credit to the team, credit to Honda with the engine reliability. It's never happened to me in my career, even close. So I'm really happy that it's happening for Tony.

Q: Kevin, Kim and Michael, today is the culmination of your decision you made two years ago to join the IRL. Now you're a champion. Talk about reflecting back, that decision, how important it has turned out to be for you.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Like I said before, there's no looking back. I think we felt like we were making the right decision then. Now there's no question that we have. I feel that the future of open-wheel racing is definitely here in the IRL. You know, we're glad we're a big part of it.

I think there's a lot of great things going to be happening starting next year, getting on road courses, going to St. Petersburg, things like that, I think it's going to be good. Everything else I think is looking bright now.

Q: Kim?

KIM GREEN: Obviously, we look pretty smart right now, having made that decision. I just think certainly the level of competition in this series, no question, it's the most competitive open-wheel racing series I've ever been involved in. We've learned and had to learn an awful lot about a fairly unique oval-track series. Everybody will have some more challenges now going back and adapting these race cars to road and street courses.

I think that's a real test of a champion in trying to defend a championship, with all the combination of racetracks this next year. This team has done a great job this year. We've already started reflecting on our shortcomings going forward. We can improve. We will improve. I think with all our partners, hopefully, therefore, we can do a good job defending that championship next year.

KEVIN SAVOREE: Well, for me, it was about getting to a series that we knew would have stability, has the grand-daddy of all car races in the Indy 500. That's a very special place for all of us to compete.

You know, as we were moving forward, making our decisions, obviously a big part of that is talking to our sponsors and where they want to race, the United States market, Japan, so on. Just over time as those decisions were being made, it became very clear that going to the IndyCar Series was where we needed to be.

They've got a great television package. They've got a great team. Before we made our decision, we met a lot with Brian Barnhart, Ken Ungar. Tony George has put together a great team. They put a lot of information in front of us that helped make the decision.

At the time, Kim's brother had managed to talk the three of us out of a lot of money, so we had to make a good decision when we made it. Obviously, he's not here (laughter).

Q: What change had to be made on the engine that caused you guys to start last? Can you explain that a little bit?

TONY KANAAN: The whole engine (laughter). A little piece in the. back of the car By the rule book, if you change an engine, you have to race the engine that you qualify, and my engine was bad. So it had a little problem. It was a good one, but it had a problem. They gave me a better one. So we had to start last. That's why. If you change engines...

Q: Tony, as you look back upon this, what percentage of this was the good chemistry you had between your teammates, and what percentage was consistency with the reliable Honda power, you finishing every lap in competition this year, now that you take a look at it?

TONY KANAAN: It's hard to say in a percentage. I think a combination of a lot of good things make things happen. It's not only one thing. It's not just the engine and not just me. It's not just the engineers. It's everything. It comes from the top. It's coming from those guys.

I mean, we have three team owners. Each one of them, they have a role in this team. Then it goes down to the team managers, engineers, drivers, engine manufacturers.

So consistency? Yeah, the engine has been great. But the car, also you have to give credit to my guys because not only does the engine break, but they break, too. The guys have been incredible. And I'm a strong believer that you have to keep your people happy, and you have to keep your people wanting to work for you. The best way I found, even I can be the nicest guy in the world, but if I'm not delivering the results, they're going to get tired of me at one point. So I try to mix that and working with my teammates and having fun. I mean, don't think we have fun all the time. We do have hard times, we do have fights, but we fight in closed doors. Once we get out of there, everything's okay. We did a couple times, didn't we? We kissed afterwards, but it's like a family.

I can mention one thing. I would give 15 percent of each thing up until we make 100.

Q: Tony, what kind of repercussion do you expect in Brazil?

TONY KANAAN: I hope good. I hope I get a little bit more famous there, right, Dani? No (laughter)? I mean, it's something that has never been done by a Brazilian. Hopefully, it will be good. It's amazing the response I got already from people back home, including good friends of mine. Rubens (Barrichello) called me, left me a message last night. He's in Thailand. He was trying to figure out where I was going to start. Thank God he didn't catch me, because I was going to have to tell him I was going to start last.

I hope we can get some support from my country, because we have none. It's pretty sad. The TV package is not the way I want it. Not just me, but all of us. What can I say? They ask us to win to be able to make the product better, so I did it. Let's see what they're going to do about that right now.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Dan Wheldon , Kim Green , Brian Barnhart , Jim Beam