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2014 Indianapolis 500 Q&A: IndyCar - Team Penske
ROGER PENSKE - TEAM OWNER, RICK MEARS - TEAM CONSULTANT, TIM CINDRIC - PRESIDENT, HELIO CASTRONEVES - NO. 3 PENNZOIL ULTRA PLATINUM CHEVROLET, WILL POWER, NO. 12 VERIZON CHEVROLET, JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, NO. 2 VERIZON CHEVROLET met with members of the media at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by Team Penske. No introductions needed. Rick Mears, Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo, Will Power, Tim Cindric, and the boss himself Roger Penske.
We'll ask a question to each of the participants.
How much more speed will we see?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: The car has been very good. The car has been super. I'm extremely excited, not only with Pennzoil coming with the retro colors, but with the product as well. It's great to be here in Indianapolis introducing this. And the car seems to be great. So far we've been able to work well, all three of us, working well trying to develop not only a good car for racing but also for qualifying.
With the boost coming racing a little bit now, we're certainly going to see speeds about 229. Who knows if it will be 230 as well. I feel that the weather will help a lot because you can take a lot of downforce out and the car will still be able to be pretty good.
It will certainly be Fast Friday and hopefully the weather holds up so we can go out and have fun.
THE MODERATOR: Juan Pablo, is the car different? Do you feel different than you did in 2000?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Not really. I'll tell you the truth, I was really surprised when I came on Sunday. I went out and I said, I'm going to take my time. Full throttle, lifted on three and four, second lap, third lap, fourth lap, I'm good. It was nice.
One of the cool things about being with Team Penske, they do such a good job with the cars. The experience here is so good. They really know what they're doing. It makes it so easy for us, it really does.
I mean, when you're trying, like yesterday we were starting to trim the car out in case it rained today, okay, I have a little bit of understeer, they change it. They really know how much to change the car, to adjust the car. It makes it fun.
I had one moment yesterday in three where it was a little too much. I was like, Oh, that's a little bit too much for me.
THE MODERATOR: Will, points leader coming in. Last year we saw a record number of lead changes in the 500. Are the cars the same as they were in terms of aerodynamics and the ability to pass? Will we see possibly the same number of lead changes this year?
WILL POWER: Yeah, they'll be a little faster because of the engine. It punches such a big hole, that no one really wants to lead. If you're leading, you're burning fuel, doing yourself no good.
It's created this whole pack where you have to really understand how to run very close to cars, because that's what you'll be doing all day no matter where you are in the field. You can't get away.
I really feel as though this year we turned up with a better car. I think last year we struggled a little in traffic. So far it's been better for us. I think the team's worked really hard.
Obviously we've had absolutely zero gauge of where the engine manufacturers stand. I think today will be the first time you see people do single runs not in traffic, start to get a feel for where we stand there.
Hopefully Chevy's got a good engine and we have a good shot at the pole.
THE MODERATOR: Tim, in addition to being president of Penske Racing, you're now a racing dad. Tell us about that.
TIM CINDRIC: It was pretty cool to see him go around the track. I told him the bricks feel different going the other way.
I'm proud of what he's accomplished. These guys have helped him out in terms of which way to go. I know the biggest race to him. He's got no idea what it even means to be on that track. It wasn't a negative. He understands all the tradition here. Yeah, it's my night job.
THE MODERATOR: 15 wins at the Indianapolis 500 for Roger Penske. You've seen many changes here, including the inclusion of NASCAR and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Were you in favor of that race and if so what do you think of it?
ROGER PENSKE: I think the Grand Prix race was terrific. I spoke with Miles and some of the guys here, We've got an asset here. You have a track like the Indianapolis track, why not use it? The tradition was broken when we had the Brickyard. From what the drivers have told me, it's one of the great road courses they've run on. It's safe, fast. I think the turnout by the fans was outstanding. We look forward to doing it again.
I'd give them an A-plus for execution. I saw a lot of young people, which is important in our sport. A lot of young people have a lot of other things to do in their lives. To see them sitting up with their families, sitting up on the mounds, is great.
Obviously, for Verizon, they were very happy with the turnout because this was their first chance to be at Indianapolis Speedway for a race.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, would you have liked to have run in that race last Saturday on the road course?
RICK MEARS: It would have been a lot of fun. From listening to the guys, the track was great. Like everything Roger said, I think it was a great turnout, great event. I think it's going to continue to grow and get better.
THE MODERATOR: When you were driving, did it bother you having to be interrupted by rain or be completely washed out in some cases?
RICK MEARS: It always bothered you to a point, but you have to sit there and say it's the same for everybody. To me, Team Penske was the best-prepared team. It was going to be a help to us, if anything. It never really bothered me. You have to get geared back up and go when it was time. It never was too bad.
THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.
Q. It's a different format. In its simplest form you have to put together the four best laps you can on Saturday and then on Sunday. Talk about the ability to do that. It's more pressure than maybe back in the old days when you had one shot at it.
ROGER PENSKE: We talked last night, Helio and I did, you have to be in that top nine tomorrow for Sunday. I think that's going to be critical to get the three cars in that Fast 9, Fast 10. We have a meeting after this to go over specific rules.
We'll have qualifying at key TV time on Sunday. As we promote the sport, someone is thinking about strategy from the standpoint of how we can execute better and get more fans.
For these guys, they'll make a run once, twice. They've done it before. You'll see us take our time down, go out and run again.
The way the cars are this year, we're ready to go.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: With any new format, it will be interesting. Looks like the weather is going to be good. If the weather gets in the way of the format, we have a lot of different things to do. Certainly as these guys said today, understanding really what your shot is here is really what you have to do.
You have to understand, do you have a shot for the pole, is that realistic? And if you don't, do you have a shot for the top nine? Your goals change throughout the day. That changes your strategy and how much risk you take.
WILL POWER: First goal is to get in the top nine with not too much risk. You don't want to go in the wall. That puts you really on the back foot.
Like I said before, we've got no feel for it right now where we stack up. We'll have to see how the format plays out.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I believe our cars are good enough. Maybe they're good enough Saturday to put us in the top nine. We'll see for Sunday how much more we need. If we run Saturday, we're not fast enough, we'll see what we have to take out of the car and try to go quicker again.
ROGER PENSKE: As far as changing the thing, this sport is really about change. In a racecar, you're changing every lap, every corner. It's about adapting. I never would have known I could make it flat through one until I tried it. Worst-case scenario, you go a different way.
Q. Would you talk about the qualifying strategy in terms of points. I understand there are a lot of points available. Is it worth taking a risk to go back out, to be higher up for a few more points?
WILL POWER: Yeah. This point spread is really close between positions. You would expect all the championship contenders would be pretty close anyway. I'm sure if you were the one with the fast cars at the front competing for the championship, you would definitely go back out to gain some points.
Q. Roger, could you reminisce a little bit about engine development in '94, how you kept it secret.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, going back to '94, obviously we had been racing here for a number of years, we saw the stock block Buicks come, blow everybody off on the pole. They'd run for 100 or 150 miles and have a technical issue. Well more, we felt we could build an engine that obviously had the power. I told our guys, We're not going to talk about it. It's like taking your paycheck and cutting it in half if we talk about it.
To the extent we kept it a secret, I know Paul Tracy was in a toboggan suit running around Nazareth, we didn't have transient dynos in those days, didn't have one available to us.
While we were practicing here, we were running a 500-mile test run at Michigan. A lot went into that. It was exciting.
As usual, we won the race. They reduced the boost five or six inches the next week, then the next week they outlawed the engine. If you do too well, typical, you get slapped.
We're excited about the Chevy engine this year. The development, when you think about both Honda and Chevy have come with engines, I think they're pretty equal. Can't really tell until we qualify. The reliability has been good.
We couldn't take the engines out of our cars this week until we had 2500 miles. Think about racing miles, that's qualifying, racing. We've had that engine in since the beginning of the season, since the Barber test. That shows you the reliability on the engines for both manufacturers, which is terrific.
Quite honestly, it's something we don't think about. The gearbox, engine, power train is so reliable, it's more about the setup. This year I would say Firestone has come back with the best tire I've ever seen them have here. We can run 50, 55 laps on those tires.
I think the feel is close. The reliability of the engines. The cars, we'll get to know those better. I think from a reliability standpoint, we're in great shape. Hope we have the same success we had in '94.
Q. Roger, when all the right circumstances come into play, do you have a plan to go back and build your own chassis one day?
ROGER PENSKE: Obviously we had that capability in the UK to build the chassis. Once the rules changed, we closed that down. It would be difficult for us today. We'd probably have to go to a third party to partner with.
Our main manufacturing capability today is from NASCAR where we build our cars from the ground up.
Q. Juan Pablo, you've gone from one series to another a number of times in your career. Which is more difficult, going from open-wheel to NASCAR or NASCAR back to open-wheel?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Coming back to open-wheel is something I already did. It was just readjusting to the car, understanding the car, the tools that I had, get myself and the team on the same page on what I want out of the car.
It's funny because there were certain things we tried earlier in the car that we couldn't try because I was uncomfortable, that now it's way better. As time goes on, I'm definitely getting more comfortable in the car.
I probably had the fastest car here on Saturday. It's a shame we didn't get a better result out of that.
But, I mean, when I went to Cup it was hard because it was something I'd never done. After a while, it's whatever the car will give you. You know what I mean? It's kind of hard because you go one year, you make the Chase, and the next year we as a team we went backwards and you finish 25th in the championship. It's like, What happened? It's what you got.
It's really close racing, so it's what it is. I don't want to even really talk about it too much. It is what it is.
Q. Given how loaded qualifying and the race are this year, is there a chance that a lot of the championship contenders are going to be thinking about getting points instead of getting a victory and the part-timers are going to have an advantage?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: In my opinion, I don't think so. You're going to finish second behind me just because you want the points...
WILL POWER: No. I don't think anybody is going to be thinking about that with 10 to go.
Q. Helio, would you let that slip away?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No. This place is a unique place. Certainly everybody is going for it. But maybe if you don't have a chance, you might not be just crazy about it, do something stupid out there. You might think twice before you take a chance. At least that's the way I feel.
But Indianapolis is Indianapolis. You have an opportunity. It doesn't come quite often, so you got to take it.
Q. (No microphone.)
ROGER PENSKE: I think winning the Indy 500 is at the top of any driver or team owner's list. The double points I think is good. If you execute these 500-mile races, you should get more points.
Q. For Juan's return, how has it gone for you and for him?
ROGER PENSKE: We had to change the whole outfit when he showed up (laughter). Look at him. He's got his black shirt on.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Everything (laughter).
ROGER PENSKE: Quite honestly, I've known Juan from the very beginning of his career here in the United States. He's been a guy that's fast. Quite honestly, I think Will and Helio and Tim and the guys look forward to having him come with us.
He's pushing the guys. There's been a great cross-pollination of information getting Juan to where he wants to be. For us, it was an opportunity. We didn't start thinking till the end of last year that we would run a third car. When that asset came available, it's a matter of, Let's go. We're very happy to have him on the team.
Q. Roger, when folks look at the IndyCar Series, particularly the Indy 500, there's a rivalry between Penske and Ganassi. How important is it to have a heated rivalry in this series? Also talk about, is that more important than maybe having parity in the series?
ROGER PENSKE: I guess I'm not sure I understood the question.
As far as our rivalry with Ganassi, he set the bar here. He's the guy we have to beat. But we also see other teams. Andretti has done a terrific job. Quite honestly across the field, some of the smaller teams have shown a lot of speed here. We can't count anybody out.
Obviously with Juan having driven for Ganassi, it's nice to have one of his guys over on our side. I'm sure they're watching him. We're counting on him to execute for us.
From a competitive standpoint, we're here to focus on our own game. Quite honestly that's what we have to do here. You get too emotional about things, for the wrong reasons, you don't get the success.
My feeling here is we're going to go out and execute. Ganassi is going to be very competitive. Dixon is one of the very best. Kanaan won the race last year so he knows what it's like to be in the winner's circle.
Helio and Juan have been in the winner's circle. Will, he wants to check that off here this year. We have a lot of commitment from our drivers to execute.
Q. Helio, if the opportunity arises to win again, would that eclipse the others?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: In this case, certainly a very unique opportunity. You can't thinking about that. To make it happen, you got to work. You got to execute. That's what we're doing the entire month. We want to make sure that we have a competitive car to put in that opportunity to make that happen.
So I'm really confident right now that we have the best equipment out there. It's about being in the right place at the right time because the race is about 500 miles, so it's almost three hours of racing. I feel that we just got to understand everything.
It would be awesome for sure because it's only three guys did that. However, I do feel that Rick did more than that because he helped me with my other three, so he has a little bit more than four.
RICK MEARS: I can tell you, you'll like the fourth one more.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thanks. I have something to look forward to it. I feel that not only myself, but for a lot of fans, as well. I'll work hard to make that happen.
In terms of just my head, same procedure, start from zero. Every time you come over here, there's something new, something absolutely different from the years past. You have to adapt when it comes.
Q. Rick, when you won your fourth, did you ever think about climbing a fence?
RICK MEARS: No, not at all (laughter). They didn't have fences back then.
It was nice watching that yellow Pennzoil car go around there. I felt, That's the closest I'm ever going to get to coming out of retirement.
Q. Under the long time qualifying format that was used for decades, nobody was better at that than you. How would you have liked doing this format when you were in your prime?
RICK MEARS: Well, again, it's whatever the circumstance is. It's all relative. It's the same for everybody. You just look at the situation, you figure out, How am I going to do this better than the rest of them? You start doing your homework, digging into things, figure out all the scenarios, angles, everything you can do to figure out how to do a better job than they do.
Either way I think maybe just having the one shot, I enjoyed that, only having one shot at it. I felt it really put the pressure on. You had to get four laps, every corner. If you blew one corner, you blew the whole deal. I enjoyed that pressure.
So it's how do we do it better than they do, that's the main thing.
Q. As far as the extra boost, do you have to actually change anything in the engine in terms of the gearing to adapt for that extra boost? What does five miles an hour more feel like?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Straight line you don't feel anything. In the corner you change a little bit the adjusting on the car. In the end of the day, yes, we do change the gearing so we adapt for that kind of speed.
Just small tuning for the car to make sure you keep going four laps in a row.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I don't know (laughter). I know we're doing gears, I know that. We talked about that. I know we're doing gears, yeah. A couple of changes in the car and stuff.
But I don't know, I just drive it. Should be fun.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, the gearing, obviously then you start changing downforce anyway, so it all kind of comes together for us. It's not a big deal.
Q. A question about qualifying. A few years ago when Helio went out, later that evening you shared with us some of the changes you tried to accommodate for the wind. How much do you look up to look at the wind when you're qualifying? Say Will goes out and qualifies first among the group, how much information does he share? If you're in the car waiting to go, what do you want to hear from Will's run that's going to help you, or do you want information?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: The first question, yes, you do look around to make sure you understand. Every corner looks the same, but they're not. Even when the wind hits the nose of the car or the back of the car, you have to at least understand when you're approaching that corner. So, yes, normally I tend to check that out.
The second one, depends the information for what qualifying you're in. Qualifying one, you tell them. If it's qualifying two, maybe you just keep quiet (laughter). No, just kidding.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: He's not kidding, by the way (laughter). You know what the biggest problem is, Roger is too competitive.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's good. I like it.
But you do, you have a sense of the car is pushing or the car is loose, one of those things. But normally with this format, it changed quite a bit. As Rick is saying, in the past, you got to take the opportunity to take the car away and the time away to go again and try it.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: You can run with the same time. It's going to be two lines, isn't it? They don't take the time away.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I understand that.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Now you don't take the time away. Like if you're seven, eight or nine, you're in risk. You know what I mean? At the same time people doing it are in risk. By trying to get in that top nine, if you're on that bubble, you can put yourself in a bad situation for the risk.
To tell you the truth, we all know what everybody else is running. You know if they didn't change anything what they had in practice. You can look at the data and say it's definitely more neutral now without changing. On the basis of data you can look at that, know where they are, what to do.
If you look at the qualifying run, you can see what they did with the tools. Did they put a stiffer bar, a softer bar, a wedge, the gears he was running.
WILL POWER: Put some wedge in it (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Thanks to all members of Team Penske for being with us here today.
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