INDYCAR media day features offseason tales, preseason optimism

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Helio Castroneves insists he’s getting younger. Will Power is taking more selfies now that he’s a father. Conor Daly is still rooming with James Hinchcliffe. And Oriol Servia is working out in the same Gold’s Gym as Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Just another eventful offseason in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

What became immediately apparent from today’s parade of 20 drivers doing annual media day interviews was the ease with which words were spoken. From Graham Rahal to defending champion Simon Pagenaud, voices were relaxed and refreshed in roundtable discussions at INDYCAR headquarters in the shadow of Indianapolis Motor Speedway. 

“Oh my God, so intimidating,” the typically playful Pagenaud said upon entering the room of waiting media members. “I don’t want to go.”

The amused Frenchman took a picture of the media group before commencing with the routine of providing a 2016 assessment that was more abbreviated than the predictably optimistic 2017 outlook. This season doesn’t begin until March 12’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, but everyone likes to look ahead this time of year.

If you’re Team Penske, after adding Josef Newgarden to a powerhouse lineup of Pagenaud, Power and Castroneves that swept the top three points positions last season, life is a bit of a party. Or at least these offseason interviews seemed like it at times.

The 41-year-old Castroneves insisted, “I’m as young as ever” and bragged that his doctor said, “I have the health of a 19-year-old kid.” 

“He is a 19-year-old,” Pagenaud said. “He definitely is.”

As the three-time Indianapolis 500-winning Castroneves was boasting, Power peered through the glass doors at the crowded room, then held up his cell phone to take a few selfies from an unusual angle.

“I was trying to get Helio at the head of the table,” Power said, his quick dry wit in mid-season form. “That’s not a position he’s normally in.”

Will PowerPower discussed the joys (or pains) of parenthood. Wife Liz gave birth last month to their first son, Beau William, and the driver is learning just how quickly life can change.

“Such a little thing needs so much maintenance,” Power (shown at left) said of his son. “It’s unbelievable. … This is forever, too. There’s no offseason for a kid.”

As smiles go, nobody had a wider grin than Newgarden, who four months later is still gushing about joining Team Penske, his dream come true. The drivers also made the rounds with electronic media -- local, national and international -- who used the opportunity to gain video insights from those who will compete in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. (Ed Carpenter, team owner and driver, is shown above conducting one such interview.)

Speaking of young drivers sounding rather upbeat, Daly and Carlos Munoz did their interviews together as the new duo for AJ Foyt Racing. But when it’s time to go home, Daly still rooms with “Hinch” of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, although landing a fulltime ride this season might change that.

“I’ve got to take the next step toward adulthood,” Daly said. “But my mom’s house is still free. It’s hard to live. Life is expensive.”

Hinchcliffe conceded his offseason began early — he finished second in ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars,” a competition which began before the 2016 racing season concluded. 

“I still can’t dance,” Hinchcliffe said, attributing much of his TV performance to partner Sharna Burgess.

Drivers did discuss racing’s serious subjects.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan, like Castroneves, is honored to be celebrating his 20th season in Indy car racing. Both Brazilian rivals are hungry for a win. Their last victories were in 2014, the 42-year-old Kanaan at the season-ending race at Fontana, Calif., and Castroneves earlier in that year at Detroit.

“As a driver, you never count those things,” Kanaan said of his two decades racing. “It’s kind of cool to see it’s not a lot of guys who have done that and the guys who have done that are big names.”

“I’m still living my dream,” Castroneves said, “and I want to go as far as I can.”

Scott Dixon, a four-time series champion and Kanaan’s Ganassi Racing teammate, thought he could have won “three or four more” races last year and that 2016’s sixth-place points finish was one of his worst seasons. Time to do something about that.

“Team Penske is always going to be a tough battle,” Dixon said. “I think if we could start the season strong, we could make the rest of it enjoyable.”

The Ganassi team’s switch of manufacturers to Honda from Chevrolet means it and Team Penske will have different powerplants and aero kits in 2017.

“Personally, I think it’s better to have a different package,” Dixon said, “and it’s for the good of the sport, too.”

Nobody has looked forward to 2017 more than Marco Andretti, who tied a career low with a 16th-place points finish. Andretti has admitted his faults as well as those of his Andretti Autosport team. This time, he added another reason for why 2016 didn’t work.

“Do I have to?” Andretti asked with a smirk.

Lest anyone forget, the Indianapolis 500 is what matters first and foremost, especially to anyone named Andretti.

“I let Indianapolis ruin the rest of my season mentally,” said Andretti, who finished 13th in the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. “I drove extremely frustrated and you’re never going to be fast that way.”

The guy who won that prestigious race, teammate Alexander Rossi, conceded 2016 “was a lot of things,” including quite a learning curve for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year, who finished 11th in the points.

“The year, aside from the month of May, was pretty difficult,” said Rossi, whose best other finish was fifth in the season-ending race at Sonoma. “Obviously I’m looking forward to going back to Indianapolis in May, but at the same token I’m just as excited about all the other races because I feel like we have a pretty big point to prove.”

Rahal will be reunited with a former teammate in Servia, who will race at Indianapolis and Detroit for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. The Indy 500 will be his 200th career Indy car start.

“I guess we’re going to have to win it,” said Servia, who has driven for RLL in 2009, 2014 and 2015.

To make the most of this two-race opportunity, the spunky Spaniard has been working out at a Gold’s Gym in Los Angeles, the same spot as Schwarzenegger, the former Mr. Universe turned action movie star to former California governor.

“He’s right there, like lifting weights every morning at 65 (years old) at 7 in the morning,” Servia said of Schwarzenegger, who is actually 69.

From the fans