CHAMP CAR/TOYOTA ATLANTIC MEDIA TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH AL UNSER III, JOHN BROOKS AND ORIOL SERVIA ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car/Toyota Atlantic Championship media teleconference where we have a couple very ...
CHAMP CAR/TOYOTA ATLANTIC MEDIA TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH AL UNSER III, JOHN BROOKS AND ORIOL SERVIA
ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car/Toyota Atlantic Championship media teleconference where we have a couple very exciting announcements as we lead into this weekend's GI Joe's Presents the Champ Car Grand Prix of Portland to take place at the Portland International Raceway June 17th, 18th and 19th. The Toyota Atlantics will be running a doubleheader, running once on the 18th and then again on the 19th. Sunday's Champ Car race will take place getting underway at 3:45 Eastern on Sunday. That can be seen live on CBS Sports.
We'll start with our Toyota Atlantic Championship portion of our teleconference today where we have a very exciting announcement. Brooks Associates Racing will be running a new driver in their #10 car starting in Portland. They'll be running him for the remainder of the season, a driver that is no stranger to many of you on the call. To those of you who haven't met him, you certainly met a member of his family somewhere along the line as we are very pleased to announce that Al Unser III will be campaigning in the Toyota Atlantic Championship for the remainder of the year running the #10 BOSpoker.net sponsored machine for Brooks Associates Racing. We are joined today by Al Unser III as well as John Brooks who is the owner of Brooks Associates Racing. Gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us today.
JOHN BROOKS: Thank you for having us.
AL UNSER III: No problem.
ERIC MAUK: Al comes back to the Toyota Atlantic Championship. He ran four races in the series last year, earning a personal-best eighth place finish in his final start of the season, running at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. Most recently Al has been competing in the Infiniti Pro Series. He has a long history in the Barber Dodge Pro Series in 2003, worked his way up the Champ Car Driver Development system starting back with the Formula Dodge National Championship in 2002. Al, congratulations and tell us a bit about what excites you about coming back to run in the Toyota Atlantic Championship.
AL UNSER III: I'm definitely very excited to work with Brooks and again, Peter Jacobs, team engineer, is definitely extremely smart. We definitely mesh well together. Getting back to all the Champ Car circuits definitely excites me a lot. I love running on street courses and road courses. Portland is going to be a great race for us.
ERIC MAUK: You've run at Portland before. You ran there in the 2003 Barber Dodge Pro Series. Give us a little bit about your thoughts on the Portland circuit.
AL UNSER III: Portland's going to be great. I've heard they've changed the Festival Curves a little bit, made those a little bit faster. It still will be a prime passing area going into those corners. But I like Portland. It's a very, very challenging track. I've got some history there with my dad winning his first Champ Car event there.
ERIC MAUK: Absolutely. He took that win in 1984, his very first one, first of 31 Champ Car wins for Al Unser, Jr. John Brooks, no stranger to the Toyota Atlantic Championship. A long time campaigner, first as a driver and then as an owner. He runs two cars in the championship. He has Andreas Wirth in the #8 car and will now have Mr. Unser in the #10 car. John, tell us a little bit about how this came about and what we can expect to see the rest of the year.
JOHN BROOKS: Well, it's sort of a homecoming for Al coming back to the team, as you know. As you said, we ran Al in four races last year. He was dividing his time between the Infiniti Pro Series and the Atlantic Championship to get as much behind-the-wheel time as he could. They approached me a short time ago when they realized that we had an opening and it was Peter's car and all. I knew how well Al and Pete got along and how good of work they did together. We just thought it was a great combination to get back together again. We were excited to have them contact us.
It's just nice and comfortable having Al back in the team. We're very optimistic. We're looking forward to the consistency of the rest of the year. We know Al is going to do a great job for us.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. That's a great driver lineup with Al Unser III and Andreas Wirth. Andreas coming to Atlantics after driving a season of Formula BMW competition last year. Looking forward to having you guys join us. Again, Saturday and Sunday you will take to the track for your first serious battles as a doubleheader for the Toyota Atlantic Championship taking place this coming weekend. We'll get right to the media portion of today's teleconference.
Q: Al, you're coming back to a series and a circuit that you're quite familiar with. How much did that play into your decision in you've been on probably most of these tracks, probably walked most of them as much as you've driven them.
AL UNSER III: Yeah, you know, I used to rollerblade around the tracks that we were at as my dad travelled around the circuit. I'm definitely very excited to get back to Portland, being a special place.
Q: Also Cleveland I guess has been a pretty big place for you. I believe you raced here last year, one of your four, as well.
AL UNSER III: No, I do not believe that was one of my four in the Atlantic car. I did, however, race there two years ago in the Barber Dodge Pro Series car.
Q: What is the big difference in these cars?
AL UNSER III: Well, between the Atlantics and the Barber Dodge, I would say the Barber Dodge is a step below the Atlantics. It has a little bit more horsepower, but the car's a lot heavier. The motor in the Barber Dodge was a stock Intrepid motor. Came right out of the Dodge Intrepid that you can buy on the street.
Then moving to the Atlantic car, it's a very light, nimble car. You have less horsepower, but you have so much downforce and a lot better tires, that it's an extremely grippy. Moving on to the Infiniti Pro Series car, you know, both Infiniti Pro Series and Atlantics are feeder series for the bigger series in IRL and Champ Car. They're basically kind of an equal car in terms of speed. The Infiniti car is more horsepower but also weighs a lot more.
Q: Al, we have a lot of pictures in the office of Shelly taking you around the track in a stroller. I'm wondering what some of your earliest memories are of Portland?
AL UNSER III: Some of my earliest memories of Portland? Well, it actually doesn't consist with the race. I was at the race. I would say I was probably about 13 or 14. I actually took a trip up to Mt. Hood and went to a snowboarding camp and came back to the racetrack later that weekend. I don't know, some other memories of Portland is definitely the Rose Festival, being there when there's huge floats made out of flowers and birdseeds and all kinds of stuff. I mean, Portland, the city itself definitely embraces the race. To have GI Joe's still sponsoring it after I don't know how many years, I remember them from the beginning.
Q: Weren't you on a float one year when your dad was Grand Marshall?
AL UNSER III: Yes, I do believe we were on a float one year. I've got pictures of it. But, unfortunately, I was too young to remember. Portland's got great fans and it's going to be a great race.
Q: Al or John, the sponsorship involved, I'm wondering if you could talk a little about was that an influence? What was behind the decision to take this sponsorship and do the Atlantic Series rather than the Infiniti Pro Series? What all went into that decision?
AL UNSER III: Well, I'll go ahead and take the question. Being with BOSPoker.net on my car, they are actually an entertainment and charity website for their main company, BOSPoker.com, who is also sponsoring the four events in the Toyota Atlantic Series. I think mainly the sponsor wanted to get some prime coverage and be able to get their name out there. We went ahead and went on board.
Q: Certainly Toyota Atlantic has a long history of success, but certainly in the last couple years we've seen kind of a flowering of success in terms of Toyota Atlantic drivers moving up to the "big leagues," whether it's Buddy Rice and Danica Patrick in the IRL or Ryan Hunter-Reay and AJ Allmendinger in the Champ Car World Series. Al, could you talk maybe about what that legacy means and just from your experience in Toyota Atlantics how you think it prepares you to make that move to either of the "big series"?
AL UNSER III: Yeah, I think the Toyota Atlantic Series is definitely proven. We've had past champions come out of the Atlantic Series and go win championships in Champ Car and so forth. Now we've got up-and-coming drivers that just came out from last year. Ronnie Bremer and Andrew Ranger have done very well so far this year. I think Ronnie had a top five. They both had a couple top 10s so far.
I think the Atlantic car, you have limited horsepower, but you still have a whole bunch of downforce. So you have to keep the corner entry speed as high as possible and get to power as soon as you can. I think moving on to a big car, if you can keep that entry speed high, when you have horsepower, when you get to the power, you can motor out of the corner if you made a mistake.
Q: Al Unser, the Toyota Atlantic and the IRL, will you be doing the Infiniti Pro Series, too, or is this a commitment to the Toyota Atlantic?
AL UNSER III: Right now I do have a commitment to the Toyota Atlantics. I will be running the rest of the season here. I'll be focusing most of my main effort. Right now I'm not scheduled to run any more of the IPS races this year, although if an opportunity opens up, there are a couple non-conflicting weekends. I think as much seat times as I can get, I'll go ahead and do.
Q: So much has been made about young drivers bringing money with them or responding to sponsorship. Is this something that brought you to the Toyota Atlantics, the chance to run with the sponsored car or is it just a career decision for you?
AL UNSER III: It's a little bit of both. I mean, it's definitely an extremely hard market right now, especially with drivers in the sub series having to bring substantial budgets. Now that we've actually acquired a sponsor, and I think they want to continue on in the years to come, that definitely was one of the ups for me. I expect to carry on this relationship for two or three years if not more.
Q: There was a period of time when Toyota Atlantic champions had a very hard time moving up to Champ Car. Do you think that's been resolved now and some of these seats are becoming available and you do see an opportunity to move into the major leagues on this side of the aisle?
AL UNSER III: I think there was a little bit of a fear there for a few years without Indy Lights in the middle where some of the team owners might have thought that an Atlantic driver couldn't handle a Champ Car car going right into it. But obviously it's been proven. We've got AJ Allmendinger out there and Ryan Hunter-Reay who has already won a few Champ Car races. So I think now the team owners know if they see great driving talent it will usually carry on to the bigger cars.
ERIC MAUK: To further illustrate that point, four drivers, AJ Allmendinger, Ronnie Bremer, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andrew Ranger, have come out of the Toyota Atlantic Championship just in the last three seasons. Two of those drivers already have podium finishes this year. Ryan has a couple wins, as Al alluded to. And Ronnie Bremer has led in two of the three Champ Car starts in which he's made since joining the Toyota Atlantic Championship.
Q: I know you ran Toronto in the Barber Dodge series. How do you see it in the Atlantics? Is there any particular challenge to Toronto that you're either looking forward to or dreading?
AL UNSER III: I'm definitely looking forward to the Canadian fans. Canada definitely has some great people that come out to the race. All the Canadian races are usually completely packed. Toronto, it's a bumpy street course. It's very thin and narrow. You know, I'll attack it just as I would any other racetrack. I'll prepare for it as much as I can.
Continued in part 2