CHEVROLET RACING IN NTT INDYCAR SERIES INDY GP OF ALABAMA BARBER MOTORSPORTS PARK LEEDS. ALABAMA TEAM CHEVY DRIVER ZOOM CONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT TEAM PENSKE DRIVERS PRE BARBER QUOTES APRIL 12, 2021
TEAM PENSKE DRIVERS SCOTT MCLAUGHLIN, JOSEF NEWGARDEN, SIMON PAGENAUD AND WILL POWER met with media to discuss upcoming NTT INDYCAR SERIES season opening race at Barber Motorsports Park:
What have you done to prepare for a track like Barber, which can be a tricky circuit? SIMON PAGENAUD: — Barber10 years ago, it was my first ever INDYCAR race. Lots of great memories. Obviously a great win in 2016. Battle with Graham Rahal. A great track, really technical, high commitment. Really need to bring a lot of confidence to the game. It’s a brilliant oval track for those reasons.
Scott, what have you done to prepare for a track like Barber, which can be a tricky circuit? SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I’m feeling as prepared as I can be right now. I said to my wife last night, Whatever happens this week, I feel like I’ve done a lot of hard work, worked on my fitness. It’s going to be a very physical week, tough track on the body. Worked with the team to get an understanding. This track requires a lot of commitment, a lot of bravery, and a lot of commitment to the aero, aerodynamics of the car. That’s something I’m getting used to right now. Bit by bit I’ve got used to it across the run. Having a couple test days here puts me in good stead knowing what I’ve got and what I will have chassis-wise when we hit the track on Saturday morning. Yeah, look, I’m happy where we’re at. Really excited for the challenge. It’s going to be an up-and-down year. I’m really excited for all the obstacles, what’s going to come across in my rookie season.
Q. Obviously it’s going to be a pretty quick couple of races at the start of the season. For Simon and Scott, how confident are you guys going into the season? Also you’ve come off the back of a really good test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. How much confidence does that give you going into the month of May? SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Look, it’s going to be an exciting year. Yeah, absolutely had a great test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Nice to also do some laps around there. I’ve got three great teammates to lean on, not only in terms of driving style but setup-wise, trusting what the car is going to be like at qualifying trim, race trim, understanding that. That was really nice to lean on all three of the guys. All three of them were fantastic with me, helping me build up, get acquainted. For me, I don’t really know what to expect. I think we’ve done some really good work as a team in the off-season. From what I understand the team’s in a positive spot, but you don’t know with testing right now sort of where everyone’s at. I don’t think we’ll know until qualifying at Barber. That’s my best answer to that sort of thing. For me right now, it’s about doing as many laps as I can, getting as much understanding under my belt, leaning on my three great teammates as much as I can.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Clearly we focused a lot on the Indianapolis 500. Last year was not what we expected. We wanted to come back and really show the resilience of Team Penske. As you saw the test, the drivers felt, we were very pleased with the improvement. Everybody worked so hard this winter. We found speed. It’s obviously just the beginning of testing at Indy, but it felt very good. That’s clearly a very enjoyable thing to say as it’s also my number one goal. Now when it comes to the full championship, also like Scott said, made big improvements on the race car, making it more consistently able to go get the last little bit of lap time. I don’t know where we’re going to stack up exactly, but I know that we’ve done everything we can to run up front and be there for the championship in the end. It’s going to be a long season. You are going to have to score points and always be top five to fight for the championship.
Simon, obviously we have condensed schedules again this year. Last year you didn’t know that going into it. Do you have to prepare a little differently now this year knowing that you’re only running Saturday and Sunday at Barber, everything is condensed? Does that change how you prepare in the off-season and week-to-week? SIMON PAGENAUD: The big advantage is this year we knew that the schedule was going to change. We knew in advance. That really helped my team and myself to prepare and understand how the weekend was going to roll. At the end of the day it’s about knowing how to tackle each practice for qualifying and then the race. I think we have right now a very good outlook on everything. Super excited about this format, quite frankly. I think we have a two-day weekend in Barber. St. Pete is different, three-day weekend. Texas is two races. The next four races are back-to-back. It’s going to be intense. But I know we’re ready. I can’t wait to get going.
Simon, Team Penske has been three cars in the past. What advantages do you see in getting a fourth car full-time this year?SIMON PAGENAUD: You know, I know it’s very simple actually to understand. It’s two and two. Two and two make work a lot easier. When it’s three, two guys might like the same thing, one guy might not. When it’s two and two, there’s more chances that two guys are going to like the same things and two others are going to like the exact same stuff for their cars or their style. As four, it also has a better flow, better energy within the team also. It’s the same with the engineers. Jonathan Diuguid is with Scott McLaughlin. He used to lead the sports car program. Jonathan was also Helio’s engineer in the past. Lots of experience there. I think all those four engineers working together are really a fantastic group. Four awesome drivers, four awesome engineers. Obviously there’s a lot more engineers in the background that really makes for a super team.
With the new aero package for the superspeedways this year, as I understand it you have more options as a team or a driver in terms of your setup. What has been your experience? I can ask both of you this question. What has been your experience so far? Has it made it confusing or has it made it better for you as a driver in that you have these more options? SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: For me, it’s probably — I was speaking to Will Power about this, knowing that it’s one of my first times on a superspeedway, on the oval, having no experience on really anything else. Going in, it’s all brand-new. The feeling? I didn’t have any old feelings of old cars and stuff. I was probably able to get acquainted almost easier because some of the older guys, in some ways they’re so used to different feelings. I think it’s a good option of having the option of putting the balance boards on or taking them off or whatever. It’s going to be interesting what the racing is like. I think we found in Indianapolis, yeah, depends on your setup. It was difficult to pass three or four back in the train. But I think it certainly looks better than last year. Yeah, look, I’m learning every lap I do really, especially at the ovals. SIMON PAGENAUD: I felt like INDYCAR did a great job allowing us more options. It was important to make sure the show was going to be awesome. Especially if we get some fans in the grandstand, it would be fantastic to come back and put on the best show ever. The balance board, the more aerodynamics, also they fill up the hole on the side of the floor, and you can definitely add onto the front wing to help run in traffic. It was a big improvement. I really enjoyed being able to run in traffic without big surprises in the aerodynamics of the car. I think with more testing, a lot more cars will figure it out and drivers. So overall I think it’s very, very positive.
‘Push to pass’ was tested at the Indy oval recently. There’s been some mixed feelings as to whether or not INDYCAR should allow ‘push to pass’ on ovals. In the past they never have. Like to get your thought as to having that option? I asked Juan Montoya last week. He was very much in favor of having it on the ovals. I’ve heard other drivers say they weren’t so sure. I’d like to hear your opinion. SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Well, for me, I think anything that makes racing better is a good thing. If INDYCAR think the racing is going to be better with a ‘push to pass’ option potentially. But I think you’ll find if that gets brought in, it will be a very strategic move how you use them. You probably will save them for a long time, hopefully have enough fuel to use it, or gas as you say over here. I think, yeah, it’s going to be interesting. It’s hard for me to tell because I haven’t been in a race situation. I think you got to back INDYCAR officials in anything that makes the racing better. Hopefully that will work.
SIMON PAGENAUD: Yeah, I think it’s very situational. Quite frankly, we don’t really have — drivers, it doesn’t really matter. We’re coming in, the rules are the rules. What INDYCAR decides is for us to use. I’m very much backing them up because they’ve made great choices in the racing in general. Would I have liked to have the ‘push to pass’ in 2019? Probably not. Would I have liked to have it last year? Absolutely. It depends on the situation. It’s very hard to have one determined opinion on that. I think for the racing, it would be great. For the fans, it would be fantastic. But it all depends how it’s gone in place. I look forward, in any case, to changes. It shuffles the cards and it’s good for racing.
Scott, this month here you’re kind of running the gamut of all the different types of courses that INDYCAR hits. You get the Indy 500 test, now you got a dedicated road course followed immediately by a street course and then a high-speed oval at Texas. Is that difficult to prepare for, to think about all the different types of racing that’s coming up in quick succession? SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Look, any time I get laps in these cars, it’s better. It’s wild, but this is exactly why I came to America for. I came to race nearly every weekend on all different disciplines I haven’t done before. It’s definitely a difficult thing to prepare for for everyone. I think we’re all sort of working out times to get on the simulator, when do you give up preparing for this race this weekend and then start thinking about the next race in a week’s time. But thankfully for the start of season when it’s crazy, all these tracks I’ve been to before. I know what I need. We’ve got a solid plan in place. We can sort of hit the ground running at each track. So, yeah, I think probably this one this week is probably the one track that definitely I need to work harder. St. Pete I feel, having known that track, I know our balance there, it’s going to be okay. Then Texas, it’s an oval. I’ve just got to work my way around it. It’s exciting. Like I said, I came to America to race most weekends. This is a dream for me really. Scott, obviously last year was sort of an interesting one for you going from the Bathurst 1000 straight over to America to make your INDYCAR debut. What is it like this weekend? You’ve had a fair bit of buildup. Does it feel like you’re having your debut all over in some ways? SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: It certainly feels like a bit of a reset button, I guess. I definitely feel a lot more prepared. I have an understanding of the car a lot more than I did when I was sort of rolling into St. Pete. That can only be beneficial for me. I came into St. Pete with a thought of what the car was like in sort of February, March. Got to October, it was all full on. That week was full on for me. I was jetlagged, whatever. I’m not making excuses, but at the same time like I said, I feel as prepared as I can be right now. The only thing right now I lack is experience. I feel like I’ve got, like I said, great teammates to lean on. I’ve got a great engineer, as Simon said, who has a huge amount of experience. I’m just leaning on everyone really and soaking everything up like a sponge. It’s business time now. I really need to get into it.
Following up on that ‘push to pass’ question before. Up until now it’s been allowed to be used as a defense mechanism as well as offense. Some drivers think that’s a good thing. Others feel it defeats the purpose of having it. I’d like to get your opinion on that. SIMON PAGENAUD: That’s a loaded question (laughter). You never get everybody to agree on that one. It is what it is. Again, like I said earlier, I think it depends what INDYCAR decides to do, and we have to oblige by the rules. We’re an entertainment show, so at the end of the day it’s about making sure we put on a fantastic show. As we saw last year, racing without fans is not racing. They have a huge part of — they are a huge part of what we do, so we have to think about that, making sure that the fans enjoy the racing. That is what INDYCAR is doing. Whatever the drivers think doesn’t really matter as much. But no matter what, it would be a great show. It has been without it. It will be with it, if we have it. So I personally have zero opinion on it. I don’t personally like gimmicks in racing, but honestly it completely depends on the situation and how it’s implemented.
Q. Scott, can you tell me a little bit about the helmet design you’re going to be running at the Indianapolis 500. Is that a tribute to Rick Mears? SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: Yeah. It’s just basically the same helmet design that Helio has run in previous years. Obviously what Rick was synonymous for with the yellow submarine. I love tradition, I love history. I think it was a cool tribute. I couldn’t fit McLaughlin down the side, it would wrap around my visor as well. I had to subs substitute for Scott. I thought it was pretty cool, quite on the back. It’s just a tribute to the 500, the people that have run it before, and hopefully a legacy we can start with myself and Pennzoil. I’m tremendously excited to run that car. I feel very lucky and privileged. Excited to see what we can do with it.
I’d like to get your thoughts on INDYCAR going to Nashville for the Music City Grand Prix later this year. SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: I’ve never been to Nashville before, so the more America I can see, the better. Very excited. I heard Nashville is a wild city. I’m really excited for the street track there, around the stadium where the Titans play, too, is cool. Sounds to me, Josef is the Nashville king or Nashville mayor, he’s pretty pumped by it. He said it’s an awesome city and awesome vibe. Yeah, super pumped. Any track that goes over a bridge, man, is pretty bad ass, so I’m excited for that. SIMON PAGENAUD: Can you play any instrument? SCOTT McLAUGHLIN: No. Depending how many drinks I’ve had. SIMON PAGENAUD: I want to see it. I want to see it (laughter). Pretty exciting when we get to that market. It looks like a really interesting layout, for sure, going over the bridge. I’m sure those photos will go around the world and be very iconic after a while. I am really looking forward to it.It’s a town of festivities and we’re bringing the show. Very excited to get to know the town. I’ve actually never been to Nashville either. As you know, I look forward to finding some good restaurants.
We’re joined by Will Power, Josef Newgarden. Will, as a two-time winner and four-time pole winner at Barber, it’s been a couple years since we have been to Barber, so how excited are you to get back to racing? WILL POWER: Yeah, I’m super excited to get back in the car. Yeah, very excited. Josef is going to be very amused at this (laughter). Yeah, I think we’ve had two test days at Barber, so I reckon we’ve got the car pretty well sorted. I know it’s going to be super competitive. It’s going to be very, very competitive. So many good guys and teams this year. Certainly have to put everything together to make sure that we’re in the game. But just really happy to get back to racing. It’s been quite a long off-season.
We’re also joined by Josef Newgarden, who is the most successful driver in the history of INDYCAR Series at Barber with three wins. Josef, what is it about Barber that kind of suits you? JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I’m pretty excited, too, like Will said. I think we’ve got a good opportunity to come out pretty strong this year. I think we’ve done a lot of good work this off-season. I’m very encouraged about everywhere we’re going, to be honest. Barber included. I can’t wait to get going this weekend. It’s been a while since we got to do our normal jobs. I’m excited to get back with the boys and get working. Excited we’ve got four cars. I think we’ve got some of the best people as always. We’ve been bolstered this year with adding Scott, his engineer J.D., and a couple others. Very, very excited to get going.
Going to be a pretty frantic start to the season. How beneficial is it to you guys to have Scott kind of added for a fourth car this season? JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Yeah, I think it’s tremendously beneficial. I think we’re going to find a lot of benefits from it. Last time we were four cars, we worked really well together when Helio was in the mix. Having the resources that come with an extra car at Team Penske has, in my opinion, been quite useful. I think probably more useful now with the shortened track time. We still have to be better at showing up with a car that’s going to work out of the box. But I think just having that extra car with the workload demand across the weekend will be very, very beneficial. It will be fun. It’s also fun to just see a pure rookie kind of going at it. He’s obviously super talented, going to have a good car on him. But it’s fun to watch how excited he is for every little thing, which I think makes it exciting to go to the track.
I wanted to ask, obviously we always expect Penske and Ganassi drivers to contend for titles. Who do you reckon are going to be the new contenders for titles, people outside that group that are going to fight for titles? Do you expect to see Colton or Pato or Felix battling for the championship this year? WILL POWER: Yeah, I think McLaren is going to certainly be strong this year, with Pato, they’ve added Felix, who has a lot of experience in INDYCAR now. I think those guys are going to be pretty strong. Obviously Colton was already a threat last year, so more so this year. (Loss of audio.) JOSEF NEWGARDEN: As Will was saying, all of these guys are going to be very good. Is he back? WILL POWER: Was I just talking and nothing happening? JOSEF NEWGARDEN: You froze, yeah. WILL POWER: I thought everyone was so engrossed in what I was saying, they were just like frozen, looking like, Oh, my God (laughter). Just an amazing, amazing reply. Then it just stopped. Oh, I’m frozen, okay. I should stop.
Do you want to finish your statement, Will? WILL POWER: I have no clue where it stopped. Oh, yeah, just basically you add after Herta Penske and Ganassi and you’ve got a very fierce championship. I think you’re going to see many different winners this year. It will probably be a year of consistency that will win it.
Josef, anyone else? Do you see maybe Rinus VeeKay with a year of experience under his belt being a threat? JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I don’t think you can count him out. Yeah, I don’t know. I think time will tell. I wouldn’t necessarily put him in the list right now. I think we probably need a little bit more evidence of that. Like Will said, I think Colton and Pato are probably the strongest newcomers to join the mix, and are definitely already threats in the championship. That’s only going to get probably better. We’ve got to see how Scott takes to it. Scott has an opportunity I think to be very strong in his first year, which could be unique to other rookies. I think he’s going to have a good opportunity. We’ll see how it takes to it.
WILL POWER: Yeah. I mean, I liken Scott to Wickens. I believe he can have a year like that just from experience in top-level motorsports.
The new aero package this year, on ovals you have had a chance to test it at Indy. I’d like to get your opinion with the options you now have compared to before in terms of setups. Also you tested the ‘push to pass’ on the oval. Should that work into the mix? Is that not necessary? JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Well, I mean, I guess I’ll speak to the ‘push to pass’ because I was at the test. I was certainly not a big believer that’s something we need at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I want the racing to be as difficult as possible at Indy. I want opportunities for the front group to be able to race, to put on a good show. You can’t have everything. It’s really, really difficult to find a good balance where you have the most difficult cars to drive, the drivers can really showcase their talent behind the wheel and work with the team to make a faster car. Also to create an environment where the race is thrilling. I think you can have both of them. Honestly at Indy we’ve had that for the last 10 years. I think it’s been very difficult races and also very thrilling races. I think we’re talking about adding horsepower. I would rather just add pure horsepower to the car, which is what we all want. We just want more power for the cars. I think the ‘push to pass’ situation where you create this big speed disparity between cars is more of a risky proposition, putting it in the hands of the some of the field of 33 would make me a little bit nervous, not because it’s going to be more difficult, just because I think it would be more risky for no reason. Adding more horsepower is great, but probably not in a ‘push to pass’ format I think at Indy.
Will, Honda versus Chevy, road course versus oval. Have you seen any trends? Your photo shop skills are getting as good as NASCAR. Will you be doing more of that in the future? WILL POWER: Yeah, the Honda versus Chevy, I think Barber probably is favored a little bit more to Honda because the way their engine seems to have more torque than ours. I think actually at the Speedway this year we’ll be pretty strong. I think Chevy’s made a really good gain. Yeah, it’s very close. I mean, both honestly are very close. But the field is so stacked now that any little advantage really makes a difference. If one manufacturer is just weighted a little bit more on the torque side, torque of the engine, for somewhere like Barber where it’s just pure power because there’s so much grip, it kind of stacks the field one way. Yeah, it’s super close. And my videos, yeah, I can keep doing them. Josef is actually using my guide to what to do, how far I should go. Is this okay to post? Any post that you don’t agree with, you should really message him because nothing to do with me, it’s his decision (laughter). Yourself and Simon have spoken fairly highly of Scott McLaughlin leading into his first full year in INDYCAR. What sort of separates him from perhaps other rookies that we’ve seen over the last few years? What has your advice been to him ahead of his first full season? WILL POWER: Yeah, I mean, the difference is that Scott has a significant amount of experience at a very high level because the Super Car Championship in Australia is very competitive, very professional. It’s on par with INDYCAR. He’s been through all the stuff that rookies go through. You’ve seen that in his testing. He hasn’t thrown it off. I don’t think he’s even been off the track. Yeah, he’s very methodical about his approach. I think experience is going to help him significantly over a rookie that had only done junior categories.
Will, obviously in the Road to Indy you’re helping out or mentoring Myles Rowe, but also there’s some young Australians. How cool is that as an Australian to see guys like Alex Peroni and Cam Shields come over here and try and make it? WILL POWER: Yeah, no, I’ve certainly helped Cameron Shields a lot in trying to make sure he continues. Obviously Myles is in a great program and has had a lot of laps in the car now. I’m hoping he’ll be super strong. But, yeah, I actually don’t know Alex Peroni very well, but I’ve kind of followed him a little bit with what he’s done in Europe. I think he’ll be really quick. Yeah, it’s great to see, especially Cameron Shields, he’s from Toowoomba, and he is very quick. I really believe he can get all the way to INDYCAR. I’ve got to give it to him because he has absolutely zero money or funding and he stuck it out for the last few years here by just meeting the right people, getting in the right situation and performing when he needs to. Yeah, I hope he gets a full season this year. I think he’s in a good car. We’ll see what happens there.
How excited are you to be affiliated with Paretta Autosport for the Indianapolis 500? How impressed were you with Simona’s time over the weekend? JOSEF NEWGARDEN: Very excited. They’re certainly a great addition to our group. It’s fun to have another car with Simona, too. I think Simona is a top-shelf talent. I think a lot of us feel that way about her in INDYCAR. It was almost a shame that she got cut short with her timeline in INDYCAR. When she left, she never probably had the best opportunity to compete at a high level. She was already doing that. I think she’s going to be fantastic. She took to things pretty quickly, almost like she never left. With Paretta, the entire team, they’ve been absorbing the way work. We’ve had a lot of the different women at the track with us trying to understand our philosophies, the way we go about racing. It’s going to be exciting. They’re a really fun program. I think they’re going to be covered pretty well in the 500. There’s a lot of interest in their specific group. I think they’ll have a good opportunity to compete at a high level.
Will, a couple years ago you were involved with trying to get INDYCAR back to Australia. Any update on that? Any movement in that area? Is that a dead horse? WILL POWER: I don’t think that will ever happen. I don’t think it will ever happen (laughter). I shouldn’t say never, but not in the time that I’m in INDYCAR. Let’s say it’s definitely not going to happen in the next five years. I think Roger’s focus is going to be on North America, not really going anywhere else. I don’t know that for a fact. I think he’ll try to grow that before he thinks about going anywhere else.
The Music City Grand Prix in your hometown of Nashville. What can everyone expect from that new race coming up this year? JOSEF NEWGARDEN: I think you could expect a good party, a really good party. I think it’s very positive. When I think of street course racing in INDYCAR, I think of thrilling racing for all the purists out there. But I think of an entertaining show, certainly a bit of a party, which caters to everybody. That’s what you want. You want that atmosphere where everyone can show up and have a good time regardless of how much of a racing fan you are. I think Nashville is going to do that probably better than anywhere. I’m very excited for it. I think it will be a great event. I know all the drivers in the paddock are excited for that one to come around.
Will, with Scott on the team, both from the same part of the world, do you have any secret language you can talk to each other your teammates won’t understand? WILL POWER: We certainly do, but probably nothing I can mention on here. If you’ve ever been to Australia, you probably understand they like to throw swear words around a lot (laughter). JOSEF NEWGARDEN: They like to use their language at restaurants, I’ve noticed, when we go there (smiling). People love it. WILL POWER: Yeah, no, we certainly have our own language, which isn’t good language, I would say (laughter).
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