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IndyCar Series: Toyota Indy 300

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Toyota Indy 300

IndyCar Series: Toyota Indy 300

Helio Castroneves
Sam Hornish, Jr.
Dan Wheldon
March 26, 2006


HOMESTEAD, FLORIDA

THE MODERATOR: We can get started. We're with our third place finisher, Sam Hornish. Why don't you tell us about your day.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It was a pretty long day. I mean, uneventful for the first 165 laps, then everything kind of went wrong for us.
We're happy to finish third. It could have been a lot worse there. Led a whole bunch of laps. When you have a race where you're leading that many laps, you always have this feeling like something's going to happen and you're not going to win it. Sure enough, today that worked out that way.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by our second place finisher, Helio Castroneves. Helio was involved in the ninth closest finish in league history. Looked a lot closer than that, Helio.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Big time.
THE MODERATOR: Back to 2004, you were in a close finish here. Obviously, this year a very close finish. I don't know what it's going to take for you to earn a win here, but tell us about your day.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, at the beginning the car was handling well behind Sam. We tried to work together, which we were. We were doing good, huh?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Yeah.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Until Cindric decided to call a different strategy, put me back there, which was really difficult. It was a lot of understeer. The track was really difficult and changing a lot. I just kept patient. You know, it was the beginning of the race. I just kept cool.
Well, we made some adjustment inside the car. But then suddenly we're back to right behind Sam. My car all of a sudden was great again. I'm like, okay, so let's just stay here, save fuel and be relaxed, play the chess game. We were very lucky. Sam seemed to be a little bit faster than me. I believe he got caught in the yellow. That's what makes a big difference. So we went out again. Everything seemed to be going the same way, or the car was.
Obviously, if everybody remember 2004, I gave the inside lane, Sam end up winning the race. I said, you know what, there is no way I'm going to give this inside lane. I was really tight to yellow line. A lot of people behind. I was looking more to the mirrors instead of to the front to make sure that nobody sneak inside.
Dan decided to just stay beside me. We start to separate again from the field. He did a good job from the last lap, making a move like that. There was no way I could block him and be dirty, you know. That's not my way. But there is no way he would go inside lane. I kept hugging the white line. You guys just saw what happened again. It was very close.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for our drivers.
Q. Helio, how do you find the courage to go out and race like that after the tragedy this morning?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, definitely it's hard to lose a colleague, a person, that is doing the same job that you're doing. But all the drivers here know the risk. We all know the danger of the sport. We are here because we love what we do. It's tougher for those that stay here.
You guys see my mom, how nervous she get. I know. It's very hard. I feel a lot. I was very touched. My thoughts for his family.
Q. Dan was saying he had so much respect racing with you that he could race that close and not be concerned. Talk a little bit about the respect level you have for each other. You came within about half an inch of touching wheels a couple times.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Same here. Today I was very secure and confident race against him. I guess those last few years, definitely he learn a lot. Well, he is the champion. He drove really well. I just have to congrat the drive that he did.
We were very close many, many times. But he knew what I was doing, so it was a good, fair race.
Q. Sam, you had a front row seat in the end. Talk about that. You've been involved in battles like that. Were you thinking it was getting too close for comfort?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Not really. I know there's two guys ahead of me that, you know, have a lot of experience underneath their belts, a lot of race wins. I knew they were going to do the right thing by each other.
I just hoped nothing happen because 213 miles an hour, those two get together, I'm probably going to be right in the middle of it, too. I'm like, All right, guys, keep 'em straight.
I was more frustrated about trying to catch up to them and get around them for the win more so than worried about them. I know I have to trust what they're doing out there. If I don't trust what they're doing out there, I might as well not be out there because sooner or later I'm going to be side by side with them
Q. Helio, did you ever make contact? Can you give us a sense of how dangerous that wheel-to-wheel racing is like that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: We were very close many times. I don't think there is a couple of times a hair would even be between his wheel and my wheel. I don't think we ever touched. Like I said, at the beginning, I think he was trying to know what I was doing, tried to see what my car was capable to do.
I tell you, I respect him a lot after this race. Not that I didn't respect before, but he definitely drove like a champion.
Q. How would you characterize the prerace meeting, your emotions throughout the day?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: First of all, everything happened very suddenly. For us to make any decision or any action, it was very -- it was very fast, everything.
Maybe for us drivers, was hard for us to try and understand and sink in. Obviously, all the team owners, everyone trying not to talk about it around us to make sure that we don't -- to make sure we go back and do our job.
Again, we love what we do. Everybody really know the danger of this sport. Yes, nobody want to see something like that happen, especially for a colleague. I'm sure he's in a much better place than us.
Q. (Question regarding the Honda engine.)
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I think it's easier for us to pass than it was the last two years (laughter).
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's good to be fighting for the lead, top three, you're right.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: We ran well on the shorter tracks. But we never on the mile-and-a-half's didn't fight for wins like we did today. A lot of people didn't know what to expect when we had the mile-and-a-half. They took wing away from us, allowed us to run quicker. Whether it would be as close of racing, whether it would be as exciting, as you saw through the middle part of the race, things got strung out a little bit, which is good for us, it allows us to relax a little bit. We don't have to be on the edge of our seat the whole race. When it came down to the end, you saw one of the closest races in IndyCar history.
Q. Sam, before you got up to third, did you think you were going to be able to make it up there?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: The car was real good when we were by ourselves. When we got back there in traffic, we weren't sure what was going to happen because we hadn't run in traffic all day. I pushed it a little bit hard, too hard probably the first 10 laps of that run. Probably wore out the right front a little bit. I thought I could catch up. Dan and Helio then lined up. Once I got to third, it makes it hard to get the run going, especially when two cars stay nose to tail. I knew nobody was going to pull out to pass until the last lap.
Q. When you went three-wide, you ended up having to lift.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I was in the middle. I'm kind of in between a hard place there. I lifted down there, the same thing. There's only one guy that didn't lift out of that. It wasn't me (laughter).
Q. Dan and Helio, from the angle I was looking at, it looked like you touched. Did you touch?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't think we touched. We were very close many times, but we did not touch. Even the angle that I was there, I thought I won the race (laughter). I think we should check again.
Q. You are both into your faith. Does a day like today try that or reinforce that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Try what?
Q. Your faith. Test it.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know. I think for me, the thing that I think about when I get in that car is driving the car. That's all that there is. You know, how do I get in this car? How do I try to win this race? How do I bring it home?
As far as in the car, you don't think about things like that. The day that I start thinking about those things, you know, that's the day that I decide I need to quit doing what I'm doing. That I'm worried about -- obviously, I don't want to be out there and be a kamikaze and run into everything. When it comes down to it, I want to think about how to win the race, not, Am I going to get hurt today? Is this going to be a bad day?
Out of the car, we all feel bad about it. We don't want to see anybody get hurt. It's a tough situation to be in. You asked earlier whether we thought we should go out and race. I think the decision was already made before the drivers even knew the severity of the accident. We all saw it on TV, knew that it was bad. To know the extent of it, none of us knew until the decision to race was already made.
I think we all knew what we needed to do, is go out there and race. We're going to race next weekend. You got to go out there eventually.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Pretty much what Sam said, but only adding I would say destiny. It's not trying faith or things like, that it's destiny. You not the one that write that. It's the guy upstairs that if it's your time, it's your time.
Again, we're the star of the show. We're here to be able to provide that for all the fans and for everyone. Yeah, it's hard, but at the same time we need to know how to deal with it. It's not the first time it happened, and unfortunately I don't think it will be the last time. We always trying to work towards as safe as possible. Incidents and things like that happen.
Same as Sam, you can't think about it when going to a race car. If you're thinking about it, you might as well not even be going.
Q. Helio, you came very close to climbing the fence today. There's someone out there trying to duplicate your style. What are your thoughts on that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I assume you're talking about Tony Stewart. Well, you know, I have to admit I'm flattered that those guys, especially him, copy me. He better get in a little better shape. Other than that, he's doing good. People should celebrate obviously a win. It's a hard work. I mean, today you saw it. I was working really hard. Also this guy here. It's a hard work, so you have to celebrate, enjoy it. You never know when you going to be on top of the game again.
But I think people should do that and celebrate themselves.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, Helio, thank you very much. Appreciate your time.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well done again. Race with you any time again.
DAN WHELDON: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We now have our race winner Dan Wheldon. Dan, it probably seemed a lot closer, but it was the ninth closest finish in league history. To throw good karma in your direction, four of the last five winners here at Homestead went on to win a championship, including yourself last year. Tell us a little bit about your day.
DAN WHELDON: Well, it was obviously under very difficult circumstances. I think certainly my thoughts and prayers and everybody here, their thoughts and here are with the Dana family and everybody at Rahal Letterman Racing. It's very difficult to race under circumstances like this. I think everybody in the community and the fans that came out to Homestead-Miami Speedway today should be commended for the effect that they have on the drivers to pull through under very difficult circumstances.
I mean, not everybody do you know in the community very well. But there's a lot of respect there. There's certainly friendship. You know, there's fun times. It was a very difficult day.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Dan.
Q. You said Friday you wanted to win a race in something other than an Andretti Green car. You made short order of that. Talk about the transition to a new team and how seamless it has been for you.
DAN WHELDON: It's obviously a fantastic team. I've known Chip for a long time. I've heard about his character. I haven't known about his character for long. But I'm starting to get to know that. Fortunately so far the first two races I've done for him I've won. I think right now I'm on the honeymoon period.
But what no one can deny about Chip Ganassi is the fact that he's very determined to win. I spoke to different team owners over the winter. He was certainly the one that kind of captivated and captured me the most. Just the way when you speak to him, you get the feeling that you don't even have to do anything and you're going to win. He gives you a great deal of confidence, but he also gives you the tools to do the job.
I certainly think his switch to Honda has shown what they've done over the last couple of years is a fantastic job. You can see them reap the rewards of that.
For me the transition itself, I'm very close to everybody at Honda, and they've kind of helped speed up my learning process and getting to know the team. Everybody at Target Chip Ganassi Racing has been very welcoming. It's very different when you go to a team as the Indy 500 champion, IndyCar champion, not as a rookie. It's been good. I just hope it continues.
Q. I'm sure you'd rather win the pole, lead every lap, win by two laps. But on a day like today when you had such a race with Helio, how does that make you feel?
DAN WHELDON: I think I'm going to give not only Helio credit but Sam. I've learnt a lot from Sam over the past, especially in circumstances like that. I think he's even done the same to Helio.
But I will say that you can race Helio wheel to wheel and have every confidence that he's in control of his car and he'll do everything he can to keep his car from yours. Likewise, I hope he feels I can do the same.
I think what you saw there is an element of respect between two drivers that is immense. You know, I'm sure people that have raced Helio before think he's perhaps sometimes a fiery Brazilian, but he's a very talented individual.
It was good to race people like that. I think the respect factor that everybody has in the community right now is immense. The way they pulled together, like I say, under difficult circumstances, is something that keeps us going.
Q. (Question regarding Penske/Ganassi rivalry.)
DAN WHELDON: If anybody asked me if there was going to be a rivalry, I think it would be a Penske/Ganassi rivalry, because we've seen that before in the CART series. I think now that element of the series kind of maintains close competition or gives that you close competition, brought those teams together.
I do think Andretti Green will be strong. I think there will be some others that are strong along the way. With Chip Ganassi and Roger Penske, you've got two determined team owners that want to prove a point to one another. I'm glad we started off right because I think Chip will be more motivated now to help us develop some stuff.
Q. With the five degree wing, it looked like the cars danced all over the track. Was it hard to control the car?
DAN WHELDON: I think what the IndyCar Series has done, you know, they've made the series even better. Nobody said that you had to run the five-degree angle. It just gave you more options. To some degree the cars last year, you could run them flat out and be pretty comfortable, even if your car wasn't quite right. That's what I respect about Brian Barnhart, he's intent on giving the fans a good show, making it difficult for the drivers and the engineer combination, and rewarding people that have a good car.
I think that element you could see today because the racing was very good. It was difficult for the drivers. There were laps where we certainly had to breathe and back all the way out of the throttle. I think he achieved what he wanted to. That's a big part of why I came back to the IndyCar Series when I was talking to other people. You know, I have immense respect for the guy on putting on a good show for everybody and I like driving IndyCars. They're very, very fun to drive right now. From a safety aspect, I think they're always doing everything they can to improve that.
Q. Given the mood in the garage, was this the kind of race that you guys needed?
DAN WHELDON: I think the race that was put on today was a show of serious competition with a very high element of respect on all parts. There's rivalries out there. There's people that want to beat one another. There's people with points to prove. But on a difficult day like today, everybody came together and I think put on a great show.
I think everybody that took part in the race enjoyed the race for the race, and hopefully the fans did.
Q. (Question regarding Paul Dana.)
DAN WHELDON: You know, I can't answer this question. Just give me two minutes, please.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.



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