IndyCar Iowa Corn 300 post-race press conference
1 - James Hinchcliffe - Honda
2 - Spencer Pigot - Chevy
3 - Takuma Sato - Honda
THE MODERATOR: Let's welcome our race winner of the Iowa Corn, James Hinchcliffe, sixth career win today, first win since Long Beach of last year. Great day.
THE MODERATOR: Talk about the end; obviously you decided not to come in and pit. What was the discussion on the radio or what was the thought process there?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It was like worst-case scenario, right? You're leading the race by a couple seconds, everything is good, like 10 laps to go, and you see a yellow come out. Based on what we've seen before, we saw it at Phoenix, we've seen it at Iowa in the past, and actually I think both times Josef benefited greatly from doing it, so we weren't totally shocked that people took it.
But when we were doing the math in our head, I mean, there was still only a couple laps to go. We still had to get the lapped cars back through pit lane, and we're kind just doing the math, thinking, I don't even know if we have time to go green, and if we do, it mike like a green-white-checkered kind of deal, and I don't hate my odds if it's a lap, if it's two laps. It was a tough call. It really was, because we've seen it go the other way so many times, but ultimately the right call was made, and man, if we had pitted from the lead and it didn't go green again, I wouldn't have slept for a week. This is a bad week to not sleep going into Toronto because I'm very busy this week.
THE MODERATOR: You touched on it a little bit after the first question, but after the way things have gone in May and trying to turn things around, is it more a sense of relief, or how do you feel right now?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I'm just proud, honestly, proud of this group because something like what happened to this team in May can really get you down. I mean, obviously that's our Super Bowl. That's our Wimbledon. That's our Masters all wrapped into one. To miss it is a huge blow for every single member of the team. I mean, I don't know if anybody saw the NBC feature that aired before the race, but we had grown men like in tears, like a lot of them in a lot of tears on bump day there. It just shows how much it means to us.
To not make it can very easily just get a group down and you can get despondent. You can kind of lose track of what the real goal is and lose motivation. But no one in this group suffered from that at all. If anything, it fueled us and made us want to perform better and push harder and work harder. We've come back strong; the last couple events have actually been very good for us. Texas was a strong race. If Elkhart hadn't been such a bad qualifying, our race day pace was very good. We executed very well.
So it's really coming together now. We've had a lot of changes internally on the team, both before the season and mid-season, so it's been a bit of a balancing act trying to get all the right pieces in the right places, but I think this shows that we're starting to hit on something really good.
Q. What was the change that was made in the stop that made it so good, and what happened to you when you had that wobble and Sato got past you and demoted you to third?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: So in the first stint, the car was really good. We just made a tiny change to try and dial in a little more understeer. It was pretty free in that first stint. We overshot it and had way too much understeer in the second stint. So as we tried to go back on it, we went too far, and we were really loose in the third stint, and so that's what allowed Sato to get by us was I think I caught somebody, wrong place, wrong time, got a big wiggle, set up the track, and he went by.
That was when I was starting to panic a little bit because we still had about 30 laps left in the stint and I was maxed right on the weight jacker, max on the front bar. It was kind of dire straits for a bit. We were surprised how far the balance went for a relatively small change.
So I just said, hey, look, the first stint was the best stint; let's go back to whatever we did there, and that's what we did, and the thing just came alive. We were able to run both lanes, and that's really what helps you when you come up on lap traffic, and it's all about lap traffic at a short track like this.
Q. Of the top three, Sato was the best starter at 10th. Were you surprised by how much people were able to move forward on the grid, and were you also surprised by how few cautions there were, considering what looked like a very difficult-to-drive race car?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It's funny, we had that conversation before the race, you know, what did we think the caution frequency was going to be. And it's so funny because we've seen it -- in practice -- if you just like went on how the car felt in practice, you'd be like, yeah, there's going to be tons of cautions; guys are going to be crashing all over the place because these things are really hard to drive right now. But what happens when tires start falling off and that starts happening is guys really start taking care of themselves and each other a lot more. You don't have as much confidence to throw it down the inside and make a stupid move, and it's contact that usually leads to accidents and the cautions. We thought it was going to go one of two ways; it was either going to be a crash-fest, or it was actually going to be a pretty clean race, and obviously it was the latter. We were glad to see that. I think that's better for the fans. I think it was a good ebb and flow with the different tire strategies.
In terms of being surprised at guys coming from further back, it doesn't really surprise me a ton. I'm surprised that some of the guys that qualified really well didn't finish as well as I thought they might have. But in a race that's all about managing your tires, we've seen it at Texas, we've seen it other places, you can qualify anywhere, and if your car is hooked up, you can work your way to the front.
Q. Going back on what you said earlier to the changes of the car, do you think without the changes you ever would have caught Josef?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: No way. In that third stint we kind of caught up to him-ish, but there was just -- I just couldn't keep up with him. He eventually -- he pulled away from us a little bit after the first kind of 20 laps, and he caught some traffic. I was able to close that gap, but I could get to within about a second, and that was as close as I could get. It seemed like he was struggling, as well, and I heard over the radio that he was complaining of his car going a bit loose, same as us. So he couldn't really get through the traffic, but he was running definitely a bit closer than we were, and like I said, I was maxed out on my tools, so I knew if it got any worse we were going to be in big trouble.
Q. During the race was there any moment you had to -- were scared about the fuel consumption?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: No, fuel wasn't really an issue for us. With the tires going off the way they were, it was more about could you make it to the end of your fuel stint, not did you ever need to extend the fuel stint or anything like that. In a race like that, the undercut is always going to be quicker, so I think that's actually how Spencer got around us on that last set of stops.
But ultimately it played into our hands to be able to run a little bit longer at a decent pace and just take care of the Firestones, which was the plan from the start.
Q. Tim Cindric said that you had the best car at the right time. Do you see that as really the key to the race?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think that's a great way of putting it. Josef obviously was dominant for a large part of the day, and we had stints where I don't think we were particularly awesome. But we were able to just kind of hold on to it, and when it mattered in that last stint, the guys nailed the setup changes, and that's really what won us the race today.
Q. Have you ever gone into the Toronto race off of a victory?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I have never done that. Well, in 2013 was Toronto after Iowa?
Q. I think that was in June.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I think you might be right. I don't think we ever have, no. No, I think this is a first.
Q. So how much is your life going to be taken from you over these next few days?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I had no life already for the next week. Come on. They're going to try and squeeze in a bit, but good luck to you, sir, because there was no time left. I said I'm probably going to miss stuff. I was supposed to be on a flight in like 20 minutes back to Toronto because I've got stuff tomorrow. I'm not making that, am I?
Q. I think you have some karting tomorrow, don't you?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: I do, among other things.
Q. You talked about how your car got stronger at the end. You could really put it wherever you wanted to. I think from the beginning of the race it would be fair to say that Josef's car could really go anywhere he wanted to put it and yet he built up quite a lead. What do you think happened? Is it that the car in Josef's case, did they go the wrong way on the setup and your car just got better because of the way you kept improving it? How did that change over the course of the race?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It tough to know what happened on their deal. The track evolves a little bit. Normally when it's this hot, it gets more and more under-steery, but for us, in that middle stint it got loose, in the third stint, and same for Josef. I'm not sure. I'm not sure if they were adjusting their car or if they were so dominant at the start, they're like, just leave it, don't touch it because it's great, and maybe they didn't keep on top of it. I have no idea.
But just so much can change, and it just shows how quickly things can change on a short track like this. They were miles ahead. They were gone. They were clear of everybody. Just a couple things change, and that gets reversed.
I feel bad for him that he ended up taking that stop and he didn't go green again to get a chance to see what he could do. That's tough for him because he obviously had such a great day, and tough for Robby, as well. I'm bummed that he went in, as well. But that's racing. I've been on the losing end of one of those deals, too, so I'm okay with it.
Q. Back to the Indy stuff, is it going to take going back there next year for that all to be put behind you? Even though today is awesome, is it going to take getting back there to do that?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Yeah, people are going to keep talking about it until we go back, right. Even if the conversation dies for the next little while, as soon as May 1st comes around, it's going to come back up. Yeah, for sure. But days like this, and honestly weekends like we've had -- I think Road America was actually one of our best races of the entire year, and ninth place doesn't look like that, but if you were on the inside and saw what happened and how we performed on Sunday, I think you'd be pretty impressed. It was a really good performance from everybody. Same kind of thing in Texas. We've just been on a bit of a roll. If we just keep doing what we've been doing and not focus on it, and when we get back to Indy next year, not think about it, just kind of put it out of our heads, I think we'll be in good shape.
Q. We talked a little bit about what it means to come here to Iowa for you; talk about today's race and the win, your second gas pump. I know that you talked to me about that. Just talk about Iowa Speedway and what that means to you.
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: From my first IndyCar race here in 2011, I've just loved this place. It's a short track that races like a superspeedway. It's always exciting. There's always something going on on track. It's a tricky place to get around, especially as the track has evolved and it's gotten a bit bumpier, a bit rougher and more patches and seams and all of rest of it. Then they went and took a thousand-ish pounds of downforce away from us just to make it exciting.
But no, honestly it's a track I've always loved coming to. The crowd is always great. The support from the Iowa Corn Growers has been there from day one, which is just awesome to see as somebody involved in the business side of the sport, as well, it's always cool to see that kind of support, and I can't wait to come back next year.
Q. How important is it to have short ovals like this on the schedule?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: Well, it's interesting because -- you worded that question interestingly. How important is it to have a short ovals or how important is it to have short ovals like this? I think it's very important to have short ovals like this. We have had some other short ovals that maybe didn't put on shows like this, and this is what we love doing is going out there, racing each other hard, putting on a good show for the fans here, for the fans at home, and there's no better short track on earth for that, for IndyCars at least, than Iowa Speedway. We miss going to places like Milwaukee. That's kind of in the same vein as this place.
But I think this is massively important because, again, what makes the Verizon IndyCar Series so special is you have to be good at superspeedways, short ovals, road courses, street courses, and if you don't have those short ovals, it takes something away from it.
Q. Speaking of putting on a show, how do you feel about green-white-checkered finishes, and does IndyCar need them?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: If the track is clean with two laps to go, then yeah, I'm all for them. I'm not a big fan of like doctoring the length of a race just to make sure it ends under green. I get it. I get why it's done in NASCAR, but it just -- it complicates things. For me there's too many races that are fuel mileage races for us that we have guys that -- I mean, they sweat, they lose five years off their life making sure that we hit the right numbers and we run out of fuel crossing the line, and if all of a sudden a yellow flag comes out with two to go and it ends up becoming a green-white-checkered, your race is done, and I don't think that's fair. We go into it knowing how long it's going to be, and that's what we plan for, so that's what I want to run.
Q. You already talked a bit about the variety of IndyCar just a few minutes ago, and I was going to ask you about that. The whole podium really had a tough year so far, mid-pack starts. To come up through the pack and you don't have to start up front and it's a parade, it's just not how IndyCar is. Talk about the variety and even coming from a road course to short oval to street circuit next weekend?
JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: So, and that's what makes it so interesting, right, is you can have a bad road course car, but that doesn't mean you're going to have a bad season. If you race in Formula 1 and you've got a bad road course car, you're screwed. You can still come here and have a completely different kind of race. But being good here doesn't mean you're going to be good at Pocono. It doesn't mean you're going to be good at Detroit. It really is part of what throws up some surprise results sometimes in our series and just makes it a little more exciting. It's not the four or five guys winning every race, and that's what I love about this series. How you motivate yourself to get up on Sunday morning when you know 12th is a win for you, I just don't get it.
Let's start with Spencer, a terrific run. Yes, the car had finished second last year, but you drove a terrific race today.
SPENCER PIGOT: Thank you. Yeah, it was a tough race out there. Right from the get-go, I knew that we had a fast car the way we were able to pass some people through the beginning of the race, and then as the stint went on, I just thought we got kind of stronger and stronger and was really able to close down and pass people. Yeah, I mean, I can't thank the guys enough. We made a few changes from qualifying yesterday. Obviously that was a little disappointing, but we kept our heads down, and the guys in pit lane did a great job and executed really well. Can't thank them enough, Fuzzy's Vodka, Chevrolet, all of our partners, Ed Carpenter Racing. It's great to be up here on the podium.
We've had a season that I think we could have executed a little bit better at times, but today everything went right, and we found ourselves on the podium, so it's definitely a great feeling.
THE MODERATOR: Takuma, action all over the racetrack today, more than two lanes sometimes, and three wide a couple times. Pretty active out there for you?
TAKUMA SATO: Yeah, really, really pleased. In fact, Spencer and I had a lot of great, I think, side by side, and one stage was a little close, but I think we respected each other all the time, and today I don't think there's a much of the disagreement in terms of the lane change and things like that. Obviously a lot of drivers is not happy with the balance and grip level today, but everyone has a struggle. I think we gave a great show for the fans, and we lose a thousand pounds of downforce compared to last year, which was already low enough, so imagine how it was a challenge for all the drivers. But I think we put on a really good race, and me particularly, obviously very happy to be on the podium, but this was a great achievement from Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing because obviously I didn't think we had a podium finish car after the first practice session where Graham and I finished, I don't know, 17th, 19, things like that. We kept that last week. We really struggled, but I think all the engineering did a fantastic job moving up over the session, and in the end I think we pulled a really great car. So big thank you to the whole team, and the No. 30 car was fantastic today.
THE MODERATOR: You had a scare late, Takuma, with Spencer's teammate.
TAKUMA SATO: Yeah, I think I must send him a big check not to be in the spin. But I think Ed and obviously Spencer, they are really competitive all the time, so it was a big moment with Ed, and it was already close stage, and got huge momentum already together. I thought I was going through it, but he basically snapped it and coming back towards me. We clipped it a little bit and had really gentle contact, which gave him back in the straight, but I had a little bit, I think, the body damage, but the car was absolutely fine.
If it become a restart closing the race for the two laps, I would be able to compete with these guys.
THE MODERATOR: Did either of you consider pitting?
SPENCER PIGOT: No, I mean, I didn't even know what was going on to be honest. I saw people diving off in front of me, and I thought there were guys that were laps down, and I thought I kind of saw Josef's car and was a little confused there for a second, and when I crossed the line, I didn't really know where I was, and I was talking with the guys seeing if they wanted me to pit or not, and they said stay out, and obviously it was the right decision. Yeah, I mean, if it had gone green again, it would have been really tricky to hang on at that point because I think we probably pitted on the early end on the last stop to try and jump Takuma and James, but yeah, it would have been tough. I'm glad it didn't go green again.
Q. Spencer, you said the car became stronger and stronger at the end of the race; was there any significant changes during your stops, engineering-wise?
SPENCER PIGOT: Honestly the only changes we made were new tires. Never touched the wings. I think we might have done a little tire pressure. But they were asking me what I wanted, and I just said, leave it alone. It felt good. I think we're probably one of the few people out there that didn't touch the front wing throughout the whole race, and maybe that was a good thing, maybe it was a bad thing. Definitely at the end there it seemed like James and Josef had a little bit more pace than us, but I was comfortable with the car and didn't really want it to do anything different.
Q. Some important or big changes from qualifying to race to make the car better?
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, we definitely made a few changes, nothing crazy, nothing massive, just tried to kind of fine-tune it a little bit. I think last night in the second practice we were a little bit more competitive than the time sheets suggested, so I think we felt cautiously optimistic. Definitely wasn't sure we were going to have as good of a car as we did, but the changes we made obviously worked out well, and with the heat of the day, we didn't seem to degrade quite as much as a lot of other guys.
TAKUMA SATO: I think we always do in portionally. Driver at the end of the day, sometimes they make a decision. For example, in damp conditions, changing for the dry tire, that's heavily on the driver. But today, it's just mathematic calculation, like Spencer said, it's basically up to the team how we're going to do. At the end of the day, usually just to follow the reader. But closing a stage, like he said, when Josef and other people come into the pit like you saw in Phoenix, sometimes it's better to be stay out, and I think we are the ones -- basically it's just a driving road sometimes, but statistically I think it's only five or six laps left, I think there's no point. But there's a high chance to not be able to moving up enough with the new tire because I think we were only halfway -- not halfway but two thirds of the stint on the tires, and I think we were still healthy condition.
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, I mean, I have a little counter on my dash that says how many laps we've done, so I knew we were getting close to the end. Like I said, I didn't really think anyone was going to pit. I thought we were pretty close to the end, and I figured we'd all just kind of stay out, and when I saw them pit, I was a little surprised, and the guys just told me to stay out, so at that point you just do what you're told and see how it unfolds.
Q. That yellow comes out and you're trying to do the math; how much of a whirlwind of a race was it as it was, and now you've got to do math at the end of that? Was that mentally like, okay, let's get this thing over with, it's been a long enough day?
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, it was a long race, honestly. I was kind of counting down the laps and looking forward to the finish. It was definitely difficult out there. But the when the yellow came out, it was just a small piece of debris, so there was every possibility that the race was going to get restarted, and I was asking the guys how many people behind me pitted and what the situation is with lapped cars because I knew I was running second at that point, and if guys are on new tires, it's going to be really, really hard to hold them off, especially with how many laps we had on them. Yeah, you just kind of count, see what you have on your dash and listen to what they're saying and just kind of hope that it works out for you.
Q. Spencer, going back to last season when you got the nod for the full-time entry this year, getting the off-season testing, do you find that this run is more gratifying or more relief given everything that you've gone through?
SPENCER PIGOT: Probably a little bit of both, honestly. It's definitely a great feeling to be on the podium. I think that at certain times the past couple seasons we've had the pace to challenge for the podium, and one thing or another happened and it didn't quite work out, so it's nice to have it all go smoothly and we were able to really capitalize on everything that was going on. The pit stops were great throughout the race. We had a few close calls, but just close enough to keep going and not have any real issues.
So it's very satisfying, and yeah, a nice weight off the shoulders to be up here on the podium and have a really good result.
Q. You've been pretty level through this since I saw you on pit road after the race. Not a lot of excitement from you, but you're pretty calm and cool and collected most of the time. Is there some more inside of you?
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, for sure I'm excited. In the car I was pretty pumped up and on the radio to the guys. I was really happy to see everyone when I came back into pit lane, everyone that's worked so hard for me and for this team to see all the smiles on their faces and they deserve this podium just as much as anyone else. Just really happy for the team at Ed Carpenter Racing, and yeah, I mean, I'm excited, trust me. I'm happy. But hopefully one of these days we'll be one step higher up.
Q. Takuma, you did make contact with Ed, and it really looked like you saved him from a big accident, but what about your car? How did your car handle after that?
TAKUMA SATO: It was fine. Fortunately it looked a big contact, but it was gentle because if it's big I would have spin out, too. Obviously I was also trying to avoid it, and then there was a little bit of scuff on my rear, like almost a tire ramping part just before the rear axle. There's no effect in terms of the car performance, so it was fine. I mean, I wish if I had one more stint compared to probably Spencer opposite mentality because we were running P2 the stint before, and we lost a bunch after the last pit stop. If I had a chance to catch all the guys up, then that would be really appreciated, but obviously it was only six laps left, so nothing I could do. But the guys did a great job, and it was very fortunate between Ed and I and not going to be any massive accident.
Q. Spencer, I'm sure Ed is very happy with where you finished, but in terms of your progress as a rookie and coming through with Ed Carpenter Racing, was your car just a lot better than what you've had before for this particular race, or have you just become more confident as a driver on these types of tracks?
SPENCER PIGOT: Well, for this particular race, it was improving throughout the weekend, I thought, but this is my first race here since Indy Lights in 2015, so it was nice to come back and have this kind of car and this kind of performance. Definitely it's been a little bit of a struggle at certain times. Phoenix, another short oval, wasn't great for us, but this weekend obviously we turned it around, and it's full credit to the guys, to Ed. He's really taught me a lot, and he really brings a lot to the table in terms of development and setting up the car. Very happy to be a part of this group, and yeah, like I said, it's kind of a work in progress every weekend, and this one just kind of happened to work out a little bit better than some others.
Q. Talk about emotion; when you got out of the car, it wasn't too soon after that your mom found you and she was full of emotion. Talk a little bit about that moment.
SPENCER PIGOT: Yeah, the first time I saw my mom after I got out of the car, she was screaming and running around, and she didn't even know I was there. I was like, Mom, I'm right here. She's in the back. I think she's a little embarrassed. But you know, it's a huge family effort. They've been supporting me, my parents, since I started racing when I was nine years old, and it's always been a family dream and a family goal to be racing IndyCars. This is the first IndyCar race my dad hasn't been here for, so he's missing out, but he'll be there in Toronto and looking forward to seeing him, and yeah, it's just -- it means a lot to everyone in the family.
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