IRL: Indy 500: Rahal Letterman Racing Fast Friday press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Danica brought up that Penske once didn't qualify. There's a long relationship of Penske, Rahal, Tim Cindric. Is there a little extra edge when you get on the track, especially here at Indy? LETO: We regard that team,...

Continued from part 1

Q: Danica brought up that Penske once didn't qualify. There's a long relationship of Penske, Rahal, Tim Cindric. Is there a little extra edge when you get on the track, especially here at Indy?

LETO: We regard that team, especially coming to this place, as the team to beat. They always have been, whether it was three years ago or 10 years ago or last year. We're always racing those guys as a team.

There's people that work there that we've worked with before. Obviously, Tim and myself, Scott, we all work together, went through a year of not qualifying here ourselves. Then the year that Penske didn't, we tried to help them out like they helped us out a year. We've got a good relationship with them.

It's certainly a rivalry, just like with any of the other teams. You got to have a lot of respect for what those guys have achieved over their time coming here with as many wins as they have and as competitive as they are. To us they're always the ones to beat every year.

Q: How has the team rebounded since Paul Dana's death?

PATRICK: I've answered this one a lot. It's your turn.

RICE: I think everybody's handled the situation quite well for the team. I think it's difficult not only for the team but for the sponsors and all of motorsports. I think nobody likes to see that at any time no matter where it's at, whether it's within your own series or somebody else's series.

I think everybody has handled it as best they can, and everybody has done it kind of in their own way. I think we've done quite a good job at that. Jeff had to come in on pretty difficult circumstances to fill that role, as well. I think everybody's done a good job.

Q: With regard to Unser and Michael Andretti being back in the field, Cheever, do you look at them as another car, another number? How do you feel about having them in the field next to you?

SIMMONS: I know two years ago when I ran, Gil de Ferran gave me some advice coming all the way from 29th. He said don't think about Rookie of the Year or anything like that, just go out there, feel the car out. If a car is in front of you, try to pass that one. Don't think about the one in front of that.

I was stuck behind Al (Unser) in that race pretty well. I know he makes his car pretty wide around this place. Yeah, I mean, it's another guy you want to get by.

RICE: I think you have to take that into every race. I think everybody does that, whether it's a past champion for the 500 or anywhere else. I think everybody just comes in there, and you have to take it as just someone else that you're competing against.

I think, like I said earlier, everybody is so competitive; all they want to do is win. It's not really going to matter who is in what car at that time. All you're going to try to do is be as aggressive to some degree as you can, try to get by them and get to the next spot.

PATRICK: These are names that I've remembered since I was growing up in go-karts. I've never raced against them. I think it's kind of interesting and unique to be able to race with them. I've seen them. I think it will be a nice honor to beat them. They've accomplished a lot in their careers. But on the day of the race, on the day I'm on the track with them, regardless of the race, you're always trying to go faster. That's your job.

Q: Danica, your opening lap of qualifying last year, a bit of a bobble in Turn 1. What was the lesson learned there about this place and qualifying? How will that help you Saturday?

PATRICK: Well, you know, it was a cold day. It's been sort of similar to what the weather has been like now. It's been a little bit difficult to get the car going quick right away. That's something that we're working on. I don't want to say I'm going to go into qualifying cautious, but I'm not going to want to throw it in the wall. I'll take it for what it's worth from last year, but this is a new year.

If I can do some qualifying simulations, be able to keep my foot down in Turn 1, I'll do it again in qualifying. You just have to take each event and each qualifying for what they're worth and what you know of your car on that day.

Q: Danica, looking back at last year, was the month of May last year for you a blur? What are your memories of it other than the fact that you obviously did very well here and got a lot of attention? How do you look back at last May?

PATRICK: I look back and think, "That was nice and easy." But that's not always the case, you know. I came into a fortunate situation where, you know, the team had worked really hard the years before and done very well with Buddy. The engineers had worked out the car to make it very good. I benefited from that, for sure. So the month was good. The month was nice. It was busy. But also I remember it being a nice month in the sense that like for us we're all over the country. I finally have a routine for a month while I'm here, which is really nice. Seems bizarre with all the things there are to do. I'm able to work out, eat breakfast, do media, change to get ready to go out on the track, go out on the track all day, do some more media maybe at the end of the day, chill out, cook dinner, go to bed. It's kind of nice for me. I enjoy this month, actually. It's hard for me to ever get too attached to home because I'm never really there. Never been in one home for long enough.

I like it, and I'm lucky that I have my parents and my husband and now my sister, who is graduating today, in like two hours coming. It will be really nice. It will be nice to have the whole family here. But I remember the month as being ^Ö I probably don't know what it quite did for me yet, but I think great things.

Q: Danica, you're probably the best to answer this 'cause you ran the most laps last year between the three of you. Has the track changed much?

PATRICK: No. It's the same as it was before. It feels a little bit different because we were using some different Firestone compounds right now. That does make it feel a little bit different. Outside of that, the actual track surface is just the same.

Q: How comfortable are you with these new tires?

PATRICK: Well, I'm not real fast right now, so... We're figuring out how to make it work. Tires are very important to the car. We're just trying to figure out how we can get the most grip out of them.

At times it's uncomfortable 'cause the car is not perfect. That's the thing, the car does have to be pretty perfect around here to be fast. We are learning them as we go.

Q: In terms of the qualifying arrangements, do you anticipate things will be as eventful as they can potentially be with the new rules? We didn't see it last year. Could this be as crazy as it could potentially be?

RICE: Yeah, I mean, for sure. If you look at the entry sheet, there's 15 to 18 cars right now that could qualify on the first day and get into the field in the top 11 at any time. I think, yeah, if you were to have tomorrow's qualifying session, there's only 11 spots open, there's going to be a lot of cars trying to make sure they get into that top 11.

I think if it goes ^Ö you have the first 11, then you come back on Sunday and have the next 11, I don't think there will be nearly as much because there's only about 23 cars, I think, practicing right now for first weekend of qualifying, then there will be more cars starting next week again. It definitely could be exciting if we get the first day of qualifying in.

Q: Danica, are you aware there's a lot of new young female racers out there, and are you aware of the influence you have on them? What do you think of that?

PATRICK: Well, this is an interesting role that I fell into last year. It came quick. I didn't think I'd be so much of a role model as I was or as I am. But I think that, as I've said before, the best part about all that is I've never changed who I am. I've never tried to be a role model. I guess I've never tried to act a part and say the right things or do the right things. I just think that I was brought up with good values and have good parents that were good role models for me when I was growing up.

I think it's ^Ö I feel good about the situation. It's never a good thing, but I don't have to try to be a role model. I feel honored to be in that position. I still have so much career left, it's hard to think about what exactly ^Ö I'll do everything I can to, you know, help them out. On the same note, I think the best thing for them to do is to make it their way and prove themselves.

I guess it's part of the reason why I wrote a book, was to be slightly inspirational. I'm not trying to tell anybody what to do; I'm just trying to show people what I did. Maybe read the book, I don't know. I don't know. Maybe they can take something from it, pull from it, and maybe it will help them. I think that's a really neat thing.

MODERATOR: Thanks very much for coming in.

-ims

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Paul Dana