An Interview with Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Scott Dixon

THE MODERATOR: Always good to start on the front row. I know you had a little bit higher aspirations. I don’t know what the situation was. I stepped out for one minute and I wasn’t here and I saw that the wind was at some point really, really strong, and I know that’s always a consideration. Talk about what affected your runs, Will and Simon.
WILL POWER: Well, really it came down to reacting as quick as you could to a situation. Obviously those guys at Ganassi did a really good job of that. You know, we did everything we could with what we understood, you know, did what we could do. Yeah, wasn’t good enough today. You know, it was quite easy, flat, obviously, because you’re going so much slower and you have more grip, believe it or not, but yeah, that was the situation it was.
I’m happy with the front row, but I’ve been here before. I definitely would like to get pole.
THE MODERATOR: Simon, following on what Will just said, suddenly you were going a little bit slower than you had been. Does it feel very different to you as a race driver?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, it does. It was weird, we talked about before, we’re flying we’re talking, what, five miles an hour, right, and it feels like you’re going really slow, obviously, until you hit the wall. But yeah, I mean, for us personally, I’m just super proud, super proud of being part of Team Penske and putting the Avaya car on the front row. It’s a great partnership that we’re just starting, and it’s really fantastic.
I mean, obviously like Will said, we want to be on pole. I think we had and the other configuration I feel like we took to get there, either I or our teammates, but today was what we got. It is what it is. You’ve got to deal with it. We only got one attempt.
I guess the weather was difficult, as well, with the gusts of wind. Sometimes you get the wind perfect, sometimes you get a headwind, and that is just the way it is.
But personally, I’m just super happy for the guys.
Q. Did you guys think that Helio or Juan was affected by the wind more than you two were?
SIMON PAGENAUD: It’s possible. We’re running very similar cars, so I mean, it’s very possible they had more wind than we did. I haven’t had the time to look, but it’s certainly a bit of a you need to be a bit lucky today for sure.
Q. With what happened this morning, how much do you jump in and get involved and try to get the car ready and how much do you get away and try and clear your mind?
WILL POWER: Yeah, after the decision, yeah, I was sitting there with the engineer trying to understand what we can possibly do to trim out the car, take some drag out and downforce because we had way too much. It was just stuck. It was quite easy to drive. So then you’re just looking for weird ways to make it fast through the air, and that was yeah, maybe we weren’t extreme enough. But you know, I felt we did everything we could.
Q. Is there more relief that this entire weekend with the rain delay and today’s debacle in the morning, it’s over and you can look towards the race now, or is there more urgency to scramble and figure out what you’re going to do?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, I think from our side, it’s more the show. We want to make sure we put on a good show for the fans. Already we had weather yesterday and we had everybody waiting. We’ve been waiting for this for a year, as well. We want to race.
We’re ready to go out after what happened this morning. It’s just a natural thing for us. I guess we just wanted to make sure IndyCar was putting on a good show and that people love the Indy 500.
Q. After the decision was made to change the rules for qualifying, was there any involvement by drivers or by teams to maybe convince IndyCar to do another decision?
WILL POWER: Well, yeah, I think there probably was some team owners involved. It was a pretty hard decision, but I think they did the right thing. You know, they had to make the problem was the fact that when you crash, the car flies, but I think that this is the first year we’ve ever had with this car that you could trim enough to make it quite hard to drive and people were making mistakes and crashing, which when I first started here at Indianapolis in ’08, that was happening every day. But the problem was the cars take off.
So I think it’s kind of identified a problem with this car. You know, until they get that fixed, I’m not sure what they can do. It’s a pretty tough problem. But I don’t think it’s just Chevy, either. I think it’s going to be it doesn’t matter. I think it’s just the fact that the floor is built for a road course, and we’re running it on an oval and it’s quite steep. That’s maybe one problem. I’m not an engineer; I don’t know.
You know, it’s just I thought it was great the fact that we could trim to drive the car. We haven’t had that opportunity for a long time. I thought that was great and everything was going well.
Like I said, back in the day, people used to crash every day. It was a normal thing. You can take the risk and trim out to be faster, but then obviously it’s lighter in the corner.
Q. Are you concerned when you go into a fast track like Texas or Pocono?
WILL POWER: Yeah, it’s not quite as fast there, you know. You’ve got to remember in qualifying trim we’re doing 200 at top speed, 240, 230, in the 230s. There you’re like 215.
SIMON PAGENAUD: At top speed, yeah.
WILL POWER: I don’t know. I think they’ve got to get more information on it and be way smarter in a couple weeks than we are right now about what they can do, but I can tell you now they made the right decision, and I think that was the only thing that they could do.
Q. Will, since all the problems have happened, I guess you can look back now and say should we have scheduled an oval before you came to Indianapolis to see maybe
WILL POWER: I don’t think it would have mattered. It would not have mattered. This is such a unique place, and we had ample time here to understand it. But you know, how can you understand what a car does backwards at 220 miles an hour? How can you understand that? There’s no wind tunnel. There’s no one who wants to be a crash test dummy and try that out at an oval, so it wouldn’t have mattered.
It’s actually pretty cool that we have such diverse ovals now, right? We go to Texas, really high bank; then you go to Milwaukee, it’s flat and short; then you go here, it’s somewhat banked and faster than anywhere else. There isn’t an oval we could do that would help us out in this situation. This is a unique place and a unique situation because I don’t think you run those qualifying downforce levels anywhere else, either.
Q. Are you sure? Simon could try it. You could talk him into it, being a crash test dummy.
WILL POWER: Yeah, he used to do that, but obviously it’s started to take a bit of a toll on his body.
Q. Your thoughts on Scott Dixon and him being on pole and even some of the guys up there in front; a lot of the big names are right there, the usual suspects as it were.
WILL POWER: Yeah, it’s not good to see him on pole. (Laughter.)
SIMON PAGENAUD: I don’t see your point here. It’s taking its toll. Take it back.
WILL POWER: Yeah, take it back. If I see him come in here, I might beat him up. (Laughter.)
No, those guys did a good job of reacting quickly. We did everything we could, and
SIMON PAGENAUD: He found something, huh?
WILL POWER: Yeah, he found something. I was surprised when I saw that first lap, 27. I was like, wow, they’ve found something that we haven’t thought of maybe, but it was only Scott’s car. None of the others did that. It was quite I think
SIMON PAGENAUD: Maybe it was the time of the day, too. Hard to know, really.
WILL POWER: Yeah. I think maybe nitrous or something. (Laughter.)
Q. Simon, looking ahead to the race, obviously this is your first year with Team Penske. Talk about sitting there in the front row, how you think next Sunday is going to play out for you, and how excited are you that you have a chance to win this thing?
SIMON PAGENAUD: Well, like I said earlier, I’m super excited. First of all, driving for Team Penske at the speedway as a driver is quite special. Just look at the names of who’s been driving for Roger in the past years; it’s quite incredible to be part of these people.
Yeah, I think we, all four of us, have a really good chance. I mean, even Juan, he’s going to come back. He’s really strong in race trim. We’ve had really solid cars. So I’m really excited. I think we have a good chance here.
But the Indy 500 is a bit like the 24 Hours of Le Mans. You’re never ready enough for this race. There’s so many things, nine to ten pit stops, a yellow can fall out at the wrong time, something can happen in pit lane. It’s crazy in pit lane. It can go all right up until the race and something can happen at the last moment where you don’t expect it.
You know, I’m just going to keep being like I have been, like pretty non emotional about it, and do my job, even though I’m super excited.
WILL POWER: He’s saying you’re emotionless. You’ve been coming in crying every day. Don’t lie. (Laughter.)
Q. (No microphone.)
WILL POWER: I think it only would have made sense if we had the boost level and were allowed to trim out because otherwise it just would have been the same type of flat out, easy go around that it was. Yeah.
SIMON PAGENAUD: What you’re seeing is just car prep, really. I mean, at this level of downforce and boost, it’s not really hard for us, so if it was like it was this morning, then it was a complete different challenge for us, and then you really have to get after it, which was a lot of fun. Then you want a Fast Nine because you really want to put it all out there.
WILL POWER: Yeah, that’s risk versus reward, right? You can run those pods and be really light, but you may end up in the wall. That’s what was cool about it. That’s what’s always been cool about this place is that you can trim out and get faster on the straight, but can you make it through the corner, the four laps. That’s why it didn’t make sense to do a Fast Nine.
Q. I’d just like to ask, given the situation where it is basically flat out around here, what would you comment about basically cutting the downforce and increasing the horsepower and making the cars basically much more difficult to drive on the other hand?
WILL POWER: You’re preaching to the choir. I’ve been saying that ever since I joined the series, that we need more power, less grip, so we can you’re trying to get out of the corner. This place is probably not the best place for that type of thing, but I’ve been saying that all along, like why you don’t want your grandma to be able to ride around on your (indiscernible) at some of these ovals that we go to because that’s what it used to be like. Obviously in the last couple years it’s really changed the way you drive it. Slides around, you’ve got to really it’s in the driver’s hands.
As soon as you add too much grip and not enough power, it takes it out of the driver’s hands and you’re just guiding the car, you’re not driving it. I’ve been saying that forever.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Agreed.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much.
THE MODERATOR: Well, the pole sitter for the second time in his career, and he’s been strong all weekend, is Scott Dixon. But I’ve done this for a long time, and I don’t care what people say, it’s the beginning of the week, middle of the week, we start seeing the similar faces and we get a sense pretty early on who’s going to be a strong contender for the pole, and you’ve been that guy. Obviously you put together a big lap compared to what we had seen. You have to be thrilled with that because you knew you put a pretty big number down I would think.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I was definitely a little shocked with the first number when I saw it. I thought the steering wheel was broken but broken in a good way. Yeah, it’s a tough week, no matter which way you look at it, the curveballs that you get with the weather, but you understand that’s part of the month of May. It’s very tough, the conditions are tough, and especially when you’re trimming out.
Huge credit to Chevrolet. They’ve done an amazing job with these body kits. The low downforce, high boost, our car was extremely fast this morning in that configuration and then having to switch to the other configuration brings uncertainty because you only get we had a 30 minute session to try and work out what the competition had and what we needed to improve on, which makes it very tough.
You know, for me the effort for qualifying and how it was for pole, you know, Team Target just did an amazing job. The whole Chip Ganassi organization did a phenomenal job, I think, to obviously set their sights on a different way to try and go for the pole that they had to for later this afternoon.
Yeah, excited we’re on the pole for the 99th running of the Indy 500. We’ve got a lot of work to do and a lot of laps before we can try and have a crack at the race win.
Q. Going back to the Chevy, things like that, were you at all concerned, obviously this was done for y’all’s safety, the switch this morning and stuff, were you concerned for your safety driving your car?
SCOTT DIXON: Um, you know, safety is obviously a big part of the sport, and it’s a big part of motor racing in general. I think if you look at oval racing as some of the most dangerous, you know, looking at data, the other week we were going into Turn 3 on Friday over 240 miles an hour. The speeds are definitely up, and I think when you have manufacturers spending money on trying to make the cars go faster with horsepower and aero kits, that’s going to create these bigger speeds.
You know, it’s always in the back of your mind, but we’ve actually had such a smooth week. The car has been very good. It didn’t start great but we worked on it, and even this morning when we were in high boost/low drag configuration, the car felt great. I think with the crashes we’ve seen, they’ve all been in very different scenarios, very different situations. Two were in low boost, one was a flat tire, one was very close in traffic.
You know, we don’t want to see cars getting in the air, and there’s only a few tools that you have in the toolbox to use, and IndyCar, whether it’s the right or wrong situation, for safety, it’s kind of all they had.
I think we saw today obviously the speeds came down. With the speeds down obviously I think the safety is going to get better anyway.
Q. Two questions: One is right before qualifying, your engineer, your team manager, your managing director, they were all mad about the decision to switch because they felt that this morning you had found the setup that was going to win the pole, so to come back and give it to them with this setup, do you feel redeemed in any way?
SCOTT DIXON: You know, there’s two races, right? You want to hedge all your bets for the race. The race for the pole is definitely prestigious. It’s something for drivers you’re very excited about, but it’s not winning the Indianapolis 500.
I think when the decisions were made, yes, everybody piped up and chipped in with their own points, but in reality, there’s nothing you could do about it, so there was no reason to sort of moan about it. We just got on and put our heads down and tried to find the best configuration to go out there and have a decent run. We started way off in our first 30 minute practice. I think I even did the first three laps at speed. So the team worked very hard, and Chris and the whole engineering team did a phenomenal job.
But you know, the hard part in this situation is that you’ve got two very different you’ve got Chevy and Honda with two very different cars, and maintaining a set of rules for everyone is tough to do. It’s always a job I’d never want, that part. I’m good with that.
Q. Also your series championships, we all know about how they’re separated by five years, five years, five years. Last time you won the pole, you won this race. So talk a little bit about how important that is.
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, you know, if we could replicate 2008, that would be fantastic. That’s the goal. It’s very hard to pull that off. You know, unfortunately there’s 32 other very good competitors out there and a lot of stacked teams, a lot of teams that this week we’ve been running with in traffic and they’re very, very good.
I think the tow and the draft this year is bigger than any other year, so it’s not going to be one of those years. When I won in 2008 you could break the tow after three seconds and drive away if you had good speed, and that’s not going to be the case this time. It’s going to be flat out. We need to try and stay near the front and give ourselves a good shot come the last 10 laps.
Q. Given the wash out yesterday and the changes this morning and the no Fast Nine and now you’ve had to wait for all these cars to take their laps, how does that stack up this year, waiting it out as opposed to maybe the pressure of the Fast Nine?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I think the pressure came before you even ran just because with weather conditions changing and you know that it can change the speed a fair amount, we thought originally early it was going to be very good, especially when we were in low downforce configuration just because it was going to be cooler especially on that day we were going to start at 11:00 and it would have helped.
But I think when you know that you’ve got one run and you’re done, that’s when the pressure is on. You need to nail it. It’s the scenario of going out of the pits and turning into full power at the right time, to cool the engine enough, to shifting the gears at the right time to start your lap. It’s extremely close out there with the competition. For all of that to come down to one run, you need to get perfect.
Yeah, the pressure was really tough there, and after you’ve done it, there’s a sense of relief. But then obviously we were on the pole at that point with only three other cars that had run. You’ve got to wait another two hours to see how that stacks up, and it was definitely very daunting. I didn’t watch hardly any of qualifying. I was actually back watching another race on TV and the team truck.
Q. When the decision was made to run the different configuration with the same boost level like at the race, was the setup of your teammates’ cars identical or very similar to your setup?
SCOTT DIXON: I’m not sure right now, but I think after we ran in the morning, there was a few different iterations and comfort levels for all the guys. It’s hard to change wholesale for something that you’ve been working on for a while. You know, I think basic setups were fairly close, but obviously springs and dampers and stuff that our personal feelings were definitely of some difference.
Q. I wanted to ask you, with all the hectic melee kind of that took place this morning, how did that overall affect your approach to how you qualified, and did you have any help from your teammates in terms of setups or how to drive with all the new changes?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, I think with obviously with five cars here and how the practices ran this morning, I think it was only me and TK in the first group and the other three in practice, too, but everybody was trying something slightly different, and I’m sure there were points where our engineers will be looking at all the data, so yes, the combined effort definitely helped. On what parts I’m not certain, but it’s just trying to cover everything. It’s just trying to get the gear perfect. It’s trying to make sure the engine is going to be turned up to the full and right amount when you need it, and what gears, where to select the gear, what the wind is doing. It’s just an endless count of things that you kind of run through with the engineers in preparation for the run.
But you know, it’s no different to other times you run for the pole here. It just was a little more complicated today.
Q. Your kids are now old enough to kind of know what you’re doing out there. Have you been able to experience they’ve been able to experience some big moments in your career. How cool is that?
SCOTT DIXON: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. With Poppy obviously being five, almost six, five and three quarters, she is obviously she loves it. She loves the motor racing. I think she actually likes Dario even more than me. Good thing Dario is not racing right now.
But it’s cool. You know, it’s cool to have them at the track. Obviously Emma, too. She’s been a massive support, and is always there for me, and she got to wave the green flag for the qualifying today. I told her when I got out that I actually waved and did she see me, and she’s like, oh, did you really? I’m like, no, I didn’t wave to you. (Laughter.)
It’s fantastic to have the family here, and Tilly is obviously on a steep learning curve around the racetrack, but they love coming down here. It’s just fantastic when you live in Indianapolis and see the months change. When I dropped Poppy to school during the days this week, the checkered flag is at school and her telling all her friends that hopefully I’ll be in the race and things like that, it’s great to see. It’s always very, very nice to have your family around you.
THE MODERATOR: Scott, congratulations.