Q: Obviously, this week the rain's been a factor. What have you been doing to kill time?
“Signing stuff, signing stacks of hero cards and photos. You know, there's just not much you can do, really. I mean, you know, there's not been that much track activity, so there's not even that much to talk about when it comes to the car, either. So, what did I do yesterday? Worked out. You can work out a little bit longer when there's nothing to do. I don't know, organize the bus, throw old stuff away, all that stuff that you can do like what you would do at your own house.
“But it's disappointing because, you know, this is kind of what I was hoping wouldn't happen with the month, is that rain would be a factor – because it's much more impactful since there's lost track time. But I'm sure everybody will get up to speed and it will fast-forward the programs, and maybe some top speeds will be sacrificed and maybe some comfortable cars will be sacrificed to just extra downforce. But I'm sure we'll make it work.”
Q: A lot of people talk about how at a normal IndyCar race, you practice for an hour and a half, then you go out and qualify and then you run the race – but this isn't a normal IndyCar race. Do you think more thought probably should have gone into the fact that this format only works in a perfect weather situation?
“Yeah. I don't know. I mean, I'm sure that there were some logical reasons to shorten up the month, like money. And maybe – I don't feel the trade-off, because I don't own a team, but maybe it is worth the trade-off to the team owners. There are a lot of entries, so maybe that's why we have so many car entries as well. I mean, think about it – in years past you'd see 90 percent, 95 percent of the field out there the first week, and then you'd see cars that planned on starting on the second week, probably for the money reason, obviously. So maybe that's why we have so many entries to start with.
“But, yeah, I just hope that it doesn't take away from the racing, because the longer we have to make the cars better for all situations, the closer we can run to each other out there on the track and inevitably the better the racing is. So hopefully it doesn't take away from that.”
Q: Saturday trying to make that first nine in qualifying, do you sort of sandbag early to not show your strength, or do you go all-out? Is it a different philosophy?
“I don't think anyone really knows exactly how it's going to shake out, except we know when the track is the quickest due to humidity and ambient temperature and stuff. As cool as it can be and as good for horsepower, which is important around here, the beginning and the end of the day are usually the best. So, I imagine there will be no sandbagging whatsoever; it's the Indy 500. You never know what you're going to be up against on the next round.
“I actually view the first run to be probably one of the most important to getting into the top nine, just because it will be cooler. I mean, you can lose a mile an hour at least just in conditions. You work your butt off to find a couple of tenths a mile an hour with setup and things like that. So I think that first run is going to be really important.”
Q: We saw the old video of you as a little kid talking about the Indy 500. You've had a lot of different things going on in your life since then, a lot of different endeavors, but is the Indy 500 still that one thing, that ultimate goal? If so, how do you approach it, knowing it just comes around once a year despite everything you have going on?
“I said on the way out of the track yesterday – I had somewhere to go – ‘If only there was an Indianapolis series, we could race like tons of time here,' but I guess then it would dilute it all. So, that's the excitement, that you're only here the one time, and it is the biggest race of the year. It's the biggest race in the world to me. And it still is. As I said when I was 13 or 14, or however old I was in that video, when I said that the only thing, only trophy missing from this room is the Indianapolis 500 trophy, that's still true.”
Q: We can remember times on qualifying day that you wanted to go back out again. I've talked to a couple of people this week who said they wished that that decision was still in their hands. Do you like it better this way having it not in your hands, having to go back out there again?
“I didn't see what was wrong with it before, so I don't know. I'm not going to criticize it until I've done it, but there was nothing wrong with it before. It was exciting. I mean, last year was the first year I ever re-qualified, and I had runs two times and I was in line and I think I would have been the last car to run, and where was I? Eighth or seventh, I can't even remember where I qualified. But I just remembered that I thought I had a shot at getting up into the top few positions and, you know, maybe a pole. But, shoot, being in the front row is fantastic. I just remember getting pulled out of line because…I don't know why. You have to ask somebody else why I got pulled out of line.
“I was ready to go, so that was exciting. Disappointing for me, but exciting for the fans. Part of the game is that there are cars that shouldn't be in line that are in line. So you have to take into account those cars. You know, it's going to just be like normal qualifying shootout-kind of stuff with the top nine.
“I don't know…I mean, you can go from 10th to the top five positions pretty easily at the end of the day if you fix your car up or if you didn't have a good run on the first run. So, I don't know.”Q: Helio Castroneves is going for his fourth Indy 500 win, and obviously as a competitor you don't want to see him get that. But the drivers in the garage, can you kind of empathize on how special it would be to be part of that, something that hasn't happened in this generation of drivers?
“Rick Mears is around, and he did it four times. If it's not you, it doesn't really matter. Everybody wants their own win. I was saying last night as I was driving by the [Castroneves] billboard that said ‘Triple Triumph,' I'm like, ‘He's got three, some of us want just one, even.' I mean, that's great for him. It's a massive accomplishment, for sure, but it doesn't affect me.
Q: How important is a good spotter – in the case of this track, two spotters?
“I think spotters can be overlooked, for sure. I think that their value comes with lapped traffic and things like that. Accidents happen. The other day when [Dan] Wheldon spun, I saw it in my rearview mirror. I saw the smoke, I saw the fire. I mean, I saw it. So there's a lot of stuff that we see as drivers, but one thing we can't really control is what the driver ahead of us knows. So, blocking or things like that, drivers not doing what they're supposed to be doing, they need to be on it – and on it with the official up top with the spotters and the other driver's spotter. Lapped traffic comes, and I'll be like, ‘Hey, let that car know that I'm coming. Let's be proactive.'
So, I think spotters can be very useful. But, you know, at the end of the day, you're still driving the car. It can take away some risks if, you know, a spotter is working hard for you.”
Q: In years past, you've kind of come in here and have been the big story. But this year it just kind of seems like with the way the season started and with some of the other story lines that are going on, you're not as much in the spotlight as you were. Is that something you relish, kind of being off the center stage a little bit, or do you want to be back to being the big story?
“No, I'd like to be the big story because it usually means I've done something good! But, I don't know – what is the big story this year?”
Q: Helio, the new format, fast nine?
“Yeah, so we're talking more about racing. We're talking more about the activity and the racing. And Helio has been fastest both days, so he's well deserving of that media. So, yeah, I would love to be the lead story, but it will come when good things happen. If we get out there and I'm quickest today, it will be the story then.”
Q: You've got a couple of new women added to the field this year. You have a lot of experience that they don't have. Do you give them any advice or have you talked to them?
“No. I've met Simona [De Silvestro] and Ana [Beatriz], and they both are really nice. They both have talent. If they ask me a question, I would answer it. But, you know, I don't even see them. It's funny how you can all be in the same area so often and – even my teammates sometimes – you cross paths, and if we didn't have the communal engineering room where we are around each other all the time, you don't see very many people. Just because you head out to pit lane and you do your thing, and you come back in and you're in the garages and we're in garages with no windows. So it's amazing how little you see people. I probably see more people in the gym than I see out on the racetrack.”Q: The other aspect of the new format that has not really been addressed is the importance of the points. How do you feel about the vast amount of points being issued for the top qualifying positions?
“I didn't know this. What is this situation?”
Q: Pole is 15 points. Front row is 13 and 12, and it goes progressively back from there.
“Interesting (laughs). Well, I might be making more than one run then. All of a sudden now if you're eighth or ninth, there's a reason to go back out again. I mean, that's kind of one of the other things I was thinking is that if you're eighth or seventh or something, you're inside of the third row, that's not too bad. Is it really worth risking going out there and either going slower or doing something even worse? Not really. I mean, is it? I don't know, unless you think you can get the front row for sure.
“Yeah, there will be more reason to. So I guess it's good they put some infrastructure in to make that happen. But, to be honest, I would think that those would have made more sense previously when we had an entire week to warm up for this, but now it's like a little here, a little there. It's not really dedicated, it's not dedicated on any level to qualifying. It's both qualifying and race. So it would have made more sense in the past when we had an entire week to do this. It was almost like qualifying was a race, you know. Now it's a little diluted.”
Q: As you learn more and more each time you race and you get older and wiser, how much easier is it to get over when someone takes you out in a crash? Is there such a thing as people holding grudges still, because I know some drivers have long memories. But do you get past that?
“Depends on how dumb it was. I mean, if it was a completely bonehead move, then you're going to be mad. If it was a racing accident where it was, ‘Oh, well, I did a little of this; they did a little of that,' then what are you going to do? It was just something that happened, and you took a risk, probably. So, you know, I would have to say that you still get just as mad no matter what, no matter what point in your career you're at.”
Q: You said that you haven't really had a chance to talk to the other four female drivers. Do you think that in some ways they may be a little intimidated of coming up and asking you for advice?
“I guess it wouldn't be normal necessarily for any driver to go to another driver who's not in the team and ask for advice. So that's probably the situation. I'm sure that all these drivers, guys and girls, they all have people within their team to whom they can ask their questions. So that's probably the biggest reason, really. I would have to say it's really just because if you're not on the same team, it's not convenient or normal.”