An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, we welcome you back to Pocono USA, the return of IndyCars to this great Speedway. We’d like to open and welcome two of our guest drivers here today. Please welcome 2012 Sonoco Rookie of the Year, Simon Pagenaud, and Will Power from Team Penske.
We’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Obviously the return to IndyCars back here at Pocono, what are your thoughts to be out there with the new surface, just to have these cars here?
SIMON PAGENAUD: It’s actually good fun. It’s very different to any of the ovals we go to. Certainly with my little experience on ovals, it was quite surprising on the first few laps because it’s really fast out there.
The track is really smooth. The surface is awesome for the IndyCars. Yeah, I’m actually really excited to be here. It was great to be one of the first to turn some laps around here.
The speeds are quite impressive already. That’s a good sign.
WILL POWER: Yeah, definitely it’s a really nice track, very smooth with the resurfacing. It’s very fast. I’ve already been wide open all the way around. Maybe a little bit heavy on downforce, but nice. Turn three is very much like Indianapolis. Turn one is like a mile‑and‑a‑half, halfway there, a lot of banking.
But, yeah, it’s fun if your car’s good. If not, screw that, I don’t want to be out there (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: We’d also like to welcome four‑time IZOD IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti.
We’ll continue with questions.
Q. When the NASCAR guys are here, they always talk about having to set up differently for the three turns. Is that the case for you guys? How differently did you have to set up? Did you have to give away to one turn to get back on another turn?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: There’s always compromise, especially at a track with three such different corners. As Will said, there’s the big banking in turn one, almost flat tracking in turn three and the tunnel turn.
You’re always going to be better at one corner than another. The trick is to figure out which one you can give away the most in order to still be competitive. You got to figure that out, which one is the one you can give away something to be perfect on the one or two other corners.
It’s going to be a very good race.
Q. Dario, you’re the only one that has driven this track in the past. Are these guys coming to you to ask what it’s like? It’s new to you because of the repave.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: No, they haven’t. I wouldn’t tell them anyway (laughter).
No, the difference from being here in 2008 is remarkable. This was a bumpy old place before. I don’t need to tell you guys that. Now it’s very, very smooth. There’s obviously been a great deal of investment in the track, the SAFER barrier in different places, as well. That’s really allowed us as IndyCar as a group to come back here. It’s very much appreciated.
All those investments have been made. I said at the time to run an IndyCar around here would be a blast, and it is.
Q. Dario, how tough has the start of this season been for you?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: It’s not been the best. Two very different races, though. St. Pete, we were really out to lunch with the car, then I crashed trying to make something happen. Barber, we didn’t qualify well. In the race we went from 17th and we were up on Will’s back wing there, having driven through the field. I was very encouraged by that. Felt like we could have made another couple of places up there, possibly got on the podium.
That was a big turnaround from Saturday. We definitely took some positives from the race there. But unfortunately we had the mechanical failure with the exhaust system.
So, it’s not like an ideal start. But we’ll keep plugging away. The trick will be to be competitive every weekend, then we’ve got half a chance of closing the gap.
Q. Dario, when you ran here in 2008, can you maybe take us a lap around in a stockcar and an IndyCar. Are there any similarities between the two?
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Not really. I mean, it feels like a different track. Going down the straight, any straight this length, is going to feel long. When you turn into turn one here wide open, just keep it flat, the car compresses, all those Gs build up, it is a helluva feeling.
The tunnel turn is probably the most similar car‑to‑car. We’re still I think 20 miles an hour quicker, 30 miles an hour quicker in the IndyCar. But turn three, I mean, as Will said, you’re going through there wide open right now, which defies logic really when you consider we have Indianapolis spec wings on the car.
So it feels a lot different, but it’s fun.
Q. With the Triple Crown, Pocono being part of it, Indianapolis, Fontana, what did you think of that when they first announced that?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I think that’s pretty cool. To pull that off would be pretty massive. Three very tough tracks. It’s tough enough just to finish the three let alone win the three.
I don’t know much about the Triple Crown, to be honest.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: There’s money involved, mate. There’s money involved (laughter).
WILL POWER: It’s not a points system, it’s just if you won the three? Wow, I’m going to have to do that (laughter).
THE MODERATOR: We’d also like to mention and give a very warm welcome, the Pocono Raceway is synonymous with the Andretti racing family, started by Mario Andretti, followed by Michael Andretti, and now Marco Andretti is joining us.
We’ll continue with questions.
Q. Marco, building off of that introduction, what are your thoughts about competing so close to home?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, from that standpoint it’s definitely convenient. Get to sleep in my own bed. I’m going to have a huge hometown crowd. I think I’ll have to renegotiate my contract with dad to get more tickets for this race, for sure.
But the hometown support’s going to be huge. The convenience of it is huge. But obviously it’s going to be tough, just like the rest of ’em.
Q. I want to know, what was your first impression today when you went out on the track, first thing that came to your mind?
WILL POWER: Fast. It was smooth, fast, daunting type of track. It was very nice actually, very nice the way it’s been resurfaced.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: I had some preconceived ideas having driven the Cup car. My initial thoughts weren’t quite as polite as Will’s. My first thought was holy sh…
SIMON PAGENAUD: My eyeballs was going into the corner, but my helmet was still down there. I think I actually grabbed the brakes in the first corners because it was a bit scary.
But you get used to it, but definitely very fast.
MARCO ANDRETTI: For me, it was kind of like a higher‑speed short oval really because you have to work, especially in turn one. But for me it was about finding the limit kind of in turn three, getting a feel for the back end with no banking there.
But it’s going to be interesting trying to find the balance between turn one and three. It will be fun, though.
Q. Marco, were you disappointed that you never got to race at Nazareth in your backyard in an IndyCar and how does this compare and make up for that?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, it was always a bummer because I always heard great things about that track. From what I know about it, this looks like Nazareth on steroids.
I mean, you have to ask these guys. They’ve been around for a bit.
DARIO FRANCHITTI: Thanks, Marco (laughter).
MARCO ANDRETTI: How do you know that was directed to you (smiling)?
Q. Marco, everyone is looking for an advantage since no one has raced here before. You have your grandfather there in the pits. Different cars, different track surface. Has he been able to help you at all?
MARCO ANDRETTI: It’s still early stages. We’re just getting to grips with the track now. He’ll definitely be valuable, especially on the race weekend and later today for sure when we start to go through some changes to the car.
Yeah, I mean, I’d be foolish to not listen to what he has to say ‑ anywhere really, not just here.
Q. Marco, how hands‑on is your grandfather?
MARCO ANDRETTI: He’s over the top. He loves it. He’s cleaning my shield, the bugs off the shield, he’s so bored. It’s killing him not being in the seat. He’s trying to find everything he can do.
Q. Will and Simon, how much did you know about maybe the history of this place when you found out that you were coming back to Pocono? What do you think about the series coming back here after such a long absence?
WILL POWER: Well, I know last time they raced here was ’89. The fencing was like steel fencing or something, rusting away. Needless to say, if you crashed, that could be like a razor blade chopping the car in half. I’m glad things have changed.
I think it’s pretty cool. You can see how much media is here, and even the people sitting in the stands. I really hope when we come and race here we get a big crowd. I think these cars around here, the corner speeds they carry, it’s pretty impressive. I hope people come and watch.
SIMON PAGENAUD: I realized when I talked to Mario this morning, I didn’t know much about the past history, to be honest. When I talked to Mario this morning, it was a pretty fun talk.
Yeah, I mean, as Will mentioned, the promoting of this track has been pretty awesome. Thanks to the racetrack for putting forth so much effort. I think we should have a big crowd on race day. That’s what we’re looking for at IndyCar.
Q. Marco, you grew up here. You know this area pretty well. What is it going to take for this race to take off, be a major success, to become like a fixture on the IndyCar schedule? Do you think it’s going to be one‑and‑done or a long‑term deal here?
MARCO ANDRETTI: That’s why I’m glad I’m a driver, and that’s not my responsibility.
You know, I think basically we’re just going to have to see if the town gets behind it. From my side, it’s been an overbearing support. Obviously, that’s only going to be a small percentage of the crowd.
Hopefully they support it. Obviously we would have to give it more than one try. You can’t write it off if it doesn’t go good. I’ve heard a lot of positive buzz. I think it’s going to be great.
Q. Marco, you have shown there was a reason for your optimism with the start of the season. Can you talk about like when you have to come to tests, things like that, do you get more excited about things, especially coming to this track?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I’d rather be testing than to be at home, that’s for sure. But, yeah, it was not a bad start for me. Obviously I’m the only one without a win. That’s obviously my next goal at Long Beach. We’d be looking great coming into Indy for then.
I think consistency is what I wanted to work on, myself, in the off‑season. We started off consistent, but we need to be consistently better.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, gentlemen. Thanks for being here at Pocono.