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INDY RACING LEAGUE MEDIA CONFERENCE
February 24, 2004
TOM SAVAGE: We welcome Helio Castroneves along with Menard Infiniti Pro Series driver, Thiago Medeiros, to today's conference. Thiago will join us in the second half hour of this call. So we'll start today with Helio Castroneves. Driving his third full season in the IRL, Helio has finished near the top of the Indy Car Series Championship, finishing second in 2002 and third last year. Helio will no doubt be up front again in 2004 and was third quickest in the final Indy Car Series open test which took place earlier this month at Phoenix International Raceway. Helio, thank you for joining us today.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you for having me. I didn't know I had another Brazilian on the line so we might speak in Portuguese now.
TOM SAVAGE: As we get ready to open the season this week as Homestead Miami, things look a lot different at that racetrack. Can you just talk a little bit about the new configuration at the track?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, absolutely. Again, Miami is always very challenging racetrack. I believe with the new layout, having 20 degrees in the banking, in the corners. No doubt about it, it's going to turn out exciting and extremely competitive for all of the drivers and teams. So, again, it's a racetrack that everybody, at least I enjoy it. Finished in the Top 3 the last two years. Hopefully this year, because of the new layout, I'm sure it's going to be more exciting as ever, and I'm sure, as well, it's going to be exciting on the finish line, and hopefully I'll be the one to be there.
TOM SAVAGE: We talked a little bit in the opening part of this call, but you've been so close to winning the Indy Car Series Championship these last two years; it's got to be a goal for you heading into 2004.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, absolutely. It's been extremely competitive. So this year, it's going to be a challenge, again, as we finish so close last year. It's very easy, you know, either you pack home or -- inaudible -- and I believe we're going to be -- inaudible -- so that's why I believe we will be successful.
TOM SAVAGE: You're a two-time winner at the Indy 500. What's more important to you, winning that race again and becoming just one of eight guys to win the 500 three times or to win that Indy Car Series Championship?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, that's a good question. Mostly the Indy 500 is one of the most prestigious race that everybody would like to be fortunate to win. Obviously I want to keep winning and keep doing my best over there. But as far as the championship, that's something that I'll always have in mind, and not only myself, but the entire Marlboro Team Penske. So this year, hope I won't chose one, but I'll choose both of them, Indianapolis and the Indy Car Series Championship. Trust me, I'm not selfish but it's something that I wish for for a long time. We just have to keep working because we know it's not going to come easy. This team is very competitive, IRL is very competitive. We need to keep working as hard as we can.
Q. Forgive me if you answered this before, I just got on here, but during that preseason test that you did there at Homestead, how do you like the changes that were made to the track since last you were there?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. Well, definitely, the bankings are turning out to be much faster average speed. We are going above 218, I'm sure during the race weekend we might achieve 220. So again it's one of those things that is extremely fast, flat out, not very easy, and I'm sure it's going to be a similar race, as Chicagoland and Kansas City. Everybody needs to be really cautious and really careful. Hopefully, look out, you know, on inside and outside because you're not only going to have one or two cars fighting for the lead, but I believe five or seven cars fighting for the lead. Just have to keep watching everyone.
Q. After coming so close to the championship in the past and every year that you don't get one, does the pressure to keep building every year, like saying, hey, you know -- you're still young, but does it get to a point where you say, "I don't know how many more chances I'll going to be up here at this level getting so close to a championship," is it getting to that point for you?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I don't feel that kind of pressure. Actually, a lot of people are participating in the Indy 500 that never win. I don't think they feel pressure. Maybe disappointed might be the right answer. It's just part of the game. That's why motor racing is so exciting. You can't just -- you can't just give up because you win, you lost right there down the line. It's just part of the -- it's just part of the sport. So you have to look back, see what happened and try to fix it. And that's why at least the way I see, I'm always learning my life and I try to learn from those -- for those things to happen. Maybe it happened for a reason or maybe it wasn't supposed to be. So sure, try be competitive and be always there; one day that wish will come true.
Q. Can you tell me a little bit about working with Sam? I know you and Gil were very close. What's that been like in the off-season for you and how are you guys gelling?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, everybody don't remember very well, but at the beginning of 2000, Gil and I, we knew each other, we were not buddies or friends because we were competitors. He's still competitive through the last race of the season last year. But I guess it's a relationship always built up according to -- depends if both want it to happen. Also, Gil was from my country at that time and we are speaking the same language and have the same culture. We'll be able to understand each other no problem. So I guess with Sam now, we fight, we fought -- actually, two years on the championship and stuff like that. First of all, he's not on the Team Penske because he's lucky. He's on the Team Penske, he's talent, he's two-time champion. So he definitely knows what he is doing. So I guess with that, I have a lot to learn with him. I mean, no doubt about, he's fast and wants to win races and the same jacket that I have. So definitely, he does have a different personality than I. He's a little more quiet. I guess that's his way. We all are trying to know him better and I hear the same way, he's trying to know the entire Marlboro Team Penske better. So I don't have any issue so far with him, and I do think that I have a lot to learn with him, and hopefully those informations that he got in the past might help the entire team.
Q. One other thing. You obviously used to race in CART, but now you're with the IRL for a while. Can you -- did you ever expect that this dispute between the two would go on this long, and are you kind of surprised with the length that this has been going on?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, in my opinion, that obviously does not change whatever happened right now in my status of a race car driver. I don't think only myself, but a lot of people would like to have seen one open -- one strong, open-wheeled series. And that's what I wish, and I don't know when, I don't know how, I don't know what kind of name, honestly. I just wish that one strong open-wheel happens, and if it doesn't happen this year, I think time will tell. Definitely Tony George did whatever he could do to make that happen. And I don't wish anything to the other series, either. As long as when the political thing comes a little bit aside, we are just trying to make harmony much better, I'm sure it will benefit not only us, but the press, the public and the sponsorships, which we always need that.
Q. Are you satisfied with what the league has done safety-wise, obviously Tony and his tragic crash and Kenny Brack's crash at Texas, are you satisfied with some of the things that they have done?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Absolutely. They have been trying as best they have been trying as best as they can to prevent any trouble. And again, everybody have to understand, motor racing, it is a dangerous sport. In fact, the safe wall everybody always trying to talk about and now the cars are going too fast. We are trying to pass CART, the downforce and make the cars a little bit unstable, which it turns out to one of those follow-the-leader race. And the attitude that they have in taking the power down, even a little bit of downforce, it is the right way to go. So I back them up 100% and hopefully we don't have any problems in the years to come.
Q. You said a moment ago that when you looked back over the years that you did not win the championship and you looked back at things that you can fix, as you look back, what are some things that you think need fixing?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: When I look back, what do I see?
Q. Yeah, when you look back at years that you did not win the championship, you said one of the things you do is you look back and say, okay, here are some things that we need to fix. Are there some things that the team needs to fix?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, I see . I see. Well, that's a good question. Again, maybe sometimes we go too fast, too soon and that may cause some trouble. I guess all of the things that unfortunately wasn't part of my driving, you know, it just like mechanical issues. When you look at those things, you can't point, oh, what happened or why this happened. You just have to learn from that. So maybe, for example, I think it was Kansas or Chicago -- I'm sorry, Chicago. We had a gear box problem. We need to know why we had a gear box problem. Is it because we are shifting during the race? Is it because some kind of material that we pick it up wrong? So, you know, those things, that's what I look back and say, oh, if you did have those points, we would not be in that spot right now. Again, like I said, it's part of racing. Who you are going to predict, how you are going to predict a thing like that would happen? So you just have to, not only myself, but everybody has to look back and try to fix those things and move forward.
Q. How much of what you do is emotional, compared to actual physical driving of the car, by being emotionally prepared for a championship run?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, every race when you go up there, emotionally, I'm already prepared because as soon as I close my visor, Helio Castroneves is here, climb the fence or exciting or jumping around and having a great time. It's a little bit inside, you know, that guy inside the helmet or racing, it's the guy that want to win, the guy that want to wants to cross all the barriers to make sure that he can go beyond the limits and try to finish where he wants. So winning the championship, it's a combining of putting all of those things together. And mostly we have to wait, hopefully it happened this year, and then you see -- if I want to try cry, if I'm going to smile whatever. Smile is always on my face. So it's just one of those things that you learn, when the situation happens.
Q. Can you pull Sam Hornish out of his shell, so to speak?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, my teammate, ex-teammate Gil de Ferran said, "If Helio cannot do it, I don't think anybody can do it." So let's put it this way: Mostly he's different but he's a fun guy. Give me time. Give me a little time and hopefully he's going to turn out to be all right, which he already is.
Q. With the new changes in the cars and the engines, there has not been much testing with the rules this year, the way they have changed. Everybody seems to think a two-car team has got an advantage over a one-car team and probably they do. But does a four-car team have a distinct advantage over a two-car team, or does it create other problems?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. No doubt about, limited testing creates two issues, one good and one bad. The good thing is for the small teams that does not have the amount of funding or things like that, they will be able to be very close to bigger teams. Although the rules already make that happen. But the bad thing is for us -- the good thing is for us we want to keep testing and developing the cars and the setups. We just have to be happy with what we have. So, getting back to the four-car -- two-car, actually, team, yes, we'll help each other sometimes, test and different things on the car, make a faster setup or finding a faster setup. Four-car teams, it might be very good if they know how to manage. Can be very useful. In fact, I saw them doing like a long run together and it's very unique to have a four-car team running together, especially in practice. So the way that I see, they get along very well and start talking about -- I do believe they know how to manage, they can be very tough. But on the other side, four-car teams, I think it's four times more worse that you can have and if one thing goes wrong, it might affect all of it. So it's just a matter of time, and well, hopefully, hopefully we're going to be able to go much better than them. We'll get out of there with a much better results.
Q. I was wondering if sometimes it might create problems rather than help. I don't know if that would be the case or not.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Let's see. It's just a matter of timing. I guess this year we're going to have the answer.
Q. The last three years, the winner of the first race of the season went on to win the championship; how important is it to win the early races to get a good start?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, last year -- no, the year before, 2002 I won the second race and I won the championship so let's take that back. Hopefully I'm going to win this race and keep the tradition going on pretty well. It is very important to get good points, maximum points as possible right at the beginning of the season. Why? Because, well, we saw that in Kansas last year, he was able to achieve the lead and be consistent and never look back. This is something that you can do, as well, over here in IRL. Again, you at least dictate the pace -- well, there is that saying, like, oh, you'd rather be the hunter or you'd rather be the hunted. In those situations, I think right at the beginning, dictating the pace showed the potential that you have. People are going to be worried about what you think, and that might get you out of your focus; oh, those guys are doing this, so better try those things. And that might be in the opposite side that you are expecting. So hopefully we're going to be able to keep good points, maximum points for Homestead -- Homestead, Phoenix and Japan. And again, you have to remember, you're going to have the three-litre motor, so start all over the place and if you can get good points in three races, that might dictate the champion.
Q. Preparing for Indianapolis with a car of a different engine capacity, will it be like starting over again at Indy?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I do believe so -- not on the setup, mechanical setup. But, well, the manufacturer is going to have a lot of work, obviously, the engine manufacturer. And for us, yeah, you're approaching the corners a lot, around ten miles an hour slower. That just makes a big effect, especially on aerodynamics. So it is starting from zero. But again, you have a whole month to make that car look good and go fast. So I guess that's why Indy is going to turn out to be a good way to start a new rules.
Q. Let me ask you a fairly serious question here. The history of superteams in Indy Car has not been great, and what you have now, two guys that potentially could win both the Indy 500 and the championship, how do you avoid that kind of problem with going the history of what superteams have been in the past?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I guess it's a way -- how to put the puzzles in the right places. In my case, Marlboro Team Penske, well, it's difficult for me to tell, but obviously the results speak for itself. It will be very competitive, not only in IRL, but different series, like NASCAR for example. Those guys -- make something happen, you want everything done. So now having a new teammate, Sam Hornish, and obviously, the other teams like Ganassi, with Scott, the champion and the Greene guys with four cars having a chance. So it depends. Might play the favorite, because obviously team players want to see the team win. If you have -- if you've been playing with those guys, for sure, you're going to have a good car. That's -- with Team Penske and Gil de Ferran, we've always been very competitive and very tough fighting over there. I guess that's the benefit. So, it depends. Hopefully, to answer your question, or in my case, we're going to be the -- we're going to be those guys to dictate the pace. But I know we're going to have to work extremely hard because my friends, it's not easy at all.
Q. The two of you have been fighting each other tooth and nail on the racetrack. I assume you've put some of that aside. What have you learned from each other that maybe could help with that, pushing you ahead of everybody else?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, obviously, Sam I still need help, only a few tests, probably three or four tests, and after that, have the race weekend together. Now I think we're going to learn, we're going to understand and try to see what the quality, what's the -- it's just a matter of time, but we all know that he's very -- inaudible -- I guess this year, I'm going to have -- I'll be the one going outside, outside.
TOM SAVAGE: Thank you, Helio, for joining us today. We appreciate it and we'll see you in a couple of days down in Miami.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you.
TOM SAVAGE: We'd like now like to welcome Thiago Medeiros, Infiniti Pro Series driver who finished fourth in last year's points championship for the Infiniti Pro.
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Hello, everyone.
TOM SAVAGE: How are you?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Hey, how are you? I'm fine. I'm doing well.
TOM SAVAGE: Thiago won his first race at Texas Motor Speedway last October and has put up the quickest times in the two open tests earlier this year at Homestead Miami Speedway and Phoenix International Speedway. Thank you for joining us today. Give us your thoughts as you get ready for the 2004 season at Homestead Miami.
THIAGO MEDEIROS: I'm very exciting waiting for the season to get started. I'm very happy with the results we got over both tests that we had before. My first contact with the team was last year when we were waiting to test at Nashville and then Phoenix. I feel very comfortable with those tests that I made with them and we got good results and I signed with them for this year. It doesn't change too much because we got very good results on both tests, the open tests in the preseason and I'm very confident for the first race of the season, Miami.
TOM SAVAGE: How important was it for to you get that first win last season at Texas?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Oh, it was very important for me. I was fighting so hard during all of the season, and I missed some opportunities to get my first oval racing was Homestead last year. And I made the pole and then I fished in second because I made a mistake with the race. But just keep working. Then I finished second at Phoenix my second race, I started nine, and I could get a win before but most important for me was the last race of the season because after that -- everybody was talking about my win over that race and making me feel very happy and very strong for this season, too.
TOM SAVAGE: In the first two years of the Pro Series, the winner of the opening race ended up winning the championship, how important is it to get off to a quick start in the series?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Last year, Miami was very important because it was that kind of line race and now they change the track and it's going to be like Chicago. Like Helio said, we're going to be more like Chicago and Kansas race. The race is going to be very important for everyone because everybody is going to be fighting for the lead, for not only two front row, but everybody is going to be very close. There's going to be a lot of cars working to get inside and outside and they are going to try to do their best and try to hold the lead.
Q. What are your thoughts about moving up to the Indy Car Series? Is it something that you'd like to accomplish in the near future; are there plans maybe in the next couple of years?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Maybe. It depends on the results that we get. For sure we're going to try to find -- and try to step up to next year. For sure, my engineer, Fernando, is going to be working hard to do this and I am going to be trying to do my best for this year. We are going to make good results. For sure, it's going to be easy for us to step up to IRL next year. I hope that we can do a good job for this year, and both guys will step up for this season because it will be very good for the season to improve the series. The series is very good and we can do a good job on doing the early in the season this year.
Q. Do you know where your fire to drive comes from and when you like best about your job?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: The thing I like most like to do -- when I'm inside the cockpit wearing my helmet. I feel very confident and I forget about a lot of things. I'm just trying to do my best. And I had a very good -- I learn a lot. The first thing, I'm still learning about English here. We have a very strong championships in Brazil and firstly I learn everything in my country. It was easier to learn everything in my language and then come to U.S. almost ready to step up for the big series.
Q. What do you like best about your job?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: I like racing. Doesn't matter where I'm going to be. I'm going to try to do my best and try to get good results and try to get my wins, too.
Q. I wanted to ask you about moving over to Sam Schmidt Motor Sports this year and what difference it makes in term of engineering and also having a good teammate like Arie Luyendyk, Junior?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: I don't have any problems with Arie because we are close friends. He was a guy that made my first test with me in '99 -- the end of 2001. Sorry. I was a very good driver too, and I'm very happy working with Schmidt Motor Sports. Now I have my engineer and my crew chief, those guys, they are wonderful. We have a very good feel inside the team and they make me feel very confident and everything. I feel very comfortable to do my job and do my best and get good results with them with, Team Schmidt.
Q. Did you say you've known Arie since '99?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: No. Sorry. When I made my first test in 2001-2002.
Q. What's it like to be working with Arie?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Oh, he is a very good guy. It's better that you have two good drivers in the same team because we have different drive style and we can compare the data. I have a lot to learn with him. Last year was my first year to learn about curves and oval track, and some tracks it was hard for me and I just had to follow someone. Arie was a good guy. He's a very experienced driver, too, and he teach me some things. I saw his line sometimes and he gave me some help for some shorter strike, like Phoenix, and those were tracks I followed him last year. I found where is the right place to be on the corners and that helped me a lot.
Q. I wanted to ask, you know, Helio was on earlier, and Gil de Ferran, of course, and the success they have had, have you kind of been inspired by what they can do in America, and even going back to Fittipaldi, do these guys inspire you to want to do equal of what they have accomplished?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: I think that everybody has a dream to be driving in the big series now. It's getting worse and hard for everyone because there's a lot more money, I think, than driver talent. Those guys choose American because it's a very nice place to be. They have a good quality of lifestyle and everything. They can do whatever they really like to do, it's driving and try to do our best like I do. And when we are driving, it doesn't matter where we are, we have to find a seat and try to do our best. There is so many drivers all over the world, and this is a sport, it's hard for everyone. We are trying to find a seat and do our best. It doesn't matter where you are.
Q. Last year your one really poor race was the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis. You had an accident there. Is that one you aspire to do better in this year?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: For sure, because Indianapolis races are important for all drivers. The engines are for Americans and everything, I was really very surprised with the track situation. It's completely different than the other track. It's not like only driving ovals, but they have like a lot of very strong straightaways, and then the corners becomes very fast and then you have to turn 90 degrees for the left. It was a very good experience for me. I learned a lot last year and this year, just trying to do learning and do my best. But it's going to be a lot easier.
Q. You've been away from home for so long, what do you do for fun between races when you're stuck here in Indianapolis?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: I'm working out every day. I'm going out sometimes. Indy is a nice place. I have a lot of entertainment and restaurants and everything. I have some good friends and going out with them and trying to keep myself busy. I have a PlayStation and play, a lot of times I spend two hours, three hours, four hours playing game and trying to keep my time busy because here I have a lot of time to do nothing. I've tried to make some friends here because I left my family and my parents, everything, to be here, to be here to do the things I most like to do. But sometimes, I tell you, it's hard, I feel like lonely, but that's the reason I -- I'm here because I want and I want to be a professional driver. And, well, I hope to get a seat next year in IRL.
Q. You spent the entire winter in Indianapolis this year; right?
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Yes, it was the first time I've driven in the snow. It was funny for me.
Q. That's my first question. It's tough off on a guy from Brazil. Tell me about your driving skills in the snow and ice.
THIAGO MEDEIROS: Don't ask me that. (Laughing) Well, it was very fun, you know, but I remember like sometimes when I was driving road courses and like it's very slippery track. I remember the track is very slippery, very dangerous for all the drivers in Indiana, not like professional drivers, but they have to be very careful about everything, about the brakes and especially at noon. A lot of places, because it's wet, becomes ice and everywhere you have to be very careful. But I like it. It was hard but I like the Indiana weather. It was funny, the snow here.
TOM SAVAGE: Thank you for joining us today and we'll see you in couple of days down in Miami.
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