Firestone Indy 225, Nazareth Speedway Top three press conference Helio Castronves (winner) Sam Hornish Jr. (second); Bryan Herta (third) Moderator: Joining us right now in the trackside conference room are second- and third- place finishers of...
Firestone Indy 225, Nazareth Speedway
Top three press conference Helio Castronves (winner) Sam Hornish Jr. (second); Bryan Herta (third)
Moderator: Joining us right now in the trackside conference room are second- and third- place finishers of today's Firestone Indy 225 at Nazareth Speedway. Finishing in third is Bryan Herta. He started the event in fifth place. He brought it home in third. Tell us about your race.
Bryan Herta: It was a difficult race. We knew it would be. My car was pretty good. I definitely didn't have the speed that Sam and Helio had and Dixon, too. I think we were sort of second tier in terms of speed, but it's a great result. You know, I'm really pleased to get another top three.
Moderator: Our second-place finisher Sam Hornish Jr. started the event in seventh place. Sam, obviously at the end there, you were racing hard. Last week you won, and your car was on rails. Today it looked like you were having to drive the car a little bit.
Sam Hornish Jr.: Definitely. The quicker you put the throttle down here, the better coming off of Turn 3. A couple of times, I guess, I got a little anxious, but the Pennzoil Panther team did an awesome job for not being able to come here and test and to be able to do two day's worth of testing, two 45-minute sessions, we're pretty happy with that. Another great performance by the guys, they put together flawless cars for me. I haven't had mechanical failure, I think, ever that they could have had any control over. Just goes to show that they put together good race cars for me, and the engineering staff does an awesome job also.
Q: Could you tell us about the last sprint after the final caution? Did you think you were going to get him (Castroneves) at any time? Was there a particular time you had a shot and missed it?
Sam Hornish Jr.: I had a good run on him twice, where I actually got beside him and knew I was going to get the job done. The yellow flag came out one of those times; the other one we were in lap traffic. I didn't want to push anything. I know scoring points is the biggest thing. Even though we didn't gain any points on the actual leader, we gained a lot on second, third and fourth place in the points. That's what we're here to do: collect those. You have to use your brains a little bit here. If I wanted to push it, I probably could have, you know, maybe made it. One of the things that Brian says in the driver's meeting is if you don't think you have a 90% chance of making it, better not try to go and do it. I tried to use a little bit of discretion there.
Q: How about when you were going into Turn 1, Barron was making a run on you at one point, looked like he could have probably, if he pushed you too far, you both would have been out of the race.
Sam Hornish Jr.: It happened that somebody keyed up right at that time. Other than myself and a spotter, nobody could get on the radio to say he was underneath me. I saw him there. I thought I gave him plenty of room there. I moved up at least a car width off the strips. You know, I made a run on Helio, got underneath him, couldn't get the pass done, in which case Barron was able to get a run on me off of (Turn) 3, down into (Turn) 1 there. He was just barely up enough beside me.
Q: Was there a time or two where you thought that Helio's move, protection move, was considered a block in your mind?
Sam Hornish Jr.: I leave that up to Brian. He's the one that officiates these races. If he thinks it was a block, he'll do something about it.
Q: Do you think that?
Sam Hornish Jr.: I just drive the race car.
Q: I saw you get a little sideways coming out of Turn 4 when you were a couple of car lengths back. How close to the edge were you running after Helio?
Sam Hornish Jr.: I was pushing about as hard as I could without putting it in the wall. That's what everybody had to do today. We went out there the first stint, the car was pretty good. The second stint, it was really loose. It pushed from then. We got the car back to where we wanted to. It was just a constant battle today of finding the right setup on the car. I was pushing it pretty hard. This is a tough track to get around. It's one of the ones I like to come to because being able to drive it on the edge a little bit helps you out sometimes -- as long as you keep it under control.
Q: Bryan, this is your third top three since getting into the car when Dario got hurt. It's your second consecutive event you've been on the podium. Talk about that and what it means to you, as well as the team.
Bryan Herta: It's good. That's what we do it for. Obviously, the goal is to win. We didn't achieve that today, so we still have some homework to do. But, I feel like I have a better appreciation now, coming out of here, of what we need to do with the car for next year -- if I have a next year. I don't even know. I'm not going to worry about that yet (laughter).
Q: Sam, were you behind the No. 10 and No. 11 when they crashed?
Sam Hornish Jr.: I was pretty close to them. I couldn't see what happened. They were already sideways when I got around.
Q: You weren't in jeopardy in that?
Sam Hornish Jr.: There was quite a bit of debris from that. It was just good that we were within the pit window, were able to go in and pit, not have to worry about cutting any tires, any debris that might have been left out on the track.
Bryan Herta: By the time I got there, it had already happened.
Q: Bryan, I know you were able to go fuel rich the rest of the way. Sam, did you have fuel concerns toward the end?
Sam Hornish Jr.: We were real close. I actually got a pretty good run on Helio going down into (Turn) 3 on the last lap. About three-quarters of the way down the backstraight, it started missing and the fuel light came on. We stretched it as far as we could, but we started running it pretty rich, too at the end to get some speed.
Q: Apparently, your decision (to leave Panther in 2004) didn't prove to be a distraction for yourself and the team. Look where you finished. Talk about how difficult that was or how easy it was.
Sam Hornish Jr.: What's that? The decision? Like I said, when I get in the race car, that's what you're focused on. As soon as you start getting in that race car, and you're not focused on driving it, that's when you need to start thinking of a new occupation.
Q: What was the general response during that one caution period when it looked like Helio was going to go in and suddenly stayed out on the track?
Sam Hornish Jr.: We were real close on making it with our fuel consumption, as you guys saw, as I just said. You know, if he came in, we came in. He kind of gave a little bit of a fake that he was going to go in. We were just, basically, going to do whatever they did. Usually we're pretty conservative about what we do. We might have came in if it was earlier in the season or we were leading the points as opposed to just trying to catch up. We're playing the catch-up game now, so you have to take a couple more risks, gamble a little bit. It paid off.
Q: Sam, you've been first among equals in the Chevy teams. Is that because you've had more time with the engine? What's going on? Why aren't the others up there with you?
Sam Hornish Jr.: I think it's just a tribute to the team and myself, how well we work together. Even this year when we were down in the points, down on power, every race that we finished this year, we were the highest finishing Chevrolet. In the three races we fell out, we were the highest running Chevrolet at the time. I think just our relationship together helps us to be able to. The engineers understand what I want out of the car, what I need to go out there and drive it fast. They give me that. There's no argument about it. Just the same as I give them a hundred percent every time I'm in the race car.
Q: Bryan, how do you see your situation now with Michael's team? Where are you sitting next year, any idea?
Bryan Herta: I don't know. I honestly don't know. All I can do is just keep trying to do the best job I can in the car. I told those guys I'm going to try to make it real hard for them to want to get rid of me. Just got to keep trying to do that.
Q: Bryan, have you turned in your resume for the Panther ride?
Bryan Herta: It's a great team, but I haven't talked to them.
Q: Everyone has been asking about your future. How about today, any particular thrills during the race?
Bryan Herta: For me, the race was pretty uneventful. The only real problem I had on the start is for some reason my engine was miss-firing on the start. I lost like three spots in the first lap. It cleaned up. I don't know what happened there. From then on, I tried, but I really didn't have an ability to pass too many cars. We had Gil on a restart. The second part of the race, I was just running by myself. The top three guys at that time ran away. I was pulling away from everybody behind me. I was just trying to go as quick as I can and try to keep as much track position, stay up the track as far as I could.
Moderator: Congratulations on a strong race. Enjoy the off week. Best of luck in Chicago. At this time we'd like to welcome the champion of the 2003 Firestone Indy 225, Helio Castroneves. You started in second place, but I believe your team really helped you, getting you out of the pits at the start. Tell us about your race, about the overall teamwork.
Helio Castronves: Well, everybody helped. You know, everybody. The tires held up very well. Obviously, the Toyota engine, incredible. When I needed to save fuel, they were right there. When I needed the power, right there, too. It was very good. Also, my team, my engineers did a hell of a job setting up the car. Unfortunately, yesterday was very bad. But we made the right call today. Wow, it was phenomenal. Very, very good. Nazareth, I mean, what can you expect? Nothing is easy over here. Everything is very tough. Sometimes it's the fuel mileage, sometimes it's the yellows, sometimes it's the traffic. I guess I'm calling me a little bit of a veteran. I was able to put everything together, obviously, to be able to manage well until the end of the race. It was very good. I'm extremely happy for the team, especially here in the backyard of Team Penske. I could not disappoint my guys.
Moderator: This is Helio's second win in the 2003 season and his eighth top three finish of the year. Probably most importantly to you, it puts you on top of the IndyCar Series point standings. You have 429 points. Your teammate Gil de Ferran has 404. Tony Kanaan has 397. Your comment on the championship race?
Helio Castronves: I'm going to enjoy it at least for, what, two weeks. I'm going to enjoy that. You never know when you're on the top. It's like a black market -- stock market: sometimes up there, sometimes down there. Black market, look at me (laughter). It's awesome. It ain't over till the fat lady sings. You know what I mean? We have to keep working hard, focusing on our job. We have to keep finishing races. We got a break, fortunately myself, unfortunately for those guys, they had bad luck. Hey, I was at the beginning of the year. They call it slump. I was like always there. Finally, the breaks are coming to me. It was great. I was an extremely tough race, but I'm very proud of the whole entire team.
Q: Was there any worry about your fuel window, whether or not you were going to run out of gas?
Helio Castronves: Well, worried, yes. I always worry, but my guys were basically telling me, 'You're not going to give up a position because of fuel.' That's very, very tough. What happened is toward the middle, I don't know, 200, a hundred something laps, when Sam was behind me, I don't know if he was saving fuel or not, but for sure he wasn't, and he was going for it. He was trying to pass. I was like, 'Should I save fuel or save my position, try to pass those guys in front of me?' It was very difficult. I didn't have in my mind, 'Am I going to finish or what?' In fact, when the last yellow came, I asked them, 'Should we go for it or not?' They said, 'Yes.' That's why I didn't have any worries. Until that point, I was trying to save as much fuel as possible, but it was very difficult. I have to just keep my position. It was great. It was a good battle. It was very fast, man. When you have Sam Hornish right behind you, and you are trying to save fuel and keep the position, it's a little tough to do it. But we were able to manage to do that. I kept the victory.
Q: You don't ever wish bad luck on your fellow competitors. When you saw Dixon in the pits for an extended period of time, you saw Kanaan drop out, you had to think it was going to be a big day for you?
Helio Castronves: I didn't see Dixon. When we came in the pits, I didn't know where he was. I thought fourth, something like that, on the time standing. I thought he was still in the race. In fact, when we came to pit for the second time, I saw his car there. 'Hey, is he not pitting?' They told me, 'He's having a problem, he's a lap down.' With Tony, it was almost me. Traffic was extremely heavy. Kenny was trying to keep his position. He was trying to do everything, everything. He's downshifting, I can see. We were getting the point that all the other guys were getting impatient. I'm like, 'I'm going to try.' He shut me off. When I heard that, it was the yellow. I guess Tony or Scheckter got tangled. I noticed. I feel bad. During the race, you can't think about, 'This race is going to be mine.' No, there is still plenty of laps. That's what I tried to do, focus on my race and finish.
Q: But the impact of that?
Helio Castronves: Until I win a race, I don't know how big it's going to be, or if I finish second or if I finish third. I was just trying to not think about that. I wasn't actually. I just found out when I was celebrating. You just have to think of the race. That's the way it works.
Q: Can you talk about protecting your position there in the last 20 laps, certainly the last 15, maybe the last couple on Sam? Did you think you were blocking more than you would at most tracks? Was this a place where you really had to be all over the racetrack?
Helio Castronves: What did you say? What do you mean "protecting position"?
Q: Talk about having Sam behind you and fighting for your position. Did you feel like you were fighting for that more than some places or did you even think it came close to blocking?
Helio Castronves: Well, certainly I wasn't making anything easy, obviously. We finished in first today. What do you think?
Q: I thought there were a couple times it was pretty close on the backstretch.
Helio Castronves: Just a couple (laughter)? No, I never intended to try being there. Again, in this series, you have a bunch of people trying to watch what you guys are doing or what you might be doing. Again, I was trying to pass the guys in front of me, as well. It was a very tough. We were fighting. When you have two good drivers, nobody wants to give up easy.
Q: Were you worried about him on the last couple of laps coming from the inside or the outside?
Helio Castronves: Coming from both. He was coming from both sides. But I tell you one thing, running IROC helped me a lot today because IROC normally you look in the mirror. Today, I was pretty much like that, racing, looking in the mirror. It's a lot of things going on. You know, thank God today I have enough experience to be able to be there and save me a good position without blocking. I think it was a great race. It was very tough. He was very, very tough, but I did have a car, too. My car was very, very fast in those moments, probably because we're saving fuel. Again, this place is very difficult to pass. But no doubt about it, he was strong competitor.
Q: Toyota has won 10 of the first 13. You and Gil have won four of those for them. How important is it for your engine guys to clench the manufacturer's championship for Toyota, being Team Penske prepares their own engines?
Helio Castronves: Those guys have been working so hard. I guess they chose the right teams or they were able to start to put the team on the right moment, let's put it this way. Obviously Roger, his organization is always trying to be the key. Well, you just see. We hardly have any problem, thank God, with the engine (knocking on wood). I'm extremely happy. They saw the performance of Sam on the last race. I know they are going to keep working. I just have to thank them. They deserve it because they worked hard. If they clench the championship, well done. Hopefully, now we are going to be able to clench the driver's championship, as well.
Q: Back to the incident where Tony and Scheckter crashed. Did you say you actually were going to go make a move to try to get past Brack and you had to check?
Helio Castronves: I was with my nose there. All of a sudden Kenny just, whack, smacking on the door. I didn't know what's happening outside.
Q: You did a check and that's why Tony checked.
Helio Castronves: That was close. That was very close. That's tough, you know, when you have a close race like that. You have to be watching all of the places. I almost got myself in a position like that twice actually.
Q: That one caution period where it first appeared you were going to go into the pits, then stayed out, how much time prior to that was the decision made that you were going to actually stay out on the track?
Helio Castronves: Well, the team was saying, 'Stay out.' I wanted to go in. We were just trying to play with everybody out there (laughter). Nothing was going on. We had already made the decision.
Q: I was impressed with the height that you scaled the fence today. It looked like you looked down and thought, 'What have I done?'
Helio Castronves: "I was fatigued when I climbed the fence. A couple of times I slipped a little bit. 'Gosh, I cannot fall over here. It's going to look bad.' Again, it was great. Like I said, emotion, once it takes over you, it's difficult to stop. Obviously, as I said, in the backyard of Team Penske, you don't want to disappoint them. Just coming back to his question, we have to have a little bit of fun. It's not all the time like, 'Oh, my God, I have to do this or that.' That's why I'm trying to make my guys relax a little bit. I knew it was a very tense, stressful race. That's the way it normally happens. Obviously, when it's time to deliver it, you better do it.
Q: Is that as tired as you've ever been?
Helio Castronves: I don't know, Indy and Phoenix I was pretty tired, too. We're going to keep going higher and higher. Hopefully I'll have a bungee cord to help me coming down.
Q: Any truth to the report that they're going to require you to wear a helmet while you're climbing the fence?
Helio Castronves: Trust me, my friend, I'm going to keep using not only the helmet, but the gloves as well. Don't try this at home, huh?
Q: It looked, for the lead, like it was a no passing zone. The pit stop had to be critical. If you didn't get out there first, there was a pretty good chance you weren't going to be able to pass the leader.
Helio Castronves: True. I agree with you. You have to understand, this year's car, there's a little bit less downforce compared to last year. We do have better power compared to last year. Basically people are still trying to learn the car. We were learning the car, as well. Again, when your going to those conditions, when you have more power and less downforce, it turns out to be a little bit tough to pass. Last year, remember, we were able to make passes outside. A lot of exciting races. Although, we did make it exciting this year, as well. I think it was pretty intense. But once you got stuck -- I tried twice take a chance. One with Greg Ray, we almost crashed. The second one with Kenny Brack. Was a crash. Wasn't me. But you see why normally you're in the lead, you want to take that much risk. That's the problem. Nobody wants to give up a lap because here, on the same time you're bad in one stint, in the next stint you might be able to save your car. A lot of strategy. A lot of mental things. Not only going for it.
Q: Knowing what you did at the final three tracks we're going to, is it difficult to not get overconfident at this point, that this championship is now yours to lose as opposed to yours to win?
Helio Castronves: No. Let me tell you, those tracks that we just raced, St. Louis and here, it's one of those tracks that you have to find the best mechanical grip as possible. Again, it's a track that very difficult to pass. When you go into Chicago, Fontana and Texas, a lot of guys, I'm saying most of the field, will hardly have any trouble with the car. You know, again, that's the situation when you have only your car here working really well. In those tracks, you going to probably have five, six, ten guys working well. That's where you need to take advantage in those situations. So, no, I don't think we're going to be overconfident. I think we going to go still with the same procedure, same focus, working, trying to find the minimal details. So far the minimal details for us, it's been helping a lot. Hopefully Chicago, we're going to have a good race. Who knows, we can surprise a lot of people.