IRL: Bobby Rahal teleconference transcript, part 1

An interview with BOBBY RAHAL Part 1 of 2 THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us on this teleconference today. Bobby Rahal has just joined us. BOBBY RAHAL: Obviously, this is a big day, historic day for ...

An interview with BOBBY RAHAL
Part 1 of 2

THE MODERATOR:  Good afternoon, everyone.  Thank you for joining us
on this teleconference today.  Bobby Rahal has just joined us.

BOBBY RAHAL: Obviously, this is a big day, historic day for me personally and for all of us at Team Rahal. We are anxious to get going on this venture, quite excited about it. I think given how things went at Homestead, having two cars is definitely going to help us remain or continue to be competitive throughout the year. So we look forward to having two cars in the IndyCar Series throughout this year. Of course, that will also mean three cars for us at Indianapolis.

As I say, looking forward to it. While this was a very difficult decision emotionally for many of us, this is a business that we run, and this decision was based on those kinds of considerations.

Q: There's so many questions, but the key is, I talked to Michel Jourdain this morning, and I said, "Will you be going? Are you going to stay in Champ Car? Gigante going or are they staying?" He said it's a mess, he's trying to figure it out. He might know later in the day, might know tomorrow. Can you talk about a sponsor, and will he be going with you?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think we'll be announcing a sponsorship here in the very near future. While we certainly wanted Michel to join us, he has decided to remain in the Champ Car series. That's a disappointment certainly to us because we've built a strong partnership over the last two years. While personally I'm disappointed with his decision, I fully understand it, given the fact that there's not an IRL IndyCar race in Mexico yet.

So I kind of understand it, and I wish him luck. We're actively seeking out a candidate. Of course, as you all know, there's a lot of very talented people out there. I'm sure we'll be able to get something sorted out here very quickly.

Q: What does it say when a three-time champ and a guy that was a CEO bails? You're the cornerstone of that whole group. Is it a hundred percent driven by finances?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think it's a hundred percent driven on business reasons, and of course finances are certainly a part of that. As I've made clear on a number of occasions this year, I truly believe for open-wheel racing to regain the popularity that it had, there really needs to be, you know, one series, the focus on one series.

I also look at it that for us, having a car in each camp was very difficult from a team standpoint last year. I think it hurt our IndyCar team, I think it hurt our CART team. It was driven by sporting reasons. It was driven by business reasons.

As I said in my preface, no one agonized more about this than I did, given the fact that I was all those things you said I was. And I've given a lot of my time, a lot of blood, sweat and tears not toward open-wheel racing as a whole, but CART in particular.

Yes, it's very, very difficult emotionally. But I felt that it was in the best interest of Team Rahal.

Q: I haven't actually seen the release. Do you have a list of guys you're looking at driver-wise? Is there something pending in the next week or so that could come out? Catch me up on that.

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, of course we have Buddy, who has been doing a great job for us. And that's been a temporary situation, as you well know, because we're waiting for Kenny's situation to become a hundred percent clear. And certainly Buddy did everything we asked of him and more at Homestead. I was very pleased with that particular job. I'm excited for him this weekend in front of his home crowd.

So, as I say, while we're looking at a number of individuals, we have not made a decision yet. But whomever it is will certainly have been competitive in open-wheel racing in the highest categories in the past, and that will be a very important criteria for us because, again, so much hinges around Kenny and his personal progress that we have to be flexible.

We'll certainly proceed in that manner.

Q: Is there a sense that the IRL is now the major league, and the other league is not? What is that sense, your feeling right now about the whole open-wheel situation?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think there's a lot of good teams and drivers in Champ Car. Obviously, there's a lot of great teams and drivers in IndyCar, in IRL. Of course, Honda and Toyota being in IRL, that's a big plus, I think. Certainly there's Ford involvement in the Champ Car series. So I guess they can each lay claim to certain things that certainly bring it out as major categories.

But I do feel that, as you could feel last year with the Indianapolis 500, that there was a lot of the buzz back. I think there will be even more of it this year.

Certainly the crowd in Homestead was quite good, I thought, particularly for a NASCAR, an ISC-owned oval track. I thought it was a very good crowd. I definitely feel there is momentum there, to be sure.

The big thing for us I think ultimately is what presents the best business plan and business opportunity for us. And certainly I felt that was achieved by making this change.

Q: I understand that this decision is based 100% on business, and yet you're leaving a very lucrative sponsorship behind. Are there any incentives, financial incentives, for you to do this?

BOBBY RAHAL: I wouldn't believe anything you ever read in autoracingone.com. I've seen numbers bandied about. To say they're wildly over inflated would be an understatement. I think, you should ignore those numbers.

Q: I don't even know what those numbers are.

BOBBY RAHAL: I know the number you're talking about. I have a pretty good idea, and it's not even close. So irrespective of that, we never discuss the details of our commercial relationships. But suffice it to say that the interest in us from a commercial standpoint to commit a hundred percent to IndyCar and to the IRL, there was a lot of interest in us doing that. As I say, we expect to name a sponsor here very soon.

As I say, also definitely for sporting reasons, ensuring that we were successful because we're not spending the kind of money we are on Buddy's effort to finish second or third. Having a two-car team is the only way to fly in this day and age, in my estimation.

Q: Looking at the big picture, looking beyond 2004, looking towards 2005, when the IRL will go to road courses and street courses, do you think the Molson races in Canada, Montreal, Vancouver and Toronto, would be on that list?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I'm not the one to ask that question to, I'm afraid. Obviously, Bob Singleton and Tony George would be the guys that would make that decision. Obviously, those are great races, particularly Toronto, and having been at Vancouver since, what, 1990, there's a lot of tradition, a lot of history to those events. But that's really not for me to answer. There's a lot of conjecture, I suppose, as to what the road courses may be in the future.

Brian Barnhart and Tony I'm sure will have a list. They certainly haven't made me privy to it, so I can't comment accurately either way. But, you know, I guess I would ask you to direct your questions to them and perhaps they can enlighten you.

Q: But given your previous history here, if they said, "Let's have a look at the Champ Car races," which ones do you see as most valuable, in the conversation with Barnhart and/or Tony?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think it's pretty obvious in the Champ Car series historically which races have been very successful - you know, Long Beach, Toronto, Cleveland, Elkhart, Mid-Ohio. Really, there's been quite a few of them. So, you know, there's a lot to choose from. But there may be ongoing commitments that I'm not aware of. It would strictly all be conjecture on my part.

Without a doubt, the Canadian races have always been, if not the most successful, certainly in the top three or four successful events in the CART series. So I guess you would assume that everybody would have a keen eye towards any one of those.

-Team Rahal- Part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Tony George , Brian Barnhart