IndyCar Phoenix Test Friday Press Conference - 2
THE MODERATOR: And we'll bring up our representatives from Ed Carpenter Racing, team owner-driver Ed Carpenter and full-time newcomer JR Hildebrand. Ed, some impressive results in the first session. I know obviously it's just a couple hours of running, but your thoughts from the first session of testing?
But it feels good. We've worked together the past three years at Indy, and obviously JR helped us a lot more last year with some testing. It's just nice to finally be able to give him an opportunity to be back full-time IndyCar racing.
THE MODERATOR: JR, I know during your term as a part-time Verizon IndyCar Series driver, you busy yourself with STEM programs, education programs, kind of furthering the education of the sport, but how great does it feel to be back full time in a Verizon IndyCar Series car?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, it's great. You definitely -- it starts to hit you like this time of year that it's like, oh, we're going to St. Pete and I'm going to race. It's like, we're not just going to hang out. So it's definitely a different level of commitment but something that I've been used to before, and I think as Ed was alluding to just being around and being up to speed basically on kind of what the team has done, how they do things, personnel, all that kind of stuff, you know, it feels like a pretty easy transition to be making. We've got some challenges ahead of us. I think to be totally prepped and on the same page and ready to rock and roll when it starts to really matter, but that's what tests like this are great for. I mean, I think a lot of guys are kind of sitting around like, oh, man, it's too bad we don't have a few more sets of tires and can do a little bit more running.
We've got two whole days here. Honestly for us I think it's great because it gives us that little bit of extra time to kind of make sure that we're just hitting our marks along the way, and as Ed said, here at Phoenix in particular, you know, I had every confidence getting in the car first session that we were going to start in the window. It's just about I think all of us together being smart about how we approach it, and for me it's an awesome sort of little change of pace to be back at it full-time.
THE MODERATOR: Did anything stick out to you from the first session or things that you'll start trying in the night session when the conditions are more like what they'll be for the race on April 29th?
But you know, I think for us, it's kind of, like I was saying earlier, just about starting to build the communication, working with the new engineers on the team or on the 21 car, and I feel great about the couple of guys that have been brought in, Justin Taylor and Dan Hobbs. But we're all just kind of getting familiar with each other at the same time. You know, definitely a nice way to be able to do that when we know that we've got a good package to start with.
Q. Physically how was the drive? You did over 50 laps, 61 laps, I think. How was it, and how was that broken down?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, so we haven't done any like true long runs or anything yet, so that's probably more when we'll know what it feels like. But I've been training with St. Vincent's Sports Performance out of Indianapolis, which is where Ed and Josef and a bunch of -- I trained there the tail end of racing full-time and even quite a while after that. In terms of my sort of preseason prep, everything that I can -- could have been doing up until this point, feel really good about that and know that it's comparative to what other guys that have been racing full-time have been doing from terms of their physical prep in the car.
You know, I'm sure -- we're doing a day at Sonoma on Tuesday. I'm sure the neck will be a little stiff, first time on the road course for sure. But I think we'll -- I'll have a better answer to that probably the end of the day tomorrow after we've done some longer runs.
Q. JR, how did your testing development work last year keep your racing sharp and knowing that you weren't just prepping but you wound up having the couple of months you were filling in for Josef?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, it helped a lot for me, both the diversion at this of tracks and situations that were a part of that. I'd been used to running as a GP and obviously on the speedway, but running at Iowa, running at Road America and then again at Mid-Ohio, you definitely -- those are all places where you're doing something fairly different, and so for me to have that added familiarity with the types of things, particularly, that Josef was looking for in the race car, somebody who clearly had been finding what he was looking for, knew what he was looking for and was making good on that on the track, you know, that was really valuable for me, actually, to be coming into this year and have a little bit more of a sense of what's fast, what's not, what do I need for the car to be able to do and have started that process ahead of time.
Definitely one of the more significant differences between now and when I was racing full time last is just that we're in the full aero kit program now. I think that that definitely helped me, and I think will continue to be something that helps going forward.
THE MODERATOR: Joined now by three other Verizon IndyCar Series drivers: Mikhail Aleshin, driving the No.7 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Tony Kanaan, driving the No. 10 NTT DATA Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing, and James Hinchcliffe, driving the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.
THE MODERATOR: James, I hear you had a busy offseason, probably did a few things you thought you would never do in your life. Back to your day job now, back in a race car. How great does that feel?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, it's great. This is kind of the unofficial start of the season really for us, to get everybody out here, all the new car and driver combinations, and just the whole field on the track at the same time. You get that kind of competitive spirit going again and that excitement just for the start of the season.
Q. I don't mean to be indelicate, but why were the Schmidt Peterson cars down at the bottom at 179 miles an hour?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: That's about as delicate as a sledgehammer. No, we like everybody have a test plan, and we're trying very hard to stick to that. It's easy to get lost in the timesheets and try and tune at 4:00 in the afternoon on February 10th, which isn't when we go racing.
We're getting through some basic stuff now. We're trying to stay focused on our program. We have two days, so we're not in any kind of rush, and kind of like Tony said, we're just kind of focused on our program at the moment. I certainly hope by the end of the two days we're not still there, but for right now we're not too concerned.
MIKHAIL ALESHIN: And also I think the results up here are really important. Really important will be when we're going to come back here for the racing. That's when we need to be at the top.
Q. Mikhail, can you talk a little bit where the hold-up was to the late bring-back of the car?
MIKHAIL ALESHIN: Well, there was different circumstances let's say. But in the end, it all worked well, and I'm here.
Q. And how important is it for you to be back for a second consecutive season and not have that year off?
MIKHAIL ALESHIN: Obviously it is very important, and I hope it's going to be good for results, because last year was good progress, I think, from my side and from the team's side during all the season. The start of the season was difficult, but then the progress was very good. And I think that was because, like mostly -- I think it was me, as well, because I didn't do the previous season.
So now I'm doing two -- second consecutive season up here, and I think it's going to help. So that's a great thing.
Q. Tony, historically you've been very successful here at Phoenix Raceway. Last year I believe you finished fourth. What is it about this track that makes you so good here?
TONY KANAAN: I don't know. I mean, historically I'm pretty decent on the mile ovals. It's something that I worked really hard. Back on the Indy Lights days I remember when I used to come to this kind of place, Steve Horn used to let me drive all day long, just like trying to teach me stuff. I think that paid off big time.
If you look at my results, in '98 and '99 I started dead last every single mile oval I did, and I was told that that was probably not supposed to be my thing, so I guess that got under my skin and I worked really hard to improve that. Whatever it is, it suits my driving style. Obviously I've been on good teams, as well, that provide me good cars. It's always good to come back to a place that you know you do well, you know you did well, you know you won a couple races here, so it's always a good feeling. But I really don't know. I don't have the right answer for you. It's just something that -- it's definitely up my alley, and I love the mile ovals, so that helps.
Q. Tony and James, how strange is it that Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser are not in the paddock?
TONY KANAAN: I mean, let me put it this way. It's weird or sad to see a team go, regardless of what those people are. But for me, especially that team that we won the biggest race of our lives together, and that's the team that we struggled together, and I remember how we struggled to get where we got. And honestly, we only made it this far because of that win.
I was with Jimmy last week in Vegas, and it's sad. I was even trying to convince Jimmy to come do something for us just to be around. Kevin obviously was a big part of this thing coming back together, him and Tony, when they talked. So it's sad. Unfortunately, it's racing. I think it's everybody's reality. I mean, it's just the way it is. People come and go.
But that was one thing that I -- from the bottom of my heart, I didn't want to see it go.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, not a whole lot I can add to that. As Tony said, it's sort of a function of our sport. These things are kind of cyclical, some great teams have come and gone over the years, and unfortunately KV and its various different acronyms that it existed in over the years isn't running anymore. It doesn't mean it will ever be again. Jimmy is a racer at heart. It wouldn't surprise me if we see him back in some capacity sooner rather than later, and hopefully we do, because he's a big personality and a big part of the sport.
Q. James, outside of the racing world, doing Dancing With the Stars, have people come up to you and been able to recognize you for being on the show instead of being a race car driver?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, I'm everybody's grandmother's favorite. That's the new thing. Oh, my grandmother loved you on the show. It's bringing a whole new demographic of fan to IndyCar, which was a huge motivator for doing it in the first place. You know, when you're on a program that draws 10 to 11 million people a week, that's pretty big numbers, so you're bound to get recognized a little bit more. Like I said, a big part of wanting to do it was to kind of help the visibility of the sport, and I think we kind of did that, and hopefully we see some Dancing fans in the grandstands this year.
Q. As far as the Honda package is concerned, around here do you actually feel a handling difference, or is it just experimenting with drag levels and downforce levels?
TONY KANAAN: It's too early to say. We did only like -- out of the three hours, we probably ran max 45 minutes total. But I would say there are a lot of characteristics that are different between the two engine-wise. I really can't get into much details. But at this point, let me put it this way: Honda has a lot of positive things about their package and then a lot of negative things that we've got to work on. So we've got to concentrate on the negative ones and use the experience that we got with the other manufacturer and try to play into what we got.
We know, it's very well-known that this track doesn't favor the Honda package. IndyCar made a change last year, a week prior to this race, that actually -- it's the way it is. If you make a change, it's going to hurt somebody, and it ended up on our end. But it's their decision. We respect that. We're going to work on it to make it better. We know we're struggling, especially here, but I know a place that actually the car is really good, and I'm not really concerned about it.
THE MODERATOR: We'll keep on rolling with the Verizon IndyCar Series media availabilities. Joined now by three members of Team Penske: Defending champion Simon Pagenaud, newcomer to the team Josef Newgarden and of course, Will Power, of course a Verizon IndyCar Series champion. A stout lineup here.
THE MODERATOR: Topping the time charts for the first session was Josef Newgarden, making his kind of open test debut with Team Penske here. Josef, your impressions so far of not only this first session but also of your introduction to Team Penske?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, sure. Well, it's great to be back, like Simon said. I think we were both smiling before we got in the cars because we were so excited to be back at the racetrack just driving Indy cars again, so it's great to see everyone and get the season started here. You know, this is kind of the start of the season with everyone being here and testing out and getting ready to rock from a month from now.
Yeah, it's great to be going and fun to be with Team Penske. It's really been an interesting off-season for me, just I've not really wanted an off-season this time around. Normally you like a little bit of a break, but this year I wanted to get going immediately. So it's been a long wait. But I feel fairly squared away with the new operation and just trying to gel a little bit with the group, the Verizon 2 car team is all new to me, so they're not new to each other, so there's great continuity there, but I'm new to the group, so they're trying to understand me and I'm trying to understand them. I think we had a pretty good start to today. The car was really great off the truck, so we didn't have to do too much. We just got into our program and had a pretty easy start to the afternoon.
I think we're just getting better the more time we have together. My engineer is understanding me more and more when I say certain things and describe how I want the car or how much I need of one change. He's understanding a little bit better what I mean by that. We need more of that time, and I think the more we get, the better we're going to be, so it's been good so far.
THE MODERATOR: Joined also by Will Power. I know the start of your season last year was challenging for you with your health and then also missing the first race. What is this new start to the season bringing to you in terms of a refreshing outlook on starting the 2017 season?
WILL POWER: Yeah, definitely I'm hoping it's going to be better than last year. It's just good to start another season. I felt like we had a very good year last year, you know, it really went well the second half. Obviously the last few races were pretty disappointing. But we had the pace and won four races, which I was -- really didn't think I would last year.
Yeah, going to build on that. Got a change on the pit stand with Myron Jon Bouslog -- I don't even know how you say his last name. Boss Log. So yeah, getting used to him, and I think, yeah, it'll be good.
Q. Will, this is your 10th go-around at Indy. You've had really good cars there, run well, but just haven't made it to the victory lane. Are you targeting that more so this year than ever before? Does it become a bigger hurdle for you as the years roll on?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I guess you could say time is running out. You get less and less chances at it every year you go. And it's tough to win now. It really is. I think in the past if you drove for Penske, you had a pretty high percentage chance that you would win the 500 during your time at that team. Now the field is so competitive, it really is -- it can be any one of 20 people. I mean, probably anyone in the whole field could win it. It's just a different style of racing. It's about putting yourself in that position for that last lap or last couple of laps to win it.
Yeah, we'll do our normal thing, work hard during the month, and hopefully have a really good car and have another shot at it.
Q. Josef, has your confidence increased more with oval racing after having won at Iowa, and it's not that important today, but you topped off the practice charts, or do you already feel comfortable racing at tracks like Phoenix or Iowa?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I mean, I think I felt really comfortable last year, and that probably -- that comfort went up really aggressively in 2015. I thought we had a really good year on the ovals, and certainly last year I thought we had an opportunity to win at a couple other ovals. I think Indianapolis was tough for us, but we had a shot at winning it. Just from a confidence standpoint, I've always felt good with where I've been out on the ovals. I thought we had great efforts with ECR last year and I felt amazing after today. It's pretty early to predict for this year. I think we need a little bit more time on the Team Penske side for me in the car, because we've got an amazing group as these guys can attest to, and I feel confident we can come out of the gate really strong and challenge for victories here at Phoenix, Iowa again, hopefully the Indianapolis 500. I think that's probably the No. 1 ticket on our list is being successful with the Verizon No. 2 car at Indianapolis, so hopefully we'll have a good month of May there, and that's what we're targeting for.
Q. Josef, what have been the biggest two or three changes in your life since joining Team Penske, and have you been to the Penske Racing Museum here in Phoenix, and if so, what did you think?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I have been to the museum. If you have a moment, I would go check it out. It's pretty cool. There's a lot of great race cars in there. I got to go there a couple months back. We had a sponsor summit, so I got to meet a lot the partners with Team Penske and also see the museum, which was great.
You know, I don't have three big changes, but I can tell you, moving is not fun. I don't ever want to move -- I'm probably going to move again in my life, but I don't want to do it, so I don't know when it's going to come up again. I hope it's a long time from now. Simon knows the drill. He did it, too, and it's a big life change. You realize you have more stuff than you need. Like where did all this stuff accumulate -- and where did it come from? You see things that you don't remember from years back that you have. So I've gotten rid of a lot of items that I had. So that was a big life change was doing that, and actually moving to Charlotte reminds me a lot more of where I grew up. I'm from Nashville, Tennessee, originally, and I think Charlotte is a pretty similar environment to that.
It's tough leaving Indianapolis because that was my home for five years, but at the same time, I feel almost more at home in the Charlotte area.
That was a big change.
Other than that, I don't know if I've had any other big changes. Being with Team Penske has been pretty cool. Everyone says what's the coolest thing you've done there so far, and pretty much every day there's something cool happening that you didn't know about. It's a fascinating group. There's a lot to it, a lot of depth. I'm still figuring it all out. I've got more time to figure everything out I feel like with the group.
Q. Simon, ordinarily we see you run the Rolex 24 in the off-season, but you didn't do that this year. Was there ever an idea of doing that or did you want to focus exclusively on Indy car and not have any other racing over the winter?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it's been a busy winter with the championship and all the appearances everywhere in the world. It was good for me to get some time off, stay with my family. That's something I really needed. And rest, as well, quite frankly. Physically rough season last year, too. So it was good to get some time off and recharge the batteries.
I went to Daytona, but for the first time I went as a spectator and actually enjoyed it very much. It was the first time I ever watched a race with my boss there, so that was actually very cool. I might do it again some day. But I'd rather drive. But this year I just didn't feel like it was the right thing to do for my program and for being pretty focused with Penske at attacking another title. So yeah.
Q. Josef, you're now with Team Penske, so you came from a good place where you thought you were going to do well. Now you're in a team that expects you to do well. How do you process that as far as your expectations for what you're trying to do this year?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I've had that question a little bit over the off-season. But to me, this is the way I feel about it: At ECR I felt like there was a lot of pressure to do well just because any group that you're with, everyone is working hard on the team and you want to deliver for the people on the team, whether it's your guys working on the car, it's the managers, it's the team owners, it's the partners within the group. So I don't think that's going to change much. That expectation to do well and to put your best foot forward and show that you're working hard and doing everything that you can as a driver to help the team, that expectation doesn't change, whether it's with -- honestly, with Team Penske, there's an expectation there to succeed, like you said, because of the history of the team and certainly the preparation and everything you get from the team.
But I don't think it's different than what I felt in the past. I think that expectation is always there regardless of what team you're with.
There's certainly a -- there's a different feeling that you get when you walk into the factory at Team Penske, if you will. It's not a race shop, it's a factory for sure, and you see all the heritage and all the success that they've had there. So there's a different feeling from that aspect. But the pressure to do well and to show that you're not leaving any stone unturned, I don't think that's going to change, so I haven't felt a difference from that standpoint so far.
Q. Will and Simon, talk a bit about bringing Josef into the fold, being that essentially last year's Josef was the fly in the Team Penske soup when it came to the championship.
WILL POWER: Yeah, I actually don't understand the question.
SIMON PAGENAUD: He was the fly in the middle of the Penske drivers. Now he's with us.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it's great to have him on board, obviously. Josef deserves this chance. He's shown so much success and so much strength. Obviously when you do such a good job, you should get an opportunity like he did with Penske. Super happy for him because I know how he feels, and that's the dream of every driver, to get in this situation.
Now it's going to be his time, but yeah, like Will said, he's a pro on the oval, and that's probably going to be very interesting for us to see how he does it. We're going to take that from you, I hope.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, we'll all get better.
SIMON PAGENAUD: That's the game, and that's what's really cool about our lineup. The four of us always push each other hard, so it's going to be exciting.
Q. Josef, if you could just look back for a second instead of looking forward, your team at Ed Carpenter Racing, it was always kind of known as the little team that could, and how do you assess that operation and where it is as you left it? It's still a very competitive team. Ed does a lot with very little, so how do you feel about your time at Ed Carpenter Racing and the way that team is set up for the future?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, hey, look, I'll be the first to tell you that it's not easy to leave Ed Carpenter Racing. I know everyone thinks it's a slam dunk if you get an opportunity with Team Penske. But they're a great INDYCAR team. They've got a lot of great partners. They've got a lot of great people working there. And you can see -- it's only one session, this is preseason testing so you can't read too much into the times -- but they're going to be just as strong as they were last year, and they'll be a great opponent to us here at Team Penske. I think if you're looking for how they're going to be, they're going to be just as strong. I think JR is going to do a great job. I'm actually really interested to see how JR does. I'm really happy for him that he's back in the series. I think he worked really hard to get another shot with a great team like ECR, so you're going to see much of the same from them. They're going to be a very challenging opponent for us. But here at Team Penske I've already noticed where their strength is, and a lot of it comes from these guys that they have in the cars. They have amazing drivers, and they all work together to try and bring the whole team up each weekend, and that's a pretty hard thing to topple, so I'm hoping that's going to be a strength that I find as an advantage this year.
Q. Will, take a look at the leaderboard there just at the names that are up there of the drivers. There's not any surprise person that we didn't hear of for five years and showed up to get a ride this year. This driver is not there, and you mentioned Josef deserves this opportunity at Team Penske. It seems that's happening more at INDYCAR now. Can you talk about the field?
WILL POWER: Yeah, when you look at the field, every single driver on that board can win a race in the right situation. Yeah, and the continuity is really good. There was a few years there where almost the whole field would change every year. The majority of the field.
I think that makes the competition tougher because everyone gets more accustomed to the cars and tracks and the whole system, and it's great to be involved with it. It really is. It's great to be a part of that competition and create a situation where these drivers become household names, as they should. I think continuity provides that, and I think INDYCAR is definitely heading in the right direction.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much. We appreciate your time.
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