IRL: Indy 500 Test Wednesday top three press conference

88TH Indianapolis 500 Open Test Press Conference Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., Robby Gordon Wednesday, April 28, 2004 MODERATOR: Top three of the day, Sam Hornish Jr., Helio Castroneves, Robby Gordon. Sam and Helio, obviously, driving for...

88TH Indianapolis 500 Open Test Press Conference
Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., Robby Gordon
Wednesday, April 28, 2004

MODERATOR: Top three of the day, Sam Hornish Jr., Helio Castroneves, Robby Gordon. Sam and Helio, obviously, driving for Marlboro Team Penske, and Robby Gordon drives for Team Gordon, the Meijer-sponsored car. Sam, you're getting ready for your fifth 500, Helio for his fourth, and Robby for your 10th; is that right?

ROBBY GORDON: Making me look old.

MODERATOR: So Robby would be the senior-most member in terms of starts here at Indy. Speeds, top speed, Sam, who turned 37 laps this afternoon, 219.271. Helio, who turned 23 laps, 219.256. And Robby, who turned a total of 24 laps all day, 218.921. Let's get a statement from each of you before you take questions. Sam, first off, the car had to be pretty good, but how was the weather, specifically the wind?

SAM HORNISH JR.: It was a good day for the Marlboro Team Penske guys. We tried to work on the car all day long and make it a little bit better. It's a long race out here. You have to have a good-handling car, and everybody is up in the air with what they are supposed to be doing because of the new engine and the new rules packages for the car. But they were still kind of searching right now but makes it tough. We probably spent a little bit more time out there than probably we wanted to today, but felt like we accomplished and got to do a lot of things and felt pretty good about our car.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Pretty much the same. Unfortunately the weather was a little it bit tough, a little bit windy, but felt it was a good way, especially the opposite side way, going into Turn 1, that's when things get scary. Right now, seems to be OK, as Sam said, everybody did a hell of a job, you know, we're just trying to make sure that the basic setup, take like what's not good out of the picture because, when you go back here, we have a whole month to try to do that. Obviously, the weather is going to change, and we're just trying to accomplish a good base, and obviously, the month of May, it's going to be important.

GORDON: I'm pretty happy, new cars, and if you can come up here and sit next to these guys, it's definitely a good start. Our car is still raw painted and got some decent-sized gaps in the seams and stuff, and so we feel we probably have another mile-an-hour, mile-and-a-half just in the paint job, and obviously, trim the car out. So really pleased with how the Chevrolet is running. I think both of these guys are in Dallaras, too. The Dallaras seem real strong. The package is a little bit different than when we raced last year. But for the first time being back in an open-wheel car in a year, I'm pretty pleased.

Q: Robby, you got up to speed pretty quick this afternoon, I think 17 or 10 laps you were pretty well up to top speed, you had a little fire, but you put it out and got it up a little higher it looked like.

GORDON: The fire, what we did, new cars, new transmissions, we try to do an insulation check and try to keep the car under 100 miles an hour and get all the gears set. That's something A.J. (Foyt) taught me years ago. I don't know if it makes a difference, but new car, the luck he's had at the Speedway here, figure better follow in those footsteps a little bit. When we did that, we had a little too much blocker on the radiator and didn't get any air through there, so we burned -- there was some tape, I guess you could call it, heat tape, which is supposed to help the car, but we caught the glue on fire on the heat tape. Didn't hurt anything on the car, just a little smoke and burned up some tape. Had to put more tape on, took a bit of blocker off the thing and went a little faster to get some air through the car. No real issues, just getting, how do you say it, new-car blues, stuff like that.

Q: Can the three of you just talk a little bit about what you felt like with the new engines out there?

GORDON: It's hard to compare to a year ago. I drove a Honda last year for Andretti Green, and this year, driving a Chevrolet. The 3 liters compared to 3.5, obviously we have lost some power. I think, you know, I think the IRL has an underwing wicker under the spoiler that after you drop so many degrees of negative or angle, it kind of just stalls itself out. I think when we come down to qualifying, how far can you go with that rear wing, and how brave are you, because we don't -- we don't have the power that we had last year. So it's going to be trimmed out, toes are going to be straightened up as much as possible, all of the drag is going to be taken out of the car, so that you will be fast. It should make it fun. I remember a few years ago, they knocked us down to 212, 213. I think was the pole here in 1997 when they went to a different spec. By last year, we were already backup to 230's again. With the engineers and the technology that Indy Car racing has, the IRL will slow us down, and we'll go to work to figure out how to go faster.

Q: Sam, if you ask Helio, the cars were running at Motegi 205, 206, is there a noticeable difference in the power band from the 3.5 to the 3.0?

HORNISH: Keeping momentum up is going to be the biggest thing. Last year when we ran here, for myself, I had to keep the momentum up. It was a big thing. This track is so hard to pass at that it's always been about keeping your momentum up and keeping your moves at the right time, and not doing something hastily and trying to make a move and knowing it's not working and trying to get out of it because the guy behind you is going to pass you. This year it's going to be even more about that, because the car, while we can still go out there and run nearly 220-mile-an-hour average around the track, it's once you get down to like 200, if you have to let off and you get behind the slower car, that it's going to be real hard to get by. People are going to go flying by you. As they say, you don't have to slow down at all. It's going to be a lot about patience, more about momentum and making your moves at the right time. I think that all plays into the better drivers' hands when it comes time for race time because they are going to make the smart moves and make the right moves and they are going to know how to keep the momentum up, and it should be a good race.

CASTRONEVES: On the top hand, I don't think it's a huge difference. On the bottom hand, like especially when you're leaving the pits, going to the warm-up lane and probably during the racetrack, as Sam said, you're backing off, because traffic, stuff like that, will take a little more time to come up to speed. The only difference we felt, other than that, as Robby said, just going to take the rear wing, trying to trim it out of the car as much as you can, and whoever has got the big balls is going to be the fast guy.

MODERATOR: Thinking back to a year ago in qualifying -.

GORDON: I had the pole until he tightened up his seat belt.

MODERATOR: Obviously, Helio and Sam, their primary consideration is the IndyCar Series, and they are here during the entire month, and you have a an awful lot of balls in the air. At the same time, a day like today, efficiency, 24 laps, getting it in, getting it done, checking off the laundry list and going down the line, how important are days like today, and are you going to be able to be here tomorrow?

GORDON: Yeah, moving the test back one day didn't hurt us at all, even though I raced the Busch car and the Cup car at Fontana this weekend. We'll be able to stay all day long, do the tests that we need to. We're going to try some different package options on our car for tomorrow, more race stuff. Today was, I wouldn't call it qualifying, but closer to qualifying setup. We'll probably stay above 20 gallons tomorrow all day and just try to have some information in the bank. Thomas Knapp is my engineer. He's very good here at the Speedway, closest ever come to winning the race was in '99. And I thought when we put this package together, with Meijer, that I would try and get as many people in the past that I worked with that I felt were quality people and let them do their job. That's kind of what we have going on with the Busch car. I own the Fruit of the Loom Busch car, but I have a guy that worked with me at Walker named Bob Temple that runs that program for me completely. So, even though I own the car, I drive the car like Sam and Helio do. I show up and tell them what's wrong with it and try and make it better and go away from it. I don't really have to deal with it on a day-to-day basis. I have some really good people involved in the company.

Q: Helio and Sam, the first test last time was 217, and today it's already 219. How fast do you think you can go in two weeks from now or three weeks?

CASTRONEVES: I think it's difficult, 220,223. I think probably a little faster, not only the track, it's 4 miles an hour, probably engine manufacturer both is probably going to come with some engine, you're going to have like a whole month until the race, and, I don't know, I'm predicting 225 would be the fastest. Hopefully it will be me. Hopefully everybody will be slower, but I'll be -- I hope it's going to be like that. Yeah, two, what are you laughing at? (Laughter).

HORNISH: A lot of that first test everybody was trying to get all of the bugs worked out. It was a new-car setup with the rear wickers that we have to run now and the wicker running up the car and the ride height. Everybody was kind of trying to hit it. It was a pretty windy day that day, too, and a lot of it is just, everybody finds new things, and you know, there's not a whole lot of time between now and the beginning of May. So I don't know how much speed is going to be picked up. I think somewhere between, you know, 222 and 223, somewhere probably, that's probably going to be a good speed to run if you can be over 220 for the four laps consistently depending on what the weather is like, you'll have a pretty good shot of being in the top half of the field.

Q: With the extra horsepower, going into Turn 3, were you all flat or were you having to lift?

HORNISH: I was pretty flat. Once in awhile it gets pretty gusty down there. You not only have the wind to your back, but you're trying to turn the car into the wind at the same time. So, you know, it was the case where quite a bit of understeer today. So, it was more of working on the car so that you had good grip there, but not that you had so much that you couldn't carry the speed around the rest of the track.

GORDON: I guess that's where they beat me, I had a lift. (Laughter).

MODERATOR: It used to be when a driver announced he was doing the double, that it was viewed as this gargantuan task, and you've done it so many times, you've made it look, I don't want to say easy, but that's the first word that comes to mind is the fact that you have done it so many times and you know the routine, is that what makes it somewhat easier for you to pull it off and make it look simple?

GORDON: A lot of that is the teams that you do it with. Last year I think we finished 14th at Charlotte, and that was disappointing because I think 14 laps to go or something, it started raining, and we were running eighth and came down pit lane and worked on the car. And that was 14 cars on the lead lap, and unfortunately we got a 14th-place result because we never went back racing again. What is good is we can come race inside the top 10 in both series, and I think a lot of that is the teams, obviously sponsors, which help the teams, and experience just doing it enough times, coming to Indianapolis, thousands of miles here, and I enjoy this place. Charlotte is a big event for us on the Cup series, and we're going to go there and test sometime I think during the first week, fly over to Charlotte and test for an evening, do a one-night test there so that we will start Charlotte with a little bit of practice, as well.

MODERATOR: Is the wicker a problem?

GORDON: The first year it wasn't a problem, and then the second year I cramped up really bad and I cramped up from my waist to my chest, which was really weird. And it comes down to G-forces, and I think these cars hurt me more than I thought they did. I didn't take any IVs, you know, probably didn't drink enough fluids, and then last year, I took two IVs on the way, plenty of fluid. I even took an IV before the start of the Indy 500, and I was plenty hydrated and felt great. This race is not a very physical race. These things are basically fighter planes that we fly around this racetrack, and if you get the setup right and you're not too loose, it doesn't wear you out too bad. If you're loose, it's a long day, and maybe that's why we raced around the sixth position last year. Maybe we've got to free that thing up a little more and make it a little looser so that we can race up inside the top five. I think experience here, same thing. You race the race at one downforce level and then you hang on for the last 50 miles, 100 miles, whatever it may be with a lot less downforce, and that makes a big difference when it comes to racing at both races.

Q: It looks like you're in much better physical condition than you were when you came here last year. What have you been doing?

GORDON: A lot of 16-ounce curls, and those are the longnecks. (Laughter). I think since Christmas, I've dropped about 15 pounds, and, I think just watching what you eat. I'm very athletic. I look to do a lot of outdoor activities. Am I in the gym every day? No. Am I in the gym twice a week? Yeah. It's hard to do when you're in a race car five days a week, and that's pretty much the truth. Like Helio said, there's not a lot of time. That's probably another thing is I'm in the car all the time. So, that is a little bit physical, not quite as physical as, you know, probably running on a stair climber or running on a treadmill, but it keeps you tuned in. I seem to feel good every day, and I'm 35 years old, I'm not young like these guy boys next to me. Sometimes there's the old bull and young bulls scenario, and hopefully some of the experience will pay off.

MODERATOR: Sam, in recent memory, it seems that you have come to this track with a lot of momentum on your side in terms of performance at other tracks, yet this year, you come in trying to regain some momentum after a problem at Phoenix and an obvious situation at Japan. How much different is the mindset, and you also come in with Team Penske for the first time, how much different is the mindset getting ready for this month of May versus before?

HORNISH: Win. I don't know, maybe I always put too much pressure on myself. But I look at every race, this is another opportunity, no matter how we qualify or how we run in practice, how do I get myself to the front. I don't really get too discouraged. I don't ever really get too happy. It's just you kind of go about it day by day and try to keep yourself on, I guess, on an even keel and make sure that your emotions don't play in too much. This is the only track that really affects me like that, and I get a lot of emotions like that starting the race. That's probably why it's been so tough, but I've got another 16 races with experience this year at IndyCar competition, and I can try to learn something from Helio if he'll teach me, and then there's Rick Mears and Roger Penske, which --

CASTRONEVES: You've been talking a lot with Rick.

HORNISH: I'm trying to learn. (Laughter). I don't know, I'm pretty excited coming into this year, I feel this is my best chance I've ever had, and that's a lot to do with more experience and just knowing more about racing. And everybody says, 'Oh, you've won two championships.' But if you don't keep learning, you're just going to fall by the wayside and not be very good anymore, so I keep trying to learn as much as I can.

Q: I think a saw a G Force on a setup pad in the Penske garage. One of you guys going to drive it tomorrow?


HORNISH: I guess that will be up to me, then. I don't know.

Q: Have you driven one?

HORNISH: Not one of these models, I drove a 1999 G model that I ran one of my first IndyCar (Series) races in, but I have not driven in one of the '03 to '05 ones. But we were going to test it last year here in October but never got the chance to. We just did the installation check, and that's all we got done.

MODERATOR: Helio, you'll only be looking for your third win in four starts here, no real pressure on you. You come in as arguably, you are the most successful driver ever in his first three starts at the Speedway. Does it feel that way?

CASTRONEVES: Well, again, I'm not going to -- just going to approach the same way I approach the three times that I came over here. There is first, practice, and you have a month of it. So learn every single change that you make on the car so make sure that it goes smooth, and expect the unexpected. So hopefully, we are going to put everything, what we think, and everything that you probably don't think, we are going to go out to the race, a little bit of luck, as well always helps. Just a matter of being in the right place in the right time. And those three years, at least two, I'll be able to put myself in a good position. Last year, I almost, and let's see this year.

Q: Last year you won the pole on a very windy day. Was today very similar?

CASTRONEVES: I don't know. I think that was windier. It was cool, too, no sun. It was a little bit difficult. Again, what's meant to be, will be. I got the pole, but I didn't get the win. Damn, I should have everything. (Laughter). So it's just one of those things. But the good news is we are focusing on our work; that's what we need to be, and wait and see what's going to happen.

MODERATOR: Thanks, and we'll see you again tomorrow.


Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Helio Castroneves , Rick Mears , Roger Penske , Bob Temple , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Team Penske