Indy Racing League Chevy 500 Press Conference Dan Wheldon, Bombardier Rookie Of The Year Gil de Ferran, Chevy 500 Race Winner Moderator: We've got Dan Wheldon, driver of the 7-Eleven car. Dan, with the finish today, you wrapped up the Rookie of...
Indy Racing League
Chevy 500 Press Conference
Dan Wheldon, Bombardier Rookie Of The Year
Gil de Ferran, Chevy 500 Race Winner
Moderator: We've got Dan Wheldon, driver of the 7-Eleven car. Dan, with the finish today, you wrapped up the Rookie of the Year Award. This is Dan's fifth top-5 finish of the season. Dan, just talk about the season as a whole, looking back. It's got to be almost a dream season for you.
Dan Wheldon: Yeah. I wouldn't actually say a dream season. I'm certainly in a dream position as far as running with the team that I'm in, with the backing that I have. It was a tough race, I have to say. It was made a little difficult for us. I had a good Honda in the back, and it was able to pull me up front. The car, I have to say, the last four or five races, handles very, very well in traffic on the superspeedways, as everybody knows here. When you're on these super speedway-type tracks, you run in clusters. Fortunately, we were able to run pretty much up front all day. We had to conserve fuel, so on that last stop we could stay out, just in case we had a yellow. But I'm very happy to have my first podium and looking forward to coming back to the championship next year.
Moderator: What does it mean to be driving for someone like Michael Andretti? How much emotionally and psychologically does that help? How much did Michael help you with advice?
Dan Wheldon: First of all, Michael kicked my butt at Indy for not winning Rookie of the Year. But I can say I did get one out of the two. He's an intelligent guy. I think I'm in a unique position. I saw it at the Indianapolis 500. When you've had somebody around you, he's done it. He's very relaxed. He takes it all within stride. He's very, very good, but I have to say Kim Green kind of acts like a father to me, and I know it's kind of his project to bring me on. I can't say enough for this team. It's a fantastic operation. I think some of you media guys forget -- forgive me for saying this, don't throw anything at me -- it's their first year in the series. To put Tony (Kanaan) in a position, obviously, Tony's been driving fantastic all year, to be able to win this championship, just shows how great the team is.
Moderator: How comforting also is it that going into next year, you can do some off-season testing to get ready.
Dan Wheldon: It's going to make a difference. I haven't been concerned for next year, but the recent results I think should help that. But it will be fantastic to start the season and work with the team through preseason testing. We tested a lot at the beginning of this season, but when it got down to it, the seasoned race driver had to take over. It will certainly put me in a stronger position. I'd like to think I have a good shot to be in contention for the championship.
Q: Were you aware that Roger (Yasukawa) had a problem at some point during the race when he was fairly far back in the field?
Dan Wheldon: No, not at all. My focus out there during that whole race was to win it. We decided that that was what we wanted to do. I think obviously to win Rookie of the Year is a fantastic feeling in IndyCar, particularly in my first year. That was our objective, and that's what we just planned on doing. If the result was good enough, then that would give us Rookie of the Year, which it did. We just focused on our own race.
Q: Dan, were you anywhere near the incident there? If you were, could you describe what you saw?
Dan Wheldon: No. I really wouldn't -- I don't really want to describe what I saw. Kenny I consider a good friend, and him and his wife Anita are a very nice couple. And my thoughts and prayers are with them. I hear that Kenny is awake. He is one of those guys out there that he's just a class, class racing driver. You can see from his results. He's been IndyCar champion, he's won the Indianapolis 500. And I just hope we can get back testing with him real soon.
Moderator: Dan, congratulations on Rookie of the Year. We'll see you next year.
Dan Wheldon: That's the intention. I'd like to say thank you for putting up with me this year. It's a real pleasure and honor to be Rookie of the Year in this series because, boy, I tell you, it's so competitive. It's my opinion, but it's the best championship in the world. It's so, so competitive. I think that shows you what a good series this is, and I'm looking to be part of it for a very long time.
Moderator: We have the winner today of the Chevy 500, Gil de Ferran with us. Gil, is there any way that the weekend could have been more memorable for you to end an outstanding career on the pole and to win the race.
Gil de Ferran: Well, I guess, certainly, to win the championship would have been, like, the best thing that could have happened to me. I guess not having that unfortunate accident there with Kenny (Brack) and Tomas (Scheckter) right at the end, there's a lot of concern on my part there. But, for me talking about my four years with Team Penske, and I guess eight or nine years here in America, it's just been an amazing time. And, closing out with a victory is really incredible. I feel very grateful and very fortunate to be able to do what I do and experience the emotions that I have been able to experience over the years. It's really been a wonderful journey, I have to say. And, finishing this way with a pole position and a victory and nearly a championship is something that I will carry with me for many years to come.
Moderator: This is your fifth career win, and you did end up finishing in second place in the final point standings. In the middle part of the race it looked like for any chance of victory might be dashed. Just talk about that and what was going through your mind then.
Gil de Ferran: I had a couple of very close calls. One with Tora (Takagi), which he kind of swerved in front of me, and we nearly touched, and he was nearly a huge mess coming off of there, too. But, thankfully nothing happened either to him or to me. And then, when Scott (Sharp) and Felipe (Giaffone) touched with Felipe on the outside wall there, I was trying to avoid him while he was sliding down the racetrack. We ended up - his nose, I think, touched my left rear and nearly spun me around. So, I was going down the grass at 200 mph thinking, "OK, this is not much fun." I have to say at one point I was concerned I was going to end up in pit lane. Thankfully, none of that happened. There was no damage to the car, but a few square tires. At first, I was concerned that there might have been suspension damage, because the car was feeling funny, but I guess it was too much shudder on the rear tires. We stopped, and the guys looked over the car very carefully, and they found out that everything was fine. And from there on really I fell to the back of the pack because of all that. So, I really concentrated hard on saving fuel. I was trying to take as few risks as I could and save as much fuel as I could at that point during the race because I knew if I did that, then my last stop was going to be very short and that could have made the difference in the race. As the lead guys started to come into the pits for fuel, I turned the heat back on, put the car back to full fuel and started turning 220, 221 (mph) laps again and went for the lead and had a fantastically fast pit stop and came out in the lead there. So it all worked out just great. I think it was another great strategy by Roger (Penske), certainly triggered by the incident. It was a very well called race, and the pit stops were just right. And, the car was very fast.
Q: When you felt the vibration and you had the broken wheel, did you really think at that point you were toast, that you weren't going to be able to win?
Gil de Ferran: I did, because I actually thought it was a toe link, a rear toe link, because the car felt like it was grabbing a little bit, something is not real quite right here. In that situation for them to change toe link, you get probably about four to five laps down. And, by that point, your race is done. I thought that was it. But I came in twice, and twice they looked at everything and they said, "Nope, everything is okay". It's just the tires, and that wheel. From there on we just continued.
Q: And also when you saw the scene of Kenny Brack's crash, did you think in the back of your mind, "I'm making the right decision to leave this sport?"
Gil de Ferran: Well, no. To be honest, most of my concern was with Kenny at that point. Certainly, you didn't have to look too closely to realize there was no catch fencing. The catch fencing was gone on the outside. It was a horrific scene. Accidents are an unfortunate side of our sport. Unfortunately, I've been in the middle of some myself. I have witnessed some very bad accidents during my lifetime in auto racing. And, unfortunately, this wasn't the first one, and it's not going to be the last one. But on another note, I've known Kenny for many, many years. We used to race together in Europe back in the late '80s, early '90s. So, I know him very well, and I really - really my thoughts and my prayers are with him that he makes a full recovery. Certainly, it turns your stomach to see a scene like that. That's for sure.
Q: Do you really have kind of mixed emotions going through there thinking, "Wow, I'm going to win this race, my last one," and what was just going through your mind at that point?
Gil de Ferran: Yeah. For sure. My heart was being pulled every sort of different direction. To be honest, I should be a lot more jubilant and smiling than I am right now, but it's hard to be that way when you have one of your colleagues involved in an accident like that. Like I said, from an emotional standpoint it's hard because I'm sort of being pulled every single different direction here. It's the last race. I won. It was a big crash. So I apologize, I guess, for being a little somber.
Q: Other than the Indy 500, can you now look back a little and pick out a highlight in your career?
Gil de Ferran: I guess the highlights of my career, as I see it, they are not really the results. The highlights of my career as I see it is the people that I have worked with and the people that came into my life over the years. I would say that that's the highlight of not only my career, but of my life. I've been very fortunate that some very nice and great people have come into my life and have helped me shape into what I am. And, have helped me as a professional and as a person. So, I would say that that's really the highlight of my career.
Q: I'm curious, what did you guys find? You haven't been great on the mile and a half track. What did you guys find that made you so strong this weekend?
Gil de Ferran: Well, I have to give most of the credit for that to Helio (Castroneves). We've been sort of gaining a feel for how to make these cars fast. In this type of track, we did a three-day test in Kansas earlier this year. As you recall, I was really competitive in Kansas. To be honest, we seemed to have lost our way a little bit, but I felt he was kind of making a little bit of progress. He was a little more competitive than me the last couple of races on this type of racetrack. That's certainly because he had a much higher mathematical chance for me to win in the championship, we decided to concentrate on him for this race. So, he came here for a two-day test and came out with a great setup. And, I simply bolted on his setup on my car, and that's when I did about three laps and the found that I was able to go wide open, very fast. I came out of the car after that first practice session and said, "Helio, you really did a great job, the car was that good, easy to drive, fast." From there on it was really just polishing it a little bit to suit my driving style a little bit more and my engineering, Tom (German) did a really good job choosing the gears for the qualifying and also for the race. It was very much a team effort. I hope, I really hope that the team can carry their form on this type of track going forward because Helio was also competitive.
Q: When you woke up this morning, is that when it finally hit you that this is it? Or is it more so now?
Gil de Ferran: I guess it's hitting me right now actually more than any other time. Coming out of the car -- and I'm sure it's going to hit me even stronger tonight when I take these overalls off and -- I might wear it again just for photographs, but to wear it again as a driver, I guess this will be the last time. I think it's slowly dawning on me here, because I have to tell you that this morning I was still focused on the race. In fact, I should apologize to Gary (Gerould, ABC Sports), because he came on to interview me just before the race started. I must have sounded awful because, it was, "Yeah, OK, yeah, thank you very much." With the interview, I said nothing, I just want to race. But, that's very much what I've been - it's been hard to exercise that sort of control. I think one has to do that to be able to race well. It's not a good thing, I think, to race as an emotional wreck. But now I can allow myself to be an emotional wreck.