Andretti, Foyt IV, Rahal teleconference 2008-05-21

An interview with Marco Andretti, A.J. Foyt IV and Graham Rahal Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us...

An interview with Marco Andretti, A.J. Foyt IV and Graham Rahal
Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript

MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us today.

We're happy now to be joined by IndyCar Series drivers Marco Andretti and Graham Rahal and anticipating that A.J. Foyt IV will be with us in a second.

Good afternoon, guys. These guys need no introduction as their families have been involved with open wheel racing for many, many years. All three of these guys represent the next generation of American open wheel racing. Marco is only 21 years old. A.J. will turn 24 on Sunday and Graham's 19.

Guys, I'm sure each of you always gets a lot of questions about your family's history, especially this time of the year at the Indianapolis 500. I won't try to dwell on that too much. But, of course, we have to ask that a little bit. Graham, I want to start with you. This is your first Indianapolis 500. It's a place where your father won, but he did that before you were born. What kind of memories do you have of Indianapolis? What does it mean to you to get your first opportunity to race here on the oval?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, first of all, it's been obviously many years, with the merger, it's pretty nice to be back. It's something that I didn't expect to happen so soon. The question was always asked when I would be at Indy. Really didn't have any clue. Obviously I'm glad to be here.

As far as memories go, you know I think my earliest memory has to be 1994. I think my dad finished second or third that year, so that would obviously be a reason to remember it.

Other than that, the last couple of years with Buddy Rice winning for my dad, and 2005 with Danica (Patrick) and everything else spent a lot of time on the track it's a whole different level of commitment driving for yourself.

You have to show up every day and perform every day and it's certainly something that in the past I never had to do.

MODERATOR: Marco, you debuted in the IndyCar Series in 2006. That season you were runner up here at Indianapolis got a win at Infineon Raceway, won rookie of the year honors. You're back at Indy for the third time. What does it mean to you to continue your family's legacy here at Indy, and what would it mean for you to be able to win here?

MARCO ANDRETTI: It's a great opportunity. Andretti Green gives me great cars every year for me to have a chance at my ultimate goal.

And it's great. There's a lot of history here with the family, like you said. Obviously, that's special as well. But obviously my approach to the race, I don't want to win it because they won it or because of their history here. I want to win it for myself.

And I think we have a great chance.

MODERATOR: This has been a great year so far for the IndyCar Series. We've had big news items like unification. We had a couple of your fellow drivers enjoying success with Helio (Castroneves), with Dancing with Stars, Danica (Patrick) winning recently. Can each of you maybe comment on how important you think it is to also have a group of young American drivers in the series with names that people recognize, names like Andretti, Foyt and Rahal?

Marco, want to take it first?

MARCO ANDRETTI: I think it's great. Especially with the continuing from the family and everything like that. I think having the names come back and perform is awesome. I think it's real big. I mean obviously I don't feel like everything's in my lap or Graham's lap or everything like that.

I think as long as we can help, I think it's just great. And I think Danica's win was huge as well. So it's all heading in the right direction, for sure.

MODERATOR: Graham, your thoughts on that?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I completely agree with Marco. I don't think the pressure is on us completely. I mean obviously to have names back, and, of course, the old rivalries. I don't know if Marco and I look at it the same way as our dads did, but, of course, to have us and obviously A.J., and there are a lot of names that are back in the cities that for a long time, for a long time, especially on my side on the Champ Car part, there were a lot of drivers that were coming and going on a yearly basis.

And fans really didn't know who to cheer for. But having the names back, I think it certainly will bring crowds back to a race whether it be Indy or any race week that maybe hadn't been there in the past.

Q: Over the last 10 years or so, I think that the perception of many is that the stock car race at Indy has overshadowed the Indy 500. I wondered about your perception and if you feel that way, could this year be sort of a turning point?

MARCO ANDRETTI: Just to answer it, I don't think it's overshadowed it by any means. I think maybe, OK, it did it take a little away. I don't know. But I think all Indy fans are going to support whichever race comes out. I think they're both huge races, but I wouldn't say overshadowed it.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah. I completely agree. I certainly haven't seen that it's taken -- I mean, of course, with the split and everything it hurt it in the past, the 500. But I must say I think there's a lot of momentum on our side. And I think that things are looking pretty good. I mean I was here last year for pole day. Obviously not driving myself.

Then being here this year on pole day the increase in crowd seemed to be huge. I think there's certainly a lot more interest and enthusiasm about IndyCar racing than what we've seen in the past few years.

Q: To piggyback off those last two questions, it seems like the IndyCar is having a perfect storm. Graham, you won. Danica won earlier in the year. There's enthusiasm in the series. Does it feel like IndyCar is getting back to, getting what they lost the last 12 years?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I think it's getting, like I said, I think it's getting back there. It's not going to happen overnight. We can't expect it to happen by tomorrow or anything. But it's going to take a couple of years.

But as we touched on earlier, with Marco, A.J., myself, obviously Danica and Helio's success off the track, I think there's a lot of reasons for IndyCar fans to be enthusiastic about where this is heading.

MARCO ANDRETTI: Same thing. I definitely felt the buzz, and I'm kind of getting a sense of that old feeling back as far as crowds go and just the feel for things.

I think it has changed already. And like Graham says, it's not going to happen right away. But I don't see why not in three years we can get back to where we had it in the heyday, if not better.

So much is happening. Even with Graham's win, it was huge. A lot of cool stuff is happening.

Q: As a quick follow-up how is the Indy 500 keeping everybody enthusiastic?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think it's -- of course, to have a good race here and to have a new winner, it would be quite exciting, especially if it's someone like Marco or myself. Obviously Danica, it would be huge.

A.J. FOYT: Don't forget about me.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, exactly. Didn't know you were on yet.

I think it would be huge for the sport. It's something that obviously for myself, the transitioning team, it's going to be very difficult. But as Marco touched on, I think it's going to take a couple of years. And having one good Indy isn't going to change it all.

MODERATOR: A.J., welcome to the call. We'll get back to the Q&A in a second. Let me ask you one question, A.J., before we continue the Q&A. We've got this new generation of drivers with you and Marco and Graham. Of those guys, of the three of you, you were the first one on the scene in the IndyCar Series when you debuted back in 2003. Can you tell us a little bit, what was the pressure like for you when you came in in 2003 and has that changed at all now that you're also having Andretti and a Rahal on the track with you?

A.J. FOYT: No, I don't think it changes. I think we all kind of feel the same amount of pressure. We all have a lot to live up to. I think it's a little bit less pressure now that I'm driving for another team. Now he (A.J. Foyt) can just be my grandfather now instead of my owner now, too, makes it a lot easier.

Q: Graham, since you're the one driver, your dad, his history, his IRL team, you and Champ Car, do you kind of feel like the poster boy for unification?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I don't think so. Once again, I think that obviously my win in St. Pete really helps that. I think it's all of us. It's everybody as a group here is what's going to make a difference. I don't think, as Marco touched on earlier, I don't think it's going to be any one of us specifically. I think it's got to be everybody.

And obviously it's got to be continuity with drivers in the series for people to cheer for.

Q: Extension to that, can you talk about just how difficult and how much of a gap there may be still between the Champ Car guys especially the guys with zero oval racing experience getting up to speed as it were on the ovals, how far away are you and they?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think it's been quite tough. Especially Indy has been different, obviously, because we have the whole month. I think realistically we're still a couple of miles an hour behind. And I think my team, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, I think we've done a great job this month. I think ultimately there's still probably about two and a half, three miles an hour on the big oval here. And maybe a little less -- I'm sorry, a little more than that on the short ovals.

There's a little ways for us to go. It will be interesting to see what happens in this race this weekend, because I think for us to compete with Ganassi and Penske, seems like we have to run a lot less downforce than they just to do the same pace. It will be interesting to see what happens.

Q: This whole field will be going to Edmonton, which will be the first non-IRL stop in the series. How much having raced there the last two years, how much are you looking forward to getting all those guys on that track and back on a road race course?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I'm thrilled to go back. Edmonton, I think it's definitely the most physical of all circuits that we're going to go to this year. It's always very difficult. But I'm really looking forward to going there. Obviously the best thing about Edmonton is the 100,000 people, crowds that we get on Sunday. I think that's great. I think these guys are really going to enjoy it. I think the people have a lot to look forward to.

Q: Graham, your team and Dale Coyne were kind of like polar opposites in Champ Car, and yet it looks like you've qualified about the same place. I just wonder, is that merely the product of everybody learning at the same pace here?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I think it is. But I also want to say, you know there are a lot of smart guys over there. And even more so than that, Bruno (Junqueira) is a hell of a driver. And especially here. I mean you've seen Bruno in the past obviously after his big incident, it hurt him quite a lot.

But the guy's very good. And he can trust on his experience, and I think that team has done a really good job. Obviously we are kind of polar opposites. We're obviously a very big team. I think they only have something like 10 full-time employees.

So it's a little bit different when you look at it from that perspective. But, no, I think they're doing a great job.

Q: Do you think by the end of this year, what are the chances that we see a couple of former Champ Car teams, their drivers in the top 10, because there are more road races towards the end of it?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I don't see why there's any reason they can't be in the top 10. I don't know if any of them are going to win an oval this year. I think there's still quite a lot for us to learn there. But when it comes to road racing I think we ought to be very competitive.

A lot of really good drivers that have come over, a lot of good road racers, it will be very interesting to see what happens.

Q: You're in very different qualifying situations. I wondered how much of a difference does where you qualified make? We saw Scott Goodyear back third and second in '92, but that was 16 years ago. How much does qualifying make it?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I think I know where you're going with it. I think qualifying is very important. I think just from the standpoint that if you're starting towards the back, a lot of people say well it's not that big of a deal because we'll let it settle out and we'll be okay.

But the problem is if you're too far back, the leaders, especially for some of the transitioning teams, I don't like to call them Champ Car teams. But for some of the transitioning teams, you know by how much quicker it takes those guys, by the time things settle out, they're going to be on your tail and you're going to be a lap down. So that's what I kept telling my team. That's why we really pushed to qualify amongst the quickest of that second weekend.

I mean that was just -- it was a way for us to try to hang with that lead pack.

MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us this afternoon.

-credit: irl

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