IRL: Indy 500: Penske Racing Media Tour, part 1

2006 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR PRESS CONFERENCE Tim Cindric, Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr. Tuesday, April 4, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway PAT SULLIVAN: Well, it's obvious early that the man in the middle has a very important and ...

2006 INDIANAPOLIS 500 MEDIA TOUR PRESS CONFERENCE
Tim Cindric, Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr.
Tuesday, April 4, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

PAT SULLIVAN: Well, it's obvious early that the man in the middle has a very important and multi-faceted job with Marlboro Team Penske. Of course, we're delighted to bring the most successful team in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and this the 90th running. Of course, as I look all the way across, it's the two-time IndyCar Series champion, No. 1 in all-time wins, Sam Hornish Jr., and two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and our most- recent (IndyCar Series) winner, Helio Castroneves, and member of the Rose-Hulman Institute Hall of Fame in the middle.

TIM @!CINDRIC:

Get that in there, a little plug for those guys in Terre Haute.

SULLIVAN: Tim, thus far this year, your team has shown a great deal of strength. Easily could have won the first two races. Sam has been strong, as well, particularly strong at Homestead-Miami, had a dominant car there, as well. So going into Japan and Indianapolis, I would have to think you would feel pretty good.

CINDRIC: Yeah, I think certainly we feel good about the first couple races. I can't say that we're satisfied. You know, we wanted to win both of those races, and we let Sam down a little bit there in St. Pete in terms of not giving him a car that brakes, that would last throughout the race to show everybody what he's continued to improve on in terms of road racing and that type of thing. He showed it in qualifying; we didn't give him a chance to do that in the race.

But, no, I think we're off to a good start, obviously. Getting him to the end of one of these road races is an accomplishment. So we can check that off the list in the IRL. (Laughter)

We did two things in one day. Aside from that, yeah, again, we want to maybe show everybody the work that we've done over the past couple of years. We're hoping that that pays off.

SULLIVAN: Sam, during the running at St. Petersburg, we heard your boss (Roger Penske), The Captain, constantly preaching the notion of patience and focus when you were trying to deal with the car, and patience and focus is certainly one of the things that breeds success here at Indianapolis. Heading into the month of May, talk about your feelings and how you're feeling, particularly with new power on your team this year.

SAM HORNISH JR.: I feel great going into this season, Marlboro Team Penske has given me an opportunity to go out there and be strong. Even with the struggles over the past couple years, I think it's made us better as a team. Helio and I have been able to work together a lot and learn some things about how to make the cars better. I think that you've seen that in the first two races of the season. I think that you'll see that as the season continues, as well. But like you said, the focus and the patience, Roger was on me to make sure we brought the car home at St. Pete. I was out there fighting and doing everything I could to make sure we did that. It was a great day for Helio. We got out of there with some points. It could have been worse for us, and people helped us out toward the end of the race by not finishing. I think the big thing for me for the month of May is just go through it without any incidents and whether they be big or small, just -- last year was filled with a lot of those for us.

CINDRIC: Stay right side up. (Laughter)

HORNISH: I don't think there's a Friday the 13th this May. Hopefully we'll have a good run here. I think that leading as many laps as we did over the last year, especially here, I think that's shown that we can be competitive here. Just have to lead the right one.

SULLIVAN: Helio, you are the points leader in the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series, and I know you're awfully proud of that. A couple of things just to point out during the month of May: We know that you will have a birthday during the month. We'll be well prepared for that. Secondly, I want to remind you, the good news here also is that these are permanent fences here, and they're not quite as treacherous to climb.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I learned that Sunday. The good news is as Cindric and Sam are talking about, we've been working extremely hard in the past few years. It seems to start paying off this year, you know. And it's good. It's about all combinations with everyone, even between Sam and I. The communication is getting incredible. You can see both cars improving a lot. So I'm really proud of that. Apart from obviously championship leader, it's only the second race, we want to continue to work extremely hard, but at least my philosophy this year is go step by step. So thinking about each and every race and not thinking about the end of it until you need to. So now we feel that we're making good ground, and the next race is Japan, so we have to keep focused on Japan.

SULLIVAN: Tim, for a person like myself, it would seem that you have a different powerplant in the car, what's the big deal? You put it in, you go fast, these guys stand on the pedal and turn the wheel, but what kind of adjustment is that from your perspective when you make a change like that? Is it a big one?

CINDRIC: I think we're versatile enough in terms of race teams to be able to adjust to those things. I think the one -- the difficult part of it and where we're still learning on the fly here a little bit is not having the testing opportunities that maybe we've been given in the past to have such a change. Honda has done a great job with the engine, obviously. They've dominated this series in the last couple years to the point where they're the only ones left. But for us, even most of you know Helio missed the majority of the session, I think 25 minutes of a 30-minute session on Friday because we couldn't get to the source of the problem. I think had we run the car a bit more, we would have understood a few more things about that.

But aside from that, as far as I understand, it's as level a playing field as it can be. The engines are picked randomly, they're assembled randomly. It's almost a light-bulb approach from where we sit, which will make the month of May a little bit different for us because we're used to having that as a strategy. How you progress, how you strategize your qualifying engine, you know, how much risk do you want to take in qualifying? When do you want to start taking that risk? And how much risk do you want to take for the race?

Typically our organization, anyway, has always been upside down throughout the month of May in terms of trying to make the decision right to the last minute in terms of flying engines back and forth, and we're putting warm engines in for the race sometimes after Carb Day. So I asked Roger if he really needed me here this month because I didn't know if there would be too many of those decisions we needed to make, but I'm sure there will be plenty to come up. But I guess that's the biggest adjustment, especially in the month of May. As I understand it, we have one engine for the month of May until Carb Day and deciding which car that engine goes in and how many miles to run and that type of thing will be something that we have to look at.

But it's going to be a far different approach from maybe starting the month of May with one plan and change it every day throughout the month of May until you finally come up with what you think might make 500 miles. In some ways, that will make life simpler; in other ways, it will make it a bit different.

Q: What can and can't you do with the Honda engine? Can you take it apart at all or is the engine work something that is totally farmed out to Honda, you get it, put it in the car, take it out of the car, never get to the interior of the thing?

CINDRIC: The latter part of that. Basically, no, we can't take it apart, but in a lease engine scenario, no one's ever been able to take the engines apart. I couldn't tell, when we raced in CART with Honda in 2000 and 2001, we couldn't take an engine apart, either. The differences in the past couple years with Toyota anyway and even with Chevrolet and the IRL, this is the first year in the IRL where we haven't been able to take an engine apart as far as ourselves because we obviously are a rebuild facility for Toyota in the past couple years.

The other teams like, say, Ganassi, for instance, they weren't able to take theirs apart in a lease engine situation. So that really hasn't changed with the exception of our position is different. And there was a lot of discussion last year about in the past couple years about us doing our own engines and they being different and so forth from other Toyotas and that type of thing. You know, you can tell everybody they're not, but they're going to believe what they want to believe. Perception is everything. So I think we'll continue this year to, as I said, it's as level a playing field as I can imagine. Now we just have to go out and execute.

Q: I've got two questions; I'll ask the first one first. Sam, have you reached the frustration level of this place yet? Especially after last year, you had a car that was really capable of winning, and late in the race you ended up getting in the gray and into the wall. How frustrating are you getting in the "500" here?

HORNISH: I don't think that I'm any more frustrated than the first year I ran. I still go into it every year knowing that there's so many scenarios that are going to play out not only throughout the month but also in the race that I'm never going to be able to learn every possible thing and that it's going to take a little bit of luck to not -- maybe just not bad luck or a bad decision made on my part.

But I've learned so much over the past two years, let alone what I had learned before that. I think sooner or later I'm going to be able to get it right, but I know that for whatever reason that it may not ever happen. But I'm just going to keep working at it until I'm forced to give up or there's, you know, I'm too old to do it anymore because there's a lot of things that are going to change. I think that, you know, probably the best race I ever ran here was in 2003, and we were running sixth with five laps to go or three laps to go, and the engine lets go. That's one of those things: What are you going to do about it? We ran it perfectly all day long and we're up there two laps ahead of the next person with the same engine that we had, and you still can't make it to the end. When it's time, it's time.

Q: And the second question, Helio, you've raced a lot with Michael (Andretti) in your career. Sam, you've had four races with him. The addition of him in this year's race coming back after a couple of years, they pretty much seem to think he's picked it right back up where he left. Talk about what it's going to be like having Michael Andretti out there in the car.

CASTRONEVES: Talking about frustration, I think he's the right guy to answer that, I think after so many years and he's been so close and led so many races. You know, first when I heard obviously, like, wow, he's coming back from retirement and not in a negative way, but you know, normally is not a good thing when someone says, "I retire" and then coming back. It's always something bad happen. But the good news is he seems to be in good shape. He seems to be already testing, and that's good. He's definitely going to be a very tough competitor like he's always been. He definitely has a tough competitive team that he's dominated for the last two years. It's like riding a bicycle. He's going to be on speed right away, and it's just going to be more competitive again. So the series is always -- actually, Indianapolis is about that, it's racing against the best drivers and here you go, not only himself but I believe Al Unser Jr. and (Eddie) Cheever. So all those guys, it's nice to have all those champions.

HORNISH: I think that's a great addition to the lineup for the field. I think that it might have changed a little bit since 2003 and, you know, how competitive everything has become in the league. I think that he's (Cheever) done a great thing by going out there to get those first three races in, to get comfortable in the car and in traffic. Everything is a little bit different. So I think that we're going to have a very exciting lineup for this year's Indianapolis 500. Who wouldn't want to win the 90th Indianapolis 500?

Q: Tim, with the engines being taken out of the equation this year and more emphasis put on the aerodynamic packages for the car, and it seems as if they're sprouting winglets on the car everywhere these days, do you come with a special Speedway wing package for this race? And is that how you approach the search for speed in this year's race?

CINDRIC: First of all, I just want to qualify, engines I don't think are out of the equation. I think there's less difference between the various engines. You still have to gear them properly, you still have to have the guy that can drive the thing and shift it at the right points and do the right things, and that has a lot to do with the speed around here as far as making those kind of decisions, deciding what the wind is going to be, deciding what the gears are going to be, those type of things. I don't want to oversimplify it where everybody can do the same job with the same piece.

But I think it's going to come down to all the same things we do every month. Everybody tries to tweak their cars just a little bit more than the other guy and sometimes you go too far, but it's going to come down to the same thing. It's going to come down to the team that executes and the guys that have the best drivers behind the wheel, you know, that make the right decisions at the right time and continually make their cars better. It's going to be the same game, you know, just getting to that point, I think, it's going to be a little different.

On the flipside of that, I think what it's going to do is it's going to close this field up a lot closer than what it has been in the past. One positive about when you look at the Indianapolis 500 this year relative to years past, that it almost favors again kind of the entrepreneurs.

I think one of the untold stories, and I'm kind of a traditionalist here and I grew up here and I understand all these different guys, Jonathan Byrds and some of these guys that show up the month of May and those type of opportunities, I think it's $250,000 gets you an engine that's the same engine that Penske is putting in their car, Green is putting in their car. That's not a large price to pay these days to go compete in the biggest event in the world. And I think as that message is told a little bit more, you start to see some other opportunities, whereas last year these same people that might be interested in that might not be able to come here and compete at the same level and look at their sponsor in the eye. I know a lot of people last year that came and said, "Hey, if my sponsor can get a Honda, you know, I can get a sponsor or if I can tag on to this lease with this team, I can get this other piece," and it didn't come together. Or if I can get the same engine you guys are running, you know, then I can have something. That part of it's going to be a little different. But those that do compete have all the same opportunities as far as equipment. There's nothing that's not available to them whereas last year it was, well, there's only a certain amount of these and a certain amount of this and a certain amount of those. So I think that's going to bring the field a lot closer, and that's why I think you see guys like Al Jr., and Michael and Cheever and some of these guys coming because they're like, "Hey, here's my chance to shine again," because, you know, racing is all about egos, too, you've got to think you're better than the next guy. These guys in their mind, and Race Day will tell, but they're like: "Hey, I can do that, too. Give me that same piece and I can go win that race." I think you'll see more of that attitude this year than maybe what we've seen here in the past few years.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Al Unser Jr. , Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske