Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
August 29, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have two guests joining us today. In a few minutes we'll hear from Helio Castroneves, and joining us right now is P.J. Chesson.
P.J. made four IndyCar Series starts in 2006, recording a best finish of 12th in his debut at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He's set to return to the series on September 9th for the season finale at Chicagoland.
Congratulations on getting back into a car. Tell us a little bit about the last year, year and a half, just about the perseverance, determination it's taken hunting for opportunities to get back out there.
P.J. CHESSON: Yeah, it's been tough, but a great learning experience for me. Honestly, working with Tony and A.J., I definitely had a different perspective from the spotter's standpoint. It's kept me busy, given me something to do. It's been pretty good.
THE MODERATOR: You spent most of season as the spotter for A.J. Foyt, IV. What are some of the things you've been able to learn from kind of a different perspective up top?
P.J. CHESSON: Well, it gives you a better understanding I guess of how the guys race each other. You know, when you're up there, you get to see what teams do, different strategies. It's really -- it's just a good experience, a perspective that most guys don't have, most drivers don't have.
You know, I think that will be helpful for me when I'm back in a seat and dueling with the boys again.
THE MODERATOR: A couple weeks ago you had an opportunity to go to Chicagoland with Roth Racing and test. What was it like to get back behind the wheel?
P.J. CHESSON: I tell you what, Marty Roth and his wife, they've got a really good operation going. They've got really good equipment. They've got great people over there. Honestly, climbing in the car I was really comfortable.
They've taken just super care of me. The cars are well-prepared. So to climb in the car, go out there and run around at the speeds that we were, I was very pleased. I thought, you know, everything was good, the preparation, the communication amongst all the team guys. And my relationship with Marty, it's really strong.
It was good. It was comfortable. Got out there, got up to speed. Really no hiccups. Marty and I got to run in traffic. We tried running side by side, front to back, in dirty air. It was a really good two days, so...
We didn't have any run-ins with the wall monster. There was like no major moments, so it was all good.
THE MODERATOR: I assume then that gives you some pretty good confidence as we head into the race.
P.J. CHESSON: I think so. You know, you just have to wait and see. The air was heavy. Speeds weren't what they were during the race weekend last year. But I think the air's going to be better in September, I'm hoping.
If not, you know, it will all be set even for everyone. It will be interesting to see how quick we are and how competitive we can be. I'm curious to see what I can do rubbing wheels with the guys and be back fighting with them. It will be good.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for a few questions for P.J.
Q. I know in the past your brother James has been a real aid to you in your racing. He was your spotter when you were in the league before. Is James going to have a role with you with this ride with Marty? Can you talk about that, about your relationship with him.
P.J. CHESSON: Yeah. James is going to be back for sure. He's a huge part of my success, my comfort, my confidence and everything else. He's my brother. I trust him with my life. He's an excellent driver. He's an amazing coach. He's really good at looking down kind of over the track and helping me with my race weekend. He's just good at helping me find lines, know where other guys are, making good suggestions that could gain us a little bit of speed. He's awesome.
I'm really excited about that. He'll be in Chicago as well. He has a wedding on Saturday, so he's flying in Sunday morning. We're just hoping he's not drinking too much Saturday night so he can see straight on Sunday.
Q. Hopefully not his wedding.
P.J. CHESSON: He's getting married, the bugger.
Q. You came into the Pro Series, you were immediately successful. Ran off three wins in a row, a couple runner-up finishes. We had a champion this year that's been enormously successful. He's starting down the same road you have been down trying to get an IndyCar ride. What advice would you give Alex Lloyd?
P.J. CHESSON: You know, he's a tremendous race driver. The kid is hugely talented. He's had great success. I hope to God he doesn't have to endure what I've been through fighting to get in the series.
I think he's got some great opportunity. It seems like he's got a pretty good relationship with Chip, and things are moving forward there. I hope that materializes for him into something, because I think he'd be great in the series.
You know, I think he's just got to play his cards right. I mean, that's what it comes down to, it's just being persistent. If it doesn't come up straightaway, keep hammering at it and a door will hopefully open somewhere.
I mean, there's no real method to the madness here. It's a lot of luck, it's a lot of persistence, staying on top of it, just not giving up.
Q. Have you gotten anything done for this new ride or are you planning anything when you get to Chicago?
P.J. CHESSON: I've got the coolest sponsor ever for the Chicago race, and hopefully the future as well. His name is Jason Dussault. He's got a company called Dussault, Inc. He's got really cool sweatshirts. He draws crazy designs on them. There's this green monster thing on the car for Chicago.
I've been getting a lot of nudging about getting tattoos for the Chicago race. I don't think it's going to happen for Chicago. Who knows. I've been talking to Jason about designing some other tattoos. We'll have to see. I'm not surprising you with any tattoos in Chicago.
Q. At any point during this time out did you say, I may be done?
P.J. CHESSON: No, I didn't. And I think that's part of the reason why I'm getting this shot. I mean, of course, you might have your moments of weakness. I stayed really focused with my training. Just staying positive. I've been around my family a lot. Just been pushing.
I mean, it's not a nice thing when you feel like you're staring failure or you're having a difficult time trying to achieve a goal that you have.
You know, just to stay fit, stay focused, that's -- there's not really much I've been doing. Just travelling to the races and training, staying strong.
Q. Did you ever say, Why me?
P.J. CHESSON: Why me in what regard?
Q. Why can't I get this?
P.J. CHESSON: No, not really. Nobody owes me anything. I don't feel like anybody owes me anything. There's no reason for me to say, Why me? The way I look at this, this is the greatest thing that's happened. I believe that everything happens for a reason.
For me to be out, it puts everything in perspective. How badly do I want this? Am I willing to sacrifice a lot of things? Am I willing to fight for this? Am I willing to go through the dark days, be by yourself sitting on the sidelines, your phone stops ringing? There's a whole lot of stuff that happens.
Quite frankly, I enjoyed the experience. It's probably not over. I mean, I still have a little bit of work to do I think as we start rounding the corner for next year. But I'm extremely optimistic and I'm ready for it, man. This is a dream of mine and I'm not letting it go.
THE MODERATOR: P.J., those are the questions we've got for you today. Thank you again for joining us. I appreciate that. We look forward to seeing you in Detroit and then again at Chicago on the racetrack.
P.J. CHESSON: Cool. Thanks, Tim.
THE MODERATOR: Just for clarification, he referenced the name Dussault. The spelling on that is: D-u-s-s-a-u-l-t.
We're joined now by Helio Castroneves. Thank you for joining us. Of course, we know you're in your sixth full season in the IndyCar Series, driving for Team Penske. Helio has 22 career pole positions and 50 career top five finishes in 95 starts. This season he has six poles and five top fives. He won the only other street race on the schedule at St. Petersburg in April.
Helio, let's talk a little bit about Belle Isle. Your first career win in CART came there in 2000. You were able to repeat in 2001. Must be exciting for you to know we're going back.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, absolutely. I mean, I'm thrilled. Have been already many, many trips helping Roger to find out, you know, what's the best area or rough area, trying to fix some areas we can improve and things like that, change the layout.
Doing those trips brought me a lot of good memories. That place for me, I won twice there, but it's a great place, very, very difficult because of the way the turns are, the way the bumps are, things like that. But I'm thrilled to come back.
THE MODERATOR: You alluded to it a little bit. There are some changes to the course. You had the chance to drive the course even a few weeks ago. What are some of the things that are going to make it different this time around than what it was six years ago?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, one of the places that we change, that was actually Roger's idea, it was the back straight. Normally turn eight we're going to be calling it this time, it used to be maybe third gear, kind of like fast corner.
Now we actually extended the straightaway. Instead of making the smooth turn to the right we are making a sharp turn to the right. So the angle, we change. That means it's making every car not only slow down more, but it's a hard braking point. Doing that, it gives an opportunity to passing, it gives an opportunity of overtaking, things like that.
Not only that, but the back straight in the past, they used to follow the asphalt from the avenue. I'm not sure what's the name, I think it's Jefferson. I don't know the name of the avenue. But it used to follow that. So it was kind of like straightaway, but full of turns, full of kind of slow, smooth turns. And that was kind of narrow, very narrow. Difficult to be side by side.
So for the sports series cars, what I gave the idea, it was to put all the walls along the curves, which gives you a really wide straightaway. Even that the street is still doing kind of the S's, with that make really wide, it gives you a scenario of a much better straight line.
So especially in sports cars, when you have a Porsche, GT1, GT2, different series in the same race, that's going to give them at least a better way of overtaking.
So those are the biggest things plus the fountain area, it's full of concrete. Trying to make all the areas really nice and night, especially for the paddock and the sponsors. The rest of it's very, very similar. We kept a little bit -- people still going to think it's a little rough and bumpy, but that's the way it used to be. We try not to take the characteristics away. So I feel it's a very good course.
THE MODERATOR: Three of our last six races have been on road courses. There are differences obviously. Maybe I should ask you, is there a different approach that you take between a road course and a street course? What kind of things are different?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, road course you can push a little bit over the limit. If something happens, you might get away with a mistake or running off the area, coming back. Gives you at least a little more of the perception that you have wider space, things like that.
Now, street course you have to drive very close to the limit, but you can never reach the limit because if you do that one or two laps it's fine, but other than that you really taking a lot of chance for a mistake.
Because the track change so much, the grip, it's not a road course, it's a street course, so the asphalt, concrete, especially now, it changed it a lot. It's going to be a tough one, a lot of shifting, especially from second to third, downshifting from there, as well.
In a street course, you don't have much (indiscernible), you know, like if you went a little bit deep now on the exit, if something happen, the margin of error is much smaller. Plus, because of the walls and stuff like that, it gives you the impression you're in a narrow area, so it's a very different way.
THE MODERATOR: Finally, there was one very exciting announcement earlier today, that you'll be one of the contestants on Dancing with the Stars this fall. Have you ever done anything like this? Tell us a little bit about this opportunity.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, it's a great opportunity I have to say. You know, I'm going to count hopefully on my fans, Julianna's fans. I know she has a lot. Because with my dancing I might be a little bit in trouble (laughter).
I never did that. It's a great opportunity. If I might not be able to do so well, I'm sure I'll learn at least waltz. When I get married, I'll try to use that one.
I'm just going to go have fun, enjoy it. I'm having already a lot of fun. I'm discovering already a lot of muscles that I didn't know exist in my body. So it's very interesting.
THE MODERATOR: We'll look forward to seeing it this fall on ABC.
We'll go ahead and open it up to questions for Helio.
Q. Could you talk about the points race with the difference of four points heading down to the final two races. Talk a little bit about Scott and Dario, who you think might come out on top.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. Well, Scott definitely certainly showed that road courses have been very strong. Dario, obviously he's a good and strong road racer, as well. I have to say that Detroit is going to be a very critical point for both of them.
But difficult for me to pick someone. I do feel now Scott is on the momentum, you know, because of the chasing, the hunting. Probably the momentum is on his side right now.
But, again, you have Andretti Green which have three other cars that might be able to steal some points as well. That might benefit Dario a little bit.
But hopefully, you know, those guys will be able to win in Detroit. I'm going to try to spoil a little bit their celebration and be in front of them. But right now my pick, I would say Scott is in a good momentum.
Q. Talking to you in 2001, you were really hoping the race would continue; looked like it wasn't going to. To have it back, how does that feel to you, someone so adamant about wanting it to stay?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, you know, my place, I always like it. They keep taking away from me. For example, Detroit was one of them, Nazareth, Phoenix, St. Louis. You know, some of the places I really think was producing great kind of race. Thank God I was able to win in those places.
But in the end of the day they end up taking away. Detroit was one of them. I'm extremely happy the IRL decided to put not only Detroit but also another street course. I do believe the series, everywhere we going, like Sonoma, for example, there was a lot of people in Mid-Ohio, a lot of people.
So it gives you that people really enjoy open-wheel cars, especially turn right and left. Not because NASCAR does the oval all the time, that we need to do exactly what they doing. Our cars in the past used to do like that, remember it used to be almost half and half.
People that are very good in the ovals compensate that people are very good on the street course or road course.
So I do feel it's great to have this around, hopefully continue in that direction.
Q. Isn't Detroit the first place you climbed the fence after you won?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: You're absolutely right. It was my first ever win in a major series in terms of IndyCar Series. It was my first win in 2000. It was the first time I did actually climb the fence. No doubt that place bring me good memories.
Q. With you being on Dancing with the Stars, the different dancing there, what will be your forte? What are you strong in now?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: In dancing?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't think I'm strong on anything on dancing right now. I thought Samba would be something that I might get away with it. But after three days of rehearsing, I can see that I need a lot of practice.
But I have to say that it's extremely hard. You people that think you can dance, oh, boy, I mean, it is very difficult. Especially me, my sport is I'm sitting, and now you have to use a lot of balance. You have to use a lot of legs, especially like kind of squat. We don't do that on the racing.
It is quite a big challenge for me. But, hey, I'm taking everything I can. I know I'm gonna try to listen as much as I can to try. The problem is sometimes I do understand, but the problem is getting my body to do what I understand.
It's been fun. I have to say I broke some laughs the last few days. Today was fun, as well. I just learned Mambo. If you see on TV how I'm dancing Mambo, you're going to be, Wow, I never saw Helio doing something like that.
Q. Do you think you'll get some tips from your other competitors in the IRL?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, boy, I'm not sure they're going to give me tips, but I'm sure they're going to take advantage and play with me around. So, you know, hey, I'm sure some of them might need me for teaching some moves. The only thing I say, my price is going to go up in the future.
Q. As like an Indy 500 winner, not because Kanaan is in the middle of it, but Tony in the latter part of that race the other day was protecting Dario's position or helping him protect his position. As an elder statesman of this series, is that something you agree with?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. It's hard for us to comment when we're not in that situation. I remember I was in the situation similar last year. Wasn't for the championship, it was for the win.
You know, it's a little bit harsh, but Brian said in the driver's meeting he would not tolerate a similar situation like that. I'm not the one to judge or point fingers. Thank God I was able to make a move, get away from the mess. I was trying just to get my win.
But, obviously, if he intentionally did that, it's his way of helping the team. I don't know if I agree, but obviously I'm not in that situation. The only thing I can say is Brian did say he would not tolerate. I don't know if he might do something or not.
For me it's not a big deal, especially since I'm not in the middle of it. I don't want to get in trouble and try to see who is right and who is wrong.
Q. The time you're referencing, was that last year at Sonoma?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, that's correct. It was very similar to what happened when Tony was kind of running out of fuel and Dario kept -- Marco, but let Dario pass by. That was very frustrating.
But, hey, sometimes you got to do what you got to do.
Q. Would you do anything to help a teammate? There's a line at which you'd help a teammate or not. Does that cross the line for you? Would you do that for Sam?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, certainly obviously I wouldn't take somebody out or be stupid, which I don't think is that case with Tony, you know. But it's tough. The track, it's very difficult, especially in that space, you can play a lot of tricks, make it look like, hey, it's just a corner, the type of corner.
But I don't know, it's difficult to comment. I hope I won't be in that situation. I hope Sam will be in my shoes.
Q. You were so involved in not really designing, but helping Roger put this racetrack together. Do you think you have an advantage because you know so much about this track?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. You know, when I was with Roger, with our car, I was actually looking around, trying to get the gears, stuff like that. 'Cause even if there is no walls I wasn't trying anything crazy, but it was very similar. Imagine if there was a wall, I was trying to go as fast as I could.
But the point is, when I go back there it's gonna be a totally different place. They gonna have the walls. They gonna have the fans fence. They gonna have everything painted. For me, I think it's going to be the opposite.
It might be difficult because the way probably two months ago when I just ran, for me now, it's going to be like, Whoa, it was so much different when I ran here, now it's so different.
Probably you take the opposite of the fact, but there is nothing we can do about it. I'm trying to make -- in my opinion, I'm still thinking people are going to say, I thought this was going to be something different, smoother, like that. Well, you trying to change some, but you cannot change everything. You have to keep the characteristics of the place.
I don't think I'm going to have an advantage, but certainly I'm going to try to remember things I did in the past and hopefully that will be my advantage.
Q. At a racetrack like this, if you're a four-car team such as Andretti Green, you're trying to get in the championship, and you just left a racetrack where you were able to block allegedly, this would be a perfect place to do that again, wouldn't it?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, you're very right on that. Especially street course, but also Detroit. Yeah, that's why one of the corners, turn eight, we change a little bit, because it does gonna give you like you're blocking. We try to make a really hard braking of the
If there is this scenario, it might happen there. But you're right, the other places it will be very difficult for Brian to call and say, Okay, he's blocking or he's not. But that's the way it is.
Q. The Dancing with the Stars thing, do you feel like the IndyCar Series has a lot to gain as far as you making this kind of appearance, showing your personality and everything to a wider audience?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I hope so. You know, obviously Danica was a big deal when she came to the series. We gained a lot of fans, especially little girls to watching, trying to becoming the future Danica.
Now, you know, being a race car driver, still active, hopefully -- well, aside from the dancing, but hopefully doing that, it's able to still capture people. The audience, Let me see what this guy do. Because most of the people out there, well, that's what I understand on the past, like people to relaunch their career, bring it back from retirement, stuff like that.
I do believe it makes good for them. So if we still active on this kind of scenario, I'm sure a lot of people will start watching the race, like I wonder how that dancer/race car driver will do on the racetrack.
So hopefully that's our strategy. Hopefully make that happen. That will be just good, positive for everyone.
Q. How hard did the PR guys of the series have to push you to get you to do this?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, they didn't have to do much, to be honest. Most of it was Apollo, which I met him at Indianapolis. He the one that start talking to all the producers.
They really liked the idea. I'm not sure if I was the first one of the cast, but certainly we were very early on. It was awesome to have this kind of scenario. The IndyCar Series and everyone is really thrilled to have me at the Dancing with the Stars. I'm sure they will do anything to continue like promoting, and hopefully those next five to ten weeks we'll be able to take as much advantage as we can to bring the more fans to our series.
THE MODERATOR: Helio, thank you for joining us. Those are all the questions we have for you this afternoon. Appreciate you joining us. Good luck this weekend in Detroit.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, the next Indy Racing League teleconference will be next Thursday, September 6th, 2:00 eastern. We will talk with our championship contenders.
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