Belterra Casino Indy 300 Top Three Press Conference August 15, 2004 Adrian Fernandez - Race winner Buddy Rice - Second Dan Wheldon - Third Q: We're here with our second-place finisher today, Buddy Rice today, starting from the pole. Finished...
Belterra Casino Indy 300 Top Three Press Conference
August 15, 2004
Adrian Fernandez - Race winner
Buddy Rice - Second
Dan Wheldon - Third
Q: We're here with our second-place finisher today, Buddy Rice today, starting from the pole. Finished second, second-place finish his last three races and his third-straight top two. Talk about your run here this afternoon at Kentucky Speedway.
BUDDY RICE: I think we had a good day. We had some pretty sizable changes before the start of the race, and they turned out to be extremely good ones. I think everything is going good. We're biding our time, and I think the Fernandez group did an excellent job today. They helped clinch the Honda Manufacturer's Championship for the year, and I think also he had the ideal line. With 20 laps to go, I made my move, I made it stick and he got back around me. That's all she wrote, because he was going to hang onto bottom rail for the duration. It was a good day, we had no complaints and finished second and gained more valuable points toward the season finale.
Q: Talk about the front couple of laps. You pressured well, but were just unable to get around it.
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, it's difficult. As I said, the bottom rail is where to be at, and he (Tony Kanaan) had the ideal line. I had tried the high side quite a few times early on, and it was going to be very difficult with everybody as evenly matched. He was obviously in the same package as I was in with the G-force in the Honda power, so it was difficult to get around him. I tried a couple of shots, like I said, and I had my one opportunity and I didn't capitalize on it. It's still an excellent day for Rahal-Letterman, and we are doing fine towards the championship chase.
Q: Seemed like you were laying back a little bit. Was that planned and were you just sizing up the competition at that point?
BUDDY RICE: No, we were just looking at everything. Some guys like to get up front and lead right away. I think we just had to wait and see what everybody wanted to do.
I think we are happy with the way we handled the strategy and stuff. I think that it just played out the way it did, and we are very happy. We have no complaints whatsoever. It's another strong finish for us.
Q: Can you talk about Fernandez' pass with five laps to go? Did it surprise anyone in the field, and did you see it coming?
BUDDY RICE: No, because he had been running up front all day. I think everybody's strategy at that point was just going to have to watch it till the end. I think there was about 55 to 58 laps left of green running, and it was going to be tight on fuel for everybody. So I think everybody was laying back and watching the fuel.
The yellow that came out late helped everybody on fuel to where it was going to be no issue to get to the end. Fernandez was up front, and at that point that was the spot to be at where everybody needed to start going for it. Like I said, he had the bottom line. I had the opportunity. I didn't capitalize on it.
Q: Can you talk about cars coming into Turn 2 a little high?
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, basically, this place, the way the light banking is, how much air is blowing up the cars, there's dirty air. We are all lined up in a big, tight pack and we are all swinging wider and wider. So what happens is you get cars spanning out two, three wide, and one of the cars in the back has a little bobble or lip and guys start lining up for the fence. Guys lining up behind you are going to do the same thing. I got myself caught up once in the fourth line, I think, and then two laps later, I got caught out being on the turn in three, and I squeezed between (Sam) Hornish and the wall. That's just the way it goes. It's a tight, packed racing and that's the way it always is with the IRL. You know, it's just normal for what happens. We just don't have the banking to keep us all packed on the low side.
Q: Talk about the unique characteristics of Kentucky Speedway compared to some of the other mile-and-a-halves on the circuit.
BUDDY RICE: Well, the turns are really tighter here, and also it has light banking. I think those are the two main issues. Obviously, we've had bumps in the past where right now they have shaved it and made it a lot better. So I think that's why the racing was so much better this year than it was last year, and I think that's what kept us all packed up. Last year, the bumps and everything were so bad that if your car could not handle it, there's no way you're going to drive hard. So, I know that from just personal experience of being here last year. This year, it helped clean the racing up, but the banking is just so light, the turns are tight, it's a handling track.
Q: What is it going to take to challenge for the Championship down the stretch?
BUDDY RICE: Keep running up front. Just going to play out, there's nothing I can do or change anything. Winning races and finishing up front and staying ahead of Tony (Kanaan) is going to be key. Obviously he's got the same idea, to do the same thing to keep his points lead, I think, and we're just going to have to wait and see what happens.
Like I said, as long as we look at our own program and handle it like we should and run up front, it will all play out like it should. We'll just see what happens when it comes down to Texas at the finale.
Q: What are your observations about Adrian Fernandez's progress in the series this year?
BUDDY RICE: I think Adrian is new to driving the cars, didn't show up till Phoenix, missed all of the preseason testing. They only had one car and jumped to a two-car effort. In the second round, I think it's been a very steep learning curve for him, and that's been the biggest thing. He maybe plays it more risky than other times, and until you get an absolute grip on everything, it's going to take a little bit, and it's no different than all of the new teams that come in here, into the IRL. You have to learn the package and learn how to drive the package and learn what it's looking for. It's just taken a little bit, but I don't think there's been any question in the last, probably, three to four rounds, they have been progressively climbing up the ladder in finishes. So I don't think it's a surprise to see the Fernandez group win. It was definitely coming. Adrian, he's not a rookie, per se. He has a lot of experience and knows exactly what he's looking for. It just took a little bit to get a handle on exactly what he's looking for when he's handling mile-and-a-half tracks.
Q: Talk about Thomas Scheckter taking the lead.
BUDDY RICE: I think since Chevy and Toyota came out with their new packages, as well as we did at Michigan, obviously the two other manufacturers had a lot of room to make up and they did that, they did a good job. Both of the Penske cars qualified and won last two rounds. And Scheckter was at Michigan until whatever happened to them there. I think it was the pit stop issue, he got hit by another car. And then it looks like this week, I'm not really sure, but you could smell the burning carbon, so some sort of fire or something happened, fuel hose. I just think it's little things like that. But also, at the same time, you could see by the pace what was going on up on the front by all of us, and it's the same thing that happened. I think some people will take a risk and gamble and run full-risk to run up front and other people are just willing to hang out and wait and see how it all pans out. Everybody has different strategies. Obviously the Panther team knows how to run up front and they have done it before, they have won championships. Scheckter knows how to drive. They just need a week for everything to come together, and I think you will see him finish up towards the front.
Q: Dan, thank you for waiting patiently. We are going to take some questions.
Q: Dan, you started 11th today, finished third, moved up eight spots. Last year, started 14th, finished eighth. This is your fifth third-place finish of the season, and you also have two wins that go along with that. Talk about your run this afternoon and your recent efforts, you had 18, 13, 9 in the last races prior to Michigan, and you've stepped it up with a couple third places in a row.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, obviously those disappointing results, which are obviously disappointing circumstances out of everybody's control. I think the race today here was a lot more exciting than it was last year. I think they did an excellent job grinding down those bumps. I still think the owner of this place still strategically placed some on the high line at 1 and 2 just to mess with the drivers, which I didn't quite get. I think it's a good result. Again, you know, I did lose points to Buddy, which from that standpoint is disappointing and only gained very few on Tony (Kanaan). So we just have to keep doing what we're doing. I think I got the best out of what I had for today, but we need to step it up a notch these last five races.
Q: Can you talk about anything in particular that allowed you to move from 11th to third over the run, did you notice anything during the race?
DAN WHELDON: I think the major starts and restarts were my biggest gain. Certainly the car that my engineer gave me was very well balanced and it was good in traffic.
Although toward the end, I just didn't quite have enough to pass Adrian and Buddy. I think obviously it was pretty stagnant at the front with each of us fanning out three-wide into the corners to keep out of the front wing. Just one of those things. I think it was a good day from a results standpoint, but a little bit of a disappointing day from a points thing.
Q: Two or three to go, you guys were three-wide battling for second, third place. Nothing was really settled at that point, and then were you surprised when Adrian slung-shot past you to actually take the lead?
DAN WHELDON: I'm going to answer your second question first. I think at that point when Adrian took the lead, I didn't think anybody wanted the lead. Because certainly, I was running behind Buddy and Tony and having to lift an awful lot, and I think obviously at that point we still had a long way to go on a fuel tank, so people were saving. He just capitalized on that opportunity. Fortunately I think the yellow helped the lead group because some of the others pitted. But yeah, the problem is when you've got somebody running fast up front and then you fan out three-wide in second sudden force behind that, just allows him to break away. As soon as we started back into position, we were able to catch back up. I actually followed Buddy a lot just from the standpoint that he seemed a little bit quicker over me and he was able to pull me up to some of the cars. There was a stint when actually Tony came out of the pits after a green start and had a bit of a lead, and I just sat behind Buddy and he towed me right back to the lead group, or to Tony at the time.
Q: Was it difficult to get and maintain the lead throughout the race?
DAN WHELDON: The problem was, when you were leading, you just punched a big hole in the air. So depending on who was leading, that would determine on how difficult it was to pass. I think certainly Adrian was very strong. I think Buddy was very strong. And so, they were very difficult to get around because they would sit on the low side, and to overtake a car that quick on the high side, really, you've got to be significantly quicker. I mean, with the IRL the way it is, it's so close, you don't get that, unfortunately.
So, I think that that's why the race panned out that way. You know, nonetheless, I think it was a very exciting race. I certainly had a blast. It was just, like I say, just didn't work out for me points-wise today.
Q: Congratulations again, Dan.
Continued in part 2