IRL: Michigan: Top-three race finishers press conference, part I

IRL IndyCar Series Firestone Indy 400 Michigan International Speedway July 27, 2003 ALEX BARRON MO NUNN SAM HORNISH JR. TOMAS SCHECKTER MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome everybody to our top-3 finishers press conference for today's Firestone...

IRL IndyCar Series
Firestone Indy 400
Michigan International Speedway
July 27, 2003

ALEX BARRON MO NUNN SAM HORNISH JR. TOMAS SCHECKTER

MODERATOR: We'd like to welcome everybody to our top-3 finishers press conference for today's Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway. I think I speak for everyone just by saying, "Wow!" Our second place finisher with us today is Sam Hornish Jr. He started fourth, finished second. Sam led 126 laps today. He has now finished in the top five in three of the last five races.

Sam, I guess to start with you, you have won quite a few of these by-a-nose races. Today you were on the other end of it. Give us your thoughts.

SAM HORNISH JR.: What was the margin of victory?

MODERATOR: 121 thousandths of a second, fourth-closest finish in IndyCar Series history.

SAM HORNISH JR.: That doesn't make it any better. It was a great race. I had a lot of fun out there today. Good to be back and running toward the front of the pack on these big tracks. Just came up a little bit short. We knew we had to be in the lead, knew you had to stay down on the bottom because it was too easy for somebody to get a run on you low. He (Alex Barron) timed it right. He worked on it for about the last 20 laps, kept coming up, dropping back. I knew that one of those times he was going to get it right. He happened to get it right on the last lap. He saved it for the end, so that's what you're supposed to do. Just came up a little short.

MODERATOR: Our third-place finisher today, Tomas Scheckter, started from the pole, finished third. This is his second top-five finish of the season. He has now led laps in six of the last eight races, including today. Tell us about your run.

TOMAS SCHECKTER: It was great. It was such a mix-up, so many quick cars out there. I mean, if you were stuck in sixth, sometimes you'd be stuck there for seven or eight laps because everybody was going three-wide, and there was nowhere to get by. I think numerous people maybe could have won this race. It was just really who got in the front and who stayed side-by-side around. The third lane you could use, but you really couldn't pass on it.

MODERATOR: I'll toss out a question. Tomas came in (to the press conference room) a little early. The heat was obviously present today. How did it affect you, or did it, in the cockpit as you were running, Sam?

SAM HORNISH JR.: Heat wasn't too bad. We go to Kansas and a lot of other places that are hotter than this. But it was another good day here. You know, being from around this area, I know how hot and humid it can get. Today we got kind of a break. I was just glad that the rain stayed away all day. I think after that last pit stop, when we came out, it was sprinkling a little bit. I thought, "Oh, this is great." I came out in sixth, I think. It was one of those days where it looked like it was going to rain all day long. Luckily, it didn't.

MODERATOR: We can take questions from the media.

Q: Sam, it seemed your engine was superior on restart, especially the start of the race. You blasted into the lead before you got to the starting line. Also, several other restarts, you pulled away from the field. How good was that engine on acceleration?

SAM HORNISH JR.: Well, compared to some of the problems we've had earlier in the year, it really--I had to really work on my restart, how I did my restarts, being in the right gear, having the car up to the right rpm, strategizing what I was going to do as soon as it came out.

It's really helped out a little bit. No doubt that the Generation IV engine has more torque than what we had been running previously. I think, all in all, dealing with what we dealt with at the beginning of the year has helped our team and myself, you know, be better people as far as knowing what the car needs, so we have everything that we need, we are better able to use it.

Q: The bump from the pits, did that affect your handling?

SAM HORNISH JR.: No, not really. We had been a little bit loose most of the day when I was right up behind another car. It was hard to keep the car down on the bottom line because the back end kept wanting to step out. The way this track is built, there's the banking at the bottom, it's a little bit less than the next lane, so when you get across there, it really wiggles the car. If the car is already a little bit loose, you slide up a little bit, it gets even more loose. Being up front was the best place for me to be today because I could stay down on the bottom, and I didn't have to worry about the air being taken off the wings. The bump coming out of the pits didn't affect the car. Tomas didn't have anywhere to go. It was one of those deals where it was five cars in the room where about three could fit. It wasn't a big hit.

Q: Sam, could you take us through that last lap coming out of Turn 4 there, what was going through your mind, what you felt you had to do with Alex.

SAM HORNISH JR.: Well, what I thought I had to do was just keep him behind me. I mean, there was not really a whole lot I could do. When you pick the bottom line, there's nothing you can do. There's no blocking in this series. There's no moving to impede the progress of another car. I knew that I had to pick my line, which the bottom line was what worked best for me all day, and hope he didn't get the run exactly right on the last lap. He had it.

Q: Tomas, at the start of the race, when his yellow car went blasting by the outside of you, did you think he may have jumped the start any?

TOMAS SCHECKTER: No, he's definitely good at restarts. He's got a good spotter up there, as well. Sometimes, you know, we're just slow pushing the right pedal, that's what happens. I haven't been great at restarts. The start was actually -- I think I was third passing the start/finish line. I thought, as the leader, I should start the race or decide when this race should start. I was going to start a little bit later. Everybody else didn't agree with that (laughter). I ended up fourth into the first turn.You know, it was fine. I think I got back in the lead in a couple of laps. That's what's great about this track, great about the IRL, you know. It's not a single-file race, it's three abreast. If you do have a little problem like we did, you can get back.

Q: Tomas, talk about the contact with Alex with 30 laps to go.

TOMAS SCHECKTER: I didn't even know what my spotter was saying. He was like, 'Low, high, low, behind, looking.' I felt like switching it off after a while (laughter). Then it was 'Low, low, low.' A little bump, I got sideways. I just saw smoke behind me. I don't know what happened. Did he spin? I'm not sure. He got loose and bumped into me?

SAM HORNISH JR.: I think what happened was we were all three, like, side by side. I think he just pushed up a little bit, got in the wake of my car, then the car continued to push up. These cars, you can run right up behind somebody as long as -- as long as they're not moving. You know, I think when it started to push up, he got into my wake. As you cross the wake, it makes the car about twice as bad as what it is any other time. I'm sure that's what happened.

Q: Tomas, could you talk about that time in the race where Sam was checking out away from things? You were a little critical yesterday or disappointed for Toyota and Honda. Were you thinking you got snookered on this one?

TOMAS SCHECKTER: No. One thing that I do have to say, it's great racing with Sam. He's a great driver. He's very fair on the track. He knows what's happening around him. To race out there with him today was great. But I think as a driver, it's not our problem, you know. It's a problem that Toyota, Honda and Chevy have to sort out. If the IRL decides to do what they do, so be it, let's go racing.

Q: Sam, as we're talking right now about that final caution, you had nearly an eight-second lead. Looked like you stretched it out a little bit. What was going through your thoughts when that yellow came out?

SAM HORNISH JR.: I don't know. I was trying to figure it out in my head because I knew when the cars that were like second, third, fourth behind me, I knew when they pitted, because they pitted about three laps after I did, maybe four. So I'm saying, 'Well, we all started, we had a yellow flag, all pitted at the same time, so we started. They went four more laps than what I did. The next time, they'll be able to go eight more laps after I pit. Then, OK, this is what lap I'm going have to pit at.' I figured it out. I was trying to figure it out, whether or not they could make it to the end with one less stop than what I did. I think it was going to be they were going to have to stop one more time also. I was thinking, 'Let's have another yellow flag, we all have to pit one more time before the end.' On the other hand, I was thinking, 'Maybe I shouldn't have asked for that.' That's part of racing: you always want something you don't have.

Q: With all the frustrations you've gone through this year, when you go down to the bowling alley on Monday night, you were probably taking a lot of frustration out on the pins. When you go tomorrow night, I'm sure it's going to be more of a relaxed time. Talk about how your spirits have been boosted by all this.

SAM HORNISH JR.: Well, I mean, I'm about as happy as I could be outside of winning right now, with the fact that, you know, the new engine debuted as well as it did, no problems at all. We ran up front, whole bunch of laps, did everything that we could do. In Michigan, an hour away from home, have a day off tomorrow. A bunch of my buddies took the day off. We're going to go out to the lake. Be a nice, relaxing day tomorrow. I'm glad after the hectic schedule we've had with all the testing, getting this new engine ready, all the PR appearances, doing everything we've had to do between Pennzoil, Chevrolet, Firestone, all the great sponsors that we have, that I get a day off tomorrow.

Q: Sam, what will it feel like to go to the Generation 3 engine after this?

SAM HORNISH JR.: Well, if we were coming back here, I'd be a little bit disappointed. I guess that we're going to Gateway, which is a handling track, which is where we have another two top-five finishes of the year. I'm glad we have that opportunity just to go to a handling track, not another horsepower track. It's one race that we have to deal with. We'll go through it, deal the best we can. Look forward to the last five races of the year, try to do what we did today, which was gain a lot of points on the leader.

MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations on an exciting race. Sam Hornish Jr. has been involved in six of the 10 closest finishes in IndyCar Series history. He has won four, finished second twice. At this time, we'd like to welcome the winner of today's Firestone Indy 400 at Michigan International Speedway, Alex Barron. Congratulations. I guess to start with, at any point during the race, did you think, 'I might have thrown it away?'

ALEX BARRON: Well, I don't know whose doing it was. Scheckter and I got into it coming off of (Turn) 4. I don't know whose fault it was. I was screaming on the radio that it was his fault. You know, I have to see the tape before I pass blame on anybody. But I was pretty upset. We came in, put some tires on the car, and I was pretty angry. The guys had to settle me down a little bit. But they did a good job, and we got a heck of a restart. At that point, when I went into Turn 1, I just went in flat out because I knew it was a do-or-die. I didn't know if the car was damaged or not, if I bent a tow link or anything. The car was great, solid all the way to the end. We were able to go flat out. The timing to try to pass there at the end was really difficult. About six laps from the end, I don't know if Sam hit a button or something, but seemed to have a little bit more power (laughter). He was inching away from me a little bit coming off of (Turn) 2. I was fortunate enough there on the last lap. Four laps previous to that, I timed it where I could get a run coming off of (Turn) 2. That's what I did my last lap. Four laps from the end, I was in front of him. It was really close. If the start/finish were any further down, I'm sure it would have been a different story. The car was running really strong, you know, all race. We had a little bit of a hiccup with the spin. But good pit stops. Solid all day.

MODERATOR: Today's victory was Alex's second career win. He won last year at Nashville. He has now finished in the top 10 in three of four IndyCar Series starts this year. With his win, Mo Nunn Racing is now the fourth different Toyota team to win a race this year.

Q: So far you've been IndyCar Series' best utility player. Do you feel you've earned a position in the starting lineup?

ALEX BARRON: I hope my glove stays warm from now on. It's been a long season. But every time I've gotten the shot to drive, whether it's been with Roger Penske or Mo Nunn, the cars have been really strong. That's what I want to do when I go race. In my career since I moved up to IndyCar, I've done a lot of development programs. You know, when I go racing, I want to race competitively with a competitive car. I was fortunate enough to get that all four races this year. Hopefully, I continue to get the opportunity to do that.

Part II

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , Alex Barron , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr. , Mo Nunn