Indy 500: Team Penske press conference, part 1

Briscoe, Castroneves, Cindric, Mears, Penske Indianapolis Motor Speedway Friday, May 9, 2008 PAT SULLIVAN: Welcome. This is always a special day in our Media Center when we have our annual visit from Team Penske. Obviously, it's been ...

Briscoe, Castroneves, Cindric, Mears, Penske
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Friday, May 9, 2008

PAT SULLIVAN: Welcome. This is always a special day in our Media Center when we have our annual visit from Team Penske. Obviously, it's been an interesting week thus far, and we're all anxious to get going. So we really appreciate all of you taking time out of your schedules before we get on the course.

We turn our attention to a team that's won here 14 times. They've won 12 championships, over 130 Indy-style races. It's a mark of excellence, and no one has sustained such excellence at this facility ever. Previous to that perhaps the Lou Moore Blue Crown teams were that mark, and that has since been surpassed by this team.

We'll turn our attention to Roger. Mr. Penske, first of all, I was thinking this morning you will be honored in the drivers' meeting, I believe, by the United States Auto Club with the Roger McCluskey Award of Excellence. That's for the many things you've done in the sport with the United States Auto Club, including being a champion in 1958 yourself. I was thinking to myself the famous line where a player of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team looked at their legendary coach Lenny Wilkins and said, "Coach, did you ever play the game?" I wonder if your driving corps are aware that you, A, played the game and have been a champion at it yourself at it?

ROGER PENSKE: That was 50 years ago; most people weren't around at that time. Certainly the McCluskey Award is an honor for me. I knew Roger as a driver and knew him as he was very instrumental in USAC, and I'm very excited to receive that next week.

SULLIVAN: That's an important award and well deserved. I think I ask you this question nearly every year. When I go through the tunnel on Opening Day, I feel an excitement that I felt when I was a young person. You've been at the top of this game for a long time. Does the excitement or energy ever wane for being at Indianapolis?

PENSKE: I think every morning that we're here before the race, it's the same. You're on pins and needles, you're just trying to really anticipate what's going to happen and what did we forget. In fact, the more times you're here, it gets tougher and tougher because there's so many things you try to be sure on your checklist that you've taken care of. Certainly in the old days, we used to worry about would the engine start, did we scuff a piston, did we warm it up enough. Obviously, we have a lot more sophistication. The teams are much closer today from the standpoint of competitiveness. The cars are the same; the engines seem to be very reliable. So a lot of those areas that you might have had an edge in the past, you don't have today. I think it's really up to the driver. You can't make a mistake. You can't hit a ball out of bounds here. You've got to really execute on the track. As I've told Ryan and Helio, you've got to be thinking. Rick tells them every time you have to be patient. But again, you have to be up there. You've got to see that leader, and there's no question you have to execute in the pits. You can't make a mistake. We got lucky with Sam when we had a mistake in the pits, we were able to rectify that, but you don't normally get that opportunity.

SULLIVAN: No, it's a tough place to win. That speaks even more of your record. Tim Cindric, in this particular time, are you worried about logistics, are you a psychologist with your drivers as I'm sure they're anxious to get on the track? Which of the many hats is the most prominent one you're playing now as we've been fighting Mother Nature a little bit?

TIM CINDRIC: Really, I think my biggest role in the next couple days is try and keep everybody calm. If you keep a calm atmosphere, you usually make the right decisions. There will be a lot of drivers today or tomorrow maybe getting out of their comfort zone too soon or earlier than they want to get out of that. Really, it's our job. With the experience that Helio has, he and I have a relationship to where we understand each other to know when it's time to take a chance and when it's not time to do that, and we're learning that with Ryan, as well. So that's my biggest challenge.

SULLIVAN: A challenge it is. I'm thinking Rick Mears, a gentleman who is a legend of this place as well, a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. We always focus on that. But when it came to qualifying, you were second to none. Talk about what that is like to prepare for qualifying, particularly on a situation where there's been a couple of days where you've had down time. I would think that as a driver you have to have a sense of what these two gentlemen are going through.

RICK MEARS: Absolutely. I've always said that qualifying here is one of the toughest things that I ever did. But it is also one of the most fun, most rewarding. Qualifying, you have to be ready, there's no second chance and it's time to go. If you're trying to get in the show, it's one thing. If you're just getting in the show, OK, let's go out and get four laps together and get it in the show. But if you're in the hunt for the front row or the pole, then the pressure is on. These guys kept me in the hunt every year, so there was pressure every year and it never let up.

But this place, it's tough, but you also -- I always just tried to keep it as another race on another track, like Tim said, trying to stay calm, that was a big part of it. Stay relaxed and go out there and get your four laps in. But with all the shuffling and in line, do we stay, do we pull, it's easy to get to you. But you have to stay relaxed and count on the team.

PENSKE: I think the new format, you know, is very positive with 11 cars. So you're really going to bunch it up and with the opportunity to go back out again, pull out of line. We couldn't do that in the past, really. You did sometimes, I think that's going to be -- you know, it proved well for us the last couple years, we made that last-ditch run. What we're trying to do is rebuild this sport from the standpoint of interest and, you know, the multiple qualification groups I think is very important. I think you're going to see speeds be very, very close at the top.

SULLIVAN: Yeah, we think, also, that will happen. Ryan Briscoe, I was thinking of a race driver to have a sustained career like a Rick Mears or to be in the game as long as your boss, Mr. Penske, a driver has to endure the ups and downs of the sport and know how to manage both of them. Both can be lethal. When you're at the top, it can be dangerous. When you're at the bottom, it's hard to get back up. You certainly experienced that. You had the hard crash at Chicagoland, you came back from that. You had the tremendous performance at Indianapolis last year, was certainly underscored again that you are capable of getting the job done, and bingo, you're wearing that red-and-white uniform. That has to be a miraculous turn of events for you.

RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, thank you. I certainly appreciate the way things can turn around and you just always got to keep your chin up and going at it, you know. Even if you're having a rough day, you've just got to -- I think it's the love and the passion of the sport that keeps you going. Certainly times like these when you're with the right people and you've got the right people behind you, it's certainly appreciated so much more. And you know, in the end, you know, to have a sustained career and so on, it really comes down to the success, though. You've got to go out and make the most of the opportunities when they come around.

PENSKE: When I think about Ryan joining the team, we knew him as a young driver when he was with Ganassi. I had really forgotten about the accident, I hope he has, too, because if we continue to think about that, he's not going to be as intense as he needs to be. Certainly circumstances drive situations like that that occur. But with him coming in last year and being able to run at this track, that was a test really for us to say: "Can you get back in the car? Can you run 500 miles? Can you stay out of trouble?" That was really kind of a report card for Team Penske to say, "Is this a guy we want to bring on?"

Then with his experience on the team and running in the ALMS and the that he had done and the consistency in those long races, we felt that he was the right person to replace Sam because, obviously, Sam left a big hole. You need to have a couple of bullets when you come here, for sure.

SULLIVAN: I think that report card was an A from last year, Ryan, and well deserved.

Helio, it's been fun for me because in my other normal life, people would ask me, "Is he really like this?" I would say, "Yes, he's like this all the time," speaking of you on "Dancing with the Stars." Then the next question would be, "Do you think he's going to give up racing? Do you think he's focused on racing? Is he focused on winning?" And I said, "I've seen the guy have the fighter pilot look in his eye." I think that's the question. You come here as one of the favorites, do you have that fighter pilot look? Are you ready to go for No. 3?


I'm ready to go. Every time I pass by the Gasoline Alley, I'm like, "Man, this is a great, great place." I always remember Rick saying about the first week: It's about the first race, racing for the pole position. And the second and third week you actually are going to race for the Indy 500. Then hearing you guys talking about the rush, the pressure and this is for me, I love it. I love to be under pressure because that makes me, you know, really precise, makes me go for the limit and trying to achieve the impossible. So far I will be very fortunate to do that. We have a great team, we have great people on our side, and with that, obviously, you'll be able to achieve the results.

So, obviously on "Dancing," yes, I was just -- it was myself. As everybody knows me, I'm just having fun and like the same here, having fun and racing. Hopefully those new fans we achieve, we can bring them now and see it's also fun. Racing is not only go around, there are a lot of things going on during the race that people sometimes don't understand, and hopefully we made that message and people will join up.

SULLIVAN: All of us are interested in the history, but we are in the entertainment business after all.

Real quickly, we're going to repeat the questions because we've got this being transcribed. So bear with me. I will try to repeat the question and we'll go.

Q: Ryan, kind of touch on what was asked earlier, the 6 car had set very high standards at this place, one in '03 and one in '06. Talk about trying to live up to the reputation that that car has done here at this race.

BRISCOE: Yeah, it's a great feeling coming into the race with this car that's had so much success here. As a driver it gives me a lot of confidence with that kind of history, my team, the engineers, it's all the same people, Roger calling the race. It's all a big bonus for me as far as a mental standpoint going into it.

Q: Rick, can you elaborate about your role with the rookies this year and can you give me the kind of questions they might be asking? These guys are not total rookies, they're rookies here, but can you give me an idea of your role?

MEARS: Well, you know, really whatever I can help them with. We would go out in the pace cars beforehand before they ever got in the race car and run around the track and just kind of show them a general pattern. Obviously, the car dictates the final pattern that you run, but to try to help them get in the general area to begin with and let them go from there. And it's more just talking about patience, things to watch out for. Mainly the patience. You know, there's no substitute for laps around this place. You always hear that, and that's actually key.

You know, the questions as far as questions asked, it's across the board. It's anywhere from shutoff points, what do you look at, what points do you pick for turn-in point, how far ahead are you looking, what do you do with the turbulence. It's across the board.

But I really just kind of try to do an overall more than getting into driving the car. It's more of a mindset and stay relaxed and patience, patience, patience. That's the main thing.

Q: Is there one specific question that you may hear more than any?

MEARS: How come the straightaway is so narrow and so long?

Q: Ryan, you're with the winningest team here. Every place in the garage you're sitting here, 14 wins, two wins, four wins, do you get intimidated and teased by the team?

BRISCOE: Well, I mean, I was thinking about it again as we did the introductories, and we've got all these multiple Indy 500 winners and I'm the only one that hasn't yet. So it's certainly No. 1 on my priority list to start catching up to these guys and, you know, being a part of the team that has so much success. I couldn't think of a better place to be right now.

Q: Has anybody on the team reminded you, you know, you're zero right now?

BRISCOE: Well, I don't think anything needs to be said, really. (Laughter)

Q: Helio, thoughts for the team's plan for today after the week that we've been through, and do you expect a lot of teams and cars running on the edge to find the speed?

CASTRONEVES: Well, actually looking at the weather, it looks like it's going to be raining again about 2:00 or 3:00, so that means everybody is going to go out there and try everything they can to make sure that the car is capable to go as fast as it can, which is a problem because you might face a situation you can't find a clean lap. Sometimes you might get confused getting a draft or something like that. And all of a sudden you're like, "OK, I know I can do the speed and this might aggravate it, the gears that you're going to run and everything like that."

But everybody is going to face the same problem. Yes, I do believe teams are going to go a little bit more toward the edge right now to find the limit. Hopefully tomorrow we still have more practice, but right now it's just a matter of like knowing what you got, and tomorrow we'll see if we can push a little bit more farther or not.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Rick Mears , Ryan Briscoe
Teams Team Penske