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IndyCar Series: Firestone Indy 400

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Firestone Indy 400

IndyCar Series: Firestone Indy 400

Michael Andretti
Bryan Herta
July 31, 2005


THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much. We're joined by race winner Bryan Herta and team co-owner for Michael Andretti. For Bryan, it's his first IndyCar Series victory since Kansas in 2003. This marks the third time this year the race winner also won the pole at that respective race. Bryan, tell us about your day.

BRYAN HERTA: Great day. Obviously, the team gave me a dominant car, a better car than I've ever had on a superspeedway. It was all going my way. In the first half of the race, we were able to pull out a big lead. Clearly, I didn't want to see a yellow, but I thought it was unlikely we were going to go 400 miles without one. I knew leading on the restarts was not the place you wanted to be. I got swarmed the first two times we did it. I got back to the front the one time, then the second time I kind of got stuck. At the end of the race, I knew my only shot was if I lost the lead on the restart, it was going to be very, very difficult for me to get it back. I concentrated on getting the best restart I could, holding my line on the bottom. It all worked out. I'm glad I had my teammates behind me. They had my back.

THE MODERATOR: Michael, from your perspective, watching along pit road, your comments, please?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Exciting, I'll tell you, especially the last few laps. I don't know, I think it was totally a dominant show for Bryan and the whole XM team. I'm just so proud to get him into Victory Lane. One of the goals for this team was to get four cars in Victory Lane this year. To reach a goal like that is just fantastic. I'm just so happy for Bryan, too. The race just was a little boring there in the beginning.

BRYAN HERTA: I didn't think so.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It was a good thing. I'm not saying it was bad. But unfortunately it became way too exciting in the end. Like Bryan said, he had his teammates there, and they had his back. I think that helped a lot because I think Scheckter had a very strong car. We were definitely worried about him. It was nice that there was a little buffer there for Bryan. That was all it took.

THE MODERATOR: There's a lucky listener out there today that won $10,000 for your victory.

BRYAN HERTA: They're going to be loving me right now (laughter).

THE MODERATOR: Questions for either Bryan or Michael.

Q. When you got that huge lead, did it become a goal to see how many guys you could get a lap down?

BRYAN HERTA: Not really. I mean, the goal was, once we got out a big lead, I started turning the fuel down. They were telling me what second, third place guys were running. I was just downing the fuel back till I could run that pace, try to maintain the advantage I had. I didn't want to give up any of our advantage because if it did go green, obviously we were in a great position. But we also didn't want to short ourselves on the fuel so badly. Our strategy for the start of the race clearly was to just run full rich and try and lead. This is a race a lot of times nobody wants to lead because it can be a fuel economy run. We just decided this year, so many times we got off strategy, tried to do funky things to win a race, we just said we're going to try to win it on speed today. We turned the car out, tried to do everything to put as much speed as we could, try to sit on the front as much as we could, and it worked.

Q. Dan said earlier that you bust your ass to make them look good. Were you ever beginning to wonder when it was going to be your turn?

BRYAN HERTA: No. I mean, I know from the outside it's easy to see that Dan had won four races, Tony and Dario had won a race, and I hadn't won a race, and I'm on the same team as they are. Clearly, I should have the same opportunities. It was frustrating in a way. I tell you what. As much as I want to win, I mean, those guys kept me really up. They were always, "Hey, Bryan, you're going to get one soon. It's going to be a good party when you do." They definitely kept my spirits up. Mike and Kim and Kevin, I mean, I can't tell you how much as a driver it means to you when you're the guy that hasn't won a race, and your team owners come, they say, "We're so happy with the job you're doing. Keep doing what you're doing and we know a win is going to come." It's easy to get insecure and say, "Shoot, I'm the guy that hasn't won." They never put that kind of pressure on me. I know I have to perform to stay on this team and keep my place here, just like everybody does every week. But I've never had a team that's given me as much support through the good times and the bad as this team has.

Q. Michael, in Kansas City I asked you, your three other drivers had all won, and Bryan was struggling. You said, "We can't figure out what's problem is." This weekend, there's Bryan at the top of the heap. Did you spend extra time trying to figure out what was wrong with his car?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: To be completely honest with you, we still don't understand it (laughter). That's the scary part. We don't know. I mean, all of a sudden we come out here and Bryan was just strong right away. The car was running strong. We don't know why. We didn't do a whole lot different than what we did in the last race. We come out here and it works out like that. It's a strange thing. I think it's something that this team has got to figure out. I think when we do, I think we're going to hopefully be stronger.

Q. Bryan, you said your teammates had your back. Three-wide going into one, didn't look like they were too concerned about protecting your position.

BRYAN HERTA: Certainly I knew Tony was taking shots at me and then Dan was. I knew they weren't going -- they weren't looking to gift me a win, and I don't want to win a race that way anyways. It wasn't that they were blocking for me or holding position. It's just I feel most comfortable racing my teammates 'cause I know that we can race close and I know that if we go three-wide, if I hold the bottom and the guy on the top is going to hold the top, the guy in the middle is going to hold the middle, we're going to make it through three-wide and make it through, okay. Whoever is in the lead is in the lead. But I have the most confidence racing with my teammates.

Q. You had a restart where a lapped car tried to get a lap back. Ended up costing you six or seven positions. Did you have an issue with that car?

BRYAN HERTA: I thought that was a stupid move. Brian Barnhart must have said 20 times in the drivers meeting, "Below the white line is not an option." He said it 20 times if he said it once. Here we have a lapped car, went down below the white line, pushed me up, came up next to me, and I had to have a lift. Just killed my momentum. I don't know why that car did what it did. Clearly wasn't in the vein of clean racing. Did they penalize that car for going below the line? It was pretty clear in the driver's briefing from Brian. His exact quote was, "If you go below the white line, you will be penalized." So there.

Q. Michael touched on it, but on Saturday during practices, I don't think anybody thought maybe you might have been the guy to come out on the pole. All of a sudden you did get the pole. Then today you came out and were the dominant car. Was there a switch you flipped somewhere before qualifying yesterday?

BRYAN HERTA: Not a switch. But I think the last couple of races, Kansas in particular, we had really good-handling cars that were slow, we couldn't figure it out. Here yesterday we had a car that was pretty fast, and it wasn't handling very well in the beginning. My engineer, Martin, made some great changes to the car. Just hit the combination right by qualifying. I was surprised. From then on, the car was magic. At no point after that was the car ever anything but great.

Q. Michael, you won seven of 11 races.

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: 7-Eleven (laughter).

Q. When you entered the Indy Racing League, ownership, did you ever fathom that would be possible?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: No. I mean, it's just been a dream year. Actually for me it's been a dream since I got out of the car, the way everything has gone with this team. It's just been pure pleasure for me. Working with these guys, it's just been so much fun. To have the success along with the fun has been just amazing to me. I hope we never wake up from this dream. Sooner or later you know it's going to come to an end. That's the scary part. When it does, I think it's going to be quite interesting to see how the team reacts, how we can get ourselves back when we lose our way. But that's always a challenge. But right now we're really enjoying this.

Q. Your team was in the news a lot this week. How important was it to end it on a positive note?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: You know, I mean, yeah, there is a lot of stuff said, which wasn't true. What happened there had nothing to do with Danica or anything. In fact, I'm one of Danica's biggest fans, I really am. I think she's a real racer. I think she's been nothing but good for this sport. It was other reasons why things were done. But it's all fine. We're fine. She's fine. The IRL is fine. Everything is cool. We came in very positive after that into the weekend. You guys just had a lot of fun with it, that's all.

Q. Bryan, you and your engineer obviously clicked today or this weekend. How important is your feedback that he's got to be able to translate what you tell him the car is doing? What was different this weekend that he got the car dialed in?

BRYAN HERTA: You'd have to ask him exactly. I don't know. I don't know. All the ones, zeros, numbers lined up right, whatever he did. Martin is my engineer. I've been very, very happy with him. He's been with me, this is our second year together now. He's given me some really great cars a lot of times this year. Sometimes we didn't always get to show it like we did today. But he is one of a really, really strong group of engineers that we have at Andretti Green Racing. The depth of engineering at the team is unlike anything I've ever seen. I'm glad to have those guys in our corner because they're the ones that make our cars go fast. We're lucky to drive them.

Q. Michael, different circumstance than how Bryan got the ride. When he filled in for Dario a couple years ago, he did so well, had to keep him. Do you kind of look at another competitor and see that Buddy Lazier is doing so well for Panther?

MICHAEL ANDRETTI: I think Buddy is a good driver. I think he did a great job at Indianapolis. It's tough for a guy to come in like that. Bryan will tell you. He's a good driver. He came in there and did a good job. Made our lives miserable a little bit a couple times.

Q. Bryan, you talked about the restarts. One of those restarts got waved off because Barnhart didn't like the way it went. The last restart was perfect. What was the difference?

BRYAN HERTA: I was starting later. I was getting swarmed. The next one I started real early. I guess I wasn't sure where the restart -- first restart cone was. I guess they told me on the radio that Barnhart said it was too early and if I did it again, I'd go to the back. I knew that was too early. The last one I moved it down a little bit. Being the polesitter, that's -- the leader, that's the only advantage I have at that point. Those guys got a big draft off me. I was just trying to take advantage of the one thing I had, which was the element of surprise that they didn't know when I was going to go. I just tried to time it in a spot where I didn't think they'd expect it.

Q. Yesterday we talked about Michigan being your birthplace. You came in a day early to have dinner with your family. Were any of them at the race today?

BRYAN HERTA: Yeah. A couple of my cousins, second cousins. That's always nice. Of course, my wife and my kids were here, which they only get to about half the races. Really cool to have them in Victory Lane, something that I can share with my kids that hopefully they'll remember when they get older. I know I will.

Q. Word around the water cooler was after Milwaukee, you sat your chief engineer down and watched an episode of the Sopranos with him. Is that true?

BRYAN HERTA: No, that's a bad rumor (laughter).

THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much.

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