|From left, Rahal (2nd), Bourdais (1st) and Rossi (3rd)|
Sebastien Bourdais - Winner
Dale Coyne - Winning team owner
Graham Rahal - 2nd
Alexander Rossi - 3rd
Robert Wickens - Driver of Race
THE MODERATOR: We welcome in Sebastien Bourdais, driving the No. 18 SealMaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan. What a story line, from one major story line in the race to the next, a back-to-back win for you. It has to feel just so good to have the year that you had last year and open up the 2018 season with what happened today.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I hope history is going to repeat itself until Indy, to be honest, but yeah, it's kind of interesting. We ended up qualifying poorly. We didn't get a good lap. I didn't get a good lap yesterday with one or another circumstance. With the one lap after the red flag we were comfortably in, in Q2 prior to the red flag, and it felt like we just missed a good opportunity to start at the front, but it definitely seems like this race is disjointed enough that it doesn't really seem to matter where you start, you're still going to have opportunities to make it happen, and we sure did today.
I tried to avoid the punches and to make sure I wasn't going to hit anyone, and it worked out, until I felt a little tap in the back and then, sure enough, I got an alarm on the dash and I got a right rear tire going down on the opening lap, like here we go again.
And so you come in the pits, change tires, it was a brand new set of red tires, as well. I'm like, this is awesome. So now you are at the back, and obviously the back isn't really -- it's not the back so much anymore because by the time I came back around there are four or five other cars that were stuffed in the wall sideways, backwards, in tires, tangled, whatever. So it was a bit of a crazy start, and then it just kept getting crazier and crazier, restart after restart, couldn't settle into any kind of rhythm, and with all those yellows, I knew this was going to turn into a two-stopper from there.
So the team played it perfect. We ended up with a bunch of other guys on the same strategy, and some of the guys offset by some but not drastically so. But the great thing I knew for us was that obviously we were not going to be exposed to yellows for the rest of the race because we just decided to shift everything forward. We didn't dumpster dive or anything, we just did it on the early side of the windows, so we were just going to run long stints until the end of the race. We ran quick, clean, and we got ourselves in third.
Traffic was -- obviously Zach was defending his teammate's interest, which was arguably okay, whatever, but do not ask for favors down the road because they won't get them. And then Rene got in the way, as well, on the outlet sequence. I had too much understeer in the car, and as soon as we got in traffic, I just really couldn't produce any lap time, so that really compounded the effect, and I was really happy with third. As soon as those two guys got around the pit sequence, I thought, we'll just keep anything that's coming our way. The podium is a great start to the season, and then I finally got around Hinch, and then almost instantly it goes yellow, I'm like, here we are, that's going to be a crap shoot. It's just going to be terrible. Like people are just going to feel like a million dollars again, and they all feel like they're going to win it and we're going to end up with a pile of cars on top of each other in Turn 1, and I wasn't completely wrong. I wasn't completely right but I wasn't completely wrong, either.
Again, gapped myself to the guy in front. I just tried to get a good exit of the hairpin, and all I cared about was to keep that podium. And then I saw Robert and Alex just going at it. They both wanted it really bad, and I have no idea whose fault it is or if it's just a racing thing. But when I saw both of them starting to drift going toward the apex and getting themselves in the marbles, I thought, oh, boy, and then sure enough, they both skated off, one spun, the other one recovered, and I was through, and then it went yellow, and that was that. Just a crazy day. I couldn't dream of that ending.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously just what does this track mean to you and this city mean to you? I know it has embraced you. I know that you have certainly embraced it as your home and what it means to win on your home track.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: It's awesome, and the response of the community, the support, the pulling together from everybody, the sponsors for the Kart4Kids race, the IndyCar community, drivers, sponsors, partners, people in general, we started off the week in a great way with 130, 35, whatever, who are going to be left at the end, for children, and it was just a great start to the week.
Yeah, they embraced me, and this morning more stuff coming with the city and trying to promote and grow the event with Kim and Kevin, and everybody is doing a great job. They're putting a lot of heart in it, and I'm just trying to help, and obviously when you win in front of friends and family, it's very special. I couldn't really be any happier about that.
And also for us. It was SealMaster's annual awards ceremony, and franchisees, convention, everything, so they were in clear water on the beach, and we were with them on Friday night, and they had every single one of them on-site today. What a way to start the relationship with SealMaster. That was quite awesome.Q. How do you look back on the last two, three years of your career? You won a couple times now. How many trophies do you have around here?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, the shelving is starting to be a little crowded in St. Pete. When we came back in '12, we didn't bring anything. We just came with all the luggage, I went to Ikea, and that was that. There was nothing in the house, and the collection is getting bigger quite nicely. Not the place it was when I was in the Champ Car days, but there's some Daytona trophies and Sebring trophies and Road Atlantas and IndyCar trophies. Yeah, we've managed to win one pretty much every year since '14. I'm pretty happy to keep that streak alive.Q. It's always fun to read about Le Mans and how you drove on those roads going to school as a kid. It's a little bit of a different story here, but these are your two home cities. So winning it back-to-back, it's been a comeback story after the Indy debacle last year, so how do you look back on the last few years?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I was very emotional in the car on the in lap. It's tough to put into words, that's for sure. You always get -- I think you get the questions from people, is he going to be the same, is he going to come back, is he this, is he this. I really try not to leave any room for uncertainty as far as what I was going to do and how forward I was going to go by coming back to Gateway last year, two and a half months later. It's been bumpy, it's been tough, it's been everything in between, but I've gotten a lot of support from the CEO to my family to everybody on board. It's been pretty hard for myself I think in some ways, obviously, but more for people around me and certain people, for my wife. It's quite an achievement to be able to restart the season and settle the matter right away and get back on the horse and win another one.
|Winning team of James Sullivan, Jimmy Vasser, Dale Coyne and Sebastien Bourdais|
Q. A little bit of a follow-up off the Indy question, but there were some people who wondered whether -- what you'd be like when you came back. Did you ever question yourself at all while you were recovering that it may be a lot harder to get back to Victory Lane than in the first race of the following season?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I mean, for me it was very straightforward. Once I knew what the injuries were and there were not going to be any lasting events, then it was like fast forward and get back on the horse and get back to what I do, get back to my life. I don't know my life any other way. I'm 39, and I'm aging, and everybody is starting to make me feel old, especially those kids when they start to be on pole at whatever, 20, like I was when I first came. At the end of the day, this is my life. This is what I want to be doing, and as long as I'm competitive, this is what I'll be doing. It's just a great feeling to be able to, like I said, restart that way and make a statement really, because it was obviously not a given, and that new aero kit was -- everything was up in the air. Nobody really knew how it was going to shake out, who was going to have what, and we were competitive. We didn't have the fastest car, but we were in the mix, so just a great way to get the season going again.
Q. The other thing is Dale doubled down on your team again this year and brought in Jimmy Vasser, your old buddy from the Champ Car days and also Sully. How special is that to not only get Dale another victory but first race for Sully and Vasser?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, obviously to get Sully and Jimmy over with us and Dale and making them a part of this was a big commitment from Dale. It's been his baby for many, many years, and for him to trust these guys in the way he did and to bring them on board and bring the commercial and the marketing side, which we're probably not as a group the way we -- because it's just us and it's Dale, and that's the way we function. And now they're definitely bringing something else to the table, and when you combine forces, you're only stronger.
Like I said, the big story line is that we bring the new sponsor with SealMaster, and they're all here this weekend, and kind of bringing me back to the McDonald's days; first time that I had McDonald's on the car, I ended up winning in Cleveland, and it's just kind of paved the road for the next four years. We'll have some kind of story line.
THE MODERATOR: We welcome in Dale Coyne. This gentleman brought you a win here last year, bringing you a back-to-back win. How great is it to have him back in your health full-time, healthy, and back to his winning ways?
DALE COYNE: Well, Sebastien said the mayor is going to name a street after him now because he's won two in a row. Hopefully it's his home street. No, we're very excited about it. Did you say you were 39? You told me 34.
No, he's doing a great job. What can you say? We're very pleased he came back with us several years ago after his European adventure, and came back again last year. You know, we worked well together.
Today's race was strange. We cut a tire early, and the race started fresh after that, the two pit stops early and the first two yellows there, but then he was in the back of the pack, but then it became a strategy race, and then same as last year, we helped him with the strategy to get to the front, but then he takes care of it from there. We were lucky this year. Last year I think we had a better car than we did this year. Pagenaud last year was pretty special. This year we had some luck, obviously, at the end, otherwise we would have been third. But that's the way it works in racing.
No, very happy with his abilities and the way everybody works together, Craig and the team and him and having Vasser and Sullivan back this year has been really nice. Good they bring something to the team that I don't do, so that's very helpful.
Q. Sebastien, you mentioned the stints being pretty long after your early stops. Is it easier or harder to manage the fuel and the tires with the new car?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No, I think it's always a little harder on the tires when you have less downforce. You slide a bit more, so there was more degradation, and I don't think -- like Dale said, I don't think the car was as well balanced as we had it last year. The car was pretty well balanced last year. So we're still searching. We're not quite where I want the car to be. But it's a work in progress. It's kind of me and the boys and trying to figure it out with three days.
DALE COYNE: We had an eighth-place car today. His consistency makes that a fourth-place car, and luck made it a winning car.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: There you go. I didn't know where I was going to shake out, but I guess you have the full story right there.
Q. Dale, what do you think it says about your team that you have now won this race two in a row at a place where Penske had dominated?
DALE COYNE: It's great. I mean, I think -- it was interesting this year with the universal aero kits that kind of leveled the playing field on one aspect. There's still the engine aspect, there's still Penske's shock development program is pretty good. I think the Honda engine really proved really strong today and overcame some of those things that Penske has that the others don't. The rookies here, I think we're all surprised how well all the rookies did. So it's going to be -- I think it's going to be a pretty interesting year. I think it's going to be a tight field. Qualifying is going to be how you hit the sweet spot on your tires and the track and the traffic, all at the same moment. You've got one minute to get that right, so I think there's going to be a lot of things left to chance this year. I think that's going to make for a lot of mixed-up fields and really tight grids everywhere.
Q. When you look at the start of the race and then along like 38 some odd laps in, how much did that long stint going off strategy allow to you propel yourselves and Rahal and a few others to the front?
DALE COYNE: We knew what we were going to do. Like I say, I think the race -- we had a strategy even before the race started. That all changed. The cut tire changed it --
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, we were going to stop on lap 17. That didn't quite work out.
DALE COYNE: No, 17 came and went. But that's the way races are. You can't -- you write a strategy, and you'll change it just based on the flow of the race. You know, here, you saw a lot of yellows and there's not as much downforce in these cars, so there's not as much grip in Turn 1, so Turn 1 becomes more of a skating rink, so yellows breed yellows, and so the strategy kind of evolved. And obviously when you get a cut tire and you go to the back of the field, then it was kind of like last year's strategy, okay, we're in the back of the field, now we've really got to do something different to get ourselves to the front, and it worked out perfectly.
Q. You've been around the sport a little while; give me some perspective on this as an opening weekend, not just because you won but for IndyCar in general. Seemed like a decent crowd, you've got sponsors on your cars, et cetera. How is IndyCar doing?
DALE COYNE: I think they're doing great. You look at the week leading up to the Phoenix open test, and there was a lot of sponsor announcements. Leading up to here there was a lot of sponsor announcements. I don't know what the gate was today, but it looked like there was more people here than ever before. I know I talked to Kevin and Kim, and they were both very happy with -- the suites I think were sold out. I think all in all, it's better. We're rising. Most series are flat or falling. I think NASCAR maybe is coming from a higher level, but I think we've got momentum on the uptick. I think the new television package will be better than what we have now, and I think that's just all good momentum, and there's a lot of interest in the sport. Most of the cars now have a sponsor on them. Last year it was mostly just the team name on the car. I think the sport is doing much, much better.
Q. Sebastien, you said that the lap in was very emotional. What were those emotions for you?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I mean, it's just -- it's the first one, obviously, since the crash. Like I said, it's a lot of things that you have to overcome, the mental, the kinks, the physical of the speed, and just getting back in the game and executing. Yeah, it was just --
Q. You mentioned that there were people questioning whether you'd be able to do this again. Did you yourself ever doubt that you'd be able to get back?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Not so much, no. The day I got back in the car at mid-Ohio, I think I was pretty much right on par straight away, and at that point I definitely was not 100 percent physically. I knew the feeling that everything was still there, and I was going to be fine. It was just going to be a bit of time to really get completely back physically, but now I am. It's kind of part of my history, part of my story. But yeah, it's behind me.
DALE COYNE: We knew the day after the accident, when we saw him in the hospital the day after the accident, after his surgery, and we knew then, this hasn't fazed him. He's coming back.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, I mean, when the doc came and ruled me out for the season, I'm like, let's talk a little bit about timing.
DALE COYNE: He wanted to do Le Mans in June.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No, but, I mean, that's what I said. If you take the same approach as the riders do in motorcycles, I would have raced that weekend. It's just a matter of how do you want to expose yourself in the long run because the injury obviously physically was never going to be a big deal. You would have dropped me in the car, I could have driven it. Now, for sure if I had any kind of crash, that would have really been bad. But it's all things -- and people will say, well, you're a badass and everything. No, I just listened to the doctor. But things healed decently, the time frame was right, and when I was cleared, I wasn't going to stay home. I wasn't going to watch Esteban in my car. It just was not the way it was going to run. That's just the way I am, and I'm glad we did it this way.
Q. Dale, going back to Texas, you had the crashes at Indy, then we get to Texas, and quite literally I saw parts of your car in the trash can, that literally were thrown away. You had a rough season from a standpoint of having to fix a lot of things, but does a day like today redeem that, and is this why you do it?
DALE COYNE: Yeah, of course it's why you do it. We had a crash, was it last year, I think we figured we spent about $800,000 in crash damage, and in the end we spent over 3 million in crash damage, so that's a pretty big hit. Texas, Indy was bad, obviously, Texas was bad. Actually the crash at Phoenix broke everything on the car. It didn't look bad, but it broke everything on the car. So financially it wasn't what we had hoped for last year, but we always come back. I remember the year with Robby Buell and Ross Bentley, and we crashed everything at Indy, and then we showed up at Milwaukee with two cars. Everybody thought we were out of business. But we're fighters, we're not going out of business, we're going to be here for a long time.
Q. Speaking of a long time, it seems like you and Sebastien have formed a very good bond in rebuilding your team, bringing your team to a point where you can take on anybody and beat them now. Do you look down the road when he decides to stop racing and maybe make him a part of your team as a team owner?
DALE COYNE: Maybe. I haven't thought of that, but that's a good idea because he's a good team player. I think anybody who comes on our team has a chance to be a teammate alongside of him, whether it was James Jakes or now look at Ed Jones last year. I think he learned a lot. Ed proved himself, and he got the dream rookie year driver thing. Everybody wants to drive for Penske or Ganassi, and he got that. We're proud of that. We're proud of what we did with Paul Tracy when we ran him for only one race. But I think Zach has got that opportunity this year to learn a lot from Sebastien, and that's strong. I mean, Sebastien is a racer. He wants to race. So when he physically can't race or when it's time to hang it up, I think he'll still be a racer. I see him in the sport long past his driving days.
Q. How much this weekend was traffic a factor?
DALE COYNE: Well, we all get paranoid in traffic, because it's so close. That particular one, Rahal was coming at about four tenths a lap and we were blocked, so he was five seconds back and getting closer and closer. They were a lap down, so we went over and talked to them about letting them by. We tell the officials, we usually put up a blue flag for a guy if he's a lap down. If he's not a lap down, you've got to earn your way by the guy, but he was a lap down, so they let him by, and it was all good. But everybody does that. We all do that for each other. Sebastien will be a lap down some days, and someone will need help, and we help each other out. That's what we do.
THE MODERATOR: We'll welcome our second-place finisher, Graham Rahal, driving the No. 15 United Rentals Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Graham, a lot of things happening up front in that race towards the end there, but you managed to stay out of it and ultimately capitalize on those opportunities. Take us through your race and what you witnessed in those final few laps.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, yeah, first of all, I want to tip my cap to Honda for an amazing job that they clearly did. No matter what the end result was going to be, a Honda was going to win, and that's pretty spectacular. There's a lot of competition in the other camp, and to see them come through the way they did today was pretty awesome.
Yeah, I mean, look, I apologize, as well, to Spencer for earlier in the race. I found myself in a similar situation. I think that happened -- I heard Dixon did it to Takuma. These cars have very little forgiveness, as you guys can see, and you get yourself in there, what feels sometimes like only about five feet, two deep, and next thing you know you're hanging on for dear life. It's difficult, it's frustrating, but it is the case of what we have currently.
You know, I was inside of Bourdais, too, on the restart, and I just looked up, and I saw the marbles, and I thought, this isn't going to work. So I literally just said to myself, take fourth, let's go home. And next thing I know, I saw smoke, and bam. It worked out even prettier than that.
But frankly I'm more than pleased and fortunate to be on the podium today. Our guys did a great job of strategy, and frankly I don't think this was given to us. We certainly had huge fuel numbers that we needed to reach, and thanks to Honda and the new aero package, we were able to get that number and save the tires as well as we could to do those long stints. I think there were 35 laps, I don't know, something really long, and it all worked out.
You know, as we look at ourselves as championship contenders, I don't care what happened the last two days, we still believe in that. We know that we are. This is a great way to start.
THE MODERATOR: Take us back a little bit further. We talked to you before qualifying after the first couple of practices that happened on Friday, and you weren't necessarily too keen on what was going on so far. You knew that there was still some speed to find as you got ready towards the later part of the weekend. How were you able to find that, and obviously Takuma qualifying up front I can imagine helped out in terms of data information?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it did, although yesterday's qualifying was kind a strange circumstance. I think actually when Marco got bumped out is when Takuma got in, and not saying that Takuma didn't have the speed over the weekend, but I don't know in qualifying that he actually did to advance, and then it rained, so it became -- ultimately he did a great job in Q2 and Q3 to continue on.
The trouble is that we made changes for qualifying that we really didn't get to see through, and so this morning as we went out, we went out blind as to what is going to happen, what are these changes going to be. And I think in general, I'm a little more sensitive to rear movement than maybe Takuma is, or Takuma can certainly go a little bit quicker than me when the rear is moving to that extreme, and so I was a little concerned, what way is this going to go when we go into race day.
And I don't think that it was great this morning, honestly. It wasn't at all. But guys did a great job, recovered well, made some spring changes, did a little bit of this, a little of that, magic fairy dust, and next thing you know, it's halfway decent for the race. We did have a lot of understeer, but I could see a lot of guys did. I could see Hinch behind me. He was on far fresher tires than me and he couldn't do anything with me, and I could see Bourdais start to struggle because we were catching him about half a second a lap, so I knew that everybody was kind of in the same boat.
But if those aren't some of the craziest restarts you'll ever see -- I mean, it is literally, I mean, far worse than any ice I've driven on in my life growing up in the Midwest. It was ridiculous, and I have a feeling we're going to see a lot more of that this year.
THE MODERATOR: I think the pole sitter on the streets of St. Pete has only won the race twice --
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, you might as well start last. If you look at the last few years, I think it's the best place to start.
THE MODERATOR: It worked out well for you this year and worked out well for Bourdais last year.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It worked out well for Seb last year. I'm trying to think who else won that started pretty much last or got knocked out. Well, even Bourdais today, he got knocked out and went to the back, right, went to last, and it worked out.
Today for Seb and I, and I think Ed was kind of third on our strategy, the trick was to get -- somehow get fuel number, somehow stay ahead of everybody, and somehow keep the tires underneath you, which are three of the most difficult things to do in that kind of order. We were fortunate. But even the year I won here, I got hit by Will, and we went to dead last, and it worked out. I joke around, but it might not be a bad play for the future. I mean, I had tires for days, so I was looking good for race day.
Q. Graham, how different was this race with the new cars?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's hard. It's hard. You guys can see, I know there's a lot of yellow today. These cars are far more demanding than anything we've driven -- not demanding in the sense that it's harder to get the speed out, it's just easier to mess up. The window of opportunity, the margin is just very, very, very, very slim. You know, the old car we talked about, when you'd get a big moment of yaw, like when the car would snap out, I don't want to say it would straighten itself out, because it had so much downforce and sideforce. This new car doesn't have anything, so if it snaps, it just keeps going. You saw that today. Guys were in trouble a lot, and certainly the tires have become very tricky in their current form, what we have, and you saw it in the brake zones.
There's going to be a lot of excitement this year. I don't think that's -- there's going to be no lack of that for sure.
Q. A lot of talk about the difficulty of driving the car; kind of put it in perspective for me. I know they don't want to make the car hard to drive on purpose. I know it's just lack of downforce, but where is the sweet spot because this car is actually faster than the other car, too?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it is because it's so quick on the straight. Quite a decent amount of straightaways, so that makes a difference. Long Beach it should be considerably quicker than the old car because Long Beach is pretty much all straights. So it is in some ways.
But the combination of the tire is identical, if not very, very, very, very, very close to last year's tire, so it's pretty hard for this car. When you lose all the downforce, typically you need a softer tire, but like you saw today, I think if you could get the car in sort of a good operating zone, it was relatively consistent. Our pace over a stint wasn't too bad. I'm not going to tell you that our car was great. Like I said, we had a lot of understeer, so we were working the front pretty hard, but the cars have naturally just become, and they are becoming harder and harder to drive or harder and harder to find the window that it really likes to operate in.
I was talking to Al Jr. last night, and he said it reminds him, kind of working with Gabby, he said it reminds him a lot of the 87 March that they raced, and that car was so quick when it was on, but it was just basically impossible to find the window that it wanted to be in, and that seems to be how this is. If you're on, you're on, and if you're not, you're going to be like us this weekend, up until this point.
Q. Graham, any race car driver that's been in business for any amount of time will have happen to them what happened to Wickens today where you're out front fighting for the lead and then you get punted back to 15th or whatever. When was the most difficult race that something like that happened to you, and what was your reaction to it?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I mean, it's happened a lot. Everybody always talks about the six wins that I have or whatever, but I mean, I finished second like three times that amount, so there's only so many close calls, those close, close times that you were almost there, almost won. It happens a lot. The thing is I was having fun out there because Robby, James and I started racing each other when we were 10, 11 years old, so it was fun that -- it actually crossed my mind that 380 CC Junior National guys were in the top 5 of an IndyCar race, which was a pretty cool thing, so for all the kid karters out there, they should take a lot of pride and excitement in seeing that because it certainly is possible.
But Robby -- and I'll go see him, he needs to keep his head up. He did a phenomenal job this weekend. He did a great job up front. Obviously I didn't see a lot of it, but he obviously had a fast car. So did James. Schmidt did a great job, as well.
But he did an excellent job for his first, so there's no doubt that he's going to find himself in Victory Lane at some point. You've just got to keep your chin up. It adds a little fuel to the fire all the time when that happens. You know, but like James said, if you watch it -- not James, Alex. If you watch it, certainly it did look like Robby pushed him to the inside a bit late in the brake zone. It was kind of a calamity of errors, I think, that kind of caused that whole situation, but I haven't seen it -- it just looked like -- live, that's what I remember. But he just needed to keep his head up, keep focus because they'll be pretty strong, I think.
Q. Between yesterday's qualifying and what happened earlier in the race, a lot of times somebody would get in a position like that, you might try the alternate fuel strategy, but it seems like this car get back up to the front. Is that accurate?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, in our case, when we needed to pass guys, there was a group there that we needed to get through six or seven guys, and Bourdais and I both did that pretty quick. So yes, I think that -- I thought it was easier to pass than the old car. Obviously, like I said, Honda has done an amazing job with the engines. The overtake worked extremely well for me. It was very powerful. I felt like it was a little bit easier to make some passes today if need be. But like I said, I think this is the first of many great races. We're all just still figuring this thing out. It's going to take some time, but the first of many great ones for this car.
Q. And also what happened in qualifying and at the start, did you begin to wonder what next? It always seems to happen at St. Pete.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, obviously I didn't mean to do that to Spencer, and I've already reached out to him and expressed my apologies. Frankly I got in there, and literally the moment I touched the brake pedal, it went silent, which means that the rear is just locked up, and that's it, and I grabbed the clutch, and I don't know how I saved it. But yeah, I mean, it went silent the second I hit the brake pedal. I have never had that in my entire life. I knew -- it's like, I'm sure you guys have all been on ice and you hit the brakes and it seems like you speed up. That's literally how it felt. I knew that I was going to hit him. It was just how hard. Obviously these new cars are pretty durable because a lot of us hit each other like that today and continued on. You know, again, sorry to Spencer for that.
But I think that all considered, it was a pretty good day for everybody.
Q. Were you concerned you might get a penalty for the contact at Turn 1?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I was last already, so I don't know where else he was going to put me. I thought that there was a chance, but then I thought to myself, literally, I'm last, what is he going to do. And if they make me drive through the pit lane, you lose a little bit of time, but again, in this race that's not necessarily a bad thing because it almost can work out for you. You get your clear air. You can go hard and save fuel. So I wasn't too, too concerned, but again -- and Spencer was still ahead of me after the sequence and everything. Where else am I going to go? Like I said, it's the trickiest I think all of us have had it, and I also think in some ways, I know it sounds crazy, in some ways I almost think rookies had a little advantage here this weekend because they don't have an expectation of what the old car should be here. The first practice session, I literally felt like I was driving somewhere I had never -- my mind is telling me, you should be able to do this, you should brake here, you should do that, and you just couldn't do it, and it was just nasty. This car is so different than anything that I think a lot of us have driven. It's fun, but it takes a while to adapt.
Q. In a lot of ways, how do you overlook what your old Newman/Haas teammate did today, especially after what happened to him last May? A lot of people thought his career was over. Here he comes right out of the box doing exactly what he did last year with a victory.
GRAHAM RAHAL: No, I mean, Seb did a great job. He always does. When he's on his game, he's as hard to beat as anybody out here. There's no doubt about that. He did a phenomenal job, and obviously the team and Craig, and it was exciting. They have new sponsors on board and stuff, so a great way to kick off the year for them.
Like I said, I had a little look-see there and thought to myself, this just isn't worth it. After where we started, the points were key for us, and now we'll move on and hopefully have a couple good races coming up. We've got three weeks in a row or whatever in a couple weeks. I've got Sebring next week for me, but I'm excited for what's to come for us.
Q. There was a point early on that I was outside and I was watching a video board, and it was an on-board camera, and I couldn't tell if the screen quit working. There was no video. That wasn't working. I took my sunglasses off and it was bright, it was a shadow. You mentioned the whole thing is like ice. I know you're from a little bit up north. You'd get away from the ice and then it's shadows in the middle part of the circuit, so how difficult is it to contend with those?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, you're used to it running here for sure. This place with the buildings, anywhere we race on a street course it's very similar to that, so really it's no big deal. Yesterday it was tricky because yesterday, dark visor, a little bit overcast, yeah, you think the shadows aren't there but they still kind of are, and it gets pretty dark. Today was no big deal.
It's hard, though, when it does go dark typically here it's in corners 7, 8, 9, and those are areas that you need to be able to see the wall really well, and this year they had black signage on the wall in those areas, so to gauge your margin, it's a little tough, and to find the grip around this place, literally you have to be like an inch away. If you're eight inches off the wall, you'll feel it, you'll notice a big difference. To know where you have to be is tough, but I think everybody gets used to it for sure.
Q. Graham, now that we have that first race under your belt and you've got a little bit better feel what the car is going to do during race conditions, if there was one thing you could tweak on the car, what would it be and what area would it be in?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I probably shouldn't say. I probably shouldn't answer that. Sorry. I'll get myself in trouble, so I'll just -- we'll...
THE MODERATOR: Graham, thank you so much.
THE MODERATOR: Joined now by our third-place finisher, Alexander Rossi, driving the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts Honda --
ALEXANDER ROSSI: 27.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for that. No. 27 NAPA Auto Parts Honda for Andretti Autosport. Alex, let's just dive right in. Go ahead and take us through that last lap. We'd be remiss not to start with that.
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Yeah, sure, of course. Yeah, normally they don't allow Push-to-Pass on restarts. You'd normally have to do a timed lap before you did it, but because of the late call to go green that lap, they allowed it, and I actually got the call when I was in the middle of Turn 13 and 14. So I had a big jump on Rob, and he got to the Push-to-Pass pretty late. The run was perfect for me going into Turn 1, and I knew there wasn't going to be very many other opportunities. Obviously he had a good car all day, and they did a great job.
Yeah, made the pop. He defended the position, which he has the right to do, but in doing so, in moving the reaction, he put me into the marbles pretty late into the corner. It's difficult with these cars and with how much we're sliding around in the first place, even on the racing line. When you're put in the marbles, it's hairy. Super unfortunate. Like you never want to see that happen. I feel bad because I feel like I could have won and he could have gotten second. You never want to see that happen, but nevertheless, it was a great job by the whole team all weekend.
I think that we showed that we had a car definitely to qualify up front yesterday, and we redeemed ourselves a little bit today. So a great work by the whole Andretti Autosport NAPA Honda team.
THE MODERATOR: Several laps before that you were running very close behind Robert in the race and then went a little wide and lost about two seconds there. When you saw that restart, the yellow flag come out a few laps later, what was going through your mind?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Yeah, I was thankful for it because I knew it was going to be pretty hard to catch him. I put a lot of pressure on him and he didn't make a mistake. He's a professional at what he does, and he wasn't going to put a wheel wrong. I made a mistake going around Charlie, a lapped car, I just misjudged it. I was paying more attention to him on the inside than I was really the brake zone, so that was on me, and it cost us, as you said, two seconds, so it was going to be pretty hard to reel him back in had there not been those two yellows.
Q. Bearing in mind that IndyCar didn't penalize you, do you feel like that vindicates your attempt to pass, and Robert had moved too late for you to avoid it?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Yeah, they made it very clear in the drivers' meeting that the rule on blocking was you can't move in reaction. If he defended the inside, initially, yeah, out of Turn 13 or even halfway down the straight, and then I continued to go to the inside down the white line, then yeah, that's my decision and that's putting my car in danger, but there's no reason why I can't pop and stay next to him. I don't have to be all four cars in the part of the track that -- all four wheels on the part of the track nobody goes on.
Q. Alex, take us again through -- when you're closing there and you thought you had it and you said you saw Charlie, what was your reaction when that happened? What were you thinking? Did you think, that's it, I'm done, I threw it away?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Oh, no, I wasn't going to just drive by Robert. He was obviously going to make the job more difficult. But it's not like I was in the lead and I locked up and Robert drove by me. I mean, I hadn't come close to even making an attempt to pass him yet. It was no harm, no foul, it was just a loss of lap time.
Q. Have you had a chance to talk to Robert yet?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: No. I will at some point, and obviously express my feelings, and I'm sure he's upset, and he has a right to be.
Q. But you do anticipate that he's upset?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Oh, probably. If you were in the lead of the race with two to go and you didn't finish, you'd be upset, yeah.
Q. Do you think that maybe braking a little bit earlier might have stopped any collision from taking place, or did you think your goose was cooked as soon as you hit the brake pedal?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: My goose was totally rare until he continued to move in the braking zone and put me even more into the marbles. I had no problem pulling it up. I wasn't locked up or anything.
THE MODERATOR: Alex, it's been a -- I don't want to say strange weekend for you, but obviously maybe not an ideal weekend. You ended up on the podium, which is great, but with the qualifying penalty yesterday and with a little bit of controversy today, how do you keep that in the back of your mind and focus on the race and moving forward, as well?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Well, we have four weeks, and then we've got a lot of work to do ahead of Phoenix. Phoenix is going to pose a very big challenge for us. This is by far the best start that we've had to the Verizon IndyCar Series season, since I joined the series two years ago. So we'll take the momentum from that. We'll take the momentum from the fact that all four cars were frankly very, very quick this weekend, and continue our development through the test that we have coming up and coming out of the blocks hopefully very strong in Phoenix.
THE MODERATOR: Joined by the driver of the No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda, Robert Wickens. Obviously what was looking to be your first win in your first race in IndyCar, unfortunately torn away on the last couple of laps there. Can you take us through what happened at the end of that race?
ROBERT WICKENS: Yeah, I mean, there was a few things. First off, I've got to thank the team because we had a pretty good day. Obviously it didn't end well at all, but yeah, I mean, on the restart, I mean, I don't know what the series was doing really, but it never turned the lights off the pace car, and they did an entirely different pace car procedure than what they had done every other yellow flag procedure the whole day. As the leader I didn't have my opportunity to control the pace because if we had just followed the pace car the whole time, then he just came into the pit. So I want some explanation on that to be honest with you.
But the restart was the restart. I felt like I wasn't able to get the jump that I needed to get a gap. We both were on the Push-to-Pass. He obviously got a slipstream.
I defended a little bit, but then I realized if I went any further, it would have been a blocking, so I opened up, let him take the inside and just broke as late as possible and gave him enough space on the inside. And from my point of view, he broke too late, the track was too dirty off line. It's been terrible there all day. It's been a battle all weekend. Even in warm-up it was really hard whenever you tried it.
But my opinion, he just went too deep, locked the rears and slid into me. There's really no other explanation to it. The only pity is he carried on to a podium, and I ended up in the fence.
Q. When do you think you can start processing the good things that happened today?
ROBERT WICKENS: I mean, I want to make it very clear, I'm very proud of the job that I did today. I mean, there's no -- for sure I'm disappointed, but in your rookie race -- also, honestly, that's why I didn't really fight him that hard. I gave him more than enough space on the inside because even if I finished P2, I would have been ecstatic. It's just a shame. The day went so well, the whole weekend went so well, getting a surprise pole, and to be honest, even myself, I'm like, can I convert this into a full 110-lap race, and I think we've proved to a lot of people that we could, and the team is capable of it. I just felt like I was in a good zone today. We controlled the pace. I could build a gap when I needed to build a gap. I was hitting the fuel targets we had set and still building gaps. It was just a good day until the 109th lap.
Q. At the start of the race, it looked like Will tried to make a dive bomb pass on you, and it didn't work, but he was a little grumpy about that. What was your view of the start involving Will?
ROBERT WICKENS: I was surprised he tried to keep his nose in on Turn 2. I gave him enough space for him to do what he wanted, but I don't know where he was going because he definitely wouldn't have been on the outside of me for Turn 3. And I saw in my mirror that I think -- did he spin? Yeah. But yeah, I saw that he had spun. In my mirrors I saw him at least having a big oversteer. But in my mind I saw him there, I gave him enough space, and it just didn't work out for him.
Q. I asked Graham a few minutes ago about the shadow, and he mentioned that the front straight was very slippery, especially on the paint. You mentioned the whole day went very well. That's a huge chunk of laps you're running up front and trying not to mess up. How worried were you about messing up? How tight were you, or was it just complete comfort?
ROBERT WICKENS: You know, the restarts are always nerve-racking, right, but as soon as we got through a restart and I was able to build up a healthy gap, I was kind of back into my groove, you know. But yeah, I felt very comfortable today. I mean, I'd say more than I even expected I would have, given I've never done a race with three pit stops before.
On those restarts, I was so slippery on the paint, on braking almost everywhere, but that kind of carried through the whole weekend, so it wasn't really a big surprise, but it actually online got pretty grippy by the end in Turn 1, but on the contrary it made offline even worse. Passing was always tough. You never knew how hard to go or how late to do it. But I think maybe Alex found the limit because as far as I'm aware, he's not getting a penalty for what he did, which is kind of interesting to me.
Q. Robby, how clear were you on the restart rules and kind of the Push-to-Pass rules in terms of when you go get on it, when you could go with it, being one or so laps to go?
ROBERT WICKENS: Very. The team kept me in the loop. They told me on that restart that you can use Push-to-Pass immediately, so I was ready. The only thing that I don't understand is that the pace car didn't turn off his lights and didn't let me control the field. I mean, from my point of view, I caught like -- I got put in a pretty bad spot because if you look at all the restarts prior, I didn't even have to use -- you can't use it, but I would build enough gap that it wasn't a problem.
Q. When you were in Atlantics in 2007, there was this guy in Champ Car winning a lot of races named Sebastien Bourdais. Now in IndyCar he ends up winning the race. 11 years later, does it almost kind of seem like he's been around forever to you?
ROBERT WICKENS: I don't know how to answer that one, but I found out yesterday that he got pole in his debut here in St. Pete in 2003, so I was quite a bit younger, but by no means -- hats off to him. He's still got it at that age. I hope I can do the same.
The team did a great job keeping me in the loop on where everyone was, and because we had different strategies I had to pass Seb on track twice throughout the race. I mean, the whole race was a bit confusing because of different strategies, and I've never experienced a race with that many different options with strategy that you could do. Like I passed Graham at some point in the race, but like our strategies were so different that it was like -- I wasn't sure if I lapped him or I passed him or he was kind of passing cars and moving on to the next guy and moving on to the next guy. All it felt like I could do was just race someone on the same strategy as me, which was Alex, and I felt like we did a good job keeping him at bay all day.
THE MODERATOR: Robert, thank you so much. Appreciate your time.