87th Indianapolis 500 press conference May 9, 2003, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Part 1 of 2 Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran. Moderator: Welcome back to the MCI Media Center. Team Penske is here with us.
87th Indianapolis 500 press conference May 9, 2003, Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Part 1 of 2
Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran.
Moderator: Welcome back to the MCI Media Center. Team Penske is here with us. Kind of interesting, Roger Penske has won the Indianapolis 500 12 times, going for the baker's dozen, 12 times. He has two drivers responsible for half that total here: Rick Mears, obviously, who is a consultant with the team, now also with the Infiniti Pro Series. Helio Castroneves, the two-time defending champion, and joining those three, Gil de Ferran, great gentleman and driver in his own right, and president of Penske Racing, Tim Cindric. Great to have you with us. Roger, a comment from you about the month of May up to this point. Both of your drivers have been very fast. I don't think we've seen them out of the top five all month long.
Roger Penske: I think this has certainly been a different month for us, if you compare to it 2001 and 2002. Certainly 2001, we were coming here, you know, with the shadow overhanging us of not qualifying in 1995. We got in the race, obviously had a great finish, 1-2. Last year, you know, as we saw the Infinitis, saw the power of some of the engines, we were a little concerned. Were we going to get in the first day? Obviously we did. We didn't qualify up front where we would have liked to. I think this year with our Toyota motor program, the consistency of that product and our ability to work with them right from the beginning has really worked. We're building our own engines this year, so this is the first time in a number of years since prior to going to Honda that we've built our own engines here at the Speedway. The last time really was in '94 when we won. We know the consistency of the motors. Our guys back at the shop have done just an outstanding job in execution, knock on wood, our reliability has been good. The power looks, you know, very favorable based on what we know. I think that the competition for qualifying, you know, we weren't a competitor for qualifying on the pole the last two years. We have been, obviously, in previous years, and I think we're back in the hunt. I would not say here today that the two drivers here are assured the front row. I think we have a great chance for it. As you can see from the times, I think I looked yesterday, 21 cars were within one second. That's a very, very tight field on a two-and-a-half-mile racetrack. So the competition is going to be tough. It's going to mean what's the weather, what's the draw, and do you have your car set up based on those conditions? To me, there's probably eight or nine people that can be on the pole. So that's a different scenario for us. Good news is, you know, we've had the opportunity to run, had some good weather here the last several days. We didn't quite have that last year, so we've had a chance to evaluate the chassis. We've made the decision, Helio will stick with the Dallara, which he's run in all the races so far this year, and Gil will run the (Panoz) G Force. So I guess we're kind of splitting the deck. There wasn't any clear distinction that would have made both drivers go in the same direction. That probably is a pretty good validation that you have two solid car manufacturers supplying vehicles to the teams that are very, very competitive. I can assure you one thing: If we thought one was a lot better than the other, you know, we would have gone ahead and kept the drivers in the same vehicle. Also, you know, the reason we did that back in early testing at California, it looked like the G Force was much faster on the big ovals. As it turned out, it wasn't. There's a much closer tolerance between the two vehicles. So we have the opportunity to evaluate that. We had a good session. You might want to talk to the drivers about that. But, you know, month to date has been favorable for the team. It's great to be back here. It's great to see guys like Andretti and that team back. You can see how strong they were. Certainly Kanaan and Dixon, people that kind of have been under the weather, along with Gil back here, are 100 percent, so we're going to see a terrific race.
Moderator: Quick comment from Rick and Tim before we talk to Gil and Helio. Rick, from your perspective as a former driver, observing what you've seen, both of your team and the rest of the teams out there, your impressions so far the month of May.
Rick Mears: I think Roger hit it pretty close. It's going to be very competitive. Twenty-one cars within a second shows that. It's going to be very critical as far as qualifying goes, especially like Roger said, what the conditions are, reading what those conditions are and making the last final little small subtle changes to get the car exactly where you need it, to get the most out of it for four laps. That's what's going to be the key. You know, they're all very close, but then also in the times you aren't sure who has how much of a draft from other cars. You know, until actual qualifying time comes, it's hard to know exactly where you stand. So it's going to be very interesting.
Moderator: Tim, you've had a busy six or seven weeks at the shop and on the road in Japan, back here, rebuilding cars from the team aspect. How is the month of May going?
Tim Cindric: Really, everything considered, obviously the weather has helped us out in terms of our evaluation process. We hoped to be a lot further along than what we were at this point in time. With Gil's accident in Phoenix, it put us back a bit in terms of what our initial plan was. Alex (Barron) did a great job of filling in. I can't say enough about our team in terms of what they've done over the last two or three months. From my perspective, it's certainly a matter of trying to keep it all straight, where these guys are really the ones doing the work. So hats off to those guys, as usual. To be part of a team, you know, we'll do whatever it takes to win this event. It tells you how special it is to Roger and this organization as well as our sponsors. From our perspective right now, we've gone through a week. I know Gil has been through a lot between getting back in the seat and running a car he hasn't run before. As far as our decisions and that type of thing, obviously as Roger said, they're very close. Helio has won this race twice in a Dallara. He's going to try it three times in a Dallara. They've been a great organization for us, as has G Force in a short period of time. We really have two great manufacturers in the series. We just need to go execute on Race Day.
Moderator: Gil, you've been amazingly consistent so far through the first five days of practice. Is that the key this to place, coming here and getting fast quickly and remaining there?
Gil de Ferran: Well, I think so. Certainly like Tim alluded to, I mean, for me I had two processes to go through. First of all, you know, I need to get myself back up to speed. I have to admit to you that after that first day on opening practice, you know, I didn't feel like I was driving particularly well. But then on the second day, everything clicked. You know, I had a good feeling for the car again. You know, it all felt normal, and I was quickly back up to speed again. You know, then it was a method of really evaluating both cars in all sorts of different conditions, you know, both track conditions and also qualifying trim and race trim. Really, like everybody said, there was very, very little to choose from. I was fast in the Dallara, and I was also fast in the G Force. You know, I ended up choosing the G Force because, you know, we were a little bit faster on that car. But, you know, I've been very, very pleased with the way the month has been going up to date, you know. So I realize there's still a lot of work to do, both today, tomorrow and next week, hopefully preparing for the race, and we just got to keep our heads down here and keep ourselves, you know, right on target.
Moderator: Helio, in the weeks leading up to the month of May you talked about the chance-of-a-lifetime opportunity to make motorsports history, how you were looking forward to the month. How is it going so far and is it so far everything that you were hoping for?
Helio Castroneves: As I keep saying, I'm going to enjoy this moment because motor racing, you never know what's going to happen. And, for sure, it's been very fortunate to come over here in Indianapolis and be very successful. And right now I'm doing exactly what I did the last two years, you know. So obviously it's a lot of hard work for everyone, as everybody is saying here about our team. But that's why it's fun about. You know, we are coming here, we know we have good equipment. Everybody's really committed to do our best. And, again, it's been wonderful so far. It's obvious the field is very competitive, very tight. As Roger said, we do have a chance, we have two fast cars, and we just have to keep focused on our job. Whatever happens hopefully happens in a good way.
Moderator: Marlboro Team Penske with us this morning. We also want to welcome all of you joining us on the teleconference. We'll open it up for questions.
Q: Roger, because of what happened to you in '95, do you go into qualifying now maybe more nervous than you did in, say, the '80s, early '90s? Do you come in maybe with your guns blazing a little more be you did back then on qualifying? Second part is, how do you see the state of IndyCar racing today? Is it going to take some time, considering all this NASCAR deluge, or is NASCAR something that this might balance out over a period of years?
Penske: I think any time I've been trying to qualify at Indy, I'm on pins and needles because it's not if you're going to get qualified, it's just sitting in that car with the driver for four laps, being sure he executes and doesn't make a mistake. You can get yourself to the top of the hill; you can certainly fall off really quickly on qualifying day. I think all of us on the team always are on edge. I don't think that we have any different offense. We did not count on a pole position in 2001 or 2002. I think that we're one of the cars or two cars that have a chance this year, but I certainly know that we've got some very, very tough competition. So, you know, we're going to address qualifying as we always have: carefully, confident that we have the right combination. I think the process this past week has been excellent. Our guys sit down, they talk, they look at information. In fact, we have someone from NASA with us here this week that's gathering all the data, just looking at consistencies of different situations that they're seeing on the racetrack. In fact, you know, we looked at data yesterday of all the cars that ran fast, how many of them where we had at least six seconds behind the car in front of them. It's one thing to look at cars when you're drafting, and another thing to look at cars six seconds behind. That's typically a straightaway. A lot of things we're starting to see the differences. We're getting down to the fine line. On the NASCAR-IndyCar side, open-wheel side, I think that we really have to look at this thing as an evolution and a longer-term process. The amount of money that's been invested in tracks across the country has been tremendous. As we started at California Speedway, Chicago, Kansas City, on and on and on, the money that's been spent, the money invested here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you cannot afford to run tracks with just one event or maybe two NASCAR races, you've got to have other events. I think that's been the success here at the Speedway, with the Brickyard, the Formula One race, it's made it really a racing complex well known around the world. And I think that what's happening now. Obviously you have a number of the teams that have moved over to IRL. I think, you know, having the Speedway as the anchor to the series, obviously, is a plus, like having the Masters or the Super Bowl. I think it's a very, very important link to open-wheel motorsports. And with that the teams will start to see the discipline here. The racing has never been closer, the by-product or the product is what you're seeing today, 20 cars within a second. It's like a NASCAR qualifying. You'll see that tomorrow. And what we need to do from a team perspective, from a sponsor perspective, is some way communicate this to this fan base, that this thing is coming together. Obviously CART has a mission. They're more international. They're sticking to road racing; it's really their mission. That's OK, too. But I think at the end of the day, if it was my choice, I'd like to see one series. And I made my call, I mean, I was involved with CART for a long time, but I made my call to come back to the IRL, Indy, open-wheel racing. That's where I saw races at Phoenix as a young guy, saw Mario (Andretti) run, Bobby Unser, on ovals. That's what prepared people to win Indianapolis. I see it coming together. The economy today, obviously people talk about sponsors, it's tough out there. You know, we've gone through the last three years with really very little growth. In fact, they're talking about deflation right now. So it's hard to get sponsors to step up. The technology has gone up. One of the things we'll say here, we have these cars, this is the first year of a three-year program. We'll run these same cars for three years. There will be enhancements, but one you can buy for $30,000 or $40,000. The engine manufacturers are in here now. Those are the things we'll start to build a more solid foundation for the future. I think you're going to see this thing move on. I can assure you that Bill France and ISC, they made their decision to go with IRL because they knew that they needed to have other events at those racetracks other than one NASCAR race. I'm confident that we're going to see progress here. We need the support of the media, the teams and the sponsors. I'd say right now, you know, the plane is up, we're in the air, we're gaining altitude; we just need to gain some speed.