Story posted - Mar 20 2013 5:30 PM


Today's IZOD IndyCar Series, Firestone Indy Lights and Mazda Road to Indy headlines:
1. If You Missed It: INDYCAR Conference Call with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power
2. Castroneves goes for fourth win at St. Pete
3. Firestone Indy Lights features competitive field

1. If You Missed It: INDYCAR Conference Call with Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power: Earlier today, IZOD IndyCar Series drivers Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power participated in an INDYCAR Conference Call to discuss the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season opener, the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. A complete transcript of the call is below.


THE MODERATOR: Welcome to today's INDYCAR conference call. We are pleased to be joined by a pair of IZOD IndyCar Series drivers -- defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter Reay of Andretti Autosport and perennial championship contender Will Power of Team Penske.

Ryan will drive the No. 1 DHL Chevrolet in 2013, using the No. 1 as the defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion. He has two podium finishes in six starts at St. Petersburg, including a third-place finish last year, and will be looking to give Andretti Autosport its second win on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Ryan, we are just a few days away from the start of the season. After the test at Barber Motorsports Park last week, do you feel like you are prepared to successfully defend your IZOD IndyCar Series title?

RYAN HUNTER REAY: We are definitely optimistic. I'm encouraged how well our test went at Barber. That's a track that we have regularly struggled at. Will (Power) obviously led testing there and we have to close the gap a bit. But I'm very encouraged how everything has been going as a team and we have a good direction heading into St. Pete.

I'm ready for what is now my home race, one of my favorite events of the year. h, I'm happy to be going back to racing and getting on with the job.

THE MODERATOR: Will drives the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. He's finished second in the IZOD IndyCar Series each of the last three seasons. He was the 2010 winner at St. Pete and has earned the pole position at the track the last three seasons. Will has never finished outside the top 10 in his previous starts on the streets of St. Petersburg.

Will, does your history at St. Pete make you feel like you are the guy to beat this weekend?

WILL POWER: I hope so. Testing went well at Barber. I think Andretti (Autosport) was pretty much as quick as we were. I was fortunate to get out for the last four laps of the day when it was cool and I was on new tires. I used the push to pass and all the tools and got a pretty mega lap in.

I don't know about Honda (teams) and I hope Honda was not sandbagging too much, but I could see that the Andretti guys are definitely competitive. It will be a normal year (for the series), really tough, and hopefully, I'll keep doing my normal thing.

Q. This question is for both of you, can you talk about the importance of getting off to a good start this season? There's no playoffs in IndyCar racing or anything like that, so how important is it to get off to a good start?

WILL POWER: There's 19 races this year and they all count. You will have your good ones and bad ones, and I think it's important to start the season well. Start off on a positive, but it's not the end of a day if you have a bad one. But it's racing, just go there and have fun really.

Q. Ryan, talk a little about starting the season off on the right foot.

RYAN HUNTER REAY: The first race counts as much as the last one, and you're always looking for every last point when you come to the season finale so absolutely it's important.

But like Will said, if you don't have a good result, you still have a little bit of time to get yourself out of the hole.
You need to get off to a good start to get the team on the right track and get the momentum going and get the energy, the right energy, going to the team. No better race to do it than the first one. We will look to definitely take that first step this weekend.

Q. Ryan, you've had a second place back in 2009 with Vision, and other than that St. Pete has been a hit or miss track with you. How are you working this year on building your consistency, continuing that momentum for the season?

RYAN HUNTER REAY: Iit's been hit or miss. In '08, we had an electrical issue with the shifting mechanism and '09 we were on the podium. And '10 we just went down the wrong strategy, kind of like Will did last year; got caught out like Will did last year. And then '12 I think was a pretty good year for us.

So we are looking to cover that last step and get to the top one. We have been second, third, but really we are just concentrating on qualifying well, being at the front when we need to be challenging at the end and hopefully we can make it happen. But one foot in front the other, one step at a time, and I think we'll be challenging on Sunday.

Q. Will, you've never finished outside of the top 10 at St. Pete, what is it about the St. Pete track that has been so good to you that seems to play to your style?

WILL POWER: I don't know. It's a street course and I just enjoy it really. There's nothing that I would say suits me more than any other track. I go there and I always have fun. That's the main thing. I couldn't even tell you why.

Q. Can you talk about what you think it's going to take that wrestle that title away from Ryan.

WILL POWER: Just a couple little details really; it's really nothing too big. It's different every year. I hope I'm in contention in the end and have a chance at it really.

Q. What kind of race do you expect this weekend at St. Petersburg? The race is 10 laps longer than it was last year. Do you think that will play more into letting you guys race and not save fuel?

WILL POWER: I think the weather might play a bit of a part (this weekend). But if it doesn't, it will be just your normal St. Pete race. It can be green, very green and then you have a few (full-course) yellows at the end, or a bunch of yellows at the beginning and very green at the end. I think it will be good. It will be good racing for the crowd.

RYAN HUNTER REAY: I think it's going to depend on the right strategy, as well. St. Pete always seems to be a little bit of a crapshoot on strategy and where you end up at the end, what you end up hitting.

And weather can be a big issue with this race, or a big factor, I should say. So it's going to keep us on our toes. It always does, this race, and it should be an exciting one with that front straight long, big, wide airport runway, big passing zone.

Bottom line is it will be a good show as we have been putting on for the past few seasons, and I think it will come down to the last few laps.

Q. These races and these championships often come down to one moment and the moment last year was when Will tried to pass Ryan in that race at Fontana. Do you remember what you were thinking at that point, Ryan, in terms of, man, I can't believe the season has come down to this?

RYAN HUNTER REAY: I remember thinking that the entire week when we were struggling with our car, we couldn't get a setup. And then during the race when Will and I were going at it, granted, we were going at it for like 15th or 16th (place). So I was just thinking, man, we've got to somehow transform this car if I am going to have any shot at making this interesting over the night.

I lost the car on Friday in practice. It spun, hit the wall, and I don't even know why it happened. And same thing with Will. The front of the car grabbed the seam and the next thing you know you blink an eye and you're in the wall.
It's just kind of the nature of the beast with the low downforce racing with these cars we've been doing. It's made it a lot of fun.

I remember it vividly and I remember thinking, we've got to make something happen here quick because we were struggling at the time.

Q. Last year, you kind of found yourself at a new position. You weren't worrying about a ride for the next season, and really pulled it all together at the end of the year. What did you learn from that experience in how you approach things?

RYAN HUNTER REAY: I definitely learned a lot. I learned a lot about consistency and what it takes to put together a few race wins in a row. It was definitely a season of firsts.

I learned a lot about dealing with the pressure of championship fights and kind of channeling that into positive energy to make it really benefit you when you need it. But it's something that I'll use in the future for sure going forward.

I had a lot of fun in the fight with Will and Scott (Dixon), and it was something I hope we can do many times again, because that's what auto racing is all about and that's why we are here doing it.

Q. Will, what do you think about the new push to pass regulations this year with the lockout and delay will be eliminated. What do you think about having no delay or the lockout time?

WILL POWER: I think it's better. The delay really, really was just hard to predict. I think it will be much easier to use, obviously it's much easier for the guy to defend from you, anyway, as well.

I think it was just confusing, really, to use. It was really hard to know when to hit the button and then it you lifted off the throttle it would disengage. I think it's definitely going to be better to use like this.

Q. Ryan, same question to you, what do you think of the new push to pass regulation with no delay or lockout time?

RYAN HUNTER REAY: I'm definitely for no delay. It looked like potentially, maybe at some point a good idea on paper, but when you actually applied the process in the race car it was a mess. It was just not right. The delay involves a certain you have to get to a certain throttle position, and if you lift out of it when you're coming out of the corner, if you get wheel spin, just because you're driving aggressively, then it could cancel out the request.

We just had a nightmare with it. So this is going to be good. We are going to have good push to pass. We are going to have that extra boost when we need it to create great racing.

We already have good racing when we are not push to pass, so it will be exciting.

2. Castroneves goes for fourth win at St. Pete: After winning the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in 2012, Helio Castroneves bounded to the fencing in Turn 10 and patted the Dan Wheldon Way street sign.

The scene reverberated in his mind throughout the season, and he takes it into the season opener this week.
"Having the Dan Wheldon sign in respect over there and to celebrate, it was a memorable coincidence and it was just really great, great to remember him the way he lived and not what happened the year before," said Castroneves of the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and St. Petersburg resident who died in a racing accident the previous October. "So it was a very emotional, crazy win."

An unveiling of a Wheldon memorial and Victory Circle monument will take place at the track March 21.

Castroneves, the only multiple winner in the nine years of racing on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit, and 24 other entrants kick off the season at St. Petersburg this weekend. It's the second season of the 2.2-liter, turbocharged engines from Chevrolet and Honda and Dallara chassis for teams and drivers, and Castroneves expects tight competition through all 19 races.

"As every year passes by I expect the competition to get tougher, but on the other hand we keep improving so I think we have a good chance to repeat our win," said Castroneves, who will drive the No. 3 Hitachi Team Penske car this weekend. "I really like St. Petersburg, the layout, the atmosphere, the fans, plus it's the start of a new season so everyone is fresh and ready to go.

"It's a place where everything starts; a special season that you can see it's going to be very exciting."

Castroneves also was runner-up in 2008 and placed fourth in 2010. Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing has a trio of second-place finishes, and Tony Kanaan of KV Racing Technology has four third-place results in addition to being runner-up in the inaugural series race on a non-oval.

Castroneves' teammate, Will Power, has started from the pole each of the past three years (with a corresponding victory, runner-up and seventh-place finish). Castroneves battled all of the above for track position through much of the 100-lap race last year (the distance has been increased to 110 laps for this weekend).

"The end was awesome, but the beginning of the race was actually pretty good," said Castroneves, who ended a winless drought of more than a year. "We started in fifth place and just managed to stay out of trouble. As soon as some of the leaders made a pit stop, we decided to stay out, and from there on it was just a matter of keep going over the pit stops.

"We were able to come back in second place behind the Ganassi guys, Scott Dixon, and we were able to make a great move on the outside, Turn 1 (of Lap 73), and passed for the win. So we were extremely excited and happy to start the season like that."

Since 1993, 12 drivers have won the season-opening race and gone on to win the championship (CART, Champ Car, IZOD IndyCar Series). A series title is the lone highlight missing from the CV of Castroneves, who completed all but three laps in the 2012 season and led the field with 12 top-10 finishes. It's a focus this year, along with a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory.

"Another year, 2013, and we're looking very strong again," said Castroneves, who finished fourth in the 2012 championship standings (the fourth time in the top five in the past five years). "The (car) seem to be a little bit better, which I think everybody went through all the phases of learning the car (in 2012). I'm really, really excited for 2013 to start."

3. Firestone Indy Lights features competitive field: The Firestone Indy Lights field for the season opener at St. Petersburg may be one of the most competitive in series history from top to bottom.

St. Petersburg will be a highly sought-after victory to start the season, with the last three winners at St. Pete going on to take the championship. Reigning title-holder Schmidt Peterson Motorsports enters the season with the top-three championship finishers from the 2012 Pro Mazda season - champion Jack Hawksworth, runner-up Gabby Chaves and long-time standout Sage Karam.

Returning with its same lineup for most of 2012 is Belardi Auto Racing, who welcomes back veterans Peter Dempsey and Jorge Goncalvez. 2013 will mark Dempsey's first year in the series with a full-season ride at a single team.

"I feel like I've been training harder than ever, and my mindset is in a completely new place because I know I am fighting for a championship title and not just running race by race," Dempsey said. "The field is going to be very competitive this year, so it will be important for us to make sure we bring everything we have to every race weekend. I'm really pumped up to get the season started."

Just recently signed is Florida's Ethan Ringel, who will drive the No. 22 Team Moore Racing entry alongside teammate Juan Pablo Garcia. Ringel spent last season in the GP3 series, and returns to the U.S. to pursue the path up the Mazda Road to Indy.

Fastest in the series' two Open Tests during the offseason was Andretti Autosport's Carlos Munoz, who will compete the full season in Firestone Indy Lights and also pull double-duty in May by attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. He is the only driver on the entry list with a Firestone Indy Lights race win, collecting two last year in Edmonton and Auto Club Speedway.

"I am very excited to start up again this season," Munoz said. "I think we have a good package for St. Pete, and I have been looking forward to this race during this long off season. I believe that I will be much stronger now that this is my second year with Andretti Autosport, and I am in a good position to fight for a win."


The 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series season opens with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg March 24 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be televised live at noon (ET) by the NBC Sports Network (Verizon FiOS 90/590, DirecTV 220, DISH 159 and AT&T UVerse 640) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, on SiriusXM (Channel 211) and The 2013 Firestone Indy Lights season begins March 23 on the streets of St. Petersburg. The race will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network at 11 a.m. (ET) on March 24, immediately preceding the IZOD IndyCar Series race broadcast.

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