Team Penske President Tim Cindric met with the media Friday to talk about the team's new alliance with Shell-Pennzoil and other topics. Full transcript:
Q: Can you talk about the significance of bringing back a sponsor to IndyCar, especially one that has a strong history in our racing?
TIM CINDRIC: Anytime you bring on a sponsor, the whole Shell-Pennzoil brand, it continues to build the momentum. I know they'll continue to put more and more, I guess awareness, about IndyCar racing behind it, as have the IZODs and Verizons of the world that have recently come on board to continue moving forward the sport.
Q: You mentioned that Rick Mears and Team Penske have a history with Shell-Pennzoil, winning the Indy 500. How historically significant to the team would it be to have another win in the Pennzoil car and have Helio join Rick, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser in a Shell-Pennzoil car?
TIM CINDRIC: I'm sure it will generate a lot of excitement on a lot of fronts to see another four-time winner at Indy, especially during the centennial.
Q: Tim, last year it was a great season for Will Power, Helio had success, Ryan Briscoe some. It wasn't probably the final result you wanted. What's in the plans for the coming season and where do you need to improve to win that championship?
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, like you said, if we look back in our history, I think last year is one of the most successful years we ever had when you look at the number of poles and races we won as an organization. But we fell short of winning the Indy 500 and winning the championship. Those are the two marquee things within the series, the two things we strive for. The rest of it is building blocks for that.
So, going forward, the thing that we were most focused on for 2011 is ensuring we could bring the three drivers we have back into the fold for next year. It seems as though that's going to continue.
To last year add a third car and have that car compete for the championship, we're proud of that, because for anybody who's been in the business, it's difficult to put a third car in and continue to keep a level of success. When that third car becomes a frontrunner for the championship, it's something that's important, for sure.
That said, we probably were a little weaker than what we needed to be in the pits. I think we took two A-teams and we made three B-teams out of two A-teams. I think we need to approach next year with three A-teams in the pit lane.
I think every year you go, when we ran the Indy 500 last year, I felt like qualifying first, second and fourth is a pretty good feat there. We were very strong in the race, we just didn't execute. We need to continue to execute when it's our day.
Q: Tim, can you confirm that all three drivers are signed and what are the primary sponsors going to be for all three?
TIM CINDRIC: Obviously this is the primary sponsorship for what we're going to have at Indianapolis. I think with regard to the other races for Helio, stay tuned. We'll continue to announce those as they're available, as we will with Ryan.
I'm confident that all three guys will be on the track all year next year, is the best I can tell you today.
Q: So, just to make sure I got this right, this [Shell-Pennzoil sponsorship] is for Indy only?
TIM CINDRIC: It's Indy only. I'm sure you'll see that livery in more than just one race this season. We wanted to announce the Indy 500 program and Helio now. We'll continue to build on that. But I'm sure there will be more to come.
Q: Tim, last year I think Helio thought perhaps he could win that fourth Indy 500 and step into that upper echelon. How tough is it? To win one is tough, to win two is great, to win three is incredible. Where does everyone have to improve for him to have a shot at winning four? Is it realistic this year?
TIM CINDRIC: Certainly I think his team won the pit stop contest, sat on the pole, was at the top of the charts most of the month. Then in the race we stalled in the pits. Tough to fight your way back from that point in time.
It comes down to execution. No reason to think we can't be right there in the mix. I don't see anything that's going to change that would keep him from having a great shot.
Q: Tim, there's been some reports circulating about possibly having Sam Hornish run the 500 next year. What are your thoughts on that?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, I'd love to see Sam run Indy next year if he wants to. We always told him if he wants to run Indy again, he needs to raise his hand and we'll figure it out. I don't think that's any different than years past. I think the speculation is coming from the fact that he's one of those in stock car land, and we haven't been able to put a program together for him next year. I know that's what he wants to continue to accomplish. That said, I know that the Indy 500 is near and dear to his heart. I think we don't have any plans for that yet.
Q: There's no planning going on for that right now?
TIM CINDRIC: That's exactly right. If he wants to run the Indy 500, we'll figure out a way to run the Indy 500 with Sam Hornish. He's that good. But we're certainly not ever going to force him into doing that or do something that would change his career from the path that he wants it to take.
Q: Going back to the relationship you have Pennzoil. It's more than a sponsorship announcement. You have a technical partnership with them as well.
TIM CINDRIC: Both on the lubrication side and the fuels and that type of thing. Technology is very important to them. Some things are restricted from a cost perspective. They're not only involved with us to have their name on a racecar; they're involved with us in an overall partnership in racing, that involves technology and that involves our businesses. We ship millions of gallons to all our different businesses. It's obviously an important piece of business that we're in.
Q: Tim, the off-season has seen the announcement that Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus are all going to join the series in 2012 as engine manufacturers. What do you think as far as getting rid of the spec series tag?
TIM CINDRIC: I think that adds competition among the manufacturers. You increase the awareness. I think it's going to move the needle in terms of awareness of IndyCar racing and continue the momentum that IndyCar racing has now.
I think from a technology standpoint, it allows the manufacturers to continue to develop their technology. When you're looking at direct injection engines, you know, regardless of maybe some of the constrictions they have, they can continue to develop that technology and things that work in that environment. That's something that's very important to the manufacturers.
For the competitors, competition is typically good. I think that the IndyCar Series has seen the pluses and minuses and how it will continue to benefit the series.
Q: Tim, with Chevrolet coming into the mix, is it important for there to be a race in Detroit again on Belle Isle? Do you think it's a possibility in 2012? Should there be an event in the Motor City?
TIM CINDRIC: Obviously, my boss has a lot of passion for that. The question is whether or not the Motor City and those related to that race are in an economic position. Roger got the ball rolling there and stood behind it all the way to the point where the economy fell down. I think the economy and how folks in that area were positioned – call it the midyear point next year – if they can make the commitments that it takes to support that race, absolutely I think it should be there, as does Roger. It's just really a matter of whether or not it can support itself.
Q: How exactly did the partnership with Shell and Pennzoil come together? Was IndyCar an important part of that partnership?
TIM CINDRIC: Well, we're trying to diversify our program from where they were. I'd like to say that overall as an organization we're able to offer them a complete package, and it certainly did have a lot to do with the overall association, I would assume, as has our history and legacy.