Indy Racing League Sun Trust Indy Challenge June 26, 2004 Dan Wheldon, Michael Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Vitor Meira, Brian Barnhart Part 1 of 2 THE MODERATOR: We have our runner up and third place finishers for the SunTrust Indy...
Indy Racing League Sun Trust Indy Challenge June 26, 2004
Dan Wheldon, Michael Andretti, Helio Castroneves, Vitor Meira, Brian Barnhart
Part 1 of 2
THE MODERATOR: We have our runner up and third place finishers for the SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway. Helio Castroneves, the second-place finisher and Vitor Meira, who finished third. We'll start with third place, if we can. Vitor, gamble on fuel mileage a little bit and tires at the end, it almost paid off for you.
VITOR MEIRA: It did. Actually, I think we were in a different strategy than everybody else. One of the stops we didn't do tires, so we gained quite a few positions there. I think was the third or fourth stop that we did, that was our last stop. I think it was lap 125, we pitted and didn't pit again. So it was all strategy. Really a good-thinking race by the part of Rahal Letterman (Racing). I want to thank them to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Were you convinced you would be able to make it all the way?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, if it was green all the way, we would have struggled a lot. We would have been done, for sure. Our speed would have not been really, really good because we were really trimmed out lap wise and fuel wise. The last two yellows helped us a lot. Afterwards, we were able to run full fuel and full fast.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take some questions. We'll start down here, alternating back and forth. Questions from the media center for Vitor Meira.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Why didn't you pass (Dan) Wheldon before (laughter)?
VITOR MEIRA: For the same reason you passed me, I don't know. That was not much there actually.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: All right, good job.
Q: It appeared a caution light was on at the end of the restart.
VITOR MEIRA: After they dropped the white and green flag, I think the yellow lights kept blinking. Well, last lap is not a lap that you think a lot. I was thinking too much on the last lap. That's what happened.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Same thing (laughter).
Q: Were either one of you surprised they were able to go to have a one lap shootout like that?
VITOR MEIRA: I was surprised. I thought we were going to just finish on yellow flag. I was quite surprised actually.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, they told me it was going to go one lap of green. I was like, "Hey, that's a chance." I knew a little bit what happening. Thank God they did that.
Q: What about what Greg Ray did after the yellow with Ed Carpenter at the end?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I have no idea.
VITOR MEIRA: I saw the car come on the high side. I thought they were stop actually. We were coming by. So I have no idea what happened.
Q: During the first 100 laps, it looked like you and Sam (Hornish Jr.) were just absolutely running away, turning this into two races. What changed after that first 100 laps?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't know, man. I was expecting it to be like that until the end. Suddenly, those guys started pushing a little bit harder. Marlboro Team Penske was excellent, everything, pit stops and setup wise. We just thought that we were under control.
But this series is so awesome. Everybody is incredible, every driver is the class of the field. So I guess that's why you can't ever underestimate anybody.
Q: (Question not repeated).
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think Dario was a little bit lower on fuel. I believe at that point he has 19 gallons. We had 30 gallons. That made a big difference. That's why he was able to pull away from everybody until he got a yellow and was able to pit. That's one of those things that's a gamble. Sometimes it works for you, sometimes it works against you.
Q: Helio, you spoke earlier, talking about qualifying, a lot of discussion about the new pavement here at Richmond. 250 laps, how did that turn out? What was the difference running here?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Excellent. You guys, Richmond (International) Raceway did a hell of a job, like I said before. You can ask any other driver. I'm sure they are going to be pretty happy. Don't ask the drivers that hit the wall today, but ask the drivers that did not hit.
But other than that, the track was incredible. You were able to go outside, inside. It was just the package also worked great, the three liter engine and the bits of downforce.
I don't know, what do you guys think? Was it a good race (laughter)? I wasn't able to watch, I was a little busy out there.
Q: How much do you feel like Richmond has become a part of the IRL schedule now after four races? Kind of talk about next year's schedule being up in the air. How much do you want to come back here next year?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I didn't hear that. Actually, that's the first time I'm hearing that. I do believe it's already part of it, you know. It's the only track that we have that's less than a mile. It is tough because it's not easy to go out there and try to turn laps in 16 seconds. I do believe right now what we have, with the surface we had and everything, the package turned out to be great. I'm looking forward (to coming back). Two seconds in a row, last year and this year, obviously I'm looking forward to coming back next year.
VITOR MEIRA: I didn't hear either.
Q: What you think about Richmond remaining part of the IRL schedule.
VITOR MEIRA: I think that equals my best finish from 2002 in Texas. I would really like to come back here. It's an awesome track, really the most physical track we've ever raced, I guess. I'm sure you can ask every driver up there, they are really tired. After lap 150, I was breathing really hard and was really tired.
You can ask everybody, it is a pretty tough track and really shows who is really well prepared or not, so I would really like to come back here. A lot of action, as Helio said. It's a 16 race. It's quite good.
Q: Roger (Penske) hasn't won here yet, even though you've had nice finishes. Is it starting to get a bit frustrating that you haven't won?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I wouldn't say "frustrated". But if it is frustrating, that's good for us, because you want to come back here eager to do better. So I wouldn't say "frustrated". I think we just have to keep working, thinking about what we have to do to make it happen.
We were almost there again, so we're not thinking about which race tracks where we didn't win or why. We just try to do our job, try to do the best that we can to find a better setup and things like that. All the rest comes naturally. I think that's the way it work.
Q: Could you describe going into that last lap how confident you were you were going to be able to stick on the outside.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, man, I was not only 100 percent, I was 200 percent confident. When I passed Vitor, I was very confident, trust me (laughter). There was no way, no way, that they would stop me.
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, there was a way.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I was going flat out in Turn 1 when I passed you on the outside. I did flat out to catch Dan. Man, if the finish line would be on the back straight, that would be perfect. But, well, we have to live with it. Good job for them, and we're second.
Q: Vitor, this is essentially NASCAR territory. NASCAR goes and invades Indianapolis for the Brickyard 400. What do you think of driving and bringing IRL racing into NASCAR territory? What does it offer?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, I think as you said, it is NASCAR territory. But actually right now, all of the places are NASCAR territory. The IRL, they put on a really good show, as you guys saw. Doesn't matter which track, if it is Texas or here or Indianapolis, they put on a good show. And that's going to happen everywhere. I really like to be here, as I said. It equals my career finish, my best finish here. I think IRL is going to be good everywhere we go.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Actually, I wasn't paying attention to the question. I just know I come back here in September for IROC. Let's see how it's going to be with the NASCAR and everybody here.
Q: Helio or Vitor, this really was the first weekend of action with the SAFER Barrier here. Did that affect your line at all during the race while you were lapping traffic, say the exit of Turn 2 or Turn 4?
VITOR MEIRA: For me, honestly it didn't. It only makes you a little comfortable knowing that everybody on the championship here in Richmond, in the IRL, is making the circuit safer. It's only more comfortable for us. It actually doesn't make any difference. Performance wise didn't make any difference at all.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Didn't affect me at all, no.
Q: Were you surprised at all that it took a while to get that yellow flag on that last accident?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Which one?
Q: The last one.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Taylor and Franchitti?
Q: Ray and Carpenter, the one that set up the last lap.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: One lap, I think.
Q: Took a while to turn the yellow on.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: On or off?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, we were very confused. I was a little confused because he slowed down, and my spotter said, "Slow cars high." Actually, I couldn't go high because I saw them, and I thought they were stopped actually. Then Vitor slowed down, too. We downshifted and everything is like, "It is yellow, not yellow? What is happening?" Then we passed the incident. We kept going. Then the yellow came on. I guess for me it was very confusing.
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah it was. I thought it was going to be a yellow, too. But the spotter just yelled at me, "It's not yellow, it's not yellow. Keep going, keep going." A half lap later, the yellow came on. It was kind of confusing, but I think was confusing for everybody.
Q: How tired are you gentlemen in terms of other races? It seems like in answering questions, it's hard for you to think a little bit.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: What is that supposed to mean (laughter)? Missy, let me tell you one thing, run 250 laps in 16 seconds, you kind of get slow. No, just joking (laughter).
No, it was physically demanding. It's the toughest track in the circuit. You push it all the way. And today, especially at the beginning of the race, I was really pushing. Towards the end, I would say I was going for it. I guess that's why I'm a little bit slow.
Q: There were parts of the race where Wheldon looked like he was about to get lapped. Do you feel like tonight the fastest car didn't necessarily win the race?
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, I feel like that. I feel that the strategy was a big part of it for everybody. For sure, the Team Penske had really good cars the whole weekend. At the beginning of the race, as was mentioned here, they checked out. Again, it's 250 laps. It's really easy to get lapped.
I mean, strategy came on really luckily for us, and it was really not the fastest car that won but the smartest strategy and also the best balance of both speed and strategy.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I do feel that. I mean, but like I always say, sometimes with you're the wind screen, sometimes you're the bug. I guess it paid off for them, and we're second. I'm proud to be second.
THE MODERATOR: We will cut these gentlemen loose for any one on ones you might have.
The IRL is reviewing what happened in the last lap, and I expect Brian Barnhart, our senior vice president of racing operations, in about 15 minutes' time. He's reviewing what happened and we should come in with some answers here in about 15 minutes.