A Conversation With Team Penske
MODERATOR: We have available to you the record of Team Penske in the Indianapolis 500. Many of you are quite aware of this, but it is really remarkable. Fifteen victories, 10 different winning drivers, 16 pole positions. It's a story of excellence. Mr. Penske, sometimes when you see a record like this, you wonder if it could become blasé to have success here. I never get that sense from you.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think every year we start over. There's no question. I think the fact that the commitment by the team, and I've said it here before, we probably have over 600 years of experience in the garage area this week and next week getting ready for the race, that makes the difference. It's the people. We've had the best drivers, certainly the continuity of the crew, Tim leading the whole group of drivers, also the team members that makes a big difference. It's like we've never been here before when we come back, other than the experience. I think this year with the cars being new, they seem to be very reliable. The guys seem to be able to drive at high speeds. We'll see what happens when the boost goes up. I think it's going to be an exciting race, and you're not going to be able to make mistakes.
MODERATOR: Obviously, a guy who has negotiated the traffic to win four Indianapolis 500s with us, although traffic apparently on the grounds proved to be a little bit of a challenge today. We're glad to have with us Rick Mears. Tim Cindric, a long relationship obviously with Mr. Penske. A new car. Most drivers describe it as sort of fun. Is that how you would characterize it?
TIM CINDRIC: I think the challenge is something that I welcome in a lot of ways. These guys, we continue to learn what happens every day. I don't think we're going to know how the race plays out until we race it. So many variables. You see it in terms of the engine and reliability, as Roger mentioned. A lot of these guys haven't experienced an engine failure in an IndyCar. When you think back to the days of wondering whether you're going to make it through four laps or not, there might be a little bit of that going on tomorrow.
MODERATOR: Rick, you've been through the development of a new race car. You've seen the ups and downs, what seemed to have all the right ingredients. What is it like for a driver?
RICK MEARS: That's a big part of the challenge. Like Tim was saying, a lot of guys haven't experienced a blown engine. This is something we used to do every year, just part of the process. The teams that keep their heads down, do the hard work, put in the hours, time, the best job, they gain the advantage. That's part of the whole system, the way it works. I've always welcomed the challenge because that's how you get better. You work harder and you try to get an advantage. That's just the name of the game.
MODERATOR: Ryan, you've had a lot of challenges coming into the month of May.
RYAN BRISCOE: I feel we're going in with a good shot this year. The competition is going to be tough. As Roger was saying, experience means a lot around here. I've definitely learnt a lot over the last few years. Practice has been awesome. I don't feel in the past years we've learnt so much going into qualifying, but even just doing as many preparation for the races as we've done this week. It's been really good of getting a good understanding of how the car is going to handle in traffic. Everyone has been running in big groups. It's felt really good. I think race day is all about executing and not making mistakes. That's what it's going to take to win.
MODERATOR: Helio, after getting shut out in 2011, unusual occurrence, you started the year in great fashion, you've come to a place where you've won three times. You have to be pretty confident.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Absolutely. The car, the team, everybody has been doing a great job the whole season long. Certainly the offseason, Team Penske, they did their homework. We seem to fit really well with this car. Right now it's the first oval which everybody is facing, which is a challenge. But in the end of the day, as Ryan is saying, we never had this kind of scenario, a lot of groups running together. I think everybody wants to learn together how the car is going to hold in a big pack. I feel confident at this point. Today we're going to have another challenge, which is more power because of the turbo and the rules they allow us to have. As Rick says, you are always learning, getting better. It's great to have two teammates here giving more information so you can adapt and grow faster.
MODERATOR: Will Power, you've been so close to an IZOD IndyCar Series championship. You've been spectacular in the early going. Obviously you want to keep that streak rolling.
WILL POWER: Yeah, it's definitely been a perfect start as far as the team goes, also on my side to win three in a row. We've been in this position the last two years, we've had strong starts. We don't need to sit back and relax. We're very focused on this race, put a lot of emphasis on it because we all want to win here. I think it's going to be a pretty crazy race just based on how much drafting or how much of a hole this thing punches in the air. I think it will be great for the fans. We've had a very good last few days. I think we've got a pretty good race setup. We'll see today when we get the more boost how we are in qualifying trim.
MODERATOR: Questions for the group.
Q: Roger, I think also the season is quite young. Are you thinking of planning to build your own aero parts for next year's cars?
ROGER PENSKE: I think each one of the manufacturers, both Honda and Chevrolet, are committed to doing aero packages. We obviously will be recipients of the Chevrolet package. I think that's going to be interesting. I'm really happy the series made the decision to have new cars and engines this year, then we can have the aero kits for 2015, which will be another exciting time for the fans. We didn't know what we had in cars and engines until now. The aero kits will be an added advantage for the sport and interest as we go into 2013.
Q: Roger, talk about the overall amount of changes. Do you feel the series is making a forward march this year?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think overall, from the standpoint of the series, I like the new cars. Obviously it's a challenge getting these cars reliable. We've been fortunate to have success with the four wins. I'm very happy with what Chevrolet has been able to do in conjunction with Ilmor and putting the package together. Because basically they started with a clean sheet of paper 14 months ago. To have a competitive engine now is excellent. My big concern is the integrity of how we interpret the rules as we go forward. I wasn't happy with this whole turbocharger situation over the last couple of weeks because we have rules that are set, we operate under those, then they get changed. Hopefully this will be a lesson for the league, and they'll understand that we've got to have discipline at all levels. We put so much into this. This is a game of inches. A change here or there makes a huge difference. That's my only disappointment. I think the series is great. We got great young drivers. Twenty-six, 27 cars showing up for the races is tremendous. I think the interest in the races, going to some of these new places, you saw St. Pete, Barber was a success, great run in Brazil, for me we're looking forward to everybody coming to Detroit in a city that needs something. I think the series has great momentum.
Q: Roger, your thoughts on the Penske/Ganassi rivalry?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, we seem to always be racing each other. But I think we have to step back a second. I think there's some awful good teams out there in and out, certainly with Andretti, KV, Sarah Fisher, how quickly they've run here at the Speedway. You got to beat everybody that's out there. You look at the record book, I think there's wins on our side, there's wins on their side. They're going to be tough in this race, and they focus on Indianapolis, as we do. It's going to be very interesting. To me, I'm thinking about the other 30 cars that we got to work on, not just their four cars.
Q: Roger, going back to the state of the series a little bit. We've kind of gotten away from our heritage of oval track racing probably because of the sheer cost. We're getting into more street and road-course racing. Is this a good direction for the sport?
ROGER PENSKE: I think we need a mix of road courses and ovals. Primarily we've been able to generate a lot of interest with the city street races because you've got cities and economic development groups within the states wanting to have what they call “big events.” I think that's proven to be successful. The other thing is that most of the tracks that are available as ovals are too fast. What we want to try to do is run on these mile ovals. I remember when we first came here, we had to run at Phoenix and Trenton before we could even get on the track here. I hope the league works out some way we can have a good balance between oval and road courses. Today, as long as we have the Indy 500, at least 40 percent ovals, it would be a pretty good mix. We're bringing some new fans in when we can go in these cities. In Baltimore I saw it, a lot of people bringing their young kids in, where we didn't have much of this at the ovals.
Q: Given today and tomorrow, different than what you dealt with the past week, do we begin to get a handle on how fast you can go tomorrow?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: We are all in the same boats here. We thinking it's going to be about 4 to 5 miles an hour faster. All this week been working on the race car and a little bit on the qualifying. We got to make sure that we got to be able to do four laps consecutive. Not only one lap and the other ones falling down. It's the same for everyone. But we think it's going to create more exciting for everyone, especially for the fans, the numbers is certainly going to increase. I feel it's a new challenge again.
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I mean, I think so far this week the best speeds alone have been high 19. You can't really tell if people have trimmed out all the way or not. But expecting 5 miles an hour, we're probably going to see speeds in the mid 220s. People are going to start pushing it more, there's going to be higher demand on the tires because of the higher speeds. As confident as everyone has been leading up to today, we're just going to have to use a little bit of caution going into today and understand what it's going to take to be fast and consistent like Helio said.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, we've actually run at similar speeds to what this horsepower will give us when we're running alone just in the draft. I think you can gain five to eight miles an hour heading into a corner. I think we kind of know what to expect. But as everyone trims out, you're going to get tire degradation over the laps. It should make it more exciting. We're ready for it. Like Helio said, we're all in the same boat.
Q: Will, everybody knows that experience is a premium here. You've had a number of months of May under your belt now. What is the most valuable things you've learned about running this place?
WILL POWER: There's so many things. I think just with the team and myself, I know the first year I ran here, we were trimming out, running multiple laps on tires. I learned my lesson. I hit the wall because we had 16-lap tires and we trimmed out in qualifying trim. That was a big lesson. You could only do one run, put those new tires aside. Every year you come here, you just learn more and more and more. I have to say this year, I feel so comfortable in the car. I understand what I want from the car. I can give the feedback to the engineer, you know, exactly the way, the direction we need to go in. I feel that on all the ovals. Same as the Texas test. It just comes with experience.
Q: Helio, as a driver, what do you attribute the lack of incidents this month at Indy? Do you feel drivers are being more cautious?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think it's a lot of little things together. Yes, drivers are being a little more cautious because not knowing very well the car, you want to make sure you understand the car, as well. Because of the speeds we're achieving, normally used to be here 10 miles an hour faster, right now we're slower. You tend to try to trim too much, but the car maybe is not there. There is a lot of little things that I believe making to everybody be on the safe side. But, again, don't get me wrong, when you go out there, it's still very tough to go out there in the pack and trying to pass. It looks like you can be a little more closer. The guy that actually leading the pack might be a sitting duck, you know, because you are able to pass because the turbulence is not as bad as the other one. As saying that, I feel those little things, it prevent people to go overboard and over the limit. But, again, today change a little bit the game and see what happens.
Q: Helio, did you run with the Handford device at Michigan?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes.
Q: We're talking about the tow here. If it's similar, will we see what we saw at Michigan?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think it's not going to be that dramatic because the wind we had was incredible. The car not only lose a little bit of downforce, the guys leading just have to stay in line because you would go inside, outside. The force was too big. But at this point, it's not as bad as that, especially being here with not such a big banking, you able to attack, but in a safe way. I feel when you second, third, fourth, fifth, that scenario become a little more difficult for you to keep passing people. To be honest, the guy that is leading, first and second guy, those are the ones that might be in a good way to make a move or pass someone else.
Q: Will, Ryan and Helio, a lot of the guys have been talking so far about the way this super tow works in this car. How is that going to affect, as far as the fans and for you guys, the actual pass? Is there going to be a lot of chop passes? What have you been seeing so far this week?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I see that's what it's going to be. I see people get half a run. When you pull out, you're back in all the air. It really slows you up. Yes, you're right. I can see in the race, it's going to be a lot closer throughout the field, and there's going to be a lot of these chop moves. At the end of the day I think the drivers have to use common sense here and give each other room and understand the situation with the car and try to make it a tough race. It is the Indy 500. But just be smart about it in the early laps of the race until we understand how it works.
RYAN BRISCOE: Yeah, I mean, I think you're right. You always got to, probably more this year than ever, be aware of your surroundings. It's going to be crucial. Practice is always a little bit worse than the race, I find. Practice is very unpredictable. Guys are not always just focused on going forward, they're often focused on going backward to get big lap times. It's always hard to get a true read from practice as to how it's going to be in the race. For sure, we are pulling up a little bit more in the draft. You pull out. Sometimes it's hard to keep that momentum going because of the drag. But, yeah, definitely having a win is going to be important.
Q: Rick Mears, did you try the new Indy car yourself so far, and if so, what is your opinion?
RICK MEARS: No, I haven't, and I'm not going to, but my opinion is it's great. I've had all the fun I can handle.
Q: Helio, and maybe Roger, how important is it to win the pole in itself and perhaps for publicity?
ROGER PENSKE: I think the pole is an important part of the Indianapolis 500. I think the charge for the pole I think the top nine is exciting. That's a great element. You asked about what has IRL has done to make the series better. I think that's exciting for TV, the way they've set it up. The first 24 are in for the first day. Those are certainly good. Certainly we'd love to start on the pole. I think it's going to be interesting tomorrow to see who will be the fastest. It could be time of day. It could be a lot of things that make a difference. But I think the pole is important. It gives you that momentum for the team, certainly for the sponsors, a continuity for the week before the race is very positive for any team that has that opportunity to sit on the pole.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: For a driver, people don't realize how incredible it is to go out there and run four laps at the limit. I mean, you are talking about on the limit. When you make it, it's awesome. My big hero right here, Rick Mears, says there's two types of racing, the Indy 500 and the Pole Day. It's true. You really take the maximum that you can get from your setup, from your guys, engineers and the team, you know, and push it to the limit. It's quite tough, especially now when they added the top nine, then when you got to do it again, it becomes even more difficult. But, again, when you achieve what you want, it's the best feeling in the world.
Q: Roger and Tim, can you talk about Will's development as an oval driver, some of the benchmarks you've seen that have indicated his progress?
TIM CINDRIC: We noticed he's away from the other guys. Got to keep him close after last year (laughter). No, I think he showed us at Texas last year he's always been a good road racer, but he hasn't shown on the oval. I feel like watching him the last two years, him here, there's not a lot of people here realize he was among the top three cars here the last two years in the race, and we let him down. I think it's up to us to execute for him. I think we missed a couple opportunities. But I think he's shown he's more than ready to win this race. He's certainly ready to be there. No matter what happens this month, you kind of have a hangover the next month one way or the other. You either win here or you don't. We're focused on this, and then we'll get back to the championship.
ROGER PENSKE: I feel the same that Tim does. I think basically we had some pit issues last couple years. Will was running up front. I think the Texas win was a good one because that's a place you have to be on top of the car all day long. I think with the support of Helio and Ryan, who have had lots of experience here, the ironic thing these guys sit face to face every day after practice and talk about every foot of this racetrack, what their cars are doing. They're very open. It's complete transparency. So to me, they're all getting that same information. I know that Will is taking it in, grinding it up in his own mind what he has to do on the track. Then we have Rick, Will can talk to him about things that he's feeling on the racetrack, and that makes a big difference, too. So, again, I talk about this experience level that the team has. We're trying to continue to cultivate that and spread that across all three drivers. At the end of the day, our goal is to have one of these guys in the winner's circle. If one wins, the team wins, and that's the most important thing.
MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much for coming in. We appreciate it.