Q and A with Carlos Munoz and Helio Castroneves
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone, to today's IndyCar conference call. We'll be joined by two guests today. First Carlos Munoz, and later Helio Castroneves.
First we'll start with the Firestone Indy Lights points leader. Carlos, welcome to the call.
CARLOS MUNOZ: Thank you for having me here. My first time, so thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Carlos leads the points by four over Sage Karam following his dominant win at Pocono Raceway on Saturday.
Carlos, talk a little bit about the season so far. You have three wins, including the win at Pocono, five poles, but your points lead is pretty small at four points. Are you happy with the way the season has gone so far?
CARLOS MUNOZ: Yeah, I think it's been a really good season for me. I've been four, five times in the pole position. In St. Petersburg, the first race, I made a mistake, I didn't win. After that, was really good, Long Beach. Was a perfect weekend. Barber, also was first.
Then Indy, I was leading the whole race, but I couldn't do anything in the last corner, the four-wide we had in the end. I couldn't do anything.
After that we went to Milwaukee. I think last year we struggle a lot. I think this year, Milwaukee, we struggled all the weekend. In the end of the race, I could catch up and I made second.
In Iowa, we did the pole position, everything, the car was good. I don't know really what happened on the race.
Pocono, again, I went back on top with that win. It was a perfect weekend for me since the practice. I'm really confident, now. Now we start again the street circuit. So far I have triple position in circuit. So we will see. Still five races to go and we still have to pushing a lot.
Q. The next race for Firestone Indy Lights is Toronto. You raced there last year. What do you think about the circuit in Toronto and what do you expect from your competitors on Saturday?
CARLOS MUNOZ: It's a nice circuit. I like it a lot. Last year was my first time. I like it. I was really fast. The car was really good. Qualifying was a little strange because it was rain. Unfortunately I did a mistake on the race and I crashed. But I think I'm more confident this year. I think also the car is stronger. We worked a lot over the winter testing. We will see for sure. All the Schmidt guys will be at front and they raced on the circuit in Star Mazda. They are going to be strong, for sure.
Q. Finally, I know that you're focusing on the Firestone Indy Lights championship. How important is it for you to gain maximum points each weekend to get that championship this year?
CARLOS MUNOZ: It's real important for me, no? Especially because this is what America have, the Indy Lights program have, that if you win, you allowed to go after the IndyCar. Firestone, Mazda everyone helps you.
Also I need to have a championship. Also to have a championship also is motivate you for the mind mentally to move up.
For the team, Michael, the whole Andretti team, everybody wants to win this championship in Indy Lights because it's been a lot of year without winning it. So they really think they have a shot to do it and they want me to win the championship, and focus next year on a full-time season in IndyCar.
Q. Can you talk about the year that you're having and Sage is having, the competition between the two of you, as well as what it says about how young the drivers have become in terms of their doing well on the circuit.
CARLOS MUNOZ: It's been a really nice competition, not only from Sage, but Jack Hawksworth. Sage has been really consistent in all the races, has been in almost all the podiums this year. That's why he's been really in the top. Me, I missed (the podium at) St. Pete. He didn't miss any of the races. That's why he's in the top.
We'll see in the circuits, no? He was really quick in the ovals. I think he'll be until the last race of the season, so hopefully it will be a nice fight.
Q. I couldn't imagine how excited you were to run your first Indy 500 two months ago. How much would it mean to win the Indy 500?
CARLOS MUNOZ: It was an awesome experience. The whole month was really good for me. Since the beginning, I was really quick. I adapt really quick to the car, to the circuit.
I just had great qualifying. Before the Indy 500, I didn't have any results. My main goal was to finish the race, to be the last leader, to don't make any mistakes. And the mentality, I start the race, I was starting the front row. I knew it was a long race, difficult race. And pit stops, especially, because I never had done any pit stops in my life. It was my first time there.
After the last pit stop, I exit from the pit lane, I was fourth. I say, Yeah, I have a shot to win this. I have a really good car that Andretti give me.
For sure the last yellow flag was really sad especially in the car because Juan Pablo (Montoya), when I talked to him, he said to me you have this opportunity because you have a nice, really good car. You never know when you're going to have again another strong car. So you have to take this opportunity. I was thinking that. I was a little bit sad.
I don't know if I could win because it's always easy to say, Yeah, if it wasn't for the yellow flag, I will be P1. But is not my case. It was nice to fight for it, you know. I prefer to finish third, fourth, fifth, but at least go from the car and say I fight for it, I give everything on track. I didn't at the end win.
But I'm just 21 years old. Hopefully I will have more chance. If everything works out good, I'll be with a really good team next year and will fight again for the win.
Q. You mentioned about Juan Pablo Montoya. Do you look up to him like a mentor when it comes to racing?
CARLOS MUNOZ: He's been the greatest Colombian driver in the history, no? He always has been an example for me and a lot of Colombian drivers. He won the 500 the first year. I remember when I was small when he won it. It was always a dream for me.
Q. Carlos, did you ever imagine having as much success as you have had already at this point in your career?
CARLOS MUNOZ: Really, before last year in Europe, in Formula 3, I had bad luck. The team, we struggled a lot. I moved back to America to have good results really. Really this year has been the greatest year of my career. I didn't expect that much.
For sure my main goal was to win the Indy Lights title because I was strong, but not to finish second in the Indy 500, and to be so dominant as I've been in the Indy lights right now.
So far I can say it's been my best season ever and I hope it finish that way.
Q. Carlos, as the year comes to a close, with how well you've run in Indy Lights, what you did also in the Indy 500, has there been anything coming in store for you as far as moving up towards the end of the year? What is in the works for you maybe next year?
CARLOS MUNOZ: Really with Michael and everything, we sit down, we talk after Indy. We have the same conclusion as everyone: that the main goal is the championship of Indy Lights. The team needs it, I need it, because the prize that Indy Lights gives you is quite important for the next year and everything.
We prefer to do a really good season, with the pre-season test, good testing and everything. It's racing. When you are with a good team, you have to go out and win. You don't have the excuse the car was good. This is racing, so since the beginning you have to be really strong, no?
We're trying to work for Sonoma, but I don't think it will happen. They want me really to concentrate on the Indy Lights. All the races Michael say, Concentrate, concentrate Indy Lights. That's what I'm doing now.
Q. As you grow and mature as a driver, whether it's road courses, ovals, street courses, what do you consider your strengths or weaknesses as you try to grow as a driver?
CARLOS MUNOZ: Ovals, really last year was my first time I ever race in ovals. My first one was Indy, my first race. I end up second. This year in the speedways I been really good.
I think also in Barber I been really quick. In the road courses I won already.
I think my weakness point now is the small ovals like Iowa and Milwaukee. I haven't really been competitive as much as the other ones. I think I have to still improving on that.
But this is America, no, you have to be consistent in all kinds of circuits or ovals to win the championship.
Q. Carlos, with your good success in the Indy 500 and in Indy Lights also, what do you consider has been the most challenging thing for you so far and what do you expect going forward will be most challenging when you step up?
CARLOS MUNOZ: What do you mean about challenging?
Q. Challenging as far as maybe something to overcome, something you felt really good about overcoming that seemed to be the most difficult in Indy or Indy Lights, or just driving in general.
CARLOS MUNOZ: For sure, in Indy Lights, we did a lot of pre-season tests. We worked really hard pre-season tests. We improve a lot the car. We been really strong about that. Also I've been preparing a lot mentally, physically. I've been losing a lot of weight, getting lots of muscles. That's really part of my improving this year, no, because I'm mentally stronger, physically more stronger than last year. So that help me a lot.
About the IndyCar, the Indy 500 month was for me really challenging because it's a month that consume you a lot. You are all the time in the car. You have media, you have to go there, there and there. So for me was a really hard month. After the race I was like really, really tired, because you have accumulation of a lot of hours of training and being in the car. So it was really challenging for me that month. It paid really good all that hard work.
Q. Can you talk about when you were growing up, is this what you wanted to do from an early age? Was there a point in time when you switched from another sport to become more serious about auto racing?
CARLOS MUNOZ: When I was 11 years old, I knew what I wanted to do was a racecar driver, no? Of course, when you are small, you want to be a professional racecar driver in IndyCar or Formula One.
In 11 years old, I left my family in Colombia and went to live in Europe by my own with my driver coach in Spain. It was really tough for me and my family. I was thousands and thousands of miles away. I think that's really where I did my decision to do a professional racecar driver and sacrifice everything for it.
Q. How hard was that, being so young, to do that?
CARLOS MUNOZ: It's hard. It's the sacrifice as a driver you have to do. You know you are not a normal kid. You are different from the other kids, you know. But it helped me a lot. I'm really matured. I had a really great family there in Europe with the Porteiro family. They are my managers now. They help me a lot as a driver and also a lot as a person. I'm really grateful for them. I think that's right now the results are because of all that training since I was small.
Q. What was your coach's name?
CARLOS MUNOZ: He's still my coach. We've been since I was eight years old we start together. Santiago Porteiro comes from a racing family. His brother was racing in the World Series. He was a driver, but unfortunately the sponsor stop so he had to stop racing. He's still with me right now. He came here to live with me here in Miami.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as we have no further questions for Carlos, we'll thank you for your time and wish you the best of luck this weekend in Toronto.
CARLOS MUNOZ: Thank you for having me here and bye.
THE MODERATOR: We're now pleased to be joined by Helio Castroneves.
Helio, welcome to the call.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Helio does lead the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings by 23 over 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay. Helio won at Texas and is the 2000 pole winner at Toronto.
Helio, talk about your season. You're the only driver to complete every lap of every race so far, have 10 top-10 finishes in 11 races. Are you happy with the way the season is going so far?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes. Whenever you're leading the championship, when it's by 1 point or 100 points, it's always good news. Of course, we still have a long way, eight more races to go, a lot of points in the game. We’ve got to keep doing what we’re doing because right now, it’s keeping us up there.
Q. We return to street courses this weekend, have a doubleheader at Toronto. Talk a little bit about the doubleheader format that was started at Detroit and how you prepare yourself to race at Toronto.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Since we already have one in Detroit, the Dual in Detroit, we certainly understand how it works. But because we’ve been through one, we know it's not going to be the same. I believe people going to re-adjust from one race to another.
The Toronto track is a traditional place, very, very tight. The track is very technical, as well. Plus we're going to be standing start (for Race 1), so it's also another trick, something else for us to think about. But in the end of the day, we know what we need to do. Hopefully we put ourselves in good qualifying so we can start at the front.
Q. I know you are in New York for the Turbo premiere. We saw you this morning on The Today Show. How excited are you to show your daughter the movie and be associated with the movie?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It's great to have Mikaella. Now people can't make fun of me going to animated movies. Turbo is not only going to make kids happy but adults happy as well.
It's very interesting, it's touching everyone. It's cute. You know, there is a lot of action. We going tonight to the premiere. We're really excited we have this great opportunity not only for the drivers but it's special for the IndyCar Series. It's a great trampoline, let's put it this way, so people have knowledge what is an open-wheel car, Indy 500 especially.
It's all good things. I'm really excited to be able to be part of this experience and hopefully people enjoy it.
Q. Can you talk about the performance this year of the young guys like Carlos and Sage Karam? What does it say about the future of the sport?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, certainly we don’t need (the young guys) to make the series more competitive. These guys seem to be showing right now a great amount of skills. I came from Indy Lights. I know how tough it is going to the same tracks (that IZOD IndyCar Series) goes to. (The season’s) showing these guys, these kids, the potential.
Carlos (finished second) at the Indy 500 this year, not because Andretti (Autosport) had a great car, but he showed he can be aggressive, mature and drive 500 miles. When you finish the 500 miles, it is an achievement.
They're great kids. Sage, as well. He's been racing for many, many years, and winning a lot of races. I wish, to be honest, that team owners and everyone, could have more cars, so we can have more drivers and create more opportunities for young drivers like them.
Q. Did Carlos and his performance at Indy surprise you veteran drivers or did you feel he's a guy that has been coming along, was capable of doing something like that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: At the Indy 500, every time you finish a race you're surprised, especially for a rookie. I was watching him race, being very aggressive and many times in some of the corners, I thought he would have a problem.
But you got to understand, the way the racing is going right now, it's a little bit different than it used to be in the past.
But it did not surprise (me). I think the equipment that he had was good. I believe the way he's driving in Indy Lights is probably showing a little bit of that on the Race Day he did in Indianapolis.
But at the end of the day it was a great result for him.
Q. How have you kept motivated in the quest for your first championship?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I'm always motivated, doesn't matter whether I'm first or last. I love what I do. You have to learn how to enjoy the small, good moments, because racing is very, very brutal sometimes. For me I’ve learned how to enjoy that. I cannot only live in that moment. We just have to keep moving forward. I have a great team, a great car. Hopefully this weekend in Toronto we'll continue doing a great job.
Q. Have you ever gotten tired of people bringing up Dancing with the Stars?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No. Absolutely not. In fact, when people don't remind me, I try to remind them that I worked really hard to win that competition. I really appreciate the support of the racing community. I enjoy very much when people talk about it.
Q. I realized you've been in open-wheel racing for at least the last 15 years. How different are you from the Indy Lights driving days?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: First, it's been a great run. I have to say I've changed quite a lot compared to what I used to be in the past. Not only have the rules change, and safety improved, a lot of things change. The competition, it's actually getting harder. Even then was already very competitive, but it's still harder.
The only thing I see, like I said, the Indy Lights, it is a great step to IndyCar. Today we need to make some adjustments, I would say, for IndyCar and for Indy Lights. If we want to build more talent, if you want to build interest in people in open-wheel, we got to also make sure that the steps are in the same line with IndyCar.
Back then it was extremely powerful. As I said, it was big teams from IndyCar that were part of Indy Lights, which was great, because you could make a career, stay in the same team. Hopefully we can go in that direction, as well.
But we're still working a lot on small details to be honest.
Q. Going to today, you're in the points lead. You have yet to win a championship. How much would it mean for you to finally win that IZOD IndyCar Series championship?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It would be great. Certainly it would be great. That shows that it's not a lack of trying, effort, lack of a team. We've been always pushing, been very competitive every year.
You can only control what's around you. Hopefully this year so far we've been able to do that, put ourselves in a good opportunity.
It would mean a lot. I would be extremely happy to get this title. But I know there's still a lot of racing to go, a lot of points, and I'm going to continue pushing for it.
Q. Now that you have one of these doubleheaders behind you, what do you think of all this? You run a full race, all of the effort, intensity, et cetera, that's required, then you have to get up the next morning to do the same thing all over again. Having done it once now, what do you think of the format? Also, in Toronto, will you do anything differently?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Honestly, I don't know. I believe for the promoters and financially, it probably makes a lot of sense. I believe for the drivers and mechanics, it's a little bit rough. To do a race in IndyCar, it's tough. We don't have power steering. Street courses are very bumpy. It is very physically demanding.
I think there is a lack of patience from the drivers, as well. They run the first race, and they know, Man, you know what, I'm going to kick that guy's butt. That's what happened in Detroit, a lot of people had a lot of issues in the second race.
But I don't know. It makes a lot of sense I think for financial (people) and promoters. For Toronto, I don't know what I would do different. We did collect good points down there in Detroit. But (at Toronto) we're going to have standing starts. I don't think IndyCar ever had standing starts. I don't know the history back then.
But it's going to be interesting when you have the clutch in your hand. We don't have 900 horsepower like we used to have. You can wheel spin a lot. There's a lot involved.
Hopefully it's for the best. Hopefully we take advantage that we can make good starts and collect double points.
Q. In the second race at Detroit, did you feel you were lacking anything because you had just run the day before?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No. In terms of physical, as a driver, no. It was afterwards. Next day I was like, Man, I feel it. But, no, I think the adrenaline, all the drivers are really well-prepared physically in terms of preparation, so we're able to do that.
Detroit, let me tell you, it's a very tough track. Very bumpy. High-speed corners. I think Toronto might be a little less difficult because first and second corner in Detroit was third gear, very fast sweep area. I feel it will be less fatigue on the drivers.
Q. When you were growing up and learning racing when you were younger, did you think, I can do this at the top level? Did you kind of pick it up as you went along, it happened for you as you moved up?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I tell you, man, when I was about 13 to 15 years old, I knew what I wanted. Till this day I don't eat red meat because of that. I remember watching some of the drivers say they go through a very tough diet, give up a lot of things that they think it's going to improve in their performance in the race.
When I saw that, I said, ‘If I start doing it now, when I get there, I won't have any problem.’ Well, it did work. So it's been 20 years and plus not eating red meat, soft drinks, things like that.
I know this is a little example, but in my mind when I decided to do it, I knew that I have to be dedicated, work for it, push. I have a lot of 'no's' in front of me saying you can't do it. What's been good is prove those people wrong. I know what I want since the beginning.
Q. The good results you're having, how do you feel that is building a momentum going into the remainder of the season?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it's a combination of a lot of things. I believe it's a combination of maturity, a combination of experience, a combination of getting the guys that I have behind me, some of them are new people. Even that they are not new on the team, but they are new working together.
It's a combination of a lot of things. So hopefully we keep going. Like I said, I have Roger (Penske) since I've been here on the team, we have four races together, and three of them was one win and a second and second. Last weekend unfortunately we had to do a saving fuel mode, but we had potential to finish another top five.
I enjoy it, working with Roger directly. So it's a lot of good things happening in a good way for us.
Q. It seems like every week we see you run in the top five, top eight. It seems like Ryan Hunter-Reay, Hinchcliffe, one of the Andretti Autosport cars fluctuate on who is up front. They can't seem to be as consistent staying up front. Hinchcliffe will get a win and then three bad finishes. You seem to be able to take advantage of it. What do you feel you have to do as a team to gain on them to be in the top three so the championship can be more in your control and be in your hands?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Great question. We work extremely hard, obviously. Seems Andretti Autosport that week in, week out they're very competitive. Plus they have four cars compared to us. That's able to improve their data but at the same time might hurt them, as well.
I have no doubt in my team. I have the best equipment out there. I have the best guys out there. We doing everything we can so we can be consistent. Sometimes you don't have the car to win and you got to finish second. Unfortunately that's the name of the game. The series are so competitive that sometimes someone found something that you don't know what it is, and it makes a big difference on the racetrack.
Our engineers are working extremely hard to keep improving. I do believe in Toronto we're going to do much better. Plus, you know, I know it's Chevy, but Honda as well is starting to improve, they showed in the last race. We can never stop. This series is about finding small details. When I say 'small details', the size of a hair, it's that small details and makes a big difference.
Q. It's been a long time with standing starts and whatnot. In Europe they do that. What have you done as a driver to practice or what are your feelings about standing starts?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I think it's great. Right now the closest thing is leaving the pits. When we stop, getting ready to go, leaving the pits.
My only concern is the tracks that we go to, they're street courses, they're set up for the rolling starts. Like Toronto, for example, it's been the same since I remember (starting to race) there. Even the asphalt is pretty much the same.
Sometimes when you adopt a new rule like that, you do have to make some adjustments on the standing start. I understand they did that when it was Champ Car. I hope we have that kind of scenario pretty much figured out. When you have a clutch in your hand, which is very difficult, it's kind of like very sensitive, you don't want to have any issues.
That's the only thing that concerns me. But I know the series is always looking to the areas to improve. I'm trusting everyone that the right call is made and we going to be okay for these double races and standing starts.
Q. You've had a lot of experience through the years. Hopefully we don't see this for a while. You've had the chance to go through CART, you've seen Atlantic, Indy Lights, Indy. You had some great ideas what we can do to improve the other series. Do you see yourself as an ambassador for the sport? Where do you see yourself?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Listen, I would love to help. I would love to be involved one day with my expertise as a driver. I'm not sure about the technical terms. As I said, driving is specialized these days. It's actually more computerized than technical terms.
The Road to Indy, it's been a great program that I believe Randy Bernard started. They're giving people the opportunity to win the championship and keep climbing. We saw that from Josef Newgarden, (James) Hinchcliffe is another one. I believe there was another one, as well. (JR) Hildebrand. He also came up from that ladder.
If you see that, we have the right thinking. The fix, as we always know, it's find a good marketing, sponsors that are willing to believe. With that you just grow as a series. Even IndyCar went through a very difficult moment in the economic situation that affect everyone in racing.
So now that everything is recovering, hopefully we'll be able to get smart people and try to look for those areas that can help build up new talent and build up that ladder where I came from one day as well.
THE MODERATOR: Seeing as we have no further questions for Helio, we will thank you for your time today and wish you the best of luck at Toronto this weekend.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you so much, all of you.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Helio.
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