MODERATOR: I am with a couple people who are on familiar ground of the first two events of the 2002 series, Sam Hornish Jr., Winner of the opening event at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the very talented Gil de Ferran is in a familiar position...
MODERATOR: I am with a couple people who are on familiar ground of the first two events of the 2002 series, Sam Hornish Jr., Winner of the opening event at the Homestead-Miami Speedway, and the very talented Gil de Ferran is in a familiar position once again. Sam, I expect a lot of people want to know exactly what happened in that pit stop that really cost you a lot of track position, put you behind the 8-ball in trying to capture rather than snare those two red-and-white machines?
Sam Hornish Jr.: We came in from the pit. Everything went good until we started to leave, stripped off first gear, kind of sat there, pulled into second, didn't really do anything, pulled into third, and then it stalled. Had to restart the motor. I think we went back to eighth place. You know, the car handled awesome. We could move it in and out of traffic whenever we wanted to. Lost sixth gear right toward the end. You know, it's one of those days. Everything didn't work out our way. It's what I say all the time: If it's hard to win, we'll do the best we can to try to win. If not, we'll try to do the best to finish up as high as we can.
Q: We can only surmise, Gil, when it comes to racing the last few laps, that there are no team orders out there. You and your teammate were wheel to wheel. That was a compelling duel.
Gil de Ferran: Absolutely. We race each other hard, at the same time we give each other room. On that restart that I was leading, I kind of hit the limiter in second gear. But, you know, we run under a no-blocking sort of rule. You know, I just kept my line going into (Turn) 1, went around the outside and went two turns side by side, flat out (inaudible). Then, you know, we kind of just weaving in and out. At one point, Helio got a little bit blocked in traffic. Looked like I was going to be able to make a move but not quite. At the end of the race, the opposite happened, he had a little bit of a break. If you don't mind, I'd just like to take this opportunity here to dedicate this result here, to both Helio's first place and my second place, to Gary Buckner (who died unexpectedly March 8). Gary worked in Team Penske for many years. He was in my crew for the last couple years. I liked the guy very much. He was a really big supporter of mine. I have very strong feelings for him. I would like to dedicate this result for him and his family. I was trying to bring home a first place here for him, but didn't quite work out. Helio did a great job nevertheless and brought Team Penske one-two. I'm sure Gary and his family would be happy with that. Thank you.
Q: Well put. We know certainly the loss you experienced. A comment that you made when you bumped against the limiter, this is something you've not had to contend with. How difficult is it adapting, if you will, to the new configuration, the new specs?
Gil de Ferran: I think especially both here and Homestead, we had quite a bit of opportunity to prepare since most of the winter testing was based over here. I was quite familiar with what we had to do over here and Homestead. I think the big challenge is going to be when we go to tracks that we didn't run quite that much. The limiter event was just a few mistake, believe it or not.
Q: Sam, obviously we've had a couple of results now where it's been the yellow car, the red-and-white car that have gone at it. I saw a very heartfelt congratulations to you by Gil after this event. Tell us, are we merging into a pretty good-spirited battle between the Panther team and the Marlboro Penske team?
Sam Hornish Jr.: The only thing is I have to do twice the work. There's two of them and only one of me (laughter). You know, it's a tough battle. Seeing two cars in front of me is a little discouraging because you're trying to figure out how to get by one, as soon as you do that, you have to go to the next one. No, I'm sure it's going to be a real fun year. It's going to be a long year. There's 15 races. We're only through two right now. You know, things are looking good so far. A lot of things can change. We're going to have to keep our heads down and keep doing the best we can.
Q: On the last yellow, it looked like you were getting a run on the two cars. Was that a poorly timed yellow, at least in terms of your interests, Sam?
Sam Hornish Jr.: Yeah. I wanted to throw up after I just finally caught up to them, and all of a sudden I knew I had to start over again. I had the advantage today. I think my car worked a little bit better in traffic than theirs did. You know, we were running about the same speed, you know, when we were by ourselves. When you catch up to traffic, you know maybe my car works a little bit better on the outside, that's what we wanted. But, you know, the yellow flag is for a reason. If there's a piece of debris, it could cut my tire just like it could cut anybody else's tire. If it puts you in the wall, it ends your day, too.
Q: On the last stop, you came out one-two. Did it appear to be your race at that moment?
Gil de Ferran: I came in in front of Helio. Because of my first pit stop was a little long, they had to kind of pull me back a little bit. After that, I was very conservative going into my pit box. I came in in front of Helio, and I came out just behind him. You know, at that point I knew I had a good car. You know, if there's one thing that years of racing has taught me, it's really never over until the last corner actually (laughter). So, you know, at that point I didn't know either way. I just thought there's about 50-odd laps to go here, we're in good shape, car's running well, and we likely to get a lot of traffic, let's just see how things work out.
Q: Where did you lose sixth gear?
Sam Hornish Jr.: I lost it probably 15 laps to go or so. Coming up through traffic again. I was on the limiter at the end of the back straightaway. (Inaudible) shoved it into fifth, it didn't go. Went down to fourth. One of the those things. It did go across the finish line with all four wheels on it. That's a good thing.
Sam Hornish Jr.: The way we set the gears in the car, fifth is kind of a traffic gear, sixth is running by yourself. Once we got through that traffic, they got stretched out again, I'm probably running two-tenths slower than what I should have. Cost me a little bit of time on the racetrack. I'm sure they'll have problems this year. Everybody has some problems here and there. It's how you get through them and move on to the next one.
Q: The fact that when you passed Helio the first time, he seemed to get bottled up behind the 55 car.
Sam Hornish Jr.: The only problem I had in traffic, there was not enough of it out there. I mean, I knew how the car was working in traffic. I saw three or four crashes that were taking out two or three cars at least in each one of them. I'm saying, "There went nine cars that I had to contend with before." You know, most tracks you go to, that's a good thing. When your car is working as well as it is in traffic, you know that's your strong point, you wish there was more out there.
Q: There was the sequence at the end when you were behind Salazar and were able to work around him. It appeared to be a very close situation in Turn 1 when you tried to go underneath him.
Sam Hornish Jr.: I got a good run on him on one of the restarts, got underneath him. He gave me as little amount of room as he could. I think I had the wheels almost down on the apron, almost touching his rear wheels. You know, that was close. But I just had to bide my time and wait until he made a mistake or couldn't get through some traffic, then I knew as soon as he goes like three or four car lengths of the car in front of him, the car would start to push, and I could go around on the outside.
Q: That was an eye-popping move involving Salazar and Dare.
Sam Hornish Jr.: It was one of those things where I knew I had to get through that part of traffic as quickly as I could or I wasn't going to be able to catch the Penske car. I'm looking at the first- and second-place car, they had a little bit of time on me. Salazar slipped up a little bit, I got around the outside coming off of (Turn) 4, kind of had to keep moving him down a little bit so I could get underneath. He was trying to squeeze me in between Dare. I was trying to get down. Probably was closer than it looked to me. Didn't worry me too much. I was more worried about trying to catch up to the leaders.
Q: Were you close to any of the altercations out there?
Gil de Ferran: No, fortunately, didn't happen close to me. At no time I was had a near miss with the accidents.
Gil de Ferran: In some ways, you feel a lot of same because, like today, is a really hard race, not very different from any hard races that I had before. You know, the pace was very hard, we were pushing very hard right from the start of the race. So from that standpoint, when you're out there running, doesn't feel that different. I think the biggest difference has been going -- getting to learn about the equipment, which we had a pretty substantial winter testing program, which helped us. This is the season that have to take one step at a time and see how things pan out. So we'll see. We're going for a great competition with Sam and the other guys. We'll just have to see.
Gil de Ferran: Sam is a great driver. I saw him drive on TV. Ultimately, we were here to witness your victory here last year. You know, certainly we've been watching him through winter testing, so he's as good a driver as I ever raced against.
Q: With the situation today, what do you think the situation will be at Fontana?
Gil de Ferran: I have to say that for me I haven't encountered any problem whatsoever. You know, maybe when you're fighting for position or when you're passing lap traffic, you know, the blocking situation, in my estimation it's been very good. I think Brian (Barnhart) is being very firm on that standpoint. I think everybody, if that continues, I don't see a problem. I'm not so sure exactly what happened in the incident, so it would be unfair for me to comment.
Q: Congratulations on the second and third place finishes. We'll see you in a week.