IRL: Indy 500: Pole winning team press conference

91st INDIANAPOLIS 500 POLE PRESS CONFERENCE Helio Castroneves, Tim Cindric, Sam Hornish Jr., Roger Penske Saturday, May 12, 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway MODERATOR: Here is the team, certainly congratulations to all of them. Sam, obviously,...

91st INDIANAPOLIS 500 POLE PRESS CONFERENCE
Helio Castroneves, Tim Cindric, Sam Hornish Jr., Roger Penske
Saturday, May 12, 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

MODERATOR: Here is the team, certainly congratulations to all of them. Sam, obviously, could have been in this situation. He had a similar four laps to Tony Kanaan, actually, but had a great qualifying effort. Tim Cindric, the president of Penske Racing, and, Roger, you have 14 wins now, and now you have 14 pole positions in your team. This has to be a very gratifying moment for you, as well.

ROGER PENSKE: I can tell you that Helio has done it for us before, and this was a tremendous run at the end. I think the most exciting part was that there are many opportunities for us to try things as we did with Sam. So continuing what we learned was Sam's car able to pass within the team, and it certainly paid off for Helio. You really roll the dice there at the end. We knew Kanaan was so strong all month that he was the one that had a real chance to beat us. But with that time, it was tremendous what Helio ran.

So, again, 14th pole, getting off that 13 number was a good thing.

MODERATOR: Sam, you and I go way back, and I've done many press conferences where you finished on the podium. And as I have teased you many times, you look like death warmed over because you're such a strong competitor. Looks like you're struggling with a range of emotions. A strong emotion for your team and your teammate but personal emotion in the fact that you also came up just a little shy.

SAM HORNISH JR.: We had a real good run going on the first run. I think we might have had something for Helio on that one, but he was a little quicker than us all day and we couldn't find that little bit of speed that he had. With the changes that we were able to make and he was able to put on his car and to go out there and to be on the pole, it was kind of -- at that time we were like, you know, it is a struggle with emotions because on one hand, it's bumping you back one spot, but you're hoping that if he's going out there, he's going to at least be able to be on the pole and not be just one spot ahead of you.

I was really glad that he ended up being able to get on the pole. And I was down doing some interviews, and he got on the -- he was on the track speakers and had thanked everybody on the team and thanked me. I was actually taken back a little bit. I was really happy about that. You don't get too many thanks from other drivers at any point in time. That was a pretty neat thing.

So it's not like starting on the pole, but it's a lot like being second. I was pretty happy with that. It's a good day for Team Penske, and hopefully we'll be able to add No. 15 to the win list in a couple weeks.

MODERATOR: Tim Cindric, I would imagine the last comment by Sam would be indicative of what you expect at Team Penske, and that is to operate like a team. We couldn't help but notice on the television monitors right after Sam's run that you and Roger huddled up, and I suspect your wheels were turning about exactly how you were going to play this strategy. It's kind of unchartered territory for all of us. Tell us about your thought process going into this.

TIM CINDRIC: I think the strategy all starts, obviously, through the month. You know whether you have a chance for the pole or not. It's pretty important to understand what your realistic goals are. Then it goes to the draw, and the draw has a lot to do with how you approach the day. As you saw there with us, we had a late draw and there was real -- we didn't determine there was any real advantage to go out there and do a run if we felt like the conditions were going to be better later. Obviously, we chose to pass. I think we took the right steps throughout the day. We worked as a team throughout the day. We didn't typically have both cars on the racetrack at any one point in time. We had one guy learn from the other guy, learn from the other guy back and forth throughout the day. I think that's what really paid off at the end of the day, is the communication between the two teams. Helio was able to go out and go quick in practice. Sam built on that and then, you know, Sam went out and did two great attempts, and I'm sure that's not easy to do. Obviously, Helio learned from where Sam was and we just continued to -- you have to time it right at the end of the day, as well.

MODERATOR: Roger, I know one of the things your team seems to strive on is a little internal competition, as well, as long as you're all pulling with the same direction. Again, just to go with Tim's comments, what were your thought processes? Were you comfortable with the decision to withdraw? Maybe I'm hitting on something with Sam and Helio's car.

PENSKE: I think one part of your head says, look, you better stay cool here because you can put yourself in trouble, because all we need to be is pulling the cars out, and we get into trouble in one of the cars in qualifying and people say, "What were you doing?" So we're always on that edge. But I guess that's the edge you need to be on in order to win.

But to me, you know, Tim had a good process. We kept communicating all day long. And I think the input between the two drivers, I mean, we kept it in Team Penske, which was key, but, sure, they are competitive. There's only one guy that's going to win this race from our team in a couple of weeks, but they know that. But if we can be successful, I've always said if the team is successful, both drivers get the benefit of that. But, obviously, they want to pass that around a little bit, too.

MODERATOR: Sure they do. Let's open it up for questions.

Q: Sam, on the first run you tried to knock the wall down and on the second one you tried to back it in; is that fairly accurate? What happened there?

HORNISH: Tried to knock the wall down on lap two of the first run and tried to knock the wall down in the exact same place on lap four of the second run. We were fairly loose at the beginning of the run and quite a bit of push at the end of it. For whatever reason we couldn't get the car just to be consistent over the four-lap run is what we would have liked it to be. That's why I think that Helio definitely had the advantage on us today was that he was very comfortable with the car, and it was comfortable for him for all four laps instead of just one or two.

Basically I was adjusting the roll bars inside the car trying to make it better. As I went, you know, keeping it from being too loose at the beginning and keeping it from having too much push at the end, that last run I was thinking, "Man, I probably should go another click with the roll bar." I think I -- that was pretty good last time through there, so I knew it would be OK. Sure enough, I went in there and sure enough, it pushed out.

It really didn't matter on that run, the second run. We might have been third, but we weren't going to be on the pole with that speed. The first one was the one that we had the speed to be able to do that, and obviously that one was thrown away on the second lap and not able to move forward.

Q: Roger, do Sam and Helio get along pretty well together in terms of what setup works best for each of them? Sometimes you have two drivers on a team that will want very different setups. Are they pretty much alike in that regard and is that just here or does that tend to carry over to the mile-and-a-halves as well?

PENSKE: I think it's probably -- you know, as you put your golf club, put your hands around a golf club, everybody swings a 3-iron but what we do is after every practice, the drivers -- the setup is done by the crew chiefs, then they pass that to each other and then to the engineer, so it's all transparent. It's up to the driver to say we tried it and it didn't work, maybe I'll go another direction.

As we closed in on today, they knew exactly what they had. It's a driving style, and it's aerodynamics. How free do you want to keep the car? It depends on the day. We had quite a bit of wind today we hadn't seen before down the back straightaway.

So I would say the drivers take their own particular setups, but it's based on knowledge not just from their own car, it's based on what they see their teammate doing. I think these fellows sometimes are exact, and other times they might be different.

Q: Sam, I don't think we've ever seen virtually two consecutive qualifying attempts. Could you take us through the decision to go out a second time so soon? And how do you keep your heart rate so low to get in the car after that wall-banging event?

HORNISH: You almost saw three consecutive runs. We were about ready to go do it again. That's the bad thing about that third run, is it doesn't give you an opportunity. If you bang the wall on that one, you're done. We figured it was probably the best just to stay in impound.

As far as keeping the heart rate down or whatever, that's what racing is all about. As soon as you can get yourself back in the mode where those things aren't bothering you and you're calmed down, the better it's going to be for you during race conditions because you're going to have times like that all the time.

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, the pole winner, Helio Castroneves. (Applause)

Q: Tim, a question for you. Did the decision to take Sam and Helio out when you did, was like quarter after four, I think, when Helio made his first run, and shortly after that Sam went out. Was the mandatory impound time, did that play a major factor in when you sent them out for their first runs in the late afternoon?

CINDRIC: It certainly plays a factor in that you don't want to be handcuffed sitting in impound and not to be able to go out and practice. That's the key there, if you end up in the impound there in the pit lane now, you don't have any option to practice whatsoever. If you go back to the garage -- like in Sam's case there, where he went out and did one run, finished the run, went to impound there in the pit lane, at that point in time if we go back to the garage area, which we had the option to do because we were able to just get out before that closed, we wouldn't have had another opportunity to come back out, assuming that it takes 30 minutes minimum to go through the inspection process in the garage area and then back out to the pit lane. By that time the line has formed.

So at that point you never really get another chance to go. So, yeah, it absolutely plays a part. You want to put a number on the board and then let guys take shots at it and see where you end up.

Q: Roger, for the first time in a couple of years, a new format came into play today where you could qualify, make three attempts in one day. How did you like the new format? How do you think it works?

PENSKE: There's no question it was exciting. It gave us a chance. Without the format we wouldn't have been able to make two qualifying attempts with either car. So I would say it played into our hands. We've done in the past -- this isn't the first time that we've pulled out of line. Mears has done it; Helio has done it in the past, and Sam. We've done that based on when we felt it was the best time to run. Obviously, the wind got a little stiffer today, so it was difficult based on early this morning.

But I think the format was terrific, and it got some spirit back into what we used to see here in qualifying over the many years. There's no question you can -- these guys couldn't hear the cheers from the fans, but I'll tell you, they were standing up in their seats. That's what we want them to do in the Indy Racing League.

Q: Helio, I'm just curious because I think the phrase Happy Hour means something a little different after Eastern Daylight Time. It seems like there wasn't that much of a Happy Hour, maybe the last 20, 25 minutes. I was just wondering if that really had any significant impact on your last run.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I guess not only the weather but especially, I mean, all the information that we got. Like I said, this pole position means a lot obviously to me, to the team. I have to thank numbers of people here and starting with obviously Roger and Cindric to give me a great car and great opportunity. My group, obviously Rick Rinaman and Ron Ruzinsky, they kept digging for the last minute. Sometimes it's a little bit tough. You have to hold it, but you have to make it, and the good news is you can trust those guys. When you hear your team saying we are 100 percent behind you whatever you want to do, I mean, what else can you ask for? So that's just awesome.

And I have to thank this guy here. His run was just awesome. It was a little shame that he couldn't hold it in Turn 1, but it was good, at least I learn it, you know. It was like, "OK, I need to make sure I keep Turn 1 in a good condition. And again, Tom German, his engineer, that's what it's about. Today, again, was a great team effort. I couldn't have done it without those guys. Again, it's a great way to start it like that, for sure. But we're going to have to continue working, you know, because this is first race I would say. Like Rick Mears always says, we have two races here. One is the actual "500," and this is the Pole Day. We start really good.

Q: Helio, the last time you won pole here, the wind was blowing so hard and it was so nasty that it nearly ripped the flags off the Pagoda. What's it like going out there in conditions like this and having an opportunity to run wide open?

CASTRONEVES: Well, it wasn't as strong as that time, but you have to remember this time we have this new format. Will it help us? No question about it, and also help, give opportunity also to the other guys. And, again, looks like the wind is my friend. A little bit has always helped, and exactly the moment that I went out qualifying, we noticed that it was really windy and the cars like wiggle a lot. We make some adjustment, we saw Sam running really fast, and our cars are very, very close, very, very similar. That's another proof, he really tried, tried once, tried another one, unfortunately he could not keep the front in Turn 1 staying. We made another adjustment, and unfortunately we didn't have a chance to practice because they called the yellow and went straight to the line.

It was like Cindric always says, this is the place to take a chance, and we did take a chance again and throw the dice. Like I was playing with Sam yesterday, the "crabs," it was like snake eyes, and definitely the snake eyes show up today.(Laughter)

HORNISH: It's craps.

CASTRONEVES: Oh, craps, sorry. No crabs. For me it's the same thing, you know. (Laughter)

CINDRIC: He's the only one that could get away with that.

CASTRONEVES: Sounds the same. (Laughter)

Q: Helio, could you describe your emotions as Tony was making that final qualifying run? Also, can you expand a little bit on what you think of this whole format and if you think this is something that can last?

CASTRONEVES: As soon as I finished, I was extremely excited about it. I was holding because I knew Tony was right behind me. I didn't see the times that he was doing, but I knew he was very similar to Dario. No question, Andretti Green would have tried everything they can to keep that pole position. I don't think they like me much because this is the second time that we did this to them.

One thing, those guys are just incredible, Andretti Green Racing, always keep pushing, which makes us push, as well. Again, we did what we were supposed to do. I was just holding, you know, waiting for a jump or ready for jump again because it was a good decision for us to go back and put the car in the front row.

So it's always good to start in the front row. Obviously, it pays a little bit more or more starting in the No. 1 spot. I guess you guys have to answer about the format. I think it's incredible. I know it's incredible, and it gives everybody a chance. Like I was hearing about, it was only four minutes to go when we decided, when we took the track, and I guess even Tony was later than me. So it sounds great; the fans seems to enjoy it. And certainly it was a lot of nerves, but we made it.

MODERATOR: We'll take two more questions.

Q: Helio, when you did an earlier interview, you said the crew asked you what you want to do. How long did it take you to decide, OK, let's go for it? And how much of a risk were you taking, did you think?

CASTRONEVES: Well, you know, at the beginning I was a little concerned. I'm like, man, I was really loose when I try my attempt, and I was third. They're like, OK, we are 100 percent behind you. I'm like that's not what I want to hear. I want to hear like, "OK, buddy, cool down, that's fine." (Laughter)

But all of a sudden, like I said, we keep digging, and we found what we were supposed to do. I say you know what? Let's do it. I spoke with Cindric moments before we go, and it's like remember 2005, we're in the same spot. We're fourth, second row, and we decided to take a chance, and we end up fifth.

CINDRIC: He got beat by a girl that day. (Laughter)

CASTRONEVES: That's right, Danica started fourth. So I said, hey, the worst we can be is the middle of row two, and I know we can be a little better.

It wasn't a risk like crazy risk. It was just a chance it would either work out or not, and I think it went to the positive way.

Q: Helio, how hard is it to go out there and keep trying to turn laps to qualify? It's hard to qualify, I understand, but how hard is it on the driver to do that?

CASTRONEVES: Man, let me tell you. I don't think I was breathing in the last four laps. I was holding my breath for the whole entire qualifying. But that's why, because it's four laps, not only one lap. And the car does so many things doing one lap, imagine in four laps. So you've got to trust, you know. We've got a great group of guys, like I said. Our team is just an incredible resource, and everybody trying to make sure everything fit well. You know, I trust those guys. They trust me, and that's why a good combination.

But, again, Indianapolis 500, when you go for qualifying, unless -- you have to be here to understand. Just incredible, you know, to make everything connect. It's just so many things that can go wrong. But at the same time, when you put so many things together and goes right, that's what happened.

MODERATOR: Well, Team Penske, 14 wins, 14 poles, most appearances in the Economaki Press Room with the arrival of the trash truck out here. (Laughter).

-credit: ims

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Tony Kanaan , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske