HOW HARD IS IT TO TRANSITION FROM THE PRACTICE SESSION TO WHAT YOU HAVE TO DO IN QUALIFYING?
“In practice you are more in a rhythm and you are mostly looking to get your car in a rhythm and have a good read in your race car to be able to make it better. In qualifying you have to be as present as possible because you have got what you got and you just have to maximize every single ounce of the car. And it is very very important to be present on the car, you know, to understand the car. Even before you take the green flag you have to know, 'okay, is the car going to be tight, going to be loose, going to do this, going to do that', right? You have to read the car as quick as possible. That is going to be the key and hopefully we can do a good job on that and fight for the pole.”
CAN YOU TAKE US THROUGH THE TESTING SESSION WITH KIMI (RAIKKONEN)?
“Yeah, it was good, it was short. But it was good and I felt like Kimi....I have been trying to learn as much as I can from him because he is an amazing race car driver. But I believe a race car driver is great not just because of driving, I think it is just everything else around him. How he thinks and how open or closed minded he or she is. And in this case he is having a great time, and he is not just here to have fun, but he is here to be a competitor and wants to do well. So, its been a lot of fun to work with him the last few days and I am really looking forward to see what he can do next week.”
HOW DOES HE COMPARE TO MAX (VERSTAPPEN)?
I have never had the opportunity to work with Max. I have had the opportunity to hang out with him, but never to work with him. And that is different. With Kimi the last few days I have been able to do both. I can tell you that both are very relaxed and very fun in their own ways. Now that I got to know them, I am not surprised in how successful they are in what they do. It has been a lot of fun to hang out with these kinds of drivers because I feel like I always learn and I am always open minded to learn from these kind of people and I always feel like I am learning from them."
DO YOU THINK THERE WAS ANYTHING THAT HE REALLY WANTED TO KNOW, OR NEEDED TO KNOW IN THAT TEST?
"You know, there were a lot of things. He asked a lot of questions, he was very open minded, and I really thought he was going to be more quiet. A lot of people know him as being very quiet and a leave me alone kind of guy, but he is not like that at all. I was actually very, very impressed with that. So, he has been learning very quickly and I knew that he knows how to drive and he is very natural at that. But I was very curious to get to know him in more of a mindset level. You know, how he approaches this. So he has been learning quite a bit and has been thinking outside the box and getting a lot of information from myself and it is a lot of fun to see how he is adapting in the simulator but also in the real race car. Even though it was only a couple of hours, but it was good to see that."
HOW DO YOU THINK HE CAN DO NEXT WEEKEND?
"I think he is going to be fast. The speed is there and the racing part is going to be a process because it doesn't matter how much you practice in the simulator, doesn't matter how many tests you do - the racing part is the racing part. Its different and he doesn't know all these drivers. He doesn't know how they race, he doesn't know how aggressive they are, so that part is going to take a little bit. You can bring the best driver in the world and it is going to take some time in the racing part. I think (as far as) the speed, I think he is going to be good."
DO YOU THINK PIT STOPS WILL BE AN ISSUE?
"That is part of the racing part I am talking about. Racing, restarts, taking care of your tires, taking care of your brakes, pit stops....like that part of the racing is what it takes to win races. That is the part I feel like is going to be a process for him. Just because he has never done it before. With that being said, he did pit stop practice a couple of days ago and he did well. There was a couple of things he was doing and I told him, 'hey, you need to do this this way, you need to do this different, because the transmission works this way and you have to use your blower'. I tried to guide him as much as I can and I really feel he is trying to prepare himself as good as he can. If I was going to do a race in Europe one day, I wish I could prepare myself the way he is doing it."
WERE YOU GUYS FAST ENOUGH TO WIN MICHIGAN, BUT IT JUST DIDN'T WORK OUT WHEN THE CAUTION FLAG CAME OUT?
"I don't think we were fast enough to beat the Toyotas straight out, but we were in position to control the race there. So, yeah, I feel that if that caution doesn't come out that we were going to be able to control the race together. I feel like it was either going to be the No. 1 or myself winning. I think we were sitting in a very good position right there with an opportunity when unfortunately that wreck happened and after that is was just history."
JUSTIN MARKS WAS SAYING THIS WEEK THAT EXECUTION ISSUES HAVE KIND OF KEPT THE TEAM FROM GETTING GOOD RESULTS WITH FAST CARS THE LAST COUPLE OF WEEKS. IS THAT JUST AN EXAMPLE OF THAT?
"Well, I can only speak for myself and at Indianapolis we should have finished somewhere in the top three. We had a flat tire on the last restart and somebody pushed me from behind and I pushed (Ryan) Blaney wide and I had a flat tire because of that. But if it wasn't for that, we would have finished in the top three. So, I don't feel like that was execution, I feel like that was bad circumstances for the race. When it comes to Michigan, I feel like we should have finished in the top five, top three, maybe even win the race. But the last thing you want when you are expecting a cycle of pit stops is the caution. And that is exactly what we had."
HAVE YOU RE-SIGNED WITH THE TEAM?
"We are very close. I am going to be honest, I haven't paid a lot of attention to that because I am so focused on the playoffs and making my team stronger. But I know that my manager and people from Trackhouse are very, very close. We never have doubts about where we are on things like that. We are working out a couple of details. It is not final yet, but we are very close."
HOW NICE IS IT TO GO THROUGH THIS FINAL STRETCH AND KNOW YOU ARE LOCKED IN RIGHT NOW?
"It is nice, but I am going to be honest, in my mind I am already in the playoffs. I have had that mindset over the last six weeks. I believe it is not possible to go into the playoffs and flip the switch and say, 'okay, we are in the playoffs, now we have to push hard'. I don't think it works like that and you kind of have to start building that up. And I feel like that is what we have been doing, especially with the 99 team. That shows on the track because the last two months we have had race cars capable of finishing in the top five every single week. The last two weeks we haven't finished there for different circumstances. Besides that, we have finished in the top five and top eight every single week. That's good, I like that and this weekend in Richmond I feel like this is a real, real test for us. Especially because we struggled a lot last time here. I am really looking forward to this weekend to see where we stand."