Firestone Freedom 100 Post Race Press Conference
MODERATOR: We've got a bit of a throng out, and this guy has been no stranger here, all doing double-duty this weekend and doing a tremendous job. He's won two of these events this year. It could have been three. Carlos, we probably have to move you over at the very least to get you on a microphone there, pal.
Some of us have seen something sort of like that before but nothing quite like that. What was that like from your perspective?
CARLOS MUNOZ: I knew in my mind the last five laps, I knew I can't lead the last lap, or I just had to do something. I was like thinking to lift a little bit to let him overtake me, and he was leading the last lap. But Gabby was in our back door, so that's why in the end I lift, and I was in the car. I think we were three-wide for two last corners. The start/finish line I was trying to push by myself and tried to help. It was for a little bit, and I'm happy with the fourth place. I think I lead the championship right now, have more points. It's a great feeling, and I did my best. I couldn't do anything because of that.
MODERATOR: You were in the four-wide situation like that, are you steering the car or is the car just floating around out there among each other? That's a serious question having been out there. I mean, are you feeling just like you're being moved around?
MUNOZ: I was not feeling the car. I was for sure trying to be higher a little bit, and be fast because I knew it was going to finish really tight. So yeah, it was -- it didn't feel strange.
MODERATOR: We'll take some questions.
Q: Yeah, congratulations on your great race. You sort of answered it, but I would like to know, how do you feel now that you have taken a couple breaths and you knew you led all those laps, you made a big pass for the lead. How do you feel now?
MUNOZ: No, I told you I'm feeling OK. I'm not disappointed at all. I gave everything I had on the track. It is kind of tough with the ovals, you have to expect that to happen, you know. The car was really, really good, you know.
As I told you, I'm more happy because I am championship leader, and though it is really nice to win here in Indianapolis and everything. I have to think more in the championship than any one race. So that is what I did. To think more in the championship, I still have a long, long way to go, and that's my main goal to win the Indy Lights championship.
Q: Carlos, obviously Indy Lights and IndyCar are totally two different kind of cars. Nevertheless, running here with the Indy Lights and now IndyCars, do you think that's a little advantage that you have already done a race here and prepare for tomorrow?
MUNOZ: Yeah, I've been saying to everyone, I don't have really much experience in ovals. An extra hundred miles I have in race, I will have it in the “500,” for sure. It is totally different from the Carb Day to IndyCar to the Indy Lights. It was, of course, again everything really strange. The behavior of the car was totally changed, but I think I adapt really quickly, and in a few laps I could concentrate and forget everything from the IndyCar to put into Indy Lights.
Q: Can you talk us through the last two corners? What were you hearing from the spotters and what did you think as you were coming off of Turn 4, and all of a sudden it's four-wide going down the front stretch here at Indy?
MUNOZ: I think probably just was looking, wasn't noticing anything, was not listening or heard anything. But looking to see the finish line. I was quite close to Sage because I had a little correction on the inside and that's where I had to lift a little bit into 4. But, yeah, the spotters is a great help for me and everyone out there.
Q: I think one thing that everybody ought to take out of this is the fact that the four of you guys raced, three of you going through 3 and 4, and four of you coming out of race clean and straight and put on a tremendous show. You know, from where you were was one thing, from where we were watching, it was a huge show, great.
You said yesterday that you were kind of happy that you're in the Freedom 100 because you get an extra hundred miles of experience. What did you gain today that you can use on Sunday from the track and aero and so forth?
MUNOZ: It is totally different, obviously, when you're in a IndyCar and went to an Indy Lights race, you change a lot in between. You know, I just -- it helped me a lot to be concentrating in the 30 laps because it is really easy -- 40 laps -- because it is really easy to miss this concentration point you have. This 40 laps I was really concentrated, and I never had another point from the race. In the first 15, 20 laps, I think I was behind Sage. I learn a lot, had to clean air, how to time it and everything.
MODERATOR: We have two questions queued up front, and we'll take those and we're going to let Carlos go.
Q: We've seen a lot of really good finishes in the “500” and obviously we're not going to see a four-wide like that, but if you happen to be in that position Sunday, what would you do a little differently?
MUNOZ: Nothing. I was flat out on the throttle. I think just had a little bit more fuel because I was always in the front compared to the others, but really I couldn't do anything. I was flat and that's what happened in the ovals.
Q: Carlos, do you think about giving up the lead at some point?
MUNOZ: Yes, I told you I was in two laps to go, I said, ‘Man, I can't lead the last lap because it's a death penalty if you're leading the last lap here.’ I was thinking to lift in the straights and to let pass Sage. And we had a closer finish or I could overtake him just in the last part. But Gabby was really behind him, also, and so I said, ‘Yeah, if I lift, he's going to pass me like these two guys, and it would be difficult to fight for the win.’ So yeah, through my mind it passed to let pass Sage, and fight.
MODERATOR: Carlos, thank you very much. We appreciate it.
Sage and Gabby, we've been listening to the conversation from Carlos, and we were all thrilled by that. We take a look at Gabby, you finished in the second spot, Sage, you're right there. Gabby, tell us about it from your perspective. That was a pretty thrilling event.
GABBY CHAVES: Before the race, I thought I've got to save my tires and save the car and give it all in the last lap, and that's exactly what I did. I had a really good momentum coming off of 2, and I just used that to go around him on the outside. It was three-wide. I thought it was going to be three wide to the finish, and all of a sudden here comes Peter and I'm thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, how can I make my car wider?’ (Laughter)
He got me by maybe a hair or two. So I'm definitely going to have nightmares over this.
MODERATOR: Did you know it? Did you know at the line what the situation was?
CHAVES: Yeah, knew it was really close, and I knew if the line was 3 feet further back, it would have been my race. But what a race. I can't complain, you know. It was such a great day. I had such a great car. The Schmidt Peterson guys, they always do a great job, give us winning cars, so I can't thank them enough for that. If not this time, next time.
MODERATOR: Sage, we've heard a little bit about Gabby's emotions. How about your yours?
SAGE KARAM: I said I wanted to be coming into the race, I wanted to stay in second the whole race and last lap, Turn 3, make a move. Carlos blocked well low, which I expected, and I went high. Gabby got a good draft and he made it three-wide. Gosh, I didn't breathe, I think, that whole lap. It just was, just being so precise in the middle of two cars. We could have ruined each other's race just in that turn alone. And to carry it through 3 and 4, and I'm like feeling -- I'm like feeling the wind off of his tires and Carlos' tires, and it's just like swaying my car just like very little, and I'm just like trying to keep it as right in the middle as possible. And I got -- I swear, I got to feel like those little string things that come off the Firestone tires, the sidewalls, I swear I think they were like rubbing each other. It was so insane. And then, yeah, looking in my mirrors. I downshifted to fifth, tried to play the wind a little bit differently coming to the finish line. I looked in my mirrors and saw Dempsey coming up high, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I'm going to get third.’ And that's what we got. It's a heartbreaker. Me and Gabby, we live in the same apartment complex, so I'm pretty sure all the neighbors are going to hear us crying each other to sleep. (Laughter)
MODERATOR: For the record, we held our breath, too, but the consequences for us weren't quite the same.
Q: Gabby, ahead of the last lap, you knew you were going to go wide, did you know how much grip there was going to be up on the outside going three-wide?
CHAVES: I didn't care, it was all or nothing. I put my foot to the floor, and if I got loose or lost the car, that's that, but I was going for the win.
Q: I really don't have -- a question. I made the comment when Carlos was here, and I'll make it again. I think the four of you should be commended for the clean, close racing to put on a show that I don't think anybody has seen in a hundred years. It's a phenomenal job all of you did to stay clean.
What do you think as you're going down? Carlos said he pushed as hard as he could to the floor and put his head down trying to cut as much draft off. Did you realize you are where you are and you did whatever you can, wherever the line is, that's the way it goes?
CHAVES: I'm going to have a chat with the track engineers because if that line was a few feet back, I would have won the race. Everyone was out there doing the best they can even behind the scenes, mechanics, engineers. Everyone is putting their 110 percent and giving, putting all their heart out. So it's, you know, it is heartbreaking to lose by that much, but when you look at the big picture, it was a great day, it was a great race. Fans loved it. You know, we had fun, we came out to do what we love to do, and it was a great outcome.
KARAM: The thing about Indianapolis, it is such a lottery. You don't know what to expect. Last night I could not sleep. Getting my first Indy Lights pole, and I would fall asleep, wake up, fall asleep, wake up. And I think it was 5:30 in the morning, I woke up and I went on YouTube to watch every highlight film of the Freedom 100 from like '07 on just to find the best scenario that could happen. There's just so many scenarios, you don't know. Honestly, with this place you don't know who's going to win until they go across the Yard of Bricks.
Q: Sage, for people that don't know this series, they might just read it in the paper as a second line or on an ad page, what does this race today tell them about the series?
KARAM: We're supposed to be the up-and-coming. I think we showed some really good sportsmanship out there and raced each other really clean. I'm sure some of the IndyCar drivers saw that race, like Josef Newgarden was outside, he said, "That was awesome, and it was nuts." He's like, "I commend you guys," and everything.
So the IndyCar drivers now, they know we'll race each other with respect, and hopefully when we get there, they know when we get there we'll race them with respect. Racing Carlos, he is pretty much like a professional now. That was an honor to be running alongside him, qualifying front row for the “500.”
I look at these guys that I am racing against as professionals. That's what we treat our job as.
Q: I've got to say I've seen every Lights race, and I have never -- in fact, not too many IndyCar races have seen a response from the fans that you guys got for the show you put on. Good job.
MODERATOR: We'll have the winner in a minute.
Gabby, this is to help you. At the start of the race, Dick Jordan, the Vice President of the United States Auto Club, came to me and said, "The start/finish line has been at different places here, hasn't it?" I said, "Yeah, I'm pretty sure." And Bob Clidinst has been here a long time, we talked about it. I saw Donald Davidson in the hall, he said, "Yeah, it's moved several times."
So I've got good news for you. You won this race, you just don't know it.
CHAVES: Thank you. I don't know if that will help me sleep at night.
MODERATOR: Both of you did a great job. Congratulations.
One might guess, Peter, that after that particular show that one might need something a little more stout than beer. That was unbelievable. Talk about it.
PETER DEMPSEY: I've got to compliment the drivers. We all raced each other so fair, and that's what racing is about for me. So hats off to the other three guys. They could have put me into the wall there coming to the line, but fortunately they left me just enough room to squeeze by. That's exactly what the series needed, is a good finish here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You're not going to get it better than four wide across the line. I can't complain about an Irishman coming across there first.
MODERATOR: The other guys basically said basically they all had the, ‘Oh, no, where did he come from?’ feeling. You must have had some sense you were ready to pull that off.
DEMPSEY: I had it all planned from about two months ago to be fair -- I wish. (Laughter)
No, Stefan Wilson was actually spotting for me in Turns 1 and 2, and he said that they're all going to spread out coming to the line. I wasn't too sure in our gears, and I was really just sitting behind soaking the rev limiter the whole race. The car was so loose. I should have been down at the dirt track driving the sprint cars down there. But it was the car I had to drive and tried to hang in there as long as I could. Once we went three-wide, my bloody car just soaked up like a dream and Gabby Chaves left me enough room along the wall and -- happy days -- I crossed the line first by two-thousandths. Hats off to my team, my crew, Belardi Auto Racing, and my two mechanics and my engineer worked incredibly hard all month of May. This is the one race we wanted to try to win, and we pulled it off.
Q: Peter, your career has had a few ups and downs the last few years. Did you ever dream this is how you would win your first Lights race?
DEMPSEY: I dreamt, but it was a little bit earlier. But if you're going to win your first Indy Lights race, there's not one place that could be any better in the world the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's not just my first win in the series, obviously, it's my team's first win, as well. I know Brian Belardi couldn't have thought about a sweeter win than here.
Q: As you're coming onto the last lap and you're back a ways, and had been for some time, was there any thought in your mind that you might be able to get a slingshot coming out and take a run like you did?
DEMPSEY: I was hoping -- I got caught up there about four or five laps to go. Ended up getting stuck with two-wide with Zach Veach. That kind of hurt me, big time. We tried to stick with the lead group. The car was tough to drive, and I thought I'm not going to lift for the next three laps and hope I get back up to them. If I spin and hit the wall, I do. And I just kept it lit as much as I could. And coming onto the front straight, as soon as we went three-wide, I swear I pulled seventh gear. I just pulled up and I was right alongside them. I knew as soon as I came across the bricks there, I think I got it and I was out of control in the car. (Laughter)
Q: 26 thousandths of a second, that's pretty cool.
DEMPSEY: Yeah. I think it's the closest Indy Lights finish in history. So for me to be at the head of that group, I could have finished second, so I'm quite happy to finish first. That's pretty cool.
Q: (Off microphone).
DEMPSEY: That's what we want, you know. We're doing it for the fans, and the turnout today is unbelievable. For me, to win in front of so many spectators and to give them such a great show as well is what's needed for the junior formulas. We need to get the interest in our series where you come out to watch the Indy Lights race just as much as the IndyCar race. That's going to get the numbers up and get our sponsors on board and get the prize money back to where we would like it to be. So hopefully this helps, and roll on to the next race.
Q: Peter, can you give us an idea as to how much room you actually had once you got alongside the other guys?
DEMPSEY: Enough for an Indy Lights car to fit through. It was tight, you know. I was just hoping they weren't going to move, because if the moved, there would have been a huge crash. I've seen too many big crashes over the years, so that's what I said, hats off to the other three drivers. They gave me the respect, they gave me the room. I might have snuck up on them a little late, maybe a little too late to see me, but they gave me just enough room. I don't think they would have fit another car in there, that's for sure.
Q: Peter, while actually driving here in Indy Lights, maybe your main goal is to go to IndyCars. But, also, are you looking to the European open-wheel series as an alternative in case you don't get a Indy Lights drive in the future?
The second question is: With past such successful Irish drivers, Sean Robson, Martin Donnelly, Derek Daly, is there any help from those guys for you?
DEMPSEY: To answer your first question, I tried the European road. My pockets weren't deep enough to keep going over there to follow the dream, obviously, of Formula One. And I watched the Indianapolis 500 growing up as a kid back in the CART days, and Mansell came over here and Greg Moore and Jacques Villeneuve, this is where I wanted to be. The opportunity here is greater than we get anywhere else, and it's hats off to Mazda and the Mazda Road to Indy, which gives us the opportunity to be here. So for me, America is where my career is. I have no intention of going home apart from seeing my family every now and again and having a few beers.
And the second question was? Oh, yeah. No, unfortunately, back home it's hard. Our economy is not great, so I don't really have any support from home this year. This is the first year actually in my racing career I have no support from my country or the drivers of Eddie Irvine and Martin Donnelly.
They've helped me briefly in the past, but hopefully we will go up the ladder and help the younger generation coming up.
MODERATOR: Other questions? Are we good?
This guy deserves a little celebration time. Congratulations.
DEMPSEY: Thank you very much.