Penske Racing - Q&A
18 April 2009
Following news that 2008 IndyCar Series runner-up - and double Indy 500 winner - Helio Castroneves had been acquitted of six charges of tax evasion, Penske Racing held an impromptu press conference in Long Beach to explain the way forward as the Brazilian returns to the cockpit of the #3 machine.
To my far right, Ryan Briscoe, driver from Team Penske. Next to Ryan Briscoe, Tim Cindric, the president of Penske Racing. Next to him, Will Power from Team Penske. And then nearest me, Brian Barnhart, the president of Racing Operations for the IndyCar Series, Indy Racing League. We'll start off with Tim with a general statement and we'll take it from there.
Obviously our being here today is all relative to the outcome of Helio's well‑publicised trial. And on behalf of Roger and our entire organisation, we're ecstatic with the outcome. It's been a very, very difficult time for all of us. Obviously in particular he and his family. So we're very, very excited to know that he can go on with his life, business as usual. And as hard as that is to say about Helio, in particular.
But his usual business is sometimes a little different. And he adds a little bit of fun to everything we do. So we're certainly looking forward to having him back in the IndyCar Series and back as a driver of our organisation. We've made the provisions and the decision that he'll be in a car with us tomorrow. He'll be in the #3 car tomorrow.
And with that, we'll add an additional entry to the Long Beach race starting tomorrow morning. Will Power will be in the #12 Team Verizon Wireless car, and Will Power will also drive for Penske in the Indy 500 this year in the #12 Verizon Wireless entry.
So today our plans are to carry on business as usual. Helio will arrive this evening. No, I don't know an exact time. But he will arrive this evening. And we'll continue to prepare everything.
The next session, Will will continue in the #3 car, carry out the remainder of the day. And Brian, I'll let you talk a little bit how the rest of the weekend will go technically.
Great. Thanks, Tim. Obviously we couldn't be happier for Penske Racing, Helio and his family. We look forward to having Helio back on the grid here in Long Beach. Helio's played an integral part in the growth of the IndyCar Series, both on and off the racetrack the past few years and has an incredible legion of fans. He is a true star in every sense of the word. His infectious personality, popularity and success on the racetrack is truly welcomed back to the IndyCar Series.
As Tim mentioned, we've had some contingency plans in place, both at the St Pete event and the Long Beach event, not knowing the timing of how and when this was going to play out with regards to entries, licensing, driver physicals that kind of stuff, pit locations.
What we're going to do now with Helio switching to the #3 car, he'll remain in the #3 car pit location. And the #12 car entry, which is now the Will Power entry, will be added to the pits as a pit entry end of the pit lane. And the tyres that Will uses today will go with him with our tyre restrictions, which, just from a logistical standpoint, we get six primary sets of Firestone and then three alternate reds.
So the tyres that Will uses today go with him to the #12 car. Helio has a full allotment of nine sets beginning in the #3 car tomorrow. As I talked about the pit locations, that type of deal. And the one thing that I'll probably make a couple of concessions on, we have split groups in practice tomorrow for two thirty‑minute sessions. I'll allow Helio to run both sessions in the morning since he's not been in a car since October.
I will give Will, who has drawn the red chip that puts him in Group Two, a couple of shakedown laps in the #12 car since it's the first time it's been on the track in the first session. Then he'll slide back to Group Two. And then both are in Group Two for qualifying. We did a contingency draw for Helio for the segment one of qualifying and he's in the second group from that standpoint as well.
So good communication with him and everyone at Team Penske allowing for this to happen, not knowing the timing of it. And as I said, we're certainly happy to have Helio back and look forward to having Will in the car here for Long Beach and Indianapolis as well, as he's a big member of the family as well. It's nice to have the IndyCar family back together.
Ryan, let's start with you from a driver perspective and talk about the news with Helio.
It's very exciting news for all of us here. And Helio especially. I look forward to having him back, working with him. We really built a strong relationship last year. So really excited to continue that going forward. And as far as it goes for Will, he's sort of in similar shoes as I was a couple years ago and got the opportunity with Penske Racing to run the Indy 500. And it's just a huge opportunity for him. He's done a great job for us so far this year. Really impressed us all. And who knows where that could lead him in the future. But really good news today. Happy for Helio.
Will, your perspective.
I'm very happy for Helio and his family. I couldn't imagine what it was like going through that, especially how much success he's had in his career. But for me I'm really excited to be driving the Verizon Wireless #12 car and also in the Indy 500. So this is a great opportunity for me. This team's made me feel very welcome. It's a first‑class team. I really love working with these guys, and you never know what can happen in the future.
We're going to open it up to questions.
Tim, can you talk a little bit about adding the third car, how tough that's going to be? You guys have done it before. But not for a while. And a little bit about is Will going to have any other opportunities this year with the team? Is there any possibility that he might have other rides this year?
Sure. Sure. Yeah, without a doubt. You know with our organization, we haven't run three cars for quite a while. And to be able to do that, I can't say enough about the preparation and the various contingencies our guys have been able to put together. It's been a bit of a mixed bag and really a moving yardstick here for quite a while.
I appreciate everything that the league has done for us, and really everybody in the garage area. I haven't heard one negative and anything but support for Helio in the community. And I can't say enough about Will and the approach that he's taken to, the tasks that he's had to deal with all the maybes and the what‑abouts and so forth. So our position is going to be to continue to take it a race at a time.
I don't want to speculate. There's a lot of things that can happen. I said that from the beginning. And Will will be the first one to tell you it wasn't until last night that he knew he was going to drive the Indy 500. So we talked about it from the beginning of this process, that that wasn't something that he knew going into it. So it's a big credit to him for him to take the approach that he's taken throughout the process.
And with regard to the contingencies and that type of thing, the people that you'll see here this weekend, John Ericksen, who is our general manager of our sportscar programme, will be the race strategist on that car. And he was also Ryan Briscoe's race strategist, along with Jay Penske in the Luczo Dragon programme back when Ryan first ran Indy for us in 2007.
So we kind of have, again, a contingency, but we didn't want to be in this position this weekend and everything looked like it was leading up to a decision and at some point this week, and had we been sitting here this week without a contingency and without a way in which we could help reward Will for all the things that he's done but at the same time make sure Helio, his best medicine is going to be to get back in a race car. And I can't tell you how excited I'll be to actually see that all happen. Hopefully that answers your question there, Mike.
Tim, Helio's been through a lot. As a team manager, what will you do to get his mind back on racing and stay focused on the racing and to maybe keep the media off the trial and on racing?
I guess if I hadn't known him... this will be my tenth season with Helio, and if I hadn't known him as well as I do, I would question 'is this the right move or not the right move?', or that type of thing.
But the guy is... it's kind of funny to say, when you know him as well as everybody does and his enthusiasm, but his focus and his concentration, it's among the best. And I think the best way to quantify that is the trust that I have in him at a place like Indianapolis, where you're sitting there qualifying at 5:59 or whatever it is and I put him up against the best of them when it comes to being mentally prepared. And I know he wants nothing more than to get back in that race car, and I have 100 per cent confidence it will be like riding a bike for him.
Tim, regardless of the time that Helio is getting back, can you take us through how you get him back here? Was it like a helicopter to MIA, Roger's plane, but my editor needs to know this?
Still a work in progress. We've again put together some contingencies and having Roger's resources is always beneficial in situations like that. I said long ago that when I told him something wasn't possible, I kind of reviewed my thoughts after his response to that and figured if anybody could get Air Force One it might be him because from then on I've always said everything's possible. And given the solution and trying to figure out if he can come up with a reason why he can't get it done. So the basics are we've dispatched a plane from Detroit to pick him up whenever he's ready. Obviously, I don't really know the details of what it takes to get from the courtroom to the FBO there, but I'm expecting that he'll be here at a decent hour this evening in one of Roger's planes.
Tim, have you spoken with Helio on the phone? How did that conversation go? Is there anything you can share with us on that? And I also have a follow‑up.
I haven't spoken to him live since the verdict was given. We've exchanged text messages and so forth, and they're pretty simple. He and I are basically 'hey, we're ready for you'. And his response was 'I'm coming, man'.
Team has always been important at Team Penske. You touched on it earlier, but can you talk about the selflessness it's taken for Will to be able to come into a situation like this where he really didn't know how many races he was going to have and knowing that he was going to have to kind of prepare for a situation like this if it came out positive for Helio?
That was certainly one of the considerations when we looked at the candidates for who would actually drive the #3 car if Helio wasn't available. And the one thing that we continued to come back and look at when we looked at those decisions were really Will's demeanour, his commitment, his focus. And you know his understanding of the opportunity that's in front of him but at the same time his understanding of what that all means. And I hope he feels like we've been very forthright in every move we've made and I hope he feels like throughout this process he's always been on the front page with us.
Can you talk about that?
I mean, I knew the situation very well. And none of this is a surprise to me. So that's the Penske way. They always keep you well informed and you know what's coming. So I really appreciate the way it's all played out.
Do you know if Roger is going to stay in Phoenix, or is he going to come here tomorrow?
Roger will be here tomorrow. Obviously there\'s a Nationwide race in Phoenix. He'll be here tomorrow. He's going to stay as late into qualifying as possible, then return to Phoenix for the Cup race and be back here on Sunday.
Will, what's been your mindset? We didn't know when this was going to happen. It could have happened before St Pete. It could have... It now has happened. But you knew coming in this weekend that it could happen at any moment. What's been your thinking? How have you approached this knowing that this could happen at any time?
I've been aware that this could happen at any time, and my approach has always been the same as take it day‑by‑day and do the best job possible for the team. And, yeah, I mean, I was ready for it. So it's no big shock to me. And the team is great to work with and, like I said before, they always keep you well informed.
Knowing the enthusiasm that Helio has, I imagine his feet aren't going to be on the ground for some time now. And Tim, for you, do you think he's going to sleep at all tonight?
I don't know if he slept at all lately. I think tonight, my guess is if he's going to sleep, it will be probably better tonight than it would have been last night or the night before or the night before that. So I think the fortunate thing about Helio is I've never seen him lacking energy.
Tim, you talk about contingency plans. Verizon being on the car this weekend, and also Indy for Will Power, what about the rest of the season. Obviously you want to go forward or is that it?
Our plate has been pretty full in terms of making plans going forward. Right now really Indianapolis is as far as we've even discussed what our plans are. A lot of things can happen between now and May. So really I don't have a plan or a contingency or anything along those lines. We'll just play it a race at a time and focus on the month of May. And I think the fortunate thing, you know, if you look at these and you look at, in Will's position what the upside of this is for him personally, it's the fact that if he were going to run Indianapolis with us the month of May, this is an opportunity for him to get to know all the guys, get to work under fire and really get through some of the basically growing pains, if you will, before we get into the month of May, because as you know with a shortened schedule there that first week, where you're on track, what, Wednesday afternoon and you have Thursday/Friday weather permitting, this is going to be a big, big advantage for all of us, I think, in terms of being prepared to run those three cars in Indy.
Brian, you addressed it a little bit in the statement that was handed out. But can you talk a little bit more about what it means to the series to have Helio back?
As I said, it feels good to have the family back together again. He's made such enormous contributions to the growth of our series, both on and off the track. Obviously, a two‑time Indianapolis 500 winner is one of your key ingredients and very important to every race promoter and where you go. His infectious personality and, coupling that with his 2007 title winning Dancing With the Stars growth off the racetrack as well, has certainly raised the awareness of the IndyCar Series in circles that are not the traditional sports fan or even race fan areas. It's certainly made him more of a household name in an arena we couldn't even imagine possible. The good news is I'm getting him back in the driver's meeting, so I'm sure all the pertinent and fun questions will begin again.
Tim, two questions. First, do you have any information or has there been any indication as to whether they will go forward with retrying the one count on which there was a hung jury?
I'm a racing guy. So, you know, all the technicalities and that type of thing, you know, I think that's really for somebody else to answer at another time. I don't pretend to understand it at all.
And the second thing is, there's only one oval between now and Indy, Kansas. Are you going to shoot for doing the three‑car team at Kansas?
You never say never. But sitting here right now that's not the plan. We're not planning to do that sitting here right now. But at the end of the day on Monday, with us, you never know. But right now, I've said to Will and the rest of the team that that's not our plan as we sit here today. But they all know us well enough to know that it's always subject to change.
But I hope when I look back at this, at this time last year, we're tired of Helio and his dancing game. And this year the focus is on him. And next year, maybe something a little different, little more positive. Seems like the last few years it's been kind of a rollercoaster for him obviously. But I can't say enough about how happy we are as an organisation that it all turned out for the best for him.
Do you tomorrow plan any sort of press conference for Helio so we can hear his reaction to all this?
I think we've discussed that internally. And I think it would be certainly something that we will try to do. I don't want to schedule it today, just simply because I'm not sure what time he's going to arrive, what he's going to feel like and all the different things that he's going to go through. But certainly it would be a much easier situation to do it in this type of forum.
Thank you very much.