IRL: Indy 500: Front row press conference

91st INDIANAPOLIS 500 FRONT ROW PRESS CONFERENCE Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan Sunday, May 13, 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we're glad to have the front row with us at this time after...

Helio Castroneves, Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan
Sunday, May 13, 2007, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we're glad to have the front row with us at this time after what was a highly dramatic last half-hour. Dario Franchitti sat on the pole for the longest time, and I think all of us really felt for him as he stood there in that No. 1 position and tried to dodge the variety of bullets that were thrown at him.

In an earlier press conference with Tony Kanaan, Tony had said that he would not go out and make an attempt to knock his own teammate off of the pole, and he did not do so until it was clear that Helio Castroneves had just done so. Tony, as you well know, yesterday put together some just fantastic laps and had one just fall off just a bit that prevented him from also starting from the pole position. So in terms of talent, we've got a very talented group of drivers here.

Gentlemen, congratulations surviving qualifying day, and I think you all know these individuals, so why don't we open it up to questions right off the bat.

Q: Gentlemen, good morning. Congratulations on your efforts. If I could have an answer from all of you on sort of a question, maybe you can figure the question out better than I'm going to say it. Is it too long a wait now? Talk about the wait between now and the race and what are the pitfalls and the landmines that could lie along the way?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think Dario is the perfect guy to answer that.

DARIO FRANCHITTI: It's going to be one of those press conferences, is it? (Laughter)

I think there's a lot of traditions along with running the month of May. Who are we to argue with that, you know? We do different formats, we do two-day shows now where we don't get five minutes to do anything, we qualify and practice and one day straight in the car. Next day for the race, three-day shows and, of course, we do the month of May, which is drawn out over three weeks, but that's the tradition of the thing. That gives us the time to practice next week. We just work within the system.

Q: What are the pitfalls, what are the things you have to worry about?

FRANCHITTI: What do you have to worry about? You just, I think, for us not to get confused because you get so much time to practice, and we know how much this track changes with the weather. So don't react too much to that, maybe. Don't sort of talk yourself out of a good setup which was done before. I think up and down pit lane, everybody has done it. You discipline the thing with the changes you're making.

Q: If you know that you have a fast car, is it strategy maybe to do what like Helio and those guys did and maybe wait until 4 or 4:30 before you really make your first attempt?

TONY KANAAN: Now I think we had a pretty good plan, and between me and Dario we worked together all week without trying not to get any drafts and anything. I think we're pretty realistic with the speed. When we draw the numbers, was like I was right before him, so we kind of choose different strategies to cover the field. Then at that point, I think he had a better car and a different gear.

As soon as I finished my run, I mean after the start/finish line, I was talking in the radio right away to kind of try to help him out. I think we did a little bit, he did a great job. At the time, I think, the track wasn't that quick. He never had a time to rematch, which I think was a bit unfair on him. But, you know, that's -- I told him when I finish my qualifying run, I said to the guys, "They say you're on the pole for now." I said, "It's going to be another long day." And Dario finished his run, I said, "Oh, man, you're going to have a long day now, it's not on me anymore."

I remember a few years ago my friend here, five minutes to the end knocked me out, so I know the feeling already. So I felt for Dario yesterday. When I saw Helio coming out, I said to the guys, "Let's go right after him if he can because he's going to do it."

CASTRONEVES: Well, I have to say I totally rely on the strategy of my team, you know. First, I was ready to go qualifying the first attempt and they pull out, which I was a little surprised. But then I forgot that they told me. It was just one of those confusing moments. We went out there, the track I don't think with about 2:30 or 3, the track started becoming a little bit hot, plus the wind started picking up. We did a solid 225 run; we decided to keep adjusting the car and push a little bit more and went straight to qualifying. Unfortunately, we pushed too much, and it couldn't hold the 225 better than Dario. And I was really, really losing my car, and I was like, "I don't want to go back there anymore, that's it." We just still stay out there and stay put, in control. Sam ended up putting some good laps out there, unfortunately couldn't hold it. That's when we decided to try whatever he did in the car and say: "You know what? I know we can do it." We didn't have a chance to practice, but, again, I was confident that my car was good. I was a little nervous, it was a little loose, because in those circumstances five minutes to go, you don't want anything to go wrong.

Obviously, I saw Tony behind me, I said I know he's going to try, and I'm going to go for it. It's funny, everybody keep like seeing what the other is doing and the strategy. That's why I think it is a long day, especially for someone like Dario, everybody is trying and so close, and end up not taking him out of it. So you know what? If I would be in his shoes, I would say no, I'm going to stay until the last minute. Obviously, there's not much, I believe, he could do unless he would be behind me. So it would be between him and Tony, and I have to say that I was -- it was just perfect.

Q: Tony, you talked yesterday about all the work that AGR has done in the last year. Everybody in this sport works hard. Can you expound upon that a little bit, how you work harder and without giving away any trade secrets where you make the gains in development?

KANAAN: It's easy to judge what other people do. I mean, I can only talk about us. I think from last year we kept our heads together. First of all, we kept the peace in the team. When you have a team that is so successful and you have a boss like Michael Andretti that wants to win every race, because he's used to do that, it's hard. So as far as work, I think everybody, I think every team here worked really hard.

But the difference between us and the four red cars last year was much bigger. So obviously the room of improvement from us will be bigger than them actually pulling away from us. So with the engineers, with me and Dario trying to still keep -- you know, we changed drivers. We had Danica, and Bryan was leaving, Danica got in. So we had a little bit of work to do to make her understand the way we work. As far as helping each other and the engineers, really we have a great group of guys, we. Have Tino Belli and Peter Gibbons, those two guys won more races than probably the three of us here together. And then my engineer that's been with me for 11 years. Alan, which has been with Dario since, I don't know when, '02. So we have a good group of guys and we work very well together. I think that's been the biggest advantage on our part trying to beat these guys, you know. Definitely, it worked.

FRANCHITTI: I agree with what Tony is saying. One of the big differences, as well, we had a better, I think development budget for going into the '07 season. Because it doesn't matter how good your engineers are if you don't give them the budget to go to the wind tunnel and go to all the places they need to go and do all the different things, you're not going to make any progress. That was the difference.

I think we got kind of complacent at the end of '05 with the success that we had enjoyed, and we got caught last year, you know. We really were surprised by the pace of everybody else. So full marks to the owners, they came up with the money to allow the engineers to do their job. That's what really helped us, I think. As Tony said, everybody keeping their heads together and trying to go in one direction.

Q: This is kind of a general question to all of you guys. Dario, you mentioned earlier about being disciplined about changing cars. Tony, you said yesterday that (Alex) Zanardi had given you some advice about being patient and things come in time. Wheldon spoke earlier this week, he's changed, his perspective has changed a little bit, he might not be as aggressive about changing, there's discipline that comes with age. Can you guys talk about the things that have changed in you in the last 10 years that might make you more disciplined or what have you discovered about yourselves?

KANAAN: I'm getting old. If you look at me and him 10 years ago, we be out there doing 300 laps a day, just want to run. You learn. You learn, try to listen to people, and it's tough to pick one point. I just think -- I remember Zanardi said it's not a big secret. I said, "What do you do to win a race?" He said, "The day you win a race is going to be the easiest day of your life sometimes." He was right. I think you've got to go through stages, like everything in life.

So we're being smarter. We still get caught. I would say here it's the perfect place to get caught. In a way we all do, and that's why I think in our team we have a pretty good balance. When I start to get on the rev limiter myself, Dario will come to me and say, "Tony, come on, keep it straight." He does that a lot more for me than I do for him because I have a different temper. But I think it's just experience.

FRANCHITTI: Pretty much the same as what Tony said. Life teaches you a lot of things. I don't know about winning races, the easiest time. At least so far all my wins, it came very hard, and I really worked for it. But one thing is definitely you mature, which is natural in life. You get confident, also, which is part of the maturing. It's all about the same thing, you know. I guess when you're in a sport for that long, you start understanding, you start looking at other ways. I guess when you're young, you want to just go for it, and you're getting a little mature, you're getting experience and that's why you become the name of veteran. So I guess we're veterans now.

Q: I've got one for Tony and one for Dario. At any point yesterday on your run, did you think that you had knocked him off?

KANAAN: Did I think I could beat him? If I didn't, I wouldn't go out.

Q: No, I mean at any point during your four laps, did you think I got him, that you had actually gone faster?

KANAAN: I knew, I knew I was going faster, but I knew I needed four laps. Sam did three laps; he had done three laps before and could not do it. So I didn't get excited. I mean, I was there, I was concentrated, and I was doing everything I could in my car to keep the consistency of the speed. And they had proven on the previous runs that they did that their cars were going off. And it's not just their cars, it's because we're so at the limit that they wouldn't take it for four laps. And I was doing everything I could. Of course, on the last lap, I think, I run out of adjustments and it cost me. And the least expect corner, which is Turn 3, which I never had a problem all day, actually all month -- all week. This is why this place is this place. So it caught me by surprise.

No, I never -- I thought I had a pretty good shot, but I never counted before I crossed the finish line.

Q: Dario, if you hadn't have been the guy in the tank swimming with all the sharks yesterday that last couple of hours, is that something that you would have liked, kind of like sat back and as a spectator and watched? Because it really seemed very dramatic.

FRANCHITTI: Judging by the reaction of the fans, I think they loved it. You know, for me personally, it was a difficult day, just sitting there from I think it was just after or just before 1 until 6. But, again, that's what makes the drama for the fans. It was a hard day for me to sit there and do that. But they were having fun. And every time somebody came close, it was exciting. Then when somebody finally beat my time, it was exciting. Then when Tony tried to go out and beat Helio's time, it was exciting.

So that's what it's all about. I would have loved nothing better than to go out and have another crack at these guys yesterday because we felt the track was a lot faster at the end there. But we couldn't pull a front-row car; that just wouldn't have been sensible.

Q: Yeah, for Dario and Tony, if you could give me some comments on this. All the attention was on the front at the end of the day and on the 11th spot with Michael. And if you have an interest in it, you know, Marco, there was a lot of interest but very quietly, I guess, Danica put in a solid effort. What was your two role in getting her up to speed here? And how did she fit into the strategy and what do you think about what she did?

KANAAN: We should talk about the whole team effort because we have five cars in the top 11. I think that's amazing. If you asked us that in the beginning of the week, we'd have said might put three cars in the show on Saturday and two cars on Sunday. But it's not different than any other role. I think you guys saw in the beginning of the week, I was doing some car dances and driving everybody's car for the young guys, you know. The old guys didn't have to do that. And Dario didn't fit in the car, that's why he didn't do it. He's pickier than me on paddles and seats and stuff.

FRANCHITTI: Also half a foot taller.

KANAAN: Exactly. So I don't think Dario look good driving in Danica's car driving with his knees on the steering wheel. So I think she has a lot to gain being with us. She came to the team with the right mentality. She's been working with us; she's trying to learn, and she's benefiting from it. I mean, we, me and Dario worked really hard on the setup. I was the first one to go to the type of setup that I went, and I came the next day and I looked at him and said, "Man, you've got to come with me because it's going to be good." This is the level of trust that we built all this year. He stepped up and said all right, because nobody was sure, you know. They go, "Hey, Tony, it's a little crazy."

FRANCHITTI: Tony is prone to exaggeration, as we all know, but this occasion he was right. He said, "Come on, you've got to try this." It was good, and he made the right choice.

KANAAN: And she ended up going to the setup. She's fast. She has the right mentality to win, so there is no reason for her not to be there. It was a pretty good effort as a team, and she's just -- she's doing her job. We're making cars that are fast. She's getting the benefit from it, and later on we're expecting her to give some back to us, as well.

MODERATOR: We're going to take two more questions.

Q: This question is for Tony. Tony, I think you and Helio have just been two of the best things that ever happened to the IRL. I think you're both exquisite gentlemen and wonderful human beings and ambassadors for this sport. I'm really interested, and I direct this to Tony this time, maybe another time I would throw it to Helio, but I'm really interested in knowing how the natural rivalry between the two of you might have changed over the years and whether you feel that -- I ask this because I can't imagine somehow you ever ending your career without winning Indy as well as you performed here. So how has your rivalry maybe changed over the years, and do you think maybe this year is your year?

KANAAN: We're getting old. I guess looking back what, 23 years ago?

CASTRONEVES: That's probably right.

KANAAN: I'm not going to say we polish helmets together because that wasn't a good thing that I said the other time. But I remember one thing that really comes up to my mind back in '87, I think -- '88. My dad had passed away two days before we had a race. I went straight to the track -- yeah, on Friday I went to the racetrack and Helio was already racing, and Helio's dad was the first guy that came up to me and said, "I'm so sorry for what happened."

So we had very good moments in life, I think. We love each other, we hate each other more than anybody else in this room that you could possibly imagine. And I think this has been, I would say, a very, very healthy competition for me. I think he's been the reference for me and, I don't know, I can't speak for him but it's always like we came -- we grew up together, beating each other every time, racing against each other. We became teammates. At one point we went away different, in different series and we came back to the United States together. And ever since, you know, more or less I had a little bit of success here, he had there, he came to this place twice and won. I won my championship. He goes racing -- he is racing for a big team, and at the time I was racing for a smaller team, but he was always an inspiration, as well. Because I think seeing him doing good, I would say, well, I know what I can do against him, so that means it's not just about talent, it's about opportunities, as well.

So I think we had our good moments, we had our bad moments, we had our fights, and he knows I'm stubborn. I know he sings every morning at 6 in the morning, never stops all day and will be something that would get me in a bad mood, every day we had to drive to the racetrack. He was like, "Hey, hey, good morning." I'm like, "Good morning." I don't know, every year I come here I think is going to be my year, but I said that in the press conference yesterday. Every time people say, "You're so close here, and what's going to take to win?" I said, "When I feel bad about this place, I go talk to Michael Andretti, and then I really feel very good."

I don't know, I keep putting myself in a position. So we'll see.

CASTRONEVES: You know, as Tony mentioned, I remember obviously first time when we came to race for the same team here in America with Tasman, 1996, and man, we used to go everywhere, everywhere literally together and flying together, you know. Sleeping in the same room -- not together. Hold on, hold on, let me fix that. (Laughter)

In the same room. Yeah, that was going in the wrong direction.

KANAAN: We don't do this anymore, guys. That's OK.

CASTRONEVES: But we're very close to each other, which is natural, you know. No, hold on, let me fix that. But he went to Tasman IndyCar team and I went to Bettenhausen; that's when things started separating a little bit, which is natural. We were trying to become good race car drivers. I believe both of us had been working extremely hard, you know, in all the circumstances. And as you mentioned, you know, we love each other, we hate each other, but at the end of the day, I mean I do believe the guy upstairs looking after us, and it's giving us what we deserve.

As I being in the right place at the right time, won twice here. He won championships, but he's demonstrated he's a very competitive driver, and you don't need to ask me or anybody there, he shows there. So it's a good way. I remember we had a promise when we were kids like, hey, if you become famous, don't forget me. And I guess the good news is both of us are becoming successful in our sport, and we have to thank the guy upstairs.

Q: Dario, from a technical standpoint, how much adjustment is there during a qualifying run? Are you adjusting the car every corner, every lap, looking at the wind, how do you do that?

FRANCHITTI: I think it depends how close your car is to the limit and to the edge. I was in the situation yesterday where I was adjusting the car every corner and sometimes in the short chutes between (Turns) 3 and 4. So I was busy in the car the whole four laps. Not only does it change corner to corner with wind direction and stuff like that, but as the fuel lightens and the tires build pressure, it changes, as well. So you've got 16 different corners, and you're so close to the limit that you're dealing with such confines that it keeps -- it's a long time. You know, qualifying run, you watch somebody else going around, you think that looks easy. Come on, hurry up. But you're in the car, and it's a lonely time.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much for coming in, guys. Appreciate it.

-credit: ims

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Michael Andretti , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Peter Gibbons