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

Continued from part 1 Q: Helio and Sam, can you guys talk a little bit about what's going on out on the racetrack here this month as far as the speeds, the new surface, and just how you guys think you can stack up against those Hondas ...

Continued from part 1

Q: Helio and Sam, can you guys talk a little bit about what's going on out on the racetrack here this month as far as the speeds, the new surface, and just how you guys think you can stack up against those Hondas tomorrow.

@!CASTRONEVES: Well, we're going to keep working. For sure, the track is different from last year. Sam came test here I think even before the month of May on tire test. Unfortunately, was a little issue on the surface. That's why they decided to make some change on the track. In fact, it gave more grip, you know. I don't think it's enough grip to have side-by-side racing like you see in other racetracks. But, for sure, speed-wise, it's increased substantially from last year to this year.

"Substantially," that was pretty good, huh (laughter)?

So basically Honda seems to be obviously doing their homework. But, you know, Toyota has been doing a lot of work, as well. It's so tough when you have so much competitive guys. Even Chevy, it's been doing their homework. It's just a matter to be on the right place on the right time. They get the momentum from last year. They keep carry on.

We work together with Honda, and we know every race they come with something, even if is one or two horsepower, but every race they come with something different. That's what we try with Toyota, together with Toyota. So everybody's working. Not only them, not only our team, but everybody.

Well, hopefully we're going to do our best. That's the only thing we can give, our best for qualifying and the race.

HORNISH: The track is quite a bit smoother than what it was last year. It's a shame that it didn't end up the way they thought it was going to because they thought they were going to come back this year with a track that had the smooth characteristics of new pavement, also a little bit less grip than what we had, it would slow down the cars a little bit, you'd have to run a little bit more wing.

Right now we're in a position to where everybody is peeling as much off the cars as they can. When you're in a horsepower situation, it would be easier to try to run less drag, less downforce and less drag, and to be able to make up for that by being able to be a little bit more on edge.

But when everybody is peeling everything off because of the amount of grip, it really leaves you to just do the best that you can in qualifying and prepare for the race because it doesn't really seem to matter who qualifies on the pole. I think we were 11th here last year. 23 laps into the race, we were second behind Buddy. It was just go out there and try to do the best you can because the race is a whole different situation. That's why we're here, to win. Being on pole would be nice, but I'd rather be first on the 29th.

Q: Rick, contrary to popular belief, there's so many people who still keep talking in reference to the great old days which probably has been sweetened by memory. How do you feel about your victories as opposed to Helio's victories? Were yours tougher, the competition tougher? How can someone say that and come up to Helio and say, "You won against a bunch of guys who weren't as tough as when you were racing"? How do you address that?

RICK MEARS: Mine were a lot tougher (laughter).

No, it's all relative. You know, it's all relative. I think today it's more difficult because there's more competitive teams. But, you know, back when I was running, there might have been not as many competitive teams, but the ones that were competitive were very competitive. So, you know, you really had to run just as hard. You had to do all the same things. It still boils down to the basics are pretty much the same: trying to get the balance of the car, get the car handling the best it can be out there, be ready for the shootout at the end, and position yourself, be in the right place. So all those things I think are pretty similar. But I do think probably today they're closer, and more of them closer, which would be more difficult.

PENSKE: I think that you really got to look at the rules are driving that and the cost reduction. Old days, had you turbines, V8s, four or five different chassis manufacturers. What they've done now, the rules have said everyone has got to run the same gearbox, you got two chassis, you're limited to what you can do on your wings. We can't be innovative. What they've really done is taken it down to reduce the creativity, and what that does is drives the competition closer and closer.

I think the tires are better today and the drivers -- gives the drivers a much better feel. In the old days, we have issues of staggers, tires growing on us 2/10ths of an inch, you could go from a good-handling car. That doesn't happen today because of the quality.

So, you know, the speeds are there. I think it's a lot safer. So there's a number of things that have driven it. To me if you have to race one person to win the Indy 500, and it's your teammate, Gil de Ferran running against Helio, we he we had the best cars running against each other. I don't know who else was in the race. You have to think that way. My two guys had to race each other to win.

I don't think the competition is greater today than it was in the past. If he's racing Bobby Unser, Al Unser, Gordon Johncock, or A.J. Foyt, on and on and on, there were some terrific drivers. Believe me, there were good teams then, there are great teams today. When you go up and down the pit lane and you see the quality of the cars and the preparation, just go into the garages, there's been a change here over time. Maybe somebody will say it's bad. But it's like everything else out there.

I feel that, you know, this race will be a great race. There's a lot of stories in this race. You've got Danica (Patrick), who has done a terrific job. And we need those types of things which will help. It's a big change which gives someone an opportunity, in fact, to come here and compete at this level.

Q: Sam and Helio, earlier Roger touched on qualifying, that you don't have to worry about running into another car. You're getting 12 attempts in the same car. I heard they're not giving you more tires. Does that change your outlook on qualifying? If they're not giving you more sets of tires, what do you think of getting 12 shots in one car?

@!CASTRONEVES: Well, I think we pretty much the same as last year. You know, you just to have to a good logistic, you know, to make sure that everything goes through the two weeks. If you don't have more tires, we don't have more days either. So also one hour less than we used to have.

So it's all about organize, you know, your strategy before you go ahead and start throwing tires. Obviously, the way it seems to be, as Roger says, tires seems to holding pretty good, which that's the basic thing. So you can run more laps on the same set and save a little bit more. So right now I don't think we have any issue.

HORNISH: You know, I couldn't see either one of us using any more than six sets because I doubt that we're going to be out there on the third and fourth days. But, you know, stranger things have happened, too.

We're going to go out there and just do the best that we can. I think I'm planning on using one set. I'm planning on making sure we have the car where we need it tonight or at the end of the day where we're running. You know, you go out there and you do the best you can.

It's really hard to tell where everybody's at right now as far as speed because you get people that are in the tow, people that aren't in the tow, so you just try to guess on how much people are picking up by that.

I think if we can, you know, just play it smart and know where we're capable of being and when the right time is to go, you shouldn't have to be going through all the hassle of using those extra tires.

Q: Last year at the end of the season when you sat down and reviewed things, were there a lot of things that you thought you needed to change for this year to be successful?

PENSKE: Well, certainly from a driver perspective, you check the green boxes. No issue. From a car, I think we understood the car. I think we had great cars. I think the crews, most of the time -- we probably -- if we would say, could we have won more races? We made a mistake here. Sam made a mistake in Nazareth. We had a couple issues in the pits that were really self inflicted. Without those, you know, we'd have seen a much different finish as far as our team's concerned.

I think the dominance of Andretti Green proved that they've got some great drivers and great teams, and they've got a lot of experience.

Probably from a horsepower perspective, we might say that we'd like to have a little bit more. We're team players. I think Helio said it, you know, Toyota has been a partner of ours. We're not just jumping to the next green base we think might be better. We've got to drive that. There's been a lot of development with the engine. Where we understood to be. The answer is no.

But we didn't change any of our personnel. There's some people moving up in the organization, which is good. We're back here with the same face. We certainly were competitive in that race last year. Unfortunately, by not being able to execute properly in that pit stop with Sam, then Helio came in and missed his pit. Again, those are things that happen here. In these big events, you can say, Wow, if I hadn't have done that, it might have been a different story.

Q: Helio, a couple years ago you played kind of a waiting game, went out on a miserable windy day and won the pole. With the new rules where you can pull your car out if you get an early run, then find somebody has passed you by for the pole, is there a chance now you would take that run and then pull the car out and go for it again?

@!CASTRONEVES: For that weekend, I tell you, I don't think I would go out again (laughter). I gave it all. According to a lot of drivers, I don't think nobody would go either if they would have another opportunity.

But for sure now that the rules are open for that, if we got in that situation tomorrow, yes, I'm up for it. Obviously, Tim Cindric and I are going to discuss, like we always discuss before, the best interest of the team. If you want to be in the top 11 only, our car is only for the top 11, that's what we're going to be, not worry about Sunday and the rest of the week, just worry about the race because that's the big deal.

But right now we just still one more day. Let's take it step by step, baby steps, and hopefully tomorrow we can be in that situation again.

Q: Roger, the gap between Penske and the other Toyota-powered teams seems to have increased this year generally on the circuit. How much is your in-house engine build program the explanation for that?

PENSKE: Well, I can tell you this: We have no special parts. We have the same parts that everybody else has. The only advantage we would have maybe is that we have to -- we can take a good block that we know had power and put other pieces in it. It's more the fine-tuning.

I think that what we're seeing from our perspective is that we spent a lot of time on the car. There's the car, there's the driver, and there's the engine. There's some nuances that you might see. But we don't think that we've got 25 horsepower more than anybody else, because I know we don't.

Quite honestly, we've had engines rebuilt by Toyota that we've used and vice versa. They have a person, by the way, so there's nothing sinister or unique at our place. They have a Toyota person that works -- an engineer that works in our shop every single day, so he knows exactly what's going on. We have a build list, we have a computer. Every part we use is put into that computer so they know at TRD. It's part of the capability that you have.

Under the IRL rules, there has to be a manufacturer, has to be a secondary source. Today you have Ilmor doing engines for some Honda teams and you have Honda themselves at HPD doing engines. We're kind of like the Ilmor is to Honda.

It's ironic, if you really want to mix it up, I've been a partner in Ilmor for, what, since it started, and I'm sitting here with an engine. I'm not involved at all in the Honda program. It's an interesting scenario. We want to win, too. We're running as hard as we can to try to beat them.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Appreciate you coming out.

-ims-

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Series INDYCAR