Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
August 3, 2011
ARNI SRIBHEN: We'll be joined today by Firestone Indy Lights driver Josef Newgarden, and later we'll be joined by IZOD IndyCar Series driver, Helio Castroneves. Let's start with Josef Newgarden. How are you today, Josef?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I'm doing great. Thanks for having me on today.
ARNI SRIBHEN: No problem. Josef is in his rookie season in Firestone Indy Lights, and he drives the No. 11 Copart/Score Big/Robo-Pong car for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Josef is from Hendersonville, Tennessee, and currently leads the Indy Lights Championship heading to the Grand Prix Trois-Rivières in Quebec this weekend.
Josef has wins on the streets of St. Petersburg, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Iowa Speedway in Edmonton this year. So, Josef, has the season been what you thought it would be when you came back to the U.S. to race from Europe?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I think so. It's been a very good year. It certainly hasn't been perfect, but I don't think it's ever going to go like that. We've been very fortunate to have a strong run with the team, but it was no surprise when I went and talked to all of the guys at the Sam Schmidt Motorsport shop, and the great stuff they run there. They do an unbelievable job, and they're really a powerhouse in the series.
It's not too much of a surprise by all the effort that they put into everything, but certainly it's been very exciting for us, and I've been enjoying working with them all year.
Q. I mentioned the next race is the Grand Prix of Trois-Rivières, another street circuit for the series. What do you know about the circuit at Trois-Rivières?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I know there are a couple of guys that have been there before. Certainly the Mazda drivers that have run there in the past will have knowledge of the place. And I've talked to a couple of them and heard some things that I think is certainly going to be very bumpy from what I've heard. It's a very tight technical circuit. There's not a lot of speed on the straits. It's more technical than anything, I think.
But we've experienced that already this year certainly with St. Petersburg, Long Beach, and especially Toronto being probably the most similar with the bumps and so on. I think we'll be pretty prepared with what we need to do to have a strong package there.
Even though Lights hasn't been there for a very long time I don't think, and no one's going to have too much knowledge of the place with an Indy Lights car, at least. It's going to be interesting to see who comes out with the best package and can put it all together as quickly as possible.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Finally, you do have a championship points lead. One of the guys chasing you and probably your chief rival for the title is your teammate Esteban Guerrieri. I know you guys had some contact at Edmonton battling for the lead. Is there any point in the season where you start looking at Esteban not as like a teammate, but the guy who is looking to beat you for the championship?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I think things always looked like that. Esteban to me has always been the main guy there, you know, to watch out for. I think he's a very talented guy and he's a great teammate as well.
A lot of people wanted to know at Edmonton what the dynamic was between us, and certainly has the season starts to wind down, it seems to get more tense with everything. But we're good friends, and I think we work really well together as teammates.
And certainly that's part of what has made us so good this year, I think, is the chemistry that the team has together. There is not a lot of animosity between anybody, and we're able to work with each other. Certainly that little bit of competitiveness between us is able to drive us forward, I think. So it's really positive all around, and it certainly has helped us with our success this year, I think.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Let's open for questions for Josef Newgarden.
Q. What are your thoughts about the qualifying format for the race in Quebec?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: That's a great question. I think it's very exciting what they're trying to do there for the weekend. I've never had a qualifying session like that. It's going to be a little bit more IndyCar style with whittling it down to like the Fast Six, and then getting another shot at it. It becomes like a super pole. I'm really excited about it. It will be the first one I've ever done and certainly it will be great training for any driver in the Lights series that are looking to run in the IndyCar Series, this is great training for them. It will give them an idea of what they need to get better at and certainly get used to that format a little more.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Just to clarify for everyone on the call, Firestone Indy Lights will be using a knockout qualifying system similar to the IZOD IndyCar Series at Trois-Rivières, where the fastest six cars will advance to a shoot-out qualifying system. And since you brought up training ground for the IZOD IndyCar Series, just a question. I know that a lot of champions and a lot of Lights drivers have moved up in the last couple of years to IndyCar. You obviously have to have your eye on moving up to IndyCar as well.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, absolutely. That is one of the main reasons that I came back over to the U.S. This was the best opportunity present at the time. And everything that's going on with the IZOD IndyCar Series right now is extremely exciting. It's definitely going in a good direction, and I hope it continues to do that and it doesn't stop for a while.
I like it. It's a great series to be involved in. It's a nice atmosphere to be around, and I'd love to be there next year, if not, maybe another year of Lights. But certainly some time soon I'd love to be involved in the championship.
Q. I wanted to ask what you enjoyed the most about street circuit racing?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Oh, I think it makes it pretty interesting at times. Certainly what happened to me at Long Beach is a good example of what can happen on a street course. We were leading there with not many laps to go, and you saw me wreck right out of the lead by hitting a manhole cover.
That's the thing that's cool about a street course. You've got to be heads up at all times. When you think you've got things in the bag, sometimes the course can come out and bite you. Not even having Esteban this year in Toronto where he was in the lead and he spun out of it. You just hit a concrete patch run, and it kind of bit in two.
So I like that element of it that it certainly puts a lot more emphasis on concentration, and I think it sort of brings out an element where drivers can have more mistakes.
So the guy that can stay on top of that for the longest time during the race is going to have a better job. Certainly it just adds a little different dynamic to where it makes it open for people to make mistakes and might give you a little bit of an opening to overtake someone which is nice.
Q. Do you have any testing or IndyCar testing in your contract or anything even being discussed yet in that endeavor?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: There certainly -- it's certainly starting to be that time where everyone wants to know those things. But for me as well, if the season continues the way it has and we end up maybe clinching this championship as a possibility.
You know, the testing is not far around the corner. And even so I think if another year of Lights would have to be done next year, I still think it would be a good thing to potentially get a couple days in IndyCar just to get the feel for it and get some experience to know what you need to look for and what you need to work on.
But I can't really disclose what we've got in our contract. We're working on a lot of things right now. It's very exciting with everything that's gone on with Sam Schmidt and his organization. I think he's really pushing hard right now to grow his company and certainly his team. He wants to be involved in next year's progression with the series as much as anybody.
He's done a phenomenal job, and it's been great driving for him. But we don't have anything set in stone at the moment. It's still a little too early to talk about IndyCar testing. Right now I'm focusing on the Indy Lights Championship and trying to seal that off correctly, because we really can't do anything unless we finish that off right. So that is sort of the number one objection on my list right now.
But certainly in the next couple of months, we'll be talking about IndyCar testing a little more if things continuing to well.
Q. As far as you mentioned the series is doing well this year and over last year also it's kind of picked up momentum kind of thing. Do you feel the international flavor that's attracted to the open wheel series over here kind of gives it an advantage? You know sometimes maybe they get a little too much of that hometown stuff and really do kind of like the flair of people from all different parts of the world.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I think so. I think it's great. I don't want to discount that I think a lot of fans want to see Americans. If I was an American watching the sport, I'd want to see an American out there competing and doing well. That's what I would want to see.
But I also think as a fan, if I was looking from the outside in, I'd also want to see some international flavor. I wouldn't want to see a bunch of Americans, guys like Helio, guys like Ryan Briscoe. Everyone from everywhere, the international flair is great. You've got to have that, I think. Certainly I think that's a big thing for IndyCar and it's really that compromise. You don't want too much of one thing, but certainly you've got to have a good mix there.
I like it. I think it's great, and I think it brings good diversity in. A lot of different -- a lot of different people from different cultures, and maybe they learn different things where they've competed maybe in Europe or something which is great, instead of just having a bunch of hometown kids from America.
But certainly people want to see that also. They want to see the hometown kids going against the international guys which is fun to see.
Q. As far as what you've learned along the way, what sticks out the most as far as driving that you notice? What are the most important few things that you've learned that have helped you now?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: We go to so many different places, getting set in stone on ovals or road courses or street courses it's tough know all of them. You have to know the complete package, you have to adapt each and every weekend when you're going to all these different places, and that makes you a better driver all around. It makes you much more rounded and you're certainly more a complete champion.
I think more and more people are realizing that nowadays and that's what you need to have success. That's what I've been working on is the transition from when we do go from an oval back to a street course or back to a road course. You've got to understand what's going to be needed mentally, physically, and in preparation with your car and the mindset for the weekend. That's what I put an emphasis on because I think that's going to be important for the future and what the series stands for.
ARNI SRIBHEN: That looks like all the questions we have for Josef Newgarden today. Josef, we thank you for your time. And we should be joined by Helio Castroneves.
Hello, Helio, how are you?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm doing great. How are you?
ARNI SRIBHEN: Doing great, Helio. You obviously drive the No. 3 Honda powered Dallara for Team Penske and will run the familiar Penske Truck Rental colors on his car this weekend at the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Helio finished his season best second in those colors at Edmonton, so I assume yellow is your lucky color this weekend?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's right, Arni. I'm really excited about this momentum. We certainly had a little difficult and little different start of the season, but we were finally able to be right there in the top three and that's what we're looking for.
Our guys did an amazing job, the guys from Penske Truck Rental represented really well the entire team, so we're really, really excited. It's great momentum from Edmonton and carrying it into Ohio which is a place we really enjoy very much.
ARNI SRIBHEN: You mentioned you enjoy Mid-Ohio. You've had a lot of success there. You won IndyCar races at the track in 2000 and 2001, and have two poles and three podiums in the four IZOD IndyCar Series races at the track. What about it suits your style so well?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it's a challenge place, up-and-down elevation, and not only that it's very technical as well. Certainly during the weekend it's going to be something else. It seems to be that when you go out there the crowds really, really enjoy to have the IZOD festivities out there. So all the atmosphere is just great. It's not only one thing, it's a lot of things.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Looking towards next week, the first race for the IndyCar Series since 1999, I believe, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. What do you know about New Hampshire? Are you looking forward to getting to another short oval?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I don't know that place yet. I'm not sure if it was '99 or I think it was '97. I started IndyCar in '98 and I don't remember being there. So it's going to be the first time for me and for several other guys, and I'm excited.
Every time you have a new place, it's always good. It gives a fair advantage to everybody. You know, everybody's going to be -- whoever is going to start with getting out of the truck with the right set-up, that for sure is going to be a great weekend. And that's what I'm looking for. Looking forward to put something like that, and really looking forward to the week.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Finally, if you were listening to the beginning of the call, I mentioned that the Indy Lights will be racing at Trois-Rivières, and when Indy Lights raced at Trois-Rivières last, you were one of the race winner there's. What do you remember about that race at Trois-Rivières?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I love that place. Especially going under the arch, it was really, really cold. It was my first win in Indy Lights in 1996. So I still remember that day.
It's a very challenging place, but once you get it right, man, it's the best thing. It's really, really cool. I wish the IZOD IndyCar Series would go there as well.
But, again, certainly the Indy Lights guys are going to have fun. It's kind of like a street course. We do have similarities that are pretty cool, and it can carry a lot of the speed with the car. So I have great memories. I wish all the luck for the guys out there and hopefully they'll have fun.
ARNI SRIBHEN: Helio, your team made a change with Tim Cindric going over to Will Power's car, and John Ercikson coming over to work on your car. What's it like to be working with someone like John after working with T.C. for such a long time?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, certainly the biggest thing is T.C. not only is a good strategist, but he's a good friend of mine. And he knows sometimes when I'm saying the car's okay, and he knows that okay means not so good or maybe okay can be like don't talk to me for several laps, you know. Those kind of things you don't get like in one or two races, but you just get that from several years, and that's what T.C. and I had.
But at the end of the day I understand we want to win the championship, and Will put himself in that position right now. And he has the best chance to do that. At the end of the day, he's going to do what's best for the team, and I am a team player. I totally understand and I have no problem.
Plus, John Erikson is a fantastic guy as well. A great, great guy being in races for a long time, not only now in IndyCar Series or prototype but also in NASCAR. He certainly understands a lot. He does have a unique style, which is a lot of fun, and it creates a great environment for the entire group. So I'm really excited.
Last weekend he did a great job, you know. Kind of like keep the pace and putting the right teams, and that's why we were able to finish with a good result because of that too.
Q. Can I check to make sure, you were not put on probation earlier in the season; is that correct?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: As far as I know -- I don't know, man. I did probation so many times, I don't even know. But I don't think so.
Q. Okay. Does a driver drive differently when he's under the eye of the officials? Do you have to drive a different way?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, not really. Every time you go out there, the way I see it, you don't take -- for example, last week after so many unfortunate incidents, I could not take any chances. It would be very tough for me to not have a good result.
But I think if the guys on probation have a chance to make and overtake, even if it's risky, I would do it without a problem. Hopefully I would make it because you don't want to crash anyway. You don't want to take anybody out on purpose. Again, you've got to make sure when you do that, you do something to make sure nothing's going to happen. I'm assuming there is nobody on probation, right?
Q. You're assuming what?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Is there anybody on probation.
Q. Three guys now, Conway, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tagliani.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Oh, okay. When you're in that situation, you've got to watch out so you don't get penalized again. But I've been on probation before. I didn't change my style of driving and nothing happened.
Q. Well, you just learned that three were on probation, apparently. But is this the kind of message or direction that the drivers were hoping for?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That's a very good question. I think, I think if they are paralyzed, you know, that is already costing them. Yes, it's unfair for the other person who they end up taking out, but they are penalized.
The way I see is you give everyone more respect. I'm just not going to put my nose there because I know if something happens, you'll be penalized and that's avoiding probation. Yes, you have to have some kind of penalty for the guys that do this one, two, three too many times.
I do feel like finally we're about to go in that direction, and we should continue like that. We should be consistent. If it happens again, we should be consistent and not start the season soft and end up playing hardball in the middle of the season or towards the end of the season.
It's when you know the rules, the drivers know the rules, I guarantee it will be more crystal clear to everybody else, not only for the guy in front, but also for the guy that's trying to make a pass.
Q. As far as ups and downs it's almost guaranteed you're going to have them in such a competitive sport. But is there a best way to handle the ups and downs that all drivers go through? And certainly you've gone through some this year. But is there a best way to handle that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes. You've got to believe and continue working very, very hard. You don't just decide to give up and say, you know what, let's wait for next year. Those type of attitudes just carry on.
For us, I think for somebody that's in that situation, you know you have the car. You know you have the team, you know you're capable, so all of these things you've just got to play to your favor. Sometimes you just try to get out of that black cloud, and it's hard. Don't get me wrong. It's very, very hard, but it's possible. When you have that type of attitude, things go your way.
Q. You mentioned that Mid-Ohio and the track and you're going to be in the yellow this time. In that area, there is a JEGS High Performance Parts center. They sponsor, you'll probably see some signs there. Even though they're in drag racing and they've got a son that's in late model, they bring their crossover training to that track in Mid-Ohio. Guys learn certain parts of it even if they're only going to be driving straight down the path in drag racing. Can you comment on that crossover thing you can learn by going on a road course? And they put them in open wheel cars, by the way. Also, would you maybe comment on the crowd in Ohio? This seems to be very popular for them too.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I never drove a dragster car, so I'm assuming it's not as easy as people think, you know. It looks like a straight line, but you can see that the driver is really working thousands and thousands of horsepower pushing you from one way to another. So I guess even if you're still driving a straight line, you've still got to control the car.
I guess using a little bit of a road course, especially Mid-Ohio, you get the force and a lot of Gs and stuff like that, so I'm assuming it might help you.
That's my layman's comment because I never drove a dragster car, but I believe that would be the options and the ideal.
Now talking about the crowd, it's unbelievable. You see the hill that they have right in turn three, I think. Man, it's just awesome. Three and four is just even when you're driving, you see that crowd that's really, really cool.
We missed for a while to be back in Mid-Ohio, but now that we are in, it's really nice to see. Not only the track is a real racetrack and the crowd is really supportive. When you go to places -- I always repeat myself -- but when you go to places that you're really, really welcome, it's cool to be, and that is for sure one place.
Q. Helio, you've had kind of a rough start this season. It seemed like maybe you turned it around at Edmonton. What was the difference at that race?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: We found some stuff in the car that we didn't have in the past. I believe that helps a lot, you know, to be more consistent especially with the breaking points like Edmonton. You have too many very hard breaking points. So in the race I was able to be consistent, to be like I've always been. That was one key.
For the first time, a little bit of a double-car restart played in my favor. I was right in the middle, and I had people crash in front of me and all of a sudden, you're out of my way which was awesome. Normally I was always the one that's in the middle or hit the car. So it was good. I guess those are the factors that helped to put me right in front. Once you're in front, it was like the good old days.
Q. Just wanted to ask a little about the transitions from different types of racing. Continuing with a street style circuit, a road course coming up and then switching to ovals. Wondering when you change dances and dancing with the stars, did you use any of the strategy and what you learned from switching back and forth from different types of tracks? Can you tell us the difficulties of doing that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Absolutely. Certainly it's very difficult because when you're going from the street course to a road course, I mean, you can push a little bit harder. You can drive 100% more than once. Because if you miss a little bit the breaking point and if you try to find a little bit the limit, the risk it's not as bad as on a street course.
The street course you have the wall right there, which is going -- if you touch it, you crash, you end up losing time. You know when you lose time on the street course you're just behind because the track got better like about a second or second and a half every practice.
With that, a road course has become a little more space, even peripheral vision is wider and you can take a little bit more curve, you can come a little bit faster. You can be a little more aggressive on the road course.
Then on the ovals you've got to be really smooth. You've got to be completely smooth and not scrub any type of speed at all so you can translate that speed to the lap time and go fast, obviously.
So those things are the difference of running street course, road course, and ovals.
Q. You know the track at Mid-Ohio very well because of your past success there. What would you say are the best opportunities for passing on the track?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: The best opportunity for passing I would recommend turn two, and again the strait away turn three. Those are the ones that you can really, really take advantage in passing somebody.
The rest of it I call it the Mickey Mouse areas because it's very twisty and turns and narrow, and up-and-down elevation. It's very hard. But even turn, I think, it's probably 7 or 8 which is right at the uphill the farthest point as possible. So sometimes right there you can just flick your nose there when a guy's not braking. So, solid and on turn two and turn three you definitely can make an overtake.
Q. I know you're not the best person to ask about this, but there has been more and more signs about Danica being a NASCAR driver full-time this year. From what you see of her popularity, do you think there is a way to replace what she's brought to the sport? Has she been as popular as any driver you've seen since you got to the big cars?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don't think she can be replaced. Nobody is replaced. What she did is remarkable. Being the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and to win the race and things like that. So when you have something like that, you won't replace.
I spoke with her in Indianapolis, and she said she's not going to change. But now I'm like you guys, everybody's talking so much that she might do it.
But once you -- for the series, they shouldn't be worried. It's not about the one person carrying the series. I mean, you have so many series and it's more and more about first of all to develop a better marketing and stuff like that for all the drivers, for upcoming drivers and drivers that remain and things like that.
It's certainly people know Danica as a driver. Sometimes a lot of people don't know if it's IndyCar or NASCAR, especially now that she's doing both.
At the end of the day we're not going to replace her. But, again, if she goes, I wish her good luck. The series is one you come up with a different strategy of marketing, and I don't see them. They don't need to panic, you know. It's not because they're going to lose her that the series is going to die.
But no question the biggest winner is going to be her. And the crowds will be there if she goes because we know they have at some of the races more than 100,000 people watching and stuff like that. This is going to be huge for her. For sure it will be good for her.
Q. Would you say she's one of the most popular driver you've seen in the big cars?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think so. When she came to IRL it was set up and Danica just dominated. That's why she's doing both series. I juts saw the Forbes Magazine thing saying that she earns $12 million. So, man, you earn $12 million, you're a very popular person.
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