IZOD IndyCar Series: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
Topics: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg
March 24, 2012
ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA
THE MODERATOR: We'll get started. I'm pleased to be joined so far by the fastest two to the press conference, Ryan Briscoe and James Hinchcliffe. Ryan won this race in 2006 and will start second, and won in 2009.
Our first question will be for Ryan Briscoe. Talk about Team Penske on the front row for tomorrow's race.
RYAN BRISCOE: It's a great effort to get the season started with this kind of speed. We've been really busy testing this year, with the new DW-12, the new Chevy engine. It's just been a lot of fun, a lot of hard work as well getting it to this point. I'm absolutely loving it.
Obviously, first time coming to the streets of St. Pete with this package, and it's performing well, with a new track record today. I'm sure we'll see many more of those this year.
Really good effort to start on the front row with my teammate. We've been pushing each other hard, as we always do. Not the smoothest of runs at Team Penske today with Helio's crew having to fix the suspension and I had a battery voltage go low, had to come in the pits and change battery. We were lucky to get out there in the Fast Six and get the laps in that we did.
Pretty happy. Made a couple of small mistakes. I feel like I could have been a little bit faster. For used tires in the Fast Six, it was a good job. Looking forward to the race tomorrow. I think it will be very exciting.
Just want to thank Chevrolet as well. Doing a great job, working hard with us. Every single session we've got that support that we need. Any kind of glitches we might have, someone from Chevy is right there helping us out. Five in the top six, so great job by Chevrolet.
THE MODERATOR: James Hinchcliffe is starting fourth. He's making his first IZOD IndyCar Series start on the streets of St. Petersburg. Started on the pole in 2010 in Firestone Indy Lights.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It's a pretty good result for us. The goal was to get into the Fast Six. If you told us we would have made that, I would have been pretty happy. The funny part, after being quickest in Q2, you're almost disappointed with fourth.
It's a great effort by Andretti Autosports. To have Brian and I in the Fast Six, taking over the second row, it's great. Congrats to Will and Ryan on the front row.
For us, it was a fairly straightforward session. Obviously, everybody's first time on the reds. For Q1, weren't quite sure what to expect. Maybe not quite as big of a jump in lap times as we expected. We made a change on the Go Daddy car for Q2, the thing really came alive on the second set of Firestone reds. It was a big lap. We knew it was going to be tough to back that up with another used set of tires for Q3. We made a little change to find a little more speed. I made a little bit of a mistake on my quickest lap. Maybe a tiny bit left in there.
At the end of the day, for my first start here, first start of the season, a big way to kick it off. So just big thanks to everybody at Andretti and Go Daddy. It's great to be on the sharp end of the grid heading into that famous first turn.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud.
Ryan will start third. His previous best start at St. Pete was sixth in 2008. Two Andretti Autosport cars in the top six.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It's certainly fun with all the energy in the air with these new cars, the manufacturers going head-to-head. St. Pete always puts on a great show. We're happy to be here.
It was a good day for the DHL Sun Drop car. We had to go to work on it this morning. We weren't really happy with it. To see where we ended up in the end is not only a testament to the crew, the team, but also the teamwork, the drivers sharing information.
I got to thank James and Marco also for all their input, which helped make quick cars today.
We're happy, really proud of Chevy being in the top five absolutely. It's a good way to start the season. This is the beginning to a long trek. Certainly the right way to start off.
Yeah, we're looking forward. Tomorrow is the only day that counts, so we really have to make it happen tomorrow. Nobody really knows what to expect. Should be exciting for the fans.
THE MODERATOR: Helio is a two-time race winner here at St. Pete. Sat on the pole for the race in 2007. Helio, talk about qualifying today, specifically the contact in your final lap in segment two.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Definitely the Shell V-Power boys did an incredible job fixing my car for qualifying three. Unfortunately I was having radio communication problems. I couldn't understand on the back straight, any straight at all. I kept asking them, What position, what's going on, do I slow down, not slow down? Nobody was giving any information at all.
I could see they were trying to communicate, but the radio unfortunately wasn't working. Obviously just start pushing and pushing as hard as you can. Okay, nobody is saying anything.
Unfortunately I went over the limit of the car, ended up hitting turn six I think - turn nine, thank you. I'm never good with the numbers anyway (laughter). I thought it was over. We weren't able to qualify for segment three, I thought it was over.
Getting out of the car, the guys became fully concentrated and focused to fix the rear suspension. I would say in seven minutes they were able to switch the entire suspension and we were able to go back out there.
Certainly I didn't have much. Well, everybody was on the same 10th. But certainly happy for Team Penske having three cars in the top five, and Chevy as well. A great testament to hard work for everyone.
I know Honda is going to be tough tomorrow. But we keep working as a team and certainly we're going to get the result that we want.
THE MODERATOR: Simon Pagenaud making his first IZOD IndyCar Series appearance in the series. Your first race at St. Pete, the only Honda-powered car to make the Firestone Fast Six. Talk about that.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Very happy to be in the Fast Six. It's always something very difficult to accomplish. Coming in as a rookie, first full season, the racing team, it's something special. We worked right over the winter. We knew we had a good package. It's a matter of executing what you have, right? It's not always easy, especially when you have these guys around.
I was very happy with the first two qualifying sections. We were looking strong in the top four. Then we made a little gamble. I thought maybe the blacks were going to give me a little bit more. I had a brand-new set, so I tried it. It didn't work (laughter).
But it is what it is. It's good information for my own staff, especially preparing for the race which is going to be very important going through turn one properly, trying to come back in the top six.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take a few questions while we wait for Will Power.
Q. All you Chevy guys, are you surprised there's not more Hondas up there?
RYAN BRISCOE: Maybe Ganassi. They've been extremely fast in all the testing and even the practice sessions this weekend. Certainly Simon did an awesome job to be the leading Honda car in the Fast Six.
But no surprise from Chevy. They've been doing such a great job. Even this weekend we've been feeling improvements.
(JAMES HINCHCLIFFE): That's the biggest thing. Ryan nailed it. We unloaded. There were a couple glitches first practice. What's been impressive with this Chevy team, every session there's an improvement, every session they are plugging into that car and they're finding gains.
So for us it's awesome because you know every single time they plug in, it's been better. They plug in after every session. They say, This time we're going to have this, this time we're going to have this. Just the improvement not only just testing, but this weekend has been phenomenal. It is certainly opening my eyes as to how this whole manufacturer war is going to play out. It's just awesome to see the work that the Chevy guys have been doing.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Pretty much the same. As Hinch was talking about, I think there was a last-minute change on the rules. Got caught a little bit of surprise with the Chevy guys. But through yesterday's two sessions and this morning, they stepped up the game. Like I said, it's a testament to have only one Honda here to show that the Chevy is very competitive.
Although it's a lot of things. You see the times are extremely close. It will be like that in the race, as well.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It was surprising this morning to see it was 8 out of 10 Hondas in the first practice. You're thinking, Wow, we need to go back to work here.
But I think it's going to be back and forth a lot. I don't think this is necessarily just the stamp that Chevy's got it made. I think it will be back and forth a lot. Both these manufacturers are doing a lot.
Q. Hinch, last year obviously you weren't here for the first double-wide restart.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Thank God.
Q. What do you contemplate happening going into the first turn?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: You can pretty much chalk that up to number 134 on the list of unknowns going into tomorrow. We're all doing carbon brakes now for the first time. I know guys have had issues with warming then up. On the starts and restarts it's going to be an issue.
Obviously turn one at this track is famous for incidents. Even though we're at the sharper end of the grid, no one is immune to a turn one wreck. In the Indy Lights race I got punted out from pole by the guy who started ninth. It's the nature of this track and the nature of this first corner.
The good news is everybody up here is smart. Everybody up here knows you got to get through turn one. I think everyone's going to be cautiously aggressive hopefully heading into turn one, we can all get through there and go racing.
THE MODERATOR: We're joined by our polesitter, Will Power. Will's third straight pole at St. Pete.
Will, what is keeping you at the front of the grid?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I was actually surprised at the lap time on used car tires. The Chevy was obviously the strongest engine. We made a couple adjustments for the Fast Six and the car was really good. I was able to get pole.
THE MODERATOR: We'll continue with questions.
Q. For any Chevy driver, is it purely horsepower related that the Chevys are that much better than the Hondas or could it be coincidence that the Ganassi doesn't have the new car figured out as well?
(JAMES HINCHCLIFFE): I don't think it's a case that Chevys are better than Hondas. Like Ryan said, it's still a close battle. It's more than the engine that gets the car around the track.
Like I said, we really enjoyed and have been impressed with the work Chevy has done with improvements over the weekend. That's not to count the Honda guys out. There's a lot of different elements to make an engine go fast, drivability, reliability. It's more to it than just that.
(RYAN HUNTER-REAY): I don't think it's just horsepower at all. Really it comes down to horsepower, how you put the power down out of the corner. That's a big bit of it. And all the way through the gears, you know, shift cuts, everything you can think of.
I think horsepower is probably last on that list.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: All the teams are extremely pushing, as you can see in the test. I was talking here with Ryan. He said, We just found all this stuff in the car. You can see that the times are really, really close. It's a combination of a lot of things.
Q. A lot of testing was done, single-car testing, maybe separation when you were at Sebring, places like that. How much time have you had to run in groups, to try to simulate race conditions, what this new car may actually do tomorrow?
(RYAN HUNTER-REAY): We haven't really. Hopefully tomorrow's start, double-file restarts, won't be like last year's here.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Won't come from me this time.
(RYAN HUNTER-REAY): You took enough flak in Long Beach.
But, yeah, I think you don't really need to run in groups. It's more how you're set up, you can manage the tires. If you're quick, you're quick, you're going to find your way through the traffic. I don't think you really need to run in big groups.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Basically tomorrow is going to be the biggest test session that we have had all year.
Q. For all of you up there, let's have a percentage of how many you think are going to make it through the first turn.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: We'll make the first turn, for sure.
(JAMES HINCHCLIFFE): It's anybody's guess. Cold carbon brakes. Hopefully everybody gets them hot enough. I don't know.
WILL POWER: They're not too hot that they lock up at the right temperature.
(JAMES HINCHCLIFFE): It's an unanswerable question. It could be everybody.
Q. I don't know which one of you would consider yourself closest to Dan Wheldon. Could one of you talk a bit about what it's going to mean to be racing tomorrow in a place which was his adopted hometown, how you'd like to honor him.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You know, certainly as a place he called home, and after what happened last year, it is difficult. I think, to be honest, the town, the promoters, they were able to do a very good job to keep his spirit alive.
Certainly for us, the fans were able to help us keep focus in racing, keep everybody entertaining. You know, the fans seem to support us, seem to welcome us here. We couldn't ask for more.
So certainly tomorrow we always will remember. But for us as drivers, we want to be focused and continue doing what we love. Hope to entertain all the fans and friends out there, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you all.
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