Transcript of media teleconference at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.Q:
Ryan, let’s get your take a little bit on the season so far. A win at St. Pete, some bad luck cost you another potential win at Kansas, but still second right now heading into Indianapolis has got to feel pretty good.RB:
Yeah, it feels great. I think especially our performance in Kansas was very encouraging coming into the month of May. Last year at Kansas we struggled a little bit and it really looks like we’ve picked up our game a little bit at these one-and-a-half-mile ovals and hopefully that translates over into Indianapolis as well.
But it’s great – certainly kicked off the season much better than I had last year. I’m just so excited it’s May already.Q:
For just about every race you can ask a driver about that weekend and you can hear him say, ‘If we can’t win it, we need to get a good points finish for the championship.’ I don’t know that I’ve ever really heard anyone say that about the Indy 500. Is the focus on Indy solely on winning the race?RB:
Well, yeah. I can pretty much say we’ve put the championship on hold for a few weeks here. We’re just focused on trying to get the big trophy here this month. You can pretty surely say it’s bigger than the championship, this race. You don’t really get remembered for coming second at the Indy 500. Definitely a lot of focus on trying to win this race.
But, being my fourth start here, it’s really the first time, though, coming into it where I feel as though I’ve sort of got the confidence and the experience where I can actually have a legitimate shot at it. Just really excited that we’re carrying good momentum coming into the race this month.Q:
With that being said, what’s the game plan as you come into the month? You have a couple days, obviously qualifying and pole day on Saturday. What is the game plan as you approach the month?RB:
It gets going pretty quickly. The first week is all about getting the balance into the car, getting it tuned in, and then by the end of the week feeling confident enough to start trimming out and getting ready for qualifying. Saturday we’re already going for pole. Most importantly, if you can’t get the pole, you need to try to at least get qualified on that first day so you can start working on race preparation.
But, there’s not a lot of time to be messing around or running into trouble. So we need to be smart about the running and hopefully just keep things simple and keep things running smoothly, get ourselves in a good position to have a good day on Saturday for qualifying.Q:
You qualified on the front row last year. What are some of the keys that it takes to put in a good run and get up front or even win the pole?RB:
You need to be able to trim this thing out as much as possible. It’s hard. You need to get a good balance to begin with, and then step by step just keep trimming it out a little bit at a time until really the car starts sliding around too much where you can’t stay flat.
But the conditions change. The wind at Indianapolis has such an effect on the car’s performance and balance, you just really got to keep an eye on that. I think that’s where having the experience of a team like Penske behind me, that’s where they can help so much, with just keeping things on track. With Rick Mears, as well, he’s always been a great help here, where he just keeps you focused on the right things.Q:
The qualifying format at Indy obviously is different from everywhere else we go with the 11 cars on each day and three attempts per day. Once you’ve put in a time fairly early on Saturday, what is your personal preference? Do you kind of like to sit back and wait and see how that stands up or are you a person who might prefer to pull it off the board and go out for another run?RB:
Well, you just watch the conditions. I think the last two times I’ve gone for qualifying here, you know, ’07 and ’08, the track has gotten better throughout the day, times have gotten quicker. If you want to go for pole, you have to sacrifice your first attempt and go for another one.
But the good thing is before you withdraw your first time, you can practice. You can test and go out and see if you’ve picked up speed. So you can sort of have a bit of security behind you whether it’s going to be a smart move or not to take a second attempt.
But traditionally it has been necessary to go faster. In ’07, I was lucky enough we didn’t take that second attempt. It was important to be in the top 11. I think I ended up qualifying seventh for my first attempt. But all the guys that were going for pole, they really had to put it on the line and take second and third attempts to go for it.Q:
After you make that first qualifying run, you mentioned you have the opportunity to go out and practice some more later and you’ve got some media obligations. What else do you do in that downtime if you get the first run in the first hour or two hours? What kind of things do you do while you’re waiting?RB:
We’re in the engineering office going over the data, checking to see what small setup changes we would like to do to the car to pick up more speed. And at that point when we’re qualifying and we’re so trimmed out, we’re talking about the smallest of setup changes because they have such a big effect on the car when you are that trimmed out.
So very, very small changes, just fine-tuning, just trying to pick up those few tenths of a mile an hour to move up a few spots or defend your position. But you also need to eat and relax a little bit and reserve a bit of energy. It’s amazing how much energy just four laps around Indianapolis when you’re going for pole can take out of you.Q:
Talk a little bit about your success at Indy in general. We mentioned the first year you had a top-10 finish, moved up 14 spots during the race. In ’07 it was a one-off and you finished fifth. Last year a front-row start and ran well for most of the race. You seem to do really well here at Indianapolis.RB:
Well, I hope so. I hope I can do better this year. I love that track. I love the race. I just love the whole atmosphere. But in previous years, I’ve always sort of gone into it without that much experience or current experience going into the event.
Coming off of a full season and coming off an oval where I just ran strong, I really feel good going into it this year. And hopefully we can just keep things simple. I know I’m going to have a fast car, but it’s such a tough race, anything can happen. A bit of luck on your side can always help, as well. Hopefully we just keep things smooth and it all goes well.Q:
Talk a little bit about the situation earlier this year with Helio (Castroneves) and Will (Power). That involved those two guys primarily, and you were kind of off a little bit to the side. Was that a distraction at all for you in your preparations to the season?RB:
No. I’ve sort of gone about things as I would. But obviously lots has been going on with the team. It’s probably harder for those guys. Especially Helio not doing the first round or any pre-season testing. I’ve got to tell you in Kansas last week, it was like nothing had ever happened. Helio was his old self, as quick as ever. Just regular combos within the team.
As for Will, he’s been such a great addition to the team. He brings so much talent. Obviously it’s difficult for him not doing all of the races, but I think this has been a huge opportunity for him. I’m really looking forward to working with him as a three-car operation this month.Q:
You’ve got a new engineer this year, Eric Cowdin, came over at the end of last year. How was that adjustment period and what has he brought to your car and Team Penske?RB:
He’s great. He’s just such a great guy and very good to work with, extremely intelligent. But he’s coming into a situation where the team also has a lot of experience. We’ve just been combining the knowledge and not doing anything big, just keeping things as simple as possible.
He’s got a lot of motivation to do well, as do I, as does the whole team. He’s really been an amazing addition. He got to work with Roger (Penske) for the first time in St. Petersburg. They’re obviously getting to know each other and everything is going great. So he’s just a great guy to work with.Q:
We have a long month of May ahead of us at Indy, then we’re off to Milwaukee where you got your first IndyCar Series win last year. As you mentioned earlier, you got off to a little bit of a rough start there. Was the win sort of a catalyst for the rest of your success last year?RB:
It certainly seemed that way. I can pretty much say my season began in Milwaukee last year. Everything prior to that, I just kept running into trouble, just couldn’t have a thing go right for me. But after Milwaukee, things really turned around for me. We were able to get a couple more wins and move myself up from, I don’t know what I was before Milwaukee, 18th or 19th in the standings, and worked my way up to fifth in the standings. So it was great. Milwaukee had been a very tough track for me in the past. To come back with Team Penske and get that win was just so special.