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Indy Racing League Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Racing League Media Conference

Helio Castroneves
Rick Mears
May 26, 2010


THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today's Indy Racing League conference call. We're joined by two guests with a storied history in the Indianapolis 500 race. We're joined by four-time winner Rick Mears and three-time winner Helio Castroneves. Thank you for joining us today.
First quick question to Helio. The polesitter has gone on to win the Indianapolis 500 several times, including last year with you. You have this one in the bag, right?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Wow, they start with pressure, tough question right off the bat.
I wish. Certainly I know how tough is the place, how difficult it is, especially with the weather conditions. We got to find out what it is, if it's too cold, too hot. Not only that, but you got to expect the unexpected.

Team Penske won 15 times. They certainly know what they're doing. I will do everything I can. If it means to be, will be.
THE MODERATOR: Rick, I know winning the Indianapolis 500 is not an easy task. You did it four times from 1979 through 1991. If Helio wins on Sunday, he will accomplish it in a faster period of time. How difficult a task is it to win the fourth Indy 500?
RICK MEARS: They're all difficult. It doesn't matter whether it's the first, second, third or fourth, they're all difficult.
One thing, myself and Helio, too, we've always approached this race as a new day, a new race, almost the first time. You don't really think about which one it is. We're here to try to win the race.
In this business, it's about being flexible. You have to be ready for change at all times. Every day is a new day. You don't know who is going to be strong, who your competition is, what the track conditions are going to be like. You got to be open and ready to change, do what's necessary to get yourself in a position.
The guys, the team all make the right calls, the right decisions in the pits, all falls your way to put yourself in position to win it in the end.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.

Q. What makes turn one at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway so difficult and so unique in the sport?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I tell you what, I'm going to let Rick answer that because he never told me, so today he might come with an answer. I'll let him answer that.
RICK MEARS: I've never told him because I don't know (laughter).
No, you know, all four corners basically geometrically are supposedly the same. When you lay the surface down, they always have their own little characteristics.
I think over the years it's either turn one or turn three, those are the two at the end of the straightaways where you approach at the highest speed, so they are going to be the most difficult.
I think a lot of the times the prevailing wind here is at your back coming down the front straightaway which carries you into turn one faster and tends to blow the car off on the exit. That's one of the things that makes one a little more difficult. To me, there always seems to be a little bit of a transition or elevation change about two-thirds of the way around the corner coming out of the exit of one that would tend to hook the car a little bit. If I was loose, that's where I would get loose first. It's almost like you couldn't feel it, but it would upset the balance of the car a little bit.
But historically I think a lot of it's due to wind direction and the speeds that you approach that corner.

Q. Helio, you have Rick as your spotter. He's a four-time winner. How assuring is this going to be for you in the race?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, every time I have Rick, especially in the 500, maybe that's the secret, you know. He certainly knows a lot in this place. Basically he's there to make sure that I don't have any issues, stay out of trouble, especially when somebody come from behind, taking chances, unnecessary chances.
In fact, he saved me quite a lot many, many times over here that I could end up not in a good situation.
Sometimes I do ask him, Hey, Rick, what do I do? I don't know what to do anymore. The car is tough. Obviously I'm sure I'm going to do the same thing this weekend.
So I'm glad to have Rick on my side being my spotter. Always when you have someone with such an incredible experience, obviously he's the one to have the secret here, but I'm always listen, I'm always up for innovation or up for learning because this place is all about that. It's all about taking every lap by lap and learning every time.

Q. Helio, talk about if you do win, joining the company of people like A.J. and Rick and Unser, also to be the first non-American-born driver to do this. Can you talk about your thoughts on that. Then, Rick, if you can kind of compare yourself and Unser and A.J. and Helio, different styles, different eras, nutshell on what makes the four-time winners.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Certainly Team Penske and I, we're going to do our best to see if we can accomplish that goal. I have to say, you guys basically comparing, talking about it. I'm trying to focus on the race, go out there and win the race. Yes, Indianapolis is the most important one. Again, if it's not that this time, there going to be a next race.
My mindset is what can I do to accomplish my goal to finish first and beat everybody. Now, when you guys talk about it, for me, Rick, A.J., they're the gods of racing, the legends. I'm so honored to have this opportunity that I'm facing right now.
Not taking anything for granted. As I said, I'm still a lot, lot to learn. Even to be compared with those guys, if I'll be able to accomplish what I want, it will be a dream come true. So I'm just honored to be in this position right now.
RICK MEARS: Pretty much the same with me as Helio. When I won the fourth one, to be anywhere near compared to A.J. and Al, two of my heroes, was just a great honor.
I think over the years as far as comparing all of us, I think desire, the love of what we do, sitting in that racecar, competing, the competition, I think that love of what we do creates the desire, and the desire creates the results.

Obviously, one of the most important thing is all of us being fortunate enough to have the right equipment, the right people behind us supporting us to give us the tools to be able to accomplish those things. And then the final thing I think is having a lot of thing is having a lot of lady luck on your side and the car fall in your direction.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You're right on that one (laughter).

Q. Helio, as far as being the first foreign-born driver to do it, if you do it?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's great. I feel that I'm part of this country already. They say once the government chase you, you an American. Hey, I'm the one there.
No, all joking aside, I don't see my nationality being important in this matter. When you're a racecar driver, if you're here in Europe, Brazil, wherever you are, if you love the sport like Rick were saying, you love the sport. You just got the best thing you can.
It would be honor, again, being foreign. But today I'm not even thinking about that. I just thinking about go out there and do my best.

Q. Helio, if you'll just go with me on this one. Are there times you've arrived at Indianapolis and really felt good about how everything was going to go and then you would end up winning the race? In other words, are there times you feel as a driver that all is kind of looking well, then you ended up getting the success, the wins you wanted? If so, this is a year, a week or two, that you're feeling very strongly things are a go?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You know, I was watching the Masters this year. Phil Mickelson, when he won, he said people were asking why he play so well. He said, This is the Masters, I feel comfortable playing here, seems to bring the best out of me.
We're talking about the Indianapolis 500. This is the driver's best team in the world when they're competing here. This place does bring the best out of me. It's a challenging place, very difficult place. Every time I come over here, it's a new beginning.
I do feel comfortable, don't get me wrong. I enjoy. I like to go to the limit. Even sometimes, unfortunately last Saturday, we got to go many more times than once. But this is the greatest thing. I mean it's awesome to accomplish.
Again, as Rick was saying, you got to have the equipment. When you come over here with Team Penske, you know off-season, actually, as soon as the race is over, they already start working for the following season. That shows the preparation is extremely important.
Roger has 15 wins. It just shows the captain, he certainly come over here prepared. When you have a combination like that, you feel definitely very good.

Q. Is it a feeling you have in your gut? Each of the times you've won, did you go into the race feeling good about it?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It is a gut feeling. Sometimes at the beginning of the race, because it's such a long race, you still adapting to the rhythm. If you leading, you ask how many laps to go, and you're not even at the half part of the race. You're like, C'mon, this is crazy. If your car is not good, you're hoping, I still have time, things like that.
It does feel great. But, remember, and I think Rick can apply to that, not always the fastest car is the winner of the Indy 500. That's Rick's words. You come over here for two types of racing: winning the qualifying, then winning the racing. We got one check, but now we have to certainly keep working hard because I know it's going to be tough.

Q. Helio, can you compare last year to this year? Are you feeling more relaxed or comfortable just after all you went through last year at this time?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, certainly when I jumped in the car, I was just thinking about going have fun. It was very recent after all that difficult time of my life. But, again, as soon as you put your helmet on, close the visor, you are the same guy.
Certainly a little bit different rules in terms of the setup of the car. This year for everybody that doesn't know, the ring light was positioned on the aero that was creating a lot of drag. There is a side gurney on the side plate that was creating a lot of drag. Those things were making the car turbulent, difficult to get too close.
This year is a little bit different. We have that thing moved away, which means make the cars a little bit better to follow someone. Plus you have the 'push to pass'. Remember, see, that's what we talk about. It's always a new thing. So it's changing again. Even that you have everything in your bag, but in the end of the race you might not have enough 'push to pass'. This might be the decision who's going to win this race.
So, again, that will be certainly different. I feel very confident, as always, because I know Team Penske will give everything they can to give us the best. But still we have to complete the full 500 miles.

Q. How much will 'push to pass' play as a factor in this race? Will it be more defensive or offensive?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's an interesting question. When you have such long straightaways, I do feel it's going to affect quite a lot. Even if used against a defense, right now we don't have a 'push to pass', and when you're behind a car, you are able to get really close to the car and almost make a move. So when you have the extra, certainly it might be helping you to make a move as well.
It's going to be interesting. I wish I could tell you.
RICK MEARS: Have to tell you more next year.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: They don't give us any 'push to pass' before. Probably preparation day is going to be the first time we gonna try.

Q. What are the top two or three things you'll be on the lookout for on race day, whether 'push to pass', the other teams, weather?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: The weather is one. For sure, as soon as you wake up in the morning, you want to see the prediction, first of all if it's rain or not. But certainly the temperature and the wind conditions. And then from there on, you just start escalating, pit stop, strategy, what happens if the yellow comes on certain laps. The rest of it you got to stay out of trouble.
RICK MEARS: Dodge the bullets.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's what Mears is always telling me. To finish first, first you got to finish. Don't take unnecessary chances.
Little things that might not look important, but they are extremely important, you got to use those things. When you put all together, again, when it's time to go, it's time to go. Now, when is that? That's the question. That's the million-dollar question I would say. It's tough to find out.

Q. Rick, anything else you want to add?
RICK MEARS: No, not really. He pretty well covered it. To me, that was always the first part of the game plan, the main part. The number one priority is the checkered flag. If you don't do that, nothing else happens. You work backwards from there. The first half you spend getting to the second half, dodging those bullets, make sure you stay out of trouble working with the conditions, find out where you're at. To be able to make the right calls and changes to the car and position yourself to be the best you can be at the end for the shootout in case there is one. It's when to and when not to. That's one of the key things.

Q. Rick, considering you're going to be the spotter, I know it's early in the week for weather, how much side wind will we expect through the bleachers? How easy or hard is it to be a spotter for Helio? Is he a calm driver? How is the relationship during the race?
RICK MEARS: It's good. I think Helio is a lot like me in that respect. I never drove with a spotter. We had communication to the pits. I couldn't chew gum and walk at the same time. I need everybody to stay out of my ear and let me drive the car.
That's the way I work with Helio. I'm there as a backup, as a safety in case he misses something. He's aware of everything going on around him all the time. I think that's the way it should be. To me the spotter is a safety aspect in case I miss something as a driver.
I try to stay out of his business. He knows what to do around here. He doesn't need any help. So I try to stay off the radio, let him do what he wants to do and needs to do, unless I see something I can help with.
Safety, as far as maybe somebody coming into his blind spot, in case he misses something. Safety in case something happens ahead of him, traffic, where I can point out which way to go to avoid it. Just those kinds of things. Or somebody is running lines that are a little different that look good, might be working, make those suggestions.
He pretty well knows what to do around this place and I don't have to do too much.

Q. How about the weather? Do you know in advance what the weather will be?
RICK MEARS: Not really. You get a little bit of a forecast, the average or the general idea. You never know as far as wind direction. It can change throughout the race, having to plan accordingly. That's one of those things you play by ear.

Q. Roger has mentioned several times the importance of getting the number one pit stall. How important is that to you? How key is that to strategy?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's interesting 'cause we were able to win two races not getting the first pit. Last year we were able to win from there. But, you know, as Rick was mentioning before, it's dodge those bullets. When you have the first pits, you correct me there, he's the guy that's the key there, you eliminate little issues.
For example, people pull in front of you as you leaving the pits, things like that, slowing down, stopping in a position you can't come out, things like that, it does help. Unfortunately you can't control those little issues. It's outside of your control.
So if you're in the privileged spot in the first pit, that issue, it's one thing less to think about it so you can focus like when you finish your pit, finish your stop, just go. Don't even need to look on the right, just go straight. So that's one of the things.
Other than that, I mean, maybe strategy. If you see somebody already coming, you can try to gain a spot or few, things like that. It does give you alternatives that you can play with it. But, like I said, I'm not sure which race Rick won from first pit or not first pit. But I did win two races not in the first pit.
RICK MEARS: Pretty much the same thing. This race can be won from any seat in the house as far as that goes. But Helio pretty much covered everything, the advantages of that first pit.
It helps the odds a little bit. You're rolling the dice all the time. Just like Helio said, coming out of the pits, not having somebody pulling out in front of you, you pulling out in front of somebody else, you aren't rolling the dice quite as much. It is definitely a plus. It was well worth the effort that was put out there to get it.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It was tough, but we made it.

Q. I was wondering about the guy starting next to you in the front row. Will is leading in points, but kind of been under the radar because you were so dominant on pole day. How is he different this year than last year? Did what happened to him in the crash last year change the way he drives? Have you noticed a difference in him from last year to this year?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think I have to say the best guy to answer that is Rick. He worked very close to him last year. My opinion on that, what I saw last year, it was more about learning process, don't take any chances, kind of holding back. Last year everybody was holding him back just to make sure he get experience. He did a good job finishing fifth. He probably would have finished better if he didn't have the issue on the pits.
Now with a full season covered, see how talented he is, winning two races in a row at the beginning of the season, when you put all these things together, he might be under the radar here for you guys, but not for us. We know what he's got. I know what he's got. He has the same equipment, the same setup that I have. So I know him and Ryan, certainly they're going to be very tough competitors.
But, again, even to me, it's just a matter to be in the right position, the right spot. Certainly now he does have a 500 in his belt already, full race, finished fifth. Now it's up to him to understand the logistics of the entire race. I guarantee he'll be tough.
RICK MEARS: I think that's the main thing. As far as the accident went, I don't think that changed one thing any way or the other. I think as soon as he got back in the car the first time, the only question mark in his mind was, How long is it going to take me to get back to where I was at. There was no doubt that's what he was going to do. I think with that very first day of testing, he realized that, hey, we just fell off the bicycle, we're back on it now. That went away. He was back to business as usual.
I think for the race here, the main thing is there is no substitute for experience around this place and laps. That he's getting. Like Helio said, he got last year under his belt. He came in here with more confidence. The confidence comes from experience and laps. The more of those you get, the more confidence you get, the better things are.
He's still in that process. He's still learning. He's got a lot to learn. I don't say that to him. I say that to everybody. All of us have a lot to learn around this place all the time. He's going forward. I think he's going to be very strong, and Ryan also. Those guys are going to be very tough.

Q. Is there a transition for a driver? He obviously drives on the road courses. The oval racing is a bit different. Does it just take a while to become good at both, something that takes a while?
RICK MEARS: I think that's one of the main differences from, say, road course, street circuit, to speedways. The speedways, you have to work off of the field the car gives you after it happens, not before it happens. The slower the track, the more you can react and save it. Speedways you can't. You have to run a fine line. If you step over it, it's a big step.
To get on that fine line consistently takes time, that's confidence and laps. Plus he came from the road racing background more, so it's newer to him. No matter what background you come from, I think here at Indianapolis, it's laps, practice, it all works together.

Q. Helio, what are your feelings of the new format of qualifying?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I don't know. I mean, to be honest, for the drivers, talking to everyone, especially with Dario, I joke around saying that, Hey, man, I saw Jesus three times. Dario went out there and said, Well, I spoke with him three times. It was kind of like very difficult because the driver to go for it, especially when you competing the level that we are competing against great drivers, great teams, it's very difficult.
This place here, man, we talking about over 230 miles an hour on the straightaways. But I think for the fans, they were very excited. The fans enjoy it. What's going to happen? Who is going to be on the Fast 9? Who is going to make the 24? All these things. There were a lot of things happening. It's just a matter of understanding at the beginning.
So we need to maybe explain a little bit better. I think for the first time, it was very good, it was very positive. If it need to be changed a little bit, don't ask me the question. Right now, I have the best seat in the house, so I think it was great.
But, again, as long as we keep continue doing like that, I do feel the fans enjoy it. Maybe if we extend a little bit more instead of only just one week, maybe a little bit more, I don't know, give more tires. But definitely everybody was really pushing the limit. That's what it's all about. This is the best place on earth to be going for the limit.
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, that does wrap-up today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Thank you for being on today's call.



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