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July 30, 2006
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our second-place finisher, Vitor Meira. His third second-place finish in 2006, seventh second-place finish in his career, sixth top-five finish of the season.
Vitor, tell us about your day.
VITOR MEIRA: Well, first of all, I want to congratulate Helio. He did a very good race. I think we were the two fastest cars there. The Revive USA Panther Racing, it is amazing the job they do. I mean, with what we have compared to the real big teams, with how late we start, it's amazing. I just have to put my hands down to John Barnes, Griff, everybody that is part of this team.
THE MODERATOR: Vitor, the race today, 193.972 miles per hour, the fastest race in Michigan International Speedway history, third fastest in league history. You were hustling out there today. Talk about that.
VITOR MEIRA: We were. I kept waiting for a yellow after I lost the lead, but it didn't happen because I knew on the restarts we were really good. But, I mean, it's a proof of how good of a job Honda is doing, not only Honda but the teams, too, just maintaining the cars. The league is doing a great job of making the race competitive. Everybody's doing their part. That's what happens when everybody does very good.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Vitor.
Q. At some point, do these finishes start to become -- do you get pissed off by finishing second, for lack of a better word?
VITOR MEIRA: We come here to give 110%. That's why we come. That's what everybody does. The outcome is a result of the work you're going to do. We took 110% out of what we had to do - not only today, but we've been doing it since John made the call of restarting Panther Racing. I think that's the proof of victory.
THE MODERATOR: We're also joined by our third-place finisher. Dan, your seventh top-five finish of the season. Tell us about your run today.
DAN WHELDON: Obviously it's good for Target Chip Ganassi Racing, making up some ground in the championship. I want to commend everybody in the team for their hard work and effort. Certainly for Scott Dixon pushing me around at the end, we were half a mile an hour I think off of both Penske cars and Vitor. I think we just made the most of what we had. I wouldn't say it's a startling day, but at the same time you come into the series to win the championship, and we did gain points.
I think it's disappointing to see Sam go out, I think through no fault of his own. At the same time I'm here to do a job, to try and make up as many points as we can, which we did today.
THE MODERATOR: Dan, to that point, Helio is now in first place with 376 points, 17-point difference between third and first place. Can you talk about the last three races, the point chase we have ahead of us.
DAN WHELDON: I think we just got to work hard. The Penske cars are very fast weekend in, weekend out. For the time that we've had with the Dallara at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, I think we've definitely made some big gains. But you're up against a team that's obviously one of the best in America.
Roger is hungry to win championships. The guy has won a lot before. He can smell another one. He's going to work as hard as he can to make sure he capitalizes on that. At the same time, so is Chip. We're going to come together as a team, we're going to work very hard, and we'll do the best that we can. That's all we can do.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for either Vitor or Dan.
Q. Vitor, with Sam dropping out, you're scratching your way back up into the points. Talk about how big a deal that is.
VITOR MEIRA: I mean, the way we started the championship, with electrical failure, it's outstanding. That's what we've been doing really good during the season. We've been good on short tracks. We've been good on the road courses, street courses, long ovals. We've been good everywhere. If you take a look the last, I don't know, seven races, we've been always on the top four.
I guess that's what we have to do to climb little by little in the championship. It's a shame that Sam dropped out. I mean, he was, again, there all the time. He's a championship contender. But as Dan mentioned, it's definitely a little good for us.
DAN WHELDON: Let me just chime in.
These guys are going to win when they win. They do a bloody good job. Vitor I think is one of the most underrated drivers out there. Everybody knows that I think Panther perhaps don't quite have the budget that the Target guys and Penske do. I think their time is going to come very soon. Just let it happen and it will happen. The boys, both Vitor and that team, are very, very impressive when you consider what they're up against.
I don't mean that in a bad way, John, that you don't have the budget that those guys do. But what they do with what they have is unbelievable. You should perhaps go easy on them about the victory because they're up against very stiff competition. They're one of the top teams.
VITOR MEIRA: Says the champion. Says the champion, so...
Q. Dan, after the race, Tony Kanaan made some comments that he thought you weren't giving him all due respect. I think he kind of indicated you might be blocking him. Any truth to that?
DAN WHELDON: No. He came up to me and said, Good race. I think he might be upset that my teammate was between the two of us. But, no, I was just running the low line. There was obviously -- I was more concerned with trying to catch these two. I had Chip me my ear, Keep going, keep going. I just tried to run the shortest line I possibly could and catch these guys.
Like I say, I think both the Marlboro Team Penske cars and the Panther car were just a little bit ahead of us today.
Q. Dan, talk a little bit about Sam dropping out, Helio takes the points lead, but it improves your position points-wise.
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, you know, I never like to see that in a championship battle, like a problem with I don't know exactly what it was. But to see Sam go out like that is disappointing, and at the same time I feel like we've had a little bad luck this year and lost some points.
It's very difficult, I would say, to be excited today about the result. But I think, you know, it was just one of those okay races. We were just a little bit off. But I expect everybody at the team, including myself, we're going to work very hard. 16, 17 points in this championship, you can make that up in a weekend, which you saw Helio do in this race. I think everybody at the team is very committed to winning. We'll work hard together.
Just because it wasn't a great result, I got to say everybody at the shop worked hard and the Honda performed very well, again, as did the Firestone tires.
Q. (No microphone.)
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, you're right. Anytime you finish in the top three, it's good from a championship standpoint.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much.
DAN WHELDON: Thank you.
VITOR MEIRA: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by race winner Helio Castroneves, fourth win of the season, 11th IndyCar Series win.
Helio, it's Penske's first team win here since 1991. Tell us about your day.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It was incredible. Obviously I have to thank the entire organization, first of all, for giving me a fantastic car. My group was just absolutely pumped. We were really, really aggressive, especially after Milwaukee. We were disappointed about it, but we were able to put that thing behind us and look forward.
Today we're extremely happy. It's very hard to say what going to happen. When we did the pole position, that work was coming through. Again, I can't thank enough.
But obviously the day was long - long for everyone, long for the fans. I can't believe those guys stick over there, you know, waiting until the end of the race. It was tough in the beginning, waiting in the car for 30 minutes, it was hard. When we start the race, we saw some splash, water coming out of the weepers, you know. But the car seemed to be holding. We didn't have any trouble.
I was just patient. Sam and I working at the beginning of the race together, just trying to make sure we pit together, we get out together. Seemed to be working. It was meant to be today.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. Yesterday you said you kind of wanted to get away from the rest of the field. I don't know if you thought that car you were going to team up with was going to be Vitor. Talk about that stage of the race.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I lost my wingman, I would say. Sam, I don't know what happened to his car. All of a sudden I noticed Vitor in front of me. I knew it was still like a long way to the end of the race. I said, You know what, I'm just going to try to pull away with those guys. He was working pretty good with me. I wasn't trying to pass him. I was just trying to stay away from him, pull away from the field. It worked.
Cindric was also calming me down on the radio saying, We'll take him in the pits, we're saving a lot of fuel. Again, turned out to be great. When we took the lead, we never looked back.
Q. (No microphone.)
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I came to this race, I said, you know what, it's going to be like last race. I was telling everyone, I'm going to drive like it will be the last race. I want to take it all. Obviously we didn't.
But I really take whatever we got today because it was very important. Leaving here with the lead of the championship, it's giving even more boost to the entire team. Kentucky, it's going to be a good one.
Q. Can you talk about getting your first win here and getting Roger's first win here in a long time.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Absolutely. Well, we just saw how many people were there in the Penske Corp. Everyone was really pumped, happy to have us there. Basically this is the background of Roger Penske. For so many years he basically owned this place. Again, he knew what he was doing. And to give this victory today for him, for me it's an honor. I'm sure the entire people tomorrow will be happy in the organization as well. Detroit is kind of the background.
I kind of got my first win here in Detroit in Belle Isle. It's kind of nice to have those memories. Now when I go back here, I know my luck change.
Q. Emotionally you were so down last week. This week you're in the championship lead. Can you describe what that feels like?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's been like the weather (laughter). Sun, then like rain, it's exactly like that. Thank God we end up with the sun.
I'm extremely happy. It was hard on everybody, not only myself but the entire team. Well, that's just to prove that you can't give up, you have to believe. The entire team believe it.
Q. You're now eight points ahead of your teammate, 16 ahead of Dan Wheldon. This has to go down to the end. It's not over.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, absolutely not. The way things going, you know, the consistent guy from now on, it's going to be obviously -- actually, everybody finishing now is going to be very important, those three or four guys. It's been just unlucky after another, you know.
I guess whatever team is going to work together, be patient, drivers, things like that, be in the right spot at the right time probably going to win. That's it. Again, I'm going to go to Kentucky, drive as hard as I did here. Hopefully we can get another win.
THE MODERATOR: For the record, it is eight points separating first and second, 17 between first and third, and 56 points separate the top five.
Q. Before the race, you and Roger talked about how you were changing your strategy a bit here, trying to go for it more often. Was it much different than what you have done here?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, a couple years unfortunately we didn't have the car. I mean, we did have the car, but it was something that Honda was dominating. Nothing you could do about it. Now we didn't do anything different. The car is pretty much the same, except the engine. We joined with Honda. The speed came up.
Since beginning of the year, like Homestead, we were working together. That's what the plan was. Sam seemed was a little bit faster at the beginning. I said, you know what, let's just keep working together, keep going, see what happen.
Yes, I would like to be in front. My car seemed to be running really good on the clean air. But at that point was so early, I was just like, Let's ride. Turn out to be a good ride.
Q. I saw you climb the fence. Those curved fences don't look to be too easy to get up, are they?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: After 400 miles, it was a little hard. The funny thing is, wasn't that, it was the banking. That was the first time I went to the Michigan straightaway. The banking, it's kind of high. Again, after 400 miles, your legs, I'm like, C'mon, legs, go. The leg wasn't responding, especially the right one. I was full throttle half of the race. When I grab the fence, I'm like, Whoa, my arms are tired here. What's going on? Finally I was able to find some cables there. You know what, let's stay here, finish the celebration.
Those are the days I think, What the heck I'm thinking when I did that?
Q. (No microphone.)
HELIO CASTRONEVES: After 400 miles like that, I don't think he probably would be -- he probably would be rolling instead of climbing.
Q. After a two-and-a-half-hour delay, how much better is it to have one of the fastest races in IRL history? The race was quicker than the delay.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it's thumbs up for every driver, I guess, to keep it clean, to behave themselves nice. Different than Milwaukee. I don't know why I brought that up.
But, again, people were able to respect each other. That's what happened. We have a clean race. For me, doesn't mean much. It means taking the lead out of that championship and winning this race. Obviously, those facts, it's great for the record. I guess one day they will be broken, too.
Q. Spent quite a bit of time with the jet dryers drying the track. Even after the race started, there were a couple of places in the weepers that were wet. Did it affect the car at all?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Especially leaving the pits, that for me was the worst on the first pit stop. When we went out, there was little damp. I'm like, Whoa. Sam start going. I'm like, I guess I'm going, too.
But the car didn't move, especially the beginning of the race, Sam was running the bottom. I could see the water coming out. I'm like, Wow. But the car was sticking. I guess we have more downforce to stick the car on the ground.
That's what happened, when we go over those sweepers, weepers, sorry, it sucks the water from the ground. It makes more impression. But I have to tell you, I didn't feel anything.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations. Thanks for your time.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you.
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