IRL: Indy 500: Rookie of the Year candidates press conference

INDIANAPOLIS 500 JP MORGAN CHASE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone, starting ninth): (What is the one thing you have learned this month?): "I'm learning every lap out. There's nothing that...

INDIANAPOLIS 500 JP MORGAN CHASE ROOKIE OF THE YEAR CANDIDATES

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 26 NYSE Group Dallara/Honda/Firestone, starting ninth):

(What is the one thing you have learned this month?): "I'm learning every lap out. There's nothing that sticks out because it's just so much. Fortunately for me, there haven't been too many surprises. As a rookie, that's all you can ask for. On and off the track, with the media and everything, that's to be expected. I'm sure I have some surprises coming my way in the race, but hopefully not too much."

(How much experience do you have with pit stops?): "I broke driveshafts the first two pit stops of my career. They happened to be in the first two races. I think I only have two or three live stops in my career. There are eight tomorrow, so hopefully we come in and hit our marks, and the NYSE guys will do their job."

(Are you a traditionalist, or has the month gone so fast that you're not soaking it all in?): "I think I'm soaking everything up. I'm doing everything there is to do. I'm definitely enjoying, but I'm definitely getting to the point where it's too much for me. I can't to get in the car and relax. It's been a very long month for me even though I'd like to have more track time. I just put myself in the same boat as everyone else. They were sitting on the sidelines just like everyone else. It's been a very fun month. It's tradition every year you come back here. I love every bit of it."

(About Marco being the youngest. Marco, you look like you never have to shave. Do you feel like the little kid?): "No comment. (Laughter) No, even my teammates make it pretty clear that I'm just a kid."

(You look so relaxed compared to your dad. Are you that different from your dad?): "I don't know. I thought he was the laid-back one, but I guess I am. Yeah, maybe it's just because I've been doing it all month, and it doesn't phase me any more."

(Has your father given you tips?): "When you make mistakes, Dad had been through it before with his famous father, so he's a lot better at handling me because he sort of knows how it feels. If a mistake is m ade, he knows just to tell me once. If he keeps repeating it, then I get even more frustrated. I'm pretty hard on myself, as well. And I agree that at this level you can't be taught. You either have it, or you don't."

(About Eddie Gossage's proposal to Michael Andretti to race at Texas): "Cool. I don't know if he'll do it or not. He hasn't won there, but this place is different than any other place. Yeah, I love the track at Texas, but the payment of this win is unbelievable. This race is so much bigger than any other race. If he can win this one, he'll be done."

(About how you will react to Race Day): "I've sort of been around it my whole life, so I sort of know what to expect. And I think that's why I've been getting less and less sleep every day this week. I don't know what's going to be going through my head tomorrow. I'm going to be as nervous as I've ever been. Normally, I'm not nervous when I get into a race car, but I really am for this one."

(Is it a tense nervous or an excited nervous?): "It's both. I'm really excited to get it going. It's going to be nervous until the green flag comes, even on the couple of pace laps. The best feeling is after the first couple of laps when you set away and get ready for the 500 miles. You can't win this thing on the start. You just have to get through it, and that's what I'm going to sleep on."

***

TOWNSEND BELL (No. 90 Rock & Republic Dallara/Honda/Firestone, starting 15th):

(What have you learned?): "I've learned more about P.J.'s personal life than I ever wanted to. I've learned Marco is way overpaid as a 19-year-old. He's got a new watch every time I see him. I'm learning that this is one of the more mysterious tracks when it comes to conditions. It's constantly changing. I'm also learning that it's everything I hoped it would be for my first race. It's an amazing facility and I'm thrilled to be here."

(About pit stops): "Maybe I've got more experience than the rest of the guys with pit stops. We've got a great crew. They've brought in some excellent guys on the Rock & Republic car. Any time you add a third car midseason, you're trying to find people- you're looking all over for them. We've got one guy we just recruited out of some carbon shop in town who's really good. It was quite funny, actually. The first day he came up and introduced himself. He was pretty pumped up and ready to go. He's a big guy, looks like he could be an NFL lineman, and he said, 'Hi, my name's Greg.' I said, 'Hey Greg, nice to meet you.' He said, 'I just want you to know that I kick (butt).' I said, 'All right, well, cool.' And he turned out to be pretty good. The guy's pretty intense, but you'd be amazed where we're finding guys this month."

(As a seasoned driver, how do you approach the race with drivers you don't really know?): "Most of the guys next to me and in front of me I've raced with before. I guess I know most of the guys. You know, it's always important to know who's in which car and understand the personality. The guy sitting next to me (Chesson) might as well pull over if he's anywhere near me on the track, based on what I'm hearing today. No, everybody's done a great job. This month it seems like there hasn't been the number of incidents, and there hasn't been any major issues. If you look at the field experience-wise, it's a pretty experienced field. Guys like P.J., and some of the other guys that are rookies, they've been racing all year. I'm a guy who hasn't been in a race in a year. You approach it like anything else, you make smart decisions and understand it's a long race, it's really an endurance race and hopefully we're one of the last guys standing and we're up front."

(What's the toughest turn?): "It's really just the wind. The wind is the only thing that changes each corner. They look a little different, as Thiago says, because of the grandstands. But whichever way the wind sock is blowing, it's totally uniqu e. It's opposites. If (Turn) 1's push because of the wind, then (Turn) 3's pretty neutral. And vice-versa. It's pretty straightforward from that standpoint."

(Can a rookie win this race this year?): "For sure, the Penske's and Ganassi's are strong, everybody knows that, but as history shows, anything's possible. I know Marco's the fastest rookie this month, and he's done a great job. But it's one of those races that's built for drama and uncertainty and unpredictability. And hopefully we can be one of those people that has a bit of a fairy tale."

(Do you try to close out the crowds and buzz on Race Day?): "No, I want to look up and enjoy the moment. You're going to have the pace laps. It's cool. There's few things on earth where we get this many people together cheering for gasoline and ethanol and rubber and all of this glory. I hope to enjoy it. Racing has an amazing way to force you to focus. It's not as if anyone is going to be going down the front straightaway with their head in the air on the first lap. That's the nature of racing. Whether you like it or not, you are will focus more on this race than any other moment in your life."

***

P.J. CHESSON (No. 91 Carmelo Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone, starting 20th): "I've learned a couple things this month so far. One, you shouldn't say everything that's on your mind (laughter), and two, I've been able to realize that dreams, when they come true, are as good as you thought they'd be. For me to be here and to have qualified for the Indy 500, I've told everybody this month that I've fulfilled so many of my dreams in the past 10 days of my life that I'm happy to die tomorrow. I don't care. I've flown in an F-16, I've gone to fires in fire trucks, I've knocked stuff over in bulldozers, I've qualified for the Indy 500 and I've been with a lot of really good-looking girls. So if there's anything that a man needs to do in his life, I think somebody should please tell me, because I will do it between now and tomorrow. In all honesty, it's been an amazing journey so far, and it's an absolute honor to be here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway racing with these guys. And truly, I believe from the bottom of my heart that these are the greatest race drivers in the world, and it's a very big privilege for me to be able to race with them. I can't believe I've actually been given a license to race here, but (Brian) Barnhart is a good dude."

(Asked what history do you have with pit stops, and have you practiced with your team, but initially responds to Townsend Bell's comments about the interesting group of guys the Vision Racing team recruited for their pit crew): "We're pulling guys from Japan, random guys walking through the pits were actually changing my tires. You don't have anything compared to what we've got, this guy's a ninja, I think. For pit stops, I was doing pretty well so far. Homestead was all right, St. Pete was different because it was on the other side of the track, so we pulled to the right instead of the left. And Japan was good. Yesterday, feeling good about my stops, I came skidding through there and knocked down a couple of my guys. They're tough, apparently, because it didn't both er them too much. I hit my marks three out of the four hot stops I did yesterday, so I feel pretty good. If I do eight stops tomorrow, I guess that means I finish the race, right? So that would be good. These guys (fellow rookies) are not wanting me to finish the race, clearly."

(P.J., if you win, what kind of tattoo will you get? Someone in the audience suggests a Jack Arute tattoo): "Yeah, Jack Arute's going to have my name on his (butt), I know that for sure. But his (butt) is big enough he could get the whole field on one cheek. I don't know what I'd get. It would be something special though, probably in Victory Lane somewhere."

(What turns at IMS have been most difficult for all of you to learn?): "I've been sideways in all of them."

(It's been said that going into Turn 1 and 3 is like driving 100 mph into a closet. Is driving into those turns wide-open something it takes several days to do?): "Visually, there's differences because you have the grandstands on the front stretch, and as you come down, the grandstands wrap around the first turn on the outside and they're all the way up on the inside, too. So I would imagine on Race Day that a lot of your visual references are going to change a little bit. Turn 3 seems much more wide open because of the golf course and the grass on the inside, and you have a better visual line of sight through the corner into the center of (Turns) 3 and 4. I'd say the closet would definitely be (Turn) 1, come Race Day with all the colors and the grandstands so close on either side."

***

ARIE LUYENDYK JR. (No. 61 CheapCaribbean.com/Blue Star Jets Panoz/Honda/Firestone, starting 31st):

(What have you learned this month?): "Don't hit the wall, that's one (laughs). Patience. For Thiago and I, it's going to be our first IndyCar race, these other guys (rookies) here have more experience, so as far as the race goes, just patience. The conditions are going to be much different on Sunday than what we've run in. So I guess, just get through that first corner."

(What history do you have with pit stops, and have you practiced with your team?): "Well, Thiago didn't mention (in his answer to the question) that every time he stalls, he owes the team a case of beer. And he's pitted in front of me, and believe me it's been more than five or six times this month."

(Medeiros: "It's been only three.") "No, I don't think so, it was three in one day. Anyway, I've had a little bit of experience with pit stops, I did one pit stop in the 24 Hours of Daytona. It's a bit different, a little bit longer of a stop with the driver change."

(Arie, is your dad giving you tips?): "My dad, he's the type of guy that doesn't say much, and if he see's me make a mistake, he'll tell me what I did wrong. As far as advice, it's hard to give someone too much advice because it's not them driving. Racing is something that can't be taught, it's something either you have or don't have. We (Marco Andretti and I) get asked this daily, and it's a standard answer, but when it comes to it, you're the one driving, and when you make a mistake they can tell you what you did wrong, but we already know. You make the mistake, you say, 'Oh, shoot,' and it's over."

(It's been said that going into Turn 1 and 3 is like driving 100 mph into a closet. Is driving into those turns wide-open something it takes several days to do?): "You have to learn it the first day, or you go home. Yesterday, full tanks I was running 211 (mph) flat, so it's just the difference of the downforce level you have in your car. For me, for my rookie test, I would lift in (Turns) 1 and 3, go flat through 2 and 4 and just work up to it. I find (Turn) 3 to be one of the easiest corners on the track because like P.J. said, you can see everything. Turn 1's the most difficult visually, but it all depends on what direction the wind's blowing."

***

THIAGO MEDEIROS (No. 18 PDM Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone, starting 33rd):

(What is the one thing you have learned this month?): "I have learned to be patient because the weather has changed a lot on the past few weeks and we had the rain delay. We didn't have the chance to run because we had the incident and we had the second-week engines from Honda. Confidence, because every time you go out, it's a new challenge, the wind is blowing in a different direction. It's just be patient and be smart. It's a long race. Take care of the first two corners and attack from there."

(How much experience do you have with pit stops?): "Every time that I come in, I'm trying to hit my marks, and the guys are making sure everything is fine. I wait until the guys tell me I'm clear to go because I've seen many problems in here (pits), guys stalling the car coming out of the pits. You just keep your emotions and be calm and think about doing everything right."

(What corner has been the toughest to learn?): "I think the one thing that makes a lot of difference is the grandstands all around Turn 1, and then there is a gap between that and the building in Turn 2. I think that's one of the toughest places."

(How quickly do you adapt to going flat-out in the corner?): "You have to do that on your first lap, or you won't go over 210, 215, which is the minimum required on your rookie test."

(About how you will react to excitement of Race Day): "Some of the guys that are veterans, they said you have to have time to look because guys are going to be three-wide on the warm-up laps already because I've seen accidents here on the warm-up laps. Everybody knows it's going to be such a close race, and you're not going to have time to look around you. But it's something that changes a lot, with the crowd and the people in the grandstands and the balloons. It's definitely going to look totally different."

-ims

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Michael Andretti , Townsend Bell , Marco Andretti