Indy 500 Front Row press conference

Helio Castroneves, Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti Sunday, May 10, 2009, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

PAT SULLIVAN: Good morning, everyone. This is the annual front row conference. I don't know how much sleep these guys got, but happy guys indeed. We've got a birthday man on the pole position, Helio Castroneves. Ryan Briscoe, and then Dario Franchitti did a great job.

Dario, we'll start with you, real quick question. In the press conference room yesterday, you expressed some disappointment. I'm just curious, after a night of rest whether or not you feel any different. Is it satisfying now to be on the front row or is there still a little tinge of disappointment?

DARIO FRANCHITTI: Yeah, it's very satisfying to be on the front row here. It is a great feeling, especially Race Day to get in the car and have a clear view in front of you. But, you know, I think I kind of got my expectations up a bit little bit in the morning thinking we had more in the car and we didn't, so that was slightly disappointing. It would have been, we were pushing for the pole, what can I say? And these guys did a better job as a team, and we're back there now just making sure when we come here for the race, we've got everything we need.

SULLIVAN: Ryan, one of the things, I guess, from the outside I've always thought of as a strength of Team Penske is that there's a little bit of internal competition if Tim Cindric is calling the shots. For example, for Helio and maybe Roger for you, that one of the things that propels you guys to greatness is there is a little competition, and you had that in the pole position. You both went out and you went out again. Good accomplishment for the team, maybe Ryan Briscoe would have liked to have been in that first seat.

RYAN BRISCOE: No, it was definitely a great day. Helio put in four very strong laps to get the pole. I really felt as though I had the car to match that. We just ran out of time at the end of the day and weren't able to get the practice run in to truly be prepared 100 percent. But, you know, we thought we had a shot at it and were in line and it just would have been, you know, distasteful, I guess, to not go and at least have a go at it. So we tried and didn't work out, but it was a lot of fun all day long.

SULLIVAN: Helio, I believe it was Tim Cindric that one time said: "When we come here there are some competitions. There's Pole Day, there's the pit stop challenge, there's the race; and if it's a competition, we want to win it." This is a situation where your team was able to take the pole position and for you personally for the third time you'll start from the pole. It had to be a great day for you.

HELIO CASTRONEVES: No question about it. But every time you approach Indianapolis, Team Penske is just amazing, you can see from Roger, his mindset, himself change a little bit, you know. If you compare it to the other races. So this is very special for Team Penske and, again, Tim is not only calling my shots, is also helping out Ryan and the whole team, even Will Power.

So, again, this is all credit for Team Penske. Ryan and Will, the preseason testing, those guys did a hell of a job preparing those cars. Today is two cars in the front row, it just prove that we're going to have a lot of fun the whole season.

SULLIVAN: If you have a question, speak up. We're trying to transcribe it.

Q: Dario, Graham Rahal said last night that he would rather start on the inside of row two rather than on the out side of row one. You're kind up there in a fairly treacherous area where a lot of people don't race. Is there an advantage maybe to being inside second row as opposed to outside front row?

FRANCHITTI: This will be the third time I started outside row one, and it's worked out pretty well every time. So, yeah, I'm quite happy, thank you very much. As long as Graham is happy in fourth, I'm pretty happy in third than fourth. (Laughter)

I like it out there. I think it's a good starting position. Like we said, obviously the pole is the place you want to be and our expectations, that's why I'm kind of disappointed with our position. But our expectations are so high when you come here with Team Target; you want to be shooting for the pole here. The whole team has these high expectations. But no, third is for me, it's not a bad start spot going into (Turn) 1.

Q: You think that's youthful inexperience talking?


SULLIVAN: Questions? You guys wake up.

Q: I don't know if it's been asked already, but the way that the schedule is now, I mean, you're all going to probably go out there today and do other little work on the race setup. Will you come back again before Carburetion Day?

FRANCHITTI: We have two days of practice, Thursday, Friday this coming week.

Q: You will do that?


CASTRONEVES: As many practices as we can get on the racetrack is good. You always learn something. Basically everybody will be preparing for qualifying and not thinking about the race and now that's the typical of the next, second week is working on the race car.

FRANCHITTI: I think we're going to see running obviously today and probably next Saturday and Sunday, as well, I think you're going to see when the track opens for practice, you're going to see everybody out doing race stuff. Time is short now.

Q: Just as a follow-up. Today is totally different than yesterday obviously. Hardly any wind.

CASTRONEVES: It's beautiful. That's because it's my birthday. (Laughter)

Q: I was going to say it will be a totally different situation today.

BRISCOE: Not to mention Mother's Day. (Laughter)

CASTRONEVES: Good job, Ryan. He's always covering me.

FRANCHITTI: Don't you want to pull the car out and see if you want to go faster today? (Laughter)

CASTRONEVES: No, no, it's over, it's over. Let's move on now.

Q: Guys, can you talk about running today, will you run your qualified cars or will you start working on race setups and do work on the T car?

CASTRONEVES: I believe the qualifying car is now going to be prepared for the race. Normally the way we work, it's the T car, try everything we can and on Carburetion Day, that's the time when you pull your primary car back again and make sure that everything is right.

FRANCHITTI: I don't know. I'll find out when I get back to the garage what they've got in line there for me. I'm not sure what the plan is right now.

Q: Helio, when you think back a month ago where you were, even though you said you remained hopeful about everything, did you really envision being in this position to come back so soon the way things turned out?

CASTRONEVES: I mean to be sitting on the pole position, obviously I did not think about it. Those moments was just to be back racing, and I did see myself coming back to Indianapolis, trying to focus about it. Even if it would be for one race, you know, I was always thinking about I've got to be in Indianapolis. Plus, I was concerned about how long the trial was going to last. So there was a lot of thinking. When you're in the room for about six hours a day, you know, nothing that you can do, a lot of words that you don't understand, you start thinking about a lot of things, you know, other than those words. But it's been very special, no question about it.

Q: Does Brian Barnhart give y'all the rules of the road first start of a race like this, where you're supposed to hold your position or is it every man for yourself?

CASTRONEVES: He didn't say about the white line, did he? (Laughter) He did mention to us don't worry about the white line here.

Q: Do you all get the hard-and-fast rules you're supposed to follow coming down the front straight?

FRANCHITTI: He tells us what he would like us to do.

Q: What does he tell you he would like you to do usually? You've been here a few times.

FRANCHITTI: I guess forming up rows of three and --

BRISCOE: 400 yards --

FRANCHITTI: Yeah, he wants us to all kind of space out and give the corner to the guy on your left, I think I remember him saying that. Everybody pretty much I think ignores that, though, if you watch some of the starts.

Q: Dario, is it literally, hey, get a shot right here? What are your thoughts as you're coming down there?

FRANCHITTI: It's an expression you can't win the race on the first corner, but you surely can lose it. It's a long day, and the first corner is not, you know -- if I get ahead of these guys in the first corner, it doesn't really matter that much.

CASTRONEVES: It's common sense, you know. I mean, probably for us that we do have an experience. Maybe when you're young you're like I want to pass everybody. But I guess we're becoming a little older, I became a little older today, and the gray hairs, but it's common sense. You know, you respect the other guy and, hey, if you've got a better car, if you've got a better start or something like that, you just can't panic. You've just got to keep going and do your own thing. It's a long race, you know. But I see some drivers going like really crazy on the first, second lap. I'm like I don't think he's going to last much, and certainly it does happen that way most of the time.

Q: Does the guy in the middle always become the wiener in bun, so to speak?

FRANCHITTI: Not very nice calling you a wiener.

BRISCOE: Did he call me a wiener? (Laughter)

CASTRONEVES: You want to settle it outside, all right. (Laughter)

Q: Do you get squeezed?

CASTRONEVES: Squeeze now. (Laughter)

BRISCOE: Last year I was in Dario's position and Dan was in my position, and you know, we all sort of got an equal start and sort of gave way to the left and Scott took the lead. Dan fell in behind him, and I fell in behind Dan. You know, we just wanted to get away and get a nice, clean start and get the race rolling. I don't think there's any point in everyone sort of trying to get into Turn 1 three-wide. I hope not.

Q: Question for Ryan and hopefully this is not redundant, but did you second-guess yourself at all last evening about what you could have done differently or made some adjustment that might have put you up in the top spot?

BRISCOE: Well, you know, I think, for sure, a little bit. I really felt as though, you know, either myself or Helio had a good car for the pole, but the end result is we're sitting first and second, and it really doesn't get better than that. From the team standpoint, you know, this is absolutely perfect. The thing was, I got the pole early in the day and it was holding up, and we had to play a position of defense, I guess, really, and we didn't want to put both cars at risk and getting both cars out on the track all day long trimming out to the maximum and potentially, you know, putting both cars at risk. And so, you know, we sort of decided for Helio, who was sitting third, that he was going out and doing all the practice runs and going for the ultimate speed. We sort of sat back and just sort of played defense for a while.

Q: When they came up with this 11-11-11 format, a lot of people thought that a lot of people would take shot at the pole on Pole Day, but it really seems like it was 16, 17 people. How big of a benefit was it for the rest of you who wanted to go back out, the line wasn't clogged up with cars that didn't have a shot at getting in the top 11?

BRISCOE: It got pretty clogged up at the end; I wanted to go practice, and we couldn't. I think the last hour you couldn't practice. It was everyone in line.

FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I think we were all trying to do the same thing, is practice right up until the last moment and we all kind of got caught out, didn't we? None of us could practice that last hour and people just kept trying to make attempts at the pole but also attempts at bumping in the top 11.

BRISCOE: I was pretty focused on what I was doing, but I think it was probably one of the most exciting first qualifying days, with the 11th spot bumping, especially. It looked pretty exciting for everyone. Everyone was getting in line, and there was a bit of push and shove. I think it was a pretty good qualifying day.

Q: Helio, you had about an hour and 40 minutes after your qualifying run to wait, and that's pretty long on Bump Day.

FRANCHITTI: I had six hours or something.

CASTRONEVES: I was actually, you know, remember this guy here and was it in '07? I remember this guy sitting the whole day there, and I said I think it was a little too early. Unfortunately --

FRANCHITTI: Right at the end, thanks.

CASTRONEVES: It was a little too early, an hour and 40 minutes, as you said. But somehow the track seems to be getting a little bit faster. You can see other people getting better all the time. So I'm like, ‘Hey, if it's getting better, the track, we've still got another chance to go out and try again.’ So I was very confident, as well, and I was very confident that Ryan would throw very good laps out there. But it didn't happen that way, so he made me make an easy decision. At the end of the day we didn't have enough time to do it, so we just decided to pull out and let -- I think Justin was the last guy on the racetrack. I'm not sure what happened.

SULLIVAN: Other questions?

Q: Do you guys like this format? This qualifying format.

CASTRONEVES: I do. I think it's great because, you know, you can work on the car, you can go back, you have another chance. I mean, obviously talking about way back, you had -- it basically makes you like not go and try again because it's safe to be there instead of done for the day. So I think it's pretty exciting for everybody.

FRANCHITTI: Yeah, I think for the fans, definitely adds drama to the whole thing, and that was what it was designed for. We do our best to play within the new rules and try and improve and improve, but I think ultimately the fans get a much more full day of excitement. That was the whole plan.

SULLIVAN: Other questions? Wait a minute, we haven't preapproved your question. I’m teasing, go ahead.

Q: You're really rolling the dice if you pull out at 5:40, even though you may be third, you've been part of the show all day, but things could happen where you're all of a sudden not in the top 11, but is there anything you have to say about that? Maybe having the top five all going for it at the end something like that?

BRISCOE: I think Brian does a really good job with it, and he keeps an eye on who is getting in line, you know. And if there's a 12th-place car getting in line and there are cars that are clearly not going to be able to have a shot getting in or whatever, he says he's able to manipulate the line so it keeps the spectacle going. I don't know if that's actually happened, but I think it's good, you know. And as we're all getting experience with it, it seems to be getting more and more exciting as the years go on.

SULLIVAN: But one of the questions I hear a lot in the press area is some people are mystified that more attempts aren't made. In other words, you've got three shots, and why aren't those being used earlier? I don't know, I'm not thinking about it very much but other journalists are always saying, "Why don't they go out again?" as Bruce has said on that one.

Q: Saying a lot of people but not --

FRANCHITTI: Stop arguing, Bruce. Behave. You do that to me. (Laughter) The score is one all. (Laughter)

SULLIVAN: What do you think, though?

FRANCHITTI: What was the question?

SULLIVAN: A lot of times in the press room people are saying: "Why aren't they going out again? They've got three shots. Why not?"

FRANCHITTI: Look, in our position yesterday we went out and we did our run and we practiced and we practiced again and again, and we didn't have that -- we weren't convinced we were going to be able to run a four-lap average faster than we posted, so there was no point in going out there. Had we had one more run, we might have taken an attempt. We lined up and it was kind of more of a -- I think that was Chip throwing the dice. If Ryan and Helio, you know, they were ahead of us, anyway, but if other people had bumped us off the front row we might have had a gamble at it, but we weren't convinced we could run that four-lap average faster.

CASTRONEVES: And guys, you've got to remember, even when we're not attempting to go out there, we're practicing like in the limit, you know. So even though we're not taking a chance for the qualifying, we're taking a chance practicing. We're pushing to the limit. To run here four laps on the knife's edge, it's extremely hard. So it's not like so easy, come on, just go out there and try again. I wish it would be like that, but it's extremely hard for us to keep trying and trying to make a decision to go out there and try.

Q: The wind was terrible yesterday. It was one of the windiest days I've seen at the Speedway. Was it better or worse at different times of the day? And where on the racetrack was it giving you the most trouble? Because it was a tailwind in the south end and a headwind in the north.

CASTRONEVES: It wasn't the worst day. 2003 I think it was the worst day we had here, I remember that very vividly. But I have to say it was definitely hurting a lot and a lot in Turn 2 at least in my car, for example.

FRANCHITTI: Mine, too.

CASTRONEVES: But again, it seems that toward the end of the day the sun is coming out, the temperature is getting better. And remember, when you have three -- same tires, three cars the same, everything the same, it tends toward the end of the day, if the weather helps, everybody is going to go faster. So it's one of those things that you've got to manage well, you've got to try to find the great spots and hopefully the engineers find out where to go with the setup of the car.

But the point is you've got to go, you've got to go. If the wind is strong, there's nothing you can do, it's qualifying day, you've got to try to put a lap out there.

Q: Dario, how much were you able to follow the saga of TK throughout the last couple of days. Especially, yesterday was a pretty weird day for him.

FRANCHITTI: Yeah, you've got my cell phone here, got a couple of text from TK over the last couple of days. Yeah, he wasn't having a good day and they were swapping cars, and he has that one that looks like Frankenstein with the different paint jobs on it. It's typical with the AGR people; he's sitting outside row two, kept his streak alive of always qualifying in the top two rows here. I guess he had a tough month, and the speed wasn't in that particular car is what it looks like. They swapped the cars, and you see the result. That's bloody impressive.

I mean, it's kind of difficult now with TK being on different teams, we don't talk about technical stuff anymore, and we don't really talk about the business end of racing anymore as we used to. But from the outside, that's what it looks like.

Q: Also, do you think Graham has made a lot of improvement on the ovals the last year, and how big a factor do you think those guys could be on Race Day?

FRANCHITTI: I think it will be a big factor. I think absolutely. Never count out the Newman/Haas guys, and Graham is obviously learning a lot. If he gets his pit entry sorted out, he will be pretty impressive, I think.

CASTRONEVES: I think the same thing. They've proved the ovals to be very fast. Coming here I thought it would be the team surprising a lot of people. And again, they just show again that they are, they're good. So Graham already have one race under his belt and so obviously going to continue getting more experience, but he definitely improve a lot.

Q: With so much practice remaining on this month, how far can you think ahead in terms of strategy or now that you all have your positions, can you already start thinking about what you want to do in the race?

CASTRONEVES: That's the beauty of qualifying the first day. So now we don't need to worry about anything else other than the race. The strategy, I mean you've got to put all the plans out there. If you're leading, if you're in the traffic, and whatever happens, you know. But that's why it's very important to be on the racetrack because always when the weather change and things like that, you at least know what your car is going to do. So just hope that you have the most consistent car through all the situation, and with that you've got your race pretty -- the strategy is pretty set.

Q: Dario?

FRANCHITTI: Helio touched on it. We've got today and the next week, next Saturday and Sunday, as well, we can think about race cars rather than trying to get cars in the show. For me now it's about making a good race car, making a car that's got good balance in traffic and good grip level and speed and trying to get it working in all weather conditions. I think we're all doing the same thing.

BRISCOE: Yeah, I think, you know, it's the weather conditions, the wind direction can change how a car feels around here, so even if you're not making big setup changes every day, just getting out there and experiencing the different conditions just to be better prepared on Race Day because we don't know what it's going to be like on Race Day. It could be exactly like today, so it could be good to get out there and just turn some laps and make some notes for how the car is with this temperature, with this wind direction. And you just try to do that every day. It's just all about trying to make the tires last, be consistent, have a good balance on full tanks, and it really is just a nice feeling to have qualifying out of the way and forget about that now, put some downforce in it, and let's go racing.

Q: Now that this is out of the way and we have a couple of days off, we know you're going to cook tomorrow. Anything the other two of you do to decompress on your days off when you actually have some down time?

BRISCOE: I'm going home for a couple of days. So just go to North Carolina and chill out for a couple of days, and I'll come back Wednesday and get ready to hit the track again.

FRANCHITTI: I'm kind of undecided right now. Probably go back to Nashville. That looks like the plan.

SULLIVAN: Anything else?

CASTRONEVES: I'm going to cook.

BRISCOE: What are you cooking? I might stay.

CASTRONEVES: I don't know, I don't eat steak, but I'll probably have a big chicken. (Laughter)

SULLIVAN: Bruce has his final question.

Q: After the comment you made last night, I hope it's not Shake 'N Bake. (Laughter)

Anyway, when Rick Mears retired at 41, it was kind of surprising he retired that young. A lot of guys in IndyCars race well into their 50s like Mario and Big Al and Johnny Rutherford and A.J. You know, Mark Martin has won twice now at 50. How long do you think an IndyCar driver's career is going to be? I don't know how long you guys want to drive, but --

BRISCOE: These guys are pretty old.

Q: -- but do you kind of see this being a much younger sport than it really used to be?

CASTRONEVES: Certainly we're here on the front row, so we're not giving anything for the younger guys.

Q: You're not 50 yet, either.

CASTRONEVES: True. But as you said, I don't know, ovals is a lot different than, you know, road course, I would say. It's a lot more experience and more about the feeling in the cars. That's why Mario Andretti, who else? Rick and so many other drivers, Emerson, Al Unser, they race into -- even Michael, I know 40 years old. So I don't see, if you've still got it, if you're still feeling that you're a competitor, competitive and keep going, I don't want to stop; I want to keep going.

FRANCHITTI: I think for me it's an enjoyment thing now. When I looked back, I saw when Gil retired when he was 35, won his last race, I thought that seemed pretty cool, seemed like a nice way to do it. But with going to NASCAR for a year, I decided I really wanted to come back and do this, I still want to race; I still want to drive IndyCars, and that year away really made me appreciate how much I enjoyed doing it, how I enjoyed all the disciplines of it, whether street courses, road courses, especially here at Indianapolis. I love driving the cars. I think as long as I'm enjoying it and competitive, then I'll keep doing it. I have no idea what that's going to look like.

Q: But having raced with Mark, how impressed are you? He's now won twice.

FRANCHITTI: Mark Martin? Just look at Mark. He is very, very fit, first of all. He's a very smart driver. I think he's an amazing driver. When you follow him, you're thinking how the hell is he hanging on to that car, it's so loose. He's a very, very talented guy. I've learned a lot from him, both sitting and talking to him and following him on the track. He's one of the cool guys. I'm not surprised at all he's having the success, not only winning races but pole positions, too. He's on it, man.

CASTRONEVES: I had a great experience in IROC going to Richmond, right at the start of the race, I was inside, and he's outside. I'm like no worries, I'm going to brake deep and that's no problem. I brake, and this guy, he kept going. I'm like, ‘You've got to be kidding.’ (Laughter)

I cannot believe he just did that. And it's amazing. I always told him that: ‘I can't believe it; I want to be like you one day. I want to be racing still.’ It's just incredible to me, as Dario said, he's a very smart driver, and he's been proving it.

SULLIVAN: What about you, Ryan? Talking about the career and you look out, your reflections and thoughts on that.

BRISCOE: I hope to race for the rest of my life. So I don't know, I think you've got to keep fit, you've got to keep focused, keep motivated. You're only as old as you feel.

SULLIVAN: Other questions?

Well, on that note I'll be down in pit area looking for a ride. Thanks. (Laughter)

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