Indy 500: IMS press conference - Team Penske, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Roger, in your 40-plus years of being an IndyCar team owner, given the economy and your concerns about the rest of your business enterprises, is this maybe one of the roughest times for you to focus on what needs to be...

Continued from part 1

Q: Roger, in your 40-plus years of being an IndyCar team owner, given the economy and your concerns about the rest of your business enterprises, is this maybe one of the roughest times for you to focus on what needs to be done and rely more on Tim than it might have been, say, in the past?

PENSKE: Listen, he's the guy calling the shots. He runs our operation in Charlotte, you know, when you think about the hundreds of people we have there and the multiple operations from the Grand-Am to the NASCAR program, the Nationwide, and obviously the IRL, it takes good people and we've learned over time, you know, to delegate. Whether it's in the public relations area, whether it's in the technical area, we've had the opportunity to move people. One of the benefits that Tim brought to the operation was to get people together and use the skills. Just because you were an Indy guy, that didn't mean you couldn't work on NASCAR. And we've moved people around, which I think you've seen the change even on the Cup side, and he's got that responsibility. I mean, certainly with the decisions on drivers and the sponsors and things like that, you know, we work together on a daily basis. But the day-to-day, you know, decision-making is under his responsibility. Mike Nelson heads up the NASCAR side and John Erickson over in the Grand-Am, and Clive really has responsibility, so he's got a captain in each one of those particular areas.

But the technical interface across the wind tunnel programs and all that stuff now is integrated into one organization. The ones that haven't been there should come down and see it because we really see the difference from the standpoint of what we're able to do.

As far as the business side, obviously we're in a financial meltdown worldwide, and we're all stressed from the standpoint of our businesses. We're particularly stressed because we're in the automotive side. But this morning I was over at our Honda store here in Indianapolis, and we've got our eighth year for the President's Award, but those people are pumped up. They're excited, and we just have to be sure we keep people focused on the positive side. We're squeezing everybody right now. We've got to get more out of the people on the race team, and we've got do that in our business.

But I think maybe we're seeing the bottom of this, hopefully, and we can pull ourselves out from a business perspective. Obviously, the racing for us is, you know, it really is probably the positive thing because when we have a good weekend, all of our employees see that, and I think that Tim and the team have done a terrific job.

SULLIVAN: I've got about four deep here, bear with me, folks.

Q: Helio, after your ordeal, was it great that you were able to step right into a race car and start driving instead of having the trial in the fall where you would have had a whole long period?

CASTRONEVES: I tell you, that was the best medicine, I have to say and the best therapy coming from after six months, you know, just thinking about or focusing on that subject, and all of a sudden I was able to do what I love and do what I know to do. So, again, it was the best feeling in the world coming back to the race car, coming back to the race environment. That was awesome to see the fans and everybody so supportive. So for me it was just the right time.

Q: Will, you work with Rick this year, came here last year as a rookie, what has he said to you or told you that, "Well, I wish I would have known that last year"?

WILL POWER: Yeah, actually last year I sat down with Rick and after running a couple of times and, you know, asked him a few questions. But the good thing with working with Rick is as you're going through the process of trimming out and, you know, working toward qualifying, he's got so much experience and understanding of the track that he sort of points you in the right direction. You know, yesterday we ran very safe and just got some confidence in the car, and I'm just taking little steps. Rick has been a huge help. You know, I think he'll be there all month, and we're looking for a good result at the end, not at the beginning.

Q: Helio and Roger, also, tell me about the strategy of knowing when to qualify on Pole Day, going out at the right time, time of day and conditions are so important.

And, Roger, after Helio is done, you seem to have been one of the best over the years knowing when to send your guys out.

CASTRONEVES: It's hard to predict. Obviously, with the new rules over the years that you can, you have two attempts, no question it creates more competition. It gives you sometimes a little more edge for try to squeeze a little bit more, a little more speed into the car. But Roger, Cindric, we always talked before what are our chances. We never take unnecessary chances. We always know what we need to do. It doesn't have like a secret, we just have to feel it, and right now the last few years we're able to actually, you know, find out the right spot. We'll continue working. You can never know. So hopefully tomorrow will be one of those days, as well.

PENSKE: I think that with the new rules, you know, until we see what the weather is tomorrow, we don't make a decision tonight and say this is what we're going to do because you have to see where you are in the line, you know, what are the competitors that you're counting on will be the ones you have to beat, what do they do, are you in front of them? Are you behind them? Do you go out when it's warm? Is it going to be cooler? Is it going to rain? You have lots of variables. You have to take a risk here at some point and we'll just have to see how it plays out in the morning.

Q: Back to the Automotive part. Merrill said it would be appropriate to ask you this question. There's been some talk of your automotive division buying Saturn. Can you talk about that?

PENSKE: Well, as I said in our analyst conference call last week, Saturn obviously is one of the divisions which General Motors is either going to sell or close down, and we have a distribution experience bringing the Smart Car into the United States, we had a two-step distribution system. We own Detroit Diesel. At this particular time we've made no offer to GM, we're in a due diligence stage, and it's a very short time frame. So at the moment lots of things have to play out before we'd make a formal bid.

So I think the publicity is way ahead of the process.

Q: Tim, new rules for this year, three cars, you could get them all in tomorrow. I was wondering if you had assessed your chances, what would it mean to put three cars in the first 11.

CINDRIC: Well, back in, I guess it was 2007, we had somewhat similar experience with Ryan driving with the Luczo Dragon organization because we had prepared that car and so forth, although it was Jay's program and so forth, but obviously he hadn't been to the Speedway yet. So we at least from my perspective, we had a lot of interaction on those parts and we were able to put them all in the first day.

So I think we're going to have a similar challenge tomorrow. I think the end of the day will tell us a lot more. As Will said yesterday, he spent more time making sure that he was gaining his confidence because the No. 1 thing here is to continue to grow your confidence going into Pole Day and not get yourself to where you're, you know, you gain confidence and then you end up back at the bottom again trying to panic your way back up. So we're trying to keep him on that progression, and it's Mears' job to make sure his protege is ready to go tomorrow for that top 11. As Helio said, tomorrow is about knowing where your realistic expectations can be. Last year was a situation where we didn't feel like we had enough speed to go for the pole there at the end of the day. As much as Helio and I both wanted to go, we looked at each other and said this isn't the time because your risk-reward factor is what you're always trying to balance.

Q: Will, you were here last year with one team and that was one of the teams that came over from Champ Car, so there was a certain amount of struggle going on and so forth. This year you're coming here with the team that has the best record at the Speedway of all time. Do you see a difference? Is it obvious to you?

POWER: Yeah, it definitely is. Last year this was my first time here and it was also the first time for KV Racing, so we were both inexperienced and really didn't understand the process you have to go through to get comfortable around here and what you should run. Here I'm stepping into a team with an unbelievable amount of experience. I've got two really good teammates with heaps of experience. So for me it's, you know, just creeping up on it because I know I've got a good car and just using everything that I've got around me to my advantage.

SULLIVAN: We have two questions.

Q: Rick, how different is it driving the cars now as compared to when you drove them with a thousand horsepower, slipperier tires and transmissions and that sort of thing?

MEARS: Obviously they're different, even two identical cars are different to drive. There's always some subtle differences. But, you know, I think the basics are pretty similar. You're still trying to get around this track as quick as you can get around it. You're still trying to get all four tires hooked to the pavement, achieve a balance. You know, that kind of thing. So the basics are the same.

I think these guys know how to drive race cars. For me the biggest picture is the big picture. It's the racecraft. Working on the racecraft, the month, all the things that come along with it as much as it is driving the car. So, you know, obviously there are differences, I can't tell you exactly because I haven't driven these cars. But I think just from working with the guys and everything, the basics are pretty similar.

Q: This is for Roger and Tim, and Helio can also answer this. Last year the pole actually came, like, with two hours and 15 minutes left in the session. How unusual is that when you have a full Pole Day with this format that the pole didn't occur in the final hour?

PENSKE: I think you've got to determine, you know, what's your capability. We all know just from running in the last couple days and probably running today what we're capable of doing. Then you assess the weather. Then there's a high risk factor. We're here to run the race, if you can start up in the first two or three or four rows, if you go black and look at the statistics, the winner comes out of that area. To me you always want to sit on the pole if you can, but we'll assess that. Our goal is to have, you know, the three guys on my right in this race on Saturday. There's 11 spots there, and if we can do that, I'd say we've had a very good day.

Q: Tim?

CINDRIC: I think last year is the only second year this 11-11-11 thing ever played out. The first year, maybe the first two years, I can't recall, there was rain, so it became a 22 situation on Sunday. And obviously the first year it played out, it was pretty dramatic there between Helio and Tony Kanaan making a run for it at the gun and losing it on the last lap. So when we look at comparing the two years, they're completely opposite. So I think this format has a lot to do with the weather. Depending on how the day goes, has a lot to do with when you go and how that all plays out.

Q: Helio?

CASTRONEVES: Man, I just follow the orders. Whatever they tell me to do, I'll do it. (Laughter)

CINDRIC: Good answer.

SULLIVAN: Gentlemen, thank you very much for your annual visit here. We really appreciate it.

PENSKE: Thank you.

-credit: ims

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Kanaan
Teams Team Penske