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Indy Racing League Series: Indianapolis 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indianapolis 500

Indy Racing League Series: Indianapolis 500

Helio Castroneves
Tim Cindric
Roger Penske
May 26, 2002


INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm speechless. To be honest, first of all, I have to thank my team, Roger, Tim Cindric, the whole crew, to give me a car to finish, because to win, first you have to finish. I didn't have the best car there and I was just trying to keep going, just trying to keep out of trouble, try to not crash, try to keep in the lead lap. Because I knew that one point, if you have to take a chance, that it would come. And on lap 160, 162, I don't remember, Cindric and I decided to say out. And I couldn't believe it, everybody was coming in, and I said this is the chance that I want because I knew I have 20 gallons in the car, and it was like 22 laps to go, and normally it's a gallon per lap, and I was just trying to keep in good shape, lifting off. In fact, I lapped, I think it was Kenny -- first of all, I could not see on the mirrors because one guy blew an engine right in front of me, and I believe that's why the leader crashed, and I could not see. My mirrors were completely oiled and I was trying to clean and just making it worse. I was just with the radio. When Cindric said that there were three cars a lap down behind me, I decided to let them go and try to draft them and keep saving fuel. It was working really good, but it still was very close and still praying for the yellow. At one point, one of the Green guys, I believe it was Dario, started passing and lifting off, passing and listing off; I didn't know who it was. Cindric said, "now it's Tracy," and I could not see who was it. Basically, I was just listing off, and the dash -- I was turning in turn three, the dash, there is a system in the IRL that the yellow light comes on. And I was so tense when the yellow came on, I thought because we also have a light for the fuel, I thought I was running out of fuel. And guys on the radio, "yellow", "yellow," "yellow," and I was so shocked. And then Tracy passed me very fast and I was screaming: "He passed on the yellow, he passed on the yellow." Because I was just waiting for -- when I saw the light, and that's where you can just stay against -- with your spotter, because sometimes they don't throw the yellow. I think this system has worked really well, and I didn't know if it was going to finish or not, the way it's going to happen.

MODERATOR: Al Unser, Sr., Was the last to win back-to-back in 1970-1971, and I would also remind you that Maury Rose (ph) won in '47 and '48. Wilbur Schott (ph) nearly won three in a row, 19 39-1940. Tim or Roger, did Nazareth ever come into your mind? For those who don't know, they ran out of fuel while leading in the last lap with Gil.

ROGER PENSKE: I think that really what happened with 40 to go, there was two decisions to make, one car to go for it. We had been running competitively with Gil, decided to make a stop. As you know we had a bad stop and lost a wheel, and Tim made the absolute right call to stay out. Because when you look at the number of yellow laps, we were running -- one thing I think not many people noted, we were running anywhere from two to three to four laps more in every stint if you looked at under green (ph), and I think that gave us a real advantage. I think that that played into the opportunity; worked hard on the fuel pickup in the car. We ran a lot of lean laps. That's one of the reasons we were able to run as far as we did at Nazareth. Tim made a great call, and I think Helio being able to run the car -- and we had the meter on the dashboard that shows what kind of mileage you need. So he was making over 2.35 miles per gallon, and under the yellows, you make 5 or 6, so you almost use just less than a half gallon per lap. So it really fell into our laps. But Helio did a super job.

TIM CINDRIC: Today, without a doubt, we didn't have the fastest car out there, no doubt about it. And at the point in time when the decision was made it looked like Gil was in good position to win this race as well. From our standpoint, Helio and I agreed that we didn't have the car to go past these guys to win. So we decided let's see what happens. Some days it's your day here and some days it's not. I was telling Roger, I think it was back in the '97 Rio race in CART when Rahal was leading and I was calling his race and he had Tracy behind me there. Rahal ran out of fuel on the last lap and that was my gain that day. He beat me that day doing that, and some days it's your day and some days it's not. It all comes around. It just happened to come around right today. Thank God, I was watching the TV, as well, when it went yellow and saw. There was no doubt in my mind who was ahead.

Q. It seemed like you were so relaxed all month, you were out there having fun with the alley cats every day, giving beer and everything. It was almost like you kind of came here relishing every moment of being the defending winner.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, let me say one thing. Here, all of the sudden, racing it's very stressful and you have a lot of down time, some very frustrating times. And a month in Indianapolis, it's very easy for you, to start like two days great and just bring yourself down. So what I try to do not only with my guys inside the team, but with everyone, is enjoy the moment because I never know what's going to happen. Well, I'm a lucky man. Today it happened again. So I'm going to start enjoying every second for the second victory in Indianapolis. But in any particular situation, you just have to try to see the brightest side, and again, we were very fast the whole week, the whole month, and just all of a sudden, things start coming not the way we like it. But I didn't lose -- I didn't feel that I couldn't do it. Otherwise, I would not be in the car, and again, like Rick Mears always said, "This place all of a sudden happens. The race comes to you." I was just trying to keep in the Top-10 in the whole race, and Cindric -- in fact, we made a plan. Like, okay if I cannot pass anyone, let's just pass on the pit stops. And I couldn't stop very well because my eye was so low that the engine was shutting off. So, every time I was going to the pits, I have to downshift first and the bumps started before I stop. So it was a very tricky thing. I was missing a little bit the marks because of that. And then, our pits stops, unfortunately, could not be like Thursday when we won the competition.

TIM CINDRIC: We also had a couple of problems during the race on the green stops where we had 14, 15 seconds stops. Unfortunately, when the car would drop, what we call the red headed (ph) fueling valve would recock itself and it would take a couple of seconds to understand really what was going on, and you would have to reset the fuel meter, the fuel probe as well. We put him back in a few spots in which I think we were six seconds ahead of the leader at one point in time, just trying to stay on the lead lap. We definitely kept ourselves in a position to win. But one thing I would like to say is there's a guy on our team for many years, Gary Buckner, that's not here with us today, and it's very important that we remember what he brought to this team and the spirit that he brought.

Q. Helio, Roger is there any doubt in your minds that you've won? If not, why not? How can you be so sure?

ROGER PENSKE: I think that the officials viewed the tapes after and said that Helio was the winner. Fred Nation was here and said that that was the case. Obviously, from my perspective, Helio drove the car. The circumstances that took place today, like any other race, and for me to say, how do I know, the only way that I know is it was the chief steward, the head of the race made the call, and he has all of that data in front of him to make that call. I don't think you can or I can make it sitting here. As we sit here today, we are going along with the chief steward of the race.

Q. Do you know exactly how much gas was left and could you put into words, your emotions, and just what it means?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: One thing I know: It was enough to finish. Definitely was enough to finish and compete the last lap. Emotions, you guys saw, I was so happy. Again I keep saying about that, to win is even better. Like I said, we came here, no doubt about that; we could do it. But during the race, you have to keep the faith, and that's the only thing that I was keeping the faith and to just give me a chance. All of a sudden, that's what happened on the yellow, and then the gamble of the fuel. The rest, I said, listen, I have the chants now, I have to make it happen. I was saving fuel as much as I can. And no doubt about it, without the yellow, we might not have finished. So emotional, I think you saw how happy I was climbing the fence, how emotional I was, crying like a baby, but it's just another dream come true.

Q. (Inaudible)?

ROGER PENSKE: I think Paul and Barry Green should talk to the chief steward and let the chief steward make that call. If Brian Barnhart (ph) said that Paul won the race, he won the race, we are not going to protest it. This is not the first race that a yellow has gone on in big races, and the finish was determined by the last laps under yellow.

Q. Did you know what was going on with Gil's pit stop and losing the tire, and did you think about that at all when you're dealing with your own issues?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I wasn't sure if it was Gil. I think one of the yellow I saw on the screen, a car, but from the back, I thought it was like one of Mo Nunn's cars, so I didn't know if it was Giaffone or Gil. So at that time Cindric and I were deciding to go for a strategy, and so we're not even trying to ask. For something like that, I'm just trying to focus on my job and try to finish the race.

Q. When Al and Parnelli won here, you had not yet won your first. Can you reflect on how long a period of time it was before there was a repeat winner and now the fact that it's your guy?

ROGER PENSKE: Well, for us, this is unbelievable to see what Helio has been able to do. As I said before today, each one of our wins, the credit is due to the hundreds of people that have worked on this race team, and the reliability, the engine builders, putting our cars together, I think that's been a trademark of our team. If you go back and look at the reliability of how many times we have been able to finish, and that to me is critical. Driving so you don't have an accident. You see today we made a mistake in the pits and cost Gil a very good finish. But I think the reliability has made the difference. To go back, '70, '71 is 30 years plus, a long time ago. So obviously he was a special guy. That win, I'll never forget.

Q. Paul didn't exactly say the politics would decide this race, but he did say there's always politics in auto racing. Can you understand how people might draw that conclusion coming from this race?

ROGER PENSKE: Well, I guess it's unfortunate that a situation like this comes up, and then people take sides, was it right or wrong. I think the real factor, all of us sitting here today should look at what happened, look at the tape, and we'll all make the decision. I think that to suppose it's politics or suppose we didn't win or not, I'm willing to stand up and look at whatever the facts are. I'm assuming that when they ask us to come in here and tell us we won the race, that the chief steward had looked at that and reviewed the tapes. There's a lot of electronic capability that we did not even have in the past. I can't comment more on that. I don't think there's any politics in that. Obviously, Barry Green and that team is an Indy team and they have run here before. Barry can certainly look at, and I'd like to see it and look at it myself, if that was right, but I've got to go along with the chief steward.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Let me just make a comment on that. I don't understand why people see that, okay, he passed me. The only reason he passed me, it's because the yellow came on and I lift off. No way he could pass me if it would be outside turn 3 if we were still racing. So he might have passed me on the front straightaway because I was lifting off. That's why I don't understand why they are saying something about that. Because -- he didn't pass me before, it was because I was protecting a position. And it's very difficult to pass. And two lines here, it's very tough; he couldn't just pass me. I'm the one that lift off, and because of the yellow. That's the point.

Q. Paul maintained that he did not see the yellow until after he had passed you and he was in the middle of the short chute. Could you sort of slow motion down the back stretch and exactly where you saw the yellow? He said you were protecting your position and then he passed you and then saw the yellow?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I can't tell what happened in his car, but I definitely can tell in my car. I was protecting my position, I was inside of turn 3. And then when I was making turn 3, it was right on the apex in turn 3 and still, I could see his rear wheel. Basically, he is like this (indicating). The entry of the turn, you can make, but as soon as you start the turn, I'm sorry, the car is going to start pushing, especially today because the wind was in the opposite way that -- from every day on the month. I can't just say in that position, but definitely in turn 3, that's where the yellow came on and that's why I lift off. Also, I wouldn't lift off if the yellow would come up; and he would have passed me probably, I don't know. Only if I run out of fuel.

Q. At the apex -?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's apex. For me, it's an apex. That's when my steering wheel, it came on.

Q. Last year with not having to have Marlboro's name on the side, how satisfying is it this year to be able to win and put their name on it?

ROGER PENSKE: I think one of the reasons that we came to IRL was because of Marlboro and Philip Morris's interest to be in a series that would be an international series. Obviously, to be in the Indianapolis 500 was a big driver. So this is a tremendous benefit to our team and certainly to our sponsor.

Q. In that moment before the chief steward made his call, there seemed to be some uncertainty about the order of finish, when Paul Tracy came down the straightaway first. Was there any uncertainty in your mind before they made that call?

ROGER PENSKE: All I know is that we had telemetry in the pits and the yellow light went on and it went yellow, and at that point, Helio was in the lead. So I can't -- the fact that people passed after it went yellow, they did that earlier. In fact, if you go back when there was another accident, those guys went ahead and passed each other and they had to wait for those cars. If they wouldn't have slowed down and got behind the pace car, the yellow might not have stayed on as long, so probably hurt them then.

TIM CINDRIC: At the same time, you don't want to encourage the guys to stay on the gas when it goes yellow. From that point on, I'm hearing in my ear the whole time: "Car three is your leader, car three is your leader," before they even got out of turn 4, before they even came down the front straight. That decision was made to what seemed in our pit very obvious. There was not any question of time.

Q. Maybe part of this controversy, whatever, is something about when Paul sat here earlier he also said that he didn't think you had enough fuel because he noticed you were quite a bit slower on the straightaway and he thought you were trying to conserve fuel. Could that be playing a part in this? And your other comment, when you said, yeah, you had to fuel, did you really are, or are you saying that just to make us happy?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't know if it would be a green flag, I don't know. But I did bring the car to the -- I did do all the 200 laps, didn't I? So I guess I did have enough fuel to finish. And again it's something that we are never going to know. I'm sorry, I can't feel sorry for Tracy. It's a tough decision. And today, we have a system that works to everyone, and I can see -- it's a decision that it's not only for one driver, but all 26 drivers. I guess today is my lucky day. Oh, yeah, I was lifting off. That's why I was slowing down.

Q. On a different note, Roger, everybody coming in here was talking about what a competitive race this was going to be and that it might be the best race competition-wise in 30 years. So much stuff happened today in this race, so many different leaders, can you just talk a little bit about how this race measures up to those you've seen here in the past?

ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think there was no question it was the fastest field in history. As you look as the race unfolded, there was no question that Junqueira was very quick, and then they had an issue in the pit stop and they got behind. It was very, very tough to pass. I know Gil many times came on the radar, it seems like it's very tough to pass when the cars are in clean air. We were sometimes 10,11 seconds ahead of the next pack of cars. I thought Scheckter was very quick, there's no question about it. He was running well. Michael (Andretti) came up and then got stuck, I think they had to pit early. Franchitti pitted early. So there was a lot of dynamics within the race that changed it. The good news is, it was a safe race and nobody got hurry. I think that's point No. 1. I think No. 2, there was a number of leaders. There was good strategy in the race. And I think there was a good feeling, I felt about the start of the race, and obviously, I hate to be involved in a controversy at the end of the race, you all know personally how I feel, but at the end of the day, it was a very competitive race. We really had to be on our toes. The one disappointment I have is that we kept Gil from maybe winning this race by leaving the wheel loose and doing a quick stop there at the end. I'm sure a lot of other people felt the same. Sharp was running well. He had an engine problem. The one thing that was certainly -- Tony Kanaan really had command of this race, and unfortunately, when Junqueira lost his engine, it was right in front of -- you could see the oil on the front of Helio's car that Tony got in that oil and lost control. You know, he was certainly a potential. There was a number of potential winners. I think it was very competitive. It's interesting, you think about last year, three or four of the key people came out of the race. Harnish (ph) was a real threat I felt in the race. Certainly Junqueira was, but this race seems to always eliminate four or five of the key people, somewhere within the first 100 laps or so, and I think that happened again today.

Q. Tell us what that is in the car that tells you when that yellow light comes on, and is this something that is only in the -- would Paul have this in his car, as well?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's in the rules in IRL. You'd better talk to Brian or if you want to take anybody's steering wheel, everybody has a system. Mine is in the wheel, but some of the drivers might be on the dash or someplace else in the car. This is the rules. You have to have that working. Otherwise, you're not allowed to race.

Q. So when the yellow light comes on, you know it right away?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's right.

TIM CINDRIC: There's also a light that comes on in the pits, also.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Sometimes, like this year in Homestead, what happened, the spotters spot everybody calling yellow, but the light was not on; so some people start lifting off and I was not on and I kept going. That was a learning curve to happen today, so you can't just -- in fact, when Junqueira blew that engine, a lot of people went "blown engine, yellow, yellow," but the yellow was not on and I kept going. In fact, that caused the leader to crash on the next lap. So I knew that might happen because it was right in front of me. That's why you cannot just wait on the decision of the spotters and that's why we have the light, because in case that anybody, or a spotter has not seen anything happen, you have the wheel or the dash to indicate that the track indicate that the track is yellow.

Q. The you've done two in a row and nobody has won three, is that your next goal?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: You are a little too fast now. I tell you, I'm going to work as hard as I can because if you guys notice, we play in the IRL league now and with this victory, we just jumped to the championship lead, and it's very important to us because it's not only a race, but also a championship at the end of the year. That's my next focus is going to be now, it's to make sure I can complete it. We are going to go to a lot of track that we have not raced yet and we have no clue about it. So hopefully we are going to keep the good performance that we are having. And just a quick note, it's funny, last year, we race in Phoenix and didn't do well, and this year we won the race. Last year we won here, and again, we did it again. So I guess you see that's how important for you guys to understand, when it's a first year on the championship when you do not know the tracks and other competitors does have the data, makes a lot of difference. And again, we are going to keep continuing to try to work hard and make sure that we be consistent towards the end of the day.

Q. A lot of people are forgetting that slugfest that was going on with four laps to go when it was your go-carting buddy, Felipe. Talk about that. He tried to set you up and Franchitti got in his way, and that's when Tracy was able to get a full head of steam past then.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I couldn't see anything that's happening mine me because my mirrors were completely gone. The only thing I saw was very close by was Kenny and Dario and I didn't know if it was Dario or Tracy. And this guy was telling me on the radio -- "it's Tracy, so you'd better step on the gas."

TIM CINDRIC: From my perspective, it was making sure he was as informed as he could be because what we kept doing was turning up and down the fuel. When it got to the point whether Felipe or Tracy were close to him, we would turn the fuel back up. Because at that point, what you don't realize is that a gauge on your dash tells you how much fuel you think is in the car, when you actually fill the car, sometimes you might get a little bit of an expansion, you might not, who knows really how much is in. Sometimes you don't get all 35 in. Sometimes the pressure might give you a little bit more and who knows. So at that point, it was just a matter of going for it when they got close enough, at a point in which they were three cars behind, I just told hem how many cars behind each of these guys were and when it got to the next time was the guy it was time to go. I think all of a sudden, looking around here, a guy like Helio wins the race, I think open-wheel racing what we need to do around here is promote the positive. That needs to be the theme. I think this guy is the biggest cheerleader in what's going on.

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