IRL: Motegi: Top-three finishers press conference

Indy Racing League Indy Japan 300 Twin Ring Motegi April 17, 2004 Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves MODERATOR: We'll get started with the third-place finisher, Helio Castroneves. He was the biggest mover of the day, starting ...

Indy Racing League
Indy Japan 300
Twin Ring Motegi
April 17, 2004

Dan Wheldon, Tony Kanaan, Helio Castroneves

MODERATOR: We'll get started with the third-place finisher, Helio Castroneves. He was the biggest mover of the day, starting 15th, finishing third. Helio, those last 50 laps, quite a run.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: It was extremely tough out there. Even though we're running a bit with less downforce, I'm not sure, but the car is very difficult to handle. At the beginning, I just had to pace myself. The car was very loose. I don't know what happened. The car was very, very loose. I just had to wait for the fuel go down. Then everything settled down, everybody got in line. But, anyway, at the end of the day, I have to thank Firestone for being able to give me those extra-lap tires. I'd like to thank Toyota, as well. And last, but not least, my team who, again, put such a great strategy together. I can't thank them enough.

MODERATOR: Let me quickly go over the point standings. Unofficially, Dan Wheldon is the new points leader at 123 points, Tony Kanaan is second at 117, and Helio Castroneves is third at 106. We're joined by second-place finisher Tony Kanaan. Tony, this was a bit role reversal from Phoenix. Dan led so much, and you were trying to run him down at the end.

TONY KANAAN: Yeah, I helped him a little bit yesterday in qualifying. But he went pretty quick. I think he did a great job, and I didn't have a car to win the race today. Obviously, we did have a problem with the gurney flap, which broke. I didn't have a faster car than him. I mean, I'm happy for Honda. They deserve it. They tried for so many years. I'm also happy for Andretti Green, (finishing) 1-2.

MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for Tony and Helio.

Q: Helio, after Sam had the incident in Turn 1, a couple laps later, you and Kosuke almost got together. How close was that call?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, close enough, but I guess this is just part of it. He, unfortunately, had a problem with Sam. I didn't expect he was doing exactly the same as he did, so he would be more cautious. But it was close.

Q: Tony, the wind has been talked about all weekend. We come to the track today, it's 180 degrees different from what you've been dealing with. How difficult is it to drive this track with the wind conditions? We saw a lot of guys get out of it today and lose momentum, drop several positions, and have to get back up to speed.

TONY KANAAN: Well, the wind is the same for everybody. But, obviously it's been different than it was in the last two days. It was more difficult. The most difficult part for me, it's not a consistent wind. It comes and goes in different ways. All of a sudden you're going into turn one and the car gets sideways and you don't know why. So I judged the way my car was before the first stop, and made adjustments for the condition, basically. So it was a very, very tough day out there. It was one of the most difficult days in racing for me, for sure.

Q: Mr. Kanaan, what did you do after Dan won, what did you say to him?

TONY KANAAN: It took him one year, exactly one year. So I said it was about time. He ran a perfect race. I think the guy has improved so much from last year. He's a championship contender, for sure. He was a rookie. He's not anymore. We'll treat him as a real driver now.

MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you. We'll see you at Indianapolis next month.

We're joined now by Dan Wheldon. A couple of quick notes. This is Dan's first career victory. His previous best finish was third, which he accomplished three times, most recently last month at Phoenix. He led 192 of the 200 laps today, which is the fifth highest laps-led total in league history, and the second most in a 200-lap event. The previous best in a 200-lap event was Tony Stewart in 1999 at Pikes Peak. He led 193 laps. This is Dan's ninth straight top-10 finish and his sixth straight top-five finish. Also Dan is the first Englishman to win an Indy-style event since 1997, September of 1997, when Mark Blundell won at California Speedway. Just talk about your day, Dan. What a dominating performance.

DAN WHELDON: I think an absolutely awesome day for myself to win my first race. For Honda, I think Honda kicked butt, and I think they deserve this more than any other engine manufacturer in the world. Their dedication to motorsports is second to none. I think every championship that they enter, they want to be winning. It's awesome to be part of an organization like that. I mean, they make me feel very welcome. People like Tony and Dario Franchitti have been with them a long time. They say exactly the same. They wouldn't really drive for any other engine manufacturer. It's awesome for them. I'm truly privileged to have one of their engines in the back of my car. I think for the team, Andretti Green Racing, they worked so, so hard in trying to achieve not only victories for their drivers, but domination. They had four cars that ran very competitively. The race itself was tough when you've got Tony Kanaan following you, pressing hard, and Darren Manning was pushing him, it makes it very difficult. But it worked out well for me. I think Tony, Eddie Jones, the boys who changed my tires also did a very good job. I'm not the best at getting the car in straight. For them to get me out in the lead all the time was excellent.

But a fantastic day for me.

MODERATOR: We talked about this yesterday, but things got off to such a poor start for you on Thursday. What did you do to turn things around?

DAN WHELDON: I think having started my second year in the series, I think the experience that I had previously, working with my engineer, has made an unbelievable difference. I think he can really read me quite well. I went to bed Thursday night kind of very disappointed with my performance. I think I was 16th quickest of the day. But I came to the track Friday morning, sat down with my engineer, talked over again what our problems were. We spoke the previous night. Went out for the first session of the Friday morning, and I think my second lap was already better than the best of the previous day. I have to give a lot of credit to Eddie Jones for making this win possible. I mean, he did read me very well. You know, when you've got the engine in the back that we have, the Honda, when you've got the boys changing tires this quick, you've got the car to do the job, once you get everything right, it comes together, as it did for me.

DAN WHELDON: No questions like yesterday. I like proving you wrong (laughter).

Q: You were dominant, strong, fast, why couldn't you win in Phoenix?

DAN WHELDON: I thought if I won at Phoenix, it wouldn't be such a big deal here at Motegi. I thought I'd save it until Motegi. I must say, I've never been told I suck because I didn't win off of the pole, but he told me so. I'm shocked (laughter).

One other thing, I'm going to point this man out. It's the man in the black shirt there. He has been with this team since we arrived here. His organizational skills, making sure we're in the right place at the right time, just his help to the team means an unbelievable amount to everybody - not just for myself, but everybody on the team. We really appreciate everything that you do for us. What makes it even better is he drives a Honda, too (laughter).

Q: What are you feeling right now? Is everything perfect?

DAN WHELDON: I think everything is beautiful right now - even him (laughter)! It's truly an emotional thing.

Q: A lot of drivers from Europe tend to go in the direction of Formula 1. Why did you choose to stay with the American open-wheel racing?

DAN WHELDON: Well, I came over to America in '99 because I thought the way the motor racing over there, in comparison to Europe, is there's a lot more opportunity. I've certainly been graced with a great opportunity with Andretti Green Racing, Honda, driving the Jim Beam car. This league is truly amazing. I mean, there is no championship in the world that you can compete in knowing that probably 12 to 15 cars can actually win the race. To win is so, so difficult, but it makes it so, so rewarding when you do. I mean, I just love being part of it. We have great teams. There are a lot of good drivers. We have great engine manufacturers. There's only one I like, though. It's very, very good. We go to some great tracks. I mean, this, the Indianapolis 500, some fantastic races. I could name another six, eight, that I love being a part of. In fact, I love being part of all of them. I just enjoy this league a great deal and look forward to being here for a long time. I think now that I won this race for Honda, it will help me stay here for longer.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Dan.

DAN WHELDON: Thank you.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Darren Manning , Helio Castroneves , Dario Franchitti , Tony Kanaan , Mark Blundell , Dan Wheldon , Jim Beam