IRL: Indy 500: Team Penske press conference, part 1

2006 INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Roger Penske Friday, May 12, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway MODERATOR: Welcome again. We've got with us a four-time winner Rick Mears; a...

2006 INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE

Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Roger Penske
Friday, May 12, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

MODERATOR: Welcome again. We've got with us a four-time winner Rick Mears; a two-time winner Helio Castroneves; I always introduce him as a former United States Auto Club Sport Car Champion and winner of the LA Times Grand Prix, Mr. Roger Penske; two-time IndyCar series champion Sam Hornish Jr., and Tim Cindric, as always, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Mr. Penske, obviously you've had great success, and thus far at the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 your team has looked very good. Talk about how things have gone thus far.

ROGER PENSKE: I think the new format is pretty interesting. As we came here back in the '60s, we had two weeks of running from 9 o'clock until 6 o'clock at night, lots of track time.

This year we had one engine; we're able to have one car ready with an engine in it. Our plan was really set early on with Tim (Cindric) sitting down with the teams before we came to Indy and made the decision that the first day we would start with our backup cars and run laps just to be sure that they were competitive, then switch to the primary cars, which we've been able to do during the week.

Obviously, we had a chance to look at the weather forecast, which I guess to me and to the team did not look real strong for a lot of track times, so we tried to take advantage of that.

On the other hand, remember, we don't want to have an engine that's worn out by the time we get to qualifying day, so we've been very careful on the amount of running that we've done during the week, and I think that's proven to be quite good. We had a great test here a month or so ago, which gave us a race setup or at least a baseline.

With the cars, the knowledge that these are the same cars we ran last year or the same configuration, we should be able to unload and be very quick. I think it's a matter of the drivers getting used to the track conditions. They do change based on the weather, and being able to throw them out; it's like taking it out until you can't really handle a car at high speed. I think they've done that systematically. They're trading information between the two cars, and we're pretty excited.

That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of things that will happen with this weather like this and the cold temperature. I think we're going to see some exciting stuff over the next couple of days. What we've got to do is not make a mistake.

In fact, I said to Sam, it was amazing, we were watching some reruns when it was raining and we saw he ran over something on the back straightaway and the car went airborne. One with Rick, we left a wheel loose on a Friday afternoon with Mears one time. What we have to do is be sure we have zero mistakes here between now and qualifying and then have a couple days to run before the race because the race is what we're really here for.

MODERATOR: We chatted a little bit briefly a couple days ago about how you go about preparing for a week like this. I got the sense for those of us who remember reading the unfair advantage and the days of Mark Donohue and the skip pattern, everything is done in a meticulous fashion, that you try to go about your business in a systematic way. Talk about how your preparations have gone and how you factor in the weather into that overall game plan.

TIM CINDRIC: Well, as you know, it's kind of a game of relatively. The weather is something you can't control; what you do on the track and how often you do it you can control to a certain degree. But you want to do -- yesterday is a good for instance. The track ran somewhere around 2:00, 2:15. We were the only ones out in the pit lane ready to run. I said to Sam, we're either real dumb or real good, I don't know which one (laughter).

But at that point in time, you know, you just need to make sure you try and do things at the right time, and at that point the wind was there, but it was a consistent wind. It wasn't a gusting wind like it was later in the afternoon. We thought -- there have been times, and Helio knows this, that you have to qualify in that kind of condition. So we wanted to go out and take a safe car out there but also make sure that we at least understood what to expect if that was the condition on Saturday or Sunday.

So those type of things, and as you saw, we only ran 12 laps or 16 laps or whatever it might have been. It's difficult to sit there in the garage because you want to go get some work done, but you also have to kind of know when to say when.

MODERATOR: Rick, obviously when it comes to pole times by you, not only were you successful in the race, but that was the day where you also shined. Talk about what it's like, your preparation, your nerves, your anticipation when it's Pole Day.

RICK MEARS: Oh, a lot of it is nerves. It's one of those deals. To me, qualifying was kind of a payback to the team. If we could go out there and run a good lap, you'd like nothing more than come down pit lane after a good run and see the smiles on everybody's faces. It was kind of a thank-you for the job well done that they've been doing throughout the month.

I think qualifying here is the highest pressure-packed thing of anything I ever did. You know, the race is 500 miles long. You've got all day to get sorted, and you've got 500 miles to get excited when you need to get excited. But qualifying, you've got to be ready, you've got to be ready on that day, and you've got one shot at it. Four laps, and if you blow one corner you've blown the whole run, so the pressure is on.

Sitting and watching the weather conditions and trying to get that last little bit out of it, it's the toughest thing, I think, for myself that I did throughout the year.

But it's something that you've just got to stay calm, stay relaxed, watch the conditions, know your car, know what you have when you go out there, and just try to get the best out of it you can on that day.

MODERATOR: Sam, obviously in terms of any race in IndyCar Series, no one has been in victory lane more than you. You've won the championship twice, yet I'm sure this is a race that you come into coveting it very badly. Can't you treat it like any other race or is it just obvious that it's a bigger deal?

SAM HORNISH JR.: What everybody has told me to do is treat it like any other race. It's pretty tough to do when you're here for two weeks with all the attention and qualifying is so much different, even to go out on Race Day and you have all the different things going on, the marching band, being back home again in Indiana. It's hard to put all those things out of your head and say it's just another day.

I think the big thing for me is to treat it like any other race as far as you've just got to go out there and make it to the end of the race, do the things that you have to do to win if you can. But at the end of it, you just need to make it to the end, and I think that's one of the things that I've treated it wrong over the past couple of years, is that I've always looked at it as I've got to win this race.

This year I come into it and I want to finish the 500 miles, and if I do that, I think that I have a real good shot at being in the top five. If we're there with 25 to go and we've got that opportunity, sure, we're going to go for it. But the big thing is just make it to the end and get some good points and continue on. We're first and third in the championship, and that means a lot to us, too. Of course we'd like to win but we need to get out here and get points, as well.

MODERATOR: Helio, obviously you've got your face on the Borg-Warner Trophy two times, and with your legacy secure in that way, in other words, your place in history is there, does that give you more of a comfort zone coming into this? Do you relax, or is every race a different episode?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Basically the only time I relax is when it's raining (laughter). But even then sometimes it's not so relaxing.

No, I don't think so. It's still not because I accomplished what I wanted. I still want more. And I think 32 other drivers want the same thing. Every time I go out there, I'm always thinking that I'm going to give my 100 percent to make sure that I execute, and listen obviously to experienced people, that they've been here for so many years. You have to listen to them because there's always something you're going to learn.

For me, it's always about learning in this place, not because I've been here for some time already, but I'm still always going out there learning.

And again, just as Rick was saying about qualifying, sometimes you have so much time that you start to really thinking, and that kind of starts confusing you, as well. It's an amazing place, no doubt about it. Well, no doubt that all of us up here want to continue the same success that they have had in the past.

Q: Rick talked about qualifying, how important it is here. Helio, you did a great job in bad weather. How intense it for you in the cockpit on a day with the conditions like you had and what we may face tomorrow?

CASTRONEVES: You're right. I think the first thing you need to know what car you have. You need to know the limits. When we did that pole position that day, we knew what we were capable of. At the same time we go out there and just do your job. You can't be thinking about, "Oh my God, this is going to be hard or tough." You just have to go out there and try your best.

Obviously, I have a fantastic team behind me that I can trust and know that they have all the resources to make that happen. But the first thing is you know what you need to do. You're trying to prepare as much as you can and just be cool.

Q: Sam and Helio, maybe some thoughts on comparing when you came in last year knowing you were underpowered and it was a bit of a struggle for some of the other teams. And then this year being on such a hot streak, how are your feelings coming in at this point in time changing since last year?

HORNISH: Well, last year definitely we came in and we felt that we were a little bit underpowered, but we didn't look at it like we couldn't win. We figured we'd look at it like how do we give ourselves a chance to win the race. We had a lot of laughs, and we had a good-handling car, but I made a mistake three-quarters of the way through and it took that opportunity away from us.

But the way I think that we look at it this year is we have a great opportunity here. The big thing is how do you not trip yourself up not to make any mistakes. You've seen in the past guys come here, and they were fast all month long and they didn't make it through the first 10 laps of the race. Then you've seen guys that did everything right on Race Day and won, and we've got to make sure that we keep all the right things going in the right order. We try to cross off as many of the things that could trip us up and get rid of those and just make sure that we don't make any mistakes. That's the big thing.

This track amplifies anything; if you make a mistake, it's amplified 10 times more than any other track you can go to. You can go to another track, you have one slow turn, you might have lost position, but you can make it up. Here you make that one mistake, and it's done. At least that's how it's been for me.

Q: With how abbreviated and disjointed the track times have been because of the weather, do you feel like it's been difficult to get a rhythm going? Even though you've been the fastest every day, it seems like the whole month seems to -- it's like your game plan hasn't probably got a lot of checks that haven't been checked off yet. It's almost like you've spent more time sitting in that seat than in your car.

HORNISH: It's a pretty good thing sitting in this seat. It's something that I haven't been able to do too many times in the past, sitting up here explaining what happened. That was more the case.

But the big thing for us this month is we've come in here after the test, felt real comfortable with what we were able to do. We ran more laps in the test than we ran in the first three days by quite a bit. We feel comfortable with the cars, and a lot of track activity, a lot of ways to catch up. We feel like we're OK with where we're at. We can't control the weather, and we're just going to go out there and get the track time we need. If we're comfortable with the car, we'll park it and sit and watch and see what happens and basically don't let anybody pressure us into feeling like we have to go out there.

When you feel good about the car and the car is consistent, there's no reason to go out there and pound around and run 50 laps or whatever.

Q: This is for probably Tim or maybe even Roger. With the engine and the miles and the new rules coming into play, do you guys want to look at just going for maybe taking one shot on Saturday and being among the 11 and then going and saving it for Sunday? How do you play that out in terms of engine, miles, how much you can put on it, how much you can't put on it? Do you want to go for the top 11, top 22?

CINDRIC: I told Roger he's going to sign over the withdrawal forms this year (laughter).

PENSKE: I think this is going to be an interesting tomorrow because we've been watching this weather now for the last three days and we didn't really talk about that earlier on, the fact that only 11 people will get locked in tomorrow. I think you're going to see people who want to get in that 11 because it's very important to start this race, get up near the front, just because typically if there's something going to happen, it happens not in the front but further back. So a good starting position would be certainly key.

There will be a lot of people in that eighth, ninth, 10th and 11th position, and I would assume they felt they could go quicker and they get bumped and run again you have nothing to lose. In our particular case, we're going to have to make a decision. We're here to run the race, and if we get a good qualifying run, both cars, I guess we'll have to make that decision tomorrow. It doesn't make sense to stay with the times and not rerun.

I guess we're in a different position this year because it's a pretty level playing field from the engine standpoint. I think the performance is good. Sam said it; I think having less track time for everybody is probably in our favor because we came off the trailer with a couple of pretty good cars. I'm not saying that if it's an advantage we'll take it, but I think we'll wait tomorrow and see what happens. We don't know -- the interesting thing is if they don't get 11 people and it goes on to the next day, could the next day be a better day and a faster day. That's the only problem you have.

I'm not sure of the rules yet. If they went to the next day, I guess you'd be locked in other than the people that had a chance if they hadn't qualified. So you couldn't have a chance -- if we went into the second day and they didn't have 11 people, the one that had already run would be locked in, correct?

MODERATOR: It's my understanding that obviously you get your one chance and your initial draw. If the day ends halfway through the draw, then they finish the remainder of the line, and that sets the 11.

PENSKE: You wouldn't have a chance to jump in and pull out that way. There's going to be a lot of variables, and that's going to be important. I think we've got to be careful we don't make a mistake if there's warm-up tomorrow. In previous years when the weather has been dicey, we've seen people make mistakes, and you can get caught up in some of those. So we've got to be awful careful tomorrow that our tires are warmed up and we go out of the pits and don't have an issue, especially when you're running the cars trimmed out the way we are; you just don't have any downforce.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Rick Mears , Roger Penske , Mark Donohue , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske