Indy Pro Series: Chicagoland 100
Topics: Chicagoland 100
September 9, 2006
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with today's race winner, Wade Cunningham, also the entrant champion, team owner Brian Stewart.
Wade, go through the end of the race today. That was pretty exciting at the end.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: I don't really think the end does the race justice. Started on the first lap three-wide first corner. It was a really, really tough race, the conditions with the wind. There was no ideal gearing today 'cause of the wind.
Whoever was in the lead was at a disadvantage. You really needed a drafting partner behind you so you could pull your top gear. I tried working with Jonathan early on, but he burnt me. I burnt him back, got a new drafting partner. We worked really for the rest of the race. I was lucky to come away with the win
THE MODERATOR: You were last year's series champion, missed a couple laces this year with appendicitis. You might have been the champion again this year.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, the entrant points prove that we are. That's great for Brian. He gets to keep the No. 1 plate. The prize money helps as well.
Saying that, St. Pete taught me to race differently. I probably wouldn't have attacked today like I had if I had a points championship to lose. So, you know, it gave me a different challenge. I think we're up to it with our four poles, three wins. We tripled the laps leading. We proved we were the best. But circumstance didn't allow us to win.
I'm happy with my year. I can't say I'm disappointed at all any more. I'm just thrilled for Brian to win the points as a team owner again.
THE MODERATOR: Brian, with your second championship, what are your plans for the team for next year?
BRIAN STEWART: Just the same stuff we did this year. We're going to look for another driver, as good as Wade, just keep doing what we've been doing. I've been doing this for 40 years. We've been doing it at this level. We did Indy Lights for 15 years, and here for five years. We were the winningest team at Indy Lights. Out here we proved we're a dominating team. We're just going to keep doing the same stuff.
THE MODERATOR: Wade, what are your plans for the future?
WADE CUNNINGHAM: Well, if I could have any wish, I'd want to be in a Penske car next year for the full season. Things like that don't often come true. I'll keep my fingers crossed. But I'd love to be in the IndyCar Series. Will work hard now in the off-season to try to make it happen. If that can't come about, we're definitely going to try to be on the grid for the Indy 500. Obviously, I'd like to do some other kind of racing to complement that. You can't just come out for one race and expect to do well.
I'll be racing next year. Just don't know what yet. I think we've done enough this year to prove we should have a seat, a competitive one.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. (Question regarding the race strategy.)
WADE CUNNINGHAM: We had our problems this year, it's been well-documented. Jonathan came to me before the race. Will you work with me? That sort of thing. I agreed. The very first time I pushed him into the lead, he just pulled to the inside and left me sitting on the outside alone. I wasn't very impressed with that. I kind of severed my ties with him, worked a new alliance. It worked much better. We were first and second for most of the race.
I'm pleased with it. Both people kept their words. I came away with my win and Jay kept his championship.
Q. Any dicey moments? Nine cars in the battle.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: No, it was bad. Jay and I came together very early on, I think about lap seven, before the first caution I think. Bent something on the left-hand side pretty bad. I'm sure he bent his right side because his car got a little bit of air, looked like it wanted to take off.
Later in the race, I bent the other side running into the No. 77 Schmidt car. Maybe it fixed what was wrong with the left. We obviously didn't lose any speed.
It was tough. There was a lot of movement in the cars because of the wind and just the massive pack. It wasn't easy with the oil dry and the restarts and things like that. It was a very, very difficult race.
Q. Brian, your other driver started off fast, spun yesterday.
BRIAN STEWART: The first session, she was third fastest. We always say as a team, you know, we have to pin the car to the ground because we don't want to frighten a rookie. She spun and hit the wall. It kind of took the starch out of her.
But she drove okay.
Q. Is that the kind of racing you like, Wade? Almost like a game of chicken.
WADE CUNNINGHAM: No, it is. A couple times I got warned about moving from the bottom. You know, I got pinched tighter and tighter to the white line. With the wind and the cars behind you taking down your rear downforce, the cars beside you affecting the car, it's very difficult to keep your car where you want it to be.
A couple of times Jonathan and I were interlocked. He drove very, very clean. We didn't touch. We didn't crash. There's a few drivers who don't have as good of car control, but they weren't at the front today.
For the most part, it was a very, very hard, physical race, but it was mainly clean.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. Thank you.
Jay Howard has joined us in the media center. You are the Indy Pro Series champion now. You finished the race third, and you also clinched the Rookie-of-the-Year title. You beat Jonathan Klein for the title by just four points. He finished right outside where you did.
Take us through the end of the race, whether or not you're thinking about winning the race, winning the championship or just trying to keep Jonathan within range.
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, my plan sort of changed the whole way through the race. Start of the race, the plan was to go out, lead as many laps. Hopefully no one would get by me, just win the race. Nice, easy race. That didn't seem to work. Drafting plays a big part here. A couple of guys got by. We were all shuffling for positions.
I mean, the first 10 laps, I can't even remember the first 10 laps it was so frantic and busy. But eventually it all sort of settled down. I got tucked up behind Wade, started to focus a little bit more on the championship because I'd been in a position where I sort of got hung out to dry. I managed to sort of get back into third, which was lucky because there was a train of five or six cars and no one was helping me. I didn't want to get put in that position again.
Once Wade went to take the lead again, I just decided Johno was the guy I needed to beat, so I'd work with Wade. If he wants to win, so be it, if that means I can win the championship.
We went three-wide into turn one one lap. Wade came down quite a bit too much. We had a pretty hard impact. Front wheels come off the ground, which was different. Anyway, whatever. Blah blah blah.
The race was -- at one point I was in the race and I thought, Oh, I really don't want to be here. We had run six, seven laps. I was third, fourth, third, fourth. I need to get out of there. I'm in a hole where I don't want to be.
Anyway, right near the end, I was talking to Sam, Tim, Chris and everyone, just running for a few things. I knew what I wanted to do. I did it. We won the championship. So I'm really happy.
THE MODERATOR: What are your future plans?
JAY HOWARD: Who knows. IndyCar would be great. I've effectively been brought up in the IRL environment. To stay here would be great. I do need to move up. If that is to the dark side, as they say here, Champ Car, then I'll go that way.
Ideally I'd like to stay here at IndyCar. We'll see what happens over the next few weeks and what happens over the winter.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take some questions.
Q. Were you aware of the fact with the scenario if Klein passes him for the win, then he wins the title? To see all that in front of your visor, that's all stuff that's out of your control.
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, that was pretty painful. That was the point when I thought to myself, I need to get out of this situation because this isn't where I need to be. That was Johno and Wade at the front. Johno was just constantly in front of him. Wade couldn't quite get by him, even though I tucked right up under Wade. Just couldn't get by him. I was thinking, If this stays like this, I'm done, the championship is lost.
That's when I started to sort of change things. Yeah, it was out of my control. It's all in hindsight now. I won the championship. A good day.
Q. Do you have a sense of mission accomplished this year?
JAY HOWARD: Sort of. It's not actually -- well, the big picture, yeah. We won the championship. That was our main focus. I didn't win nearly as many races as I expected due to lots of things. I don't need to go into that. We won two races, the championship. That's enough for me.
Q. Watching the race, it was close, a pack of eight or 10 cars going, you're moving around. Have you been in a race where you've been in a group of cars this long under these conditions? Your experience on ovals is somewhat limited. Did you get a little antsy?
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, uhm, that was very different. I knew it was going to be going through the race practices, all that. Everyone was so close. People were running in big packs. When you're running four, five, six, seven cars down, you can run a couple of miles per hour through the corner. But it sucks straight up on the straight. I knew it was going to be busy, and busy it was.
There was three or four moments where the car just went away from me. Probably part of the reason because the front geometry was bent and the front wing was bent, which didn't happen. The steering wheel was a little wonkey, to say the least. I just dealt with it, tried to block that out, get on. I had a championship to win. You have to block out all the smaller things like bent steering.
Q. What went through your mind when you and Wade had that contact? You said the front wheels came off the ground. Were you thinking, There went the title?
JAY HOWARD: I can't tell you what I thought. I mean, yeah, I wasn't happy with what he did. At the end of the day, we're all racing. It's all close. Everyone wants to win the last race of the year.
For a lap or two, it really, really felt different. Obviously the first thing I noticed was the steering wheel was really, really crooked. That was a small issue. Definitely I picked up a lot of understeer. I started working with my bars, my weight jacker in the car to try and fix the problem that arose.
Once you're doing a couple laps, me as a driver, I have to block that out, forget about that. If the wheel falls off, I go in the wall, that's it. That's part of racing.
I was more then determined to win this championship.
Q. How much did you learn working with Sam Schmidt on ovals with your limited experience?
JAY HOWARD: Yeah, Sam has been a big help, no question about it. We always have a chat prior to the meeting, prior to each day. We talk after each session. In the race, we talked on the radio. He's been a big help, yeah. I don't know what else to say. Thanks to him and thanks to everyone. Any advice I could take was more than appreciated.
Q. I think I already know the answer, but how confident are you that you can make the next step up to the IndyCar Series?
JAY HOWARD: No doubt in my mind. Yeah, that's about it. There's no doubt in my mind. I think I've proven to everyone in the past few years what I can do and where I should be.
Hopefully there will be a spot for me somewhere.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. Thank you for coming in.
JAY HOWARD: Thank you. You're welcome.
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