June 26, 2004
THE MODERATOR: We have our runner-up and third place finishers for the Sun Trust Indy Challenge, Richmond International Raceway. Helio Castroneves, the second place finisher, and Vitor Meira, who finished third. We'll start with third place, if we can. Vitor, gamble on fuel mileage a little bit and tires at the end, it almost paid off for you.
VITOR MEIRA: It did. Actually, I think we were in a different strategy than everybody else. One of the stops we didn't do tires, so we gained quite a few positions there. I think was the third or fourth stop that we did, that was our last stop. So when I think was the lap 125, we pitted, and didn't pit since. So was all strategy, all really a good thinking race by the part of Team Rahal/Letterman. I want to thank them to be here.
THE MODERATOR: Were you convinced you would be able to make it all the way?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, if was green all the way, we would struggle a lot. We would have done, for sure. But our speed would have not been really, really good because we were really trimmed out lap-wise, fuel-wise. The last two yellows helped us a lot. Afterwards, we were able to run full fuel and full fast.
THE MODERATOR: Let's take some questions. We'll start down here, alternating back and forth. Questions from the media center for Vitor Meira.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Why didn't you pass Wheldon before (laughter)?
VITOR MEIRA: For the same reason you pass me, I don't know. That was not much there actually.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: All right, good job.
Q. It appeared a caution light was on at the end of the restart.
VITOR MEIRA: After they dropped the white and red and green flag, I think the yellow lights kept blinking. Well, last lap is not a lap that you think a lot. So I thought -- I was thinking too much on the last lap. That's what happened.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Same thing (laughter).
Q. Were either one of you surprised they were able to go to have a one-lap shootout like that?
VITOR MEIRA: I was surprised. I thought we were going to just finish on yellow flag. I was quite surprised actually.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, they told me was going to go one lap green. I was like, "Hey, that's a chance." I knew a little bit what happening. Thank God they did that.
Q. What about Greg Ray did after the yellow with Ed Carpenter at the end?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I have no idea.
VITOR MEIRA: I saw the car come on the high side. I thought they were stop actually. We coming by. So I have no idea what happened.
Q. First 100 laps, it looked like you and Sam were just absolutely running away, turning this into two races. What changed after that first 100 laps?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't know, man. I was expecting it to be like that till the end, suddenly those guys started pushing a little bit harder. Marlboro Team Penske was excellent, everything, pit stops, setup-wise. We just thought that we were under control. But like I said, this series is so awesome, everybody is incredible, every driver, class of the field, teams. So I guess that's why you can't ever underestimate anybody.
Q. (Question not repeated).
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think Dario was a little bit lower on fuel. I believe at that point he has 19 gallons, we had 30 gallons. That's made a big difference. That's why he was able to pull away from everybody until he got a yellow and be able to pit. That's one of those things a gamble works. Sometimes work to you, sometimes works against you.
Q. Helio, you spoke earlier, talking about qualifying, a lot of discussion about the new pavement here at Richmond. 250 laps, how did that turn out? What was the difference running here?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Excellent. You guys, Richmond Raceway did a hell of a job, like I said before. You can ask any other driver, I'm sure they going to be pretty happy. Don't ask the drivers that hit the wall today, but ask the drivers that did not hit. But other than that, the track was incredible. You able to go outside, inside. It was just the package also worked great, the three-liter engine and the bits of downforce. I don't know, what you guys think? Was a good race (laughter)? I wasn't able to watch, I was a little busy out there.
Q. How much do you feel like Richmond has become a part of the IRL schedule now after four races? Kind of talk about next year's schedule being up in the air. How much do you want to come back here next year?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I didn't hear that. Actually first time hearing that. I do believe it's already part of it, you know. It's the only track that we have less than a mile circuit. It is tough because it's not easy to go out there and try turn laps in 16 seconds. I do believe right now what we have, with the surface we had and everything, the package turn out to be great. I'm looking forward. Two seconds in a row, last year and this year, obviously I'm looking forward to coming back next year.
VITOR MEIRA: I didn't hear either.
Q. What you think about Richmond remaining part of the IRL schedule.
VITOR MEIRA: I think that equals my best finish in 2002 in Texas. I would really like to come back here. It's awesome track, really the most physical track we've ever raced, I guess. I'm sure you can ask every driver up there, they are really tired. After lap 150, I mean, I was breathing really hard and was really tired. You can ask everybody, is pretty tough track, and really shows who is really well-prepared or not, so I would really like to come back here. A lot of action, as Helio said. It's a 16 race. It's quite good.
Q. Roger hasn't won here yet, even though you've had nice finishes. Is it starting to get a bit frustrating that you haven't won?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I wouldn't say "frustrated". But if it is frustrating, that's good for us, you know, because you want to go back here with a lot of eager and trying to do better, you know. So I wouldn't say "frustrated". I think we just have to keep working, thinking what we have to do to make it happen. We almost there again, so we don't thinking about that, what racetrack we didn't win or why. We just try to do our job, try to do the best that we can in find a better setup and things like that. All the rest come naturally. I think that's the way it work.
Q. Could you describe going into that last lap how confident you were you were going to be able to stick on the outside.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, man, I was not only 100%, I was 200% confident. When I passed Vitor, I probably -- yeah, man, I was very confident, trust me (laughter). There was no way, no way, that they would stop me.
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, there was a way.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I was going flat out in turn one when I passed you on the outside. I did flat out to catch Dan. Man, if the finish line would be on the back-straight, that would be perfect. But, well, we have to live with it. Good job for them, and we're second.
Q. Vitor, this is essentially NASCAR territory. NASCAR goes and invades Indianapolis for the Brickyard. What do you think of driving and bringing IRL racing into NASCAR territory? What does it offer?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, I think as you said, it is NASCAR territory. But actually right now, all of the place are NASCAR territory. IRL, they put a really good show, as you guys saw. Doesn't matter the track, if it is Texas or here or Indianapolis, they put a good show. And that's going to happen everywhere. I really like to be here, as I said. It equals my career finish, my best finish here. I think IRL is going to be good everywhere we go.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Actually, I wasn't paying attention to the question. I just know I come back here in September, September and August in IROC. Let's see how it's going to be with the NASCAR and everybody here.
Q. Helio or Vitor, this really was the first weekend of action with the SAFER barrier here. Did that affect your line at all during the race while you were lapping traffic, say the exit of turn two or turn four?
VITOR MEIRA: For me, honestly it didn't. It only makes you a little comfortable knowing that everybody on the championship here in Richmond, in IRL, is making the circuit being safer. It's only more comfortable for us. It actually doesn't make any difference. Performance-wise didn't make any difference at all.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Didn't affect me at all, no.
Q. Were you surprised at all that it took a while to get that yellow flag on that last accident?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Which one?
Q. The last one.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Taylor and Franchitti?
Q. Ray and Carpenter, the one that set up the last lap.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: One lap, I think.
Q. Took a while to turn the yellow on.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: On or off?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, we were very confused. I was a little confused because he slowed down, and my spotter said, "Slow cars high." Actually, I couldn't go high because I saw them, and I thought they were stopped actually. Then Vitor slowed down, too. We downshift and everything is like, "It is yellow, not yellow? What is happening?" Then we pass the incident. We kept going. Then the yellow came on. I guess for me it was very confusing.
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah it was. I thought it was going to be a yellow, too. But the spotter just yell at me, "It's not yellow, it's not yellow. Keep going, keep going." Like some half lap later the yellow came on. It was kind of confusing, but I think was confusing for everybody.
Q. How tired are you gentlemen in terms of other races? It seems like in answering questions, it's hard for you to think a little bit.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: What is that supposed to mean (laughter)? Missy, let me tell you one thing, run 250 laps in 16 seconds, you kind of get slow. No, just joking (laughter). No, it was physically demanding. It's the toughest track in the circuit. You push it all. And today, especially at the beginning of the race, I was really pushing. Towards the middle, when you don't lift off a rest, you kind of maintain, that means you still like in a lot of high performance, you know, you giving your best. Towards the end, I would say I was going for it. I guess that's why I'm a little bit slow.
Q. There were parts of the race where Wheldon looked like he was about to get lapped. Do you feel like tonight the fastest car didn't necessarily win the race?
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, I feel like that. I feel that the strategy was a big part of it for everybody. For sure the Team Penske had really good cars the whole weekend. At the beginning of the race, as was mentioned here, they checked out. Again, it's a 250 laps. It's really easy to get lapped. I mean, strategy came on really luckily for us, and it was really not the fastest car that won but the smartest strategy and also the best balance of both speed and strategy.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I do feel that. I mean, but like I always say, sometimes with you're the wind screen, sometimes you're the bug. I guess it paid off for them, and we're second. I'm proud to be second.
THE MODERATOR: We will cut these gentlemen lose for any one-on-ones you might have. The IRL is reviewing what happened in the last lap, and I expect Brian Barnhart, our senior vice president of racing operations, in about 15 minutes' time. He's reviewing what happened and we should come in with some answers here in about 15 minutes.
(Pause in press conference.)
THE MODERATOR: We finally have our winner, driver and owner on hand. Winner of our Sun Trust Indy Challenge tonight, Dan Wheldon is with us, and team owner Michael Andretti. We'll open up the floor for questions.
Q. Is this a case where maybe the fastest car didn't win, but it was the smartest strategy?
DAN WHELDON: Well, I think every time that you get into an Andretti Green car, you know it's always going to be relatively strong. I do agree with you, I think -- I don't think I had the quickest car today, but what helped me during the race was the fact I could run a lot of laps on the Firestones, and the car just seemed to keep getting better and better. More importantly, the rear-end was secure. But, you know, with the teammates I have, I harp on about it, you guys probably get fed up with it, but when you qualify 20th, and you're able to come through and win, it's their help that really does it. Obviously, Tony called an excellent race, and Eddie Jones kind of turned our car around. It's a whole team effort. I have to say that's the beauty of driving for the team. That's what makes it successful. But I think, obviously, there's still a lot of races to go and we've got to keep focused on trying to win the championship.
THE MODERATOR: Michael?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: For sure, sometimes you need a little luck. But I think if you look at Dan during the race, he passed a lot of cars. Even when he was in the back, he would always get close to the front. But obviously, at a little place like this, track position is king. Tony made a great call, fairly early in the race, that put Dan a little different than the other guys. The way the cautions fell, it ended up working for him. He had the track position. From that point on, he did the best with it, he held it. I'm not sure anybody would have been able to pass Dan at that point. It's a little luck, but also good strategy. The car was still good enough to win the race. He was still holding them off. Dan did a great job the whole race, as well.
Q. How close were you to going a lap down in the race early? Like Franchitti, was your car better when you were out in front?
DAN WHELDON: Well, you know, I got a little story for this one. They told me during our prerace meeting that we have where we talk about strategy, they said there's a probable chance you are going to go a lap down early in the race, what Tony was talking about with what he's going to do on the strategy. But he said, "Don't panic." I was primed not to panic. As soon as I saw Hornish coming, I was like, "Here we go." He passed me, I definitely freaked out a little bit. I never like being a lap down. But once they explained to me again in the car what we needed to do, how we needed to do it, the kind of made sense. So I just got into a rhythm. I was kind of fortunate all night. I was not in traffic too much. The traffic that I came up to, I was able to pass very quickly and run in clean air. The laps that I was doing when I was running were pretty competitive. That gave me track position. But, yeah, I did go a lap down. Like I say, when I was running, I was pretty much in clean air. My car was really balanced throughout the race, whether in traffic or on my own.
Q. Do you really have time when you're out there in this sort of environment to listen to your spotter, to think about the strategy, that sort of thing?
DAN WHELDON: To be honest, with the way the league is, you've got to run as hard as you possibly can throughout the whole race. There's times where you need to conserve your outside rear, and there's times where you perhaps just need to take it easy. But you're still driving 100%. So I wouldn't -- certainly with where I qualified, there wasn't any particular laps where I was driving any harder. I had to drive real hard throughout the race. But that's what makes the championship exciting. Our four cars are very, very strong. I mean, I could name 10 others that could potentially win a race. That's what makes the series very exciting for me.
Q. Who recommended you do the donuts that you said you didn't know how to do? Why do you call Tony "The Brother"?
DAN WHELDON: I don't know why I call him "The Brother". He's always been called "The Brother". I have no idea why I call him that. I wanted to try and do good donuts. I didn't do them at Motegi, so I needed to try to perform well. It was nice listening to that Honda run at 10-3 for about a minute non-stop. I was going to try and leave the one where you kind of slide up the track. I think they do that in NASCAR. That wasn't going to work. That's why I did the regular one. That's what I meant where I didn't know how to do it, that one.
Q. Michael, when the postscript is written for the Sun Trust Indy Challenge tonight, can we say, "Don't count out Andretti Green"? Last night, I saw the looks on your faces with the 26 car. Could we say something like that, don't count you out?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Absolutely. This team is a very strong team. I even told Dan, "These are the weekends that make a championship. When you're really down and you think you're out, it all depends how you focus and how you get out of it." Dan and the whole team did a great job doing it. That shows a championship-winning team. For sure, don't ever count them out, or any of the other three cars, as well.
Q. How many times were you on the other end of a strategy like this when you had the fastest car but didn't come out in front?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Oh, probably one or two times, or three or four, 10, 12, I don't know, 20. Quite a few (laughter).
Q. Dan, we were talking with Helio and Vitor earlier. They said this is one of the most physical races they've ever run. What are your feelings about the difficulty of this race?
DAN WHELDON: Yeah, well, I think whenever you come to Richmond, it's certainly different for me coming from Europe. When I first pulled into the track last year, I thought it was a go-kart track. It's much better I think this year now that they've repaved. I think they did an excellent job with that. Seemed like last year they strategically placed the bumps in the place where it was more than likely going to cause the driver a lot of grief. I'm glad it was repaved. It's a very tough race I would say not only physically, but also mentally. You normally run around a lot of cars. I didn't this year. But it's difficult to overtake, but you can overtake. When you're doing it you're often putting a lot on the line so you got to make sure you're decisive, aggressive but not overaggressive, you get the move done and then move on to the next. It's certainly like a little bull ring. I just think the IndyCars, the race on TV looked very, very good. I'm sure it made the NASCAR race here look very boring, which is good.
Q. Did you get your lap back, did you pass Hornish before the debris caution?
DAN WHELDON: I got waved around.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: The yellow came out again, then he was able to pit and stay on the same lap.
Q. Michael, is this the kind of day you're glad you're not a driver, going around in 15 seconds?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: But, yeah, I got to say, when you have four of them out there, sitting, watching them go into turn one, you don't know how many times I had to hold my breath. I was dizzy from holding it so much. I'm definitely happy with my decision. I wasn't wishing I was out there at all, but yet I was a little nervous on the sideline.
Q. The fuel strategy, how close was it? How many more laps do you think you would have been able to do?
DAN WHELDON: It was enough for a lot of donuts. I think ever since I've joined this team and had "The Brother" call my race, I don't think there's ever been a race where I've come in with a lot of fuel. I'm sure it was minimal. But it tends to be always the case. You think -- I mean, now I'm used to him. I understand like some of the things he tries to do. When I first turned up, I was like, "Man, this guy is crazy." He really can pull it off. That's the good thing about being on this team, you can bounce things off one another. The engineers work very well. It's not just the drivers that get on along as well as we do. People talk about having a close-knit environment. This is a genuine close-knit environment which gives all four drivers an opportunity to race.
Q. When the yellow came out on 246, were you surprised with the one-lap shootout? Did you think it was over?
DAN WHELDON: No, because there wasn't a big accident. I knew Brian would want to try to finish it under green. When that yellow came out, I just focused and made sure that I got a good restart. I'm not necessarily sure it was my best, but fortunately Helio was having a go at Vitor, so that took the emphasis off me and I was able to just kind of get through one and two clean and bring it home.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thanks for your time. Michael, congratulations, and Danny to you as well.
DAN WHELDON: Thank you.
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: I'd like to introduce Brian Barnhart, the IRL's senior vice president of racing operations, who has a statement.
BRIAN BARNHART: What we did at the finish of the race in trying to get a green-flag finish, when we threw the green-white to do a one-lap finish, the track lights did not change, and they stayed yellow the entire time. Because of that, we are not allowing the passes of the 3 car around the 17 or the 11 car around the 7. The finishing order of the race will be as the cars ran across the line on lap 249. We'll finish the race under caution. Because the caution lights were on, we finish the race as (inaudible) a caution lap on lap 250, as well.
THE MODERATOR: Any questions?
Q. The question is asking us to review the process we went through this evening.
BRIAN BARNHART: Before or after the race? We saw something from race control up top. The track caution lights are controlled by a switch in the flag stand. So the flagman is in control of the flags and the track caution lights. We obviously had a situation with a late caution there. We tried to get the race restarted for the race fans and get a green-flag finish. We gave a quick one to go, the pace car pulled off, the 26 set the pace down the backstretch. As he hit the restart zone, we waved the green-white. In the confusion, and in trying to get a late green-flag restart, for whatever reason, there's no excuse for it, the light did not switch, so the track lights remained yellow. In as much as I admonish the drivers to respond to the first indicator of a caution, whether it's their dash lights, the track lights or the flagman, I can't ignore it. If the track lights are yellow, then we should not be racing and changing positions. The track lights stayed yellow, and that's the way we finished the race.
Q. (Question not repeated)?
BRIAN BARNHART: The dash lights were off. We have multiple indicators of cautions. That's for a reason. It's in the interest of safety. In as much as we hammer these guys to respond to an indicator of the caution, if the track lights of yellow, you shouldn't be racing people.
Q. (Question not repeated)?
BRIAN BARNHART: I don't think it will cause a review. We're all human. There's a human element of every aspect of sport out there, whether it's baseball, basketball, football or racing. We don't get time-outs. We got to do things on the fly. As I mentioned before when I was up in race control, we waved the green, I watched the field go down into one, I saw the track lights still yellow. I was yelling on the radio right away. It was too late. If a guy sees a yellow, he's supposed to lift, slow down. I talked to both starters to try to see if there was any situation. Like I say, it doesn't make an excuse for it. But part of it was a hectic rush to try to get a green-flag finish for it. Doesn't make up for it, doesn't make it right. It's a human element of what we do. The one thing we do I think we instantly admitted it was a mistake and I think we've corrected the way it should be. That is the proper order of finish. I can't ask the guys to do one thing, then when it presents itself on the racetrack to do something different. That's how we finished it.
Q. (Question not repeated)?
BRIAN BARNHART: It was actually self-review. Coming out of race control, I had called down to the truck and asked -- I had called timing and scoring. I wanted the subsequently running order on lap 249 as well as lap 250. I got the sheet and asked for who had changed positions. It was actually an Andretti Green team, 7-Eleven, teammates, then the Penske and Rahal teams. They met me in the truck. Again, I think they were all very understanding. There wasn't a whole lot of complaining about it. Just one of those unfortunate things.
Q. (Question not repeated)?
BRIAN BARNHART: Tough little racetrack like this, there's a lot of things I think I saw tonight that we'll do our normal review process and see. I think there's a high frustration level with Sam at that point in time. I was a little disappointed in the aggressiveness, being four laps down with the last 25 laps and interfering with guys who were in a position to contend with the race win. I think some better judgment could have been used at that point in time, a little more restraint would have probably been more in order. I'll have to take a look at that and talk to Sam after that. There's others. It's a tough racetrack. A three-quarter mile racetrack, as much activity, the tempers that flare, no different than us here or the Cup cars at Bristol. Guys get competitive. We'll sit down and have a few conversations with them before we move to Kansas. Thank you.
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