IRL: Indy 500: Team Penske press conference, part 1

89th INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT Friday, May 13, 2005 Marlboro Team Penske: Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr. MODERATOR: We have quite a collection of racing talent with us here on the...

Friday, May 13, 2005

Marlboro Team Penske: Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr.

MODERATOR: We have quite a collection of racing talent with us here on the trackside media center. There's no question about that. Rarely do you get a lineup quite like this.

We have four time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears. A gentleman many believe was as smooth and as good as ever competed here. Sam Hornish Jr., winner this year at Phoenix. He won for the 13th time in his Indy Racing League IndyCar Series career. That's No. 1 all time. He's a two-time Indy Racing League champion. Down at the far end we now have the decrepit 30-year-old Helio Castroneves. Soon all the attention of good-looking women moves from you to good-looking middle-aged guys like me.

SAM HORNISH JR.: He says he doesn't know what "decrepit" means.

MODERATOR: It's like you are cranky and old.


I figured.

MODERATOR: Helio has his visage on the trophy twice, as you well know. He won the season-closing event at the Texas Motor Speedway. Team president Tim Cindric, a gentleman who has engineered many great runs for Marlboro Team Penske. Before we forget, the gentleman in the middle was the 1962 United States Auto Club Road Racing champion, Roger Penske. He began his racing career in 1958, retired after the 1965 season. We're coming on a 48th anniversary. Sam Hornish won the 120th Indy style race for Marlboro Team Penske.

This team has won 13 times at the Indianapolis 500 and there have been 11 national champions that have ran through Marlboro Team Penske.

Roger, you came here and won with Mark Donohue. As I was thinking about your run here, I suspect when you won here with Mark, it involved a variety of things. It involved finding the right driver, surrounding him with the right people, having finances and doing all that hard work that you did with Mark on the skid pad, trying to find the right combination to go fast. I would assume those ingredients for success have never changed. Welcome back to Indianapolis.

ROGER PENSKE: Thank you. We welcome all you here today. Obviously, this is another race, another year. What we've done in the past only gives us experience. I've said it before. We probably have over 800 years of experience on our team this year as you add up each one of us that have been to the track and have competed here in the past.

We build on that from the standpoint of loyalty from our people, and certainly turnover is important in any business. The less turnover you have when you look at our crew chiefs, Rick Rinaman, Matt Jonsson, these are fellows that started in the organization at the bottom and have worked their way up. Many of the people in our company, quite honestly, that's really the progression and our mission.

From the Indianapolis perspective here in 2005, we talk about drivers. Rick obviously has set the standard with four wins for us. He's been a valuable coach for Helio and for Sam. Helio this morning, I saw him talking with Rick about a certain corner, some of the things that they were talking about vis-a-vis the racetrack this year.

We've been fortunate to have success here. I guess, as you know, we've had some disappointments. Here they are worrying about fielding 33 cars. I was here in '95 when we couldn't even get in the race. That's the great part of this race. We talk about other types of racing, but I think winning the Indy 500 for me has been the ultimate. It continues to be. One isn't any better than the other. The one we're worrying about is the one we're involved in here in 2005.

With Sam's experience, and certainly he was a guy, I've said it many times, was beating us like a drum as we came into IRL. To get him on our team, we were very fortunate. There's no question of his capability.

Helio, having won this race back to back proved that he can qualify well, he can race well, he can win here. I think that's important.

To me, we've elected, not because we couldn't run three or four or five cars, certainly if you've got four good cars, statistics say you might have a better chance. But what we've tried to do is stay with the team that we have, the two people, and move forward on that basis.

I think there's a lot going on out on the track the last few days. I like the compressed schedule. It saves us time, money, tires and also risk. Let's have the risk in the race and not just because we're trying to run so many laps during the month of May.

From our perspective, where are we as we enter into qualifying tomorrow? Both drivers have been over 225 miles an hour. We've been trying to run the majority of our laps in four-lap segments just to see how we can be consistent because it's not one fast lap here, it's got to be 10 miles. I think people were surprised, Sam sitting on the pole in Motegi. Our race pace was not as good as we expected it to be. Hopefully it will be different here in 500 miles.

There's lots of cars that can sit on a pole. I guess our goal first is to try to be in the top 11 so we can be set tomorrow and then move on to the next important piece, which is race setups, and then getting our car prepared from a quality perspective and reliability as we go forward.

The month has gone well. I think certainly the track has a lot of grip. There's no question. Rusty (Wallace) called me last night, said, "Tell me about the track. Is it OK?" There's been lots of stories. I think the track is in fine shape.

I think the new qualifying procedure, we need something different. I think change is good. This will make an interesting day tomorrow because there will be a lot of competition, not just for the pole, but you've got two races going on tomorrow: one for the pole and one to be in the top 11. I think that's going to create some interest and some strategy. The fact that you can run the same car and not have to run back and get another car, I think that's taken the complexity out and let us focus on qualifying.

I'm pretty excited for tomorrow. I think our chances in the race are as good as they've ever been. What we need to do is execute. Last year Sam had a great chance, got in the lead, then we bungled it in the pits for him, got in the back, then was in an accident. What we need to do is have a non-defect day on Memorial Day.

MODERATOR: Tim, obviously in more the modern phase of Marlboro Team Penske, you had two drivers that not only produced for you but got along famously. We're talking about Gil de Ferran, who left on top with the victory at Texas, and his good friend Helio Castroneves, who won twice. You're in your second year of working with this tandem of drivers. To hear them talk, they feel as if they're beginning to mesh themselves in terms of the chemistry. How about from your perspective? In many ways you have lots of talent, but sometimes having lots of talent puts additional pressure on you to get that talent going in the same direction.

TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, for sure. I think one thing that we emphasize more than anything else is it's a team. It's Team Penske, it's not two individuals competing under the same banner, but it's a team. It takes a while to create that chemistry. People forget, the only thing that Gil and Helio had in common when they first came is they were both Brazilian and they both drove race cars. They weren't big buddies before that. It took a while.

For me, at the end of the 2000 when Gil won the championship in CART, Helio was trying to prove himself in our organization, as was Gil. When Helio came here and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2001, I think that balanced the scale a little bit. Then they continued to grow together because they got that monkey off their back.

Sam coming into our organization, being from a one-car team, not really knowing how to adjust for a teammate, that type of thing, it took a while to really learn how to work together. That's not a fault of Sam or Helio or what have you. But now, again, Sam had his success in the first race, Helio won the last race of the year. I can see a similar progression as we go forward. The only one that's not working completely against you out there is your teammate.

MODERATOR: Let's open it up to questions.

Q: Roger, a year ago in the New York Times you had a piece that got people talking again in open-wheel racing about getting the two groups involved back together. There's been some meetings, including somewhat recently. Would you still vote to see one open-wheel series? Do you think there's been any progress in that direction?

PENSKE: I certainly feel it would be nice to have one group, then we could be talking about one series, getting all the momentum behind one open-wheel formula. I've not been involved in any of the discussions at this point. I was real disappointed that we had a very fair opportunity and it was a time that we could have put this together, which could have been very effective I think in 2005. But the parties didn't want to get together based on what was discussed.

I'm really not involved in it at all now.

Q: Roger, along those same lines, this is the 10th running since the split. Do you feel that this race particularly has healed within the racing community and also do you feel that it's healed, as far as the American public is concerned, being involved with NASCAR, too, how much of an avalanche to get out from under does this race face with just the onslaught of publicity of NASCAR?

PENSKE: Well, I think that if you look at the three races that they have here, the Indy 500 from a fan perspective and the number of tickets they sell is No. 1. Then I guess the Brickyard would be No. 2 and the Formula One race would be No. 3. There's no question that it's maintained its prestige as an event.

Our matriculation over here a couple years ago, the fact that Rahal came here, the fact you have Newman/Haas running here, you're getting the best oval racers or open-wheel racers in North America, the teams competing here, which I think is what we want. That's only going to drive this. You're going to see some great racing.

Quite honestly, I look at the races that I've been to over the last year in IRL, and the finishes, the strategies have been as close as I've ever seen. Sometimes many more passes than you see in NASCAR on a weekend. But from the standpoint of the onslaught of NASCAR, you know, NASCAR is a different business. They've had a consistent leadership for 30 plus years. They run 38 times. We run 15 or 16 times. We have open wheels. They have closed wheels. I don't think you can compare the vehicles.

Unfortunately, because of the split, there's a lot of people that dropped off the open-wheel bandwagon and go other places. We always seem to talk about the negatives that are going on in the open-wheel sport where there's a lot of positive every night. NASCAR nation, this is always about stories. I think what we need to do, the first question really was, can we get it together? I'm an advocate of that. I'd do whatever I could to try to see that happen. We'll just have to see.

I think the matriculation to road racing, we had a very successful St. Petersburg race. We're going to go to Watkins Glen. We're going to go to Infineon on the West Coast. That will open up some new markets. Time will tell.

I thought it would have been back together two or three years ago. I'm probably not a good one to predict the future.

Q: Roger, I hate to belabor the point, but you've got an awful lot invested in your move over here. You have a lot of reputation that you've staked in coming over to the IRL. Do you feel that there's a coherent direction with the way the series is trying to sell itself? From time to time, it seems there doesn't seem a real coherent plan to try to create interest in the other events throughout the series.

PENSKE: Well, when you have momentum, you can make mistakes, and people don't see it. I think, you know, with open-wheel racing, we don't have the kind of momentum you'd like to have in a sport, and therefore the problems we have get magnified.

I'm committed. I know there's been some stories that I'm getting out because we have this Porsche program. That's absolutely not the fact. It was an opportunity that came to us, and we have always been in multiple series. We're fully committed. We're going to run a two-car team. We've got a great sponsor. I'm going to stay in it as long as I'm physically able to and try to be here when we have one series. We've got the drivers. Certainly Tim has come into the team and has longevity for many miles ahead of me for the future. We're going to be open-wheel racers. We're going to look at other series, there's no question. But I don't think that you could say today that I'm disappointed. I'm more in the fact, what can I do to try to make it better? That's really why I get up every morning.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Rick Mears , Roger Penske , Mark Donohue , Sam Hornish Jr. , Sam Hornis
Teams Team Penske