IRL: Indy 500: Team Penske press conference, Part II

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 Sullivan: I believe Tina Mendenhall also has a wireless mike. Looks like...

Indianapolis 500 Press Conference
Marlboro Team Penske
May 10, 2002

Moderator: Pat Sullivan

Roger Penske
Tim Cindric
Rick Mears
Helio Castroneves
Gil De Ferran

Sullivan: I believe Tina Mendenhall also has a wireless mike. Looks like we've got a question right here. I want to remind you we're also going to take some questions from elsewhere in cyberspace.

Q: This is for Roger and Tim and whoever else wants to answer. The dynamics of this race has kind of changed a little bit over the last couple of years, with the possible exception of Cristiano DaMatta, it seems the best of both series are here this year. Talk about the competition level and how that's kind of increased this year.

Penske: I think from our perspective, when you go back and you look at the Indianapolis 500, this was a melting pot for the best drivers way back when we were running in a different series and would come here and run. So this isn't the first time. It's an international race. The way the schedule was set up, it's great to see the teams here. Chip (Ganassi) with his key drivers, certainly (Bobby) Rahal and Barry Green and others, and Mo Nunn. So this is going to be a great race. To me, it's always been a great race; and the more people that can run, you know, I think the better it is. Obviously, the level of competition is always good wherever you go, and I think the experience that these teams have, the pit crews that they come in with are the same crews that work every weekend. So this is not a pickup game, this is a serious event.

Q: For any or all of you. Can you comment on the difference of last year? You were running another series at the same time, you had a little jaunt to Japan in the middle of all this. Can you talk about just how different it is now that you're regulars here and you didn't have all these other things to worry about? Just how it feels for you drivers.

Cindric: I guess it allows you to focus a lot more. You're not so worried about the logistics of when your plane is leaving on Monday and how you need to get in the show this weekend absolutely because you may not be here for the next weekend, those type of pressures are off. But at the same time you return with great expectations, but you know how difficult it is to be successful here, whether it be in qualifying or in the race. I think the team itself, I think they understand that and that's probably the important thing. If they think it's a gimme, then we'll probably all go home. I think this week for us, we've been able to sit back and prepare for qualifying and know that we have next week to really prepare for the race, whereas last year we were trying to prepare for the race in the first week at the same time we were trying to prepare for qualifying. We were actually able to prioritize this year than before.

de Ferran: I think from my standpoint, you know, first of all, last year from a physical standpoint was quite difficult, you know, to be traveling quite a bit and jumping into one car and into another car, so that was an issue. And I think the second thing that I think has been better this year is we gather a lot more knowledge about the car than we had last year. Despite the fact that we were successful, there was a lot more guessing going on than there is now, and I think that's been beneficial overall.

Castroneves: Well, I definitely agree with Cindric and Gil. No doubt about the traveling. Not only for us, but also for whole team. Basically was really fatigue, you know. And from our standpoint, from one car to another, I mean the first day that when you were jumping from CART car and to the IRL, you were a little uncomfortable, you learn something in the other car that might be confusing. It was really something I have to give credit for the team as well because every time we came from a trip or something like that, the car was always ready to run. Being a full-time IRL driver certainly helps as we know a lot of things we've been doing in different tracks that we don't have as many options that might go wrong. At least we know which direction we're going to keep going instead of last year like everything we were testing, and that was very tough. So much more comfortable this year. But, again, it's going to be even harder than last year.

Q: If Roger, Rick and/or both drivers could give us their thoughts on this: Considering the vertebral fractures and the concussions on the IRL, beginning of the season this year in general and then seems like the soft wall is beginning to get a little bit of some skeptics are saying, well, people are getting hurt a little bit, do you think the soft wall is getting a bad rap? Also, is there concern on the team -- I think it's three vertebral fractures and two concussions -- that there might be some problem in the current design of the cars, seats, anything like that?

Penske: Let me just answer that one. I guess that we've got to evolve safety. There's no question. I remember back here when we had that bad accident with Swede Savage and we were carrying 71 gallons of fuel, and went over to a meeting and within a half an hour we decided to cut it in half and have no fuel on the outside. So I think the organization is responsive. Certainly Tony (George) has spent a lot of money trying to develop a wall. He has stepped up first; and there's no question when you're looking at accidents that the G forces recorded were over 100, you've got G forces now that are not spiked, they're more level in the 40 category. There's been a big, big change. And you have no idea what would have been the results of those same accidents hitting the wall. So to me -- these people walked away. They're all in pretty good shape. So to me that's most important. The cars are the same cars we ran last year. These cars are absolutely the same, maybe slight aero differences, the tires, the racetrack. So to me this is racing, and I've been here when people hit the wall many, many times, the speeds are fast obviously. But I'm quite happy to see that the results of guys being able to get out of the car. Fortunately here, if you hit the wall and you have a slight concussion, you can't run or you have a slight fracture, those are things that the doctor has to make those calls. But, you know, overall we have HANS devices that the drivers are wearing, those seem to help those injuries. Emerson (Fittipaldi) and Paul (Tracy) had accidents in our cars, you remember back in Michigan, and both of them were out for quite a while with more serious injury than these fellows have had here today. So I think there's been a big step forward, and we've got to continue to work on an evolutionary process for safety.

Q: Considering the injuries in Phoenix without the wall there, is that just coincidence that these seem like high vertebral fractures, small that they may be, seems like the injuries are similar in nature, the ones they had at Phoenix, as well?

Penske: Well, quite honestly, if you look at the G force that you're pulling around Phoenix -- I don't know the numbers, Rick, you might -- but I think we're much more on the edge at Phoenix when something goes wrong because you're at high, high loads. Here you're in the corners, you don't have the loading that you have at Phoenix.

Mears: Right, you don't have the side load. It's like the rock on the end of the string as you're spinning it. The faster you spin it, the harder the rock pulls. And when the string breaks, you hit harder. That's what G loading does in a corner. But I think really the key is, like here for the soft wall, racing is development. That's what racing is all about is improving, gaining, making gains. You always want to go forward. I think that's where Tony has done a great job. He's made that initial step, and we have to develop it and continue it on and go forward. So, you know, you've got to start someplace, and I think we've started in a very good place, and we'll just be able to make it better from here on out.

Q: Helio, the whole world has seen your exuberance after you win a race. How do you control your emotions when you're in the car driving? (Laughter)

Castroneves: I don't, you're right. (Laughter) Well, it's a technique -- no, just kidding. (Laughter) Basically I just -- you do have to have a kind of a -- before you go into the race car, you just can't be thinking about how many things you've been doing or what am I expecting to do, you know. Just close the visor, and I go for racing. I feel comfortable with that and as soon as the checkered flag is over -- like last year here, I still like go into Turn 1 with my one arm in the air and still going flat out. I basically didn't catch -- I didn't lift off, I was still thinking about racing. But normally when you finish the race, and that's the time to celebrate hopefully when you're in a good position. But it's just the way I am, you know. I'm able to control and I feel comfortable with that.

Q: For Roger and Tim. Next year you're switching over to the new Toyota engine. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the logistics for preparing for that. This will be your third new engine in a few years. It's a little different program. I guess those engines would be maintained at Reading (Pa.). But if you could talk, Tim and/or Roger, the logistics of preparing for that and so forth.

Penske: Let me take a crack at it first. You know, basically as we came into the series in 2002, we knew that there was going to be an engine change, and we looked at really where we would go beyond. We're trying to anticipate and look, be forward thinkers in the business. Our business relationship with Toyota was a strong one. They were very interested in our team. So we committed early, as you know. That's going to give us a chance hopefully to do some development running, getting the engines and the opportunity to build these in our operation. We have a number of people, quite honestly, who have stayed with us hoping that we would have an engine program because that was really the heart of our team for many years; and the reliability for Rick and some of the other drivers is the fact that we were putting our engines together. So I think it's a great opportunity. They needed a rebuilder, we qualify as a rebuilder; and, Tim, you might want to comment on just when you think when we're going to be able to start some running and just where the background is today.

Cindric: Sure. Just taking us back a bit to the '99 season when the Penske team had run just the one car primarily with (Al Unser) Junior and then ran a second car at select races and that type of thing. At the end of '99, we were basically a one-car team with an engine shop. Going into 2000 with the Honda association, there was no more need for an engine shop, but there was a need for a second team. And at that point in time, we took the strengths of the guys in the engine shop and figured out where they would fit within the test team or the race team. I think Gil has three of the engine shop guys or ex-engine shop guys on his team, two of them are over the wall. We tried to figure out how that would all fit and keep the people that we knew and the talents that we knew and hope that something else would come around. And here we are. The unfortunate thing is we have to make decisions with how to balance and how to compromise. We had 16 or 17 guys in the engine shop at one point in time that have made themselves very useful in other aspects of the team. Just to take those guys directly out of those aspects of the team and put them into the engine shop would probably unweight the scales a bit. So we're looking at, OK, what makes the most sense going forward, and we're going to take probably half of those guys and move them back into the roles they performed before and find another fresh new half to take on other roles within our program. We're trying to look to make sure we're ready to turn the lights back on in the engine shop here very shortly. I think they'll hit their stride probably not until late in the fall or early in the winter in terms of doing rebuilds and that type of thing. Right now, Toyota is in the initial stage of development. We feel it's best for them to carry that forward, and from our perspective we're just going to do the maintenance. I guess Roger and I look at it we're developing a franchise of TRD, if you will. They set their direction and we carry out the task. That's really what we're looking to do, is just continue on the basics and the way that they've put the program together. Because, obviously, they've been successful to this point in time and we're just going to add to it whenever we can.


Part III

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Al Unser Sr. , Rick Mears , Roger Penske , Mo Nunn
Teams Team Penske