Helio Castroneves. Tim Cindric, Will Power, AJ Allmendinger and Rick Mears meet the media at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
MODERATOR: Tim, I know you have something to say regarding Roger Penske, who is unable to be here with us today.
TIM CINDRIC: I just wanted to, on behalf of Roger, send his regards. He's a bit conflicted this week for sure, as he had promised he would be at the Mille Miglia in Italy this week. When he made that promise, he wasn't quite sure how it all conflicted with pole weekend. So anyway, it's in the midst of it – next they'll or four days competing in the Mille Miglia with Mario Illien. So he started that process last night – actually ran in to a bit of a mudslide, so he called me actually at 10 o'clock here. So he'd just gotten to the hotel for the first round of that. So he's having fun. It's good to see the boss do something a little different than work. But he certainly misses being here at this place, but obviously he'll be here next weekend.
MODERATOR: Start with the junior member of the team, AJ Allmendinger. So was this on your bucket list, seriously?
ALLMENDINGER: Yeah, I mean, back when I was in Champ Car and growing up through open-wheel racing, this was the pinnacle. I always wanted to be here and, you know, as the split happened and Champ Car wasn't here, and I never got the opportunity to run here, It was always disappointing. The Memorial Day weekend, it was always difficult sitting at home watching it and not having a chance to run it, especially being a Indy car driver at that point, and obviously over the last seven years being in NASCAR, just to watch it on TV was kind of always a thing Sunday morning before the Cup race – I'd sit there and watch Indy 500 and just always wanted to be here. Always did, and, you know, happy to have the opportunity to be here with Team Penske and for Roger to give me the opportunity to kind of live out a dream and to be here with no better team than Team Penske. It's kind of a dream come true. And having to deal with Will and Helio a little bit for two weeks straight gets a little much. Today Helio was singing Taylor Swift to me. It was rough. It was hard. (Laughter). But other than that, it's been a lot of fun so far.
MODERATOR: Is there anything similar from the Champ Car that you drove to these things nowadays?
ALLMENDINGER: No. Not that I remember. The problem was, since I've got back into this racecar, I'm just trying to remember, was it this hard to drive a Champ Car? You know, seven years of a Sprint Cup car, it's – everything that I've learned back in my open-wheel racing that I've gotten used to, you know, it took a couple years switching to stock cars to really feel comfortable in the car. And the roles have gotten reversed since I've come back here. Try to get used it to again and understand what this car likes and how hard you've got to drive it to be fast, especially on the road and street courses.
It's been a tough challenge. I really enjoy it, though, and I feel like the first two races I've had decent speed in the racecar, decent race pace. Haven't had the finishes to show it, but Will and Helio have helped me out a lot since I have come back to really just bring me into the race team and, you know, make me feel like actually a member of the race team, not just a part-time, third-time car. You know, it makes me feel like part of the team, and hopefully there's little things that I've brought to the team that hopefully help them, my energy level, my excitement. My charm and good looks. (Laughter).
MODERATOR: Of course, Kurt Busch was here and did the rookie orientation, a lot of speculation as to whether he might do the double. Is the double something that you might want to do some day and think you can?
ALLMENDINGER: I think I could, but it's got to be the right situation. This year wasn't the right situation to try it. There's so many things that have to line up perfectly to be able to make it happen, and do it the right way, not just to say do it. And that's the big thing.
You know, one day, you know, one year maybe, maybe the right opportunity is going to show up and everything falls into place at the right time and that's the right year to do it, but I hope we're all celebrating after Indy. I wouldn't be worried about the 600.
MODERATOR: Now, Rick, you are in a great position of being experienced, needless to say, on this racetrack. What do you teach these guys? Or can you teach them anything?
MEARS: Can't teach these guys anything. Obviously, all three of these guys know what to do, they know how to get around these joints and how to drive racecars. I think with A.J., obviously, it's more of a matter of laps. Like he said, getting comfortable, getting back in the swing of things, getting comfortable with the team, working with the guys. With these cars working on the timing on the racetrack as far as traffic goes, that kind of thing. That's just laps. That's all it is. He obviously knows how to drive a racecar; all three of them get around this joint pretty well. So I just kind of stand back and watch if anything pops up that I might be able to help with I try to help. That's the main thing.
MODERATOR: Now, if Helio is leading on race day, and he's got a full lap on the field, and you're seeing him as a member of the four-time winner club, will you throw a bottle on the track or anything to keep him from joining your club?
MEARS: I haven't decided yet. (Laughter).
MODERATOR: Helio, what do you have to say about that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I say that Rick, he didn't win four, he actually won six and a half. (Laughter) Because he's – he's been there since my first one. And certainly without him and the Team Penske I would not be able to do what I did. So hopefully, at the end of the race I will get another one, and it will be a dream come true.
MEARS: I'd go for that.
CASTRONEVES: OK. Good. I dream every night, obviously. But we're working very hard to make that happen. We have three fast cars, very competitive fuel. The course today is a different day, we'll focus on qualifying, increasing the boost level. So speed's going to increase, and it's going to be interesting.
MODERATOR: Do you still get the chills when you get out there for the first time?
CASTRONEVES: When I walk into this place, I get the chills. It's just amazing. We went to the museum the first night and to see all the history of this place, it's incredible. It's never the same. Always there is something different. And obviously in the situation that we are right now, we're certainly feeling very confident, but we know what we need to did, as well, there. So now we're looking strong.
MODERATOR: By the same token, is it different the night before the race here? Do you have a little more trouble sleeping or relaxing?
CASTRONEVES: Certainly you don't rest as well as you wish. Because first you got to beat the traffic, which is always a good thing. And second, you know, you're thinking about a lot of things. We're talking about 500 miles; there's a lot of circumstances that could play in your favor and could go against you, as well. And I have to say every time in any race but especially this one, when you start playing the national anthem, and the Indianapolis song, everything. It's just kind of like "(Back Home Again in) Indiana," thank you. (Laughter) So I knew it was something like that. I didn't know how to say it. (Laughter).
So basically that's when the butterfly goes in your stomach. And it is awesome. Especially when you have the crowd there, oh, my God, guys, it's the best feeling in the world.
MODERATOR: Will, how's the month gone for you so far?
POWER: It's been interesting. You know, I think just trying to work out a good racecar. Obviously qualifying is such a different thing because you have a different boost levels, so probably going 6 or 7 miles an hour quicker.
ALLMENDINGER: Really? That fast? You didn't tell me that, Rick.
POWER: So you probably won't being as good as you were. (Laughter) But yeah, I mean, we're just trying to get good car in traffic. I can tell it's a very competitive field this year. You can't really see anyone that's sticking out as being the quickest. So it's going to be interesting, I guess, come qualifying day to see when everyone's on the track by themselves see where they stack up. But we're still working away and, you know, just hope to have a good solid racecar and see if we can qualify up front somewhere. Pole would be nice.
MODERATOR: Tim, elaborate if you will on this boost increase and how you deal with it in terms of setup and so forth.
CINDRIC: It is a bit challenging. I think it's difficult sometimes for the fans to understand as well because there's an anticipation typically of the speeds building through the month, and then on Friday you have this large buildup in terms of the speeds. And the teams, it's difficult for us to actually work on qualifying setups throughout the week until today. Today we have a weather situation where you might have rain from 3 o'clock on. It kind of amplifies the day. But today's the day when the pressure really starts to mount in terms of for the drivers and really trying to understand how to get ready in a very short period of time. And understanding how the speeds will then affect the balance of the car. It's a lot to ask of these guys to have that increase in speed, this 5- to 7-mile an hour difference, where they'll get – you know, if it rains today two or three hours of that today and then right into qualifying tomorrow morning.
So it's very challenging and, you know, I think that it's good in terms of the overall impact to the sport to continue to go faster on qualifying day. It's just difficult to do that in a very short period of time like we have. But I'm certainly an advocate of trying to set new track records here, so I think we need to continue to work toward the right balance of safety and speed.
MODERATOR: So 230 is likely, you think?
CINDRIC: I think you'll see 230 in terms of the times in practice and tomorrow morning. In qualifying, I think it really depends on the engine manufacturers, and I think that's yet to be seen. But I guess last year I think it was a low 227. So I think 230 might be a stretch. So I don't want to put that expectation out there, but I think we'll see those laps with some draft.
Q: Each of the drivers – well, in fact both of you, Rick and Tim, can weigh in, too. What is it about your love of the Indianapolis 500 that keeps bringing you back? What makes it special to you personally?
ALLMENDINGER: For me, I mean it's the prestige of the race. You know, it's one of those races, and it may be the biggest race in the world when it comes to, you know, if you're not even a race fan, you don't really know anything about racing, but you say you won the Indianapolis 500, they know that's pretty special. And for me, that's something that the first time I signed with Penske last year, you know, you walk into the main office and the Borg-Warner Trophy is there with the helmets of everybody that's won the race. You know, for me, it's like as soon as I walk in, being a NASCAR driver, at that point that's special right there. You see what that means.
And to me, just to – it would be special to have my face on that trophy, have that trophy in your trophy case. And, you know, once you become an Indy 500 winner, that will never be taken away. You're part of a special club. And that to me is what makes this race so amazing is the fact that, it doesn't matter who you say it to, if you say you're an Indianapolis 500 champion, that's pretty special.
MEARS: Pretty much the same thing. For myself it was, we had heard about Indy, listened to it on the radio early on. Then finally when they came out with a little bit of the live coverage growing up. But for me it was way out of my league. There was no way. We were just racing around home for fun as a hobby and recreation, and I never even thought about coming here until about six months before I actually got into an Indy car.
I didn't dream about because I didn't think it would ever happen. There was no question. So to be able to accomplish that and hook up with Team Penske and the right organization and have the tools to be able to accomplish what we have here is just incredible.
POWER: Much the same as Rick and A.J. said. I didn't realize how big the event was until I'd actually been through the process of the month. Couldn't believe the media coverage, and Race Day is the biggest eye-opener when you walk out into pit lane and just the amount of people. It's phenomenal.
And apart from all that, it's a challenge of getting it right because, you know, it's such a hard place to get right in the car. And when things aren't working, you don't even want to be out there. It's just so hard. But when they do work, you have a good car and you're passing people, you know, it's the best feeling in the world. So it's a very unique place, nothing like it in the world.
CINDRIC: For me it's pretty simple. I grew up watching all the history being made. And to be part of and have the opportunity to work with these guys and Roger, it kind of all puts it full circle and perspective for me to understand how difficult it is. I watched my father try and win this race with an engine for 30 years and he never got that done. And to have the chance to be part of five of those is a big deal.
And, you know, Rick, I tell the story all the time about the time when I was kid he went back and got me a hat. And I never forgot that. So, you know, to work with him and these guys, it's a big deal for me.
CASTRONEVES: Well, several things. History, challenging of going for 500 miles in this place, when you're able to accomplish that, it's just an amazing accomplishment. And drinking the milk. It's all about, do you want to be there. I guarantee everybody's thinking I want to drink that milk. Those are the things.
Q: Helio, has there been a change, sort of a transition in mentorship between you having Rick your rookie year and then now seeing somebody like A.J. coming in, have you kind of taken over that role of kind of being his mentor and teacher here? I know he's not a rookie to the Speedway itself but to these Indy cars?
CASTRONEVES: It's amazing. Helping Jr. here – it's been quite challenge, you know (Laughter). Certainly Rick would be my mentor. I don't know if I'm Jr.'s mentor, but I'm certainly trying to keep him in line, but he doesn't need much to be honest, he seems to know exactly what he wants, and it's good.
Q: I know weather is a key factor, but every time you take a lap on this oval, what are one or two things that you always have to remind yourself and be aware of?
MEARS: Well, you say weather. One of the key things for me around here was always the weather. Just worry about the weather coming in and setting your strategy when you need to get what done. But as far as the track, we were talking the other day, every time you roll out of pit lane here, like during practice today, the last thing I did as I rolled off was look at the flag, see which way the wind was blowing, what it was doing. Because you always have to figure that into the equation of the change you made on the car. How much of it was the change, how much of it was the wind. So weather as far as all four corners is always changing on you with the wind direction. Temperature changing, they're very critical and sensitive to that. So weather is a key factor at this place.
ALLMENDINGER: I think for me it's just every day is like starting over, just kind of a reset. I guess in a way you never want to get too comfortable. For me it's just going out there and I kind of just reset my mind, and those first laps are always – kind of got the nerves built back up just because, you know, I watched this race for many years, and talking to everybody, it's about, you know, "You've got to respect this place every lap." Because I think as soon as you let your guard down a little bit, like, "OK, I got this place," that second will bite you.
And as Rick talked about the wind, I'm starting to become familiar now as an Indy driver because you wake up, and a couple days ago opened my hotel room window and the trees are blowing, I'm like, "Oh, crap." So for me, I've got to start over every day, just a little bit, just kind of work back up to it.
POWER: The wind is so bad around this place, especially with this car, more than the previous car because it's a little bigger. And, you know, the wake that's left of the car in front is a massive deal. I mean you totally change the balance, so it's really hard to get the car working around that. That's something you've got to always be aware of when you go out.
CASTRONEVES: Yes. weather always plays a big factor at this place. And like junior said, you've got to reset every time you come out there.
Q: Tim, I would like to ask this question to Roger but maybe you can answer. Do you think Team Penske will ever build its own chassis again, like it did in the past?
CINDRIC: I think the answer to your question really is obviously to determine on which way the direction of the series goes in terms of what is allowed. At this point in time it's not an opportunity, it's not something that's really in our short-term future. I don't think it's in the short-term future of IndyCar because of the agreements that they have.
But we do feel like this place was really based on innovation. There's a balance between having 33 participants at this race, and if you were to open up a complete innovative scenario like what it used to be, I think you'd really struggle to fill the field. So there's a certain balance where that can be. But I think it's somewhere beyond where we are now. But to the extent of Penske building an Indy car, I think that's probably a ways away.
Q: Helio, can you take us through your first three wins a little bit? I know each of them are different, but this is kind of looking forward to maybe getting number four. Is there anything you can take from those first three as you look back and say, "OK, I need to do X, Y and Z in order to get number four?"
CASTRONEVES: Well, I look at those, and certainly those are the ones that may have happened, but I look more at the ones that didn't happen, why? Because the recipe was there. You know, we know we can do it. And I look more at the races that we didn't do it. You know, 2003 I have a very fast car, and unfortunately we got caught in one of those scenarios where we finished 3/10ths behind my teammate. 2005, I think we finished third when rain came unexpected, and people took a gamble and just went with what we could tell. I mean I look at those more than actually why. Especially last year, for example, why we didn't have a better performance than we did?
So, the other ones that we won, for me the first one was just knowing a little bit and understanding and listening a lot of what we had to say. The second one was an opportunity to put ourselves in and be able to took a chance and gamble. And the third one, it was – the car was going extremely well. And we took advantage to make a move at the right point and keep going.
So it's all about putting ourselves in that situation, and the key to this place is when. That's the toughest part to find.
Helio, you touched on it a little bit, but talk a little bit more about what it means to have three wins here and have a fourth. And do you feel fortunate? How do you sort of explain being able to do this given the frustrations that so many race drivers have had here?
CASTRONEVES: I feel blessed to be in this opportunity, to be in this elite group, I feel blessed. Certainly, as you said, there's a lot of guys, lot of races, and being in very good position, unfortunately it wasn't meant to be. But again, this place is more about there was so many things that can go wrong, and so few things that can go right. So that's why this team's won 15 times because they found a way to look for those moments that it makes right.
But for me, certainly I'm happy. But I still have a great chance to keep going. And until this team and myself have the fire inside to go and try everything we could, we're going to keep trying.
Q: When you try to tell the millions watching on television, you know, what you're thinking, that we don't know, if you're coming off Turn 4 and you're about to win, Will or A.J., your first Indy 500, Helio, your fourth, Tony Kanaan says if it happens for him we all know he'll be thinking about his dad, the promise he made to his dad. But for you three, coming off of Turn 4 about to win your fourth and joining a very elite crew, or you guys about to win your first, where do your thoughts go? Who do you think about? Who's the first person in your mind that you think about that's so special that makes this day?
CASTRONEVES: Get off Turn 4. Complete Turn 4. (Laughter) We've seen before when that did not happen, unfortunately! But you've got to be focused. It's a tough question. For me, you know, I only look at the checkered flag. I want to make sure I see that checkered flag first and then just thank God. For me it's just, "Thank you, God; you first put me in this position and to do what I love to do."
ALLMENDINGER: I think for me, do I look ahead to that moment? It's too far away. Way too far away. This is kind of a step-by-step process day by day, and for me right now lap by lap. And, you know, I don't allow myself to think, you know, what's it going to be like when I come off the corner to win the race. There's so many things that got to happen in this race even have an opportunity to win the race, let alone actually have it happen. I don't even want to allow myself to think like that, you know, what happens.
And, I want that moment, if it does happen, to just be in the moment, you know, and I don't know what it's going to be like. I don't know if I'm going to be – there'll be so many emotions that run through, but I won't allow myself to look ahead. You know, that's something that, as it happens, it happens. We got a way too long of a time before we get to that point.
POWER: Yeah, I mean, it's – I couldn't imagine. I just couldn't imagine the feeling of winning this race. It'd just be – you know, it's a life-changer. So, yeah, like A.J. I just haven't thought about it. I mean, it's such a process to have that happen. So many things have got to go your way. It's just got to be your day. It's such a funny race that you could never predict who's going to win. That's what makes it pretty cool, makes it great for the fans. If you happen to accomplish winning the Indy 500, I mean it's the biggest race you'll ever win because it is the biggest race in the world, A.J.
ALLMENDINGER: You will get that billboard in Toowoomba?
POWER: I might get that. I probably could get the billboard. Maybe even Australian of the Year (Laughter).
ALLMENDINGER: Adam Scott won the Masters – you ain't getting that.