Toyota Indy 300 -- Homestead-Miami Speedway Top-three press conference February 29, 2004 Sam Hornish Jr., Tim Cindric, Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon Part 2 of 2 THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Tim Cindric, the president of Marlboro...
Toyota Indy 300 -- Homestead-Miami Speedway
Top-three press conference
February 29, 2004
Sam Hornish Jr., Tim Cindric, Helio Castroneves, Dan Wheldon
Part 2 of 2
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Tim Cindric, the president of Marlboro Team Penske. Sam becomes the first driver to win in his debut race for the team and the first driver in the 37-year history of Penske Racing to accomplish this feat. Also worth mentioning, this is Marlboro Team Penske's sixth 1-2 finishing in the Indy Racing League.
Tim, can you talk about the 1-2 finish as far as your team goes and obviously your reflections on today.
TIM CINDRIC: Days like that can't get over soon enough. You watch those two guys side by side. I'm standing in Helio's pit telling him what to do. Roger is just watching Sam do his thing. It didn't matter what color his car was today, it was going to the front.
You know, I think for us to come out and execute in the first race is really a testament to our team and something we've been waiting for for six months. You know, with a big change with de Ferran not being a part of our organization, Sam stepping in and really not missing a beat as far as the team's concerned is a big testament to the overall program.
THE MODERATOR: Also worth noting, a 1-2 finish for Toyota, the sixth straight 1-2 finish here at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Toyota.
We'll open it up for questions for Sam and Tim.
Q: Do you think you made the right decision in hiring Sam?
TIM CINDRIC: Do we think we hired the right guy? There was never a question.
Q: That was some incredible wheel-to-wheel action. Does that make you nervous, since they are teammates?
TIM CINDRIC: I think it's what you hope for. But, you know, having these guys run wheel to wheel like that, no different than they've done in the past, they're just flying the same colors. You know, it's just great to see that for the team.
Q: Did you know you'd be able to get Helio on the inside?
SAM HORNISH JR.: Basically a little bit earlier on in the race, Helio was leading and I just wanted to stay behind him to learn where his car was good at. And I tried a couple times just to see, you know, spacing so I could see going through Turn 1 where I needed to have my car to be able to gain little bit on him.
And I couldn't quite catch up to him and be able to go to the outside at any time. I kept thinking that I was going to be able to get it right and get it timed right. When it came down to it, the last lap, he just wasn't going to give me that outside line. He gave me enough room to probably get a car in there, but I just knew that I wasn't going to be able to time it right and it was going to be slower.
I just want decided I was going to go for the inside at that time. Anybody that tried to pass on the inside, they had a little bit of a hard time keeping it down on the bottom, and usually had to lift. I wasn't quite sure if I was going to have to. It just seemed to work out, so sometimes you kind of walk into it, I guess.
Q: Talk about how strong your car was today.
SAM HORNISH JR.: You know, we had the car set up really well, you know, the engineering staff did a great job. We had a car that we could stay right in behind other people all day. A lot of other people couldn't do that. As soon as somebody was right in front of them, they'd wash up the race track. We were able to stay in the draft, conserve fuel. It was a great day. The car handled awesome.
Q: Did Roger (Penske) give you instructions not to take each other out?
SAM HORNISH JR.: Yeah, I mean, we haven't actually had a talk, "Don't crash each other." Pretty much just a known rule (laughter).
TIM CINDRIC: Helio told him, "If we crash each other, follow me, I'm going to climb the fence and you're going to come right after me."
Q: How does this rank in terms of the close finishes you've been involved in?
SAM HORNISH JR.: I mean, I've had close finishes from all the way to, you know, 1-2-3 finishes being that close, to winning races for the championship. Today is probably the one that's highest on the list because I thought that I had it all day long. Helio really stepped it up there at the end. I don't know, he just gained quite a bit of speed.
I thought, "OK, we're just going through the motions." Then like the last five laps, I'm trying to get a run on him, and I couldn't get it timed. I couldn't get it done. So this one was real unexpected.
Just great to be with Marlboro Team Penske and to have started out the season this way because I could want to start the season off this way, and I thought that we'd have a good start, but I really didn't think it was going to be this good.
TIM CINDRIC: Well, you know, Helio knew he was there. You know, he felt like if he got the right run, he might not be able to hold him off. The main thing for us was, you know, Roger and I talk about these guys holding their lines. You know, whoever the best man is should win that day, but as long as it's one of them.
We call it the red light. He and I have a line to each other, Roger and I do, where we talk to each other during the race. About eight to go, I said, "This is going to be interesting, isn't it?"
He said, "Yep."
Then he said, "Tell Helio just to hold his line."
I said, "Is that so Sam can follow him or just get by him? Which of the two?"
It's interesting conversation. But at the end of the day, he and I -- it doesn't matter, as long as one of them brings it home. And, you know, that's definitely the way we try to operate.
SAM HORNISH JR.: I mean, it was more than one time that that was like that. I started to go to the outside of Wheldon, and all of a sudden I was past him. I thought I would hear "clear" from the spotter. I just saw Helio. I thought, "That was great." He pulled ahead of me. We ran around there a little bit longer. Then we did the same thing around Herta. We both just had two really good cars this race.
I know there's going to be times when Helio is going to beat me by a nose. You know, I'm just glad that the team started off as well as they had. There's going to be times when it turns out the other way. So we just need to keep working together. I'm glad that we were able to do that today. There were no problems. Everybody had the expectations of what was going to happen. We had a good time working together today.
Q: Helio led 85 laps today, and you led six, yet earned the win. Were you just biding your time?
SAM HORNISH JR.: Sometimes there's not a point to lead. I mean, there's no benefit of it. You know, there were three or four guys that were capable of leading that were running a little bit faster, and we had a little bit more downforce on the car so we could stay in behind them. I don't think we could run quite as fast when we were out front, so there was no point in doing it. I knew if I could stay right in behind somebody, we could sometimes slip away from the rest of the pack. And I knew we probably wouldn't be able to do that if I was out front.
Sometimes you make compromises. And we compromised a little bit more speed so we could have a handling car that we could run down bottom or up top or run right on somebody's gearbox.
SAM HORNISH JR.: Yeah, I mean, he was running pretty quick. There was just no reason for me to be out in the lead.
Q: You are the first driver to win in his first start for Penske. Are you pretty proud of that?
SAM HORNISH JR.: I think half to three-quarters of those guys won an Indy 500 for Roger, so that's the main thing (laughter). That's what I want to do.
You know, I'm glad. I was thinking about that a little bit this morning. I wonder if anybody has won their first race with Team Penske. I'm glad I could be the guy to do it.
SAM HORNISH JR.: I mean, it was -- I was right there behind him. You know, I'm looking at his rear wing. And his rear wing, you know, I was tucked right up in behind him, trying to help us be able to break away from the rest of the pack so it was just us two fighting for the win.
I thought, "How different." It's all the same, but it's different because I can see my red gloves every time I turn. I can see the orange on the wind screen. I look in the mirrors and I see the orange rear wing. It's a little bit different, but still just as much fun.
Q: This must be one of your favorite tracks now, right?
SAM HORNISH JR.: I mean, I told everybody I preferred the other track just because of the success that we had, and I didn't know what was going to happen. Any track that we go to, everybody asks me, "What's your favorite track?" Indianapolis is my favorite track because of the heritage. But as far as the shape of any track or the banking, you know, I don't care. It's all about adaptability. That's what this series is. Especially next year when we go to road courses, that's really going to be evident.
I think the more adaptable you can be to any kind of track, whether it be flat or banked, two-and-a-half miles or three-quarters, the better off you're going to do in the championship.
Q: How are you adapting to having a teammate?
SAM HORNISH JR.: Well, it's always -- you know, it's always tough when somebody goes from not having a teammate to having a teammate. You know, a lot of people probably were skeptical because Helio and I have such different personalities out of the race car, but we'll both pretty much do whatever it takes to win in the race car.
You know, part of that is being a teammate. So, you know, staying right behind him and not trying to be out and run right beside him or trying to lead, I knew that, you know, that's how we could get away from the rest of the pack.
I don't know, it was like lap 50, I said, "Just tell Helio to stay on the bottom. I'm not going to try to pass him. I'm going to follow him. We'll run away from the rest of these days." We got like a second and a half lead. That's the best way to ensure that the team will have success, is by not having anybody else around you to spoil your fun.
TIM CINDRIC: I'm not sure. I'm not sure whether it has or hasn't, to be honest. I mean, I've looked at it the same way, regardless of what helmet is sitting in that car, you know, bring this thing around.
But, you know, I think the difference is that when Helio and Gil first came together, they didn't really have any battles for a couple years as far as, you know, 1-2's, oval racing and that type of thing. They knew each other two years as teammates before they came to the IRL and raced this close this fast. So it's a little different that way.
SAM HORNISH JR.: I think that everything on this team is as equal as can be, from, you know, the guys that do the tires to the cars to the engine. They want the -- the biggest thing they want to do is have drivers finish 1-2. They want both cars right up there on the front, finishing in the top two positions. So I don't think there's ever really a favorite played because they want both cars to do good, so they give both drivers the best equipment they can possibly put on. Just like, you know, when they do the engine, everything's within a couple horsepower. I'm sure it's even probably closer than that on a race engine.
TIM CINDRIC: If you ask Helio that question, he'll say the benefit is that he gets to meet Crystal's (Liechty, Hornish's fiancee) friends (laughter). Had to throw that one out there. He would have said it.
Q: The winner of the season opener has gone on the win the series championship the last three years. How does that make you feel?
SAM HORNISH JR.: I know there's no better way to start off the season than by winning the first race. It gives you good feelings about the beginning of the year. It gives you a little bit of momentum. If we go out there and crash the next 15 races, it's not going to do us any good.
The big thing is to remain focused and do our job just the way we've been doing it, things should be pretty well. We go to a lot of tracks that I like. I really like Phoenix and Motegi. I've only had one chance to race there and I had a great time there last year. And especially Indianapolis.
So I'm just really looking forward to these next couple races leading up to the 500 and the 500. We'll see how we get through those, then I'll give you a little more on how I feel about the rest of the championship.
Q: What was your team telling you on the radio at the end of the race?
SAM HORNISH JR.: You know, calling out the laps, telling me, you know, where the rest of the pack was. About five laps to go, he just five, four, three, two, one. I mean, I can't honestly tell you what anybody really said after the checkered flag. Head in the clouds. But it was great.
Q: How was your car?
SAM HORNISH JR.: Everything was great. The car handled well. We could run it wherever we wanted to, high or low. We were just a little bit loose right at the beginning of each tire stint. But once the tires came up to pressure, perfect. You know, we didn't have a problem with the tires all day.
You know, Firestone did a great job. Brought us good tires to race on. We saw some close racing today.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, Tim, thank you very much. Congratulations on the Toyota Indy 300 win.