|From left, Hildebrand, Castroneves and Hunter-Reay|
1 - Helio Castroneves (Chevy)
2 - J.R. Hildebrand (Chevy)
3 - Ryan Hunter-Reay (Honda)
THE MODERATOR: We are pleased to be joined by the Iowa Corn 300 winner, Helio Castroneves. This is the first win for Helio in 2017 and the 30th win of his IndyCar career. He is the ninth different winner in 11 Verizon IndyCar series races, and ended a 54-race winless drought. How good did it feel to climb back up on your Spiderman fence climb?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, that was great. I can't thank enough Team Penske, Hitachi, Chevy car group and all our partners, and especially the people in the shop. They don't get much credit, but without their work and effort, we wouldn't be able to do what we did.
And again, it's a great team effort because we came here, we tried a lot of different setups between all four cars, and man, I picked the winner one, so it was really good. The car felt really good, and it was just great.
It was a little bit -- in the beginning we missed a little bit on the setup, then we made some adjustments after the first stop or second stop, and the car was fantastic. It was really good.
Yeah, you're right, it was a long time, but you can never stop believing, and my team never stopped supporting me on that, and today was great. Everything went great. Didn't have a yellow at the wrong time, we didn't have issues with the tire or anything else or mechanical. Everything was really, really good, and when you have a day like this, you've got to execute.
THE MODERATOR: As we mentioned earlier, Helio led 217 laps today, which passes Al Unser for fourth on the all-time laps led list.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Damn, you hear that? That's what I'm talking about. How many, 217?
THE MODERATOR: You led 217 today. Would you like to know how many laps you've led in your entire career?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah.
THE MODERATOR: 5,947.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Really? Oh, my God. That's a fun fact, eh? Do you have more?
THE MODERATOR: This is the first IndyCar win for Team Penske at Iowa Speedway. Not only a big win for you but also a big win for the team. What do you think it took to finally get past that? We don't have a lot of tracks out there that Penske haven't won at.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I have to say we've always been very quick here. We've got a lot of pole positions as a team, and the rhythm has always been there. Unfortunately, as I said, last year, for example, we pitted at the wrong time and a yellow came in and we were two laps down.
This time the car was really good. We learned our lesson. We focused on something that we knew that we've got to work on it, which was able to maintain the life of the tire, and that was it. So it wasn't any particular small thing that we always had, and finally we were able to put it together.
Q. I had the possibility this morning to do a pace car ride, and I found even in the road car the track was very, very bumpy. How was it in an open-wheel car?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, interesting. We did a test here I want to say two weeks ago, and when I came the first time yesterday morning for our first session, I felt completely different. In fact, I made a comment, like man, is it the tires, is it the setup, because we experimented with a lot of different setups. Is it the setup, what is it? Today in the race, the car was so good. I noticed in one of the -- especially the straightaway it was really rough there. But guys, asphalt creates characteristics that are displaced. I remember in the past you used to have a huge bump in Turn 1, and every year it's something different, which is I would say the way that the track is designed and everything now finally paid off our hard work. Sometimes when you get a night race, you know, cool down, all the cars are becoming very good and it becomes more difficult and competitive.
But today, wow, it's been quite a long time I don't have a car like this, or I had a car like this but something would happen. But it was fantastic.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it smelled a lot of rain and also the visor was getting a lot of water. In fact, I haven't seen -- I haven't seen where is this rain coming from because I look at the sky and I haven't seen a single cloud. It was very weird, to be honest. But it was the right decision because I was worried. I would be the first one to go, at this place you've got to commit. You can't think too much when you go into the corners because if you do that people are going to pass you by. I would be the first one committing on Turn 1, and I'm glad they (indiscernible) the safety crew guys, and I think that worked very well for everyone. We lost a little bit of the rhythm, yes, because we spent probably 10 minutes pitting and tires, go to a new cycle, car cooled down a little bit. Everything changed, but it changed for everyone.
Q. Helio, how much does a win make a statement for you as far as the championship goes, you're now right there with Dixon? And not only are you moving up the IndyCar win list, you're also closing in on Mark Donohue, the winningest driver in Team Penske history?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it's great. It's great momentum to carry on for the championship, and this is exactly what we need. Now we're going to Toronto to another place that we run really well in the past, and I am really looking forward to that one. So we've just got to carry good momentum, and with that, we just keep doing what we're doing, putting ourselves in good position to win races.
And 30 wins, we just passed Rick Mears, which is my hero, and getting close to win most of the team, which is great. I have to say I'm honored to be part of this organization, and I can only thank Roger, Cindric and the entire team to be supporting me. It's easy to be behind you in good times, but they've always been there no matter the time, so for me that's priceless. I'm going to continue focusing in this season, and there's more to come.
Q. At this point in your career, to have gone that long between wins, I heard you say in Victory Lane it felt like the first one again. Going through a drought at this point, does that make you appreciate it a little bit more, winning a race?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, finally everything came together. Yeah, appreciate more, but when I say like for the first time, it's just like I remember this feeling before, and I didn't think that climbing the fence would get a little bit harder this time. But it still had the same feeling looking at everybody's face through the fence and everybody is excited for me. That's a feeling that nobody can take away from you, and that's what motivates me more to come back now and do what I just did.
Q. Helio, given your past record here with one top-5 finish and Team Penske's record here without having a win, did this track come into your mind as the one that you would use to break your drought of 1,134 days?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'll tell you one thing. I always come to this place knowing this is the year. This is the year it's going to happen. This is the year we're going to break through. I didn't think different this year, either, and I always wanted that trophy, believe it or not. I'm always like, man, I've got to get that in my collection. I really like that. So it is a dream come true, and I tell to everyone, you've got to dream big because one day this thing will come true. It took a long time, 20 years, or I don't know how many years we're here.
THE MODERATOR: This is our 11th race.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It took 11 years, but we made it happen, and I'm very happy.
Q. In many ways it was kind of like the old Helio today, but you seemed to have a little bit of extra determination and motivation. Was that true?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No. It was the same. Car was really good, and the car gave me really competent engineers, and I'll tell you what, a lot of people don't hear about the engineers that we have who all work together. But today my engineer Jonathan Diuguid did a phenomenal job because sometimes you're trying to explain something, and if they don't understand you, there's nothing you can copy, you can look, you can see everything from other teammates, he won't be able to understand. And since I've been working for a few years now with Jonathan, he understands, and that's exactly what I was asking for him, and he gave me.
When that thing was stuck, especially behind traffic, and I'm throwing myself into the inside, I was confident that everything was working together. But there was no extra motivation. My extra motivation is every time I finish a season I just can't wait to come back again and do better, whether if it's a place that I haven't win, if it's a place, a championship that I'm still looking for, so that's what keeps me motivated.
Q. Can you talk about what it was like running behind Will Power, your teammate? Could you tell if his car was not as strong as yours, for example? And did you have any close calls out there? And did you try to go for the lead right away or were you just kind of biding your time even though you led over 217 laps? Was it just go to the front as soon as you can or do you try to save the car?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I did run behind Will. Our setups were very, very close, to be honest. That's one guy that I said, you know what, if I have to choose one here -- we're like friendly, and we're able to do that with some adjustments that I feel comfortable with. And yes, when we start the race, I tried to take the lead because I want to be in clean air to save a little bit of the tires. But as soon as I knew that it was going to be a little bit rough, I decided just to take my time, and once the traffic gets in, I knew -- I knew. I was just confident that maybe I would be a little bit better, and I was.
We missed a little bit in the first pit stop, some adjustments that I'm supposed to do. I hoped that it would get better, and it did. We lost a little bit on that. That was a part that we didn't lead much. But once my team put me back in the lead again, one of the pit stops, with the adjustments that I was asking for, that's it. I didn't have anything more to do. I did not have any close calls. Everything was always well-calculated. Today experience really paid off. I'm aggressive when I have to be, and I take it easy when I need to. I don't know, but probably that's one of the reasons we led today.
THE MODERATOR: Helio, thank you. Congratulations. We'll see you in Toronto.
THE MODERATOR: We'll welcome in our second-place finisher, JR Hildebrand of Ed Carpenter Racing. This matches JR's best career finish in the Verizon IndyCar Series, also finishing second in the 2011 Indianapolis 500. Also started second in today's race. JR, it seems like you were switching in between several different positions within the top 5 but ultimately made your way back to a podium finish. Take us through that decision near the end of the race to pit a bit earlier than the rest of your competitors to try to make your way back up.
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, I think we had a really good car out there today, but sort of to Ryan's point, I think just because of the heat, to have a car that was good enough by enough that once you got later in a stint that you could get by guys, it was just really tough. You know, we opted to -- we thought that we were better than the cars in front of us or the majority of the cars in front of us running fourth or fifth or something and elected to pit early, get on fresh tires, rip off a bunch of laps and try to kind of cycle out with better track position and see how that worked out for us.
You know, it was a great call by the guys in the pits. I think they could kind of see how the race was unfolding. There weren't a lot of yellows. That would have cost us a lot in that race if a yellow had come out after we had pitted, but it was definitely the right call to try to challenge for the win, and was able to hold off everybody but one.
From that perspective, it was definitely hairy there for the last kind of eight or ten laps. We were just on more used tires than the rest of the guys around us. Lap traffic was super difficult to get around. I ended up getting stuck behind a couple of guys for like 30 laps at the end. But all in all, just really happy for the team and to get the Fuzzy's Vodka Machine up here on the podium again.
Q. Your teammate Ed was struggling; did you have a chance to talk to him?
JR HILDEBRAND: I spoke with him really briefly because he was running pretty well at the beginning. I think we were closer together sort of in pace earlier in the race it seemed like. And it sounded like they had some sort of mechanical issue that happened sort of partway through the event that really took the handling away. I didn't really get any more detail than that, but the cars weren't significantly different, so there must have been a kind of variable issue that came into play there.
Q. Compare your race here to Phoenix where you finished third; how difficult was it to -- everyone complains about traffic here.
JR HILDEBRAND: You know, I think they're a little bit different. Here it became more -- for me what was screwing me up with the traffic personally was that I was catching up to a lot of guys that were really unpredictable in terms of where they were putting their cars. In 3 and 4 in particular, both lanes were still kind of there, and so you'd be catching up to a guy and he's running lap cars, be catching up to him and they're running in the high lane, so you're thinking, okay, I'm going to run low so I can get up close and have clean air going through the corner and work my way around him or whatever, and then you'd catch up to him, and that lap they'll run the bottom, and it was just kind of -- I guess that for me when it's not for position is really frustrating to deal with because it's just like -- that's not stuff that I do to leaders if I'm getting caught in a race.
But that's just the challenge here one way or the other. If you're racing guys for position, that's what's going on, and everybody knows that's what's going to be going on.
I think there's a little bit of -- it's more difficult to know where the guy in front of you is going to run here, and that's kind of what makes that tricky. You know, so I think at Phoenix, I guess at Phoenix you know more ahead of time that you're going to have to set a guy up a bunch of laps in advance and make that happen, whereas around here it's a little bit more of a guessing game of like, where do I put my car so that I can keep the momentum going relative to the cars in front of me.
I think the heat had a lot to do with -- I guess I would say particularly towards the end of the race there was no low line through 1 and 2, and there wasn't much of a high line through 3 and 4. Those lines were significantly slower than the alternatives. So that made it more of a one-lane track once the tires started to go off, and that was making it difficult for sure. I think if it hadn't been quite as hot, you wouldn't have had quite the degradation, and you could have been a little bit more open to the line.
Q. You mentioned the short pitting, and Ryan talked about his straight-line speed and Helio still kind of ran away from him. Were you in a similar position, and was short pitting the best chance to beat them?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, I didn't think we had a speed problem, it was more just it became about track position basically at the end. You know, by the end of the race, Ryan mentioned that you had kind of like 10 laps to go hard wherever you wanted on the track. But even if you could keep doing that for another five laps -- I started to just run wherever I thought I was hurting the tires the least because I knew that that was going to be something I was going to have to be paying attention to 30 laps later when there was five or eight to go.
From that perspective, I think we probably had Helio's pace. I got jammed up in traffic, which is when he got by. For a period of time there even with a lapped car between us, we were basically holding station.
I think if I could have kept him behind me for longer and I'd have been in front and we were just kind of battling it out, he would have had a heck of a time getting by me as I was in more clean air. But that's just kind of how it goes.
Yeah, I felt like we definitely had a car that could have won today, just kind of based on outright pace. So I think we can feel good about that heading to certainly St. Louis and some of the other ovals.
Q. I know race drivers certainly aren't fans of other race drivers, but considering all that Helio has kind of been through the last three years --
JR HILDEBRAND: Are you sure you want to ask me that question?
Q. Do you have any feelings at all about what he did today?
JR HILDEBRAND: No. Yeah, I mean, he's been doing this for a super long time and he's racing for Roger Penske, like they should go out and be competitive every weekend, and we're here to beat them and take down the Dark Empire. Yeah, I like -- if somebody has got to win and it's not going to be us in a competitive race like this, it certainly doesn't bother me that it's Helio. You know, I mean, he's a champion of our sport, for our sport. I guess he's not actually a champion. He's not an official champion. We'll say he's an emotional champion of the sport. He always -- no BS, though; he does do a great job. He's always so excited. He's so passionate about it. You love to see that from guys, particularly guys like him, and him and TK, they're turning back the clock and giving us all a run for our money every weekend. Obviously congrats to those guys. But we'd much rather be beating them.
Q. It's great to see Ed Carpenter Racing doing so well and actually challenging and being the lead ahead of the Penske drivers. You're a much smaller team; can you talk a little bit about how you utilize or the team utilizes their resources to be able to be in a David versus Goliath situation?
JR HILDEBRAND: Yeah, I think for us, we obviously come into certain tracks in particular, ones like this, with a historical track record of being competitive at these places, and I think once we -- at every event that we go to, your events are made and lost just in what you do over the course of practice sessions at the event. Rolling out of the truck on the right track has a lot to do -- that helps a lot. But being in form to win races comes from making the right decisions during the race weekend because an event weekend like this, the conditions are totally different than when we tested here a couple weeks ago because it's 15 or 20 degrees warmer or whatever. So you have to be able to react in the right way to see success in situations like this.
I think for us, you know, between Ed and I, we're always looking for the same thing and are pretty -- I think generally pretty strongly opinionated about what exactly it is that we're looking for, and so that has allowed us when we come to these places, we do roll off the truck well because we've got good historical track record, and we know that the setups are kind of like in the general operating window of something that can be really fast. And then as we go through the weekend, as we go through practice sessions, we get that even more kind of refined.
I think it just comes from the mindset within the team and the ability of the engineers to sort of translate what we're looking for and asking for correctly or whatever, most effectively for what we're trying to get out of the cars. Fortunately for us, more often than not, it seems like we've been looking for the right things because when we come to these places year after year, we're pretty competitive. We've got a little bit of work to do to make that the case sort of across the board over the duration of the season, but certainly at events like this, we don't -- we feel like we're coming in on an even playing field with those guys.
THE MODERATOR: JR, congratulations. We'll see you in Toronto.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go ahead and begin with our Iowa Corn 300 Verizon IndyCar Series post-race press conference. Joined now by Ryan Hunter-Reay, who finished third in this afternoon's race, his fifth podium finish in 10 starts at Iowa Speedway, also the 37th podium of Ryan's career. I know it's hot outside. You're probably a bit tired, but take us through your race and working up to the front throughout the afternoon.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, it was busy. But when we showed up here this weekend, like last year, we had a really ill-handling car. Felt like it just always wanted to turn around, get into the wall. Within an hour and a half of the practice time that we had, we made some good changes to it, especially in the warmup. And we made the right changes going into the race. So credit to the engineering team of the 28 car. We definitely got a good setup on it.
We spent the whole race catching up on front wing. Had too little front wing in it, which is kind of a byproduct of searching around for setups to land on. These cars are so sensitive here. You can dial the car out so easily. You can miss the setup by just a little bit and be way off the pace. I was very thankful, especially after last year where I was a fish out of water at a track that I absolutely love. This was nice to be back in the rhythm and going from 15th to third.
Hats off to the 28 DHL crew. They did great stops today, put us where we needed to, and I had fun. Definitely it was nice to finish a race without some other variable interfering.
THE MODERATOR: I know it's not a win, but another podium finish here at Iowa Speedway where you've been very successful, including a win during your championship-winning season in 2012. When you're coming into Iowa Speedway, do you think to yourself, I feel like I'm going to have a good weekend because I have that track record there? Does it give you more confidence heading into a racetrack like this?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It did, yeah, until last year when we got here and we were just absolutely terrible. But I love this place and I know what I need from the car. That's one thing. I'm very certain what I need from it. I can describe exactly to the engineers what we need, and I know where the target is, and that's where I need to be.
And then once we get into a racing situation, if I can have a car where I can put it in different lanes, this is one of my favorite racetracks. We just didn't have the speed today for the competition, straight-line speed. I had some great runs on even J.R. there the last few laps, and I just couldn't do anything with it. But I think third is a really good result today coming from 15th and knowing the weekend that we had last year.
Q. I wanted to know if you had stopped even earlier kind of near the time where J.R. stopped, do you think you might have had enough to beat Helio for the win?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It's tough to say. They seemed like they had too much straight-line speed. I was flat out and he was driving away from me. So I don't think so. I think it was their race this weekend.
The problem with stopping earlier is the degradation is so big, right; like J.R. stopped earlier and he was another three or four laps, I was going to be giving him a really hard time. That's the kind of gamble you play. You can come in and get the reward up front of going quick, but you're going to have to pay for it at the end of the stint, and that's what we were kind of contemplating.
But it was good to get by Will there on the strategy. We pitted when Helio did, a lap earlier than Will, I think, and ended up getting by him. It was tough out there. With the track temp as high as it is being a day race, once you get to about lap 30 or 35 on tires, it's like running on an ice skate rink with sneakers on. You want your own piece of real estate, and it's very -- it becomes very difficult, especially at the end. You feel like you've taken off your wings and are just sliding all around.
Q. You mentioned the setup; the car was much better in racing trim?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, the car was actually good in qualifying, too. We had a little bit of a speed issue we needed to sort out, but I was at or near the same trim level as the teammates and flat out and didn't go anywhere. Need to figure that out, but we made the changes in warmup, and that's where it started to actually become comfortable, for the first time in a year and a half started to become comfortable here. The test we had here was knife edge, so it was nice to get a car that I could start really hustling.
Q. How was it trying to keep it on the track?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: You know, when you're on newer tires, maybe lap 1 to 20, it was manageable. You could put the car wherever you wanted. You could come up on a car that was a half second slower to three quarters of a second slower than you on older tires, and it was very difficult to get by, and you were very susceptible to the washout. If he comes across your bow, I know that happened with J.R., but if you come up on a car, you can't really figure out what lane they're going to pick, so then you commit for a lane and he goes for it, and then it's a huge penalty because you're just sliding around. The downforce is, I think -- it was fun out there today, but these races used to be a lot better, I think. The downforce is a bit light for how hot it was. It was light.
I mean, you got halfway into a tire stint and even the fast cars couldn't go anywhere. Am I right? We saw Helio, Will, even you were stuck behind cars that were much slower. I'd love to come back here at night. I think I've said that about 35 times.
Q. You've come here before where you had the best car in the field and you've come here before where it was like driving with a boat anchor. How self-satisfying is this for you to be able to, no matter what the conditions, come out of here and be able to manhandle the car around this track and still get a podium?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: It is nice. It's rewarding, especially after the season -- all the misfortune we've had. It's been one of those seasons where we just can't seem to get a break or -- like I've been saying, I just want -- I don't need good luck, I don't need bad luck, I just want none at all. I just want no variables to come into play that are outside of our control, and that's what we had today, so it was nice to finish on the podium, and appreciate the remark. It's nice to be on the podium here after such a hard year last year.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan, congratulations.