Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Marlboro Team Penske May 10, 2002 Moderator: Pat Sullivan Guests: Roger Penske Tim Cindric Rick Mears Helio Castroneves Gil De Ferran Pat Sullivan: It's a pleasure to be able to say good morning on a sunny...
Indianapolis 500 Press Conference
Marlboro Team Penske
May 10, 2002
Moderator: Pat Sullivan
Gil De Ferran
Pat Sullivan: It's a pleasure to be able to say good morning on a sunny morning here at Indianapolis. We're delighted that you've joined us here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We've got an esteemed group, obviously, at the front of the room of course, headed by a gentleman who has tasted victory here 11 times at Indianapolis, Roger Penske. I always like to remind people that Roger began his career as a very talented racer and, in my opinion, raised the bar in American sports-car racing significantly; and I believe this summer will mark the 40th anniversary of a very significant victory at the L.A. Times Grand Prix at Riverside, which was a very significant victory. Roger, of course, was victorious in the United States Road Racing Championship with Mark Donohue. He was victorious in Can-Am, Trans-Am, NASCAR and, obviously, he has had tremendous success here at Indianapolis. We're delighted that the president of Penske Racing, Tim Cindric, is with us. Tim, of course, is a native of Indianapolis. He's a graduate of Rose-Hulman Institute and, obviously, has really done a tremendous job in terms of really moving this Marlboro Team Penske team once again right to the front. I look now to Rick Mears. I enjoy saying this, I'm a native Kansan. I like to point out that he is, in fact, from Kansas, although we associate him with California. He's a four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. I think one of the hallmarks all of you would agree of Rick Mears, any time someone has success in any endeavor, it is usually the case that the crowd and the fans tend to turn against them. Not so with this gentleman. He remained one of the most popular drivers really in America. As you know, you have reached icon status when you have a bobblehead made in your likeness. (Laughter) I look over to a gentleman we've gotten to know a lot more this year. He's a two-time CART champion, Gil de Ferran. Let me say that Gil, who has won seven times in his Indy-car career, this year has been a picture of consistency in the Indy Racing League. Two turns away from a victory at Nazareth, his worst finish this year has been a fourth. But beyond that, Gil, I'd like to say something on behalf of the officials of the Indy Racing League and someone with the media: To deal with someone with your level of professionalism and class has been an absolute pleasure. We enjoy it the way you conduct yourself with your participants, we enjoy the way you deal with your crew, and you set a great standard for professionalism and we appreciate that a great deal. This gentleman, of course, comes in as the defending Indianapolis 500 champion. I think all of us would agree that this sport needs people to be interested and enthused about auto racing across the demographic spectrum. This young man has electrified audiences of all ages. He's a spectacular racer, and these two went one and two last year. I also must know in his bio that he says his hobby is Brazilian beaches and women.
If I was as handsome as he was and as fast as he was, I might be able to list those as my hobbies, as well. This is a very exciting group of people we have in front of us, and I think it would be only appropriate, Roger, we're going to turn it over to you now for some general comments.
Tim Cindric: Helio wants everybody to know it's his birthday today. Want to get that out of the way.
Helio Castroneves: Two point 7. (Laughter)
Roger Penske: It's a pleasure for us to be here. Obviously, the last time we were here was at the end of the race last year; and the finish was outstanding to see both cars finishing one-two and so close and yet Helio, certainly it was his day winning the race. It was a big win for us because, you know, we had been back here in 1994 and '93 and been successful winning those races and yet came back in '95 and didn't win. Then with the CART/IRL situation, we basically, you know, were gone. We made the commitment to come back. I think that Tim Cindric really gets the credit for last year because he was the one that even the year before that had put together a plan. He came here, he worked with Treadway during the race to start to understand the cars and we really had a, I would say, a very solid plan. We ran at Phoenix, I remember reading some article that said how we fizzled out there, but I can tell you we might have fizzled, but the information that we were able to obtain through that one race was outstanding from the standpoint of reliability, the drivers understanding the ability to drive these cars. They didn't have the power that the turbocharged cars had, but I think that year is over. We certainly had a great season, Helio winning the `500' and then Gil coming back for the second championship. That really set the stage for us to make a business decision, a decision where do we go in 2002. There's been a lot of speculation, you know, why did we move over to IRL? But I want to say this, that from our perspective we looked at the future of our sponsors. Obviously Philip Morris USA was interested in U.S. racing. As the racing was moving more and more outside the country, that became an issue. Not a big issue, but it was a situation that they would rather see us running here. Also, from the standpoint of the Attorneys General, there was no question that you had to be in one series or the other. As you know, we took our logos off the car last year to be sure we were in compliance. It was very important to us and to Philip Morris. So we decided to come IRL racing. I would say we've been received with open arms. It's a professional organization. I think the decisions are made quickly. I take my hat off to Brian Barnhart. We know Brian, Brian worked for us. He was one of the smartest guys on our crew. I remember many times during a race, he tapped me on the shoulder and said, `Did you see that? Did you see that?' So he was in his game. That's some of the things we see here, he can make a decision. The rest of the folks involved in the officiating certainly have done a good job. So I think that was a good basket for us to jump into. The first four races have been very, very competitive. Qualifying probably all 20 cars within a second makes a huge difference. You're going to see qualifying here tomorrow very, very competitive. I think my goal here is to see both organizations end up in some way together with an opportunity to have one open-wheel series. Obviously, they're going down two different paths.
We have one oval- and we have one road-racing series. At some point, someone will have to make a decision. But our team is committed this year to IRL, it's committed next year and the following year. We have no plans to run CART next year. Anything that people might say, the drivers are committed, we extended the drivers' contracts. Going forward, Helio, there has been conversation or speculation in the press about Formula One. When he started driving for us, we talked about that. I said if he had the opportunity to get a Formula One ride, as Montoya did, as other people had, I would be the first one to be supportive. Obviously, I've had some different conversations with people in Formula One, I can't really comment today who they are. If Helio would get a chance for a test, I think that would be terrific, because we could have brought a guy on that has performed for us, let him move on in his career. But at this point there's no -- there's nothing to report at this time. So we're looking forward to tomorrow. The times are going to be fast, and that's all I have.
Sullivan: Thanks very much, Roger. We'll have an opportunity for some questions in a few minutes. Tim, I think the record of the Marlboro Team Penske team is obvious. It has set a standard for excellence for many years. But like all dynasties, whether it's the Montreal Canadiens or Boston Celtics or New York Yankees, all great dynasties go through lulls and valleys. You have been given credit for really turning the ship around. Of course, the gentleman to your right won the 100th Indy-style race for Roger Penske at Nazareth (in 2000). It must bring you great pleasure to see the success you've had. Tell us a little bit about what's going to be different this year coming back as a defending champion and having had four races under your belt this year with the Indy Racing League.
Cindric: I think biggest thing is last year we were working on the broad strokes of what we needed to prepare for this race. We've had the ability with four races under our belt to really plan for the month and look at the details because the cars in the series is a very detail-oriented program. But most importantly, last year we took two very good drivers, and you see it here this week with Tracy, Franchitti, these type of guys. They've proven themselves in CART, and they've come here and they've struggled a little bit to get up to speed and to get to the forefront of where they need to be. Last year we went through that learning curve, and it wasn't until about this day last year that we started to get into our stride. I think we've achieved that a bit earlier this year. Helio has been there on the top of the time charts throughout the week, and that's something we didn't have last year. We weren't off and running from the beginning. We were playing catch-up throughout. So hopefully we just continue to gain the momentum through the month and see if Race Day we put ourselves in a position to defend. But who knows?
Sullivan: I think that's pretty good odds. Helio, not only have you come in as the defending Indianapolis 500 winner but you also scored a victory this year at Phoenix, a very exciting race there. As Tim Cindric mentioned, it's been obvious that you have been consistent and fast all week. Tell us what it's like to be the defending Indianapolis 500 winner coming back here. This guy knows a little bit of what that's like, and just give us a sense of how the month is going for you.
Castroneves: I'll be honest, first day when I came here on opening day Sunday, I did have a little butterfly on the stomach going on. But it's fantastic to see the crowd calling your name and, you know, cheering you up. It's really a special moment. But like Tim, like Roger, like everyone, the team saying last year was last year. So we have to grab what was good from last year, what we learned from last year and put again this year. But again, the competition, the track is different, the circumstances are going to be different, and we're going to be as well prepared for any kind of situation that might happen during the race. Last year we had even rain during the race. This year we have more competitors, and so far we're just trying to keep a basic, solid setup and not trying to do too much, which I'm very happy. It's been a fantastic time so far.
Sullivan: Very good. Gil, you have a very interesting record in Indianapolis. In 1995, you were caught up in the accident with Stan Fox. You completed one lap. You went the distance last year and, of course, finished second to your teammate. You have been, as I've noted, consistent. You run up front, you obviously take good care of your equipment and you find yourself in a position, obviously, to contend for an Indianapolis 500 victory, but also for an Indy Racing League championship. Congratulations being a champion two times in your career. That's a very difficult thing to accomplish. Talk to us about the month of May, how things are going for you.
Gil de Ferran: Sure. First, thank you for all the very nice compliments. I think for me the month has been slightly more difficult than what it's been for Helio. I kind of struggled a little bit all week to find a little bit of speed and really looking forward to a good day today with clear skies. I really need the track time to get a couple of things sorted out. But I'm quite confident that from what we learned throughout the week that we'll be able to get everything together and hopefully pull some good speeds come qualifying.
Sullivan: We're sure you will. Well, obviously Mark Donohue came and began to establish the standard for Penske Racing here at Indianapolis. But the gentleman who took it to the next level, without question, is the man we'll turn our attention to next. If class is a benchmark of this organization, this guy certainly helps establish that standard. One of the things, Rick, I always think about when I see you in these gatherings is you are a guy in my mind who quit the game while clearly still on the top. I always have to ask you this question: Once in a while late in the middle of the night, do you look up at the ceiling and say, `I could have got No. 5?' (Laughter)
Rick Mears: Yes. (Laughter) No, you know, I was very, very fortunate to be able to accomplish what we have here and to be with the right people and the right team and organization to be able to put those numbers together. That is what has made it all happen. But this place, you never know. You know, I never dreamed of coming here to begin with. I always thought that was way out of my league. So to be fortunate to even get here was one thing and then to win it was something else, and to win it more than once was incredible. So just right place, right time, right support, and a lot of help from a lot of people to make it happen. So this race, you never know, and after we went down the road a ways after winning the first one, when you get to looking around you think, `Wow, we won one, and we may never win another one.' And fortunate enough to win a second, you look around and say there's not too many people to have won two. So to continue on the way we did was just fantastic; and, again, you've got to put it to the team and the people who make it happen.
Sullivan: On behalf of the Speedway, thank you for your many contributions really to this place that's so clearly etched in the history of this oval. We appreciate the way you conducted yourself throughout. It was a pleasure.
Mears: Thank you very much.