St. Pete: Post-qualifying press conference, part 1

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Post-Qualifying Press Conference Transcript Saturday, April 4, 2009 An Interview with Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti and Will Power THE MODERATOR: Tony, if you just...

Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Post-Qualifying Press Conference Transcript
Saturday, April 4, 2009

An Interview with Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson, Tony Kanaan, Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti and Will Power

THE MODERATOR: Tony, if you just want talk about your run out there today.

TONY KANAAN: Yeah, it was quite competitive. It was fun to see a lot of people trying to play different strategies on the tires. I mean, it was really tough. We saw I think from 4th to 8. At one point we thought if we don't want to put tires on, which we thought was going to be faster, we're not going to make it to Q2, which is what ended up happening. I ended up using my two red sets, one in Q1 and another one in Q2, pretty much just to make it. It's really exciting when things happen like this. I think this year is going to be a fun year as far as competition goes, because it's a lot tighter.

THE MODERATOR: Right before you came in, I threw out this note that this will be your 12th consecutive top 5 start in the IndyCar Series dating back to 2007. But no pressure for tomorrow. Tell us about your run out there today.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, the car was good up until -- well, the car was good all day. I was pretty happy with the pace. We didn't use the reds in the first session there, which was a gamble to try and give us the advantage if we made it to the fast six. There was a couple of nervous minutes there at the end of the first 20-minute period there when everybody was going so much quicker on reds, but our time held up.

We did a good time in the second session. I think it was the quickest time in qualifying, we just didn't do it at the right time. I think that was my mistake. I didn't get a clear lap. I made a mistake in Turn 1 in one lap and I made a mistake in Turn 8 and Turn 10 on my fastest lap. I'll put my hand up to that one. Rookie mistake. So that's disappointing. But I think the pace of the car is good for tomorrow, and we'll see what we can do tomorrow.

Q: Ryan, if you would talk about your run out there. This is your seventh consecutive road and street event where you've participated in the Firestone Fast Six.

RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, thanks. It just feels like such an achievement every weekend just to make the fast six. It's pretty tough out there, and especially today with the red tires, the options. I think it was a bit of an advantage being in group two just to have a look at what the guys in group one were doing and having a better idea going in. But still, it was hard, and we haven't had the quickest car all weekend, so I really had to work hard to get it in there. It feels pretty good to be on P4 for the race tomorrow. It's just a bit of a handful at the moment, and hopefully we can make some small changes overnight and make our car a little bit quicker for tomorrow.

THE MODERATOR: Will, your thoughts on your run out there today.

WILL POWER: Yeah, it was tough going that first session. We would have been safe on blacks, but we weren't going to take the risk. You know, it sort of threw a spanner in the works with our tire selection. But yeah, we got through each round. I have to say it was quite tiring doing about five or six new tire runs in a row. I'm sort of in the same boat as Ryan, need to work on the car a little bit. It was a little bit of a handful. I think we have a good chance at the race tomorrow and got a really good pit crew and a good team, so yeah, I'd love to have a podium.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up to questions.

Q: The track itself, everybody was concentrating on tires, but what's the track like? Is it any different from last year? Is it still pretty dirty or what's happening with it?

TONY KANAAN: It's a typical street course. You start and it's dirty as hell, and then it gets better and better over the weekend. Obviously it doesn't help that they have to open the track at night for people to come in and out in trucks and service trucks because every morning it's a hassle again. But obviously it gets a lot better. They repaved at the end of the front straightaway which was really slippery for me on the first day, now it's getting better. The track definitely has improved grip-wise from yesterday to today.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: I think it's the same as it was last time I was here in '07. It's very similar. I think the guys do a good job keeping up the track here. Yeah, it's, as Tony says, a typical street course, getting faster all the time, getting more rubber down, and good.

RYAN BRISCOE: You know, I think with the heat today the rubber has been laying down quick, and I think especially as Tony said at the end of the front straightaway that's where the track seems to be changing mostly as it rubbers in. Just the end of the braking zones there there's a lot of paint, and as rubber goes down it gets better and better. Lap times are almost exactly the same as last year, if not maybe a couple of tenths quicker. The cars are the same, and I think maybe the tires are just a little bit better.

WILL POWER: Yeah, same. The track keeps getting quicker and you've got all these white lines and everything that catches you out on the brakes so you're catching wheels. But middle of the race tomorrow it's going to be really hooked up, and it'll be really interesting to see the difference between the reds and blacks in the race.

Q: You guys represent like the big three teams obviously and the guy on pole is Newman/Haas/Lanigan. Graham comes in as the defending winner, but he won last year on strategy. Is it a bit of a surprise that he's the fastest today in a straight fight in qualifying against everybody?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, I think Newman/Haas have been one of the best teams in IndyCar for -- Champ Car, IndyCar, whatever you want to call it, open wheel, since Briscoe was born, I think.

RYAN BRISCOE: I remember watching you race when I was a kid, Dario.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: But it's not a surprise. Those guys have always been very competitive, and Graham does a hell of a job, as well, so no surprise at all there for me. I think Justin did a hell of a job, too.

Q: First off, Tony, how do you think the third set of reds will be used tomorrow, and then for anybody that wants to take it, was there anybody not in the top six that looks strong enough, fast enough to win the race tomorrow?

TONY KANAAN: Your first question I don't think I want to answer. But at some point we're going to put it on. I don't know, it's going to be quite tricky to see what people are going to do. But that's a strategy that I don't think I want to discuss in front of these guys.

I think out of the top six, Dixon is coming, I'm pretty sure. This is the type of track that you make one stupid mistake, and the field has been so tight right now that you go off by a tenth, you're out of the top six. I think there are a couple guys out of the fast top six that are definitely going to be contenders during the race tomorrow. How that's going to play out, I don't know, but for sure it's going to be a mystery who's going to put reds in when and how long they're going to last. It will be interesting to see.

Q: With the reds and the blacks, is it almost like playing a roulette wheel in some respects tomorrow as to when the right time is to use them?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: No comment. I don't know. It's a variable for sure, and I think we saw the performance of the reds was pretty good, although TK was on blacks, right? I do think there's a performance advantage on reds, just certain people up here are screwed up.

RYAN BRISCOE: My engineer asked me before I came here, and I said, listen, you guys are smarter than me. Whatever is going to work to try to win this race. I'm sure they're talking about it right now. At some point we all have to use them, and I'm not sure if that's going to be a good time or a bad time. It could help us, could hurt us. I'm not sure when we're going to put them on.

Q: I guess I'll direct this to Will just to get him involved in the conversation a little bit, but anybody up here can answer it. How do you as a driver feel about throwing in a wild card like the reds in the race? I mean, qualifying is one thing, but in a race is another. The fact that strategy is going to have to play a part in the race now, it's not going to just be the driver that gets out front and runs the quickest most likely.

WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, it can be a bit of trial and error because we haven't run these reds before in a race. It depends on how much of a risk you really want to take. You know, you can get caught out for sure. I remember in Champ Car a couple of times when people put reds on at the wrong time and they went backwards real quick.

We're going to go back and talk about it, and we'll make a decision on when we run them. But it'll be interesting. You know, they may not go off, so you might not see a big difference or you might see a lot of passing.

TONY KANAAN: You guys have got to keep in mind that we run on blacks most of the weekends, and you put a different tire on it might change the attitude of the car a lot. That can actually benefit some people but then can actually set some people back. I felt that on Q1. I went three tenths slower with the reds. I said, "Just throw them away; I don't want them."

Q: (No microphone.)

TONY KANAAN: Well, I like the track, but I have to say we've always had a good car here since the first year that we raced here and we finished one, two, three, four. Like you said, it's the same car. Sorry, Ryan, I kind of had an incident there (laughing).

It's the same car, same engine, pretty much the same tires, so we haven't changed a lot, and the same track. So I think on a couple of occasions I was lucky to finish on the podium, but most of the time I was there it's just a track that probably suits my style.

THE MODERATOR: Guys, we appreciate your time. We're going to bring up the front row now.

We're now joined by our front row. For many of you in the room I noted earlier that Graham being our pole winner, he is the youngest pole winner in IndyCar Series history at 20 years, 90 days. Obviously most of you will remember that Graham made history here last year, becoming the youngest race car winner in major open wheel history.

We're also joined here by Justin Wilson, who was starting second. It's the best ever starting position for Dale Coyne Racing, and we've asked Al Speyer to join us, so if there's any other questions about the Ultimate Tires, Al can answer that, but we'll start with you Graham and your run out there today.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously it was a great day for the McDonald's team. When we started out there this morning, the car wasn't quite as good as we had it at the end of yesterday, so we made a few more adjustments going into qualifying, didn't really know what to expect. I think we knew we were going to be pretty competitive and should be able to make it through the first segment at least pretty easily, and then obviously things get a little tougher.

For us, we ran obviously primaries at the end, but the Ultimate Tires were very good and we ran them in the first segment to see what they were going to do and then again in the second. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we didn't have a set in the end because for me I think the red tires were probably a good four or five tenths quicker.

At the end of the day it sounds like those who had the reds, the handling wasn't quite right and played into our hands. I didn't quite know what to expect when I saw Justin and Dario go out on the red tires. I thought they were going to be pretty tough to beat, especially knowing how quick they both had been in the previous segment. So a bit of a shock. But obviously happy to be up here. I guess this place treats me pretty well. I'm certainly enjoying it.

THE MODERATOR: Justin, how about your run out there today?

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, obviously pretty happy, and it's been a great day for the Sonny's Bar-B-Q team. We've had a good run and I'm pleased to be second. But I felt that we had it in us to go for the pole today, and unfortunately Dario slowed up on what was going to be my best lap and starting my last lap, which is the perfect time for the Ultimate Tires, so we came in the pits and topped it with fuel and went back out and did a second outing on those tires, and that's when I did my best time. So I felt we had a lot more potential, but we didn't have the opportunity to show it today. Like you said, it's the best starting position for Dale Coyne Racing, and to be ahead of the group of guys that just left means a lot to us, and we'll take any small victory we can. So we feel pretty good today.

Q: With two street course races starting off the season, it's an opportunity for some of you guys to really get a good jump start on the points race. Talk a little bit about that since you're not going to see an oval until the third race.

JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously we want to make the most of these first two races because we don't have the big budgets to develop our cars for the super speedways and for the ovals. So this is where we've got our best chance to compete, where it's mechanical grip and we've got a pretty standard car and just make it as nice as we can. That's what the guys have done a great job at. This is our opportunity, and later in the year when we get to those ovals, we're going to be struggling to stay on out-and-out performance, but we'll do what we can and keep working on that area as much as possible, as much as our budgets will allow throughout the year.

GRAHAM RAHAL: It's the same for us really. People would be surprised, but we won't be doing much development anymore and haven't done as much as we'd like this winter. Obviously the testing miles really limits us quite a lot. We're still way behind the big teams, and for us it's important to get points on these two tracks. We've had success here in the past and the team has certainly had some success at Long Beach. So I think that with our experience there, some of these guys haven't driven there in a while, I'm sure they'll pick right up where we left off, but certainly it is a bit of an advantage for us, and we need to go in there and try to grab the maximum points, as well. It's going to be -- I think our cars are pretty good on the ovals, but it's going to be pretty interesting to see what happens come Kansas, but at the end of the day, the street or road courses are still where we need to really get our wins and get our points.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Graham Rahal , Ryan Briscoe , Will Power , Dale Coyne
Teams Dale Coyne Racing