Indy 500: Second, third, top rookie press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 SULLIVAN: I've got three questions queued up right now. That's going to be it for Ryan. Q: Ryan we've seen a lot of rookies over the last couple years either have accidents or struggle mightily in their first race....

Continued from part 1

SULLIVAN: I've got three questions queued up right now. That's going to be it for Ryan.

Q: Ryan we've seen a lot of rookies over the last couple years either have accidents or struggle mightily in their first race. What was the thing for you that separated you from those other rookies that didn't have as good run as you have?

HUNTER-REAY: That's a good question. I think it was just to keep my margins in the beginning, just learn, learn what the car is going to give you, drive within the car's limits, and, hey, you know, if you put a good driver in a good car, you know, you'll end up getting it. That's for sure. You'll end up working it out. This kid drove an amazing right race today right here, Vitor. Good job, buddy.

VITOR MEIRA: You too, man.

Q: Ryan, Rahal Letterman has been kind of overlooked the last couple years. What does this finish do to boost that team's momentum? And also, did Dave have anything to say to you after the finish?

HUNTER-REAY: He said just five spots away from being on my show. (Laughter)

That's what went through my head. But he's been a great guy. He's cool. He's so laid back, you know. He just shows up in like shorts and a T-shirt and says let's go have a good time. It's great for Ethanol, great for all the supporters. This team has had its fair share of bumps along the road, and God bless him, Paul Dana, and then with Jeff and just the rocks in the road, it's nice to have some momentum going here. These guys certainly deserve it.

SULLIVAN: Final question for Ryan.

Q: You talked about what was going on in front of you and your race strategy, but at what point did it start to kick in and say I can make this happen if this happens? When did you really start to feel comfortable and start letting things fall into place?

HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, when that line gets shorter and shorter in front of you after each pit stop and after each time you pick off cars and you're so busy in your only little world there as you're going through the stint, all of a sudden you're sitting there with 50 laps to go in the race and only four cars in front of you and it was like, 'OK, this is running now.' We were with some great company up there, you know. Like I said, the Ganassi cars deserve to be up there. Scott certainly deserved to win the race. But Ganassi, AGR and Penske are winning the war right now in the series. They're on top of it every weekend. It's almost like sometimes the race starts at P8 because there's those cars on some ovals. But here the driver really matters. It's nice to crack into that dominated area by the big three.

SULLIVAN: Well, the rookie of the year, as many of you know, is officially announced at the victory banquet. This is the guy who is the highest finishing rookie, and did a great job. Thanks very much, Ryan Hunter-Reay.

HUNTER-REAY: Thanks. Thanks, everybody. (Applause)

SULLIVAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the little team that could certainly delivered this time with a tremendous run.

VITOR MEIRA: The team that can.

SULLIVAN: That can and did. Second place. The second time you've been in the runner-up position. Vitor Meira, tremendous race and you really gave it your all. Congratulations.

MEIRA: Thanks you. Thank you, everybody. Yeah, from where we were struggling last year and also this first races, I think it's the right place to come back. I'm really happy with Delphi National Guard team, the crew most of all, for putting me and having great pit stops and putting me there in front. That's what we needed, actually, according to our setup and everything. We were a little light on downforce, and we needed a little clean air. So that was certainly made our day. I'm really proud of everybody. We did our best today. I certainly did my best today, and so did the crew, the engineers, everybody. That's what we need. I'm really proud of everybody.

Q: Vitor, first of all I want to say congratulations, what a tremendous race. Take a little bit of an issue with something Ryan said. You were mentioning outside, I know, that it's time for the big three to start looking out because Panther, you know, has had some good shows. You finished second here twice in Indianapolis and I have two parts to my question.

One is, I thought we were expecting a lot more sunshine today and I wondered if the cloud cover keeping conditions a little cooler sort of played into the fact that you had trimmed out your car in cooler weather. The second question I had was if you could tell me what was running through your mind the last 18 months after Andretti passed Castroneves and was on your tail.

MEIRA: It definitely helped us, the weather. That's what we planned; we looked really close to it. That's the reason of our comeback and not as strong in the beginning of the race but very strong to the end of the race, was what we planned. There was one day that the track was really close to race conditions and race laps as overall laps. So we really focused on that day. We actually did a hundred and some laps that day. That's where it took us.

As soon as Marco overtook Helio, I knew he was coming, he was very strong. He was also being very aggressive, pushing a lot. I could see that he would catch me, catch me and all of a sudden drop back. That's because you push a little bit too much sometime and have to have a big lift. So I knew he was coming. I knew he had the car and he wanted to. But so I did, too, wanted to catch Dixon. Again, we had the car; it just didn't work everything out. On the pit stops, he was a little better because of the position he was being in first place. He caught us there, and as you saw, as you guys saw throughout the day, hard to pass.

Q: Congratulations on your second-place finish. I think it was 39 laps to go and a great move by you there on the straightaway. Would you talk about that, please?

MEIRA: Yes, that was a restart. Ed Carpenter stayed out. I knew he wouldn't have a good restart since he had old tires. Scott had a good restart. I got advantage of the slipstream, and as soon as I saw the space outside right after we passed Carpenter, I went there and just actually I went there just for some clean air, but then the car kept rolling and kept going. So that's my opportunity. I mean, I'm not going to have many opportunities from now on. I've got to take that. So never lifted and happened what happened.

Q: Vitor, you've been talking all month about how good your car has been and in every condition that we've had to deal with here. Did you have to do a lot of changes to it today or was it pretty consistent throughout?

MEIRA: Yeah, we did a lot of changes. The only changes we did was front wing. We were for some reason a little off on front wing, so actually we did almost two turns of front wing throughout the race. That's what the first four, five pit stops are for, get to tune the car and get the hand of it. Right after we did those front-wing changes, the car came alive, and it matched the track, the weather improved a little bit, it came toward us.

Again, you have to do something right in order to finish good at the '500.' Dixon really deserved it. He, I mean he was by far pole. Ganassi was very dominant here throughout the race. So congrats to them, but we had a very good car, too.

Q: Vitor, I know a hundred miles is a long way to go in the Indianapolis 500 but you were in front after 400 miles. Were you beginning to think I just might pull this thing off today?

MEIRA: I was, sure. Not sure but as sure as I could be with Dixon on my butt. (Laughter)

So I thought right when I was in third place right on that restart, I thought now we can win, now we can win. Now we put ourselves in position to win. That's what happened. Again, we did the Delphi National Guard crew did their job, I did my job and we put ourselves in position to win. Again, we had the car, we had the crew, just didn't work out this time.

Q: Vitor, I didn't mean to bring it up, but No. 2 again. What are your thoughts, man?

MEIRA: How many times did I answer this question?

Q: How close do you, how much closer do you feel you are to victory than before even?

MEIRA: It's very close. I mean this feels like a victory for us. How many, even in the grandstands here, how many of you guys counted me as leading Lap 160 or whatever? Not many. We did and we believed it and we're always going to. We always, no matter what, going to do our best. When I got out of the car, I saw that everybody on the team was very happy. National Guard people was happy, Delphi people was happy, I was very happy. And the reason is we took everything out we had. Looking at the beginning of this year and the end of last year, this is a very, very good result. I will never take it for granted.

Q: Two-part question. Why were there so many yellow flags? And secondly, does yellow-flag running affect the driver's ability to concentrate on the race?

MEIRA: That's a good point. In fact, we did not have one green pit stop. I was wondering about that come like 50 laps to go. I don't know, I think the yellow flags, they came on the right time, to be honest. Always like toward the end of the stint, nothing really major really happened, I think, from where I was sitting. And they were just either good or bad timed. I don't know in number of yellows if we had more or less than past years but we sure had a lot and we did not have any green pit stops, which it's a little unusual, but I'm not complaining.

Q: Vitor, the team came from nowhere years and years ago, three years ago, you weren't in the ride, the team didn't exist and now we're here. What do you need to take that one last step and get in the winner circle?

MEIRA: To continue it, keep trying. We had 33 very competent drivers and teams trying. We had Chip Ganassi, AGR and Penske that for the last two years had won everything but three races for the last three or four years maybe. So we are up against very, very hard competition. And to gain back on them, sometimes it's even harder to maintain the pace with them. That's what we did right now with the addition of Dave Cripps and Woody as engineers and Andre in the off season, that's what we did now. Just right before this race we hired Dave Cripps, and that's what settled down everything. We will be very good from here on. We will gain on the big teams. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But I'm really hopeful, and I'm really confident that the Delphi National Guard is going to be always in front for these races to come.

SULLIVAN: I've got four questions queued up. That will be all for Vitor and let him go.

Q: Vitor, your cars matched up really well, was it the pit position?

MEIRA: We were going to the last pit stop, we were wondering. I was pushing a little bit by myself, but I could still hold it flat and not scrub so much speed. I knew in traffic we were going to push a little more than we wanted. And we were talking with -- I was talking with my engineer and wondering since Dixon is on the first pit, even if the pit, the change of tires and refueling itself is a little slower, he will overtake us because the position he's in since he's the pole and the first one in line.

So I wanted a little more front wing, but that cost us a little bit in time. It was a decision that we had to make. I could stand no front wing if I would stay in the lead, if I was in the lead, but it didn't happen. We couldn't make it. They did a very good pit stop, we did a very good pit stop, too, but because of the positioning he was, he passed us. So it was just a decision we had to make. I think we made the right decision. Had we put a little more front wing, I think Marco or Helio behind us would catch me and I would not have finished second. So I think we made the right decision, but that's the reason we lost the position on the pit stop.

Q: Vitor, there was a moment late in the race when you were leading and speaking of the power three teams, you had Ganassi, Penske, AGR right behind you. If you remember that moment, how special was that to you being the little guy out there fighting the odds and being in the lead?

MEIRA: It feels really good. And again, my hand is to the Delphi National Guard crew. I think if I'm not mistaken, it was Dixon, me, Marco and Castroneves. So it's right there, Ganassi, Panther, which it's the first way that we are there. AGR and Penske, we are among the big three. We are ahead of two of them. Just time, a matter of time until we come back and be better. I'm really confident on the team. We have only one car; let's not forget we have only one car. So that hurts a little bit, but with good people we are making a difference, and that's how we're going to continue.

Q: Vitor, kind of a non-racing question in a time of war and this being Memorial Day weekend, you've mentioned several times the National Guard being your sponsor. How honored are you having them as one of your sponsors?

MEIRA: I say this constantly to the men and women that serves the country, if I do as good as they do, if I do on the racetrack as good as they do serving us, I would win every race. But they have to do it every day. So I'm really honored to have National Guard on my side.

Today I was, I was almost as good as they are every day. So it's a big honor, a big weekend for us. It's a big sponsor, not only for me, not only for Panther Racing but it's a big sponsor for IndyCar racing and for racing as a whole. Because from day to night since we signed the sponsorship, first we gained 370,000 more fans, which are the men and women serving us. They are very good fans, fans that everybody have to thank here.

SULLIVAN: Well, Vitor, that's a good note to end this press conference and another reason why you have so many fans. Congratulations.

MEIRA: Thank you very much.

-credit: ims

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Paul Dana , Chip Ganassi , Ed Carpenter , Vitor Meira
Teams Panther Racing