Helio Castroneves and Richard Antinucci teleconference Concrete sets Nashville apart Firestone Indy Lights drivers look to redeem themselves at Nashville
1. Helio Castroneves and Richard Antinucci teleconference: IndyCar Series driver Helio Castroneves, Firestone Indy Lights driver Richard Antinucci and Nashville Superspeedway executive vice president Cliff Hawks were guests on today’s Indy Racing League teleconference.
Background on Helio Castroneves: Helio Castroneves is in his seventh full season in the IndyCar Series, driving for Team Penske.
· Age: 33 (Birthday is May 10, 1975)
· Career Starts / 2008: 107 / 10
· Career Victories/2008: 12 / 0
· Career Top-Five Finishes/2008: 59 / 8
· Career Top-10 Finishes/2008: 81 / 8
· Career Poles/2008: 23 / 0
· Career Highlights: IndyCar Series all-time leader in poles and ranks fifth in wins. Two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.
· 2008 Highlights: Ranks second in points. One of only two drivers with eight top-five finishes in first 10 races.
· Off the Track: Won ABC’s ‘Dancing With the Stars’ last fall.
Background on Richard Antinucci: Richard Antinucci is in his second season in Firestone Indy Lights, driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.
· Age: 27 (Birthday is Jan. 26, 1981)
· Career Starts / 2008: 18 / 9
· Career Victories/2008: 4 / 2
· Career Top-Five Finishes/2008: 10 / 6
· Career Top-10 Finishes/2008: 14 / 7
· Career Poles/2008: 1 / 0
· Career Highlights: Earned two victories and one pole competing only on road/street courses in Firestone Indy Lights in 2007. Competed in Europe from 1998-2006.
· 2008 Highlights: Leads point standings on strength of victories at St. Petersburg 2 and Watkins Glen 2. Also has four second-place finishes.
· Off the Track: Nephew of 1998 Indianapolis 500 winner Eddie Cheever.
Background on Nashville Superspeedway: Nashville Superspeedway will play host to the IndyCar Series for the eighth time. It is the only track on the 2008 schedule that features a concrete surface and a length of 1.33 miles.
They said what...? Listed below are select quotes from yesterday’s teleconference
*** Q. You talked a little about the challenges of the concrete surface and the challenge of finding grip on there; is that because it's so bumpy, kind of has a reputation of being a bumpy track?
HELIO CASTRONEVES (5:45): Well, there are several things. Yes, when you go on the highway, you feel that they have the seams in a different direction, which makes it very bumpy.
But in terms of that, it's not a problem. But concrete definitely vs. asphalt, it's just a little bit different. In fact, Firestone, every year they do everything they can to develop a better tire, and I don't think this year is going to be different. They are going to continue working to make it better. It is just the level of grip is just different.”
***Q. I just wanted to talk to you a little bit about the championship. More often than not in your Indy Car Series career, you've been at or right there in the championship, but now you're in another one this year. Has there been ‑‑ have you decided to make a change in mind‑set for what you want to do for this year's title race, and if so, has it been a minor change from what you've done in the past or has it been a major change for you?
HELIO CASTRONEVES (23:00): Well, I have to say, I'm feeling different. Sometimes people ask, ‘Oh, you didn't win a race,’ and I say, ‘Listen, if I can win this championship without winning a race, trust me, we're going to be extremely happy.’
But we know how valuable it is to win a race, so we focus not only on the championship; we focus on both, and winning races. But if we don't have the opportunity because the competition is so hard, we are not just going to throw a second- or third-place or fourth- or fifth-place away just because we know we cannot win.
I feel that not only myself, it's the time's mentality and focus. Again, we constantly continue working. Having Ryan Briscoe right now on the team, it's a great asset. He's a fast guy and he has a lot of experience, as well, in numerous different race cars, so that actually is also good for us to keep improving.
Again, our team, it's extremely comfortable right now, and yes, we want to make sure we get our first spot and make the gap smaller every weekend.
***Q: you have the lead in the championship, four of the final races this season are on road courses; do you feel like that puts you in the driver's seat for the championship?
RICHARD ANTINUCCI (30:30): No, you know, looking race‑by‑race, I've won Cup races before, big titles like a world championship, one‑off event or two events. I've never won a long‑distance championship - I've never done it, but I've watched people do it before, and they take it race‑by‑race and be as humble as they can. I have no choice but to be humble because I'm not exactly running away with a 200‑point lead.
So I have to see every new oval as a new event for me. And also the road courses, you can't just take it for granted. We have tough competition, and Raphael Matos is considered one of the best open‑wheel racers in the whole continent. He's also one of the best I've ever raced against. I have a lot of respect for him. He's very fast. We managed to go head‑to‑head last weekend and gain a lot of points. We do seem to be a bit stronger than the others, but that can change every weekend. I think Franck Perera and Jonny Reid are also an excellent challenge, and my teammates can be fast.
So, you know, given the right circumstances, hopefully we'll get a lot of points out of those next four or five races on the road courses. But to prove to the IndyCar Series people, I'd love to get a win on an oval as well.
*** Q. The IndyCar Series obviously has had some great races at Nashville in the past. Tell us about the buzz down there as race weekend approaches, and is there anything new or different fans can expect this season?
CLIFF HAWKS (1:30): Well, this will be our eighth year to host the Indy Racing League, and as always, the ticket sales for the event are very strong. And this marketplace has really embraced the Indy Racing League since year one when we began with the series, and the media has really gravitated to this event, as well, which is always exciting. So the event creates a big buzz in Nashville and throughout middle Tennessee, which we're always excited about.
I would say that fans could expect all of the amenities and things that we offer around the Indy race, including the Fan Walk, which for $10 allows fans to take a tram into the infield and see everything going on in the garage and pit road. We'll also have Kate and Kacey Coppola live in concert prior to the race. They are being featured now on “Duet” on CMT TV, and that's going to be a great, live show leading up to the pre‑race.
But I would say that the one thing fans can look forward to, and I know are looking forward to here in middle Tennessee is the larger car count this year, and I think that's going to make for an even more exciting race here at the Superspeedway over and above what we've seen in the past, if that's possible.
2. Concrete sets Nashville apart: IndyCar Series drivers and teams will make their eighth visit to Nashville Superspeedway July 10-12, the only track with a concrete surface and the only track that is 1.33 miles in length. Those factors present unique challenges.
“The track is definitely a challenge because it's concrete,” said Helio Castroneves, who has four top-five finishes in six starts at the track. “So definitely for the drivers and for the engineers, it's a challenge to find grip, but once you have it there's a great chance you'll be in good shape.”
Only 12 of the 26 drivers entered in the event have competed at the track before. Rookies and transition drivers will have a two-hour practice session July 10, and all drivers will have two hours, 45 minutes of practice July 11.
“From what I hear it’s pretty tough,” said Justin Wilson, who will make his first start at the track. “You are close to being flat-out driving around on your own. I guess in the race I might have to start lifting though because there will be a lot of traffic. I have been to a few racetracks that have concrete sections on them. It’s generally very bumpy and quite difficult to drive on, so it’s very challenging. On an oval I can only imagine what that does. I can imagine that once the rubber goes down, it starts to lay some grip down there and it would start to get quite grippy. It will be interesting to see what kind of concrete it is and how it affects things.”
The driver and team that find the right combination for the Firestone Indy 200 will take home one of the most unique trophies in racing – a Gibson guitar.
“It's a unique trophy,” Castroneves said. “I really cherish and I really want to have that in my collection, so hopefully this year will be the year.”
3. Firestone Indy Lights drivers look to redeem themselves at Nashville: Arie Luyendyk Jr. has more starts at Nashville Superspeedway than any other Firestone Indy Lights driver that will compete in this weekend's Sunbelt Rentals 100.
He hopes that experience can pay off in his first victory.
Luyendyk, the son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, will make his sixth start at the 1.33-mile oval. He's turned numerous testing laps during tests at the track as well, including a highly successful test at the track last month.
“I am really looking forward to Nashville this weekend," Luyendyk said. "The Targus/AGR/AFS team had a great test there a couple of weeks ago. We are looking to have a repeat performance from our success at Iowa and get that first win.”
Luyendyk has knocked on the door of success at Nashville before. He finished second to Cory Witherill in just his second start in the series in 2002. He's also started on the front row at the only concrete oval on the circuit.
With confidence from his second place finish three weeks ago at Iowa, he feels like he can come away with the custom hand-painted Gibson guitar that is given to the race winner.
"After Iowa, I really think that performance can be repeated at our next oval event in Nashville, and I’m looking forward to getting some redemption there."
Another driver looking for redemption in Nashville is Panther Racing driver Dillon Battistini.
The Englishman, who has a season-best three wins, failed to finish in either Corning Duel at Watkins Glen, and saw his point lead erased by Richard Antinucci and Raphael Matos.
But Battistini has outscored his rivals on the ovals, an advantage he hopes continues at Nashville.
"We have been really strong on the ovals all year long, so it seems like a perfect opportunity to bounce back from our disappointing weekend at Watkins Glen. Panther has won at Nashville before, and Hideki (Mutoh) ran well there for them last year. We're confident. I’m looking forward to getting some points back and focusing on our goal of winning a championship.”
Defending Sunbelt Rentals 100 winner Robbie Pecorari also returns to series in search of his second guitar.
The 2008 IndyCar Series season continues with the Firestone Indy 200 July 12 at Nashville Superspeedway. The race will be telecast live in High Definition at 8 p.m. (EDT) by ESPN. The race will air live on the IMS Radio Network. A Spanish-language telecast of the race will be carried by ESPNDeportes. The IMS Radio Network broadcast also is carried on XM Satellite Radio and indycar.com. The 2008 Firestone Indy Lights season continues with the Sunbelt Rentals 100 on July 12 at Nashville Superspeedway. The race will be telecast at 2 p.m. (EDT) July 17 on ESPN2. The Corning Duels will be telecast at 2 p.m. (EDT) July 10 on ESPN2 and live on indycar.com.