Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
September 16, 2003
K. Johnson: We would like to welcome everyone to the Indy Racing League teleconference for this week, Tuesday, Sept. 16. Today we will visit with driver Ed Carpenter, who is competing in both the Menards Infiniti Pro Series as well as the IndyCar Series this weekend in California, as well as take a look at the IndyCar Series points chase with drivers Helio Castroneves and Scott Dixon.
Now we would like to welcome IndyCar Series driver Helio Castroneves. Castroneves is the driver of the No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, and he currently leads the IndyCar Series standings with 439 points and has a 12-point advantage over second place Scott Dixon. The two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 has nine top-five finishes this season and including a pair of victories, those coming at Gateway and Nazareth. Helio, welcome and thanks for joining us today.
H. Castroneves: Thanks for having me.
K. Johnson: Helio, first off, give us your thoughts on leading the point standings with two races to go and is this where you want to be at this point?
H. Castroneves: Absolutely. For sure I would like to have a little bit more of a gap, but I guess everybody has the bad side now and everybody has your own lucky time and I guess mine was the last race in Chicago. So, again, I am extremely happy. Obviously we have been fighting the whole season long to make sure that we would be in this position. Our wins came along, no doubt about that. It just gave us a boost and put us right up there. But, like I always learn in the movies, it is not over until the fat lady sings. Two more races to go, so we still have to keep working hard and focus on our job, hopefully we are going to accomplish what we want.
K. Johnson: Heading into the most recent race in Chicago you had put together a string of three consecutive top five finishes including two wins. Then your gearbox lets you down in Chicago, you end up 20th.
H. Castroneves: That is right. I guess sometimes you are the windshield, sometimes the bug, and, for sure, in Chicago we were the huge bug. But again, we are trying to cover those areas to make sure that did not happen again. Marlboro Team Penske is doing a phenomenal job. It is not only myself in contention for this championship but also my teammate, Gil de Ferran. I actually predicted this kind of situation. After the end of last year when we started this year I said, "Yes, you are going to be around four or five guys battling for the championship in the last race and the last lap' and, so far, that is what is happening.
K. Johnson: Looking at your performance history this season every time you finished 10th or worse, and it has happened I believe three times, you bounced back to either win or place second in the following event. Should we expect it again?
H. Castroneves: Of course. I am going to do my best to make sure that the statistic is still the way you guys are talking about. But no doubt about it Fontana is one of those places that anything happens. I do not think it is going to be only the four of us contending for the championship between the race. I am sure more guys are going to join us in that fight, so hopefully that plays in our favor.
K. Johnson: What would winning the IndyCar Series championship mean to you?
H. Castroneves: Wow! Definitely it would mean a lot. It is not only for one race, but it is kind of a whole championship. It is sixteen, seventeen races. You know something like that. It is not only about being consistent; you need to be aggressive sometimes, you need to manage it well where ever you are. It has so many variables. No doubt about winning a championship, it is a dream that I have been dreaming for a long time. So if it is meant to be, it will be.
Q: I have a couple of questions for you. The first is: I was talking with Gil, and he said that he kept teasing you about his retirement. I was wondering what your reaction was when you first heard about it?
H. Castroneves: Well no doubt about it, it was surprising for me, especially the way they told me was right after Nazareth. I was at a dinner with, obviously, Roger, (inaudible), Gil and myself. So all of a sudden we are just joking around and stuff like that and Roger straight the way he is came and said, 'Well, your buddy is going to retire.' I was like, 'Oh.' I had salad coming to my throat. The salad came back, and I said, 'What?' So it is one of those things that he mentioned to me way early in the season right after Indy, but I did not expect, I mean the guy came back, won Nashville, was being competitive in St. Louis, stuff like that. You are like 'Come on, he is still plenty in shape to keep going.' But all of a sudden when it comes like this, I mean I understand his decision. He wants to get out in the top of his, in the peak of his career, and, well, I totally support him in whatever he is going to do. So, hopefully, for sure I learned from Gil not only inside the racetrack, most of all on the side of the racetrack, and he turned out to be one of my best friends. So, hopefully, we are going to keep in touch and party a lot.
Q: And another one on a completely different subject. You probably have seen the news that it looks like some investors are going to come in and save CART at least for a little while and having raced both in CART and now in Indy, would you eventually like to see the two get back together as one series and become stronger and maybe give NASCAR a little bit more run for its money than you guys are doing now?
H. Castroneves: Absolutely. Unfortunately this subject is something out of my control, but my opinion is we should have one open wheel, strong open-wheel series. I do not know what the name is going to be. I do not know who is going to be in charge. I do not know. I mean, the political stuff I have no idea, but what I know is it is not going to benefit only the drivers but also going to benefit the sponsors. It is going to benefit the teams and especially with the press and the fans. So, for sure, it would be the ideal but if that part or some political thing is not able to make that happen, well the only thing I can tell you, I am going to keep trying to go as fast as I can on the racetrack.
Q: And just one last thing. Obviously you live in the Miami area where there are a lot of drivers from both CART and IRL together. Do you guys talk about that a lot, about how you guys would really just love to be all the best drivers against each other in the same series and not being divided up the way you are now?
H. Castroneves: I am sure, yes. I mean now that all the teams already from last year from CART start joining the IRL, you can see that the group is getting strong, and, obviously, everybody is talking about sometimes you are going to go out and see each other, you know in the restaurant, in a place like that or on the beach and stuff like that. You are talking about the race, and unfortunately you cannot just follow all the time. But wow, I guess everybody is trying to look for their best interest and whatever happens we just have to keep pushing our league in sports.
Q: In a race like this, in a championship race like this, does it make you nervous, does it really excite you or do you just find it extremely challenging?
H. Castroneves: Well, I guess everything you just said. You get a little the cold feet, and you are like, 'Oh my God. What is going to happen?' But at the same time it gives you the desire to make it happen, and you enjoy this type of competition. You know again, you are racing against great teams, great drivers, good talent, and I have been in this situation before. I just hope it changes a little bit in the end, and I think that is what I want to do. So as long as I am being competitive, obviously, I am going to be happy, and that is what I have been doing. Last year we almost won; this year we are leading the championship. So we kept thinking about what is going to happen. When you count from one to 10, you do not go from one to 10; you go to two, three and four and etceteras, etceteras. So what we have to do in a situation like this when all the contenders are so close to each other, we just have to count as the race goes. So whatever happens you just have to accept or celebrate.
Q: What kind of mental situation do you have to be in when you are down to the last couple of races. Pit stops could really change the whole fortune of the season. How do you not just , I do not know, overdrive the brain so to speak?
H. Castroneves: That is a good question. Well, the pit stops, especially for those types of tracks, I do not think will matter much because position is not so much important because you still have space to overtake somebody, obviously, if your car is doing well. But again, the mentality is who are you racing against? You have four or five guys that you need to finish ahead of, especially in my situation that I am leading. I just need to finish ahead of them those last two races, and then I am sure I am in good shape. So that is the mentality. You know if you have a car to win for sure I am going to try to make it happen, but if I am already in front of it, I do not think you should take a chance. So it is one of those things that you know how to manage leading a championship and try to become a champion.
Q: Now Sam may be able to replace Gil in a car, but what are you going to do for a singing partner next year?
H. Castroneves: I think I am going to learn a lot with him. I am going to learn a lot in all aspects. Actually we are not going to be able to speak Portuguese like I used to with Gil, but I probably still will be able to teach him a little bit -- some good words, let us put it that way. I believe everybody is welcoming him, including myself, because it is a team. So far the success that I am having with the Team Penske is because I am having a good relationship not only with my team but with the entire team. So I am sure it is going to be a good team. I am sure we are going to, hopefully, help each other so both of us can compete against each other in the end of the race.
Q: And you are not going to grow a beard to match his?
H. Castroneves: Say that again.
Q: You are not going to grow a beard to match his?
H. Castroneves: A beard.
Q: A beard, facial hair.
H. Castroneves: No, no I will not. Well maybe, maybe I will make a tease in one of those races, so you guys wait and see.
Q: Good morning Helio. Hey, I wonder from the test you guys had last Wednesday, how has that track, can you sense how that track has changed from over the years by having more races each year? What is different about it now than what you remember when you first got there?
H. Castroneves: Good morning. Are you talking about Fontana?
H. Castroneves: It looks like on the backstretch there was a little bump, but that track has always been phenomenal. There are a lot of places to go, a lot of lines. You are probably going to have three grooves in that place. So the track has no major issue. So actually the factor is going to be what the temperature is going to be like or how many cars or how many other series are going to be running over there. You know those little things might affect if you should put more rubber or less rubber. When you are in a situation, little things like that are just what changes in that track, but so far surface, asphalt and everything seems to be in good shape.
Q: Does it seem to be producing more grooves as each year goes by Helio?
H. Castroneves: Well it depends on how the car is going to be. Normally the track, sometimes when you put more rubber on the surface for sure you can go as many grooves as possible, but so far Fontana has been very consistent to our type of cars. It just depends how the cars are set up. I believe racing in Michigan, I am sure we are going to have a pretty much race like that, not many yellow flags, hopefully not. I believe it is going to be a green flag all of the race. So a few miles might be a good strategy to try and save fuel and stuff like that. So for sure it is going to be very interesting.
Q: I am just wondering how you would describe the significance of winning this, the IRL title, Helio, because it is so competitive, and there are so many amazing finishes and you guys are going so fast and you are wheel to wheel and you do not see any (inaudible).
H. Castroneves: Well, like you just said, it is so competitive, so when you win a place, win a situation, when you participate in a series like this, like IRL, I mean it just shows how consistent not only you are being, but also your entire team. So again, it is one of those series that if you want to make a bet, you do not know who is going to win, and I think that shows how tough it is to know, to be in those kind of situations. That is why it is so tough to win this championship, so I believe it is going to be a big accomplishment for any of those four or five drivers. Hopefully, I will be the lucky one.
Q: How was the weather last week for the test out at Fontana?
H. Castroneves: Well it seems to be very comfortable. It was not very hot but also not very cold. I mean it seems to be around 80, 75, stuff like that with a nice breeze.
Q: Have you seen the forecast for this weekend?
H. Castroneves: No, have you?
Q: Yes, yes.
H. Castroneves: What is it?
Q: Temperatures in the mid 90s.
H. Castroneves: Whoa.
Q: And I am curious, how much of a difference, we know how much the heat and slight temperature changes affect the cars on the big track particularly here at Indianapolis, but how much of a change do you anticipate from last week's test to this weekend where you can be, I mean we could see 96, 97 degrees (inaudible)?
H. Castroneves: Well, I just said, I mean with those kind of temperatures, extremely hot the way it is going to be, for sure in an air dynamic aspect it is going to be extremely tough. You lose downforce when you have heat like that. You probably lose a little bit of power related to the air atmosphere and stuff like this. Those conditions are going to be the same to everyone. Whatever guys choose to take a chance in trying to go with less downforce, he might get in trouble in the middle of the race, but like I said, it is 400 miles, it is almost 500 miles and it is a long race, so it is probably going to be two hours, two hours and one-half and again, a situation like this can turn out to be maybe in your favor or against you. So that is a good point. Hopefully, we are going to know what we are going to do.
Q: Helio, we noticed that Chicagoland and even a couple of earlier races this season where teams were beginning to take gambles on not taking tires on their last pit stop, were you one of the guys that did not take tires on your last stop? I realize you did not get to run your last spin, but did you take tires at Chicagoland on your last stop?
H. Castroneves: No I did not, I was in the same strategy to not take tires. Unfortunately, as soon as I left the pits, I had a gearbox problem, but I was probably basically on the same (inaudible) as my guys always doing a phenomenal job in the pit stops, and we probably would have not been in good shape, but well now we have been in bad shape, but that is the way it goes.
Q: Is Firestone just giving you guys a tire that is that good?
H. Castroneves: Yes, they are doing a phenomenal job, especially in places like Nashville, Kentucky, that when you have like a track that they made a groove, grinding in the surface, it seems to be holding extremely well. So I will tell you, especially with Fontana, I do not think it is going to be trouble, especially when you have more cars running. We just did like a small open test, not many cars running, the tires were holding pretty well, so I am sure we are not going to have an issue.
Q: And lastly Helio, we asked Gil a few weeks ago if someone had said to him 10 years ago that you are going to be in the running for an all-oval championship, what would you have said and he said, 'I would have said you were crazy.' What about you? If 10 years ago someone had said to you, 'Helio, you are going to be in the running in 10 years for an all-oval championship' What would have been your reaction?
H. Castroneves: Oh no, you are crazy. Well I do not know, that is why I never said anything about any series, you know, even when I was thinking of racing Forma One. I always loved racing, so watching F1 and watching CART, people were saying, 'Oh kart is just for retired drivers,' and I said, 'No, no, no, you can never underestimate anything because you might end up running in that place.' That is what happened when I start racing CART; people were saying, 'Oh IRL, oh I am not sure.' I said, 'Listen, be careful of what you guys are saying because this way they might becoming the series that you are going to race.' Well, that is what happened. So I never underestimate anything, and, in fact, I always support any kind of racing. So when IRL came, I said no problem and it is tough, but that is why I decided to come with the Marlboro Team Penske, I decided to challenge myself in being very good in ovals. So far I guess I am doing OK.
K. Johnson: Well Helio, we certainly appreciate you taking time to join us this morning. We wish you the best of luck this weekend, as well as, in your pursuit of the IndyCar Series Championship.
H. Castroneves: I appreciate that. Hopefully, we are going to have a good time.