Indy 500: Bobby, Graham Rahal press conference, part 1

IndyCar Series Press Conference Transcript Indianapolis Motor Speedway Wednesday May 7, 2008 Guests: Bobby and Graham Rahal THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with the morning media availability. Joined by Bobby and Graham Rahal. Bobby is the...

IndyCar Series Press Conference Transcript
Indianapolis Motor Speedway
Wednesday May 7, 2008

Guests: Bobby and Graham Rahal

THE MODERATOR: We'll get started with the morning media availability. Joined by Bobby and Graham Rahal. Bobby is the winner of the 1986 Indianapolis 500, actually here this month with two cars, his full-time team with driver Ryan Hunter-Reay and an entry with Alex Lloyd in a partnership with Chip Ganassi for a second car. Graham is here making his Indy 500 debut.

Graham, I guess we'll start with you. You've been on the track now three days. Talk about your experience here thus far.

GRAHAM RAHAL: It's been a great last couple of days. I think obviously I've been coming here a long time with dad, and a lot of memories of the track. But it's always different when you're driving yourself and in it. To get out on the track, it's a pretty daunting place. It's hard at first. As everybody says, it seems like every single corner is a bit different than one another. Although you look at them, they all look pretty much the same, it's definitely tough.

Obviously, I think our cars, the Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing group, I think the cars are running pretty well, we're pretty competitive so far. Obviously we need to find a little more speed. But it's still early. So far we're pretty happy with it.

Yesterday started off a bit tough. But at the end I think things really came around. Obviously we're looking to build on it today. The weather, we'll see what happens, but hopefully it will hold off.

THE MODERATOR: Bobby, you're focused on your team operation, you're keeping a watchful eye on Graham. Talk about how you do that and what you're looking for.

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I'm not sure I do it very well. Obviously when Alex and Ryan are out there, my interest is with them. Same token, if Graham is out there at the same time, seems like all I'm doing is looking at the monitor or looking at the screens up in the grandstands, the speeds. I think naturally I'm interested in what's going on on all fronts, and it's just sort of a bit -- for example, when we were done yesterday at the end of the day, our team, I sat and watched Graham run the last 20 minutes or so. For me it's nice that at least I get to see him every weekend race now. In years past it's been here and there. So I feel lucky that even though we have our team, I feel like I that I can watch him do his thing.

Q: Graham, I'm going to assume he's given you some advice. Just tell me kind of some of the things he's told you about getting around this place.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think every circuit I go to, there's always a piece of advice. You know, we always joke about it. It's kind of like a little league father, right? He's always got his words. He's always trying to jump in on it.

But, no, I think the biggest thing here was I actually -- I rode around with Rick Mears on I guess Saturday. Sorry, it was Sunday. Obviously he's been very competitive, won a lot of races here. Every single piece of advice he told me, as far as your apex points, down to where you run on the straightaways, everything has come true.

Even with dad, I took those basic things I learned from Rick - if there was something that needed to be changed, like initially I was running too far to the left on the front straight, dad would come down and let me know. If I need a little more margin for error, of course he always lets me know when it comes to that.

I think there's always little bits of advice, it comes as the month goes on. If there's something he sees, obviously he'll come down and let me know. Initially, I don't know, maybe I'm forgetting something, but... He might be the one to ask.

Q: Bobby, in the past, the Ganassi team has been known for their secrecy. If we stand with a camera in front of their car too long, they come and chase you. With your relationship now with a second car, which is a Ganassi car, how does the engineering operation work between the two cars? Are they telling you everything or are they not doing anything on the second car?

BOBBY RAHAL: No. Well, first off, Alex is contracted to Chip. Andy Brown, who was (Dan) Wheldon's engineer for the last several years, he's the engineer for Alex and working hand-in-hand with us. In fact, every morning at 9:45, we have an engineering meeting which is chaired by myself and Neil Fife, who is Ryan's engineer, and Andy, myself, Scott Roembke, and Jay O'Connell, who is our technical director, we all meet and discuss the previous day's running, the plans for the current day.

We agreed to this right from the start, that it has been a very open book between Chip's side and our side both ways, you know, us providing information to them, them to us.

Alex is not yet a Wheldon or a Scott Dixon. So the setups aren't necessarily the same. But the information I think is very free-flowing between the two, and it's been very open. I think it's worked out exactly the way we had hoped it would, because I think for us to give Alex the best opportunity he can have, we have to have that level of communication, just as we have to have it for Ryan, as well.

So far it's been quite good.

Q: Bobby, if you've told Graham anything, what sort of advice have you given him? And your victory in '86 here, how did that change your life?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, regarding any advice I gave Graham about this place, really it's similar with all the ovals: it's be patient. That's maybe even more important here because of the length of time that you're out here, how many laps you're doing, the things that -- the hiccups that can happen. So you just have to stay very patient and very disciplined. I think those were the two probably biggest pieces of advice I can give him.

I can't tell him how to drive, other than after his slide yesterday, I did tell him he didn't need to do that again (laughter). Didn't need to see that.

But, as I say, ultimately he's got to experience it all. But at least, as I said to people before, I can't tell him now to drive, but I can tell him where the land mines are buried, the things he has to look out for. He's done that really all by himself in many respects over the years that he's raced. It's really just sort of the things like that, being patient and what have you, that I try to leave with him.

Regarding this race and how it changed my life, well, it probably changed it irrevocably in the sense from a commercial standpoint and from a professional standpoint. Things are never the same, they're better. As I've said to many people, you're always probably for the rest of your life, or at least it certainly seems to be the case, you're always introduced as the Indianapolis 500 winner. I won a lot of other races, some of which were maybe even a little bit more difficult to win, but I'm never introduced as the winner of the Portland 200, with all due respect to Portland. It's always the Indianapolis 500. That's just the stature of this event. I mean, that's the reality.

You know, I think I'm really pleased that Graham has finally had the opportunity to race here, that everybody's together, because I think it really brings back -- you know, you can clearly state that the best drivers in open-wheel racing are in this race this year.

Q: Bobby, you kind of started to touch on it there, but you might be able to answer this from a couple different perspectives, team owner and Graham's father. How important is it that open-wheel racing is going forward as one, as the IndyCar Series?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I mean, obviously it's extremely important. I don't think that there's any mystery to that. I mean, I think it's unfortunate that it ever got to the point that it did. But I think now it's wonderful that it's all together because now, frankly, there's potential; there's the ability for open-wheel racing, IndyCar racing is the way we should refer to it, not open-wheel racing, IndyCar racing, now it can regain its rightful place in my mind. With all the drivers we have in this race, I certainly believe the ingredients are there to do that for sure.

And in Graham's case, I think he said it earlier, over the course of the winter when Champ Car was looking a little marginal, there was a lot of rumors, was it going to happen, wasn't going to happen, he made it very clear that when we were having a discussion, he said, I just want to race against the best. And I think for any driver, you want to be a big fish in a big pond, not a big fish in a little pond.

So now there's a chance for all those people to race against each other, and by doing so really create some excitement that's going to draw people back into the sport.

So I think it's just nothing but blue skies. I've said it before. I'm really pleased the first question we've had to answer over the last 13, 14 years is no longer a question.

Q: I know this is a busy month with lots of commitments, even in the evening. I'll throw this out there for both of you. Is there sort of a home base here in Indy? Do you try to get together for dinner? After all, he still is just 19 years old. Does he have to come home at night?

GRAHAM RAHAL: No, you know, I'm just starting to get out on my own. He's finally letting me go (laughter).

I'm staying here at the track. I think dad's obviously downtown. It's one of those things, as you mentioned, definitely try to get together for dinner and talk as much as we can. I think it's good to kind of get out.

One of the things Dad told me in this month, it's a long month, it's very easy to get too caught up in it. Any time you can kind of step away from the speedway a little bit, go out, whether it's just to get a bite to eat, the other night we went to see a movie, it's a good thing to do. It's nice to step away.

Obviously to have dinner with dad, it's kind of a nice way to just talk about what's happened during the day. Even if we step away from that and just talk about other things that are happening, just kind of get into more of a more relaxed mindset, state of mind.

BOBBY RAHAL: I don't think I have to worry about him being in bed. Not that I check up on him. He is only 19. I guess legally you're an adult. You know, I think he's pretty responsible, so I never worry about that.

Q: Graham, both you and Justin (Wilson) are on the larger side as open-wheel racers go, both in height and weight. Even with the weight rule in the IRL for the first time, does it still present some unique problems for you guys in terms of setting up your cars?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean, it's a huge thing. I think we're figuring that out more than ever. Weight is huge, especially when it comes to being on these ovals. It's still not equal by any means. I don't want anybody to think that the driver weight rule is perfect by any means. I think it's one of those things where we've seen a lot of other people complain that it's not fair that they'll add weight, whatever it may be. But if I weighed 130 pounds, I'd be saying the same thing.

The issue is that for Justin (Wilson) and I, we're both big guys. I weigh 175 pounds. But, guess what? I can starve myself; I'm just not going to get much lighter. There's really not much we can do.

Champ Car had a great driver weight rule. That was that every driver had to weigh the same. If someone weighed 130 pounds, the heaviest guy was 190, that someone needed to put 60 pounds of ballast on their car so it was equal. I think that's the way it needs to be. I don't think it's going to happen any time soon. I'd like to see it.

We're closer now than it's been in the past. But weight is huge, especially on these ovals. It's just equal speed. Unfortunately, when it comes to these guys, some of these people running a 118 wheel base, we just can't run that because our weight distribution, I mean, the car would just be horrible. So we're already fighting an uphill battle with weight, then also that. I think it's definitely tough.

Continued in part 2

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Scott Dixon , Graham Rahal , Rick Mears , Chip Ganassi , Alex Lloyd