CHAMP CAR TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH ERIC BACHELART, GRAHAM RAHAL AND STEVE JOHNSON ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car/Atlantic media teleconference where we have a very exciting announcement as we continue to build on the...
CHAMP CAR TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH ERIC BACHELART, GRAHAM RAHAL AND STEVE JOHNSON
ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car/Atlantic media teleconference where we have a very exciting announcement as we continue to build on the future of the Champ Car Atlantic Series, what we believe is the top driver developmental system in all of open-wheel racing.
Today we are joined by the co owner of Mi-Jack Conquest Racing team both in the Champ Car World Series and now in the Champ Car Atlantic Series, Mr. Eric Bachelart. We are also joined by the president of the Champ Car World Series, Mr. Steve Johnson. We are also joined by the newest member of the Champ Car Atlantic driver roster, 16-year-old Graham Rahal.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us today. Obviously, the reason we are here is to announce that Eric Bachelart and his new Mi-Jack Conquest Racing Atlantics team has signed 16-year-old Graham Rahal as one of the drivers on his new squad. Congratulations, first of all, to both of you gentlemen. For Eric Bachelart, a big undertaking. This will be your fourth year as a Champ Car team, but undertaking a new Atlantic outfit. Tell us a little bit about what drew you to build an Atlantic team and what attracted you to sign the young Mr. Rahal?
ERIC BACHELART: Thank you, Eric. Well, first of all, when the new package of the Atlantic was announced, we felt it would be very interesting for us to join the new Champ Car Atlantic Series and considered it as a natural development of our team.
Basically I think it gave us the opportunity of extending a resource that will be beneficial to Champ Car, and also I believe the Champ Car would be beneficial to the Atlantic team. I think all together it just made some good sense for us to do that. I mean, of course, we will have the opportunity to work with Don Halliday on this program. He's an extremely respected engineer. He'll be joined with Mike Zimicki on the coaching part. Really, the addition of these two gentlemen also gives us the best chance of being competitive to fight for the championship.
As far as Graham, he has been very successful at a young age. He's showed the kind of talent we would like to be associated with our team. We've been working with young talented drivers since the time we joined the Champ Car series two years ago. That made it a bit special and different from other teams. We're going to keep on doing that.
ERIC MAUK: Eric obviously has some background with young talent. His driver lineup with Nelson Philippe and Andrew Ranger, both of which are under 20 years old, made up the youngest two-car driver lineup in Champ Car World Series history in 2005.
Graham Rahal, son of three-time Champ Car World Series champion and open-wheel legend Bobby Rahal. Graham, the winner of the SCCA Formula Atlantic Championship at the runoffs this year. Also the winner of the Star Mazda race, the youngest man ever to win a Star Mazda race this year. One of the real up-and-comers among open-wheel drivers in North America. Graham, congratulations first of all. Test us a little about your feelings about this announcement today.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Thank you. Obviously it's very exciting for me. For a long time I've been coming up through go-karts and stuff, Atlantic has been one of the series I've always aimed for. With the new package coming out, it definitely caught our eye. That's why we're here today really. The opportunity to work with Eric and everybody there at Mi-Jack Conquest, it's going to be a great season for us. It's a good opportunity to move forward with my career. Obviously, I'm very excited about what we have in our hands to move forward. The past season, winning the runoffs was very good for me. As I was saying earlier, not that the competition wasn't tough, but we definitely had the best car that weekend. I'm looking forward to a good, competitive season this year and hopefully grabbing a championship.
ERIC MAUK: As mentioned, you've driven a number of active open-wheel cars. Those of you that don't know, Graham is down at Homestead-Miami Speedway testing in preparation for the Rolex and the Grand-Am race down there in January. You've been behind the wheel of a number of different cars. Looking ahead to the Atlantic cars, tell us what you think might be the toughest thing to get yourself acclimated into the Atlantic Championship.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously, it's a bonus to be able to drive as many cars as possible. That's always what makes the best drivers really, is when they cannot only just drive an open-wheel car, but can drive everything. To move on to the Atlantics, I'm looking for the car to be quite a bit like last year's. Obviously, I'd like it to be a little bit quicker. I think it's going to be a good combination.
I guess the most difficult thing for me is going to be getting used to the tire package yet again. The past year I've been driving a bias ply tire in Star Mazda. That car likes to be driven on edge at all times. Sometimes you've got to slide it around to be quick. Obviously, the Atlantic car is nothing like that, which in my mind is better. That's going to be the biggest obstacle we have to get through. But really, you know, it's just going to be seat time for me. Compared to most of the drivers that will be in the series, as of right now that I've heard of, really it's going to be seat time and experience. But I think we did a good job this year. I don't think it's going to be too difficult for us to get up to speed really.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. We're all very excited for you. Looking forward to seeing you as you get behind the wheel of the car in pre-season testing. I'd like to throw things over to Champ Car president Steve Johnson.
STEVE JOHNSON: Thank you, Eric. This is definitely another in what is a series of great announcements for the Champ Car Atlantic Championship as we get ready to head into our 2006 season. Champ Car is committed to building the strongest driver development system in open-wheel racing, and we feel that the improvements in this year's Atlantic Championship helps achieve that goal. A new engine, a new chassis, and a $2 million prize for the champion has really sparked great interest in the Atlantic Series for 2006.
We're excited to welcome Graham Rahal into the Champ Car Atlantic Series. Not only is he the son of one of Champ Car's legendary drivers, he's one of the most impressive young road racing talents in the world. His performance at the SCCA Runoffs, winning the championship at just 16 years of age, shows that he's ready to make the step to Atlantic.
We're also pleased to see Eric Bachelart's Mi-Jack Conquest team expanding its operation to include Champ Car Atlantics in 2006. Champ Car team's strengthen their entire organization when they can develop drivers there their own Atlantic programs, and we expect to see more of our teams following suit. Again, the Champ Car Atlantics program is at an all-time high in both popularity and participation. We welcome Graham Rahal to our family as he ascends to greatness in open-wheel racing.
ERIC MAUK: Thank you, Steve. We'll go ahead and turn it over to questions from the media.
Q: Graham, your dad thought a few years ago, when you were really starting to show some promise, he said, "Yeah, the problem is he's going to be too big, probably going to have to run sports cars, probably going to outgrow open-wheel." Doesn't look like that's what happened at all. Talk about what you thought a couple years ago, if you would be down this road or it would be more sports cars. Are you surprised that open-wheel has become kind of your path?
GRAHAM RAHAL: No, I'm not surprised at all. You know, growing up around the Champ Cars, it's always what I wanted to drive. Obviously, it's well-known that I have an interest in sports cars. But really at some point, height can stop you. But I don't think I'm there yet. As you heard, I was down in Homestead this week. Justin Wilson was down there. He's a lot bigger than me. I have some room to grow still. I sit in the old Atlantic car, it's pretty tight for me, I'll be honest. The reason we couldn't do some Atlantic races this year was just because we had to cut the surround of the helmet. That was an issue I guess with the rules. Otherwise, I'm looking for the new car to be a little bit bigger. It should be perfectly fine for me really.
Q: Graham, when you talk about the new package, what is it that you're talking about that's the big allure besides more room in the seat? What else do you like about this package?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, obviously for me, the more power is going to be better this year. I hope that the car will still have towards the same amount of downforce. But really, like you said, it's going to be for me being able to fit in the car.
No matter what, I'm just looking forward to moving up to the series with the competition that we're going to have this year. Obviously, we feel like we've got a really good chance to win. With Eric's experience, I don't think we'll have any issues getting the car up to speed as far as engineering with the work the guys are going to be doing. For me, it's just looking forward to the whole package of the car really, the motor, the new chassis, being able to get a little more room inside there.
Q: I saw where Don Halliday is going to be part of your deal. The crew you're going to have around you, it's sort of like a rookie going in with one of the great managerial staffs in baseball or something. How would you describe the people who are around you?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, obviously they're the best really. All the way from Eric to Don, my driver coach Mike Zimicki, who worked with Danica for a long time. They're the best. That's what it takes to advance someone like me, advance our careers really. If you have a totally inexperienced engineer, really to bring two beginners in at the same time, you're not learning anything. Bringing Don along is going to help. Obviously with Eric's experience, driving himself and everything, we definitely have the best package, like I said, as a team. I think that's going to help a lot towards our success this year.
Q: You talked earlier about obviously this is going to be a step up. You also talk openly about going for a championship that first year. Do you feel 16? A lot of people would say this would be a learning year, and maybe two years down the road you might go for a championship. What gives you that confidence that you're going to step in and maybe make that big step?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Like we just said really, it's the people that are around me. I've gotten quite a bit of time in an Atlantic car overall. I guess I thought the same thing this year, going into the Mazda. I figured this was going to be a total learning season. I didn't think that the championship was in reach. But in the end, after the first few races, we were second in points and right there. Really, in the big picture, we've got to go in with confidence. We've got to know that we can do the job. If we're going to sit back and say, "We just want to learn this year," which we always do, but if we just sit back and expect that we're not going to be winning, then it's not going to happen. We just need to aim for the highest. I think we can achieve it for sure.
Q: Are you a quick learner? Last year in Star Mazda, did you find you pick up on things pretty quickly?
GRAHAM RAHAL: With Mike Zimicki, like I said earlier, my driver coach, there's a lot of things that he brings towards this that can really help advance me once I step into the car for the first time. But I guess as far as just becoming quick right away in a new car, that's probably just experience really. Being able to drive so many different cars is what gives you the ability to do that. I wouldn't necessarily say that I'm the quickest learner because I don't know how quick everybody else picks things up. I think we've usually gotten up to speed pretty quickly. Obviously driving an Atlantic car this year for quite a bit of time is going to help for next year, because I wouldn't expect it to be too much different.
Q: How tall are you now?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I'm 6'2".
Q: Still growing?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I hope not (laughter).
Continued in part 2