IRL: Texas II: Top three finishers press conference (part 2)

Continued from part 1 MODERATOR: With three wins, 12 top-fives, 13 top-10s, so just a tremendous year. Talk about just, it's been brought up so much, but how much does chemistry on this team mean, all of the joking and light-heartedness, how it...

Continued from part 1

MODERATOR: With three wins, 12 top-fives, 13 top-10s, so just a tremendous year. Talk about just, it's been brought up so much, but how much does chemistry on this team mean, all of the joking and light-heartedness, how it really helps just get you through a long season like the Indy Racing League season?

DAN WHELDON: I think Andretti Green Racing as on organization is exceptional. I think the way the owners go about enforcing what they want to happen within the team seems to work well with the drivers that they have picked. I think we all get on very well. I think we definitely drive the team forward. I think we're all given very, very equal equipment and I think we are given very good equipment, if not the best, and so I'm grateful for that.

I think what you've got is four drivers that are very different in personality and at different stages of their career, but can actually, like I say, really kind of mesh because of that. And what we do is drive the team forward. We trust one another a lot which also speeds up the testing process in the Indy Racing League. There's not as much testing as perhaps I would like. But what we do have is when we have tests, we've got -- we can send two drivers in one place and two drivers in another and we can just double the data.

So it works out very, very well. And I'm proud to be part of the organization and part of Honda, and you know, looking forward to next year now.

Q: In some of your recent interviews with Tony, he said that he looks at you, looks in your eyes and sees the eyes of a champion down the road. What does it mean to have him saying something like that about you, Dan?

DAN WHELDON: Tony is obviously a very, very good guy. He's a very good friend. I hope down the road is next year, because I'm pretty impatient. So I'd like to see it next year. I think we've got together a very, very good season. I think everybody on my car has done an exceptional job.

I think everybody on the team has done an exceptional job. Certainly when you look at my pit stops today, certainly the guys, the Jim Beam crew do an exceptional job for me. I keep saying exceptional, but they are, they are very, very good. I have Tony Cotman calling the race strategy, who I believe is not only probably one of the best in the IRL, but one of the best in the world at that; and certainly Eddie Jones, Bill Bates, Casey, all of the guys that are very focused and very determined on winning. And when you've got that force behind you as a driver, it gives you great confidence.

Q: It looked like the red flag early on the restart, you were not even into Turn 4 yet. And also, what do you think they should do to Helio, not take the win away, but what should the penalty be?

DAN WHELDON: I don't definitely think they should take the win away. I think him and Marlboro Team Penske deserved it. They were very, very fast. They had both cars running up front. But you've just got to get some consistency in the course from the chief steward, who, you know, Brian Barnhart is a very highly-respected guy. I have a lot of respect for him. But there's definitely got to be some rule following. I mean, I don't know, that's not my job to be able to say what they should do to him. But he definitely, he definitely went very free early. Either that or the guy that throws the green -- maybe we could get a new vision sponsor for the Indy Racing League and perhaps give the flag guy that one.

MODERATOR: We have been joined by Kosuke Matsuura, who is the 2004 Indy Car Series Rookie of the Year. Talk about your race today, it ended too short, it ended early, but talk about that and just the season as a whole.

KOSUKE MATSUURA: Today I had such a good car. And Friday when we came here, the car wasn't really good. But yesterday in the final practice, we found a couple of things. I had really such a good car, there were four or five cars I passed after 10 laps already, and then after maybe 20 laps I had a problem -- once I was driving in sixth gear, but then when I put it back in fifth gear, I think the gear was stuck. I lost, maybe, 10 or 15 positions there and I was back to maybe 18th or somewhere around there, and then I was back on the way around to maybe 10th place. At that time it was okay.

When I came back in the first time for the pit stop, when I put it in first gear, I stopped and we changed the tires and when I was leaving the pit, I could not change the second gear and I think first gear was stuck, and I stopped the car.

MODERATOR: Tell us how you feel right now, wrapping up the rookie championship and talk about the year.

KOSUKE MATSUURA: Yeah, I just have to say, I have to be happy, but, you know, I had so many good races but always car problems, machine problems, engine problems. As you know, sometimes my car is very quick and like (teammate) Adrian (Fernandez), just this year was so unlucky and hopefully next year I will finish maybe -- first of all, I want to win a couple of races next year.

Q: After the restart, the fact that it came out the way it did, were you just caught out, were you not ready, were you stunned, were you -- you didn't react quick enough or what?

DAN WHELDON: No, I mean, at the end of the day, let's not take anything away from Helio and Team Penske. They won the race and I wasn't going to be able to pass him. He just went before the restart.

Q: Obviously you've had a great year, but from both the driver's perspective and a teammate's perspective, can you maybe give us a little bit of insight to the season Tony has had, not only just the championship, but also completing every single lap; what sort of accomplishment is that?

DAN WHELDON: That's a great credit to him as a driver, and I think a credit to the team and Honda, to have that during a 16-race season on every different kind of oval you can imagine, from Richmond to Nazareth to Fontana to Chicagoland to here, I mean, it's a credit to all of those guys.

And at the speed he was doing it, I mean, you know, the Honda has certainly been very, very competitive this season. The boys on his car have obviously -- as the championship grew on, certainly from Round 10 onwards, I know there was -- I could start to feel a little change in the attitude in the team. They were not more focused, but it was a little bit more tense, and to keep performing like they did, his crew gave him very good pit stops. There's a lot of credit there.

You know, this league is certainly one of the best championships in the world, if not the best. There's not many races that have -- I dread to think how many different leaders per lap, per lap or even race, but it's a great testament to everybody involved. You know, may it continue on his car, and hopefully it will continue on my car next year, and preferably Dario's (Franchitti) and Bryan's (Herta), too.

Q: Dan, in the driver's meeting, where do they tell you is supposed to be the restart point?

DAN WHELDON: You guys are concerned about this restart, huh? You've got to relax a little. No, the driver's meetings are kind of like Vegas. What goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas. So we're not allowed to divulge too much, certainly to the press and the media. But there's a restart zone and there's a cone, I think in the middle of Turns 3 and 4 and one three-quarters of the way around, and you accelerate within that point.

Q: You probably will be thinking about this a lot over the winter, but you're going to come back next year, congratulations on getting second in the championship, but what are you going to do to beat your teammates next year?

DAN WHELDON: I'm going to do the same thing, really. I certainly think as a driver I've performed strongly this season. I think there's some areas where I can improve, and I'm not going to tell you where they are, because I'd like to keep them to myself and try and use them to catch up to Tony a little bit.

I think that the main thing is, obviously, to stay focused. I'd like next year to start already. I'm so determined to try and win the championship. I value the Indy Racing League championship a lot, but I've got to keep myself focused now for the Indianapolis 500. That's the one I want to win, and I'm going to try desperately to win. I think I've got to do more of the same, and I think you've seen here at Texas, the competition, I think Honda has been very, very strong. But the competition is closed up, and Honda as an engine manufacturer is going to have to keep working very hard to keep the level of performance that we need to win races.

And I think from a driving standpoint, the same thing. There's some ovals that I had race cars that weren't particularly to my liking, and that was from my input to the engineer, so that has got to improve. From a team standpoint, we have to try to extract more speed from the superspeedways. So, we'll see. I'm very, very determined and I'm very much looking forward to 2004, particularly in the Indianapolis 500.

KOSUKE MATSUURA: We had a really good car at the end of the season, I think I have a great opportunity to win the race next year, and we are having a lot of cars, also, a lot of cars with my background.

DAN WHELDON: Can I say something? I think just from the outside, I was in Kosuke's position last year and came in as a rookie. When you come into this series, certainly from the outside, it might look a little bit easier than it really is because when you have the experience level of people like Tony Kanaan, Dario, Bryan Herta, you can't just make that up. I mean, even his boss, Adrian Fernandez, has been around probably longer than we've been alive. It's very, very difficult. So you've got to give this guy a lot of credit because he's been exceptional, very few other failures this year and I'm sure he'll be a factor.

KOSUKE MATSUURA: He's a good guy.

-irl-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Adrian Fernandez , Tony Kanaan , Bryan Herta , Kosuke Matsuura , Brian Barnhart , Jim Beam
Teams Team Penske