Open Paddock: Sebastien, how’s the car feeling to you today?
Sebastien Bourdais: We’re slowly starting to get some direction, but it’s been a challenging test so far. It’s a really different animal than last year. The track is about three seconds faster. Whether it’s the track, the tires or the combination, I really don’t know what’s going on. It really is a different game and we’re struggling. I’ve never experienced high levels of grip like that, ever!
OP: Actually everybody I’ve talked to during the test has said the level of grip out here is incredibly different. As I understand, it’s due to a grinding process used in the offseason.
SB: I don’t know about that. I do know Firestone has changed the tire compound as well, so that’s done something too. For sure grinding always does something to help, but at the same time it’s kinda funny. This used to be a very hard place on tires, but now you can run twenty laps and still be within a second of your fastest lap. I think it really is a combination of the tire and the grinding.
OP: How has the track felt different today than yesterday?
SB: It keeps on gripping up, so steering gets heavier and heavier and the track gets faster and faster. It’s also been a bit of a problem for us because we started with massive understeer, trying to chase the racetrack and mostly our car, so that kinda blows the reeds a little bit. Every time we get a bit closer to the track, the track goes away from us a bit. It’s a bit of a mindgame really, but we might have found a little bit at the end of the session here, so we’ll keep on digging and see what we can get.
OP: Everyone I’ve talked to today with the exception of Simona de Silvestro and Simon Pagenaud have complained about their neck hurting from increased lateral g-force. Got any neck pain going on today?
SB: No, not yet, but it’s probably because we haven’t been out enough yet. Simon told you a story though, because he was complaining about his neck hurting last night! Ha!
Helio Castroneves, driver of the #3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet
Open Paddock: You spent a pretty good bit of time yesterday at the top of the speed charts. How was the car feeling to you yesterday?
Helio Castroneves: Very good. Hitachi Team Penske has been working very hard in the offseason. This is the first time we’re able to put it together for what we might see in the first race of the season, but again the things we learn are mostly for this track because it’s so smooth and so nice with nice, big corners, plus the weather is helping to have a lot of downforce, so it’s it’s very easy to get caught up sometimes on the conditions. We want to make sure that we know what we need to do and keep working. Certainly it’s a great day yesterday and we want to continue with a good day today.
OP: A lot of people were telling me the cars had an insane level of grip yesterday. Can you talk to that?
HC: The reason there is a lot of grip is the track, they did a great change to the track and Firestone improved the tires, and the weather. When you combine all those things together, you saw about two seconds faster than the Pole Position last year, so that shows that we’re going pretty fast out there.
OP: Everyone I’ve talked to today except Simon Pagenaud has said their neck is hurting pretty bad today. How’s yours feeling?
HC: Ha! Yeah, it’s feeling! Ha! When you don’t practice, even if you do exercise outside the race track, it’s nothing compared to when you drive the race car. That’s why everybody’s feeling sore, because it’s not despite from the G-force we’re pulling, but it’s been a long time since doing that kind of exercise. Any type of exercise, when you don’t do it for a long time, it’s gonna hurt, but that’s why we’re pros!
OP: Obviously other than a fourth (Indianapolis) 500, and I know Penske only races for championships, do you have any other goals for the season?
HC: Win as many races as possible.
James Hinchcliffe, driver of the #27 GoDaddy.com Andretti Autosport Chevrolet
Open Paddock: James, you were on top for a long time in yesterday’s session. How’s the car feeling?
James Hinchcliffe: Yeah, the car is obviously pretty solid. We had a strong car here last year. You know, we qualified on the front row and ran in the Top Three most of the race, so we showed up with what we knew and we did pretty good. We sat up top early on. I guess we peaked too early, the story of my life….. We need to try to make sure today we can put the tires on at the right time and really go after these Penske guys.
OP: Everyone commented on the level of grip yesterday.
JH: It’s outrageous! I don’t think anybody was expecting the increase in grip that we’ve had here. It’s tough to deal with. The car were not set up for it. The gears were wrong. The ride heights were wrong. Drivers weren’t fit enough in some cases to deal with the lateral G’s.
OP: Newgarden was telling me yesterday his neck was really hurting him.
JH: Yeah! They’re feeling it in their arms and necks because the faster you go, every two tests, it’s a noticeable change in the car. We’re going two seconds faster and we, I think, forced some guys to get back to the gym before we get back here to race.
OP: Now did you do anything on reds(option tires,) or just blacks(primary tires) yesterday?
JH: No, we only get blacks for testing, so we’re all thinking yeah in the race we’re gonna have reds on top of that, so we’ll be another second quicker again. So, there’s definitely some work to be done on our side in the gym.
OP: Now is there anything in particular you’re looking to take out of this test, or are you looking for a general road course base?
JH: This test is a bit unique because it’s our last test before the season starts. Certainly we want to do some general road course things, but obviously we race here, so it is important to try and figure out a car that’s going to go quicker around Barber. That’s what the team’s been focusing on; some development parts we came up with in the offseason that’ll be relevant not just here, but at some other places, but then also trying to tweak and tune a bit for this track. Especially with the new conditions we’re seeing out there.
OP: What are your goals for this season?
JH: I think everyone with the GoDaddy car just wants to improve on last season. We had a really strong start to the season. Had some issues in the second half, whether in our control or not. It’s tough in this sport to put specific things like “Win Two Races” or we wanna have three poles or any other because there’s so much outside your control. I think if we just do the best job we can week in and week out, we hit those boxes and check those mark, we can win.
OP: Last question for you. How’d you enjoy Rusty’s the other night? (Local barbecue restaurant, Rusty’s BBQ)
JH: Rusty’s was great! i really enjoyed it. Hunter-Reay is a regular there I guess, so I went for the first time. It was good. Great food. I got to meet the man himself and yeah! I’ll be back for sure!
Justin Wilson, driver of the #19 Sonny’s Barbecue Dale Coyne Racing Honda
Open Paddock: Justin, how did the car feel to you yesterday?
Justin Wilson: It felt good. Firestone have brought, I think, a new tire here that’s got a lot of grip and it holds up pretty well. It’s impressive. In all these high speed corners, a lot of grip. My car felt pretty good. We went the wrong way on a change, right before new tires at the end of the day. We didn’t get the lap time I was hoping for, but I think we learned a few things and we’ll keep just plugging away.
OP: Now today are you looking more for things when you come back to Barber, or a base setup?
JW: Today’s more concentrated on Barber and things we need for the race here and qualifying. This race is all about qualifying at the front and we’re doing everything we can.
OP: Now last year you broke through with your first oval victory. What are your goals for this season?
JW: Wins! That’s what it’s about. We want to be more consistently at the front. last year we had some good races and we want to be at the front all the time. It’s a very competitive series. It doesn’t take much for you to be at the front or the back, so that’s our aim to just be consistently at the front.
OP: Everyone I’ve talked to today except for Pagenaud says their neck hurts really bad. How do you feel?
JW: I can definitely feel it. We’re pulling over four g’s a long way around this track!
Simon Pagenaud, driver of the #77 HP Schmidt-Hamilton Racing Honda
Open Paddock: Simon, everyone I’ve talked to said there was a ton of grip in the track yesterday. Is that your experience?
Simon Pagenaud: Yeah,I mean the track has grip in it and the new Firestone tire gives us more grip. You really have to muscle the car around , so we slightly changed the balance. Yesterday was all about adapting and trying things out. It’s very difficult with the governing body restricting testing so much so there’s too much to try in just two days. It’s very interesting. I enjoy it. It’s great bonding with the engineers. We like to be back on the racetrack.
OP: Is the car feeling good?
SP: Yeah. It’s never perfect, but that’s racing. We’ve made some improvements. We still need to find some time in the car and in myself so that’s what we’re going to work on today.
OP: Is there anything specifically you’re looking to take away from this test?
SP: We’re working on a road course base. This can be used in Mid-Ohio or Sonoma, so those were places apart from Mid-Ohio where we were not that strong. It’s more interesting for us to work here. We’ve got a good setup on the street circuits. It’s good, exciting moments. Hopefully we finish up tonight with a strong baseline.
OP: Many people who weren’t familiar with you were surprised with your high standings finish in 2012. What are your goals for 2013?
SP: It’s always a question that goes to results, but the most important thing is to extract 100% out of what we’ve got. Every given situation is different. I know what we’ve got and if I extract 100% out of it I’ll be happy and the result should be there. You can’t control what you can’t control.
OP: Several other guys I’ve talked to this morning are complaining of sore necks. How’s yours?
SP: I’m feeling good! I’m thinking they didn’t work enough!