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IZOD IndyCar Series: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

IZOD IndyCar Series: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Helio Castroneves
Mike Conway
Scott Dixon
J.R. Hildebrand
James Hinchcliffe
Tony Kanaan
March 31, 2012


BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

THE MODERATOR:  We're pleased to be joined by a number of our drivers for the Firestone Fast Six.  We'll get started with James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, and Tony Kanaan. 
James, let's start with you.  A career best start for you. 
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE:  Yeah, not a bad Saturday morning at the track.  For us, it was obviously a decent session.  We rolled into qualifying after the weird schedule with the weather we have had with only with I think 14 or 15 dry laps under our belt, and those didn't even go that well.  We didn't know quite what to expect.  On the Firestone reds for the first time.  Credit to the Andretti Autosport guys.  The Go Daddy car was quick right from the get-go. 
We got through Q1, managed to get a decent time in Q2.  It was early in my run when that yellow came out.  We knew we were going to have pretty good tires for the Fast Six.  With a couple of big hitters missing out because of that yellow, we knew it was going to be a good opportunity to try to score well, and as a result we end up on the front row. 
Congrats to Helio.  Too bad for Ryan as well.  He should have been there.  He had a good enough time to be in the Fast Six.  Overall a good day for the team. 
THE MODERATOR:  Tony, talk about today's conditions. 
TONY KANAAN:  Actually, I'm extremely happy to be back on the Fast Six.  Last year we started last here, so I guess I figure something out. 
I mean, the conditions for qualifying were unknown for everybody.  You never know when you're going to go out, you're going to wait eight minutes, you're going to wait five minutes.  We did not test this morning, which was not fun.  Half an hour yesterday only.  Now we get the red tires only for qualifying.  It was always up in the air.  That's why you can see so many guys supposed to be in the Fast Six never made it into the top 10. 
It definitely made it more interesting.  I think the race is going to be quite fun tomorrow.  Hopefully the weather will hold up and we can have a warmup. 
I felt like today I was racing in Formula Fords back in the day, because we had to jeopardize our session so everybody else could run.  I still don't understand that, but we'll talk about that. 
THE MODERATOR:  Scott Dixon, talk about what happened at the very end. 
SCOTT DIXON:  (No microphone.)
THE MODERATOR:  We've also been joined by Mike Conway.  This is Mike's second appearance in the Firestone Fast Six.  This is the first appearance in the Firestone Fast Six for AJ Foyt Racing since 2007. 
Mike, talk about making gains here already in qualifying. 
MIKE CONWAY:  Very happy to be in the Fast Six.  Lapped it a little bit with some guys, leaving it a little bit late.  It's kind of down to everybody to get the lap in when you can. 
Actually we were out early enough to get in a good lap.  After that I thought we would have a little more pace for the Fast Six, but we kind of just didn't. 
Happy with that.  Hopefully we can do something from there.  Yeah, obviously happy to be back in the Fast Six.  Great job to everybody at ABC Racing and AJ Foyt Racing for working as hard as they are and getting the results that they deserve. 
THE MODERATOR:  We've been joined by JR Hildebrand.  Talk about today's session. 
J.R. HILDEBRAND:  I mean, obviously just really happy with everything for the Panther Racing side.  We put a high priority this year on improving or road and street course program.  Sort of to Mike's point, with some of the yellows and the red flag coming out when it did in that second qualifying group, maybe got a little bit lucky with all that and timing it right. 
We're happy to have the pace that we did.  We look forward to turning that into something good for us and good for points tomorrow. 
THE MODERATOR:  We'll open it up for questions. 

Q.  Given the mixed-up starting lineup, the changes in the Firestone tires, do you expect a better of a race tomorrow than maybe we've seen in the past? 
SCOTT DIXON:  I say we can pass two people. 
No, I don't know.  It's always tough to pass here.  It's always hard to get a run.  I think strategy is going to be key.  The windows are kind of strange now with the new engines, smaller fuel cells.  I don't know if you could do it on two stops.  Might be a bit of a stretch here.  I'm sure you're going to have some people trying to do that.  If the yellows fall in the right spot, it might happen.  I think strategy is key, restarts, as well. 

Q.  Could you explain a little bit what the strategy thinking about waiting so long during the session is to go out?  Was that a power issue or what? 
TONY KANAAN:  You have to think about this.  On the Q1, we have 15 minutes.  With the weather, it has been raining all the time, the more the people run, the better the track will get.  Nobody wants to be the first car out. 
JR did a great job in my opinion.  He did a great job.  I thought, This guy is crazy. 
J.R. HILDEBRAND:  Trying to set a lap time for you (laughter). 
TONY KANAAN:  The strategy is when you have a qualifying tire, especially with the reds, you are going to get max of four laps on a good, good tire.  You don't need more than that.  You don't want to damage those tires for the race either. 
The way they count is four laps, how many minutes it is, we go out six minutes to the end, we hope for more yellows, which caught some people this time.  You got to put it together in four laps. 

Q.  James, best career start.  You were a little bit frustrated you didn't get on the pole.  Talk about your last session. 
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE:  Yeah, well, it's one of those bittersweet things.  Obviously, the best start of my career.  Thrilled with that.  When you look at the gap, half a 10th, you go over every single corner in your head thinking what could I have done differently.  With a 3/10ths gap, no problem.  When the gap is that small...  It's not that often that you have a Fast Six missing two Penskes and missing Hunter-Reay.  There's a good opportunity for us to get a good start.
I actually set my time in Q2 sort of late.  I had only done one flying lap.  Doing that on the second run for the Fast Six, we knew the tire was going to be pretty good, but not quite quick enough to catch the man in blue over there.  Congrats to him and congrats to Chevy for rockin' up the front row as well. 

Q.  How big an issue was it only getting one lap this morning?
MIKE CONWAY:  Obviously with the fog and everything, that delayed our session.  There was no time to do anything this morning.  With the change you made overnight, you're not going to feel that on those tires in those conditions. 
A bit unknown, like Tony said, for everyone coming in making changes overnight, nobody ran until qualifying.  But, yeah, some of the changes seemed to work. 
TONY KANAAN:  I think a better way to handle would be treat us like the top series.  We should run before anybody else does, no matter what.  If we're going to delay some people, we're going to delay some people.  We're not going to get us jeopardized. 
I'm saying that without really knowing what's going on during those schedules.  It's a selfish way to say we want to run.  I understand the helicopter wasn't run, but then I see the Indy Lights running for 45 minutes, it doesn't make a lot of sense. 
That would be more of a question for the people that run the series and not us.  Us as drivers, we're always going to complain and always going to want to run. 
THE MODERATOR:  Gentlemen, congratulations on a great qualifying effort and best of luck tomorrow. 
We've been joined by our polesitter, Helio Castroneves.  Talk about your day. 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Yeah, certainly for us, the first session, I caught a little bit of the drivers talking about we didn't have the practice.  Certainly first group was a little bit tough.  Firestone red tires were very sticky.  Mostly in the rear in my setup.  I was struggling a little bit. 
But we were able to make it.  We were able to make some adjustments.  Then we went to qualifying number two, then the car was much better.  Then we went to qualifying number three.  We felt that we were really strong going to Q3.  We just were able to keep putting very consistent laps.  Sounds like we're in good shape, good balance for the race. 
THE MODERATOR:  Questions. 

Q.  How much of a risk is it to wait during that second qualifying session till there's five or six minutes left going out?  How much does that factor in knowing if a yellow comes out, you might not even get a time out at all?
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  It's a risk.  You saw qualifying two, a number of guys getting caught on that situation.  At the same time you want to get the best out of the track with the tire, with the fresh tires. 
In all those conditions, you always push to the limit.  Sometimes helps, sometimes doesn't help.  But it's very unusual for something like that happen.  But you're going to see now max qualifying, people waiting for the last minute to go. 
In my group we just did our normal deal, always have a little bit of gap, be conservative in case something goes wrong like today.  For us, today was just perfect. 

Q.  Could you talk a little bit about the strong start for you this season, and also for Chevrolet. 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Yeah, no, certainly the AAA machine is looking good.  Last race, very strong.  Chevy is doing a great job to put everything together.  It's always important to start the season strong. 
Again, it was just one race.  Right now we put ourselves in that position.  We got to continue doing what we doing.  High percent of this race is where you start.  But, again, you still have to complete a lot of laps tomorrow.  There's a lot going on.  There's two or three pit stops that might happen.  We have to continue doing what we're doing without make any risk.  Or, if you're going to make a risk, it has to be the right one. 

Q.  You're starting on the pole.  Your teammates didn't have the qualifying rounds they expected.  How can you help them with their race?
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Last weekend as a perfect example, three guys used three different strategies.  In the end my strategy end up being the right one. 
Now tomorrow we have to do the same way.  Who is going to be with the better strategy?  Sometimes starting in the back you could save a little bit more fuel.  That could be a strategy the team can apply to. 
For me, that's the only way I see it at this point.  But all three cars are very similar.  Unfortunately it was just not being in the right place in the right time for them.  But I guarantee tomorrow they're going to be strong because I know what they have under those cars, it's very strong. 

Q.  Yesterday Will said he thought if you're not starting in the first two rows your chance of winning this race are pretty dismal.  Would you agree with that?  Do you think that's been mixed up because of what happened in the qualifying session here? 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  I hope he's right.  I did win starting from second row in 2010.  Gives us a lot of confidence to be in the position at this point.  We still got to do the whole entire race and make it happen.  Right now we going to enjoy this moment. 
THE MODERATOR:  Congratulations.  Best of luck tomorrow. 
HELIO CASTRONEVES:  Thank you. 



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