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INDY RACING LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
March 28, 2007
TIM HARMS: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have two guests with us today. Joining us in a few minutes will be Indy Pro Series driver Stephen Simpson, and to start the call we're very pleased to have two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves. Good afternoon.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good afternoon. Thanks for having me on the program.
TIM HARMS: Helio, driving for team Penske, has won 11 races in the Series, including the Indianapolis 500 in 2001 and 2002, and he was the winner on the Streets of St. Petersburg last year. Helio, last year you won four races, the first one of those came at St. Pete. What will it take for you to get another victory down there this weekend?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, try to repeat exactly what I did last year. It definitely was a very interesting race. It was very tough. I didn't have the space, so we were basically pushing all the time, and I think physically it was very demanding, not only myself but every driver. As long as we keep our heads up, obviously be careful with traffic, and you have to finish.
TIM HARMS: Is there one part of that track that really is key to the race that can really make a difference in the outcome?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, obviously the layout of the track is very interesting because you have a long straightaway with high speed and probably the most -- I don't want to say easy, but the last difficult place for you to overtake, and the rest of it is very hard. You just have to take chances.
But in the end of the day, the slowest parts are the ones that if you're really fast you're going to make up a lot of lap time especially. Low downforce, high downforce is the question, and that's what makes this a very unique place here.
Q. One of the changes that I imagine will affect the race this year, or could, is the fact that the IndyCar Series changed over to 100 percent fuel grade ethanol and went to the 3.5 liter engine this year. What kind of a difference do you think that will make on the street circuit at St. Pete?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I believe the fuel, basically it's not as much of a problem as the compensation on the power. They went from two liters to three and a half, and that might be a little bit difficult, especially with those tires, towards the end of the stint. So that's where you're going to have to be careful, to take care of the tires and obviously make sure that the car is well set up.
Plus the 22 gallons, basically new fuel system, which used to be 35, I think the pit stops like in Homestead were very fast, and basically you will probably be in the same direction in St. Pete but with an exception, the three corners, that means in and out laps are going to be very important.
Q. Can you talk about what the difference with the car being lighter is going to make with the lighter fuel load? How much of a difference is that going to make in the handling and how much of a difference did you notice at Homestead?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, basically Homestead, the good news is you don't have much of a weight transfer from full fuel to low fuel; it's about 22 gallons. When you reach 15, and probably 12, that's the half tank basically. It didn't change much more than the tires in Homestead.
Homestead it was a very interesting scenario with the new tires that Firestone came, it seemed to be that the tires -- the good news is the rear was always stable but the front was going off a little bit.
I believe here on the road course, I mean, street course, it will be very -- the rhythm of the race will be extremely fast because the fuel is a little bit less, making the car lighter.
Also the lap time will be a little bit faster. You're going to have to pace yourself and make sure that you literally don't run out of fuel yourself basically, otherwise it might be easy to make a mistake.
Q. I realize it's still early, but do you have any sense of what all this will mean come the 500 in May?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, as you mentioned, it's definitely early right now, but it depends what Firestone is going to come with the tires, if it's different tires or tires from last year, and I do believe right now, with only ten laps lower in the full stint compared to last year. So that means, again, it will create a very interesting strategy, different strategy, and no question saving fuel is becoming much more important in a long race than in a two-hour race.
Q. I understand you're engaged at this point. Can you talk a little bit about how that's affected you either on the track or off the track? Are we going to see the same Helio?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, yes, it's not really my personal status, it doesn't change what happens inside the racetrack. I'm extremely happy that I found someone to share the good moments and the bad moments unfortunately, but always in life you find balance. And balance, it's the best thing you can have.
Sometimes you try to find only one direction or thinking about too much in one way and you're never going to get what you want. But I have to say that I've been fortunate to find someone, and I'm going to be the same Helio as always, hopefully in the next few years, to make sure when I'm out there in the car I'm giving 110 percent.
Q. I remember a couple of years ago when Sam got engaged and you were giving him a lot of grief over that. Is it payback time now?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: (Laughing) well, even though he changed quite a bit, he's still not in that direction. But I have to say one thing, all the guys that got married, they got a championship, so maybe it's a good direction that I'm doing right now.
Q. Dan Wheldon when he was on the call last week said that he noticed with the new engine that it seemed to have a lot more horsepower in the lower gears, and he thought that was going to have a lot of play on the street courses and the road courses, and in the higher gears he thought the engine ran pretty much the same. Have you noticed any differences like that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes, thank you for that. No question that the engine feels much better on the bottom end. I even thought that on the yellows it would create a little bit of trouble. But thank God, I didn't hear any problem last week.
But yes, on the road course, the street course, at least with the test that we had in Daytona, I felt that the car was spinning a little bit more, the wheels, and making a little bit more challenge. I have to say that even St. Pete, because it's a street course, it's not normally a permanent road course, you will definitely have to be thinking about to take care of your tires, especially towards the end of the stint.
So it will be an issue. I do believe people already start looking into it, so we just have to -- it's going to be the first race, and I'm sure a lot of people will learn a lot.
Q. Are there any goals that you specifically set for yourself this season?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: A lot, a lot of goals. One was winning Homestead, and I guess unfortunately it didn't happen. But I have to say that St. Pete and the rest of the upcoming season is just the beginning, but it's very important. I set my mind to collect as much points as possible, even the last year but a few points I lost the championship.
If I have a good car, I'm going to go for it. If I don't have a good car, I'm going to try to finish. I hope with that mentality we are going to accomplish this championship.
Q. You mentioned the points race. It did come down to that last race; you and Sam and Dan and Scott were all right there together. Do you look back at last season with any regrets?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, not at all. Disappointment and frustration, it maybe had a little thoughts, happened once or twice, but now it's the 2007 season.
I would not change anything what I did last year. The whole team did exactly what they were supposed to do, and unfortunately things outside of our control stopped us from winning a championship. So hopefully this year we'll continue to control and avoid those problems from last year.
Q. Sam has taken some spins around in the Busch Car and Dan apparently is also considering it. Have you thought anything about stock car racing?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes, I did, no question it was a topic and the talk of the moment, or at least on the last five years. Well, I want to finish my -- I want to accomplish and finish my goals. That means Indianapolis, I know I can still do extremely well and win another one, and the championship that I'm really looking for. So with those accomplishments not being done, I don't want to just stop and go for another challenge, and I prefer make sure that my time is right, and right now I don't think my time is right to move, and my time is right to stay and conquer the championship.
Q. So much of the road courses being a part of the season this year, 30 percent, if you couldn't say yourself, week in and week out on a road course, who is the guy you'd be aiming for? Who is the standard?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I would say that Dan, after the first practice, or at least the only practice we had at Daytona, he seemed to be very comfortable. That might be a challenge.
The good old guys that I used to race with in the go-karts and even the other series, like Tony, Dario and those guys, and Scott Dixon, they're going to continue to be a challenge. Plus Sam, there's no question, he's a very quick learner and he's going for his third year on this track, so I'm sure he's also going to surprise a lot of people.
Q. Right at the top you said Dan because the phone was a little staticky?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's correct, Dan.
Q. Is the discrepancy -- you talked about the guys that you raced with in cart and go-karts. Isn't it just the amount of experience that they have, that that group of people, particularly you and Tony and Dario have, in these style of cars? I mean, all the testing you had, all the laps and races, the quality competition you had?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it certainly helps, but no question, like Marco, for example, surprising and winning the race last year doing extremely well, which for me -- I was right, in a gearbox he never put a wheel off the racetrack.
People that have the talent and get comfortable on certain tracks, no question they're always going to succeed or always going to surprise. So again, yes, experience does help. More time in the car does help. Everybody is already -- the people that have enough time to get out after two years, three years.
Q. On the street I would assume Dario is kind of "the guy" going back to your earlier days?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, he's always a challenge. Last year he was very fast until he got a technical problem. I expect him to also be very fast here, and it will be extremely challenging, those two teams, Andretti Green plus Ganassi.
Q. Can you talk a little bit about you guys -- it seems like you're constantly being asked about going to NASCAR. Is that a bother when people keep asking you that question? Do you feel it takes away from what you guys and women are doing every week? Nobody goes to these NASCAR guys and says, hey, are you going to go race somewhere else because they believe that's the pinnacle of North American auto racing. Talk a little bit about what that feels like.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it doesn't bother me. Certainly the reason they talk about it, it's because you've said yourself, it's becoming so popular, NASCAR, that it's natural that, hey, are you interested in going to the most popular series in America. It is kind of just natural, you know, a trend I'd have to say, when you're facing those challenges.
But my opinion about that, obviously hopefully open wheel series will go back the same way it was before. Unfortunately we still have to wait for guys to make the decision and put this thing together. But meanwhile, like I said before, I'm still facing and still looking at my challenge here and in the future, as well, to stay here.
If my time permits or if I still accomplish everything in open wheel, obviously the most challenging or I would say difficult task will be to change, complete what I learned for all my life and change and accept the challenge and try my best.
A good race car driver, he might take longer or shorter time, but no question, you will be becoming to understanding the way to drive. Today it's a very challenging place for open wheel guys, but I'm sure it can be done.
Q. Could those guys come and race in open wheel?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't know. If you ask them -- I wish they would because Indianapolis is one of the best races in the world if not the best race in the world. It would be great to race against the best guys, Tony Stewart and those guys, and it can be done, too.
Q. Your friend and competitor Dan Wheldon, he seems on a mission this year. Do you guys have an answer for him? He looked like he was pretty tough there at Homestead.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, for a while last weekend I thought he was in a different series. When I was racing in the Sebring, you have two class, and all of a sudden the way he passed us, it was extremely sad.
I have to say, well, he found a car. Out of the track, the car seems to be good. Even crashing at Homestead over the spring training, you can see that the cars do extremely well. It's very hard to -- only if something goes wrong to stop when everything goes in the right direction. He had a good start, but not many drivers had a good start and did not win the championship.
Hopefully we will change that, and obviously road course is the first street course coming, and I'm going to try to stop him from getting a good result.
Q. I watched IndyCar a lot and have been there a lot. I don't think I've ever seen anybody pass that many cars in that quick a time that he did. It's just like he had an afterburner in there.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I felt the same, but I was right there, and when I saw him coming by, I was like, Wow, is he legal? They should drug test him. But he still did a good job.
TIM HARMS: Thank you so much for taking the time to join us today. Appreciate that, and best of luck this weekend and for the rest of the season.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you.
TIM HARMS: We're joined now by Indy Pro Series driver Stephen Simpson. Thanks for joining us. Stephen is a rookie in the Indy Pro Series driving the No. 24 car for Kenn Hardley Racing. He finished 11th in his debut last weekend at Homestead. He has a strong road racing background. Most recently he's represented South Africa in A1GP, earning a pole position in two top five finishes.
Before we start talking about road racing in St. Pete, let's talk a little bit about last weekend. How do you feel about coming out with an 11th in your oval debut in the Indy Pro Series?
STEPHEN SIMPSON: Well, I think oval, I was just talking to Kenn Hardley, my teammate at the moment, and I think it's probably the only time in my life that I'm actually not too disappointed about finishing the weekend in 11th position. I think considering that I came quite late, I only managed to do one day of testing while I did my rookie test on an oval, and then with the limited track time at Homestead, I think before the race I might have had 45 minutes of track time, so it's a very smooth learning curve for me.
But I learned a lot throughout the weekend, and it was great to get my first oval race under my belt. I think I've still got a lot to learn, but I can't wait for my next time in the car on an oval, which will probably be at Indianapolis next month.
Q. Now obviously we're transitioning to the street course where I'm sure you'll be more comfortable. How do you like your chances coming into the weekend?
STEPHEN SIMPSON: Well, for sure, I think thanks to the circuit on Friday, I think I'll be a lot more at home with what's going on. So of course I'm looking forward to it. I'm certainly going to be aiming high and hoping to score some good points in both of races, so yeah, I'm confident.
Q. Now, as I understand it, you've raced double-header weekends before. The A1GP has a lot of double-header weekends. What do you like about that format, having two races in the same weekend?
STEPHEN SIMPSON: Yes, I really enjoy it. The more races the better from my point of view. And yeah, I think it's going to be good. It's a nice three-day weekend, and I think it gives everybody a chance.
Obviously if you don't have a good race on Saturday, then you've got obviously a chance to improve on Sunday, and vice versa. If you don't have a good first race, you've always got another opportunity to improve on Sunday. So I really enjoy the double-header weekend. It's obviously more time in the car, which is what I most enjoy.
Q. And one of the things that the Indy Pro Series does, of course, on its double-header weekends is invert the top six finishers from the first race for the start of the second race, which honestly led to some good passing up front last year in some of those races. Have you been in a series and a situation that's kind of flip-flopped the leaders like that? What do you think of that format?
STEPHEN SIMPSON: I haven't been in a series that has had a field like that. I've obviously watched many races (inaudible), and obviously good entertainment for the fans. I'm definitely all for it. I think obviously the winner of the first race is probably -- would probably be a little bit disappointed, but if you finish in sixth place in the first race obviously it's fantastic for the Sunday race.
I think it's a great idea, and it makes the race exciting. Hopefully I'll be one of the six drivers who is in that pack.
Q. Let's look a little bit long-term. I think a lot of drivers look at the Indy Pro Series as a way to come and develop some experience to eventually reach the Indianapolis 500. Has that race been a goal of yours in racing? Is that one of the reasons you've come over to the Indy Pro Series this year?
STEPHEN SIMPSON: It certainly has. I've said for a couple of years that if there's one race I want to do in my life, more so than any Formula 1 race, it's the Indianapolis 500. I mean, I'm really excited about this year and the next couple of years. I think I've obviously had a couple of years' racing in Europe, and to come over to America, I'm really enjoying things over here. I certainly hope to make a long and successful career in America and hopefully starting off in the Indy Pro Series and then moving onto IRL at some stage during the course of the next couple of years.
Q. Tell me a little bit about coming from A1, obviously an ultra-competitive road racing series. Tell me a little bit about your first time behind the wheel on an oval. What was that like?
STEPHEN SIMPSON: (Laughing) it was certainly an experience. I actually did my first oval test and my rookie test at Nashville, and it was fantastic. I think that it's completely different to racing, to sort of road racing or street racing. So it took me a little bit of time just to get up to speed and feel confident in the car and just get a feel for how the car reacts on the oval.
So I think it's -- I mean, it's a big change, completely different. So from my point of view, I've got a steep learning curve ahead of me, but I hope that over the next couple of months once I've got a bit more testing under my belt and have one or two more races, I'm sure that I'll get the hang of it and learn fairly quickly. But so far I'm really enjoying it. It's obviously -- because it is so different, it's a brand new challenge for me.
So when I wake up in the morning and I go to the circuit knowing I'm racing or testing on an oval, I've got a whole lot more to learn, and it's really exciting. It's a new challenge which I'm really looking forward to.
Q. Do you find a lot of your contemporaries over in A1 are curious about oval racing? Did they talk about it when you were over there?
STEPHEN SIMPSON: They do in a way. Some of them do, some of them don't. I think the general feeling about oval racing is not too many of them want to give it a go. I think a few of them thought I was mad coming over here to do it.
So it's not -- certainly not the sort of thing that everybody is really excited and wanting to give it a go. I think a lot of the people I've spoken to are happy racing on road racing and street racing, but then again, I mean, there are a couple of guys who I get along well with who have come over here and who have raced in ovals for a few years.
I mean, from my point of view, I hope to make a long and successful year in America, and most of that or at least half of that I think is going to be oval racing. Yeah, like I said, it's a brand new challenge for me. I'm really looking forward to it. I'm really excited to learn about it all and work my way up to the front of the field.
Q. Not to bring up a bad subject, but you were behind those accidents over the weekend. What did you think of that when you first saw it?
STEPHEN SIMPSON: Yes, obviously they weren't very nice. I've never seen so many half cars in my life. I mean, certainly it's not very nice at all. It happened, and obviously I wish the drivers involved all the very best and a speedy recovery.
But I think it's a reminder to all the competitors how dangerous oval racing can be. So sure, I mean, it wasn't very nice to see, but at the end of the day, it's all part of the risk that all of the drivers take. So yeah, I think it's a reminder as to how dangerous oval racing can be.
Q. How do you put that behind you and move on to St. Petersburg?
STEPHEN SIMPSON: I think from my point of view, being involved in racing for a long time, I accept the danger, the nature of the sport. So yeah, I mean, I just try and put it behind me and put my head down and focus as much as I can on the next race, and obviously St. Petersburg being a street circuit, it's a completely different mindset. I'm going to be trying to keep what happened last week with regard to the accidents out of my head and focus 100 percent on doing a very good job this weekend.
Q. Here's a totally different question. Have you seen the circuit yet in St. Petersburg?
STEPHEN SIMPSON: I haven't been there. I have watched several of the races last year on video, so I've been doing as much homework as I can. It looks like a great circuit, a really good street circuit. So I can't wait to get out on the circuit on Friday and really experience it for myself.
I'll be at the circuit tomorrow having a walk around the circuit trying to find out as much about it as I can and do as much homework as I can on it. But it looks like the organizers have done a fantastic job and put together a fantastic event, so I can't wait to be a part of it all this year.
TIM HARMS: Stephen, thanks for taking time to call us and we're looking forward to seeing you down in St. Petersburg this weekend.
STEPHEN SIMPSON: Thank you so much for having me.
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