IRL: Indy 500: Team Penske press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Roger, when you first came here, this place was kind of your holy grail. With all the success that you've had at Indianapolis over the years, do you still have that same passion for this place, for being successful ...

Continued from part 1

Q: Roger, when you first came here, this place was kind of your holy grail. With all the success that you've had at Indianapolis over the years, do you still have that same passion for this place, for being successful here?

PENSKE: Well, this is the greatest race in the world, and I love coming here. I look forward to it every year. We spend a lot of time and effort planning. The continuity of the people, I think I've said it before, probably over 300 years of experience will be associated with our team as we take the green flag this year. It's a great place.

I've seen it when you couldn't even get your car in the garage because the track was too wide or you had to take the wing off, and now we have great garage areas. We didn't have golf carts, we didn't have motor homes, we didn't have a lot of things. So there's a lot of changes that have taken place.

I'm as fired up this year -- I want to see one of our guys in the winner's circle, for sure, and that's why we're here. I think as we come into this year, the job has Tim has done with our team, with Matt Jonsson and certainly Rick Rinaman's experience as crew chiefs, Helio has got a new engineer, Ron Ruzewski and certainly Tom German, we come in with some strong experience.

The momentum that we have never really had when you look at the team, coming through three races and having the success in the first three races gives us added value as we go into this race. So I'm certainly as excited about it and really set my schedule each year around -- I like to be here during this week because there's always questions and answers, and decisions have to be made, and we want to make them on the spot, not have to wait two or three hours or a day to make them.

The drivers do a great job. We have a businessmen's breakfast where we bring in a lot of customers from the surrounding area, and that's very important to us from our associated company. So to me, we plan to be here not only this year but many years in the future.

Q: Roger, for you or for Tim, hypothetically, given your practice speeds, say you guys go out and both cars run and say Sam is P1 and Helio is P2 and the line is broken, what kind of discussion is there and who makes a decision -- say Helio says, "I left something on the track, and I know I can go quicker." Who makes a decision to withdraw him and let him go back and run for the pole despite the fact that he could be knocking his teammate off?

PENSKE: I think that would be a decision Tim and I would talk about. I don't think it's fair to put the drivers in that situation. We might have an idea we'd like to do it, but then we'd go back to Sam or go back to Helio and say, "What do you think?"

Remember, we could make a huge mistake here. Last year Sam re-qualified because really the first qualifying run was mediocre. We went back and got it together. If you had a lousy run and you knew you did and you could run better, then you might go out and take that chance.

Q: This is for Tim. Tim, how difficult a task was it last year to get the cars to be competitive knowing that you were underpowered? And without sounding smug, did that give you a level of confidence coming in this year that you knew you already had good cars and now you were going to have an engine that would be comparable in power to everybody else?

CINDRIC: Well, I think our guys did a great job of really focusing on the things that we could affect and not worrying about the things that we couldn't affect. We did everything that we could to put ourselves in a position, like Sam said, to at least compete on Race Day. We were able to do that. There's a sense of pride in being able to do that.

But at the same time, you know, you look forward to coming here and really executing. That's the biggest challenge for us is just making sure that we execute. We felt like there's no reason why we shouldn't have a chance to win. I think we go into every race thinking that we should win if we execute, and that's, again, not because we're overconfident, but Roger gives us the resources to do that and the drivers are among the top, so we should be able to do that.

PENSKE: I think it's one thing that you've really got to go back -- we have partnerships with Goodyear, we have partnerships with Mercedes-Benz, we had a partnership with Toyota last year, and we stay with those partnerships.

Sometimes we've had some pain, and people don't take that into the equation. They say, well, these guys are going downhill, there's something wrong. But I think it's the loyalty not only to the partners that have supported us but also to the team members, and I think that that's what's given us, I think, the success over the years, and we'll continue to do that.

You might have a situation where one manufacturer that you're aligned with is not competitive, but we can't say, "Hey, we're not competitive." We felt that with Toyota last year there was some places we had very good engines, and we had great reliability if you look at it. Last year I think we finished every race from an engine perspective. You may get a tradeoff.

But this year the Honda engines are all the same; let's put it that way. I think that gives us a real good chance.

Q: (Inaudible).

PENSKE: Well, look, we build the cars, so in that case there's templates we have to deal with. I think our motor program if you talk to people has been -- is good or better than anyone over the last four or five years, and we've had a tough time maybe getting some of the aerodynamics right, but we've certainly been competitive. We had two cars in the Chase last year, which wasn't too bad from a team. I think this year you're going to see a lot more out of the two drivers we have. We've had some good successes and we have some that haven't been. We won six Busch races last year; two races this year, one Busch and a Cup race. I would say a lot of guys would like to be in our position.

Q: Rick, you were a master of qualifying here under the old format. How would you as a driver have liked this format?

MEARS: I think it -- from the driver's standpoint, I think it doesn't really change much, for me, what I would be doing. I don't think I'd do anything any different. It's all about going out there and trying to get the car the way it needs to be and try to get the laps the way I need to get them to put down the best run that I could make. In that respect, I don't think it really changes a lot.

I think it's going to be great for the fans. I think it's going to be an exciting format, the weather holding right and being able to get it all through like we'd like to do it, I think it's going to be excellent.

Q: Rick, with Al (Unser) and Michael (Andretti) and Eddie (Cheever Jr.) all getting back in the cockpit this year, give you any ideas?

MEARS: I got my physical this week (laughter). We still haven't done the eye part, though. We're still waiting on that.

Q: Helio, last night Rick Rinaman was showing me some of the many things they do to customize your cockpit to make it just right for you, including grinding down the thumb rests on the wheel just so it's a perfect fit. How important is all that stuff in enabling you to do your job for the two or two and a half hours?

CASTRONEVES: You need to be extremely comfortable with that car, not only with respect of how long the race takes, two, three hours, but at the same time we need to be able to translate what the car is doing for the engineer. Sometimes if you feel you're losing the car, the belt is not so tight, you're not feeling what the car is doing. So you have to be extremely comfortable in the car. My guys have been amazing in that aspect. There's always small things, and you always keep trying to make it better.

Today, I feel extremely comfortable. Some drivers don't like the head moving or they don't like to be so tight, so everyone has a particular problem or kind of a bad habit, and you try to fix it in the best way.

Q: So the configuration of the wheel might give you a better feel for what's happening and why?

CASTRONEVES: Well, basically Team Penske designed their own wheels in 2000 with the most picky person on Earth, I think, I'm sure Honda having the taste of him the last two years or last year. Anyway, so him and I were working on the wheel and trying to make a great grip and able to feel very well. But at the end of the day it's just -- Sam when he came over felt pretty comfortable so he didn't want to change much. It's just a matter of a lot of resource and a lot of work.

Q: Having been a two-time champion, do you still pick up any pointers from Rick?

CASTRONEVES: Always. I mean, Rick won four times and probably would have won -- would have kept winning. The good news to have him around is always looking at lines, always giving you tips, which is good because when you're inside the race car, sometimes you think you're doing something, and it's not. He's able to actually look around and see some fast drivers. So I'm always talking to him about it. He is my spotter.

In fact, I remember asking last year what should I do in the middle of the race because my car was really horrible, and he just told me, "Well, at that point just keep going (laughter)." I was like, "Thanks, buddy, that was good (laughter)."

But it's always good to have someone with a lot of experience on your side.

Q: Question for Sam. Sam, you were awfully good yesterday when the weather was very iffy. Of all the weather variables that we could see on Pole Day, which would you say concerns a driver the most? Say it's 51 degrees or steady winds or gusting winds; of those, which would concern you the most?

HORNISH: Windy conditions are generally the worst, but the gusting winds are the ones that really catch you off guard. When it's pretty consistent, you know where it's going to move the car in the corner as you turn. You know what to expect out of it. But when it gusts it can move the car quite a bit. If you're running further toward the outside of the line, it can push you up into the grade a little bit or down a little bit.

Turning into the corners when you're going into the wind, it can turn the car pretty hard. Going into (Turn) 4 yesterday was pretty tricky the first couple times because the car would turn right in, and you'd go right down to the white line. You have to adjust and know where you need to put the car at, but definitely gusting winds is the most difficult position to go out there in because you don't know where you're going to be at, what it's going to do each lap, and you're kind of right on the edge of your seat.

Q: Sam or Roger, under this new format, when can you put a car you've already qualified -- say you want to be protected. Can you run it right back into line again? At what point do you have to withdraw?

CINDRIC: It's my understanding obviously after you take the checkered flag you go back to the technical inspection process, so that process may take an hour or so to get through that process before it's released. At the point in time it's released, then you can do whatever you like, but you don't actually have to withdraw the car until they tell you to go. In other words, you go through the tech line, out in the pit lane, and the point at which they prompt you to start the engine you have to actually start the paperwork.

Where it gets tricky is toward the end of the day, say between 4 and 6 o'clock where you may make a run at 5 o'clock and you may be ninth or what have you, and you may not be sure if that's what you want to do, and you may decide that you want to go out and better that.

At that point, you have to withdraw your time earlier before you go through the tech process to be able to get back in line to skip the tech process from your previous run. So there's a bit of discretion toward the end of the day there.

Q: Tim, you came over from Team Rahal; now it seems like an equal playing field. Is there any edge to the rivalry between Penske and Rahal? You helped each other in the past.

CINDRIC: I don't know how much we've helped each other. I still have a great relationship with everyone there, I think. Bobby gave me my chance to really get some experience and do a job for him in terms of managing his team, and I have a great respect for the people that are there.

>From our standpoint, I guess we look at everybody the same. We're out there to compete and be the best team out there and represent our sponsors and our organization in the best way. I'm not sure if there's any more rivalry there for me than anywhere else. We just want to be the ones to beat, I guess. They certainly had a good run the past couple years, for sure.

Q: Tim, this is for you, as well. Helio and Sam have been fast with the primary and backup cars and have proven you can run them both on the same day by doing quick engine changes. Is it as simple as looking at the time sheets and saying, well, Sam has been fastest this week in the 6, that's the car he's running and qualifying, or is it a decision where you guys look at all the telemetry, the data, and say maybe the 6T is the car to take out? How do you determine that given the weather situation?

CINDRIC: The first thing you have to consider is the assembly of those cars and the consistency in the assembly there, which I have the utmost confidence in Clive and Rinaman and Jonsson in terms of assembling those four cars the same. In some cases it would be what you said, where you go run them and you may not know which one is better until you actually run the car, and that can come down to all the details in these cars as far as how they're assembled, where the various seams are and that type of thing aerodynamically.

Within our group, the confidence that all four cars are the same, we did go out there to run the backup cars first, basically with the idea of making sure that our cars were always about an hour, hour and a half away from being ready so if the unexpected happens, which is kind of what we try and operate on, to make sure we're prepared for the unexpected, where if we do run over a piece of debris and that car is out Saturday morning and we've got to get in the other car, we can give these guys the confidence that they've been in that car, they know what it can do, they know how it's prepared, but more importantly, we know we can get the car out there in a very short period of time.

You know, the weather changes have been very difficult this week. We ran the first day our backup cars, and by the time we ran our primary cars, the weather changed quite a bit. You sit back that night and ask yourself exactly that same way; the T cars, are they faster than the primary cars. And you can get yourself in some mental gymnastics that sometimes isn't real fun.

As we went through this week, I know Helio had that question. He said, "Hey, I did go faster in this car, what do you think?" And we spent the next day with the primary car and the weather changed in various ways, and it looked like the weather was going to be pretty unpredictable going forward. We said, you know what, let's just put that out of our minds and forget about it. Why not just take the engine out of this car, put it in that car, that's behind us, and we know what we're doing, don't look back, and that's the approach we took.

But you go back through the engineering calculations between the weather and the humidity and what pieces were on the car at this particular time, and the engineers will sit down and make a very solid case for, hey, they're the same. But the psychology of the drivers to know that, hey, I've got to hang it out on Saturday, anything you can do to clear their minds we feel will get you that extra little bit.

Q: Earlier this week you guys have been moving up steady from when you got on the track with your T car. The number 2_29 for the pole was mentioned. Is that obtainable?

HORNISH: It always depends on the weather conditions. I think that's going to be pretty difficult after the weather conditions yesterday and knowing what the conditions were. Who knows, somebody could go out there and change my opinion on that, but I think that's a pretty difficult number to get to based on how far we've seen other people trim their cars out compared to where we've been. That's a quick number to be getting around here.

Depending on wind conditions is the biggest factor that is going to determine what the fastest speed is.

MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much for taking time.

-ims-

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Series IndyCar
Teams Team Penske