Sonoma GP Post-Race Press Conference
Scott Dixon - 2018 Champion
Chip Ganassi - Dixon Team Owner
Mike Hull - Ganassi Team Manager
Ryan Hunter-Reay - Race Winner
Alexander Rossi - Points runnerup
THE MODERATOR: Last thing I said to you before the race was, Don't mess it up. It was pretty smooth, looked smooth from the outside, methodical, typical Scott Dixon afternoon.
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, we sit down every year, I'm sure Mike said this, sit down and take every day one day at a time, try to do the best we can, try to do the best we can on Friday, Saturday, today.
I'm so, so lucky to have the group of people I get to work with every day, show up on the weekends, be a part of this team. I can't tell you what the team means to me, what it means to be a part of a team.
You get involved in racing, and let's face it, you know how long I've been around, I was hoping to hang around a couple years in racing, hoping I didn't have to get a job. I mean, look what it's turned into. It's really something special.
I'm lucky to have great sponsorship. I'm lucky to have great partners. I'm most lucky of all to have a group of people that can put their own individual, you know, agendas aside to be a part of a great team of people. I don't know any other way to say that.
The unselfishness that we have in our team is second to none. You know I'm convinced that I could take our team of people and do just about anything with them. That's how confident I am in the people we have on our team that make all this happen. Scott and I are so lucky to have these people, it's incredible. I don't know what else to say.
THE MODERATOR: You heard Mike talk about how Scott is everyday, makes it happen, he's so consistent in that effort.
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I mean, I've said it a thousand times, you've all heard me say it, he's the guy on the track, off the track, if you take a piece of stone, inject some brains into it, chisel it out, it's Scott Dixon. He's just the man.
I'm not saying anything new here. But to see him develop as the kind of person he is, his family, I don't know any other way to say it because we've all seen him since he was 21 years old or something hanging around the sport here. Just to be a part of that, to be along for the ride like that, with somebody like that, is really special.
Obviously he's had a lot of great teammates, a lot of great friends. He's pretty much grown up -- we've all grown up in our adult life with him as our driver. It's a relationship that he and I have that I can't imagine it being any better with anyone else.
THE MODERATOR: Mike just said that it's difficult to judge a driver, a team in the moment. This is a stopping point to reflect. Only one other guy has done what this guy has done.
CHIP GANASSI: Obviously when you talk about records, A.J., Mario, all these guys, obviously Scott's name in that group now, with A.J. just in front of him in championships, that's something that someday we'll look back on and talk about it and compare, was this guy better than that guy. That's the great thing about sports: someone in today's era, are they as good of another driver back in another era. In any sport we question that. We'll never know the answer. That's what is great about sports, is that comparison.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. You said you have great sponsorship partners. With Scott now the fifth title, was there any time a situation where New Zealand companies approached you to be a sponsor?
CHIP GANASSI: I don't know of any New Zealand companies that ever called me, but you're welcome to give them our phone number.
Q. You were the first one to get to him. What did you say to him?
CHIP GANASSI: What did I say to him? I'm sure I just said something like, Hey, man, great job. I'm not the most esoteric person you ever met in your life. I just say what I mean. I don't know what else to say.
THE MODERATOR: You're well-versed in that reply, as well.
CHIP GANASSI: He makes it easy on me.
Q. You might not be esoteric, but let's see if you could be reflective. When you were that kid that skipped graduation for qualify for the '82 500, was this part of the plan? Once I get done with driving, I'll be an IndyCar team owner?
CHIP GANASSI: You know, if I told you that was the story back then, it would be silly for me to say something like that. I might have dreamt that once or something. I told you, back in 1982, my number one goal, I can tell you my number one goal in 1982 was to be there in 1983. I mean, that was my number one goal, just to be there the next year. I had no idea.
I'm sure you look up in the Indianapolis Star, someone quoted me one time, I can't imagine why anybody would ever want to own one of these cars. I said that as a driver. Sure, you can look that up. I'm telling you, it's there somewhere.
Q. What has this weekend been like for you?
CHIP GANASSI: Well, I think in terms of let's start at the crowd surfing. A lot of people egged me on if I was ever going to do that again. I said yes. So I guess I had to do it. And it was fun.
I mean, in terms of the rest of the weekend, again, it's down to the people I have. Obviously I wasn't in Las Vegas, but it's a great story with Ross Chastain there, a watermelon farmer from Florida. He's won every NASCAR stage he's driven for us. That's some sort of storybook being written as we speak, yeah.
Q. I know you had a lot of years with Scott. What is your recollection of the very first time you met?
CHIP GANASSI: I'm trying to remember my first experience with him. I just remember, like, I would say things. He'd say, Okay. I'd say something else. He'd say, Yes. I mean 'yes' and 'okay' were the first 37 things he said to me. That was it. Does this guy say anything? He was pretty shy back then. Every once in a while, you need anything? No, I'm okay.
I recall I think Denver was his second race for us, and he finished second behind Bruno Junqueira there in our other car. We were downtown in the streets of Denver there, by the Brown Palace. I just don't remember him saying much.
I'm thinking, This kid is good, but does he say anything? Obviously he developed into a gem of a guy. Back then, he was a kid from New Zealand. I wasn't sure he could string sentences together. But he's okay. He's great now, yeah.
Don't anybody write that the wrong way (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations.
CHIP GANASSI: Thank you very much. Appreciate it.
THE MODERATOR: Mike Hull joins us. You seem to have collected a lot of these championship hats, now five of them with Scott.
It's great to win. I think I said this earlier to somebody in your peer group, I can't remember who it was. When you win a race, it validates who you are. When you win a championship, it defines the culture of not only the people that all of you saw today at the racetrack, both for the 9 and 10 car team, they fully support each other, but all the people in the building, then all the partners.
That culture continues to grow. It never gets old. It just feeds on itself. As you go through time, we've gone through 12 of these championships now, there's very few of us left that were here in 1996 at Laguna Seca when we won our first championship. But some of us still are. Now the millennial group that's coming in to work for us are well-mentored. We had a few of them working for us today on the 9 car. That's really gratifying.
THE MODERATOR: Another smart, solid drive from Scott. We've seen this movie about 700 times, it seems.
MIKE HULL: It's nice to be an extra in that movie, for sure. I'm working on my SAG card for permanent status.
Scott sees the race globally. He always watching the race from the cockpit. It's never on the plane that you think it is. He understands what's going on on the entire racetrack. He truly understands what he has to do. He understands the art of recovery extremely well. He doesn't give up. We don't give up. There have been times when we left the racetrack knowing we could have done better than we did, but we accept the reality of what happened.
Today it's really hard to race the kind of race we raced today because I think we probably had something for Hunter-Reay. In fact, he came over and said that to me after he was on the podium. He said he was glad he didn't have to race the Scott Dixon he knew he might have to race at St. Petersburg next year.
It's so hard to rein it back in when you're trying to race Rossi and not race to win. So that's what we did today. I thought we did a really good job of that.
THE MODERATOR: There are hundreds of laps here, but I would like you to find a couple, three points that become this moment. Obviously the Portland situation is one. Where else would you point to and say, Those were a couple key moments for us?
MIKE HULL: I'd have to think about that because I never think about what just happened.
Long Beach, I did a terrible job with the strategy there actually. I left Scott out too long. That really put us in a hole before Indianapolis. I think that was kind of a defining moment in a way because it made us realize that we are not invincible, and you have to sometimes pinch yourself extremely hard to become normal, not let greed be your friend. In racing that never works out.
For me, that was a turning point in how I thought about the way we should go racing this year. Not that we were chasing points this year early in the year, but we just tried to make sure we got the most out of every day, not try to get the impossible out of every day.
You mentioned last weekend at Portland. It was certainly a relief after the dust cleared there to see the fact that Scott -- would really like to thank the safety guys for getting out of his way so we didn't lose a lap. Not losing a lap there was a really big deal.
I think winning Toronto the way we did there proved to us that we had a chance to win a championship. Maybe to that point, we knew we could, but I think that told us that we were on our way to being able to do it if we just stepped out of our own way.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. For every championship you win, Chris Simmons, championship number five, there's a Kate Gundlach who gets her first championship as an engineer. What is it like when you give someone like that a chance to win a championship with Scott Dixon?
MIKE HULL: I remember starting out in IndyCar racing, having a great degree of admiration for people that were doing that. I think you have to remember where you came from. I think you have to give opportunity to people that need to rise in their vocational position on a race team, provide them the resource to do what those two people that you mentioned, as well as all the others today, provide them that opportunity.
You don't know if this is your last chance to do it. In my case, I get the most out of today because I might not get another chance. When you're young, you don't realize that.
We'll work on St. Pete next.
Q. You said Scott knows from the cockpit what he has to do and not to do. After the restart, when Rahal had his trouble, he was close behind Ryan Hunter-Reay, did you expect he would attack him or hold second position?
MIKE HULL: With a scanner we could hear what they told Ryan. They told Ryan under no uncertain terms that Scott Dixon wasn't going to get around him. If it would have been a normal race for us, we probably would have worked him over. We chose to be content and just race where we were.
What was interesting about the strategy of the race, everybody thought red tires were going to gain you a speed advantage. If you could hold off the people on reds for 10 laps, the blacks held their own and, in fact, were faster.
Ryan at that point was on reds. We were on blacks. We figured after 10 laps we'd see what happened with Ryan anyway. I just said to Scott on the radio, Be careful with him, he's been told to make sure you don't get around him.
Scott understood that, also understood the speed of the people on red tires behind him. We let him burn his tires and everything was okay.
Q. Now only one driver in IndyCar history has won more championships than Scott. Not asking you to compare eras, but this is big.
MIKE HULL: I've kind of been asked that question before. Unfortunately I'm a bit of a dinosaur right now, been around a long time. Growing up, I was a big IndyCar fan. I watched IndyCar races. I watched A.J. and Mario try to knock each other into the fence pretty regularly when they were both 135-pound guys. They did it generationally. The ability that they had carried them over a generation or two. They still stayed after it maybe longer than they should have, but they stayed after it.
I think Scott now is doing the same thing generationally. The young kid from Mexico, Patricio, stopped me outside and told me from the time he could remember motor racing, he admired Scott Dixon. When he was on the racetrack on Friday, they were running around with each other on the racetrack, he appreciated the fact that he wasn't treated like a rookie.
I think that's the mark of a race driver like Scott Dixon. He remembers where he came from. He has a high degree of appreciation for the people that are on the racetrack around him, most of them.
I think that's a fair question. I don't know how to compare race drivers from generation to generation. I've been really lucky to be able to see quite a few.
Q. With you now claiming your 12th championship, Scott having five many them, your former champions include legends like Jimmy Vasser, Alex Zanardi, Dario. What makes Scott different?
MIKE HULL: He's been with us for 16 years. A lot of those other drivers, for whatever reasons, weren't lucky enough to do that. Had any one of the people that you named, or Montoya for that matter, I would include him in that group, if they would have stayed with us for 15 years, they would have won more championships. They are of that caliber.
I think we're really fortunate. In a way I'd trade five championships for five Indy 500 wins. That's a personal thing. But he comes to work every day like it's the first day that he's ever come to work. He never has grown tired of driving the car. There's probably some days he grows tired of talking to your group, but in terms of driving the car, he's all in every day.
When it's not good for him on a given day, he wants to make it better. When it's better, he wants to make it even better. He spends a lot of time in the building between races. He spends a lot of time with the people who have their hands on his car and their minds on the car.
That's hard to find. Then he backs it up. He can drive a racecar. He understands fully what the car is capable of doing on that day for him. He doesn't push it past that very often. That's hard to beat.
Q. You mentioned the guys that came and went. Scott stayed the whole time, didn't try to go to Formula 1. What will it take for Scott to get the recognition he actually deserves?
MIKE HULL: I don't think people appreciate racecar drivers when they're driving as much as they do after they retire. Then they begin to compare them fully to the people that they at the time they were racing raced against. Then they see how special that race driver in that particular time actually was.
People today talk about Michael Andretti like that. At the time he was driving, we knew he was really good, he was Michael, everybody knew him by his first name, right? But now people look back and they realize how special he was in a racecar. I think they'll do the same with Scott. They'll look back and they'll realize how special he was at the time he was driving.
Right now, we can go several more years with this special guy, so let's wait a few years before we look back on it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations.
Hats off to this team, DHL, Auto Nation, Honda. Honda really gave me great drivability, reliability. The Firestone tires were great. Shout out to Kerry Doughty, CO of Butterball, fighting cancer at home right now. His name was on the side of our car today. Special win for him. Also a big shout out to Robby Wickens, wanted to dedicate that win to him and his fight. Hopefully back with us as soon as possible.
THE MODERATOR: You had an Andretti day that didn't end right for Alex, but strong for the whole team. Marco, you, Rossi came battling back. Just a team effort.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, we really made the cars stronger on the weekend. We tested here on Thursday. We tested some things that were conservative, aggressive. We miss-stepped here and there. We were P1. P2 we went to P10. We figured what we didn't need. That really helped us for the race.
I'm going to miss this place. It's unbelievable. All these years I've been trying to win here, now we win, we're not coming back. We seem to have the secret, the setup now, and we can't use it. I hope we're back not in 2019, but in 2020. Hopefully we can get this resolved and get two northern California races on the schedule.
THE MODERATOR: Questions.
Q. You said last night you had one focus only, winning the race. Give us the feeling of going wire to wire.
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Great feeling. You control the race from there. I think clean air was a big deal today. Just having that extra little bit of downforce on the car. Like we said yesterday, we were about 1500 pounds shy in downforce from where we were last year, which is massive. Just having that clear air allowed me to do what I needed to do when I needed to do it, maintaining the pace, controlling the pace, even going faster when I needed to.
It was nice. Seems like the day is a lot longer when you're out there because you just want to end the race. Can it please end now? Can it please end now? All in all, a good day, enjoyable. Pretty late. The sun was going down there in turn two. Right on the horizon. It was starting to blind me going through two. I was glad it ended for that reason if anything else.
Q. At the restart, Scott was .67 points behind you. Did you expect he's get you?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I know Scott. He wants to win every weekend. He knows I can race him clean. He races me clean. I thought we were going to have a little tussle. He was on the Firestone reds, they come up quicker in temp. As soon as we settled into a pace, I was able to pull away and open it up.
Q. Did you have any tense moments?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: My only tense moment of the race was catching the lap traffic at the end. I had burned up the rears a little bit. Maintaining the gap to Scott and Will. When I started catching those guys, that was at the time my tires were at their worst. With the dirty air, sliding around a little bit, it started becoming a little interesting at the end.
I was able to maintain the gap and finish up front. I think that was one of the most tense moments. I had a big moment in turn two during the race where I lost the rear and had a huge correction. It was one of those that almost could have went around. From there, it was mistake-free. Just put my head down.
Q. As his teammate, how do you feel about Alex's season, his future?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Alex did a great job this season. Absolutely opened a lot of eyes. I know he has a bright future here, a lot more race wins ahead of him. I'm certain he's a future champion.
But congratulations to Scott. Five-time champion. To do that in this era of racing with reliability the way it is, the evenness and competitiveness of teams, is unbelievable. It's unthinkable what he's accomplished.
It's amazing to think of what he's accomplished. It's great to share the track with him. Even better to beat him at times.
Q. We saw a couple little issues. Did you have any scares on the pit cycles a couple of times?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Yeah, couple times had lap traffic right there. Alex was fighting to get back on the lead lap. That was a little tense. He passed me, I passed him back, knowing I was coming in that lap. But he got back on the lead lap, then charged through, had a good run.
But nothing was overly strenuous, stressful. When you have a good car like that, you can just maintain. I just knew I had to keep myself from making any little errors. When Scott was behind me pressuring me, I had a couple lockups that were close, but that was about it.
Q. Cale Yarborough used to say get out front, stay out front. Was that the strategy all along or did you capitalize on a good situation?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: No, that's a great strategy. I like that strategy. I'd like to partake in that strategy more often.
Any time on a road course, especially on a road course, qualifying on pole is a big deal. It can be a game changer for you. It can be a race changer. You want to take advantage of that from there, control the pace of the race, control and dictate when the stops are. Everybody kind of goes off the leader when he stops. That's what we did.
It was nice to go from pole, win, lead the most laps, the whole thing. That's an ideal race. May not be the most exciting thing for the fans at times, but from a racecar driver's point of view, team owner, race team, it's the ideal race.
Q. Next year, don't know what your team owner is going to do, expand to more cars, but in the situation being already four different drivers, do you feel that affects your ability to win races and perform if the team keeps expanding?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: We have strength in numbers, for sure. There's positives and negatives to anything, right? The positives are that we all work as a group. We have four times the data to go through. When you have four drivers like we do that know what they're talking about, know what they want from a racecar, we can make quicker work of a test day, get to that ultimate setup that we're looking for like we did this weekend. There's the upside.
The downside is you have to beat the same setup four or five times over. That can be very frustrating from a driver's perspective. From Michael's perspective, it's absolutely a winner, so...
I don't know where it's going. Usually I find out when you guys write about it, then I call the team, What does this mean?
Q. How do you feel about going to Laguna Seca?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: Definitely going to miss this place. A lot of great memories here. Everybody loves to come here. This is our Indy 500 outside the Indy 500. Auto Nation alone has 80 people here right now, Andretti Autosport 500 hospitality. Absolutely everybody loves coming here.
I think there's room in the schedule for both of them. I hope there is. I want to see that. I'm really disappointed that it's not. But look forward to going to Laguna Seca from a driving perspective. Great track, fun track. Just like Road America, Sonoma, any of them. I raced there a lot in Skip Barber. I have a lot of good memories there.
We do our Race to Beat Cancer event there, where we have a couple days of formula cars and James Hinchcliffe and I teach people that come in and donate the money, we teach them how to racecars for a few days, we're the instructors, then we go play a couple days the Pebble Beach golf. It's pretty much an awesome four or five days.
Q. You're already in the middle of a great career, won an Indy 500, a championship. Two more wins you'll be in the 20 category, how important is it for you to get into that 20 win category?
RYAN HUNTER-REAY: I'd love to get into the 20s. No doubt about it. I start thinking about numbers and race wins, I can't help but think about all the ones that slipped away. Every racecar driver is like that. You think of the ones that should have been.
I guess it comes with it when you concentrate on winning races like we did this weekend. That's what we're going to do. Every year I think about six races that got away from us and why. Had they not, we would be right there fighting in the championship. Should have, could have, would have.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks a lot.
ALEXANDER ROSSI: A lot of information, because I haven't seen it. It was unfortunate because I thought we got a good start. Just two cars going for the same spot type of thing.
At the end of the day, the 27 NAPA team did an amazing job of getting us back to a point where we could at least be in contention if something did happen to Scott. You know, it didn't.
At the end of the day it was going to be a tough battle, no doubt, to kind of overhaul him with us pretty much having to win. It wasn't meant to be this year. Nonetheless, I think it's an awesome 2018, and something that we all can be very proud of at Andretti. Obviously having three cars in the top eight in the final points is amazing, a huge improvement from where we've been in the past.
Ryan was on a different planet today. Really a good overall year for the team, especially the second half. We'll take the positives and try to improve on the negatives and see where we can end up next year.
THE MODERATOR: After you got back on the lead lap, there was a caution. Did you allow yourself to feel real optimism for how this might conclude better?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: I knew it was probably a 1% shot at getting anything done at the end of the day. I just tried to attack it, move up as many positions as we could. If Scott did have some sort of failure or something, we still needed to be towards the top six or seven. That was the goal.
Once kind of the final round of pit stops came, we kind of chose to come in earlier than everyone else in hopes there would be a yellow, it would cycle us to the front. But it didn't come. They all covered me in case that happened, which was the right thing to do.
Yeah, from once the final pit stop kind of happened, there was no yellow flag immediately, I knew it was pretty much the day done.
THE MODERATOR: We'll take questions.
Q. How much fun was it during the middle section there when you got back on the lead lap, got to attack and pass some cars?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Yeah, I mean, it was more just kind of trying to save a situation, put ourselves in a position to maybe capitalize on something. It wasn't fun at that point. It was more of just pure necessity to try to get it done.
I think we had a fast racecar. I don't know if we had a fast enough one to beat Scott and ultimately win. For sure, it was a car that was quick enough for the podium had the turn one thing not happened.
Yeah, I mean, there's always would have, could have, should haves in scenarios like this, in this sport. Can't focus too much on it. Just got to take the things we didn't do well this weekend and make sure that doesn't happen again, we can improve upon it if we're in this position again next year.
Q. You damaged your wing. Was it Andretti that hit? Which turn was it on?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Kind of the kink before we went up the hill.
Q. When you overtook plenty of cars, was there at one time during the race a problem that you were out of the fuel window, that fuel was an issue?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Not at that point. It was a problem at the end. We had to let Sebastien go. Yeah, I think we could have finished sixth pretty easily. I think there's a small miscalculation on the fuel number we needed to get. I was told we looked pretty good till the end, so I started trying to close the gap to Marco. In doing so, we used too much fuel. That was already after we had done our final stop.
Two separate things, but obviously doesn't make a difference at the end of the day. Sixth or seventh for us is pretty irrelevant.
Q. There's a common thought that once you get in position, you can't do a lot of passing, advancing here. You proved them wrong. Talk about advancing.
ALEXANDER ROSSI: Sure. I don't know, I mean, it seems to be kind of a common theme of our 2018 for whatever reason that we've had to go out in a couple different races and try to put on a highlight reel all by ourselves.
You have to have a great car to do that. I did. I think that's shown in the results with Ryan. Pretty much I think he must have led every single lap. Marco finishing in the top five. We had great racecars.
I had the tools that I needed to go do that. We just tried to maximize that and take advantage of it, and hope that something would come of it. In the end it didn't. It was some kind of gratification for us because it feel as lot worse to finish 19th in a race than seventh.
At the end of the day it was good from that standpoint. Ultimately didn't really mean anything.
Q. After the first lap incident, how much of the game plan goes out the window and you're adjusting on the fly?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: We had a pretty aggressive strategy kind of going into it. We kind of stayed the course. We lost the better part of a minute. That obviously puts you back. We saw what happened in Portland with Scott, right? There's always the potential that there's a yellow, then you catch back up, then there's another yellow, all of a sudden you're in the front.
You don't panic really too early. You just kind of hope that you get a break and it comes back to you. We got half of a break which allowed us to challenge to be in the top five, but we didn't get the other half of it that cycled us to the front where we could try to go for the win.
Q. When you were able to get back on the lead lap, passing cars left and right, you've proven you can pass on tracks where you're not supposed to. What is it about you that you're able to do that?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: I don't know. I don't want to be in that position. I mean, Phoenix, I don't want to be two laps down. Indy, I don't want to qualify on the last row. Here, I don't want to have a broken wing on lap one.
You have to be able to make lemonade out of lemons sometimes. Unfortunately we've had to do that a couple times this year. That's the way it goes.
To win a championship, you got to have excellent days all the time. I'm sure Scott is more than capable of doing the same thing. Fortunately for him, he was never in the position that he needed to. Now he's won five championships. Yeah, pretty hard to beat.
Q. Marco, Ryan. Would you attest any of that to the team focusing to try to get you this championship?
ALEXANDER ROSSI: No. I mean, I think all the Andretti cars have been strong all year. I think the second half of the year we made a pretty big step forward on road courses. I mean, Ryan, we were 1-2 in Portland when I caught that yellow. He was in a really good position to win, kind of got taken away from him. He was on the pole this weekend.
I think the cars have been strong really from day one, but really from road courses from Mid-Ohio onwards. We definitely found something then. We've been able to kind of carry that forward, not just be a flash in the pan sort of progress. It's been progress that's been quantifiable and repeatable. That's a huge testament to the effort that the team puts in.
I have every expectation that they're going to continue this development process this off-season and we're going to come back in 2019 even a bigger step ahead than we were this year.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you.
Feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Go to our forums to discuss this article