IRL: Rahal Letterman Racing teleconference transcript (part 2)

Continued from part 1 Q: Danica, is this moment right now, you guys kind of put this together over the last couple months, is this a nervous moment of kind of like jumping into a new situation? Is it a feeling now you kind of have to stand...

Continued from part 1

Q: Danica, is this moment right now, you guys kind of put this together over the last couple months, is this a nervous moment of kind of like jumping into a new situation? Is it a feeling now you kind of have to stand and deliver? What is going on in your brain right now?

DANICA PATRICK: It's always a stand and deliver every race you go to, every day, because there's always somebody bigger, better, faster, stronger that's trying hard. You've got to try to stay ahead of that. You just take it in stride. I'm ready for the year. It's not something that we've really put together in a couple months. It's something I've been putting together since I was starting off in go-karts and something that I've been developing with Rahal Letterman for now coming up on the third year. It's not brand-new. It was kind of a sketchy plan that we came up with a couple years ago.

Bobby put his name on that piece of paper, which I thank him greatly for, because without him and without Argent and Norwalk and Atlantic and now Argent, Pioneer, Honda and IRL, nobody would be here. There's a lot of drivers who are good and don't have teams and don't have sponsors. There's a lot of drivers who are good and don't have teams at all. I'm just fortunate and am going to take advantage of it in every way possible.

Q: Vitor, you personally -- were you getting a lot of phone calls from other teams? How much did you want to stay with Rahal Letterman? Exactly what was going on with you the last several months?

VITOR MEIRA: Well, I did have offers and everything, but when I was without a ride, which happened to Buddy, too, nobody gave me a chance. But they did. We got along really well. I had one of my best years in the IRL here with Rahal Letterman Racing.

More than everything, I'm grateful for that. Plus, I think they were the best-performing team, having considered everything that happened last year in the late start this year, as Buddy mentioned. I think there was a no-brainer choice. At least, I mean, it's -- more than anything, I'm grateful for the chance they gave me when I had nothing. This is going to be always huge, not only on my opinion, but in my life. That's the major factor.

After that comes Honda and all the sponsors and all the great people we have on the team. That just made it easier.

Q: Bobby, it sounds like Kenny (Brack) just told you that he doesn't feel he's ready. That was kind of a decision that you made together, I guess. Am I right there? Tell me how that kind of came about as a decision for Kenny still recuperating.

BOBBY RAHAL: No, it was really Kenny's decision. We did the test at Richmond with Kenny. I think it was in June or July. While he went reasonably fast, he didn't feel that he was ready. So we respect that. We had originally intended to do another test for him this fall, but we just weren't able to do it.

We're not contractually obligated -- we don't have a contractual obligation to Kenny at this point. But because he's been -- he's a friend and he's done great things for our team in the past, what have you, we wanted to help him reach whatever determination he will come to. So I expect that we will test him again sometime in the first quarter, if possible.

I know he's put a lot of thought and continuing to put a lot of thought into the question, because obviously he doesn't want to go through that again, that's for sure. So we're just going to, you know, go forward on that basis. If he decides that he's had enough, then God bless, what a great champion.

I still feel like I would try to do whatever we could to help him, whether he wanted to help bring Swedish drivers into this country or what, I don't know, but we'd try to help him. If he decides he wants to continue, then we'll see how we can help that or how we can help make that happen.

But I think first things first, and that's get this next test done and see where we are.

Q: It sounds like he just still isn't sure whether he's capable of doing it again. I don't know if he ever will be or not. It seems like it was strictly that he's just doesn't feel comfortable yet and he'll go from there and see whether he ever is. Do you think he may have a future, if he doesn't drive, in another aspect of the sport?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I mean, I think he should because he's a smart guy and he's a national hero in Sweden. I think there's a lot of things that Kenny can do in the sport beyond just driving.

Frankly, I'm pleased to see him taking the time to make the decision whether to come back or not. I think he's even considering other forms of racing, like sports car racing or something, which carry a little less risk and what have you.

But he went through an extremely traumatic incident and recovery period. Anybody with half a brain would reflect a lot more on getting back into the car given what happened. He's a great champion and a personal friend. We'll just play along with him and see what happens.

Q: Bobby, there was some talk at one time that you were considering sports car racing as an option. Is that just Internet talk that got no value?

BOBBY RAHAL: Sports car racing is something I want to do, want to do as a team. That's really been -- that was much more my beginning than anything else, I suppose, if you look at my career and the kind of racing that I grew up around. That is something I would like us to do as a team down the line.

We have pursued some sponsorship opportunities, none of which have really panned out yet. It's doubtful that we will do anything like that for 2005 at this stage. But certainly we're looking at 2006 and beyond to have some kind of effort in one of the endurance racing series. I'm not sure which.

I definitely want us to go to LeMans at that point and win that as a team. That means you're in the ALMS (American Le Mans Series) series. We're looking at all options. But the sport of sports car racing is definitely an avenue that we want to take down the line.

Q: With these drivers?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I mean, you never know. It's kind of like why not, I guess. I used to do a lot of sports car racing when I was driving IndyCars in the '80s. I mean, we've got a great complement of drivers here. If they're interested in doing it, why not? I don't see any reason to look outside unless somebody says, 'I really don't want to do that.' I think that would be our first approach, then we would see what would happen afterwards.

Q: Buddy, now that you've become the quarterback of Rahal, I know it's a team, everybody works together, every team has to have a quarterback. It seems like you're the guy that's emerged as the one that's at the front of the line. Do you feel that? If so, how does that change maybe the way you would approach this year?

BUDDY RICE: I'm not sure I'm going to change the way I approach my year. I'm going to go about it the same way. I think one of the big things that helped us this year was how open, not only when we ran three cars with Vitor, but how open all the information was. It kept everybody working together and striving forward and making the group better.

I think the biggest thing is to make sure myself and Danica and Vitor keep all the communication open. Obviously, with the engineers, that will be happening as well. It will help us all keep pushing each other to make the cars better, to make ourselves better.

I guess we'll have to wait and see how it all plays out, if I'm the quarterback or however you want to put it. I guess it helps that I have quite a bit of experience and can understand exactly what's going to happen. I know Vitor and I talked a lot last year on a lot of different aspects together. We both constantly kept coming up with different ways to achieve the same thing. I think that's the biggest thing. We still have to work together to make sure that we keep doing it, to stay focused, moving forward.

Q: Danica, the last couple years you've become very visible as a show host on television, so forth. Is that going to diminish a little bit as you concentrate on this new phase in your career or is that something that won't have an impact on what you're doing on the racetrack now?

DANICA PATRICK: It's important to keep in mind what you're there for, which is in the front of my mind, and that's to drive the race car, and to keep everybody happy, and keep the sponsors happy and on board.

I don't think it really will affect it too much. It's all about scheduling and it's all about how you can balance your life out. I might be a little bit more busy than I was this year and the years past, but I don't think it's a maybe, it's probably a pretty definite thing.

But, no, I don't think so. To go tape my Spike TV stuff, I go every other month or so. Doesn't take too long. Contrary to what you might think, I am in different outfits, but I do them all in one day.

Q: A lot of sponsors require drivers to be of a certain look, corporate look to represent their company. Does Danica Patrick -- will that change some of the revealing outfits and the places that you've been seen? Will that change in the future as you go forward into the Major Leagues of racing?

DANICA PATRICK: Well, you know, all I was wearing was like a bathing suit. You can see that on a beach. But I don't think I'm going to change who I am and my values and what I think is appropriate or inappropriate. That's always going to stay the same.

I also believe it's good to get your sponsor out there in all kinds of different venues in front of different crowds and different people so we can make the sport grow.

Whether it's hosting a TV show or whether it's being in a fitness magazine or being in FHM, it's a different group of people and you're trying to touch all kinds so that you can spark their interest in the sport that we all love.

Q: Bob, what was the one thing you wanted Danica to work on in her closing season with the Toyota Atlantic Series, before you gave her this chance in the IRL cars?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think she needed just another year of intense, very competitive racing. She ran up front in just about every race with Jon Fogarty, now a two-time champion, who drove for us on two occasions last year. She was right there with Ryan (Dalziel), who won a number of races, some of the others. I wouldn't say we necessarily had the best effort every time. I think we had a good effort. But just the fact I wanted her up front on more of a consistent basis and to have her get another year of racing under her belt. Even though she's been around a while as a young driver from 16 or so, there haven't been many complete seasons in her resume prior to 2003. It's just getting more experience.

I think she succeeded in that. We had some awfully good races. She had the first pole position a woman has ever had in 30 years of Formula Atlantic. She had a number of strong races. I think she definitely improved this year. There were times when last year, in 2003, where she threw the car away, threw the race away trying to make it do something it wouldn't. This year, just a little bit more experience and knowledge about what you can do and what you can't do.

So I just -- it was just more of that seasoning, so to speak, before we made this step. And it's a big step, there's no question about it. But I don't think another year of Formula Atlantic would have achieved anything for her. I just felt that the right driver will make the step up. No matter what you put them in, it might take a race or two or something, but, boom, if they've got talent, if they have the mental capacity and everything else, they get to come to grips with it quite quickly. I expect she'll do the same.

Q: Danica, certainly your last year in Atlantic is not going to hurt at all when you consider that the Indy Racing League is going to do some road racing this year.

DANICA PATRICK: That's true. I do have a very, very strong road racing background. I did a couple of oval races in Milwaukee, but that's about the extent of it. I actually did some velodrome racing here in Indianapolis in go-karts. That's my other oval experience. I was in a five horsepower Briggs and Stratton. If that counts as oval racing or not, you can decide that (laughter).

Q: Bobby, how do you think your drivers are positioned for the fact this year not only you have ovals, but you're going to have street races, that type of thing? Maybe Buddy hasn't been too much on the street circuit. How about all your drivers?

BOBBY RAHAL: I don't think there's anybody any stronger. Buddy did win the Formula Atlantic championship a few years ago. There's a lot of street and road courses there. Vitor, of course, raced in Europe, in Brazil, road racing. Danica's past has almost completely been road racing.

I think that we certainly are equal to anybody else in terms of depth and talent amongst the drivers to be competitive on any type of circuit.

Q: Danica, how much oval racing have you done?

DANICA PATRICK: Just two races at Milwaukee in the Atlantic car, and then a little bit of go-kart oval racing here in Indianapolis at the velodrome. That's about it.

MODERATOR: Thank you very much for taking some time out of your busy day to talk with us today. Appreciate it.

-irl-

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