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IndyCar Series: Chevy 500

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Chevy 500

IndyCar Series: Chevy 500

Helio Castroneves
Kosuke Matsuura
Dan Wheldon
October 17, 2004


FORT WORTH, TEXAS

THE MODERATOR: Dan, quite a finish, once again, a typical Texas finish. The difference between Tony and you at the finish line for second place was 18/10,000s of a second, typical Texas finish. Talk about that final lap and Tony and just what you were trying to accomplish there

DAN WHELDON: Well, obviously the intent for me was to try and win the race. It would have been nice to go out with four wins. But Helio I think actually went just about when turn three started, which is -- I don't think I would have passed him anyway. His speed was very, very good. And I congratulate Marlboro Team Penske on their first victory of the season. But when you're thrown black flags at Fontana for stuff that clearly doesn't warrant a black flag, you hope to see some action taken towards him. I don't think he deserves a win taken away, but I'd certainly like to see a fine of some sort of something because what he did was wrong. But it just allowed for him to break away, and basically, Tony and I just ran side by side at the end. He drafted after me and obviously because there was -- Helio had just got far enough away where I wasn't picking up as good a draft as I would like. We just ran across the line side by side. Very close finish for second and third, but I think an excellent, excellent season for Andretti Green Racing.

THE MODERATOR: With three wins, 12 Top-5s, 13 Top-10s, so just a tremendous year. Talk about just, it's been brought up so much, but how much does chemistry on this team mean, all of the joking and light-heartedness, how it really helps just get you through a long season like the Indy Racing League season.

DAN WHELDON: I think Andretti Green Racing as on organization is exceptional. I think the way the owners go about enforcing what they want to happen within the team seems to work well with the drivers that they have picked. I think we all get on very well. I think we definitely drive the team forward. I think we're all given very, very equal equipment and I think we are given very good equipment, if not the best, and so I'm grateful for that. I think what you've got is four drivers that are very different in personality and at different stages of their career, but can actually, like I say, really kind of mesh because of that. And what we do is drive the team forward, we trust one another a lot which also speeds up the testing process in the Indy Racing League. There's not as much testing as perhaps I would like. But what we do have is when we have tests, we've got -- we can send two drivers in one place and two drivers in another and we can just double the data. So it works out very, very well. And I'm proud to be part of the organization and part of Honda, and you know, looking forward to next year now.

Q. In some of your recent interviews with Tony, he said that he looks at you, looks in your eyes and sees the eyes of a champion down the road. What does it mean to have him saying something like that about you, Dan?

DAN WHELDON: Tony is obviously a very, very good guy. He's a very good friend. I hope down the road is next year, because I'm pretty impatient. So I'd like to see it next year. I think we've got together a very, very good season. I think everybody on my car has done an exceptional job. I think everybody on the team has done an exceptional job. Certainly when you look at my pit stops today, certainly the guys, the Jim Beam crew do an exceptional job for me. I keep saying exceptional, but they are, they are very, very good. I have Tony Cotlin (ph) calling the race strategy, who I believe is not only probably one of the best in the IRL, but one of the best in the world at that; and certainly Eddie Jones, Bill Bates, Casey, all of the guys that are very focused and very determined on winning. And when you've got that force behind you as a driver, it gives you great confidence.

Q. It looked like the red flag early in the restart, you were not even into turn four yet. And also, what do you think they should do to Helio, not take the win away, but what should the penalty be?

DAN WHELDON: I don't definitely think they should take the win away. I think him and Marlboro Team Penske deserved it. They were very, very fast. They had both cars running up front. But you've just got to get some consistency in the course from the chief steward. Who, you know, Brian Barnhardt is a very highly-respected guy. I have a lot of respect for him. But there's definitely got to be some rule following. I mean, I don't know, that's not my job to be able to say what they should do to him. But he definitely, he definitely went very free early. Either that or the guy that throws the green -- maybe we could get a new vision sponsor for the Indy Racing League and perhaps give the flag guy that one.

THE MODERATOR: We have been joined by Kosuke Matsuura, who is the 2004 Indy Car Series Rookie of the Year. Talk about your race today, it ended too short, it ended early, but talk about that and just the season as a whole.

KOSUKE MATSUURA: Today I had such a good car today. And Friday when we came here, the car wasn't really good. But yesterday in the final practice, we found a couple of things. I had really such a good car, there were four or five cars I passed after ten laps already, and then after maybe 20 laps I had a problem -- once I was driving a sixth gear, but then when I put back on fifth gear, I think the gear was stuck. I lost, maybe, ten or 15 positions there and I was back to maybe 18th or somewhere around there, and then I was back on the way around to maybe tenth place. At that time it was okay. When I came back in the first time for the pit stop, when I put first gear, I stopped and we change the tires and when I was leaving the pit, I could not change the second gear and I think first gear was stuck, and I stopped the car.

THE MODERATOR: Tell us how you feel right now, wrapping up the rookie championship and talk about the year.

KOSUKE MATSUURA: Yeah, I just have to say, I have to be happy, but, you know, I had so many good races but always car problems, machine problems, engine problems. As you know, sometimes my car is very quick and like Adrian, just this year was so unlucky and hopefully next year I will finish maybe -- first of all, I want to win a couple of races next year.

Q. After the restart, the fact that it came out the way it did, were you just caught out, were you not ready, were you stunned, were you -- you didn't react quick enough or what?

DAN WHELDON: No, I mean, at the end of the day, let's not take anything away from Helio and Team Penske. They won the race and I wasn't going to be able to pass him. He just went before the restart.

Q. Obviously you've had a great year, but from both the driver's perspective and a teammate's perspective, can you maybe give us a little bit of insight to the season Tony has had, not only just the championship, but also completing every single lap; what sort of accomplishment is that?

DAN WHELDON: That's a great credit to him as a driver, and I think a credit to the team and Honda, to have that during a 16-race season on every different kind of oval you can imagine, from Richmond to Nazareth, to Fontana, to Chicagoland to here, I mean, it's a credit to all of those guys. And at the speed he was doing it, I mean, you know, the Honda has certainly been very, very competitive this season. The boys on his car have obviously -- as the championship grew on, certainly from Round Ten onwards, I know there was -- I could start to feel a little change in the attitude in the team. They were not more focused, but it was a little bit more tense, and to keep performing like they did, his crew gave him very good pit stops. There's a lot of credit there. You know, this league is certainly one of the best championships in the world, if not the best. There's not many races that have -- I dread to think how many different leaders per lap, per lap or even race, but it's a great testament to everybody involved. You know, may it continue on his car, and hopefully it will continue on my car next year, and preferably Dario's and Bryan's, too.

Q. Dan, in the driver's meeting, where do they tell you is supposed to be the restart point?

DAN WHELDON: You guys are concerned about this restart, huh? You've got to relax a little. No, the driver's meetings are kind of like Vegas. What goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas. So we're not allowed to divulge too much, certainly to the press and the media. But there's a restart zone and there's a cone, I think in the middle of turn three and four and one and three quarters of the way around and you accelerate within that point.

Q. You probably will be thinking about this a lot over the winter, but you're going to come back next year, congratulations on getting second in the championship, but what are you going to do to beat your teammates next year?

DAN WHELDON: I'm going to do the same thing, really. I certainly think as a driver I've performed strongly this season. I think there's some areas where I can improve, and I'm not going to tell you where they are, because I'd like to keep them to myself and try and use them to catch up to Tony a little bit. I think that the main thing is, obviously, to stay focused. I'd like next year to start already. I'm so determined to try and win the championship. I value the Indy Racing League Championship a lot, but I've got to keep myself focused now for the Indianapolis 500. That's the one I want to win and I'm going to try desperately to win. I think I've got to do more of the same and I think you've seen here at Texas, the competition, I think Honda has been very, very strong. But the competition is closed up, and Honda as an engine manufacturer is going to have to keep working very hard to keep the level of performance that we need to win races. And I think from a driving standpoint, the same thing. There's some ovals that I had race cars that weren't particularly to my liking, and that was from my input to the engineer, so that has got to improve. From a team standpoint we have to try to extract more speed from the Super Speedways. So, we'll see. I'm very, very determined and I'm very much looking forward to 2004, particularly in the Indianapolis 500.

KOSUKE MATSUURA: We had a really good car at the end of the season, I think I have a great opportunity to win the race next year, and we are having a lot of cars, also, a lot of cars with my background.

DAN WHELDON: Can I say something? I think just from the outside, I was in Kosuke's position last year and came in as a rookie. When you come into this series, certainly from the outside, it might look a little bit easier than it really is because when you have the experience level of people like Tony Kanaan, Dario, Bryan Herta, you can't just make that up. I mean, even his boss, Adrian Fernandez, has been around probably longer than we've been alive. It's very, very difficult. So you've got to give this guy a lot of credit because he's been exceptional, very few other races this year and I'm sure he'll be a factor.

KOSUKE MATSUURA: He's a good guy.

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Helio Castroneves. First of all, it's a tremendous accomplishment, you completed all of your laps this season; you were never lower than fifth in the points; you were usually second or third or fourth in the points; second place at Homestead. This is your first win since Nazareth of last year, of course your first win here in Texas, and your first win in Texas, we give you a cowboy hat and you don't bring it in with you.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, it's in the car. It's in the car. I brought my dance.

THE MODERATOR: Did you learn to dance here in America?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: I learned it in the movie and for sure it was terrible so I will probably not try again.

THE MODERATOR: That's not part of the repertoire.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: But the point is, I'm extremely happy, and for me to be have the cowboy hat, and to have the win especially on the last race of the season, certainly brings a lot of momentum for 2005.

Q. Talk about just during the season, a solid run, you were not posting the wins, what were your emotions dipping a little bit or was it always still just concentrating on the next race?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, we always kept patient. Toyota was really, really working hard. You have to look, at least the way I look, the whole season long, it could be much worse. Yes, I am used to being second and third, challenging for the championship, but for our limits for what we had, I guess we could understand it pretty well. Finishing fourth on the championship, but just proves that we are not focused on one problem. We are focusing on keeping to improve and when we got a little bit like the two last races, makes a big difference. So again, I couldn't love more of these guys enough because they are the ones that deserve a lot. And I'm just so glad that it finally came. I never put a pressure on to win, when it's going to come; that's part of racing. The good news is we go into the next year, but I'm really proud of Marlboro Team Penske.

Q. Talk about, as it turned out what may have been the winning move was right there the yellow flag came out, talk about the laps in there and some pretty wild racing in there for a couple of laps?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: You're right, since the beginning Sam and I were working fantastic. It's a shame what happened to Sam. He definitely had also a very good car; it would have been great to finish the way we finished in Homestead, except I was with a different ending. It just happened. I was a little concerned, but I'm sure he's dropping out. Just want to do the best I can, and the car is very good with new tires and that's why I pushed to make the pass, and towards the end I thought the other guys would go faster, but they didn't, you know, and naturally my car was faster. So I was kind of surprised with that. But other than that, we have some very close calls. But in general to be honest, Brian Barnhardt did a great job the whole season long, trying to warn people. Unfortunately people was not listening, and it's not learning the hardest way; and if something happened, touching wheels, it's not good. So everybody gave space. When I'm talking about space, it's like a half-inch, which is enough, is enough to avoid trouble. So that's why we are very fortunate to not have any problems.

Q. There was conversation in the garage that you may have restarted a tad early, just give us your view on your restart?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, did Brian call? (Laughter). Well, let's see if it was too early. I don't think it was. I think they warned me off the tires a little bit too late. You know what, this place here, it's one of those things, if you do not pay attention to what you're doing, you might get in trouble, but you know, I did the best I could. I'm extremely happy about it, and that's what I need to do to win the race.

Q. Where exactly are you supposed to restart? It seemed like the flag was close to turn four; so where is the restart?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: There is two cones in between turn three -- yeah, between turn three, and right there in that area, and that's normally where we started. And I was just getting ready, everybody seems to be following my lead. I was trying to put the pace a little bit faster to make sure we avoid an accident, because every time you start too slow, that's where things hit the fan, you know. So, I was doing everything I can when, I step on the trough (ph), they seem to follow me and start backing off, I guess, but I never did.

Q. If you're in second in that position, isn't your mindset kind of, "I'm sticking right with them"?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Absolutely. I wouldn't give an inch for the leader, and it's -- that's what I'm saying. I mean, you can't just slip or try to make something happen, you know, but honestly, I don't know what happened. I thought it would come right with me and they didn't. So better for me.

Q. How do you handle, because you're used to it, not winning since Indy last year; how do you handle that?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, let me correct you; since Nazareth last year. Like I said at the beginning, things sometimes happen. Stuff happens outside of your control. I mean, you can't do anything. It's not about -- I'm not winning. I guess none of the Toyota was winning. So, and that's why I finally, when everybody starts working together and they decided to really -- they found something, you know, no doubt about the restart, getting a much better result and being more strong and that's why. I mean, if you looked at the results in the championship, we are very consistent. We finish in the top four, ahead of a lot of the Honda engines. So it's better late than never; let's put it this way. We finally got our win, and hopefully that was good for the following season. We'll keep working hard and keep getting the results.

Q. Do you think the drivers are going to miss coming here twice a year now?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, you know, I see in a positive way, this track, yes, because it's such a great finish, such a great race, you guys made a big part of IRL. You guys help us to become much better every year. And yes, it's a miss, a problem, that we are not going to be here twice. But we have to see in the brightest way, it's awesome that other cities or other places want us, you know, and that just proves that it's such a great organization here made the IRL look better. So, yes, it might be a tough one, but at the same time, we are going, as well, to different places that might be awesome, too.

Q. In a year where Honda dominated, Penske Racing was the bookends of the season, you won the first and the last race. Talk about the time in between how frustrating it was, and how much it helps to go into the off-season on a winning note?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, yeah, definitely we did have tough times with, you know, a black cloud on top of us. We are just trying to be patient and sometimes we made mistakes, trying to go too light on the downforce to make sure that we can keep up on these guys, and those are the times that things might be kind of a little bit tough. I think it was good that we learned a lot, a little bit, to make the car go fast. And that's why we achieve four pole positions in a row. There is the bad side, yes, we would like to win a championship. But the good side, yes, we made the car better. So hopefully that gives us a much better confidence for next year that we know that we have a great car. So now the combination is to be right there.

Q. We had a Brazilian champion, you finishing fourth this race, 1, 2 and 4, Brazilians, what could you say why we have so many successful Brazilians here?

HELIO CASTRONEVES: Maybe it's the water. (Laughter). I guess we fought so hard in Brazil in a different series, and when you come over here, we have to learn different culture, a different language. I cannot speak for the other ones, but I love what I do. But I can feel the other ones feel the same way. They just want to be driving, they don't care what, even if be a motorcycle, tricycle, whatever. They just want to be driving, and that's why we start very young, as well, in the go-karts. I guess some experiences we might have in the beginning we might use even today. So, maybe that's the -- I mean, I hope I answered that question, but I'm just proud to be a Brazilian.



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