IRL: Indy 500: Team penske press conference, part II

87th Indianapolis 500 press conference May 9, 2003, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Part 2 of 2 Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran. Q: Gil and Helio, what decisions did you use in deciding to go with a ...

87th Indianapolis 500 press conference May 9, 2003, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Part 2 of 2

Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Gil de Ferran.

Q: Gil and Helio, what decisions did you use in deciding to go with a particular chassis you chose? What did you use to evaluate that? What pushed you in either the G Force or Dallara direction? Helio, specifically, you won twice with that, so you stick with what works?

Castroneves: Well, I feel more comfortable with the Dallara. I mean, obviously we're trying to bring it up to G Force with speed. We try everything. I've been here before actually this month start doing exactly the same tests, and basically we just trying just back and forth. Seems that for me, something, the car was going more comfortable. I was able to feel much better during all four corners, able to translate better for the engineers. And I guess that's why I made the call, you know. Also we're not looking only for a fast car, but a car stable in the race, which that's what really is more important, you know. So basically all these things. We had great engineers looking back and forth to see what would be the best option. And, for sure, the Dallara in my case came to be the best option. And, as well, I mean, I did won two Indianapolis with the chassis. So the team that's winning, why you going to change?

Moderator: Gil.

de Ferran: For me, let's put it this way, if I had another month to think about it, I'll probably take the extra month (laughter). You know, I mean, with the limited time I had, we really tried to analyze both cars from all sorts of different perspectives and qualifying trim and race trim and everything else. Like Tim and Roger said earlier, the reality is they came extremely close, you know, I mean very, very close indeed. I mean, I was fast in qualifying trim and in race trim on both cars. I was surprised by how quickly I was able to get up to speed in the G Force, and ultimately that ended up being our choice. I think it will give us an opportunity to evaluate the car further. I don't think that choice will make us win or lose the race, to be quite honest. I think it's a matter of preparation and execution. So it was important actually that we didn't delay the decision any further. We were able to concentrate on one product only because that was really going to make more of a difference than which product we ended up choosing. I have to say my decision is actually much closer I think than Helio, because we were very, very close on either car.

Unidentified speaker: Despite the fact they're on different chassis, they ran identical laps yesterday.

Q: Roger, you say you have NASA, whatever. What kind of four-lap reading were you getting off of some of your reports? Helio and Gil, how much over the course of four laps does your car - do you feel your car comes to you or goes away from you during the course of qualifying?

Penske: Let me answer the first question. What we did see, we saw we were able to maybe pick up time based on what we saw from the splits on other cars. You know, that information we're going to try to utilize today and work to get a little more speed out of the car. We saw where we were faster, and we saw where we were slower. You have a lot of split times. The nice thing here today, you get all the data for all the cars going through certain segments of the track. You can determine were you faster in the straightaways or the corners. What we were trying to do with this data is link all that up based on, again, taking it where someone is running lap times without a draft. I think it's been quite helpful and we're going to deal with that today.

Castroneves: Certainly, Firestone did a great job coming with different compound or construction. At least the tire is really able to hold him up a little bit more. I've been able to do pretty good runs, you know, consistent with more laps than it used to, but especially more laps than last year. Last year it was tough to keep speed up after two or three outings. For sure, right now it's been very tough. The weather sometimes is kind of hot and then comes a little bit cooler. And that basically, believe it or not, change the balance sometimes of the car. But the good news is I've been able to keep in a good pace. We just hope not happen last year that we are right up there on top of the charge, all of a sudden we disappear (laughter). So hopefully we're going to be in a good shape for tomorrow.

de Ferran: I think Helio really hit the nail on the head there when he mentioned the tires. Really, Firestone came with a very good tire this year, much more durable than last year, and that really has allowed us to work more on the car, how can I say, do a more methodical work on setting the car. Your question really is the key to the whole qualifying process. You know, you can actually make a car that is faster over one lap, but to keep the car under you for four laps is really the biggest challenge about Indianapolis qualifying procedures. So, you know, we've been working on that. Like Helio, I've been very happy, been doing very fast time with 30-lap tires. You know, when we go out with new rubber, we've been able to maintain great consistency. So far that's what I mean, the month has been going OK. So we've been keenly aware of that requirement and been working toward making it better and better.

Q: Roger, you talked about you're running two different chassis. Some people might look at it as hedging your bets. It's cost you in terms of man-hours and money. Is there a way to quantify it, how much extra effort it is to prepare two different chassis for the team?

Penske: Well, I would say that we have the same number of people in our organization; they've just doubled up to do the work. From a manpower perspective, we got more productivity if you want to put it in current terms (laughter) - from both the drivers and the team. You know, the cars are about $300,000 apiece. The good news is that these cars will be saleable. It wasn't as if we were buying them at the end of a three-year run. So to me it was an investment. Look, this is a race that's so important to us, you know, we were not going to wind up being here in a car that we felt wasn't going to be competitive. The good news is we're on the right track, and we got the information we wanted. We'll move on from there.

Q: Rick, is there any sandbagging anymore? When you were still driving here, was there sandbagging?

Mears: Never, never. No, I think today, from my point of view, I always had to see a number myself, you know, to make sure exactly I knew exactly where I was at. I think the real key, Gil hit on it, is the four-lap average. When you get in the car, and you're ready to qualify, you try to make the car as consistent as possible. But once the green flag drops, you become the engineer because you can't come back into the pit to make a change. You're limited on how many changes you can make in the car with adjustments. So then you have to exhaust that and then go to your pattern, where you're out on the racetrack, the engineer of the car, trying to keep that four-lap average up. All of that combined, it's just tight today. As far as sandbagging goes, I never knew what I was going to run 'til the day came. I don't think there's a lot of it going on.

Q: (Inaudible)?

de Ferran1y: In my mind, I got better things to worry about, you know (laughter). This sort of situation, to be honest, any race weekend, you know, I really concentrate on my own issues and not what everybody else is thinking and stuff like that. I always figure that's the best approach, is really to understand what your problems are, to work on your issues, and if you done a good job of that, typically you come out fairly well once the curtain is open. I really don't pay much attention to is there anybody looking, what's going on here, there and everywhere.

Castroneves: Basically, I try to see what I can do on my own, you know, the sandbagging, when you're going and trying to get a draft, if you can put your name on top of the chart. Obviously, we've been doing pretty consistent during the week running by ourselves, trying to make as much accurate as possible where to be in a qualifying position. Yeah, sometimes it's impossible because you have so many cars out there, and you just have to evaluate the run and trying to see if that was good or not. But, yes, if your car go fast, obviously it's going to go fast as well in a draft, and we know what's happening outside there. But our key is to keep inside, make sure everything, all the pieces are together, especially for four laps, and hopefully we have a good performance.

Q: Tim, you may be the first Penske team manager who has had to deal with two different chassis in the race in almost 20 years. Can you explain what the challenges that you're going to experience are knowing that you've been running Dallara since the team came to the IRL, now you'll have two different sets of parts, suspensions, everything else to deal with.

Cindric: Sure. First of all, I think that history has occurred in 1987, is that correct, with Al (Unser) Sr.? But beyond that, keeping track of the parts and so forth, I mean, we joked about it quite a bit this week, that the word Dallara gets confused for the word G Force. They know what you mean, but you're saying the opposite. There's a lot of that going on the past month or so, especially with the guys that keep track of the parts. It's like this morning, I walked in the garages, the first thing I said, "It looks like these garages are a lot bigger today." We went from I think on Wednesday it was we ran five different cars with these two guys. Yesterday we brought it back down to three. Today hopefully it will be two. I'm sure we'll shakedown a backup car. Keeping track of the parts and that type of thing has been really another key point for the strength of our organization because at this point in time we've run six of the eight cars this month. All those cars have been well over 225, so it's not like we just ran them out here, make sure all the parts are put together properly. We ran those six cars in anger. Knock on wood, to this point in time, we're batting a thousand. You know, you never know the point at which you drop your guard, maybe that's the point in time when something goes the wrong way. But, you know, right now it's a lot more refreshing this morning to sit back and say, "OK, this is the one, this is the other one. Let's go do it."

Q: Helio, we've never talked about your superstitions. You mentioned you're trying to do as many things as possible this year as you did the last couple of years in order to get your third win. Can you talk a little bit about what some of those things might be, what some of the patterns you're trying to repeat are in order to repeat your victory?

Castroneves: Obviously, it's difficult to remember a year ago. I don't remember what I had for breakfast this morning (laughter). Basically it's one of those things, you know, when I say that I'm doing exactly the same thing, it's the way I'm conducting and approaching to the Speedway. Basically, people ask me if I feel a lot of pressure or if I'm nervous. Yes, all of those things is part of the game. But, on the same time, I'm having a great time, you know, talking about do something that nobody had an opportunity to do it. That's what I always say: If is mean to be, will be. Records are meant to be broke, hopefully go ahead and do it. But, for sure, is one of those situations you never know. And that's why I'm really feel blessed person to be in this position right now.

Q: Getting the pole is very traditional, historic and so forth, but people remember race winners. Rick, how important is it to qualify, since over a 500-mile race, you can win from nearly anywhere in the front of the field?

Mears: Well, it's very important for a couple reasons. I always kind of broke this up into two races. One is for the pole and the next one is for the race itself. So you try to win the first race. If you can win the first race, you get to, your sponsors get to utilize that for a couple weeks before the race. Secondly, if you start up front, if there is a problem at the beginning of the race, hopefully you'll miss it unless you caused it. So that was always a lot of incentive right there. I think it's very important. It's good for the team, it's good for yourself, you know, everybody to feel like they are competitive and ready to go. And today I think one other thing, the cars seem to be very sensitive in traffic, so track position is very important.

Q: Helio, I don't know if you had a chance to see it or not, in Paul Tracy's new media guide, he has under his greatest accomplishments, he has winning the 2002 Indy 500. How does that make you feel, seeing he is still having a problem with it a year later? Last time I checked, you cashed the check. Does it have any effect at all?

Castroneves: What can I say, this is Paul Tracy (laughter). Basically, I respect a lot Paul. I know anybody want to win this race, no matter what kind of way. That's my face there on the trophy, I'm the one using the ring (laughter). It's tough to deal that. But to be honest, it's not make worst or better or stuff like that. Last year, basically, my team did a phenomenal job, and I'm so happy to get out of here. At least nobody can take away when I crossed that checkered flag, the moments I remember. That was just incredible. So that basically is in the past. Now I just need to thinking about forward. May 25th, that's on my mind.

Q: Roger, looks like it's going to be a squeeze to get a 33-car field this year. Do you think it detracts from the race at all? If you do come up short of 33, are you prepared to step in and help if they are a car short at the end?

Penske: Well, I think we'll have to determine the number of cars. As I said earlier, there's a lot of pressure on a lot of things from an economy standpoint, you know, at a number of races, even NASCAR, where there's just been enough to fill the field. From our perspective, we're concentrating on the two cars now. We'll deal with the third car, you know, later next week. You know, we've not made any public statement whether we'd run a third car at this point.


Part I

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Paul Tracy , Rick Mears , Roger Penske