PAT SULLIVAN: Welcome again to the Economaki Press Conference Center. When we ask questions, we also use the microphone. We'll have a visit from Ryan Hunter-Reay quickly.
Marco Andretti comes in with another quality finish at Indianapolis. Marco, you were pushing at the end and came up short, but it was a really great run.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, just to answer everybody's first question, right now I think we made a little bit of a mistake in the middle, which turns out it was a team decision to trim out, and then I ended up they took front wing out but they never got to trim the car. So my stint after that, I had a lot of understeer, and then after that then we trimmed the rear. By that time, we had lost the track position. So we were in fourth trimmed out. So I think it was the right decision if we would have gotten it done properly because we would have been out front in clean air. Turned out it wasn't, so that's that.
Q: Marco, how would you gauge most of the race? There seemed to be periods out there where it was kind of nuts; had a couple of cars crash under caution. Just some nutty things that happened out there. What was your viewpoint of the entire pace of the race?
ANDRETTI: Yeah, it seemed like there was a bit more marbles than usual, so it was really easy to get your right front with understeer. Just touch the marbles with the right front, and it will pancake the car. I think that's where most of the spins were, but it's an easy thing to do, for sure.
Q: Marco, the first question is the where is your hat?
ANDRETTI: Oh, I forgot it. (Laughter)
Q: I guess the second question -- no. Marco, the thing that happened with you and Tony there is you seemed to have a head of steam there. Explain from your vantage point what happened.
ANDRETTI: No, I had a huge run, and I went for it. I kept the car as far bottom of the racetrack as possible. Maybe it was a bit too late, but you hate to see this stuff happening with teammates, but I had a run; I went for it. You don't want to really park the thing because then, because if I wouldn't have went for it, I would have been overtaken and then I would have been in that position, so I had the run and I went for it. Obviously, if a little bit of that is my fault, I feel absolutely horrible, but I was worried about it when it happened, too. I do what I do and all I can do is concentrate on the race at that time.
Q: Did you feel he left you room, though? Did you feel Tony had left you room?
ANDRETTI: Yeah, he was toward the bottom of the racetrack, but I was on the line turning in or pretty darn close. But that's racing. It's going to happen. It's going to happen.
Q: Marco, third place finish, you get in a race and you think you could walk away with a little smile and sometimes it's not -- how do you judge this as a third-place finish?
ANDRETTI: I just think, you know, we just need to look at how we didn't win the race, that's all. That's the only disappointment that's on my face. Obviously, a championship and everything, it's great but, you know, we need to look at how we lost the race, that's all. Then next year not make the same mistake.
Q: Marco, in that last stint, was your car just trimmed out, you couldn't get past Helio or was Helio actually kind of -- did you feel like he was maybe blocking you a little bit?
ANDRETTI: I guess it's not blocking if he doesn't do two moves, but he was pretty far to the bottom of the racetrack. My last run on him I knew was my final chance. I faked to go high, so he didn't block low, and I was able to go low and get him. It's tough, and you really toward the end of the race when everybody is sort of trimmed out, you're not going to be able to pass a car, just drive around the car, especially a Penske at the end of the race on the outside. So that was the only way I was going to get him.
Q: Marco, did you talk to grandpop since the end of the race?
Q: Did he have any comments?
ANDRETTI: Yeah, just the same thing, we need to sit back and see if we made a mistake, how we made the mistake and why and just build on that, try to fix it. Like I said, that was the question I tried to put to rest initially because that was the mistake, you know, I thought, we trimmed out. But if we would have trimmed out and stayed at the front, it's the ideal thing to do and it was a team decision. We just ended up going to fourth and making the mistake earlier.
SULLIVAN: Quickly, first of all, welcome to the Economaki Press Center Ryan Hunter-Reay after a tremendous run, congratulations on a fine finish.
Q: Marco, not to harp on this too much, but Tony was highly critical of your move, critical of you after the accident, obviously still upset, but he called it a stupid move. You explained yourself. Was it a stupid move or just unfortunate?
ANDRETTI: I don't know, maybe it was a bit last minute, but I don't know about stupid move. You know, maybe he didn't expect it to be coming, I'll put it that way. But, you know, we didn't touch, I didn't really take his air away, it was just a last-minute thing. You know, he was going in at speed and not able, he must have just got in the marbles. I didn't see a replay yet, but I was as low as I possibly could have been.
Q: Marco, how difficult was it all month to try to find a chink in Scott Dixon's armor? He seemed to be pretty much among the fastest if not the fastest every day, he won the pole and comes out on Race Day and drove a pretty smooth race.
ANDRETTI: No, I agree, and he earned that one, for sure. But I think it was because we made a little mistake. I think with the downforce that I had before we trimmed out, I think Scott would have beat me, but I think maybe would have finished second because I don't think we would have had the speed to stay in front. But, you know, like I said, I was able to overtake him because I could stay flat behind him with the downforce in, but I wasn't going to be able to stay there, I don't think. So, you know.
Q: Ryan, you were aware I guess of all the stuff going on out there, especially involving rookies. Was your team talking to you in the race, keep cool, and how was your approach today and how would you rate your effort?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Man, I'm so relieved. This is a great finish for us. I drove so hard today. This year I think means a lot more to the rookie, Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year battle than in a bunch of years, maybe 12 years. There has been some great drivers come through the rookies, but it's been very slim in the past year. This is 11 drivers, very talented field. Man, this is a great field to be on top of. I drove my heart out all day, and the team, we made the car better and better. Hideki kept blocking me there at the end, and I had the fire in my eyes to get bring him. I wasn't going to let the race finish with that kid in front of me, that's for sure. (Laughter)
Q: Ryan, a year ago you were a Champ Car castoff, you were looking for a ride in NASCAR. You were hoping Robby Gordon was going to put something together for you. How much does that mean to you?
HUNTER-REAY: It's huge. One year ago I was walking around the NASCAR paddock, now I'm sitting here at the Indy 500 press room talking about being rookie of the year. It's huge. I mean, that's how racing is, but you've got to be ready when the opportunity comes, and I was, and I've been working well with this team, they've been working well with me. It's a great bunch of guys, and I think there's going to be much better things to come this year. With that said, we were punching above our weight. I'm not under any disillusions that we're going to be fighting Penske, AGR and Ganassi every weekend. They're in a league of their own at the moment. Another thing is congratulations to Scott Dixon. It's nice to see the fastest car win the race.
Q: Ryan, how much did it kind of help that you were able to have seven races with this team and in this car last year. How much redemption do you feel the way things didn't turn out as planned on Pole Day and you had the second week where the car seemed like it was getting slower rather than faster?
HUNTER-REAY: I've learned a lot of lessons this month. One thing, for sure, at the Indianapolis 500 qualifying doesn't make all that much a difference unless you're on the front row. We fought our way through it, passed cars the whole day. It was pretty cool, cool to be a part of. I learned a lot about the track. I can't tell you how different it is when the car has a bunch of push on it on cold tires in traffic. It's difficult. We're definitely earning our money at that point.
Q: What about having seven races last year, how much did that help you prepare for top rookie?
HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, for sure. I mean, running with these guys, you know, I mean they know what they're doing on these ovals and know how to keep the momentum up. It's tight, tight competition out there, and that was great to get that under my belt last year. That was the whole point of it was for me to get in the car to be ready to go for 2008. We've run a lot better than our results in 2008, also. So it's nice to have a good result in there. Sixth place is a good result for Team Ethanol, the best Indy 500 for ethanol.
Q: Ryan, you moved up very well some through passes, some through good pit work. What was the key to getting, to moving up those 14 places?
HUNTER-REAY: Like you just said, hit it on the head. The pass on the track, pass in the pit lane. Some cars that were in front of us but slower than us, we got around in the pit lane, which was very nice. Each time I came in, one of those nuisance cars in front of us we'd seem to get around, and then I'd pick off two in a stint. So it was pretty cool. We did it all as planned, you know. I left a margin. That's about it, you know. (Laughter)
SULLIVAN: Real quickly, Marco, we're going to let Marco go. Marco, congratulations on a great run and thanks for coming in.
HUNTER-REAY: I can't believe this month is over, man.
SULLIVAN: Other questions for Ryan Hunter-Reay?
Q: Were you a little bit surprised that, I mean the Newman/Haas rookies had been pretty decent all month and they were among the first rookies to crash. Were you a little bit surprised by that? Because Justin Wilson was expected to be a guy that could put on a pretty good showing here and, of course, Graham Rahal showing what he's done all year.
Yeah. No, I wasn't surprised at all. In these IndyCar races, it's funny how it works, qualify 14th at Homestead or 13th at Homestead, 10 laps later guys that had been rock stars all weekend in practice are now behind me. It happens that way. Qualifying and practice you get a lot of hype from it, but it doesn't give you a good feel where the car is going to be in the race. Another thing I can't tell you how difficult it is out there when you have a little bit of inaccuracy in the car, push, loose, something like in the marbles, you're doing 230 miles an hour, and you make a mistake by about a foot on an apex or on a turn-in and you're in the marbles and you've got a lift and it was tight out there. 500 miles - felt like we just did a thousand.
Q: That's what I was going to ask you about the marbles. Ryan, what did you learn about that today? I mean, obviously some other rookies had problems with that.
HUNTER-REAY: My car was working low, so thankfully, and my spotters were on top of their game telling me, 'Hey, don't go high, cars keep crashing high, don't even get near the marbles.' So I kept the car on the bottom, almost apexed on the curbs, I was so low. You have to be careful of that. Scheckter wadded up a pretty good race car here a couple years ago doing that. So I watched all my tape like a quarterback for a Super Bowl. I watched years and years of Indianapolis 500s and prepared and watched other guys' mistakes, and I learned from it.
Q: Have you talked to your marketing folks yet and how this is going to help your program and where do you go from here?
HUNTER-REAY: I don't know, I'm just happy to bring the car home as top rookie and amongst the drivers we did, you know. P6, like I said, we're punching above our weight and to give this result to Ethanol, they certainly deserve it. They deserve a win, and hopefully we can do that this year. I certainly believe we can, given some luck. What was nice about today is we didn't have any luck. We didn't have bad luck, we didn't have good luck, we just had no luck, and that's what I need.
Q: Ryan, a couple of times I think when you got Hideki, you were an inch or two away from the front straight away wall on the inside. What was in your mind?
HUNTER-REAY: That's hairy; it looks like there's no room. You're sitting so low you can only see the tops of the tires pretty much, he's here, here are the tires. And he's blocking. I can't tell you how bad that pissed me off. I was methodical about it, and I set him up and I found where his weaknesses were and the amount of relief when I passed him, you know, was huge. I wanted to throw a No. 1 sign out the door when I did. (Laughter)
But I couldn't do that.
SULLIVAN: I've got three questions queued up right now. That's going to be it for Ryan.
Q: Ryan we've seen a lot of rookies over the last couple years either have accidents or struggle mightily in their first race. What was the thing for you that separated you from those other rookies that didn't have as good run as you have?
HUNTER-REAY: That's a good question. I think it was just to keep my margins in the beginning, just learn, learn what the car is going to give you, drive within the car's limits, and, hey, you know, if you put a good driver in a good car, you know, you'll end up getting it. That's for sure. You'll end up working it out. This kid drove an amazing right race today right here, Vitor. Good job, buddy.
VITOR MEIRA: You too, man.
Q: Ryan, Rahal Letterman has been kind of overlooked the last couple years. What does this finish do to boost that team's momentum? And also, did Dave have anything to say to you after the finish?
HUNTER-REAY: He said just five spots away from being on my show. (Laughter)
That's what went through my head. But he's been a great guy. He's cool. He's so laid back, you know. He just shows up in like shorts and a T-shirt and says let's go have a good time. It's great for Ethanol, great for all the supporters. This team has had its fair share of bumps along the road, and God bless him, Paul Dana, and then with Jeff and just the rocks in the road, it's nice to have some momentum going here. These guys certainly deserve it.
SULLIVAN: Final question for Ryan.
Q: You talked about what was going on in front of you and your race strategy, but at what point did it start to kick in and say I can make this happen if this happens? When did you really start to feel comfortable and start letting things fall into place?
HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, when that line gets shorter and shorter in front of you after each pit stop and after each time you pick off cars and you're so busy in your only little world there as you're going through the stint, all of a sudden you're sitting there with 50 laps to go in the race and only four cars in front of you and it was like, 'OK, this is running now.' We were with some great company up there, you know. Like I said, the Ganassi cars deserve to be up there. Scott certainly deserved to win the race. But Ganassi, AGR and Penske are winning the war right now in the series. They're on top of it every weekend. It's almost like sometimes the race starts at P8 because there's those cars on some ovals. But here the driver really matters. It's nice to crack into that dominated area by the big three.
SULLIVAN: Well, the rookie of the year, as many of you know, is officially announced at the victory banquet. This is the guy who is the highest finishing rookie, and did a great job. Thanks very much, Ryan Hunter-Reay.
HUNTER-REAY: Thanks. Thanks, everybody. (Applause)
SULLIVAN: Ladies and gentlemen, the little team that could certainly delivered this time with a tremendous run.
VITOR MEIRA: The team that can.
SULLIVAN: That can and did. Second place. The second time you've been in the runner-up position. Vitor Meira, tremendous race and you really gave it your all. Congratulations.
MEIRA: Thanks you. Thank you, everybody. Yeah, from where we were struggling last year and also this first races, I think it's the right place to come back. I'm really happy with Delphi National Guard team, the crew most of all, for putting me and having great pit stops and putting me there in front. That's what we needed, actually, according to our setup and everything. We were a little light on downforce, and we needed a little clean air. So that was certainly made our day. I'm really proud of everybody. We did our best today. I certainly did my best today, and so did the crew, the engineers, everybody. That's what we need. I'm really proud of everybody.
Q: Vitor, first of all I want to say congratulations, what a tremendous race. Take a little bit of an issue with something Ryan said. You were mentioning outside, I know, that it's time for the big three to start looking out because Panther, you know, has had some good shows. You finished second here twice in Indianapolis and I have two parts to my question.
One is, I thought we were expecting a lot more sunshine today and I wondered if the cloud cover keeping conditions a little cooler sort of played into the fact that you had trimmed out your car in cooler weather. The second question I had was if you could tell me what was running through your mind the last 18 months after Andretti passed Castroneves and was on your tail.
MEIRA: It definitely helped us, the weather. That's what we planned; we looked really close to it. That's the reason of our comeback and not as strong in the beginning of the race but very strong to the end of the race, was what we planned. There was one day that the track was really close to race conditions and race laps as overall laps. So we really focused on that day. We actually did a hundred and some laps that day. That's where it took us.
As soon as Marco overtook Helio, I knew he was coming, he was very strong. He was also being very aggressive, pushing a lot. I could see that he would catch me, catch me and all of a sudden drop back. That's because you push a little bit too much sometime and have to have a big lift. So I knew he was coming. I knew he had the car and he wanted to. But so I did, too, wanted to catch Dixon. Again, we had the car; it just didn't work everything out. On the pit stops, he was a little better because of the position he was being in first place. He caught us there, and as you saw, as you guys saw throughout the day, hard to pass.
Q: Congratulations on your second-place finish. I think it was 39 laps to go and a great move by you there on the straightaway. Would you talk about that, please?
MEIRA: Yes, that was a restart. Ed Carpenter stayed out. I knew he wouldn't have a good restart since he had old tires. Scott had a good restart. I got advantage of the slipstream, and as soon as I saw the space outside right after we passed Carpenter, I went there and just actually I went there just for some clean air, but then the car kept rolling and kept going. So that's my opportunity. I mean, I'm not going to have many opportunities from now on. I've got to take that. So never lifted and happened what happened.
Q: Vitor, you've been talking all month about how good your car has been and in every condition that we've had to deal with here. Did you have to do a lot of changes to it today or was it pretty consistent throughout?
MEIRA: Yeah, we did a lot of changes. The only changes we did was front wing. We were for some reason a little off on front wing, so actually we did almost two turns of front wing throughout the race. That's what the first four, five pit stops are for, get to tune the car and get the hand of it. Right after we did those front-wing changes, the car came alive, and it matched the track, the weather improved a little bit, it came toward us.
Again, you have to do something right in order to finish good at the '500.' Dixon really deserved it. He, I mean he was by far pole. Ganassi was very dominant here throughout the race. So congrats to them, but we had a very good car, too.
Q: Vitor, I know a hundred miles is a long way to go in the Indianapolis 500 but you were in front after 400 miles. Were you beginning to think I just might pull this thing off today?
MEIRA: I was, sure. Not sure but as sure as I could be with Dixon on my butt. (Laughter)
So I thought right when I was in third place right on that restart, I thought now we can win, now we can win. Now we put ourselves in position to win. That's what happened. Again, we did the Delphi National Guard crew did their job, I did my job and we put ourselves in position to win. Again, we had the car, we had the crew, just didn't work out this time.
Q: Vitor, I didn't mean to bring it up, but No. 2 again. What are your thoughts, man?
MEIRA: How many times did I answer this question?
Q: How close do you, how much closer do you feel you are to victory than before even?
MEIRA: It's very close. I mean this feels like a victory for us. How many, even in the grandstands here, how many of you guys counted me as leading Lap 160 or whatever? Not many. We did and we believed it and we're always going to. We always, no matter what, going to do our best. When I got out of the car, I saw that everybody on the team was very happy. National Guard people was happy, Delphi people was happy, I was very happy. And the reason is we took everything out we had. Looking at the beginning of this year and the end of last year, this is a very, very good result. I will never take it for granted.
Q: Two-part question. Why were there so many yellow flags? And secondly, does yellow-flag running affect the driver's ability to concentrate on the race?
MEIRA: That's a good point. In fact, we did not have one green pit stop. I was wondering about that come like 50 laps to go. I don't know, I think the yellow flags, they came on the right time, to be honest. Always like toward the end of the stint, nothing really major really happened, I think, from where I was sitting. And they were just either good or bad timed. I don't know in number of yellows if we had more or less than past years but we sure had a lot and we did not have any green pit stops, which it's a little unusual, but I'm not complaining.
Q: Vitor, the team came from nowhere years and years ago, three years ago, you weren't in the ride, the team didn't exist and now we're here. What do you need to take that one last step and get in the winner circle?
MEIRA: To continue it, keep trying. We had 33 very competent drivers and teams trying. We had Chip Ganassi, AGR and Penske that for the last two years had won everything but three races for the last three or four years maybe. So we are up against very, very hard competition. And to gain back on them, sometimes it's even harder to maintain the pace with them. That's what we did right now with the addition of Dave Cripps and Woody as engineers and Andre in the off season, that's what we did now. Just right before this race we hired Dave Cripps, and that's what settled down everything. We will be very good from here on. We will gain on the big teams. Sometimes more, sometimes less. But I'm really hopeful, and I'm really confident that the Delphi National Guard is going to be always in front for these races to come.
SULLIVAN: I've got four questions queued up. That will be all for Vitor and let him go.
Q: Vitor, your cars matched up really well, was it the pit position?
MEIRA: We were going to the last pit stop, we were wondering. I was pushing a little bit by myself, but I could still hold it flat and not scrub so much speed. I knew in traffic we were going to push a little more than we wanted. And we were talking with -- I was talking with my engineer and wondering since Dixon is on the first pit, even if the pit, the change of tires and refueling itself is a little slower, he will overtake us because the position he's in since he's the pole and the first one in line.
So I wanted a little more front wing, but that cost us a little bit in time. It was a decision that we had to make. I could stand no front wing if I would stay in the lead, if I was in the lead, but it didn't happen. We couldn't make it. They did a very good pit stop, we did a very good pit stop, too, but because of the positioning he was, he passed us. So it was just a decision we had to make. I think we made the right decision. Had we put a little more front wing, I think Marco or Helio behind us would catch me and I would not have finished second. So I think we made the right decision, but that's the reason we lost the position on the pit stop.
Q: Vitor, there was a moment late in the race when you were leading and speaking of the power three teams, you had Ganassi, Penske, AGR right behind you. If you remember that moment, how special was that to you being the little guy out there fighting the odds and being in the lead?
MEIRA: It feels really good. And again, my hand is to the Delphi National Guard crew. I think if I'm not mistaken, it was Dixon, me, Marco and Castroneves. So it's right there, Ganassi, Panther, which it's the first way that we are there. AGR and Penske, we are among the big three. We are ahead of two of them. Just time, a matter of time until we come back and be better. I'm really confident on the team. We have only one car; let's not forget we have only one car. So that hurts a little bit, but with good people we are making a difference, and that's how we're going to continue.
Q: Vitor, kind of a non-racing question in a time of war and this being Memorial Day weekend, you've mentioned several times the National Guard being your sponsor. How honored are you having them as one of your sponsors?
MEIRA: I say this constantly to the men and women that serves the country, if I do as good as they do, if I do on the racetrack as good as they do serving us, I would win every race. But they have to do it every day. So I'm really honored to have National Guard on my side.
Today I was, I was almost as good as they are every day. So it's a big honor, a big weekend for us. It's a big sponsor, not only for me, not only for Panther Racing but it's a big sponsor for IndyCar racing and for racing as a whole. Because from day to night since we signed the sponsorship, first we gained 370,000 more fans, which are the men and women serving us. They are very good fans, fans that everybody have to thank here.
SULLIVAN: Well, Vitor, that's a good note to end this press conference and another reason why you have so many fans. Congratulations.
MEIRA: Thank you very much.