An interview with Juan Pablo Montoya, Scott Dixon, Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Josef Newgarden:
THE MODERATOR: We’ll go ahead and get started with today’s Verizon IndyCar Series media availability. We are pleased to be joined by our six (five of six are Team Chevy drivers) championship contenders for the Verizon IndyCar Series title which will be decided on Sunday.
Juan, you look preoccupied, but we are going to start with you as our points leader. You’ve had an incredible season, winning the Indy 500, a lot of success since you returned to the Verizon IndyCar Series. What does it mean to you to be vying for a championship so close to your return in the series?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It’s been a good year. I think a lot of people expected me last year to be really good from the get-go. I knew it was going to take some time to get used to it.
It’s been a very cool year. We had our struggles last year. Yeah, we won a race and everything, but we struggled most of the year I felt like. So we did a little work over the winter to get where we needed to be. We’ve been really good all year.
I’m pretty excited. I’m pretty excited. I think we got everything we need to be doing to put ourselves in this position. Sunday, whatever is going to happen is going to happen with double points.
THE MODERATOR: In third place is Scott Dixon.
Scott, you’ve been in positions like this before, and you’re the defending winner here at Sonoma Raceway. How do you feel your odds are heading into Sunday?
SCOTT DIXON: I think for the race itself, this weekend, Team Target, I think they have a great shot at winning the race.
As far as the championship goes, I wouldn’t call it exactly wide open, but we need a few things to work in our favor. It’s been a bit of an odd year. We’ve had fast cars, but probably not the results that we wanted, especially early on with the first three or four races.
It is what it is. We’ll try and do our best this weekend. As everybody’s going to say, the best opportunity for us is to win this weekend with double points and hope for better luck.
Outside of that, it’s another weekend. We’ll try and go on and see what we can bring home.
THE MODERATOR: In fourth place we have Will Power, our defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion.
A lot of times champions will kind of have a bit of a slump in their next season after winning the championship. Not the case for you. Are you happy that’s been the case for you and you have a shot for the championship this year?
WILL POWER: Yeah, it hasn’t been a very smooth year, I would say, considering we’ve been quite fast, very good in qualifying. Obviously a lot of races have been decided by yellows this year. Kind of mixed the field up.
From my perspective, really basically I have to win. I need to get the bonus points. These other guys have to have a really bad day. It’s obviously kind of a longshot you could say when you’re relying on someone to have a bad day. But it’s still mathematically possible. If not, obviously taking points off these other guys to help the team win the championship.
We’ll see how it plays out. I love the track. I love the area. I’m going to do my absolute best to have a shot at it.
THE MODERATOR: Currently in fifth in the championship is Helio Castroneves.
Not only are you supporting your teammates, but you’re also in the running yourself. What are your goals heading into the weekend?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: If there’s a chance, it’s possible. That’s exactly what we have the mentality as well. We’ve been qualifying in front most of the time. That’s what we want to try to do.
The main thing obviously now, the Hitachi guys, do everything we can to finish ahead of those guys, but as well in the same way we got to think about the championship for Team Penske.
In the end of the day, it’s another great season. But really looking forward to have one win at least. Probably I’m the only one in this group that didn’t get a win. Really want to finish this season in a good way.
THE MODERATOR: And Josef Newgarden, currently sixth in the championship seedings.
What are your goals heading into this weekend and finishing the season on a strong point?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I said it earlier in the week. We basically have to win the race. Juan has to break first. Then if Graham would break, that would be great. Then Scott can break down, Will, Helio, then we might win.
It would be the craziest story in the history of racing, but it’s possible. Like Helio said, if there’s a chance, you got to go for it.
For us, it’s not really about the championship hunt. We’re just so far out of it. It’s possible, but we’re so far out, the only thing we can really focus on is trying to win the race. It’s still a big deal if you win a race around this place. If you win in IndyCar, it’s a huge feat. Everyone is so good, so talented, so prepared, that winning a race alone is difficult enough.
So we’ll try and do that, see how it shakes out. Hopefully everyone has a good, clean, safe race day and we’ll see what happens in the end.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up to questions.
- This is a track where it’s very difficult to pass. Does that make tomorrow’s qualifications doubly important?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yes and no. You know, I mean, with the cautions and the way the race normally plays out, we had a penalty last year in qualifying, started 19th, and finished third, so…
WILL POWER: Feel this year you’d be better to qualify in the back, knock your front wing off, then you have a really good chance of winning (laughter).
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It’s true. It’s kind of weird.
WILL POWER: Like at Mid-Ohio, I actually got myself in a good position because I damaged my front wing.
SCOTT DIXON: Just to echo everybody else, I think this year out of many, it’s been very strange on just how things fall, whether the race is called for debris or not. It’s a 50/50 shot. Makes it hard to race that way because you don’t know the way it’s going to go.
I think we’re just trying to do our job, trying to qualify well, trying to start up front. And as I said before, if it doesn’t go your way it just wasn’t meant to be.
- There have been a lot of tributes this week obviously to Justin Wilson. I was wondering what your relationship was with him. Any particular anecdotes of him that you could share with us that could amplify who this man was?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, for me, he was a guy on pit lane I never saw anyone have any beef or problem with. Just a really, really good person, fantastic human being.
As far as racing goes, I felt like if he had been in a big team, he would have won multiple championships, 500s. I’ve never seen anyone who is able to follow so closely in turbulent air, race very aggressively but cleanly.
Yeah, it’s surreal what happened to him. He’s just an all-around great guy. Massive loss to the motorsport community.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, very similar to what Will is saying. For us, whether you’re on the racetrack, outside the racetrack, Justin obviously was always a polite guy. I said it before. When we decided to have a drivers’ association, we basically select him to be the spokesperson from us. The way that he speaks obviously was always in a nice way. Even if somebody tried to attack the drivers, he would respond in the best way as possible.
So just to show that everybody had the same opinion on it. The guy was great obviously in the car. I never been his teammate, but I understand he was willing to give all the position, even to be comfortable in the racecar, to give somebody else to be even more comfortable. Especially because he was such a tall guy, that’s what’s amazing, the talent that the guy had, it was just incredible.
For sure, yeah, today motor racing, no question, is sad about it.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, echoing what everybody says, I think everybody says the same thing about Justin. He was a very kind person, probably one of the most honest and genuine people in this kind of racing. This kind of racing doesn’t always produce that.
It’s just extremely tough. It’s tough for the family, everybody in this community. Yeah, I don’t know really what else to say. Apart from being a phenomenal driver, achieved a lot, with for sure more to come. I think it was just really a person, who he was, very unselfish person.
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think what I would add, especially for young drivers, they ask, Who do you look up to, who do you respect the most on the circuit?
It’s difficult for racecar drivers to respect everyone. At least as a driver, you don’t respect every driver out there. I think every single driver respected Justin Wilson. That’s nearly impossible to do with racecar drivers. It just doesn’t happen.
I think he was special from that standpoint. I mean, literally every person respected Justin in many ways.
It’s a big loss. Some people knew him better than others. I don’t know a ton of guys super well, but he was one of the dudes I knew better than others. It’s just a very difficult deal.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah, I met Justin 1995 when I moved to Europe, to race in Europe. Even with Helio, Helio was in F-3, Justin was in Vauxhall Juniors. I met him. I always used to joke about it, How do you fit in Vauxhall Juniors? It was like a Formula 2000, and you have no idea how he could squeeze into the car.
Like everybody say, he was just a really nice guy, and also seemed to be a great family guy. Just a tough day.
- A technical question. After the strategy in Pocono, a couple of days later, the safety group in Paris started a discussion of all single-seaters, not only IndyCar, have a closed cockpit. What is your opinion about that?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, it’s difficult. It’s something obviously that needs to be looked at. I don’t know whether a closed cockpit would ever be possible. I think it’s the last big step in safety for open-wheel racing, what do you do with an exposed head. That’s the question.
Yes, I mean, they’ve got to find a way. I think it will take some time. Got to try to understand what’s realistic.
- Do you feel safe on the track after last weekend?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I do, absolutely. I think IndyCar has done a really good job with the cars and the safety. Our safety crew is really good. I think motorsport is dangerous, and we know the nature of the sport.
I do. I do feel 100 percent safe. Accidents can happen. To be honest with you, somebody asked me the same question the other day. Probably have better chances racing here than going home in your car.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It’s true.
- Josef, you know your odds are slim. Are you plotting a kidnapping of these other five guys?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: No. You know, I guess the only good thing about that is, some people get enamored with, hey, if you’re not in the championship, make sure not to get mixed up with the guys fighting for it, which I don’t really agree with that. I mean, the race is going to unfold the way it is. If you’re in the championship or not, you’re going to race the way you need to race.
Being that I am in the championship, I guess I can race these guys pretty hard. Obviously, like you said, we’re way far out of it. It would be a miracle if we won the thing. But because we’re in it, we can race them hard. That’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to try to play as hard as I can with these guys on Sunday, win the race, and whatever needs to be sorted out will be sorted out.
- Is it good to be back in a car this weekend?
JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, for sure. I think that’s the best thing. I think we’d all agree with that. The best thing you can do is get back in the car.
It’s the tough part about the sport, it almost seems wrong, but it’s the right thing to do. You got to keep going. That’s what Justin would want. That’s how I would view it, too, if something would happen to me. I don’t want anyone to slow down. Keep doing your thing, enjoy it, love it.
I think racers all feel like that universally. It’s the best medicine. You don’t think about anything else when you’re inside the car. You’re focusing on driving it, loving it, attacking the corner, getting the best out of a racecar, driving on the edge. That’s what we love to do. I think that’s the best thing, is getting back in.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: People don’t realize for us, we’ve been doing this a long time. It’s our most comfortable position. Just adding to that about the safety, every place we go in IndyCar, the tracks we go, they’re trying to help as much as they can to make everything safe. We still got to remember it’s racing. There is the unfortunate danger factor of it. I do feel it’s the best place ever where I’m in control, that I feel I can do whatever I want. That’s why it’s the best way to be here today.
- Question regarding testing.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It seems like racing has been better with the aero kit since we put them on. So I don’t know. We’ll see.
SCOTT DIXON: This weekend I think degradation is going to be the biggest thing. Whether it’s going to be there or not. I think two or three, maybe four years ago, the race here, we had high degradation on the red tires. They were very fast, but they fell off a little bit, which the race actually turned out phenomenal.
I think that’s what we’re going to have this weekend. With the aero kits, generally for myself, it’s a little harder to follow closely. The wake off the car is a little more.
The races have been fantastic this year. There’s no doubt about that
- Any team orders?
WILL POWER: Don’t take your teammate out. If it’s not your teammate, take the others out, all of them (laughter).
- How do you feel about ending the season on a road course?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I think it will be really interesting, just the way the road courses have played out this year. No one’s going to have a clue how this whole thing is going to play out. I think it will be exciting.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much.