IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500
Topics: Indianapolis 500, Penske Racing
Sam Hornish, Jr.
May 11, 2007
THE MODERATOR: It's always great to have Team Penske with us including two giants of the Speedway obviously, Roger, with 14 victories here and Rick Mears, a four-time winner at Indianapolis. We know Roger is on a particularly tight schedule. The drivers will join us after the drivers' meeting has concluded, but our plan is to jump right into questions for these two, with an acknowledgment that Roger at the very least may have to leave because he has an 11:00 appointment I believe.
Q. You've been running fast all week. Talk about how excited you are to see your son get involved with this?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, this kind of came out of Jay's interest, you know, in the sport. He came here as a young boy obviously hanging around as we were at the track, and you know, through his business, had a relationship with Steve Russo who was the founder, not Counter Peripherals but Seagate, and they decided they would like to run a car and they had a sponsor.
So, you know, we went through the proper channels and were able to supply them a car. You know, Ryan Briscoe obviously is a driver that is associated with our ALMS team and the package went together and some of those people, Nigel Barrett works on the Porsche team and some of the other folks who are on the weekly circuit there are here at the Speedway. But that's what we're focusing on our two cars, and the yellow car kind of looks like Mears there -- inaudible -- when he's coming down the track. But that's worked out well so far, and Briscoe has done a good job and Nigel. And of course Jason Murray (ph) who ran in Iroq and has been with me, I don't know how many, 25 or 30 years is heading up that operation. So you know, they have got a lot of experience in that garage and I think we want to see them do well.
Q. I was going to ask you about Jason, can you expand on that a little bit, he's old school?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, he has been with me when we had a small shop in Redding and we were running Trans Am, we were running Indy and we were running Can-Am, running NASCAR out of the same shop. So I guess we have evolved into the same thing now down in North Carolina, not quite our old series, but he's done a great job. He and Barbara have been involved with Iroq. He kept that going.
It's gotten more difficult here in the last several years trying to get sponsors to support that series. The attention on trying to get drivers -- inaudible -- overall it's been a successful series, and this has been a great chance for him to go on vacation. I told him to go down to Indy -- inaudible -- so it's good to have him here.
Q. It looks like this will be the first time we'll have a chance to do the new qualifying format. First, your opinion of the new format with the 11 cars, and has the team sat down now and rethought your strategy or will you approach it like you have in years past?
ROGER PENSKE: The strategy is a good one, you know, we employed this same strategy even when there were 33, you know, where you could pull out, and the nice thing is you've got three chances here to requalify. I think it's terrific. It will bring some real excitement. There's 15, 16, 17 cars that would like to get in the top 11 positions, and I think the interest for the fans that did take the time to come out here tomorrow will see a great day.
And I don't know what the speeds are going to be -- but we know exactly, we've talked about it, Cindric is obviously really the guy behind the scenes that we really sit down with the drivers. It's a tough decision, though, once you've qualified here, more than the race, you can get yourself caught up into the qualifying mode and miss the whole race. And, you know, we've kind of seen it this week, you get out here running these cars with these wings, very little downforce on them and you can get yourself in trouble pretty quick. Rick knows that a couple times when we've been going too fast.
We are going to try to get ourselves ready today and then go tomorrow but I'm going to take a real good look at it. I don't think that if you have one little car that looks like it can be a pole contender and maybe they didn't execute once, might go out and throw them out one more time. But you might see the top guy, if one portion is good enough at the top and you know that yourself, I wouldn't go out and throw a time away. I would say, look, I'm in the race, didn't qualify in the race in the first two or three rows, that's where the winner typically comes out of normally, so I would not want to risk something. Coming in those four laps, you're probably more on the edge as a driver than you are during the whole month.
Q. As one of the top team owners in NEXTEL Cup, do you have any interest in getting in the Dale Earnhardt Junior bidding contest, and if not, where do you think he'll end up?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, I was interested to see that announcement as we all were here this week. We saw something brewing over the last several weeks. I think it's a real asset that DEI has lost because he's a talented driver, and certainly from the fans, the heritage from his dad and the job that he's done just under the pressure that he has as an individual -- forget the on-track stuff, just as an individual, that his life changed, and to be able to execute the way he has; he's taken a big step here. Theresa obviously had to make a business decision and he had to make a step to go on. Obviously he's a driver that, you know, has a big future going forward.
And I read about Hendricks, I read good Gibbs, I read about Childress, a number of teams who might have interest. I think everybody has interest in Dale Earnhardt Junior to join their team. You know, we're a Dodge team, we have drivers under contract today, and we're not in a situation that we would probably be in line to offer him a job. I mean, we'd sure like to talk with him. Just the comments that I read in the paper, he might know more than I do that he wants to be with Chevrolet when we have a contract with Dodge. And when we have contracts, and as you know, we stay with them. So, you know that, would be my comment.
Q. Along those lines, there seems to be a trend of open-wheel drivers going over to NASCAR, and could you talk about that, and also, you know, how much of a threat is that to the IRL as the IRL people try to build this series?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, let me say this. I feel a nice momentum at IRL right now. I think as we went to Homestead, we moved that race to the night race, you talk to the promoter, the promoter was very happy with the results, the crowd was better -- he knows the numbers. You and I don't know the numbers typically but he did and I talked to Jim France and he thought it was a successful weekend.
The St. Pete race was terrific. The city is behind it. Kansas City we had one of the best attendances that we've had in a long time there. So I see that, you know, from the lead perspective and now you come here to Indy, and now the point is, do we build to Indy and then do we drop off.
You know, I think there's a lot of things happening. We're excited about having you guys come to Detroit, and we are going to try to provide a racetrack there, like when you came to California the first time, that were the right pieces for the drivers, the fans. So there's a lot of investment now from a driver perspective.
Now, drivers are going to go where they think they can build their reputation and maybe build from an economic perspective. You know, Sam, he's running some races for us. We haven't made any decision, there's no decision, but I said the only way we're really going to know what you want to do is to go try it. You know, he's had a little success, a tough break this past week, but again we are on a track.
I don't see everybody just climbing out of their IndyCar and going to NASCAR, because I can tell you one thing: It's a big, high fence to jump to get in as a driver. Just don't go down there. Maybe the old days you could, but today, you go down there and just watch the qualifying and watch what goes on. You ask Montoya; he's a terrific driver, and I'm sure he'll tell you it's probably the toughest racing he's ever done. So I don't think you're going to see a mass exodus from open-wheel; In fact, I would say just the opposite.
Q. You were just commenting when you walked in here about how you came here in 1951, what was the allure of the Speedway, as a young kid, and also, now if you can win a 15th, would that be a nice, round figure to say good-bye to IndyCar Racing?
ROGER PENSKE: Let me answer the last question first. I would love to win the 15th, but if I do, I guarantee I'll be back next year. I'm not in any position that I have any long-term or short-term plans to get out. I'm going to come here as long as I can. I think it's the most motivating thing that we do to come to Indianapolis and race, and I think the success here is because of the people we've been able to put together.
You know, my interest was as a kid that back in those days, I loved cars, and my dad worked for a company that represented International Nickel Company (ph) and they were lap sponsors. I guess in those races, probably a hundred dollars a lap or maybe 50, I gave them a couple of tickets. And I remember we arrived here late and went over to their home of someone who had given him the tickets and there was a car there, it was like, in fact, they had a show car in those days. It was one of the old cars with no engine and they had a hat, put the Cromwell on; maybe that was the heat of the track and couldn't see the cars go by because we were so low, the seats were so low coming into the fourth turn, but I have a little better view today. When you go back and you think about that, I was here every year from that point on up until when we weren't here for three or four years when we had the split. So I've been here and seeing the revolution what's taken place here, but I'll be back.
Q. Rick, you're the pole leader here, you have the pole record, was this the format, would you have added a few poles? How do you think that would have probably worked out, how would you have liked having this format back when you were driving?
RICK MEARS: You know, at the end of the day, I don't think it would change as far as -- it does give the a couple other guys maybe a couple other shot at that time, it but it still boils down to the same thing: The guy that put the best car and the best four laps is the guy that's going to sit on the pole.
I think having another shot at it doesn't necessarily mean you can gain what you need a lot of times. So I don't think it really changes much in that respect. It's still going to boil down to whoever would have gotten it one way is probably the same guy that's going to get it the other way.
I think it's just going to add a lot more excitement for the fact and track activity and things going on which will be a big plus. And I'm excited, we've been wanting to get it in for the last two years, and the weather has stopped us each time. I've been excited about it ever since it was announced and really looking forward to seeing how it turns out this year.
ROGER PENSKE: You know, we've pulled out a lot, so we've done almost the same thing in kind of the reverse order. We've not taken our time. I remember pulling Rick out a couple of times. Helio pulled out two or three years ago, and then was able to run for the pole at quarter to six.
Q. First of all, if anyone knows, can you comment on how much work truly goes into winning here? And after that comment, would you just talk about Sam, and you've had a lot of great drivers obviously if your history, just kind of where does he rank among those drivers?
ROGER PENSKE: Well, when you talk about the drivers, I learned this a long time ago, they are often great and they have to peak here at a certain time to win this race. I think that, you know, Sam's goal is to win Indy. When we shook hands the first time to put our deal together, we said that one of the goals was to win Indianapolis. I said it might not come the first year; it didn't.
But it was just like the first win. When a driver comes to your team, that breaks the ice for us. When we had a win in the first race, it took us -- we had up-and-downs, and but at the closeout of Indy last year, I said it was Sam that won that race. It wasn't anything else. It was Sam that won it last year, and I take my hat off.
I don't have a favorite driver. I think I have to work on his car and I'm racing Tim as hard as we can, but on the other hand, when we can work together, we will. I think that's been part of the success here over the many years that we've been here is the fact that the free flow of information between the teams. There's nothing that's not available, and I think these guys talk to each other because, you know, the little things they might learn, they might learn maybe whatnot to do rather than what to do and I think that's paid off a lot.
The success has been the experience with the people. Just you go down and take a look at the cars -- these cars in the garage today. Every seam on those cars has been booked months ago; the cars we've been working on just to get them as aerodynamically slick as we can. Doesn't mean we'll wins race, but the details, the aerodynamic pieces, those are the things that are going to make the difference. Fortunately we have people that have been here understand those effects.
Overall, the reason we've been successful is we've had good leadership, and certainly Sam, he came to the track with his dad and had it in his blood and certainly has been able to deliver that same execution. We're going to try to do that again. We feel no less competitive starting in this race. In fact, if you think about it, with Sam now won a race and he sees what can happen at the end, I think that these two guys probably have a better chance, than they even did last year because of his experience. We got into an issue mid-race trying to catch up there and maybe had to think a little because you have to be there for that last dash, which we will this year. So I think we come into the race with some of the people you have to beat.
THE MODERATOR: Formal welcome to Helio Castroneves, who will not have to answer this question this year, when do you think you will win the Indianapolis 500; and Sam Hornish, Junior is delighted to be through with that question; and a guy that's been also a big part of the success, president of Penske Racing, Tim Cindric, and we'll continue with the questions.
Q. If I understand correctly, we have smaller fuel tanks now, how will that change the challenges you're going to have on the pit stops?
ROGER PENSKE: That's one of the things Tim has really emphasized since the beginning of the season. We have a weakling trainer (ph) that's working with our crews; if fact, if you come down to the shop, and you're all invited, we have electric Indy car that we use as a pit training car.
So I think it's once or twice a week we train the stops because today we can fuel as fast as we can change the tires so we don't have a situation today where you're waiting for the fuel. So it's going to be really important on execution from the standpoint of the pits, and I think that's the biggest area. Everybody is going to have to stop at the same time, but running the same engines, and you can run them a little leaner, there is some adjustment in the cockpit.
But I think the real execution is going to have to be in and out of the pits. If you can't pass on the track and many of the times the advantage of getting in and out of the pits quicker is the difference. So there's an element of trying to go too quick, but that's a real focus for us and I think it's going to make it interesting with more stops.
Q. What you said about Sam in NASCAR, is the ball still in his court, meaning if he came to you regardless of performance and said, "I want to be in Cup next year," would you still do your best to put him in one of your cars next year?
ROGER PENSKE: He has not asked me that question, and if he did, I think we would have a discussion to see what's the long-term strategy.
But I talked to our sponsors and we made a commitment as we joined together to look at the success he could gain through open-wheel racing, and then he had some interest in NASCAR; and the good news is we have a program that he could get into running some Busch races. But that wasn't based on any guaranteed future, like Helio was able to run at Sebring, you know, with the Porsche Team and will run again in Atlanta. So it's a real open book. I don't think we're in any -- we're not at a point here to make any decision.
Q. We talked to Roger and Rick about the new qualifying format, and we're finally going to get to use it tomorrow with the nice weather and the forecast. How big of a chess game do you think it's going to be between the two of you and the two Ganassi drivers? They have been fast all month. Just how big of a chess game do you think that's going to be with you guys?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Indianapolis, anything can change, we might not get to see it but definitely the first time that Penske played out with 11 cars, you're going to see probably the top 18 fastest cars that are going to try to work their way in and bump through those 11 spots.
But also the addition of being able to complete three attempts, you know, to bump three times basically means that you could be sitting second, and you thought that you found enough in the car to go out there and risk taking a chance to move up one spot, to be able to start from the pole, it would be pretty interesting.
I think you're going to see a lot of action early on. Everybody is going to run through that first time and see where they are at and put a time on the board. And you're going to see a lot of waiting, a lot of practice. And it's probably going to be a lot of the way it used to be on the final day of qualifying when everybody; you know, pushing down at the same time, fighting for a spot to be able to be the last guy to go out and put up a time. It will be interesting to see how it works out, and hopefully we'll figure out the right times to run and make the right decisions.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Pretty much what Sam said, we experienced it once in 2005, obviously we didn't have the new rules before, but the way the competition is this year seems to be unbelievably tight, and this is definitely going to create an excitement for especially the top 11. You're probably talking about one, maybe, two-mile difference, and when you see something like that, every team thinks they have a chance to bump someone else or improve their position. We feel that we have continued working and feel that it's going to be an interesting day. I'm sure not only us but a lot of guys are going to show a little bit their hands, and for sure you're going to have a little bit of what it might be for tomorrow's time.
Q. The rear wing adjustor that you guys filled up last year, have you used your own in practice so far, and are there more than two at this time?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: Not sure what you mean by "more than two," but last year it was obviously something that the adjustable rear wing is on everybody's car and just a matter of how you do that. You just don't get into that until the second week so that's not something we really focused on this week. You'll see more of that next week. Just want to make sure everything is reliable and that's something that's -- the adjustable rear wing is not a new thing here, it's just the way in which you do it.
Q. Do either one of you three have an A.J. Foyt story you want to share?
RICK MEARS: There's just a lot of stories about A.J. and I think you know -- the story I have about A.J. is that you know, as I came here as a car owner in the early days and would see his cars fast every day, and the orange car sitting up front I wanted to be sure we could try to emulate him or try to beat him, and he was someone rapid out there we always looked at. You could see he's not going to give up and I think that he will go down as a real legend in the sport.
SAM HORNISH, JR.: My A.J. story is in my bedroom. I used to go to a photo stop that used to be back in the cafeteria, and I spent all of my lawnmower money to buy his back black-and-white photos to put up in my room. It's pretty cool.
TIM CINDRIC: I'm not going to tell any because he's still here.
Q. Tim, in the last race, we saw what happened in the pits with Andretti Green, how do you avoid incidents like that on your team, and is it in the heat of battle that things can kind of foul up?
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, racing, anything can happen. It's easy to look at it as an armchair quarterback and say they should have done this, should have done that. But everybody is out there competing at that point in time. That's why you have to make sure as a team, we're looking at the bigger picture. If we have one in contention and one that's not in contention, it's our job to win the race, whether it's the car I'm running or the car Roger is running, at the end of the day, the team wins. And you know, that's what we have to focus on on race day and, you know, anything can happen out there.
Everybody's caught up in their moments and we try and communicate with each other during the race, you know, to do the best we can on situations like that.
Q. Sam, could you talk about coming here as the defending champion and having that monkey off your back and what are the feelings, what's the approach now and having a victory?
SAM HORNISH, JR.: It's kind of pretty strange for me so far this year because I expected coming in that there was going to be a lot more things that I was going to have to do and a lot more questions to be asked.
But I think there was so much build-up about the win and the finish that occurred last year that everybody has got that story and it's been told a hundred times, and it's been a relaxing month so far. We continue to try to go faster out on the track, but it's been pretty comfortable so far and I'm just kind of enjoying the fact that I can come back here and not have to take it so seriously every day; and how are we going to win this race; and what are we going do be able to do it win it and just approach it like we did last year and just try to not beat ourselves and make sure we can make it to the end of the race and that nothing really matters until race day as far as we would like to start on the pole.
But, you know, we've got to remember that the big money is paid out on race day and how do we get to the last, you know, 20 laps of that race and get involved in the shootout for the win is the big thing. That was my goal last year was just to come and finish the race and not have the same goal this year; and I don't have to answer all of the questions about are you ever going to win, are you ever going to finish and it's really a lot more comfortable.
THE MODERATOR: We appreciate all of you coming in as always, it's a great experience and a reminder of the 14 victories for the team, seven are represented in the driver lineup we have right here up front. Thanks a lot for coming in.
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