Indianapolis: Top three finishers press conference, part 1

Firestone Freedom 100 Top Three Finishers' Press Conference Friday, May 22, 2009 Cunningham, Hildebrand, Romancini PAT SULLIVAN: We anticipate that Mario will be making his way down in just a matter of seconds. He's doing some other things,...

Firestone Freedom 100 Top Three Finishers' Press Conference
Friday, May 22, 2009

Cunningham, Hildebrand, Romancini

PAT SULLIVAN: We anticipate that Mario will be making his way down in just a matter of seconds. He's doing some other things, as well. We do have J.R. Hildebrand, and he's proudly wearing that second-place finish hat. Said he'll take it. Didn't look like he was thoroughly satisfied but not thoroughly dissatisfied, either. Tell us about it.

J.R. HILDEBRAND: Well, do you guys really need me on the mike here?

SULLIVAN: It goes all over the Internet and everywhere here.

HILDEBRAND: Great. It's obviously a long race for us, or it's a long race, seems like a long race for us. It's quite short in relation to what these guys going to do in a couple of days. For us when we're on the straightaways so long, our cars get up to terminal velocity on the straight, and it's tough for anybody to pull away. At the end of the race, I was well aware of that, that I was kind of getting run on into (Turns) 3 and 1 every corner, or every lap I should say. I kind of sat there, I was lucky to have a few cautions that allowed me to stay up front when guys were starting to catch up. I just set my car up to try to run in the lead basically. I used my roll bars, used my [?] way tracker to get the car so it could be as quick as it could be up front. You know, Wade has got a lot of miles around here, and I knew that if there is going to be one guy that was going to time that pass just right, that it was going to be him. I seemed to be able to hold off pretty much everybody else by either running high or running low underneath somebody at both ends of the track. But Wade got the run, and there was no way I was going to be able to keep him behind me. So I just sort of tried to let him go without getting passed by anybody else and was able to do that. But just didn't have enough laps to get back around him. He was doing a really good job. His car was really fast on the bottom of the racetrack. Once he got around me and I was sort of back in traffic after having been in clean air for so long, you know, I didn't have - I didn't quite have the car to keep up. I picked up a lot of understeer when I was behind him, and I think he knew how to get around the track to give me that bit of extra understeer. Got a good run on him in the last lap. I think maybe if we had another, maybe if the start/finish line was on the back straight, would have gotten around him but just doesn't quite work that way.

I'm really happy for the team, everybody has done a great job, everybody has worked hard all month to get ready for this race. ARPRO and all my sponsors have helped out and we're back out here. And we're back up in the points lead, and that's where we want to be now, and are looking forward to Milwaukee next weekend.

SULLIVAN: Mario, one of the great stories of the race is you. 18th to 3rd and fighting up there with all of them at the end of the race. One heck of a job, congratulations.

MARIO ROMANCINI: Yeah, I'm very happy, happy for me, happy for the team. They did a good job from yesterday to today. We spent a lot of time yesterday trying to figure out what happened on qualifying that we were starting so much at the back. But that's important, we knew we had a strong car for the race. We knew that from the beginning because on the practice when I was running on traffic, I knew that the car was good, and that's what I was trying to tell them. I mean, we need to improve when we are running by ourselves, but for the race I think we will go good. I was able to make a very good first lap. I think I passed seven cars, I don't know exactly. This helped me a lot. So, yeah, but the car was really good on traffic, especially when I was running side by side on the high line, I was able to pass them on the first turn, which is important. In Kansas we struggled a little bit with that. I couldn't pass them on the high side. So, yeah, I'm very happy and just speechless, I don't know what to say. I want to thank them.

SULLIVAN: Very good. Joe, tell us what we're up to here.

JOE BARBIERI: Firestone, when we took over the series, we instituted a program called the Lucky 3. So we're going to have these guys that are on the podium draw some numbers. The numbers in here are from positions, not car numbers but positions 11 through 22. Whatever numbers are pulled, we're going to give that team, that car, some additional money to help them since they finished so low on the finishing order today.

We're going to start with Mario, he's going to pick a number out here.


BARBIERI: So the car, finish position 18 will win an additional thousand dollars from Firestone.

SULLIVAN: J.R., let's see who your friends are here.


BARBIERI: Position 15 will get $1,500 from Firestone. When Wade stops in, he'll pick one more, and we'll end up giving that position $2,500 from Firestone.

SULLIVAN: Thank you very much, Joe.

HILDEBRAND: Wade might be headed straight to the party, I don't know. (Laughter)

SULLIVAN: We'll track him down. How about questions for these two gentlemen?

Q: Mario, I was -- you know, we spoke the other day, and I was a little almost flabbergasted by how confident you seem to be, almost brash. You were talking about going to Homestead the first time and doing the test on the oval, and then you qualified 18th, and I was thinking, well, no, but you really blew me away today. I'm kind of curious about a couple of things. Since most Brazilians seem to have an adjustment period to the oval, but you've taken to it like a duck to water. I would like you to comment on your oval experience and why you seem -- why you think you feel so comfortable with it.

The other thing is I noticed toward the end of the race, you know, like J.R. and, you know, you were making your runs and then you would get up and then you would fall back. Was that because you were getting into dirty air or losing air or maybe you can comment on that, too.

ROMANCINI: Well, first, about the ovals, I don't know the first time I was on an oval in Homestead in February, the first test. The first laps I thought: 'What am I doing here? I can't handle this car, it's just too fast.' But after some laps I was getting up to speed, and I was feeling comfortable, and I think what really helped me was the race in Kansas because that was my first one and we finished on the podium, too, and I was feeling pretty comfortable with the car. That's just confidence. I trust the car and I trust the guys.

More important, I didn't want to risk nothing. I'm really thinking on the championship this year, so I just wanted to finish this race in a good position to score points after the problem that we had in Long Beach. But now I think we are starting to be more, how can I say this? More confident to -- I'm feeling better working with my engineers, with my mechanics. I know the guys better now, so this is helping us, too. And, yeah, about the last laps I think the guys in front, they are quicker, which means it's more difficult to pass. So this was the main key, I think. When I was at the back, my car was quicker than the others, so was easy for me to pass them on the outside. When I got -- Hildebrand was difficult, we were running side by side, but I couldn't do what I was doing with the others, I couldn't pass him. So I tried to stay with him and didn't let the guys behind me catch me because I wanted to finish on the podium after the position that we started.

Q: I seen a couple of weeks ago you were representing Team USA in the A1 Nations Grand Prix in Brands Hatch.

HILDEBRAND: That's right.

Q: Can you tell us when you compare the A1 Ferrari to this car, is it similar or does it help you bring additional seat time to this car? Also, it was a road course in Brands Hatch.

HILDEBRAND: Yeah, I mean, I'll take seat time anytime I can get it. The car is just, in sort of no particular fashion in terms of better or worse, whatever. They're quite a lot different. Even having had a little bit of seat time in the IndyCar, the A1 car is quite a bit different from that, even. It's not just the power or anything like that. It's much more sort of your European-style formula. It's smaller wheel with the big sidewall tire and just the way you work on the setup and the way the car works, because of that is quite a lot different than what I was used to driving over here. So -- and then you can get into any race car and you've just got to give it hell, and that's sort of what we did. I sort of -- it was a little bit of trial by fire in terms of getting used to it and figuring out we need to make the thing fast. I have to say I was a little disappointed because I think we had the speed to be even quicker over there. So I'd say that's where those little differences that we had caught us out a little bit. The series is quite a lot different in terms of how you qualify, how you practice. The tires allotment that you get, how the races work, all that kind of stuff, pit stops. First time ever doing real full-speed pit stops, that was a little bit crazy.

So, but, you know, sort of getting back to how it affects what we do here, I think for the ovals, you know, I don't know that's really going to help me much to get around here. But certainly for just kind of keeping those reflexes close and, you know, making sure that you're mentally prepared for everything you come up against. I think every time that you're given an opportunity to drive a different car, that it gives you the ability to adapt a little bit better to just different circumstances in general. So whether that be, you know, oh, my car, my Lights car is understeering or oversteering or acting a certain way or I've got a track like this or that, maybe a different car that I've driven, I'll be able to pull on that experience to be even better at it. So I was really happy to be able to do it, and hopefully we'll be able to do it again next year.

Q: Mario, I talked to Brandon Wagner, who started ahead of you in the field, and he said he was frustrated with all the yellow flags because he could never make a run through the field. Did that actually help you because you were able to cool off your tires and continue to make another run?

ROMANCINI: Well, to be honest, I think it helped everybody because since from the first practice everybody was having troubles with the right rear tire, and that was one of the things that I was trying to do on the yellows, I wasn't scrubbing the tires, I just tried to cool them down because I knew that I was going to need them for the last laps. And that's something that I talked to my engineer yesterday to, I think. I said to him: "We need an understeering car. We cannot have enough oversteering on this race because of the problems that we are having with the right rear tire." And that's what I tried to do. I was playing with my bars, always trying to keep the car a little bit understeering so then they can last the whole race.

Q: Being the 100-year anniversary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, by the way, gentlemen, congratulations on your finishes. Congratulations. Being the 100-year anniversary of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, what does it mean to you personally just in a nutshell, could you answer that, please?

ROMANCINI: As I said, I'm speechless. Means a lot, especially starting from the back. I mean, it's a pleasure to be here, to be representing my country, to be making good points for the championship, but especially for me to give back the work that the guys from the team are making for me. They are working really hard, and the only way that I can give them back is with results, and that's the more important for me. Because I think they are very happy now to be with a car in the podium here in Indianapolis is the most important race of the year. So that's for me, that's the most important.

HILDEBRAND: For me, I'd say the same. Indy is huge. It's what our series revolves around, whether it's Indy Lights or the IndyCar Series. So to be able to have a good run here on such a big stage in front of such a huge crowd -- I mean, this year's crowd compared to last year, obviously it was raining last year at this time, but I mean, it's crazy how many people are out there. So this is like a Race Day, and we're the big show.

So it's really big for us to be able to have a good run here and being that it's the centennial of the Speedway just makes it that much more special. So I think that in the big scheme of things we're all looking to be on the top step on the level up, but I think that it's great to have a good run here this year.

Q: Mario, this is what, I think your third oval. In the last couple you've been hot, this one, obviously. How have you adapted so quickly to an oval track when you really apparently hadn't done a whole lot to start with?

ROMANCINI: I really don't know. I mean, last year I was doing the World Series by Renault. The car has a lot of downforce, which means that when I was running on fast corners, I really had to learn how to make that happen because with so much downforce, you really lose the front of the car. So that helped me a little bit. But ovals are different. I mean, I really don't know. I just have a good car, a good car that can keep a good pace behind the others, and that's it. Just trying to be consistent and don't risk too much. I just want to finish races.

Continued in part 2

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Series Indy Lights
Drivers Brandon Wagner