THE MILWAUKEE MILE
AN INTERVIEW WITH TWO TEAM PENSKE TEAMMATES HELIO CASTRONEVES, NO. 3 HITACHI CHEVROLET AND JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, NO. 2 VERIZON CHEVROLET
SATURDAY, JULY 11, 2015
THE MODERATOR: Juan, what are your thoughts heading into the final stretch of races?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: To be honest with you, nothing at the moment. I think there’s too many races to go. You know, the point lead can vanish in one week. You have one bad race, all the work for the year goes out of the window.
The only thing I really thought more is, I’ve got to be thankful for the season I had so far. I’ve had two wins, won the Indy 500. I’ve led the points all year. If I can close the year, I think it would be great.
I think the most important thing is make sure we can keep the championship at Penske.
THE MODERATOR: Helio, your first career podium was at The Milwaukee Mile. I won’t mention the date.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: ’98.
THE MODERATOR: ’98. But what does this place mean to you?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It’s OK to mention the dates. I was very proud of that one. Actually, it was a great result for the team, Bettenhausen. I had a great time, obviously.
When you achieve a good result in a tough place like Milwaukee, it’s great. Also, my first pole position ever was here in 1999. This place is great. I mean, obviously detail makes a huge difference. If something goes a little bit off, you better pack your bag and go home because it’s very difficult to turn around.
Last year we had one of those scenarios. Most of the years, we’ve been very strong here. Looking forward to turning around our season. Obviously we’ve been up and down. Last race in Fontana was not the result we wanted. We had a very, very strong car.
We want to make that this championship stays in the hands of Team Penske. We’re going to do anything we can to make that happen.
THE MODERATOR: A lot of drivers refer to this track because of nature of it almost like it’s a road course. What is the nature of this track?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Everything happens very fast in the cockpit, believe it or not. Even though we’re not going over 220 miles an hour, but the feeling is you constantly are turning. Certainly in race conditions, you’re in traffic. Like I said, because you don’t have the banking, you’ve got to drive the car. The car’s not going to be perfect most of the time. At one point, it might be great. Another part of the track, it might be a disaster.
To combine both, you’ve got to hit the limit. But this place, it’s tradition. It’s part of the Verizon IndyCar Series. Glad we’re here.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Juan or Helio.
Q. Talking about things that happened a long time ago. Juan, 15 years ago (winning the race in 2000).
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It was the first win for Toyota. That year was amazing because we had really fast cars. I think I led nearly the same amount in ’99 and 2000. (In) ’99, I won seven races. (In) 2000, I won three because the thing used to break down every week.
I think if the race were like 15 percent shorter, I would have won eight races that year. Very glad I got all the way to the end.
Q. You’ve run a zillion races since. Are you the kind of guy that keeps that in your memory?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Road America really hurts. Both years I should have won it. The first year, I had three gears left. I had second, third and fifth, and we were still leading. Completely broke down coming to the white (flag).
The second year, we were leading. The joint on the back, the shifter broke, I lost the gears.
It’s kind of funny. Indy car, I lost a lot of wins. Those are the ones that hurt the most. To be honest with you, you don’t ever remember the good races. They’re good, you know what I mean? I guess it’s the way the human body works. At least with me.
You’re pissed off. Make your impact the ones you do wrong. This year has been so far really smooth for us. We’ve been running really smart, doing everything we need to do to get the job done. I’m excited coming here. This is a really good racetrack for me. It would be nice if we could get another win.
Q. The schedule is a throwback, something like Rick Mears did when he had his career. What do you think of it?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: I don’t know. That’s a good question. You should ask the promoters why they did this.
Q. Do you like doing it in one day?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: To see how the fans react to it, there might be a lot more people. If something goes wrong, it’s bad. If you have a smooth day, it will be fine.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Honestly, it’s unique. First time I’m in these kind of conditions.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It’s going to be hard, the race.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Tomorrow, qualifying and the same day race, I think we did once, not in the oval but in Toronto last year, I guess. So I guess that’s probably going to be the same.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Iowa was weird; Iowa was worse. You practice the first day. The next thing you do on the day of the race is qualifying.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Wow. Maybe they’re trying to do that the same, I guess, bring it back the way it used to be.
Q. Fontana obviously kind of runs together, same speed, luck of the draw aspect to it. Here is it more about driver skill and team skill, setting the car up, where the better drivers and cars separate themselves?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think you still have separation of the good cars and bad cars because handling is always an issue. It would be more of an issue here than Fontana, for sure. But I think, you know, I never run here wide open. I think it’s insane to think you can run wide open around this joint.
Q. Is that what you’re expecting?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Five hundred pounds more downforce. I don’t know the exact number, but it’s a lot.
Q. How does that change things?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Same. Just go drive and see what it does.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: The thing is, the car is a little understeering in Fontana. The same goes to oversteer. With the new aero package, we don’t know that well. Adding more downforce, for sure, helps mask the issue with the car’s handling.
At the same time I think with the degradation of the tires, might be after 20, 30 laps. Some cars the handling is still going to be very important.
Q. I know Juan is going to say he’s not surprised.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I’m not surprised (laughter).
Q. But Helio, same guy leading the points from the very first race all the way to this point in the season.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think it’s weird.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It’s certainly good for him, not good for us.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Will was pretty similar, wasn’t he, last year?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: It’s happened in the past. It’s not something new. It’s a competitive series. I guess he’s done a great job to keep himself out of trouble. Also sometimes racing you can’t explain. But trouble-free.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: That’s what I say, one weekend you have a bad race, all the picture changes.
Q. He hasn’t relinquished the lead. But five or six of you are all there right together.
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, five cars from second to fifth, 30 points. That just shows it’s competitive (indiscernible).
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: You know, I mean, in a way I’m really blessed and happy the way things have gone so far. But can’t take the championship for granted. You’ve got to be happy what you’ve done. Doesn’t mean I want to back up.
Coming here is a great chance of winning again. I want to try to win more races this year, so…
Q. Mentioning Road America, it seems like it’s a possibility. Do you expect you’re going to get another chance there?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think it would be cool to go there. That’s a great place. That’s always a fun racetrack. I think it would be cool to go there. I think it’s a traditional place for the Indy cars, pretty cool.
Q. Juan, is this the biggest points lead you’ve had all season?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think so. Close to, yeah.
Q. We have this oval and then Iowa.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I won Mid-Ohio before. They’re good races for me. When they’re good races, you got to relax. It’s important why you’ve been good there. It’s important to keep in mind what you got to do. We know what we’ve got to do. We’re really prepared for this week. We’re already prepared for Iowa. Take it as it comes, you know.
Q. Do you have as much confidence on the short ovals as a track like Pocono?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Last year, we were good. Last year, (at) Iowa we had problems, I came back three times. We were right there. Here, we finished second, so yeah.
Q. Helio, first couple of years you had a two-car operation. Now you have Simon this year and Juan. Can you talk about that?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: For me, it’s actually been great. Having the caliber of drivers we have now, it just elevates not only the team aspect, but they say your competitor makes you better. In this case, my teammates are my competitors in a good way because we push ourselves all the time to the limit.
Along those years, again, it brings more information, especially when you have weekends just like this, only an hour of practice, and tomorrow another hour. When you start to limit the times, the more data that you have, the more cars you have, you can find the solutions.
Sometimes it might confuse it a little bit, but in this case it’s a good way. All these years it’s been great. I think this is one of the years that we seem to be the strongest ever.
Q. Juan, I’m sure you were asleep Monday morning at 3 a.m., but for those of us who watched the end of the Daytona race, when you saw the replay of all that, having been in stock cars before, what were your thoughts?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I mean, the cars are big. Looks very spectacular and everything. But, I mean, you saw the first one. Kyle Larson’s motor.
Q. Daytona in three years has had a lot of spectator injuries. That’s something the sport has to address.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: What are they going to do, get rid of restrictor plate racing? You know what I mean? The track doesn’t age enough that it becomes a driving track. It’s hard because every year you go there, every year you go, you’re going to have a little less grip. The crashes are bigger because somebody loses it.
Remember before that we used to take the regular mile-and-a-half cars there because, yeah, you qualify 20th or 30th, but by lap 20 you have so much more downforce than anybody else, you pass the whole field.
Now, the cars, it’s too easy, you know what I mean? It’s a matter of pushing. It’s always going to happen. You know, why are people going to watch that? Because of wrecks. It’s true, you know what I mean? Why do you go watch a restrictor plate race? Because of the spectacle, everybody crashes.
How can they improve the safety? I don’t know. That’s something we don’t want to see here. That’s why like our attitude in California was that, because we felt that we didn’t need to be doing that. Yes, it was a great race for the spectators, but there were so many close calls with so many people. Kind of glad nobody got hurt.
Q. Juan, did anyone from INDYCAR say anything to you about your post-race comments?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah. They’re not happy.
Q. They call you in?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No. I was with Mark (Miles, CEO of Hulman and Company) in Mexico. There was an FIA conference. I was there with him. We talked about it and everything, you know, it’s OK.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you very much.