IRL: Indy500: Team Penske interview

HOST: Mike King GUESTS: Rick Mears Gil de Ferran Roger Penske Helio Castroneves Tim Cindric Mike King: Good morning. Welcome back to the Trackside Conference Center here at the WorldComplex. It's a pleasure to say good morning to ...

Mike King

Rick Mears
Gil de Ferran
Roger Penske
Helio Castroneves
Tim Cindric

Mike King: Good morning. Welcome back to the Trackside Conference Center here at the WorldComplex. It's a pleasure to say good morning to Team Penske. You know, it's interesting, Roger Penske is an interesting man, and I've never had an opportunity to say this to him, an icon in both motorsports and the world in industry, and he does both with equal grace and class as far as the way he conducts his team and his businesses around the world. Rick Mears is what Rick Mears is, a four-time winner here and, my God, one of the best drivers ever. I mean he -- it's just fun to see Rick back. Gil de Ferran, the 2000 CART Series champion who raced here once in 1995 and a great gentleman, and Helio Castroneves has become I think a real favorite of the media because of his demeanor both during the test and the way he has been able to handle this situation during the month of May, and it's just great to have you all back. Tim Cindric who will be here momentarily, the President of Penske Racing, to share a personal note real quick, Tim has essentially grown up at this Speedway. Tim went to Rose-Hulman in Terre Haute, was an engineering student there and a pretty good basketball player. I'm sure you guys knew that. He played basketball at Rose. And Roger, he was 32 when you named him president, is that right?

Roger Penske: That's correct.

MIKE KING: So I've got to assume that Tim Cindric, for his age, has accomplished more than most men his age. So let's get started. I guess, Roger, if we could get a comment from you first regarding being back for the month of May.

Penske: Well, obviously, you know, it's great to have the opportunity to field our cars here this year. We have the opportunity as CART sanctioned this race, you know, for the teams. They made it possible through adjusting the schedule because as we looked at the ability to do that in the past, it would have been difficult because of the scheduling conflicts. So as we saw that being an opportunity, as we ended last year, we said let's get ready and try to come to Indy and become a competitor, you know, for this year's race. Tim Cindric last year, in conjunction with Jason Leffler, was involved. We had a small sponsorship with him. So we could really get on the ground and see what happened during the race, you know, the cars. And we've kind of followed that, you know, over the last, you know, 12 months. Ian Reed, who's one of our best guys and has a lot of experience here at Indianapolis, you know, has been following the IRL series, the cars, the drivers, the teams, et cetera. So we've been gathering data as we came to the Speedway. Both Helio and Gil had the opportunity to test here, you know, pre-2001. Helio came back for the rookie test, which we think was very beneficial, and then, you know, Gil had a test some days later which was kind of the open test. So you know, I think that, you know, this race is a difficult race, but it's ironic when you think about this morning, you know, I was working out I said, you know, it's amazing. Mike Knight was there. I said here you have Arie Luyendyk, who is really out of racing, but because he has the history here and the knowledge, can come back here at 47 years old and be a contender for the pole and certainly a contender for the race. And I think that's what Indianapolis has always been. You know, when we first came here, we didn't run the full series. You know, we came to Indianapolis and ran the race because it's like the Masters or the Kentucky Derby or what have you. So, you know, I see this, for us it is part of a plan, you know, for our sponsors. You know, we have business here in Indianapolis now with our car dealerships and the ability for us to take this team and these drivers, you know, to the top. And I think that, you know, Rick, obviously, who can say anything more than he won four Indy 500s. I mean that's a pretty good statement. Who won four Masters? I mean there's not many people. So to me, having Gil and Helio, who have executed for us in the best way last year and certainly, you know, coming out very strongly at the beginning of the season, you know, we owe it to them to come to Indy. So, you know, we're proud to be here. You know, we have expectations of doing a good job. I mean we're not -- as you see, we're not coming here with boasting on how fast we're going to go. We want to get in the race. My big concern now is getting in this race tomorrow, and I would say that all the other things are kind of secondary until we're able to complete that, and then we're going to work on race setup. Helio had a chance to run the full tanks the day before yesterday. Gil will do some of that today because we're going to miss that opportunity next week, which will be a little bit of a disadvantage, not one that we're going to complain about. That's the way life is. But we'll certainly have an opportunity to come back hopefully next Sunday and do some running. So, you know, we're excited to be here. We appreciate, you know, the way the people have welcomed us. I've never been anywhere where people have said they're glad to see us. I hope they are, but a lot of people are saying welcome back. So, you know, we appreciate the opportunity.

King: We'll get questions with Roger Penske in just a minute. Let's get comments from anyone. Gil, you jumped it up yesterday. You were second on the speed chart, over 223 miles an hour, slowly gaining on it. Are you reaching a point now where you're comfortable, or is there still plenty more to find, and I guess very quickly, what it's like being back after a few years away?

<B>Gil de Ferran: I think I would like to echo a lot of Roger's comments. I mean we've certainly been extremely welcomed by everybody we come across here, and, you know, it's certainly been a great experience for me. I mean you can tell that the atmosphere is fantastic, and there is a lot of people. It's a very exciting event, and you can really feel that on a daily basis, you know, especially when you're walking up and down toward your car and going through the garages and all that. It's a really great interaction with the fans, and you can certainly feel the excitement. As far as we are concerned, we came here with a plan, and we're just slowly going through our plan. I think it's important for us to keep making progress as every day goes by, and that's really what's been going on since Monday. Yesterday -- the day before we found a little bit more speed. Yesterday we found a little bit more speed. And hopefully, today we'll find a little bit more speed and, you know, we've just got to focus on the job at hand, on the problems that we encounter, and not get sidetracked by, you know, what people think we should be doing and we shouldn't be doing. So that's what we've been doing and keeping ourselves to ourselves, and I think things are going OK. So we've just got to keep doing it.

King: Helio, if I'm not mistaken, you have both your primary car and your backup car over 222. So it sounds like you've got two good race cars to work with. A little bit about that and a little bit about being a rookie again here at this race.

<Castroneves</b>: I tell you, I mean I'm carrying this title as a rookie. So I believe it's right. In this track, no doubt about I have to learn a lot, and I'm learning every day. Since I start testing here until actually probably in the race, I'm going to still learn something different. It's amazing. I mean Tuesday we have a different wind, and then Wednesday was completely opposite. So you're kind of, every time you go out on the track, you're learning something. And that's my philosophy so far, you know. And I understand when I stop and talk to Rick and he kind of gives me some tips, which are working really well for the lines because, like Roger is saying, Arie is 47 years old, won two Indy 500s here, and he's still up to speed. I mean basically if you have a good line, if you have great experience, I mean, of course, you're going to improve your car much faster. So we're kind of a situation, like Gil was saying, step by step, like baby steps, we're increasing our speed. I'm very excited, first of all, to be in a big race like this at least on the weekend. You know, it's every time you go out there, it's a race weekend, you know, fans around and I autograph. It's pretty cool. I really admire the tradition of this racetrack. It's not only here in America, but it's all over the world, and I'm really happy to be with Marlboro Team Penske and such a great result in the past. So I'm going to do my best to make sure we do well.

King: Tim, welcome in. I guess from the standpoint of running this team as the president of Penske Racing, five days into practice, the checklist, everything pretty much going as planned?

Tim Cindric: Yeah, so far. Obviously, we have the weekend to take care of the job at hand. But, you know, I think that everything's going pretty well for us. Obviously, these guys have continued to keep their patience and methodically work through it and not really worry about what else is going on around us, you know, and the guys like Greg Ray go out the first day and go 224 or whatever it is, you know, it's difficult to hold back. You know, these guys are used to being at the top all the time, and you know, it's our plan to try and be there here, as well. But you know, we've got to make sure that from our standpoint, we're realistic with our approach, and I think we've done a good job of that so far. We just need to keep that going for the weekend.

King: And Rick for you, you know, you and Arie, you're not that much -- are you older than Arie at all?

Rick Mears: Yes, I'm a lot older. I'm not coming back.

King: Is that right? So there's been no thoughts of climbing into one of the cars, huh?

Mears: No, no thoughts whatever. No thoughts whatsoever, no.

King: How do you view the progress of the team in the short amount of time?

Mears: I think it's gone very well. The guys have really done a tremendous job, and Helio talking about, you know, taking small steps, and I've got to say, he's a pretty good listener too. I told him that you've got to use all the racetrack around here. So yesterday, he took a little white paint off the wall in Turn 1.

King: So he was just following orders?

Mears: He was just following orders. That's right. No, they're doing a great job, and I think, you know, it's been a pretty good workload on the team, you know, to put all this into place, and I just think the team has really responded well. And the guys have done a tremendous job, and we're just -- we're all excited about being back. I mean, this has been home away from home for a lot of years for all of us, and we're just grateful, you know, great to be here.

King: OK. Let's get questions for Team Penske. We are having this -- I'll tell you, I'll get right back to you. We are having this transcribed. So please just speak to the mike.

Roger, two questions: One, any apprehension about being here after '95; and two, what are you doing now that you didn't do in '95 to prepare for qualifying?

Penske: Well, it's great to be back here, and there's no question that the track's the same, the procedures are the same. One thing that we have today, all the cars are the same. You have two manufacturers, really one dominant manufacturer, which is Dallara. There's a couple Infiniti engines I think that Cheever is running, but we're basically running a series today that has similar cars. The only differentiating factor or factors are the drivers -- you follow me? -- and their ability to communicate through their engineer, their crew chief to get the car to a point where they can drive it at the limit. And then obviously, you have the ability from an engine perspective, you know, to generate more power. And we saw, you know, with the Buicks back many years, stock block what they could do in speed, you saw our stock block engine that was disallowed, obviously, unfortunately after '94, I think that that's going to be the differentiation. There are a lot of good drivers here. So it's going to be very tight. I think the distance between the front and the back of the field tomorrow, now it might change in the second week, will be very close. And what we've done differently, number one, we're all running on the same tire, which absolutely is a huge difference than what it was when we were here, and maybe, you know, that could have been a factor. I think we had great drivers. Al Unser and Emerson Fittipaldi certainly were capable of being in that race in '95. We just didn't give them the right horse, and we got ourself backed into a corner, and Tim's team helped us, everybody. But this place is funny. I mean you can get all the help you want, but this is a very methodical process, and what we're going to try not to do here over the next 24 hours is make a mistake, Gil or Helio. I mean we cannot afford to make a mistake on the racetrack, and we hope that the package that we put on the racetrack tomorrow is reliable. We've got to have our backup cars ready because we've got to leave here on Sunday and go to Japan. So, you know, we've got ourself in a fairly tight box here, but I think we've got a consistent car. I think we understand it. Our engine program, Ilmor, has done a terrific job, you know, getting us where we are, and that's what mostly we're focusing on, where before there was many different driver/car combinations and engine combinations which we don't have to deal with that here this time as we did in '95.

Roger, 1995 had to be your darkest time here, but you also had many, many, many great days. What was your best day? What was your favorite day? Was it the first one with Mark (Donohue)?

Penske: I guess the best day is always the last time you won this race. So -- and I'm sure Mears would say the same thing. Sure, '72 was terrific, but that was a high and low day because Bettenhausen was leading, and he fell out, and then, of course, Mark won. That's the advantage of having a strong team. But to see that Mercedes engine, you know, sit on the pole, and we led almost all but four or five laps and win that race and then we kept that absolutely as a secret, that showed the integrity of the team because that was an offense. It was absolutely, you know, dedicated, you know, to this race. In fact, people for the rest of the year when we won all the races thought we were still running the same engine. That was the amazing thing about it, but that was probably the highlight. And look, the '95 situation, you know, it was tough, the toughest walk from the pit lane back to the garage. But you know, when we got back there, we had to deal with it, and then we said let's get going. We've got to go to Milwaukee. It's one of those things. I mean it's like Tiger Woods not qualifying for the Masters or something or someone else that has done well in a sport, and you've got to deal with it. The best people come back, and that's why we're back.

How old was Al Sr. when he won? 47, right?

Penske: Forty-seven.

You're badmouthing poor Arie for being the same age.

Penske: I didn't badmouth him at all. I hope you didn't take that comment. I said that's the great thing about the place, that you can come back, you know, with the experience and in the right car and perform here. I'm not badmouthing. Please.

King: A quick reminder. Our transcriptionist is wearing headsets and cannot hear your questions to get them on the record if you're not holding a microphone. So we want to get everything on. So let's make sure we talk into the mic. Yes, sir, right here.

Yeah, Roger, Little Al was in here a couple minutes ago. He talked about seeing you yesterday, and he said you were grinning from ear to ear. Have you let that kind of trademark intensity slip for a couple seconds and just enjoyed being back here at all?

Penske: Well, Al's a great, great friend of mine, and we've had a lot of success together. I was just glad to see him because I want to see him do well, and I think it's vice-versa. But, you know, we had a good talk, and, you know, we shared some of the problems we're having, both of us, in trying to get up to speed. So it was just -- you know, it was just he's a good friend.

Gil and Helio, tomorrow, because of the tight confines of having to get it done tomorrow and leave, will you take a little more conservative approach to qualifying rather than going gung-ho and trying to win the pole?

de Ferran: I don't think how you can be conservative in qualifying actually. It's against my religion. (Laughter) It's -- no, I mean qualifying is qualifying. I think regardless of the fact that we've got to take off on Sunday, I think you've got to try your best and, you know, have the car in a way that you've got to keep your boot down for five laps actually because you've got to start the lap with your boot in, as well. So I think we're just about at that point and just see if we can get a little more speed out of it, and I've got to be comfortable doing that, and hopefully, we'll be able to do that.

Castroneves: Well, I'm basically not saving much. I'm just trying to go as fast as I can every time I go out there to make sure that the car is able to go for all the four corners flat out. So far, yes, you can make it, but the car sometimes is not responding, you know, but you keep the throttle on. And I think Saturday, like Gil was saying, he has no doubt about it. We're not going to hold anything. We're just going to try to do our best. If it's a good time for the pole position, great. I mean we'll just get out of here with a big smile on the face. If it's not, we just want to make sure that we are in the field to make the race.

I also have a question for Gil and Helio. Excuse me. I'm getting over laryngitis. You've both driven turbocharged cars now, and you're now driving normally aspirated engines, and you have pop-off valves and rev limiters. Can you compare and contrast the difference between driving those two cars? Is there any difference to you as drivers?

de Ferran: Yeah, I mean the engines, they are extremely different. They vibrate differently. You know, hopefully, they have different power characteristics. They have a different sound when you're inside the car. Everything is different. Obviously, the CART engine is, you know, almost -- let me think -- 200, 250 horsepower more than this engine. So that's a substantial difference right there. So they certainly feel and behave very differently, but, you know, on the other hand, when you're flat and trying to get to the limit, you know, it doesn't -- you know, somehow all those differences kind of come together in the same sort of difficulty or challenge which is keeping the car on the edge all the time.

Castroneves: I think qualifying might be not big difference, but in the race, in fact, I had an experience in Nazareth when the boost comes up, I mean sometimes come too quick and you (indicating), spun, and that's what happened to me. But anyway, and here it's different. I mean here it's a big difference in terms of you have to keep the throttle full all the time because if you lose the momentum, that's it, you're gone. Maybe the guy behind you is keeping the throttle on, and that's a big advantage. So it is different in these terms. I mean when you have the pop-off valve blowing a little bit, it's kind of just a little -- it's more sensitive. Here it's kind of rough, and you have to hit the rev limits. Kind of everything's shaky. You can see not even the corner, you know. So I would say it's more rough, but definitely both are very competitive, and because create the situation that you have all the time being in the limit, that's why the times are so close.

This is really a question for Tim, but Roger, I'd like your opinion on this, too. Team Penske had had some pretty lean years there the last several years, and then the last year, clearly, the program came together in a big way. Is running Indianapolis this year adding an awful lot to the play to Penske to defend the championship on the other side this year, and could you explain some of the difficulties that might present the program for CART?

Penske: I'll really let Tim answer. I would just say there's no question the complexity of coming back here and the expectations of our sponsors, of our team, and our associates, you know, on how we should, you know, compare here with other teams. Obviously, we had to, you know, make the best effort possible. So Tim can talk about some of the logistics, some of the things we've had to do to get ready.

Cindric: I think to start with, you know, we'd considered this since Roger and I, you know, became one really. And last year, we determined this really wasn't the right thing for our team at that point in time. Due to the lack of performance in the previous years, we felt like we needed to get our core team to where we were performing on the racetrack in 2000. And obviously, we were able to do that for many reasons, really. But I think the biggest reason is the testament to the team that we have, and this team, you know, it's a big difference being based in Reading, Pennsylvania, and trying to do what we're doing versus being here in terms of logistics and personnel and that type of thing. And I think the biggest asset we have is really the people within our team.

Roger, there were so many dire predictions in 1996 when CART teams stopped coming here, and now with teams coming back in the numbers you have this year on Tony George's terms, what does that signal in the open-wheel field?

Penske: Well, I think that Tony has done a great job in supporting the IRL. I read an interesting article today about the people feel that the IRL has given a lot of young drivers a chance to be able to show their capability, and there's no question that that's the case. On the other side of that, you know, CART has had a series that was a by-product, you know, of a broken USAC and the ability to focus just on open wheel, and I think that, you know, we're here because it's Indianapolis. And that's why other people, sponsors come into this race specifically, and, you know, we will not be running any more of the IRL races. I think that that would take the focus off, you know, our core product, you know, which is CART. I hope, though, that our demonstration and certainly Ganassi's excellent success last year and to see Tony Stewart come back this year, that we start to see that there are open-wheel racers that want to all race together, you know, under a common banner, and I think if the engine rules get the same, we can always build chassis, but it's very difficult and the costs associated to bring a team here, you know, to compete with different cars, different engines. Our guys want to race every weekend. Our drivers do; our mechanics do. So that piece of it is probably not the difficulty. Obviously, when you're scheduling, you know, two different pieces of equipment, one in Japan and one here, that creates a logistics issue. So it comes down, you know, is the equipment the same. I mean I think that there's got to be a common solution here, and I think Tony really is the one that can make that happen. I've said it once, I'll say it again. And I think this demonstration of coming here and supporting his series, the IRL, is one that we want to do. And we're proud to be here, and the ability for us to do that, obviously, was made possible by CART itself because, you know, they could have tightened up a race. They could have tightened up schedules, and we could have not qualified, and they did everything they could to accommodate that and sanction, you know, our ability to come and run here. So I think that, hopefully, some good will come out of this. Derrick Walker, obviously, has given Sarah Fisher, you know, a great ride. And she's a dynamite gal. I don't know her, but I take my hat off to her watching her run. So there's a lot of good things happening. Whether it was a turbine car one year, it was the Mercedes-Benz engine, or it was the Buicks or Jimmy Clark coming here, Jackie Stewart, just think about this. You know, this wasn't a lot of people -- and I go back to the Luyendyk thing. You know, people can come here, never been here. Mansell damn near won this race the first time he was here. He got a good car and a good team, and that's what's about Indianapolis. So let's carry on, and, you know, we want to do a good job here and come back.

Helio, I know Gil was here five years ago, but very briefly, when is the first time you drove onto the grounds? What were your impressions, and then, if you will, take us through yesterday's little misadventure and what kind of reception you got back in the pits.

Castroneves: I think first time was July last year with Team Treadway. We just came because the interest started around. We don't know if it would be -- if we would come over here or not. So Roger gave me an opportunity to come over and make sure that I feel comfortable with the place. And in fact, it was very good. I was like, wow, this is really fast and very difficult. No doubt about when I came over here, I thought it wouldn't be easy. And I knew I have to learn a lot in this situation. So yesterday, of course, when you got straight a little bit and you want to keep going faster and faster, so this Turn 1, I tell you, I'm having a hard time with that Turn 1. Jesus Christ, every time, that Turn 1, it's really tough. So it was like kind of a challenge, that Turn 1. I went really flat out, and the car actually started pushing a little bit, and I thought I would make it, and when I noticed -- I did make it, yeah, right. I did make it with just a little mark, just a little kiss on the wall.

Penske: It was his birthday.

Castroneves: But it was a birthday mark yesterday, you know, so make sure that everything's fine. I mean it wasn't like a big moment, you know, so -- but it's a lesson, you know. We have to respect the place. You cannot go and just try to challenge it because that's what's going to happen. So my chance is gone. So I just have to keep cool and keep doing a good job what I'm doing and make sure that the car be able to turn.

Cindric: As far as the team's concerned, we told him that rookies here have to repaint the walls at night.

King: OK. We're going to take one more question down front, and then we have got to break the press conference. We've got about five minutes for one-on-ones following this final question. OK?

Gil and Helio, the guy that's kind of the favorite for the pole, of course, is Greg Ray. What are your thoughts about a guy who now is 34, didn't start driving a race car until he was 25 years old; yet, he's kind of the fast guy around here?

de Ferran: Well, certainly he's going very fast, and, you know, I've watched a number of IRL races that he's done well, and I watched him run in Phoenix, and I've been watching him drive around here, and he's obviously a very talented guy, you know. I mean, you know, despite the two facts that you just said, he obviously, you know, pushes very hard all the time and has shown a great deal of talent.

Castroneves: I had an experience with him, in fact, it was '96 when he was racing Indy Lights with Team Kool Green, and most of these drivers, most of them like the Brazilians as well that run the IRL, I race with them. So I knew they're very -- I knew Greg was very fast. I knew Greg was like Gil, always pushing hard. And I don't know what happened. Later on, he just left and start racing IRL. So since, of course, my first time here in America when I was doing Indy Lights, it's nice when you see some of your fellows, you know, some of your drivers going to different directions and having good success. So he's a very talented driver and doing very well on the oval, and I'm sure also he is doing very well on the world course. So he's a great competitor. So let's see if we can do well in keeping up with him.

King: OK. I'm told we have one last question from the floor before we break for one-on-ones. Go ahead.

Yeah, Roger, the tobacco laws are very strict and getting stricter now in this country. Can you just explain the scenario whereby you're able to run Marlboro on the car here and not at Phoenix when you ran earlier on?

Penske: Well, this had been a part of our series in the past. And the fact that we were sanctioned, you know, by CART to be able to run here and based on the current Attorney General's restrictions, you know, we looked at it carefully. Obviously, a company like Philip Morris is not going to have a race turn around the equipment they made, you know, to the government. And, you know, we are well within the guidelines prescribed. We could have run before, but we didn't. But the race in Phoenix, you know, was one that was outside that. So we did not run, you know, the colors.

King: OK. Roger, Tim, Rick, Gil, Helio, thanks. Here's how we're going to split it up, folks. We're going to have Rick and Gil on this side. We're going to have Helio and Tim on that side. And we'll have Roger, if you want to just stay seated because you're liable to get bombarded here. Thank you all for coming. Good luck.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jason Leffler , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Arie Luyendyk , Helio Castroneves , Gil de Ferran , Jackie Stewart , Al Unser Sr. , Rick Mears , Emerson Fittipaldi , Tony George , Roger Penske , Philip Morris , Mike Knight
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske