THE MODERATOR: We're pleased today to announce the 2008 Champ Car driver lineup for the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing Team. As many of you know, this team has had the driver that's captured the Vanderbilt Cup over the past four seasons. And glad to...
THE MODERATOR: We're pleased today to announce the 2008 Champ Car driver lineup for the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing Team. As many of you know, this team has had the driver that's captured the Vanderbilt Cup over the past four seasons. And glad to make it official that Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has decided to have Justin Wilson and Graham Rahal make up their formidable lineup for this season.
Justin has been runner-up in Champ Car championship the past two seasons and third the previous season to Sebastien Bourdais. So his joining Newman/Haas/Lanigan is clearly a case (of) "if you can't beat them, join them." Right, Justin?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, exactly.
THE MODERATOR: He will obviously be teamed with Graham Rahal who enjoyed a very impressive first season in Champ Car in a Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing car with four podium finishes in his maiden season after a second-place finish in the Champ Car Atlantic Series the season before.
They (have) recently been joined as teammates. I saw them personally as well, down in Daytona on Saturday. I know some of you were also there. They've gotten to know each other, and they didn't come to fisticuffs so that's a good thing, at least, leading into our season opening.
I'll start with Justin and congratulations for joining Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. Say a few words first.
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously, I'm excited to be joining Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. It's the team I've competed against in Champ Car. And they've shown year after year they're strong and very motivated and have a team full of excellent people. So I'm very pleased and proud to be chosen to take over after Sebastien has left to go to Formula 1.
THE MODERATOR: Before I turn it over to Graham, I wanted to ask, and I don't know if everyone here would know that your first Champ Car ride was actually with Newman/Haas/Lanigan, correct, in October of 2002? Can you tell us a little bit about that?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, that was my first test. I was looking to come to Champ Car, and I had two options at that stage. I was speaking with Newman/Haas as it was then called to go to Champ Car or go to Formula 1.
We did a test at Homestead on the oval, which was a big eye opener. My first-ever time on an oval was in Champ Car. The speed was something to get used to. So I had a great time--it was a great experience.
But being from the U.K., the draw for Formula 1 at that stage was still pretty high for myself, and I opted to go that route. Which is something that you could go either way whether it's good or bad, because Sebastien then took the Newman/Haas ride and went on to be four-time champion, and I kept finishing second to him.
THE MODERATOR: Well, I'm glad. I assume your goals for next season are one step up. How do you think you'll be able to accomplish that?
JUSTIN WILSON: Who knows? My aim is to go out there and win the championship. That's what I'm trying to do. You know, filling in from where Sebastien left off is not going to be easy. He obviously gelled very well with the team. He's a great driver and did a great job.
So I don't expect to just pick up from where he left off. I know I've got to work at it and find my feet and get used to the team and try to get things working for myself and understand how to make the Newman/Haas/Lanigan car go quick. It's going to be tough, but I'm looking forward to the challenge.
THE MODERATOR: Graham, second season with Newman/Haas and Champ Car. Obviously you must be pleased.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean for me it's great to be back with the team. Obviously last year was a good season for us all with Sebastien winning the championship and with me finishing fifth. We felt that we had achieved quite a bit. Obviously looking forward to being back, and it's great to have Justin alongside.
You know, as you said, we raced together in the 24 this past weekend, and obviously it's that entire team and working with Justin seemed to work really well.
So I'm looking forward to the '08 season. I think, as Justin said, we know that we have a determined team behind us to go and win another championship. And certainly, you know, I would hope to be in the championship running towards the end of the season. I think with this combination, it's certainly possible.
THE MODERATOR: You think at the end of the season that you felt you were more comfortable with what was required to be at the top of Champ Car?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, absolutely. I think that obviously the beginning started off a little tough. It seemed to come pretty easy in Houston. So we kind of expected that was the way it was going to go, but mid-season was tough.
At the end of the season I did feel much more confident in myself. I honestly felt like we could be looked at as one of the front runners, certainly in the top five. You know, I think that's the way we need to look going into this season is that we should be up front. I think it's possible.
As you said, I definitely felt better in the car at the end of the season, and better competing against all the drivers in Champ Car. I certainly am looking forward to it this year. I do hope when the season comes to an end that we can be right up front.
THE MODERATOR: You think you'll be able to handle the fact that you'll now be the shortest driver on a Newman/Haas/Lanigan team?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I'm pretty happy about that. Because I can't say I've ever been the shortest driver in anything. Well, but I think also it kind of works to our advantage slightly because obviously being a taller driver set-ups vary quite a bit when you've got one guy that is 5'5" and another guy that's 6'2". So putting us in the same height range should make the set-ups more similar and hopefully give us a slight edge.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks, Graham
Q: Given the Autosport affiliation, I'll start off on the British side and ask Justin. You and I had an interesting conversation at Daytona where you're interested in Newman/Haas/Lanigan, not so much in the sense that they had won the last four years, but just because of the culture of racers that exists there. I wonder if you could perhaps elaborate on that a bit.
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously, the whole team is full of people that are very keen to go racing and doing the right thing to make the car go fast. That is something that is quite unique, I think. As many teams that are just trying to, not just Champ Car but all around the world I've come across it. Some people are trying to win; some people are trying to survive.
It's great to see a team where the whole goal is to go out there and win and maximize their attacks. I'm very excited at being part of that and getting to learn their culture and understand the way they go about working. That's going to be a great education
Q: To turn it your way, can you just talk about how you're looking at your second season and just kind of the, shall we say, the jump in performance you expect from yourself not to be too crass about it. But like anyone who goes racing, if you have a night to sleep on it and a test, you come back and you usually do better the second day. In a sense this is kind of the same thing, only in a longer period.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I do think I do expect better results this season than last. But as I said, I think towards the end of last season, I did feel much more confident in the car. And I did feel that on any given weekend, we could run towards the front. I think that is something we hope to see again, obviously, even further up the grid.
Obviously, last season was quite a learning experience for me. Coming out of Atlantic and straight into the Champ Car, I can assure you it's quite the jump. So it took quite a bit of time for me to get comfortable in the car and get used to the speed. Certainly headed into Sebring this weekend, I know or I get the sense that I am more confident and feel better with the speed and everything else of the car. Personally I feel that we can look forward to having better results than last.
When I look or judge the end of my season last year, I think if we ran that way all year, certainly we could have been in the top three in points. It's just the fault of a little inconsistency that took us out of it. If we can go at the entire season the way we did the end of the year and the trailing end of the year, I think we can look forward to some good results.
Q: I heard this from Graham the other day, so I'll hear it from Justin. But the camaraderie that you two seem to have, you're already off on the right foot it sounds like, Justin. Can you talk about how much time you spent with Graham? The kind of relationship that you have. Again, Graham spoke pretty glowingly of it the other day. Can you talk about it?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, it's great to be partnering with Graham, obviously, who is still a very young driver who is doing remarkably well. I think he's got a lot of potential for the future and this year as well. So I think we get on very well.
You know, Graham listens to what's going on in the environments around him, and I think that's good to see. So I definitely appreciate having somebody of Graham's talent and maturity for such a young age. I think that's key to being fast in a race car. So I'm looking forward to working with Graham throughout the rest of the year. I definitely see this as being one of the contenders for race victories throughout this year. There's definitely a bright future ahead of him.
Q: Just to make sure I have it right, the year when you tested with Newman/Haas at Homestead...
THE MODERATOR: They actually tested October 8, 2002.
Q: Okay. October 8, 2002.
THE MODERATOR: That's too long ago for Justin to remember.
JUSTIN WILSON. Sorry. I thought there was more question coming from that. At the end of that season, that was just after the Miami Grand Prix, we went and did that test. After that I went across or went back to Europe and in December and decided to join Minardi and Formula 1.
Continued in part 2