Continued from part 1 AL UNSER, JR.: Pretty much the same thing. With the new cars that the Atlantics have, really the depth of the field, I mean, Bobby's exactly right in what he's saying about the competitiveness. The talent that's out...
Continued from part 1
AL UNSER, JR.: Pretty much the same thing. With the new cars that the Atlantics have, really the depth of the field, I mean, Bobby's exactly right in what he's saying about the competitiveness. The talent that's out there right now. You know, Al's run in the IPS. He did a great job. I just felt that, you know, he needed to step into something else and get some more experience in other types of cars. With the opportunity that did come up with such a good team with Eric Bachelart, all of their engineers, that whole operation, it was just a no-brainer to get involved in it.
Q: You're working with almost 30 cars in this thing. Not that long ago it was thin in terms of car count. You have a tremendously deep field. Talk about how tough that is. You're going for quite a purse here with $2 million. Talk about the difficulty of getting through what is an incredibly talented field, deep field.
AL UNSER, III: I think having a deeper field, going up through the grid, makes it instead of tenths it's hundredths. If you can get a few hundredths of a second out there on the track, you can gain two to three positions. That makes it extremely difficult. As well as with more cars, there's usually more accidents, it makes the races a little more distracting, having a yellow every few laps.
Other than that, I love the deep field. I love having more cars out there. We put on a good show.
GRAHAM RAHAL: For me, it's much of the same. It's always good to be able to say that you've raced in big fields, just as I did last year in Star Mazda. At the same time it's great this year because not only do we have a big field, but we've got a big competitive field. There's a lot of people out there that can win any given weekend. We showed that at Long Beach. I know one practice session, I was eighth. I was literally two tenths off first. That says a lot when you're that close. I don't expect to see anything different all year.
Really having that much competition in the field, having so many people, everybody being so close, it makes you really dig deep inside and find those extra hundredths, as Al was saying. That's really what makes the difference.
Q: At Long Beach, how big was the sigh of relief when they threw the checkered flag because of the way that course is and how tight it is?
BOBBY RAHAL: For me, it's always a sigh of relief when you see the checkered and he's taking it. But particularly given there were a couple close calls, some guys tried to make some bonzai moves, almost took him out in Turn 1 on more than one occasion, I was just pleased he had a good run and a good finish. I know he was trying hard. It was a good start. Good start to the year.
I know he's a little frustrated not to have been a little higher, but I think everybody did a super job. As I say, you're always pleased to see the checkered come out and get a good finish under your belt, then on to the next one.
AL UNSER, JR.: I pretty much feel the same way. We didn't have as good of a day as Graham did at Long Beach. Any time that checkered comes out, you've got all fours wheels on the car, like I've always said, if it rolls in the trailer, you've done a good job. We had both cars at Long Beach roll into the trailer. I feel that both drivers learned quite a lot. The whole team is working together. They're going to continue to get better and better. I look for a better performance out of both drivers at Houston, at the next race.
Q: Al and Graham, has there ever come a point when either one of you have said to your dads, 'I'm driving the car'?
GRAHAM RAHAL: As far as on the street or what?
Q: Like you're getting too much input.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I mean, I got to think of a political way to say it so dad doesn't get mad at me when we have dinner tonight. It's always very difficult to take anything from your father. Whether he's won the Indy 500 a couple times or not, it's very difficult to take anything.
Really, when you look at the big picture, obviously dad and I have a lot of experience. We always have to -- as much as it hurts, Al and I always both have to listen to what they say. Obviously this year it's a little bit different with Don, and as dad said, my driver coach Mike Zimicki, who I'm obviously very close to.
I remember in the go-kart days, dad always had something to say. Now he's backed off a little bit. I think that's a little bit better. I don't know if he's learning or what, but something's changed.
AL UNSER, III: I'm right there with Graham. Basically my dad's always kind of been pretty loose about it, pretty relaxed. I've never really had to say that 'I'm driving the car' other than maybe some of the nitpick 'be careful out there' kind of things. Other than that, I think it definitely helps having our fathers at the track. They've been driving for so many years, they can see stuff happen through the corners and so forth. They'll be able to come in and let you know about it.
Q: Al, do you look at the two boys when they race against each other and think about all the great battles you and Bobby had?
AL UNSER, JR.: No, not really. I'm looking at both boys and trying to see how they're going through the corner and if I could help in any way. Bob and I had some great races, but that was a long time ago. Things are way different. The kids are doing such a great job. For myself, I would love to be there all the time trying to help as much as I can.
Q: Graham, you've driven now a number of different cars. Can you compare the new Atlantic car to those cars? Al, can you tell me how this new Atlantic car compares to the old one?
GRAHAM RAHAL: For me, it's very difficult to compare. I mean, everything has its own little features that the next car won't. Obviously, this doesn't compare at all to a GT3 or the GT3 RSR. They're totally different animals.
Obviously, the A1GP car just has a lot of power. Maybe not for dad or Al because they've driven things like a Champ Car. But for me, 550-horsepower, it's got plenty of power. The grip, it's actually fairly low on grip. It's probably worse than the Atlantic car as far as grip goes, but it's very good for driving because it makes you have to drive the thing extra hard, and you have to slide it to be fast.
Obviously, GT3 and the RSR both, the big difference in those two is the RSR just has more grip, more downforce, better brakes, better tires. That's basically the highlights there. Obviously, they're heavier cars. Compared to the new Atlantic car, really there is no comparison, they're totally different animals. Obviously, the new Atlantic car for me is a joy to drive.
I did drive the old one. I won the SCCA (Atlantic) championship last year, so I got to do a bit of driving in it. Certainly the new car is very enjoyable. I've had a great time. I just can't wait to get back in the seat every time.
AL UNSER, III: For the differences between the new and the old, the old Atlantic car felt a little lighter. The new one feels a little more heavier, which I enjoy a little more because it kind of slides around or moves around a little bit.
The new car feels like it has a little bit less downforce when it has, in fact, a little bit more, that's relating to it moving around. The new car's definitely a lot bigger, even cockpit-wise. In the old one, I was wearing elbow pads because I was hitting my elbows. This one, it's pretty free. I don't have to do that. I've got room to move.
Other than that, I think the new one's going to bring heavier competition. It's not a certain type of stab-and-go car like the last year's one was. I think we'll have some good competition, some good races.
Q: With the rumors that there's a possible merger coming up between Champ Car and IRL, do you see moving your sons into Indy Cars?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think for me, I mean, I think it has to happen anyway for the sake of open-wheel racing. Of course, we've been saying that for many, many years. I'm just hoping that all this discussion is coming to a positive end.
In regards to Graham, I think he very much wants to go to Europe. I think at his age, to some degree, time is on his side. I'm fully supportive of him going there for a year or two, seeing how he does. If you excel over there, you're pretty much assured you're going to excel everywhere else.
I think for us, our sights are for Europe for next year. I think we'll be in the A1 GP series again this year, so that's good for him. If we spend two years over there, decide to come back, he's going to be 19 or 20 years old. Still a long time and a chance to build a long career in open-wheel racing, if that's where he wants to go. Really it's more up to him than it is to me.
Q: If you were to win that $2 million prize this year, would that persuade you?
BOBBY RAHAL: That might create a problem (laughter).
AL UNSER, JR.: First off, I totally agree with Bobby, they need to get together. It needs to be unified, all going in the same direction. The split has definitely hurt single-seat open-wheel racing and it needs to be rectified ASAP.
Then I also agree with Bobby on the other hand. It's really up to Al. It's up to him on where he wants to go, what he wants to do. I'd be the proudest dad in the world to witness my son qualify at the Indy 500, then go out there and race in it, and all the races, Long Beach, all of them in the big cars.
But, you know, again, it's up to Al. You can wish for things with your son, but really you got to go at his pace, his speed, to get the most out of it.
Q: Graham, with all the driving you've been doing all over the world, how do you find time to be a normal teenager?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's difficult, honestly. I go to school every day, almost every day. I shouldn't say every day, because I missed 55 days this year. I try to at least. Other than that, it's just -- you seem to find extra time in your day that you really never knew was there. I'm sure it's much the same for Al. You just -- when it comes to homework or anything I do, you just have to find time in your day to get it done. Hanging out with friends or going to dances or whatever it is, it's something that comes in your spare time. As dad says, racing is second to school. I disagree with that a little bit. But, you know, I do have to get my schoolwork done. That's obviously number one when I get home.
To be a normal teenager, it's very difficult. It's something that you just find time for when you can.
AL UNSER, JR.: I'd like to know what a normal teenager is (laughter).
Q: Graham and Al, what is the best advice your fathers have given you about racing?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Actually it's tough to come up with one single thing. I'm always reminded by dad that at the end of the day you've got to say that you've had a good time and you feel happy with what you've done, you've done your best. It's basically the same as it is for any sport. If you're not having a good time doing what you're doing, then you shouldn't be doing it.
It's very difficult to think of one thing, whether it's driving line. I can honestly say dad's never told me how to drive a car because he knows every car's a touch different, so there's not one way to drive it. That's the best thing I could think of at that point, just you got to enjoy what you're doing.
AL UNSER, III: I've got the same thing, just in different words. I was told to just have fun. I mean, it is a competition, but if you were able to come away from the weekend or go out there and have a good time or have fun, you had a good race usually.
I'd say if I'm to pick one thing, it's what dad said earlier in the teleconference, to bring it home. If it rolls on the trailer, you had a good day, having fun and making sure the thing comes back home. We're definitely looking at the $2 million at the end of the year, so we got to finish races, we got to take the checkered flag in order to do that.
Q: Graham, do you have any plans for education after you finish high school?
GRAHAM RAHAL: No matter what, I have to go to college. Lately we've decided that I will most likely be taking a year off. Obviously, this is a tentative schedule. If things go the way we hope they do, I'd like to take a year, try to go to Europe, see if you can make it to Formula One. As dad said, if not, obviously I have time to come home.
I think a lot of people have said to me, there's always Oxford you can go to over there and stuff. If you're going to be pursuing something full-time, I'd like to not be involved with college and writing papers every night.
Yes, in the big picture, you can always be injured, something can always happen, you need something to fall back on. If you don't have an education, you're not going to be able to fall back on anything.
Q: But you are thinking about doing the real school of hard knocks, Formula One?
GRAHAM RAHAL: As far as dad and I have talked, like he said, we're planning on doing A1 GP next winter, hopefully doing GP2 for the two following seasons after that. We'll see what happens.
I mean, it's a goal of everyone's. Most every young race car driver knows that Formula One is the ultimate. As dad has said to me, there's no disappointment at all with saying you were Champ Car champion 10 times. Most people won't be like Michael Schumacher. There's no disappointment in having a great career here.
MERRILL CAIN: A follow-up question for both Bobby and Al Jr. When you look at the Atlantic Series now, the depth of talent we have in the field, does it remind you of what the series used to be like in the '70s? What do you feel when you look at this field?
BOBBY RAHAL: For me, I think it definitely reminds me of that. I think most importantly the level of competition, it's like when I went to Europe to Formula 3 after Formula Atlantic, went to Monaco, in my heat I was second on the grid. It just prepared you. No matter where you wanted to go, the competition was such that it prepared you to be able to go do that and compete on a worldwide basis.
Whether the guys running Atlantics this year race in Champ Car or some try to go to Formula One, I think the level of competition is of such a high standard that they will be able to do that, that they will be able to go and compete against anybody. We haven't had that in this country for some time I think, that level of a preparation formula like we have this year. I think what Al III said, anybody can win. There's no question, you look at at least the top 20 guys, these are all very good drivers that on any given day could be competitive for a win. That's precisely what this kind of formula should be.
AL UNSER, JR.: Just myself is ditto what Bobby said. Myself, I didn't spend very much time in an Atlantic car. I don't know that much about it when I was coming up. Bobby spent a lot more time in it. He knows a lot more about that.
I just see what I see out there today, a very deep field, great cars, great talent in those cars. I totally agree with Bobby, we haven't had that in this country for quite some time. It's great to see that it is happening now.
MERRILL CAIN: Graham and Al, it's tough to tell after one race, but if you were to take a look at this field, who are the legitimate threats for winning the championship?
AL UNSER, III: I'd say look at the top five positions at Long Beach. With Andreas running last year, he was my teammate last year, definitely a good driver and a good kid. Sierra Sierra is always a threat with Matos this year since he won the Star Mazda championship last year. The Forsythe boys, that super team, the rest of them have a chance, Hinchcliffe, Phillippe, all of them. With that many cars on one team, you're able to share a lot of data.
GRAHAM RAHAL: As Al said, for sure I would say anyone - those up front at Long Beach I would guess would stay up front the rest of the year. Obviously, Forsythe, they're going to be the team to beat because they have four great drivers there. When you're sharing all that information from everybody that can run in the top five, you know you have a big advantage there. Really I would expect to see them up front all year.
Just like Al said, Andreas, obviously I raced against him in Formula BMW. He won the championship that year. Raphael Matos, James (Hinchcliffe). I've raced against those guys for a long time. I know they're all good. I wouldn't expect to see much different.
MERRILL CAIN: Going to come right down to the end this season. That will wrap things up for today's Champ Car Atlantic media teleconference. We thank all our guests for participating in today's call.