IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500
Topics: Indianapolis 500, Penske Racing
Sam Hornish, Jr.
May 12, 2006
THE MODERATOR: Welcome again. We've got with us a four-time winner Rick Mears; a two-time winner Helio Castroneves; I always introduce him as a former United States Auto Club Sport Car Champion and winner of the LA Times Grand Prix, Mr. Roger Penske; two-time IndyCar series champion Sam Hornish, Jr., and Tim Cindric, as always, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Mr. Penske, obviously you've had great success, and thus far at the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500 your team has looked very good. Talk about how things ha ve gone thus far.
ROGER PENSKE: I think the new format is pretty interesting. As we came here back in the '60s, we had two weeks of running from 9:00 o'clock until 6:00 o'clock at night, lots of track time.
This year we had one engine; we're able to have one car ready with an engine in it. Our plan was really set early on with Tim sitting down with the teams before we came to Indy and made the decision that the first day we would start with our backup cars and run laps just to be sure that they were competitive, then switch to the primary cars, which we've been able to do during the week.
Obviously we had a chance to look at the weather forecast, which I guess to me and to the team did not look real strong for a lot of track times, so we tried to take advantage of that.
On the other hand, remember, we don't want to have an engine that's worn out by the time we get to qualifying day, so we've been very careful on the amount of running that we've done during the week, and I think that's proven to be quite good. We had a great test here a month or so ago, which gave us a race setup or at least a baseline.
With the cars, the knowledge that these are the same cars we ran last year or the same configuration, we should be able to unload and be very quick. I think it's a matter of the drivers getting used to the track conditions. They do change based on the weather, and being able to throw them out, it's like taking it out until you can't really handle a car at high speed. I think they've done that systematically. They're trading information between the two cars, and we're pretty excited.
That doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of things that will happen with this weather like this and the cold temperature. I think we're going to see some exciting stuff over the next couple of days. What we've got to do is not make a mistake.
In fact, I said to Sam, it was amazing, we were watching some reruns when it was raining and we saw he ran over something on the back straightaway and the car went airborne. One with Rick, we left a wheel loose on a Friday afternoon with Mears one time. What we have to do is be sure we have zero mistakes here between now and qualifying and then have a couple days to run before the race because the race is what we're really here for.
THE MODERATOR: We chatted a little bit briefly a couple days ago about how you go about preparing for a week like this. I got the sense for those of us who remember reading the unfair advantage and the days of Mark Donahue and the skip pattern, everything is done in a meticulous fashion, that you try to go about your business in a systematic way. Talk about how your preparations have gone and how you factor in the weather into that overall game plan.
TIM CINDRIC: Well, as you know, it's kind of a game of relatively. The weather is something you can't control; what you do on the track and how often you do it you can control to a certain degree. But you want to do -- yesterday is a good for instance. The track ran somewhere around 2:00, 2:15. We were the only ones out in the pit lane ready to run. I said to Sam, we're either real dumb or real good, I don't know which one (laughter).
But at that point in time, you know, you just need to make sure you try and do things at the right time, and at that point the wind was there but it was a consistent wind. It wasn't a gusting wind like it was later in the afternoon. We thought -- there have been times, and Helio knows this, that you have to qualify in that kind of condition. So we wanted to go out and take a safe car out there but also make sure that we at least understood what to expect if that was the condition on Saturday or Sunday.
So those type of things, and as you saw, we only ran 12 laps or 16 laps or whatever it might have been. It's difficult to sit there in the garage because you want to go get some work done, but you also have to kind of know when to say when.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, obviously when it comes to pole times by you, not only were you successful in the race but that was the day where you also shined. Talk about what it's like, your preparation, your nerves, your anticipation when it's pole day.
RICK MEARS: Oh, a lot of it is nerves. It's one of those deals, to me qualifying was kind of a payback to the team. If we could go out there and run a good lap, you'd like nothing more than come down pit lane after a good run and see the smiles on everybody's faces. It was kind of a thank-you for the job well done that they've been doing throughout the month.
I think qualifying here is the highest pressure-packed thing of anything I ever did. You know, the race is 500 miles long. You've got all day to get sorted and you've got 500 miles to get excited when you need to get excited. But qualifying you've got to be ready, you've got to be ready on that day, and you've got one shot at it. Four laps, and if you blow one corner you've blown the whole run, so the pressure is on.
Sitting and watching the weather conditions and trying to get that last little bit out of it, it's the toughest thing, I think, for myself that I did throughout the year.
But it's something that you've just got to stay calm, stay relaxed, watch the conditions, know your car, know what you have when you go out there, and just try to get the best out of it you can on that day.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, obviously in terms of any race in IndyCar Series, no one has been in victory lane more than you. You've won the Championship twice, yet I'm sure this is a race that you come into coveting it very badly. Can't you treat it like any other race or is it just obvious that it's a bigger deal?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: What everybody has told me to do is treat it like any other race. It's pretty tough to do when you're here for two weeks with all the attention and qualifying is so much different, even to go out on race day and you have all the different things going on, the marching band, being back home again in Indiana. It's hard to put all those things out of your head and say it's just another day.
I think the big thing for me is to treat it like any other race as far as you've just got to go out there and make it to the end of the race, do the things that you have to do to win if you can. But at the end of it, you just need to make it to the end, and I think that's one of the things that I've treated it wrong over the past couple of years, is that I've always looked at it as I've got to win this race.
This year I come into it and I want to finish the 500 miles, and if I do that, I think that I have a real good shot at being in the top 5. If we're there with 25 to go and we've got that opportunity, sure, we're going to go for it. But the big thing is just make it to the end and get some good points and continue on. We're 1st and 3rd in the Championship, and that means a lot to us, too. Of course we'd like to win but we need to get out here and get points, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Helio, obviously you've got your face on the board, winner trophy two times, and with your legacy secure in that way, in other words, your place in history is there, does that give you more of a comfort zone coming into this? Do you relax, or is every race a different episode?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Basically the only time I relax is when it's raining (laughter). But even then sometimes it's not so relaxing.
No, I don't think so. It's still not because I accomplished what I wanted. I still want more. And I think 32 other drivers want the same thing. Every time I go out there, I'm always thinking that I'm going to give my 100 percent to make sure that I execute, and listen obviously to experienced people, that they've been here for so many years. You have to listen to them because there's always something you're going to learn.
For me it's always about learning in this place, not because I've been here for some time already, but I'm still always going out there learning.
And again, just as Rick was saying about qualifying, sometimes you have so much time that you start to really thinking, and that kind of starts confusing you, as well. It's an amazing place, no doubt about it. Well, no doubt that all of us up here want to continue the same success that they have had in the past.
Q. Rick talked about qualifying, how important it is here. Helio, you did a great job in bad weather. How intense it for you in the cockpit on a day with the conditions like you had and what we may face tomorrow?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You're right. I think the first thing you need to know what car you have. You need to know the limits. When we did that pole position that day, we knew what we were capable of. At the same time we go out there and just do your job. You can't be thinking about, oh, my God, this is going to be hard or tough. You just have to go out there and try your best.
Obviously I have a fantastic team behind me that I can trust and know that they have all the resources to make that happen. But the first thing is you know what you need to do. You're trying to prepare as much as you can and just be cool.
Q. Sam and Helio, maybe some thoughts on comparing when you came in last year knowing you were underpowered and it was a bit of a struggle for some of the other teams. And then this year being on such a hot streak, how are your feelings coming in at this point in time changing since last year?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Well, last year definitely we came in and we felt that we were a little bit underpowered but we didn't look at it like we couldn't win. We figured we'd look at it like how do we give ourselves a chance to win the race. We had a lot of laughs and we had a good handling car, but I made a mistake three quarters of the way through and it took that opportunity away from us.
But the way I think that we look at it this year is we have a great opportunity here. The big thing is how do you not trip yourself up not to make any mistakes. You've seen in the past guys come here and they were fast all month long and they didn't make it through the first ten laps of the race. Then you've seen guys that did everything right on race day and won, and we've got to make sure that we keep all the right things going in the right order. We try to cross off as many of the things that could trip us up and get rid of those and just make sure that we don't make any mistakes. That's the big thing.
This track amplifies anything; if you make a mistake, it's amplified ten times more than any other track you can go to. You can go to another track, you have one slow turn, you might have lost position, but you can make it up. Here you make that one mistake and it's done. At least that's how it's been for me.
Q. With how abbreviated and disjointed the track times have been because of the weather, do you feel like it's been difficult to get a rhythm going? Even though you've been the fastest every day, it seems like the whole month seems to -- it's like your game plan hasn't probably got a lot of checks that haven't been checked off yet. It's almost like you've spent more time sitting in that seat than in your car.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It's a pretty good thing sitting in this seat. It's something that I haven't been able to do too many times in the past, sitting up here explaining what happened. That was more the case.
But the big thing for us this month is we've come in here after the test, felt real comfortable with what we were able to do. We ran more laps in the test than we ran in the first three days by quite a bit. We feel comfortable with the cars, and a lot of track activity, a lot of ways to catch up. We feel like we're okay with where we're at. We can't control the weather and we're just going to go out there and get the track time we need. If we're comfortable with the car, we'll park it and sit and watch and see what happens and basically don't let anybody pressure us into feeling like we have to go out there.
When you feel good about the car and the car is consistent, there's no reason to go out there and pound around and run 50 laps or whatever.
Q. This is for probably Tim or maybe even Roger. With the engine and the miles and the new rules coming into play, do you guys want to look at just going for maybe taking one shot on Saturday and being among the 11 and then going and saving it for Sunday? How do you play that out in terms of engine, miles, how much you can put on it, how much you can't put on it? Do you want to go for the top 11, top 22?
TIM CINDRIC: I told Roger he's going to sign over the withdrawal forms this year (laughter).
ROGER PENSKE: I think this is going to be an interesting tomorrow because we've been watching this weather now for the last three days and we didn't really talk about that earlier on, the fact that only 11 people will get locked in tomorrow. I think you're going to see people who want to get in that 11 because it's very important to start this race, get up near the front, just because typically if there's something going to happen, it happens not in the front but further back. So a good starting position would be certainly key.
There will be a lot of people in that 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th position, and I would assume they felt they could go quicker and they get bumped and run again you have nothing to lose. In our particular case we're going to have to make a decision. We're here to run the race, and if we get a good qualifying run, both cars, I guess we'll have to make that decision tomorrow. It doesn't make sense to stay with the times and not rerun.
I guess we're in a different position this year because it's a pretty level playing field from the engine standpoint. I think the performance is good. Sam said it; I think having less track time for everybody is probably in our favor because we came off the trailer with a couple of pretty good cars. I'm not saying that if it's an advantage we'll take it, but I think we'll wait tomorrow and see what happens. We don't know -- the interesting thing is if they don't get 11 people and it goes on to the next day, could the next day be a better day and a faster day. That's the only problem you have.
I'm not sure of the rules yet. If they went to the next day, I guess you'd be locked in other than the people that had a chance if they hadn't qualified. So you couldn't have a chance -- if we went into the second day and they didn't have 11 people, the one that had already run would be locked in, correct?
THE MODERATOR: It's my understanding that obviously you get your one chance and your initial draw. If the day ends halfway through the draw, then they finish the remainder of the line, and that sets the 11.
ROGER PENSKE: You wouldn't have a chance to jump in and pull out that way. There's going to be a lot of variables and that's going to be important. I think we've got to be careful we don't make a mistake if there's warmup tomorrow. In previous years when the weather has been dicey we've seen people make mistakes, and you can get caught up in some of those. So we've got to be awful careful tomorrow that our tires are warmed up and we go out of the pits and don't have an issue, especially when you're running the cars trimmed out the way we are; you just don't have any downforce.
Q. Roger, when you first came here this place was kind of your holy grail. With all the success that you've had at Indianapolis over the years, do you still have that same passion for this place, for being successful here?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, this is the greatest race in the world, and I love coming here. I look forward to it every year. We spend a lot of time and effort planning. The continuity of the people, I think I've said it before, probably over 300 years of experience will be associated with our team as we take the green flag this year. It's a great place.
I've seen it when you couldn't even get your car in the garage because the track was too wide or you had to take the wing off, and now we have great garage areas. We didn't have golf carts, we didn't have motor homes, we didn't have a lot of things. So there's a lot of changes that have taken place.
I'm as fired up this year -- I want to see one of our guys in the winner's circle for sure, and that's why we're here. I think as we come into this year, the job has Tim has done with our team, with Matt Johnson and certainly Rick Rinaman's experience as crew chiefs, Helio has got a new engineer, Ron Ruzewski and certainly Tom German, we come in with some strong experience.
The momentum that we have never really had when you look at the team, coming through three races and having the success in the first three races gives us added value as we go into this race. So I'm certainly as excited about it and really set my schedule each year around -- I like to be here during this week because there's always questions and answers and decisions have to be made, and we want to make them on the spot, not have to wait two or three hours or a day to make them.
The drivers do a great job. We have a businessmen's breakfast where we bring in a lot of customers from the surrounding area, and that's very important to us from our associated company. So to me, we plan to be here not only this year but many years in the future.
Q. Roger, for you or for Tim, hypothetically, given your practice speeds, say you guys go out and both cars run and say Sam is P1 and Helio is P2 and the line is broken, what kind of discussion is there and who makes a decision -- say Helio says I left something on the track and I know I can go quicker. Who makes a decision to withdraw him and let him go back and run for the pole despite the fact that he could be knocking his teammate off?
ROGER PENSKE: I think that would be a decision Tim and I would talk about. I don't think it's fair to put the drivers in that situation. We might have an idea we'd like to do it, but then we'd go back to Sam or go back to Helio and say what do you think.
Remember, we could make a huge mistake here. Last year Sam requalified because really the first qualifying run was mediocre. We went back and got it together. If you had a lousy run and you knew you did and you could run better, then you might go out and take that chance.
Q. This is for Tim. Tim, how difficult a task was it last year to get the cars to be competitive knowing that you were underpowered? And without sounding smug, did that give you a level of confidence coming in this year that you knew you already had good cars and now you were going to have an engine that would be comparable in power to everybody else?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, I think our guys did a great job of really focusing on the things that we could affect and not worrying about the things that we couldn't affect. We did everything that we could to put ourselves in a position, like Sam said, to at least compete on race day. We were able to do that. There's a sense of pride in being able to do that.
But at the same time, you know, you look forward to coming here and really executing. That's the biggest challenge for us is just making sure that we execute. We felt like there's no reason why we shouldn't have a chance to win. I think we go into every race thinking that we should win if we execute, and that's, again, not because we're overconfident, but Roger gives us the resources to do that and the drivers are among the top, so we should be able to do that.
ROGER PENSKE: I think it's one thing that you've really got to go back -- we have partnerships with Goodyear, we have partnerships with Mercedes-Benz, we had a partnership with Toyota last year, and we stay with those partnerships.
Sometimes we've had some pain, and people don't take that into the equation. They say, well, these guys are going downhill, there's something wrong. But I think it's the loyalty not only to the partners that have supported us but also to the team members, and I think that that's what's given us, I think, the success over the years, and we'll continue to do that.
You might have a situation where one manufacturer that you're aligned with is not competitive, but we can't say, hey, we're not competitive. We felt that with Toyota last year there was some places we had very good engines and we had great reliability if you look at it. Last year I think we finished every race from an engine perspective. You may get a tradeoff.
But this year the Honda engines are all the same, let's put it that way. I think that gives us a real good chance.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, look, we build the cars, so in that case there's templates we have to deal with. I think our motor program if you talk to people has been -- is good or better than anyone over the last four or five years, and we've had a tough time maybe getting some of the aerodynamics right, but we've certainly been competitive. We had two cars in the chase last year, which wasn't too bad from a team.
I think this year you're going to see a lot more out of the two drivers we have. We've had some good successes and we have some that haven't been. We won six Busch races last year; two races this year, one Busch and a Cup race. I would say a lot of guys would like to be in our position.
Q. Rick, you were a master of qualifying here under the old format. How would you as a driver have liked this format?
RICK MEARS: I think it -- from the driver's standpoint, I think it doesn't really change much, for me, what I would be doing. I don't think I'd do anything any different. It's all about going out there and trying to get the car the way it needs to be and try to get the laps the way I need to get them to put down the best run that I could make. In that respect I don't think it really changes a lot.
I think it's going to be great for the fans. I think it's going to be an exciting format, the weather holding right and being able to get it all through like we'd like to do it, I think it's going to be excellent.
Q. Rick, with Al and Michael and Eddie all getting back in the cockpit this year, give you any ideas?
RICK MEARS: I got my physical this week (laughter). We still haven't done the eye part, though. We're still waiting on that.
Q. Helio, last night Rick Rinaman was showing me some of the many things they do to customize your cockpit to make it just right for you, including grinding down the thumb rests on the wheel just so it's a perfect fit. How important is all that stuff in enabling you to do your job for the two or two and a half hours?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You need to be extremely comfortable with that car, not only with respect of how long the race takes, two, three hours, but at the same time we need to be able to translate what the car is doing for the engineer. Sometimes if you feel you're losing the car, the belt is not so tight, you're not feeling what the car is doing. So you have to be extremely comfortable in the car. My guys have been amazing in that aspect. There's always small things, and you always keep trying to make it better.
Today I feel extremely comfortable. Some drivers don't like the head moving or they don't like to be so tight, so everyone has a particular problem or kind of a bad habit, and you try to fix it in the best way.
Q. So the configuration of the wheel might give you a better feel for what's happening and why?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, basically Team Penske designed their own wheels in 2000 with the most picky person on earth, I think, I'm sure Honda having the taste of him the last two years or last year. Anyway, so him and I were working on the wheel and trying to make a great grip and able to feel very well. But at the end of the day it's just -- Sam when he came over felt pretty comfortable so he didn't want to change much. It's just a matter of a lot of resource and a lot of work.
Q. Having been a two-time champion, do you still pick up any pointers from Rick?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Always. I mean, Rick won four times and probably would have won -- would have kept winning. The good news to have him around is always looking at lines, always giving you tips, which is good because when you're inside the racecar, sometimes you think you're doing something, and it's not. He's able to actually look around and see some fast drivers. So I'm always talking to him about it. He is my spotter.
In fact, I remember asking last year what should I do in the middle of the race because my car was really horrible, and he just told me, well, at that point just keep going (laughter). I was like, thanks, buddy, that was good (laughter).
But it's always good to have someone with a lot of experience on your side.
Q. Question for Sam. Sam, you were awfully good yesterday when the weather was very iffy. Of all the weather variables that we could see on pole day, which would you say concerns a driver the most? Say it's 51 degrees or steady winds or gusting winds; of those, which would concern you the most?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Windy conditions are generally the worst, but the gusting winds are the ones that really catch you off guard. When it's pretty consistent you know where it's going to move the car in the corner as you turn. You know what to expect out of it. But when it gusts it can move the car quite a bit. If you're running further towards the outside of the line, it can push you up into the grade a little bit or down a little bit.
Turning into the corners when you're going into the wind, it can turn the car pretty hard. Going into four yesterday was pretty tricky the first couple times because the car would turn right in and you'd go right down to the white line. You have to adjust and know where you need to put the car at, but definitely gusting winds is the most difficult position to go out there in because you don't know where you're going to be at, what it's going to do each lap, and you're kind of right on the edge of your seat.
Q. Sam or Roger, under this new format, when can you put a car you've already qualified -- say you want to be protected. Can you run it right back into line again? At what point do you have to withdraw?
TIM CINDRIC: It's my understanding obviously after you take the checkered flag you go back to the technical inspection process, so that process may take an hour or so to get through that process before it's released. At the point in time it's released, then you can do whatever you like, but you don't actually have to withdraw the car until they tell you to go. In other words, you go through the tech line, out in the pin lane, and the point at which they prompt you to start the engine you have to actually start the paperwork.
Where it gets tricky is toward the end of the day, say between 4:00 and 6:00 o'clock where you may make a run at 5:00 o'clock and you may be ninth or what have you and you may not be sure if that's what you want to do, and you may decide that you want to go out and better that.
At that point you have to withdraw your time earlier before you go through the tech process to be able to get back in line to skip the tech process from your previous run. So there's a bit of discretion toward the end of the day there.
Q. Tim, you came over from Team Rahal; now it seems like an equal playing field. Is there any edge to the rivalry between Penske and Rahal? You helped each other in the past.
TIM CINDRIC: I don't know how much we've helped each other. I still have a great relationship with everyone there, I think. Bobby gave me my chance to really get some experience and do a job for him in terms of managing his team, and I have a great respect for the people that are there.
From our standpoint, I guess we look at everybody the same. We're out there to compete and be the best team out there and represent our sponsors and our organization in the best way. I'm not sure if there's any more rivalry there for me than anywhere else. We just want to be the ones to beat, I guess. They certainly had a good run the past couple years for sure.
Q. Tim, this is for you, as well. Helio and Sam have been fast with the primary and backup cars and have proven you can run them both on the same day by doing quick engine changes. Is it as simple as looking at the time sheets and saying, well, Sam has been fastest this week in the 6, that's the car he's running and qualifying, or is it a decision where you guys look at all the telemetry, the data, and say maybe the 6T is the car to take out? How do you determine that given the weather situation?
TIM CINDRIC: The first thing you have to consider is the assembly of those cars and the consistency in the assembly there, which I have the utmost confidence in Clive and Rinaman and Johnson in terms of assembling those four cars the same. In some cases it would be what you said, where you go run them and you may not know which one is better until you actually run the car, and that can come down to all the details in these cars as far as how they're assembled, where the various seams are and that type of thing dynamically.
Within our group, the confidence that all four cars are the same, we did go out there to run the backup cars first, basically with the idea of making sure that our cars were always about an hour, hour and a half away from being ready so if the unexpected happens, which is kind of what we try and operate on, to make sure we're prepared for the unexpected, where if we do run over a piece of debris and that car is out Saturday morning and we've got to get in the other car, we can give these guys the confidence that they've been in that car, they know what it can do, they know how it's prepared, but more importantly, we know we can get the car out there in a very short period of time.
You know, the weather changes have been very difficult this week. We ran the first day our backup cars, and by the time we ran our primary cars, the weather changed quite a bit. You sit back that night and ask yourself exactly that same way; the T cars, are they faster than the primary cars. And you can get yourself in some mental gymnastics that sometimes isn't real fun.
As we went through this week, I know Helio had that question. He said, hey, I did go faster in this car, what do you think. And we spent the next day with the primary car and the weather changed in various ways, and it looked like the weather was going to be pretty unpredictable going forward. We said, you know what, let's just put that out of our minds and forget about it. Why not just take the engine out of this car, put it in that car, that's behind us, and we know what we're doing, don't look back, and that's the approach we took.
But you go back through the engineering calculations between the weather and the humidity and what pieces were on the car at this particular time, and the engineers will sit down and make a very solid case for, hey, they're the same. But the psychology of the drivers to know that, hey, I've got to hang it out on Saturday, anything you can do to clear their minds we feel will get you that extra little bit.
Q. Earlier this week you guys have been moving up steady from when you got on the track with your T car. The number 2:29 for the pole was mentioned. Is that obtainable?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It always depends on the weather conditions. I think that's going to be pretty difficult after the weather conditions yesterday and knowing what the conditions were. Who knows, somebody could go out there and change my opinion on that, but I think that's a pretty difficult number to get to based on how far we've seen other people trim their cars out compared to where we've been. That's a quick number to be getting around here.
Depending on wind conditions is the biggest factor that is going to determine what the fastest speed is.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much for taking time.
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