IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500
Topics: Indianapolis 500, Penske Racing
Sam Hornish, Jr.
May 20, 2006
THE MODERATOR: One thing for certain, we know this, every driver that comes in here says this, winning a pole at Indianapolis is certainly an accomplishment for a driver, but it is really an accomplishment for a team. We're talking about a team that's done this 13 times now here at Indianapolis with Marlboro Team Penske. Their first since 2003.
Your drivers have been strong all month long. That look of satisfaction tells it all because it means your men in the shop have given your drivers the equipment necessary to be successful.
Roger, why don't you talk about the month, the first step towards a sense of satisfaction this gives you.
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think the demonstration all month shows how good the team is. Ironically, this is the same team that's been here the last couple years. I think there's no question that we were at some disadvantage because of the power. We didn't say anything about it. We're really not complaining about it today. We had commitments to people. We live with them. We've had that from a tire perspective in the past.
But I think the real success story here is to see Sam, who is so passionate about this track, wants to win so bad. I think he came on our team hoping we'd give him the tools to do that. His companionship with Helio has been terrific. Obviously, he knows Helio is going to keep him honest, and vice versa. They've shared information, been fast all month. It's a credit to our guys Tom and Ron, the other engineering person we have, Matt, and certainly the crew chiefs that have put these cars together continually. To me, that makes the difference, it's the team.
We're excited for our sponsors. I think it was an interesting day today. It was interesting that Ganassi didn't go out. We were expecting him to make a run. I think he said he ran out of time, wanted to make sure they could run quick enough. You don't want to run a third, fourth place starting position away, especially at the Indy 500.
Just a great day for us. Gives us momentum going into the weekend. For Sam, obviously he has reached another goal that I'm sure he's had in his mind for a long time.
THE MODERATOR: Tim Cindric, I'm watching you over there taking a couple big gasps of air. I would think this is a stressful time for you, as well. Obviously, had you a great month, a great run early. Then there was a mystery in the decision making you and Roger had to go through.
TIM CINDRIC: It could have been worse, I guess. I mean, I think Sam's run was solid throughout the time. It was a matter of preparing ourself for what we do there.
I think all things considered, with the way the format is, so forth, to put the numbers on the board, the pressure really goes on to the competition at that point in time.
We were fortunate enough to go out and do our times early. Like Roger said, that's a testament to the confidence we have in the drivers as well as the team that puts the thing together really.
THE MODERATOR: We talked earlier about being the fastest all but one time here. It's been darn near, Roger, a clean sweep here at Indianapolis for you. I know you're well aware there's so many variables that can get in your way in terms of the ultimate prize.
ROGER PENSKE: I think now we have the pit stop competition coming up. We're going to run some more tomorrow. We're going to change engines out of the race cars, put them in our backup cars so we do not risk those cars tomorrow as we do the final running in race setup conditions.
A lot more work to do. We'll go back, rebuild our gearboxes, suspensions. I also think it's interesting to see that we came here and ran one engine for probably 800 miles in each car with no issues. Certainly a cost reduction, which people should realize. We've done that with gearboxes. I think we're on our way to getting the sport more realistic from a cost perspective. I take my hat off to the rules. I think it's been a plus for us.
Again, the things that we have to do this week is go through that car. We can't a mistake. This is not a Sick Sigma situation; it's a zero defects when it comes to the race on Sunday.
Q. Roger, are you disappointed not to get a challenge at the end of the day, from a competitor's standpoint?
ROGER PENSKE: No, I'm not disappointed at all. They took a lot of pressure off us when they didn't run because that team has the capability to knock us off where we were. Obviously we weren't going to run both cars. But you never know. As things turned out, Helio was ready, we'd have pulled in the line right after the two Ganassi cars at least to try to hold our position.
I think Chip made the right decision. He didn't have a chance to go out and run at the end, see where he was time-wise. That way they ran out of time.
Believe me, they're going to be the toughest competitors along with Andretti Green. There's a few other cars which are going to have -- we're going to have to worry about on race day. We have a long way from the end.
Q. After all your success here, 13th pole, been here quite a while, what motivates you? You seem just as excited as you were 30 years ago.
ROGER PENSKE: You know, I guess when you go racing, it's about the race you're in. It's the pole you're trying to run for. You can't look back. You got to look forward.
The key thing is, when we go to the tracks, we come with experienced people. I'm thrilled for them. For all of our 34,000 employees around the world that work for us, when we have a pole or a win, it's a real plus for them. I guess that's why I'm excited and want to continue to be successful in the sport.
THE MODERATOR: We'll bring up the pole winner, Sam Hornish, Jr. Congratulations, Sam.
Q. Roger, I know you don't like to compare drivers, but he's kind of had a Rick Mears-like month in terms of being fastest every day, today. He didn't have to go out at the end of the day like Rick usually did when he won a pole. Do you see a similarity there?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I guess if you had to compare someone to Rick, Sam would be a great comparison. I think he's done a terrific job. As I said earlier, he's passionate about the Speedway, what he wants to do here to win a race. When we got together, that was a goal. I said I'd try to work together with Tim and the entire team to put him in that position.
He and Helio are great competitors against each other. He not only has to win against 31 other people; he's got his teammate. Rick knew that. Certainly Rick has had a lot of conversations with Sam over the years. I think this pole position, to run over 229 like he did, almost a 229 average, certainly put a stake in the ground even for Helio. Helio would say that himself. For me, it would have been tough for anybody to beat him. You don't want to run at the end, you don't want to have to do that.
THE MODERATOR: Sam, while you've kept your eyes on the ultimate prize, earlier today you made some statements that I thought were interesting. He said there's a lot that goes with this: money, trophy, ring. If you want to put something additional on your racing resume, winning a pole at Indianapolis is one of those things. You've done that, added that on top of being the winningest driver in the history of the Indy Racing League. That's a great accomplishment.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Thank you. You know, I don't know if anything can compare to this other than winning the race. A lot of people have always asked, What would it mean to win the race? I said, I'd do a lot to win that race, but I can't imagine what it would be like to win it.
I think going through what I've gone through today, the knots that you have in your stomach, you're thinking about, yeah, they haven't showed that they can go out there and beat us yet, but that doesn't mean they're not going to be able to. It's truly never over till it's over.
It's just been a great day for us. I can't imagine a much better day here at the Speedway than what I've had today.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for our pole winner.
Q. You've been consistently just ahead of Helio pretty much the whole time. Do you know why?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I don't know. Helio is a tremendous competitor. I think as far as just being a little bit quicker than him, that's just -- sometimes it's just your day, sometimes it's your track, you feel comfortable, the car is just right, you feel everything is right. It's kind of like when we go to a road course and he consistently -- I've got the fastest time at the end of the day, then he beats me by 2/10ths at the end of the day. I get to think about it for the next night. The same thing happens the next day, the next day.
We push each other real hard. I think that when I first came to Penske Racing, there was a little bit of -- I felt like I had to prove something, and he also felt a little bit like he had to prove something. I think more and more, we're understanding each other and we're able to work together better. I think instead of a rivalry that maybe wasn't a hundred percent healthy at all times, it's become a lot more healthy. It's making both of us better.
I think that it shows here today. It also shows in the championship. Helio is leading the championship by what he is, me being third, I think that's efforts of not only the team but all of us working together.
Q. Had we seen the format run the way it was intended, do you think we would have seen more gambling, more guys trying to take a shot at the pole? Do you think the fact Sam was so much faster pretty much led everybody to believe, What is the point?
TIM CINDRIC: I think what you would have seen is a lot more running between 4:30 and 6:00. If you're not in the top 11, you're going to go run again. Between 4 and 6, at least in those ranges, there would be a lot more.
To say they would go for the pole, I guess they're doing that by running. But at that point you're going for the top 11, and whatever happens happens.
THE MODERATOR: There's different perspectives with regards to that. Out of curiosity, from a fan's perspective, that sounds to us like a lot of fun. From a mechanic and driver perspective, what does that feel like to you if we ever get to use that format?
TIM CINDRIC: It would be great to watch if you're on the other side of the fence. Sitting on our side of the fence, it might be a little bit more difficult than what it was. I think when it does play out, although I'm a traditionalist, but when it does play out, I think it will be fun to sit there and watch because there will be a lot of dynamics involved in what you do and when you do it.
Q. Roger, if you could answer that, as well.
TIM CINDRIC: You didn't like my answer (laughter)?
ROGER PENSKE: I think one of the things you saw today was Sam's dominant run. If that run would have been last week, I think he would have been in the same position: tough to beat. Even Helio. But there might have been more action in the top 11.
Certainly we wouldn't have gone out today unless we saw someone in practice could have run quicker. We were watching the other competitors, how they were running after qualifying, when they're up on their own in practice. There wasn't anybody close. At that point you weren't going to risk your situation.
Q. Sam, we know you traditionally don't get very excited. You smile a bit here. Are you starting to get a pumped up now? Is the pole step one?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: That's definitely step one. I'd like to skip about six years walking out of here feeling like I couldn't drive the race car. But, you know, today was an unbelievable day. I feel I've often said if I ever did win the race, I don't think that I'd be able to talk, and it would be a terrible interview. With how things have gone so far this month, I don't know if I'd be able to shut up. That might be the better of the two.
Q. When you went out there and were sitting on your rear tire, you had all those cameras, what was going through your mind? How tough was it to just kind of take in the moment and you have to wait for another hour before you can celebrate?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I was sitting there kind of just watching what everybody was doing. I was sitting at the back because I could see out of my eye that Helio was still sitting in the car, which was making me a little bit nervous. Finally he waves me over, said, Am I making you nervous yet? I said, Yeah, you're making me nervous. He just kind of laughed a little bit.
I was just basically trying to think about anything other than, you know, somebody going out there and going faster than us. I was hoping all these other guys kept getting in line and going out and running qualifying runs because I was pretty happy where we were at and I know it's not over till it's over.
Q. The reward is that you start the race from the front row. Can you explain starting the race from the front row, what that is going to be like, what kind of advantage that gives you on race day?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: I went from -- you know, last year when I came here, my goal was just to start in the first two rows. We ended up starting second. This year I felt a little bit like if I didn't start on the front row, I would be a little bit disappointed. We start on the pole.
I think it just -- being able to see the beginning of the race, bringing it on at the pace, I think that you can win this race from anywhere, so it doesn't mean just because you start on the pole, you know, that you've got it made, that it's going to be your day. I think for me being able to put that -- check that thing off on your racing resume, saying that you're an Indianapolis 500 polesitter, the only thing that trumps that is Indianapolis 500 race winner.
I feel much more better than I've ever felt at the Speedway, maybe except for the day that I qualified for the first time here. It's been a heck of a day.
Q. Roger, jump forward a week. What are we thinking for race pace this year?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I think you're going to see laps, you know, obviously in the 224, 225. Light loads of fuel, we get some more rubber on the track, we make some adjustments in the car during the race, I think you're going to see some speeds, maybe even higher at some point. It's a difficult thing to get the gears right. If it's a slower pace, you have too tall of gears, you're not going to be as competitive off the corner.
One of the other things that really wasn't mentioned here, there's a real by-product of the pole, and that's getting the first pit spot going out. That's a huge advantage which we'll be in the first two spots. That gives you the benefit of once you're in, you don't have to worry about someone coming out and getting into you as you're coming out. That's going to be very important.
To me, Tim and I talked about it earlier, I know Tim is always keen on getting the best pit selection. I think that's going to give us a real opportunity.
Race pace will be in the 21, 22. I think early on it might be quicker because there won't be the traffic. You're going to have to be very careful. It's going to be tough to pass. Cars running 217, 218, you're running 221, you have to be awful careful making a pass.
Q. Game plan for tomorrow? Doing any more full-tack runs or button it up and let everybody else go out?
ROGER PENSKE: The plan tomorrow is to take the engine, since we only have one engine, take the engine out of the qualified cars and put those engines into our backup cars, run as much as we can tomorrow with race fuel, race setup as the track, I think we'll have a lot of time, the weather is warm, hopefully that's the way it will be on race day. That will be some of the main things we'll do. Look at our fuel mileage, really run these engines out.
TIM CINDRIC: I'm sure we'll prepare for the pit stops and so forth. Towards the end of the day, you'll see a lot of pit stop action toward the end of the day.
ROGER PENSKE: We'll also be scuffing tires. We'll want to have a number of scuffed sets of tires ready for the race. We'd like to get that done tomorrow. On carburetion day, it's go out, make sure the car doesn't have any leaks in it, it feels god, there's no vibration, then we'll put it away. If you ran 50 miles, it would be a lot.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Congratulations on a great month.
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