Helio, do you think the pressure is on you being second in the points or do you think it’s on the 9 team and Scott Dixon?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I’m not sure to be honest. At this point I feel that I have nothing to lose, so there is no pressure to be honest, you just go for it. We’re going to look for our best result, and in the ovals, try to replicate what we did in Texas and hopefully we’ll successful.
MODERATOR: Last weekend it looked like the championship was yours to lose, and then the events of Houston occurred. I was in the garage when you were having your issues in the second race and you said that your team never gives up. I think the same situation in 2008 when you were chasing Scott, you never gave up and just ran out of races. Talk a little bit about that never‑say‑die attitude that you and the team are bringing into Fontana.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: This team is a perfect scenario built of hard‑working, everyone really trying to ‑‑ the entire season, not only in one race but the entire season has been work ethic and that sort of brought us in this kind of scenario. Really excited to be honest to go to Fontana and go for it, all out, all in, as they say, and we believe that this team can do it and we’ll do everything we can to make this happen.
Q: The MAVTV 500 is a 500‑mile race on a superspeedway. You have five wins on superspeedways, three of them being 500‑mile races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Based on what you saw at the test a few weeks ago, what do you expect?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, always 500 miles, it’s always a long race, almost three hours of racing. Anything can happen, and at this point we had a fantastic test, were really super fast, extremely happy with the performance of the car two weeks ago in Fontana, and we just hope we continue with that and that will bring us a successful result.
Q: You’ll be so excited if you win at Auto Club Speedway, do the fans need to all stand back about 10 deep?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I hope not. I hope they will join us. I don’t think they should stand back, I think they should join us because it would be an awesome comeback, and that’s what I’m counting on.
Q: Like you said, Auto Club Speedway is a unique track in that it’s basically flat but it still takes a lot of work and takes a lot of strategy. You’ve done quite well at that track if I’m not mistaken.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Last year we had a very good car, as well. And as the night comes in, it changes a little bit of the setup and I feel that also the 15‑hour favor, it might help everyone, and it for sure is going to be competitive. We have no question about that. But, according to the last two tests that we had, it was just awesome to see how fast the car was, and I was extremely excited. In fact, I told them don’t clean it, just leave as it is. I know we have to swap polish to go to the AAA. Brought us great luck in Texas, so we’re counting on that again.
Q: Some drivers say they don’t pay any attention to the points, and some will. What’s your take on that? Do you watch the points all that much?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, I wasn’t watching to be honest during the whole season. I was doing exactly what we’re supposed to do. When we have a good car, we go for it. When we don’t have a car we just play with what the car is able to give us. And it worked. Everything worked really well. But now the only thing we have in mind is a lot of points, is a win. We’re determined, we’re ready, we’re prepared, and that’s why we’re going for it. There is no other opposition that we need to be thinking about, and right now that’s our main focus.
Q: Kind of compare it to maybe a little bit of a similar situation to when Tony Stewart a couple years back, there was no way he could possibly win the championship unless he won, and that’s exactly what he did. Later he explained, I had nothing to lose.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: That’s the mentality. That’s our mentality. We have nothing to lose. We are going for it. Whatever it takes, we are going for it. Taking risks, taking every risk, to be honest, to put ourselves in that position. We feel as a team we have the equipment and we have the power, so we’ve just got to believe it.
Q: Of course we know that AJ Allmendinger will join you and Will Power for Penske Racing this weekend. We saw a great stint from him at Indianapolis. Do you think he can help you win this title this weekend?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yes. At this particular point, (Penske Racing president Tim) Cindric and I discussed it, (team owner) Roger (Penske), as well, and I believe it’s the best strategy that we can have. The thing about strategy, they’ve got to be up there. We’ve got to have all the cars up there. We’ve got to have as many cars as possible up there. So Chevy is also looking for the title, so there is a lot of things involved. I feel Will (Power) and AJ are definitely going to be there with the speed, and that’s a big help for us. But again, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter about those guys. We’ve still got to win this race. The group No. 3 car, the AAA car, it’s ready to do that.
Q: About a year ago we had a photo opportunity with the four drivers that were leading in the points, and at that time basically you and Scott were there to fill out the photo opportunity. How does it feel to be the photo opportunity this time around?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, to be honest it shows that we kept consistency. Last year those guys were able to make it happen, and Will and (Ryan) Hunter‑Reay were able to put up good fights. In my case and in Scott’s case, we were doing everything we could, as well, to be there in the end. And now 2013 happens, we are the ones fighting for this championship. It just shows how competitive it is, how tough it is. But even I, we always seem to fight at each other, doesn’t mean if it’s for first or second place or third or fourth place. We are up there, and it shows that I respect Scott a lot in that aspect because he’s a very tough fighter, and I hope he feels the same way. At the end of the day it’s great to be in this position. I’m really happy, but we’ve still got work to do.
Q: The other thing I couldn’t help but notice is that this season that you drove is marked by really great consistency and finishing and everything, and that Texas played a huge role. It got you started in the points run leading, but it also took it away. It’s almost like Texas almost vexed you with a 15‑point penalty and two not‑so‑great finishes. What do you have to say about Texas?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, I still love Texas, don’t get me wrong. I think this is a misfortune. We can’t say there is anything to do with that. It’s an interesting comparison, but I believe there is more into it. Certainly the team prepared as much as they do. We still don’t understand. We know the problem in the first race and we fixed it, but the problem in the second race, we’re still kind of like really disturbed by it because we did everything we could to make sure that the car is reliable, and all of a sudden one thing that’s outside of our control ended up ruining the second race.
In the end we have a great chance. I don’t see that a negative, I see that a way to give us fuel to go out there and push as hard as we can.
Q: Again, it was great in the photos you leading the field there in Houston. I hope to see some of that here in Fontana, and welcome to California.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Thank you so much. I’m looking forward to being there.
Q: Questions regarding kind of both the light and the track surface. How bad is the glare going into Turns 3 and 4, and secondly, how bad is the bump between Turns 1 and 2 since we know that’s what caught Will out last year?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: We had a test (Sept. 24) in Fontana. We did face a similar issue. I believe all the drivers agreed and exposed the situation, and I believe there is a scenario that might delay the race about 25 to 30 minutes. I’m not sure about the time. But I know about 5:50 or something is about when the sun is at a critical point in Turn 3 that we cannot see at all. So (INDYCAR president of competition and operations) Derrick Walker is already looking into it, and like I said, I believe they will make an adjustment in time so we won’t have that kind of issue. The second thing about the bump and not only in 1 and 2 but in 3 and 4, the latest I heard is also they might do some touch‑up on those bumps so that we can prevent any kind of issues.
But at this point the track is much different than Houston. I’d say it’s much smoother, and I do believe it’s going to create a great excitement of several lines, people can go below, can go middle, can go high, so that can create a great kind of racing.
Q: I’m curious about the bumpiness in Houston. Can you describe just how harsh that was?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, interesting because we do have some racetracks that are very bumpy. One perfect example is Baltimore going over the railroad tracks. The bump in front of the straightaway in Houston was very similar to that except that there was no railroad. I mean, they did an incredible job on putting everything together, the whole track, the crowd enjoyed it. I thought it was a great, successful event. Unfortunately there were some issues with the preparation, I think. When they went there a long time ago to look, I believe they missed that kind of a bump. You don’t need to be a huge expert in surface to find that out. When I looked, even when they tried to sand it out, unfortunately you could see it wasn’t very smooth.
My thoughts is one is hard and the other is not, so we’ll try different lines when we come back and see what it is then. I don’t see why in the future and especially now that we can have at least some type of ‑‑ I know INDYCAR is awesome in terms of we’ll race anywhere, doesn’t matter what kind of surface we do race, but I think we should have at least some type of line, draw a line that it’s becoming unsafe and it’s becoming preventing of passing and things like that. Hopefully they will be able to address those type of scenarios, and we’ll follow, because certainly even with that type of circumstance the race was still awesome.
Q: I’m curious if you’ve had a chance to exchange text messages or I know a lot of guys have been contacting Dario. Have you had any contact with him since he’s had his phone back?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, I did. Just joking around internal with all the drivers, they were kind of like send emails but were not having him respond, but we understand he probably was on medication. But since finally he was able to answer to all of us, he mentioned that he is on a lot of painkillers so he’s not feeling so much. He is joking right now he’s not feeling much. But we are very glad that ‑‑ I mean, it could be more serious than that. Certainly I do feel that the catch fence did their work, glad that it at least bend a little bit so the impact didn’t hurt more than it was and also hit spectators. All about this, it’s kind of like checking and make sure that those type of scenarios, at least the car did the job, the safety aspect did their job. And for him, unfortunately he’s in this situation, but he will have time to recover and not miss any races for next year.
Q: You know that Scott is a two‑time champion in the series. Do you feel like you’re at any disadvantage psychologically or in any way at a disadvantage to Scott because of that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: No, I don’t think so. I respect Scott and Team Ganassi and what they’ve accomplished in the past. And to be honest, it’s interesting to see that they were able to find all these championships together and we’re here another one, which really shows that veterans still do it extremely well. That’s what I love about sports. But in the same way, you know, what happened last year with my teammate Will and Hunter‑Reay, they were kind of in a very similar scenario in the points and see what happens. There was many factors. We’re talking about 500 miles. It’s a long‑distance race. Anything can happen. Certainly we’re going to do our job. We’re going to try and push as hard as we can, not worry about them, which I wasn’t even before going to Houston. Houston was something extremely out of the ordinary. But at this point we have to do our thing. We have to focus on our speed, and they are probably the ones that are going to have to worry about us.
In that aspect, I know he’s strong enough mentally because he’s been in these situations. But who knows what could happen. There’s many, many things that could happen to us. But what I’m looking for is the AAA Machine to go as fast as they can so that we can have our opportunity here and a shot to win this championship.
Q: You’ve added AJ to the Penske lineup, they’ve added Alex Tagliani. Do you see that as kind of cancelling each other out, given (Alex Tagliani) has won poles at Indy, he’s won pole at Texas, he’s a pretty good oval racer?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, you’re right. Tag is certainly a fast guy, but AJ, for the short amount of time that he was in the car, especially on the oval, he proved that he has enough experience on that. Like I said, we’ve got to use every tool that we can to try to steal points away from Scott. Glad that Will ended up winning the race in Houston, that he stole at least 10 points from him, so those type of things that we’ve got to do, and we felt that AJ is the best man to do this kind of job, and hopefully we have him up to speed up there with us.
Q: When you went back and looked at the video of Dario’s crash at Houston, were you surprised that his car got as high as it did given the redesign, or is that just a matter of a car going very fast and you have that kind of contact and it’s going to happen?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It’s interesting. Unfortunately, incidents at Indianapolis in the past, some of the road courses we had it, just kind of the angle that you hit. You try to prevent as much as you can, but the car did their job. It could be much worse. The car could probably go outside of the fence in those circumstances if your car didn’t have that kind of bumper. It did the job, not only protecting the car from going away from the track but also protect the driver, as well. And, again, I’m never one that see anything, but we might try to design a little bit of the racetrack, because that corner itself was already difficult by ourself. Imagine if you had some type of things. I’m glad actually they listened to the drivers saying the wet qualifying would have been extremely dangerous.
Sometimes, like I said, we’ve got to look at how we position the design of the track, the layout. You’re trying to become too creative, and it doesn’t matter, the safest car in the world could be an issue. In my opinion, that’s my personal opinion. We should at least change that kind of straightaway, which is not a straightaway so that we don’t have that kind of scenario, so if Takuma got sideways and slowed down and Dario was coming really fast and crashed. Those perfect storms sometimes are difficult unless we change the track. I’m glad that nobody was seriously injured.