IRL: Team Penske press conference transcript, part 2

88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr. Friday, May 14, 2004 Part 2 of 2 Q: Sam, when you came to this team, obviously you were a championship-driven guy, coming to a ...

88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference
Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr.
Friday, May 14, 2004

Part 2 of 2

Q: Sam, when you came to this team, obviously you were a championship-driven guy, coming to a championship-driven team. Coming here this month, is this when you realized the full force and might of this team?

HORNISH: I think one of the things that makes this team strong is they do the same thing every year, whether they had a good year the year before or a bad year, they continue to learn. A lot of teams will get confident or complacent with what they've done in the past. You know, they always look for the next thing. It's like coming here last year with two different cars, being able to have the best of both worlds. Then again, you know, if you have the best of everything, you're expected to win. You know, it's not put on the drivers by the team; it's put on the drivers by outside people because everybody sees what they have. They're just like everybody else. They come out, do their job. The thing is that they continue to learn, and they're here longer than pretty much anybody else. I don't see anybody, unless they crash a car, here longer than these guys. All the guys are constantly working on the fit and finish of the cars. Sometimes you feel bad because you have a big dinner, and you know these guys are working to take half a pound off the race car. It's a great feeling to come into this month with that. I mean, I've just been really comfortable in the car. Everybody's made me feel real good about being here. I'm looking forward to the race. It's just a dream come true to be in the car, in this car, out there running. Doesn't really matter what happens in the race. Of course, if good things happen, it will be a lot better.

Q: Roger, when you look at numbers, another impressive one is since you hired Tim, you're undefeated in your return. In his first two years, you won series titles in CART. What is it that Tim has brought to the organization that's helped get it back to where it was?

PENSKE: I think that in every business that we have, the leadership really decides the fate. I think that as Tim came in, he was experienced. He grew up here in the Speedway. His dad did work with us. At one point, I thought he might like to work for us. I didn't know that. Would have made it a lot easier when I contacted him to know he might have wanted to work for us. Anyhow, I had to go through the process (laughter). I think that what he's done is come into the shop with the knowledge of the sport. He had performed with a team that he'd been with, Rahal, obviously, before. This was a chance for him to step up and take the leadership position. I can tell you, he's the guy there every day. He's the one that calls the shots. He and I talk, obviously, daily on situations. But at the end of the day, when we go out of the room, we've made the decision. Tim is leading the team. I think he's kept the continuity. Someone comes into a team that's been together as long as we have, that's a new face, he's been able to drive the teamwork even further. I think his technical expertise has been good. The other thing is, working with the drivers, there's a lot that has to take place. You have the synergy between the drivers, the sponsors that we have, we've had them for a long time with Marlboro and Mobil, some of the key people. That's another part of the business. What I saw in Tim was someone that could balance many different pieces of the racing team and do it consistently. The most important thing is his high integrity, not only on the track but off the track, which makes a huge difference.

Q: Helio and Sam, these cars, with all the changes, the engine, the undertray, everything else, are they more sensitive to changes on the track to temperature and so forth? Have you found them to be that way? If so, how is that going to affect qualifying? How do you think it will affect the racing?

CASTRONEVES: Well, in the point we came here first time and test, yes, those are very difficult to handle. And, again, is not because we brought the 3-liter engine that the speeds came down. That turn out to be OK. You guys are doing 232, 231, now you're doing 217. Every time you drive the car on the edge, it's always going to be difficult. So doesn't matter if it's 220, 230, still going to be difficult. Right now, obviously, they allow us to have the tire ramps, which gave a lot of people more stability. I guess with those kind of situations, you just help the car be a little more stable, the car be fast at the same time. But, again, when you turn out to go and try to go fast, you going to push the edge. Like Rick says, if the car is too comfortable, that mean you too slow. You got to make that thing go fast. I totally agree because always when you going to try to go fast, you going to try driving the edge, and that's why you going to take the limit of the car. Let's see what's going to happen.

Q: Roger, considering the drama you went through in '95, if there isn't a full field or no bumping in two weeks, could you say what kind of message it sends out about the health of the series? Have you considered leasing a chassis in two weeks?

PENSKE: I think you've got to look at the quality of the field. We run a racing series here with 22 to 23 cars every weekend. I would say as you look from one to 23 to 24 of the regulars, we've got as good of cars or as good of teams as we ever have. You walk into a race on a race weekend last three races, probably 10 or 12 people that can win races. You've seen Fernandez come back here. He's been running quick. I'd rather see quality than quantity because of the difference in speeds typically between slower cars in the back of the field and the front. From our perspective, I'd like to see 33 cars. I hope that we don't -- that that doesn't become the hot topic. What we need to talk about is the race, then start looking at the quality, the difference between the top qualifier and the slowest. Those are things that you're going to start to see become very, very tight. As far as us adding another car, we would support if one had a requirement, maybe we could help them. We have a car with us that we've not run on the racetrack, has to be put together. It would be a project for someone. We'll look at that next week.

Q: Roger, you mentioned a feeder system for this series to get it stronger. When you look every week and you go to NASCAR races, just the stranglehold that NASCAR has taken on American motorsports, you get Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne, young open-wheel drivers, they seem to be heading for NASCAR. Is this stranglehold such that the young U.S. drivers are going to drain off by and large to NASCAR for the foreseeable future? Is this stranglehold breakable by the Indianapolis 500 in the foreseeable future or ever that they're so on top?

PENSKE: I think it shows you one thing, that drivers that come from open-wheel racing and the fellows, Kasey Kahne, Newman, Tony, Jeff Gordon, these are guys on Friday and Saturday night start in the field running wheel to wheel, have to get up through the front. You're seeing them qualify better; they're very competitive. If you're looking for a driver, you see someone that has that ability in another series, you hire drivers because they've won, know how to win, then you take them into a particular environment. I'm sure that Helio, Sam could get a job in NASCAR. But I hope that as we start to build this one series, that you're going to have the opportunity for a team like Rahal or Green to look at some of these fellows running. You have Ed Carpenter coming up, other people that have come up through this junior series. We need to look at that. I'm personally -- there's not a lot of seats today that people can take in NASCAR. There's a lot of young people out there today. I think there's a chance now this next level of drivers coming up, they should try open-wheel. Some of them are going to get that chance. Certainly as we look at the junior series that runs with IRL, hope we can see some of those people there. I would say if I was looking for a driver today that could join our team, I would go back out to the short tracks and see who's running hard. Obviously, if there's a road-racing component, you can always teach them that. To be a good race driver, you look at fellows like Stewart, Earnhardt Jr., went to Daytona (in sports cars), ran well. Once you're a good driver, you just bring it. You have to change your style maybe from a dirt to a oval to a half-mile to a quarter to a two-mile track. I think there's opportunities out there. I certainly don't think this place will ever starve and not have any drivers.

Q: Do you see this place ever setting again levels above anything NASCAR can do? Will this place return to being what it was pre '95 where nothing NASCAR could do could affect it?

PENSKE: I don't look at the IRL or open-wheel racing competing with NASCAR. It's two different environments. It's a series that runs 34, 35, 36 times in a year. They're fendered cars, different requirements in those races to open-wheel racing, which is a higher technical level. We're running 18 times. I go right back to the strength of the sport is the promoters. The promoters have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in super racetracks, here and across the country. You're going to have to have more than one NASCAR race in order to survive. I think overtime commercially this thing will come together and we'll have strength in both series. As far as I'm concerned, if I thought NASCAR was the only thing to do, that's all we'd be running. I think there's a real value for our company and our people to be involved in open-wheel.

Q: Roger or Tim, when the changes in engines and in the aero on the cars, they say the cars are dramatically different. Will this make the 500 much different than what we've seen in previous years? From a management perspective, are the drivers instructed to do -- is driver A told to do this, driver B told to do that in order to be successful in the 500? From a management perspective, is this year's 500 a bigger problem than those of the past?

PENSKE: Well, I think the key thing here is we got a much safer environment for the drivers. I think there's no question with the soft wall and the lower speeds, that will be good. What we've done, some of the aerodynamic pieces are not to slow them down specifically but to save the cars from getting airborne. That's point number one. I think the cars, what we've done is taken some wing out of the cars, reduced the downforce, so the cars are not as stable. I think Helio was staying the cars are not as stable. In order to qualify fast, you're going to have to run it on the edge. I think we don't know in the race yet because you're going to have some big differences if speed. We've seen that just running in traffic, the speeds in the race will probably be 216 or 217, which are considerably lower. That's going to give drivers a chance to pass easier. From a strategy perspective, we've got 30 gallons of fuel rather than 35. The pit stops and the tires are probably going to be about the same. The management of the race is going to be -- from a track position will be critical. We don't give a different setup rules or advice to Sam as we would give to Helio. I think what we want to do is stay focused so when we get to that last hundred miles, we can see the front of the pack. Hopefully we're up there ourselves. I think number one, it's going to be a safer race from the standpoint of what we've seen, even month to date. I think the speeds are going to be slower, there's no question of that. I would assume that a guy that has a good-handling car is going to make a lot of time around the track. Any other comment, Tim?

CINDRIC: I think that's consistent. I think next week we're going to learn how these cars are going to run in traffic and what our setup is going to be. Most of the focus has been on qualifying, besides a few long runs for consistency. Probably a better question later when we get to run in traffic.

Q: It appears y'all are in a good engine war right now. Is that a good thing or bad thing?

PENSKE: Well, I've said by having multiple engine manufacturers, that certainly is good for the sport because those engine manufacturers will support teams. They buy tickets. They're in the business of selling vehicles. Racing complements that vis-a-vis across the country. They're buying TV spots, buying ads in newspapers. All that is positive. They're generating some commercial value around the sport. I think if you looked at that today, the commitment, they need to race each other. They're racing each other every week in the marketplace. From my perspective, we got a set of rules that's consistent. I think it's a fair set of rules. Quite honestly, I'm not sure there's a lot of difference between the three manufacturers today. It's going to take the best team combined with the best car and the driver that makes no mistakes and has a good day to win the race.

Q: Helio, you're sitting next to a four-time winner. Do you feel it's a matter of time before you're a four-time winner here also?

CASTRONEVES: I guess I need to have my hair gray to get there. It's just one of those things. Obviously, I listen every word this guy say. So far it's been working well for me. It's worked not only for myself, but it worked as well for Gil. Again, every person that has enough experience, results speak by itself, you don't need to doubt actually. Just bow your head and listen.

Q: Roger, does it seem like 45 years since you won your first years in that Porsche at Lime Rock?

PENSKE: That is a long time. That's twice as old as these two guys are combined, right (laughter)? That was a long time ago. Racing has been in my blood. It's a common thread to our whole business. I'm just thrilled to be here again, having Rick and Tim and the whole team. Certainly adding Sam to the team gives us a dimension, we didn't miss a beat. I know with Helio and Sam race wheel to wheel for three years, they when they got together on the team, they knew how good each driver was. I think that's going to be important. I think you're going to see the season these two drivers have a great year. We're just excited to see what happens here tomorrow, and obviously the race is the real key for us.

Q: Twice you were named Driver of the Year. If you had stayed in the cockpit, do you think you would have won this race?

PENSKE: I don't know. Probably the data point is they asked me to take the driver's test. I couldn't do it because I had a job with Alcoa. Andretti took his chance. Never know what would have happened. I never had a chance.

KING: Gentlemen, good luck today and tomorrow, Marlboro Team Penske.

Part 1

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Helio Castroneves , Rick Mears , Kasey Kahne , Roger Penske , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter
Teams Team Penske