Toyota Indy 300 -- Homestead-Miami Speedway Top-three press conference February 29, 2004 Sam Hornish Jr., Tim Cindric, Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon Part 1 of 2 THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin the post-race press...
Toyota Indy 300 -- Homestead-Miami Speedway
Top-three press conference
February 29, 2004
Sam Hornish Jr., Tim Cindric, Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon
Part 1 of 2
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin the post-race press conference for today's Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. We are joined now by third-place finisher Dan Wheldon.
Dan, if you can sum up your day here at Homestead-Miami Speedway, very hotly contested battle in front of a big, very boisterous crowd. Sum up your day here.
DAN WHELDON: Well, I definitely think it was a big team effort. Certainly I was very disappointed with my qualifying result, so I was desperate to kind of put myself back in the picture of being up there and certainly continuing my pre-season form.
But it was busy out there. We had a few little things going on that kind of set us back a little bit. But the guy who called my race did an excellent job. I put him in a difficult predicament having stalled. I don't think we planned that one. So that made it difficult. And he pulled me out of that along with the guys in the pits.
You know, the car itself, I came from the warm-up this morning, and I was pretty happy with my car. But we went into the debrief, and it was actually very useful having the three teammates I've got, each one having followed me in the warm-up. They said, "Look, you need to do this, that and the other." I said, "Really? I thought my car was pretty good." It made a big difference.
The experience that they've got definitely, definitely helped. Certainly with the car setup and the power, everything turned out pretty good, to be honest.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Dan.
Q: What was the key to your finish today?
DAN WHELDON: It's the crew. Certainly those Jim Beam guys, they changed stuff and filled me up with fuel quicker than I can image. I don't know how they did it so quick. All I was looking at and focusing on was the guy that was telling me to go. So I can't tell what you they did any different.
But we got out in front of these cars and I thought -- I was hoping I'd pick up Foyt's draft before these two kind of clamped onto the back of me. Unfortunately, I couldn't pick it up in time.
Q: Talk about the tight racing, especially with the two Penske teammates.
DAN WHELDON: Well, yeah, you can't tell with these two because they both look the same, especially when they're coming at you either side. But, you know, it was important just to kind of keep your cool because I think it could have ended ugly. But it's obviously way too early in the season to be doing anything like that.
I think we all respect each other well enough that we need to give each other room, and it worked out for these two. Didn't work out for me. So hopefully I'll get my payback pretty soon when I can go. Maybe Dario and I can sandwich this guy.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You know what happened? I know what happened. It was the guy in front of you. Both of us were in the clean air. You were like, "Oh, boy."
THE MODERATOR: Also now joined by Helio Castroneves, today's second place finisher. Helio, in front of your hometown track and a very large crowd here, a large Brazilian contingent all on their feet come the end of the race. As you predicted on the new track, it came down to the final turn of the final lap. Describe the finish and your overall day.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I just wish I knew how it would end. That was a great race. Listening a little bit to what Dan was saying, no doubt about it, everybody was really close, really, really close calls. But it seems the people were able to respect each other a little bit. Obviously, it was a new configuration, everybody was trying to understand how the race will proceed.
The wind was very strong. So it looks like in Turn 1, you're going a little bit -- if you go too high, you'll be in a bad situation. We started the race in traffic. My car wasn't that fantastic in traffic, but I was looking good by myself.
DAN WHELDON: That's because he doesn't run with any downforce.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You should see my teammate (laughter).
Anyway, so basically I was just trying to -- as soon as I got the lead, I knew which line I should be able to go. Obviously, my car was very good on old tires. That's something that I really noticed during the run. Unfortunately, the yellows kept coming, so I had to keep putting new tires. In fact, I was yelling at the guys, I want to keep the same tires until the end. The tires sometimes looked so good, I'm like, "You know what, let's keep going."
But again, turned out in the end, wow, I said, "You know what, this guy's not going to beat me on the outside." If I let him go outside, I will not sleep today. If you would have beat me... Unfortunately, he did.
I knew he had a little bit less downforce than me. Yesterday in qualifying, we tried low downforce. This morning, we tried low downforce. We kept having a little trouble. I said, "You know what, let's go on the conservative side. Let's try not to take a chance, especially the first race of the season."
So I knew I was a sitting duck. When I was leading the last five laps, it was just a matter of time. I would try to move a little bit high, try to take his air in front of his car, but it seems his car was really solid.
Yeah, I believe it was a great finish. So let's keep working hard. To finish second -- people that finish second also win the championship. So that's what we're looking for.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for either Dan or Helio.
Q: Talk about the side-by-side by side action.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Dan was a little bit in the middle of the both of us. I saw (Bryan) Herta right there. Herta was a little bit middle line, let's put it this way. Sam was going over on the high side. My car was really good on the bottom.
There would have been no way for him to keep going unless his car would be very stuck or unless Bryan were to keep going. In fact, it was good because I didn't know how we would end up today.
So it's an opportunity, you know. This kind of race, it's all about opportunity. Sometimes you lose two, three positions. Sometimes the guy moves in front of you, you lose downforce, you might hit the wall. I saw guys doing that in front of me. And you have to be patient. You know, you're not going to win a race in those kinds of situations. So hold your line, and I guess that's what happened today for me.
Q: You and Sam were really battling out there.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think I was trying everything. Maybe I shouldn't have kept outside. I don't know. I was just trying everything, you know, because he was already like a car in front of me. I was just trying to catch a little bit of a draft. Maybe if he would hit the limiter, I would have a chance.
So it's just one of those deals that you have to think fast. When I saw that he was already in front of me, I didn't think there would be any way of trying to block him. And that's why, especially in our team, one thing that Roger really does not like, is two of us crashing. So I respect that. And I don't want to be hitting the wall with my teammate. That's the last guy I want to see in the race.
So that happened that with us with Gil. We were race pretty strong, but were able to race pretty clean. I don't think is going to be any difference with Sam. It's a long season.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, like I say, I mean, when I got out in front, I just needed the Honda to pull me up to (A.J.) Foyt IV, which it did. But unfortunately with these two, they work pretty well together. You could see them running in tandem. And I think that helped them close the gap on me. Had they not worked so closely together, I think I might have been able to do it. But it's hearsay now.
But certainly the guys did a good job to get me out. The guy calling the race I think changed my strategy about three or four times, he said. So he did a good job.
We played with my downforce a little bit before the race. And I think the engineer made a good choice. So like Helio said, it's a very long season. We came into -- we certainly came into these first three races with the mentality of racking up points so we can maybe risk a bit more come the Indy 500.
I was impressed, I don't know what you think, with the respect everybody showed each other out there. It was really tight at some points. And it seemed everybody was running pretty high off four. Nobody really did anything stupid. So I think in the drivers' meeting Brian (Barnhart) did a pretty good job of reaming us out.
DAN WHELDON: Maybe it's the English thing. He was perfect with me, perfect. I think we English, we stick together (laughter).
Q: What did Barnhart say in the drivers' meeting?
DAN WHELDON: I mean, he just obviously said, it's important when you get new guys into the series. It's so close out there that you've got to make sure that if you enter low, you stay low. If you enter in the middle of the corner, you got to stay at the middle of the corner.
I think at one point there was Helio, somebody and I running three-wide. As long as you stick with the same line, you're going to be fine. Most of these tracks we go to where you get this type of racing, they're pretty wide.
Fortunately, all the people I raced with were pretty good. I just can't wait to get Helio back. Like I say, I've got to sandwich him with one of my teammates.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Don't worry, man, we'll be there.
Q: What was your reaction when Gil (de Ferran) decided to retire?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: My reaction? I didn't know. I was shocked that he was going to retire. I wasn't actually surprised that Sam was coming to the team. He's a great American driver, a great talent out there. I'm sure Roger would not miss opportunity. So that's what happened. For sure, he took a chance, and it's the right chance. If I would be a team owner, I would have done the same thing. I just was shocked that Gil was retiring.
DAN WHELDON: If he was going to go anywhere, I thought it would be Penske. I actually raced with him at Panther a little bit. And he seemed to fit into that organization very, very well.
I didn't think that Roger would actually split Gil and Helio because they obviously work very well together.
Q: Do you think this is the start of a streak for Sam Hornish?
DAN WHELDON: No, not really. I think Helio's going to win just as many races. I think they're both going to be very strong. I mean, my teammate, Mr. Kanaan, talks very highly of this guy sitting to the right of me. I don't think any one of them's going to be any better than the other. I think they'll both be very strong. On each given day, whoever turns out to have the better car will end up with the result.
I think Sam obviously carried less downforce than Helio today. Had it been the other way around today, I'm sure Helio would have won.
Q: How is this going to change your relationship with your teammate?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm going to be teasing him every day, you know, calling him at home, "Hey, what's up, buddy," trying to put some pressure.
I hope will be like that. No doubt about it, the first race of the season, getting a result like that, builds up not only the confidence for himself but also for the entire team, you know. And it's good when things like that happen.
Again, unfortunately, things did not wind up during the session the way I wished. And he took a chance, which many times with Gil also he would have taken a chance, you know, like running less downforce or more downforce. I guess when you feel comfortable with the setup that you want, you have no trouble. So hopefully we end up like this in the end of the season, except the finish will be a little bit different.
Q: Were you worried about the race after your spin in warm-up?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it just concerns you a little bit. Obviously, I was trying to go too fast to the pit lane, trying to gain time. Everybody knows in those conditions, if you don't have a green flag -- yellow flag, I'm sorry, you know that in and out lap counts a lot.
I was trying also less downforce to make sure I would feel comfortable after that. I said, "You know what, better safe than sorry." Today it seems -- not seems that I am, but I am happy to finish second because it's good points. Hopefully those points in the end of the season... I wish I had this second in Chicago last year. That for sure would have helped me a lot in the end of the season of last year. So that's the way the team wins the championship. Hopefully it's going to happen this year.
Q: How is the grip on the new track surface?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's a good point. I think it was pretty good, especially towards the end. In fact, like I said, I wanted to keep the same tires, the same stint. The team keep telling me, "No, no, no, we can't keep the same tire." I said, "No, no, no. The car is great. Don't change it." But as soon as we change it, obviously, it was pretty much the same. Homestead did a very a good job in smoothing out all the things.
So I believe it was a good show.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. Thank you for a great show here at the Toyota Indy 300.
We're about to begin the winner's press conference here for the Toyota Indy 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. This is Sam Hornish Jr.'s third victory in four starts here at Homestead-Miami Speedway and his 12th career IndyCar Series win. He absolutely has dominated, in many respects, competition here at Homestead-Miami Speedway, leading 314 of 800 laps of competition here in Miami. That's a 39% ratio.
Sam, if you can talk about your success here at Homestead-Miami Speedway and in particular today's race. Put on a great show coming down to the final turn, final lap.
SAM HORNISH JR.: It definitely was exciting. A lot of people had asked me what I thought about the change in the layout of the track. I said I was real partial to the way the old track was, but I really like this new track.
It's just a great day to be able to come out here in my debut with Marlboro Team Penske and have a win. Everybody just really welcomed me in, made me feel at home. I'm really excited to start off the year this way and looking forward to a lot of good things down the road.