IndyCar Phoenix Test Saturday Press Conference
THE MODERATOR: Joined now by the driver of the No. 15 Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Graham Rahal, who was the driver with the fastest no-tow speed yesterday, also the driver who ran the most laps yesterday. Graham, after a full day's worth and then this morning's session, what are your thoughts heading into the night session tonight?
It's been good so far, but hopefully we can improve a little bit tonight because we need to get the rear a little bit more under control, so we'll see how it goes.
THE MODERATOR: Joined also by Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing. Sebastien, especially yesterday you and your teammate Ed Jones saw some success, especially on the time charts yesterday. What kind of program are you guys going through as you both get used to going to a new team this year and also each other as teammates?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I think everybody has been working pretty well. We're still looking for a bit of extra speed, but so is everybody else. We obviously looked pretty settled straight away because Ed had that rookie day on Wednesday. We're both pretty comfortable, had the opportunity to shake his car down and do 10 laps like you can when there is a rookie day like that, so that gives you a little bit of extra confidence and we could run a fairly trim car straight away, so we could look good for the first half hour, but really that didn't last very long.
Overall, it's pretty much the same between yesterday and today. We got to the thick of it today and really trimmed the car out pretty much what we got, but you can always make small adjustments after that, get the balance a little closer so you get a bit less scrub and this and that. Yeah, we're pretty close to the best we can do here. I think Mikhail (Aleshin) probably got the very best of it from what I can see because it's about, I think, where we're going to end up on the Honda side.
But you know, after that, the racing is quite a bit different, and you've got to have a big game of patience. So that's what we're going to be working on mostly tonight. Ed has done a good job, and it's just staying a couple of steps behind just not to make a mistake and rush through. But he's pretty quick right now, and yeah, I think everything is going to plan.
Q. How does it feel to be back united with Craig Hampson after a number of years of being apart? Do you just kind of pick up where you left off?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I don't expect the same kind of success, but yeah, I think it was pretty funny when we got back straight away in at Gateway, it was like it never really stopped, and sure enough, when we got to Sebring on the track that we both knew each other very well, the old habits kind of kicked right back in, and it was a lot of changes, a lot of reads, a lot of stuff to go through. Yeah, we're very happy with the way that the test was going. The guys did a great job. I don't recall that I've ever gone through so many changes, big changes on the car over a two-day test, and we got out of this with a very happy car.
We'll see; sometimes you get out of Sebring being very happy and you show up at St. Pete and it's all different. So we'll see. It tended to be not like that in Champ Cars, but on the Indy car side we've struggled to make things transfer from Sebring to St. Pete. We'll see how good we get it, but we're definitely really excited to get back with Craig, and obviously he completes the trio and makes it a really solid group. We've got some really good mechanics, and thanks to Dale, the whole thing has become possible. I couldn't really be any happier.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, it's really good. I think Tom is a guy who was at Penske for 10 plus years and obviously was with Rossi last year amongst others. The biggest thing with Tom is to come in and implement some of the processes that say a Penske does in areas that we aren't that strong. Even areas actually that we thought we were, and then he came in and looked and mentioned a whole bunch of stuff, and then, for instance, we've struggled with our car with massive tire vibrations the last couple of years, like it killed me at Iowa last year. I had no hope.
And already he's cured that in this test with ideas and knowledge that he brought from Penske over the years. There's stuff like that that we were just struggling hard with, and Tom has brought a wealth of knowledge.
But you know, overall, it's just another addition to our great core of engineering and people and mechanics and everybody. Yeah, we're a small team. Do I like the focus of a one-car? To be honest with you, I was pushing -- I can't tell you how many sponsor meetings I had this winter pushing for Oriol to try to get him in here on a full-time second, and we were close, but it just didn't work out. But I'd love to have a guy like that because he could certainly help us.
One of my concerns is always just stalling out. As a single car, you see the amount of laps we're pounding here, and we have to. I mean, we're trying things on tires we probably shouldn't be running on, but we have to try to do things because as a single car you're only getting knowledge from one source.
It would be nice to have Oriol (Servia) or somebody like that if we could. Oriol has always been my first choice because he and I are extremely compatible and have the same read on things, but you know, it hasn't been in the cards just yet. We'll see what happens. But Tom has been great, and I think Eddie (jones) and Martin (Pare) and Mike (Talbott) and the whole core group of guys has done an excellent job.
We lost one guy this winter, and so far we haven't really filled that spot because we haven't needed to. It'll be interesting to see how it goes forward. But everybody is working hard, and trust me, there's a lot of -- they want to be top Honda team once again, and we want to go fight for a championship like we have the last couple seasons.
Everybody, there's a lot of fire in the stomachs and ready to go.
Q. You want to be a top Honda team again, but yet you've got sitting next to you a guy who's on a much-improved Honda team with that operation. What's that going to be like to -- he's going to step it up with the engineering and it's going to be a powerful team.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Look, I've worked with Seb and I've worked with Hampson and I've worked with them both, and I fully expect them to win races. I think everybody does. And obviously let's not forget those other guys that have joined Honda. They're going to be damned good.
I mean, you know, we've already seen things today from an aerodynamic standpoint; they're parked right next to us. We're seeing aero configurations on their car that we've never seen on a Honda before. With the tunnel and stuff that they have, they have access to learn that info, and for us, we're sitting there looking at it going, Jesus, what have they figured out that we haven't over the last couple years as far as the basic aero package and stuff.
But they're going to elevate the game, too. We're all going to have to push very hard. As Seb said, I think here we're going to be lacking a bit of pace, there's no doubt, particularly in qualifying, because my lap was half decent. I tried to trim more than that and about ended up in the fence, so I'm not sure how much more there is, but we'll have to see come race weekend. But everybody is going to elevate their game. We're all pushing hard.
And I say top Honda. We don't want to be just top Honda. Obviously we're all here to win a championship, right, so that's the focus. That's what we're trying to do.
Q. Were you guys in your cars when Rossi crashed or were you getting in?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I was about to start.
Q. Did you hear it?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, how could you not?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, even with the helmet on I think it was pretty distinctive that something big had happened. My spotter came on the radio and was like, oh, boy, that was big. We never really want to hear that. And I was about to go and do a qually run, as well. It was like, damn, I didn't really want to hear that right before. It kind of hurts a little bit the confidence.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I was in the same spot. I was literally buckling in, and we were going to go do a qual sim, and as a driver that's one of the hardest situations and challenges to go through is you see that, you hear it, and you know you're next man up. So it's always hard to just get it out of your mind.
I mean, I've been in the qualifying line at Indy sitting there next to go, and RHR crashed in '08 right before -- it was my first ever qualifying at Indy, too, and I'm sitting there just absolutely sweating bullets.
Yeah, I haven't seen Alex or talked to him. I hope he's good. He's going to be sore. Those sort of things happen. But thank -- and I think I speak on behalf of everybody. I've got to say yesterday, we had a safety meeting, and I could not feel better or more thankful for Jeff Horton, Terry Trammell, the group of people we have behind us, because those hits used to take you out for weeks, and nowadays they've improved it so much.
I've seen other motorsports and stuff, and the guys that we have are absolutely the best, so really appreciate them.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined now by the driver of the Nos. 20 and 21 Ed Carpenter Chevrolets, Ed Carpenter and JR Hildebrand. I think both of your times are actually above our track record here at Phoenix Raceway. It's not official, obviously, since we were here practicing, but Ed, where do you think your team is finding the speed?
So we had been here on this tire. Obviously JR hadn't, but the team has done a good job. We've gone through some changes, but the guys have kept their head down. We still have the same goals of competing for race wins, competing for the championship, Indy 500, and this is an important race. It's the first oval of the year. You want to come and set of set the tone for the ovals here just as St. Pete is important to kick off the season and set the tone for the road and street courses. The guys have been working hard, and it doesn't really count, doesn't mean much today, but at the same time it is fun to be up at the top and reward the guys for hard work this off-season.
THE MODERATOR: JR, this is quite a different oval than the oval you've been running the past several years, but how has that rhythm come back to you and your thoughts from that first session?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, I think being able to jump in at Iowa this last year was really helpful for me coming here, just to have a little bit of a -- Phoenix is different, but it's more similar to Iowa than it used to be I think in a lot of ways, and not just giving me a chance to get on the short oval aero package and kind of understand what the team's setup kind of dynamic is, I guess. Definitely helped for me to just get up so speed more quickly that I had that little bit of familiarity with it.
You know, like Ed sort of mentioned, like we rolled off the truck kind of as we would say just in the window, so it was a lot of just being able to -- what we've been doing is sort of tailoring the cars to our individual needs, and those aren't that different, so both of us sort of then working together with our teams to benefit from each other along the way. So that's all gone smoothly thus far, and we'll get some more race running in this afternoon and hopefully start off the races -- coming back here in a month or two.
Q. I know it's only testing, but if you look at those times in a just a test session, imagine how quick you'd be if you hadn't -- not been a full-time driver the last four years. What is it? You've just jumped into this thing and it's like you've never missed a beat.
JR HILDEBRAND: I don't know, I think that everything is pretty -- at the end of the day it has a lot to do with how well the team is prepped for coming here and the amount of information that I sort of have at your disposal to get out and go do it. With the different tire comes a completely different feel sometimes to how the track works.
I think you could make a case at least for coming in sort of fresh, that there are some advantages to that, just that I don't have any preconceived ideas about what's going to happen or how the car is going to feel necessarily.
But yeah, I'd be lying to you if I said it didn't feel good going out and putting a couple laps down and doing it to where we felt -- they were legit. We're not just out there toying around. It felt good.
Q. Ed, how do you manage with such a limited tire set for a test like this where you only have six sets over two days? When do you figure is a better time to run in that case?
ED CARPENTER: Yeah, that's why you see some people -- everybody is on a little bit different program. I didn't run many laps today. JR had some electrical issues last night, so they had a little more tires to use this morning. We kind of went through the same kind of qualifying prep program, which a lot of people seemed to be doing today, and then he was able to get on with kind of some race running general car stuff after that where we were just waiting and saving the tires we have left for tonight.
Obviously we're happy to be quick right now, but the important thing is being good and having a really comfortable -- relatively quick car for long runs tonight, so we wanted to make sure we had enough tires to give ourselves the opportunity to improve enough to leave here -- the goal leaving these tests, you want to leave feeling like you've got a car capable of winning, and that's when you feel like you've had a good test.
We've got a little work to do for that, but I think, like JR said, we were pretty close to being in the window of where we want to be when we got here, and now we're just trying to find little things here and there to make it better.
Q. When you're in the car, can you actually feel the difference between doing a 193 lap and say a 198, or are you relying entirely on what you see on the dash unit?
JR HILDEBRAND: I mean, you definitely -- you also kind of know your gear strategy and all that kind of stuff, so just knowing where you're at in the RPM band and kind of feeling where you've got that punch coming off the corners and where youâ€™re -- in some ways that's still a data thing, because you're watching it and you have lights and all that kind of stuff, but you can feel that type of stuff. If you're, as we would say -- you can feel it when you're sort of on the pipe, you know. Like going through 3 and 4, if you had a good run through there and you're coming off the corner like with some gusto, like you definitely know that.
It tends to be the difference. The sort of macro differences here are are you having to lift or are you not, but even within that little range, if you've got the balance you're looking for, you can definitely tell you're cranking.
ED CARPENTER: Yeah, I kind of feel like once you get under a 19.5 you can tell the difference from that from a 19.8. It's asking more of everything, and you can feel that through the tires and even your body. Whether you're talking a 19.0 or a 19.3, you're hauling it either way.
Q. For JR, since you haven't been full-time in IndyCar the last couple years, have you been doing a lot of sports car racing?
JR HILDEBRAND: No, I have not. I've been hanging out with these guys (Ed Carpenter Racing) trying to get back to being full-time in IndyCar. No, I've sort of bounced around and been plenty busy away from racing full-time in the IndyCar Series, but in all honesty, I've sort of chosen to diversify what I've been trying to do. That's been equally just for my own sanity, like walking around, going to racetracks, banging on people's doors can drive you up a wall. The sports car thing is honestly a little tough these days just because of how we get ranked as IndyCar drivers in the sort of pro-am category like that doesn't really work in our favor. Since GRAND-AM and IMSA have combined, there's just kind of fewer of the prototype drives and the GTLM, which is an amazing category, there's a lot of factory guys there. It's a little bit of a tricky thing to work your way into, particularly if it's a part-time thing, I've found. And I know walking around the paddock, there are some other guys who have had sort of a like experience with that.
You know, been keeping busy. Was fortunate, obviously, to drive a little bit more than expected last year, testing for Josef, but in terms of the kind of full-time driving, this will be a fairly relative like uptick for me this year.
Q. I think ECR has hired Justin Taylor over from sports car racing, from Audi, and how does that translate for an engineer who's been in sports cars to come into an IndyCar situation and try and help you -- I don't know if he's working with you?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, he is. Justin is my primary engineer this year. It's been great working with him so far. He and I have got along really well right from the beginning. I'm living out in Boulder, he's from Denver originally, he's an American guy. It's been cool working with him, just kind of off the bat, I guess. There are definitely some differences, but I think as Ed would, I'm sure, back me up on this, having guys come in that have had the level of success that he has at teams like that, despite the fact that the teams are very different. The kind of organizational structure of a huge factory team like the Audi LMP1 program, and running in Le Mans, running in the WEC is quite different than a lot of things we do here. He brings kind of a fresh perspective on things, which I think is something that's good and keeps all of us honest in terms of just the normal way that we go about thinking about what we're doing. There have been some things that have been an adjustment already, I'm sure, for him. Like we were -- yesterday like nobody went out for the first half an hour or something of running, and he was just sitting there like what in the hell are we all doing here. If that was a sports car practice session we'd be bashing into each other going off the pit lane, you know.
But it feels like he's having fun with it. Obviously he's got a great team to work with to get up to speed in situations like this, which frankly like -- this is our first time on track working together. His first time ever running a car on an oval. A little bit of a baptism of fire.
The support that we have from the group around us is definitely, I think, making that a relatively straightforward transition.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much.
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