IRL: Team Rahal teleconference, part 1

Indy Racing League Weekly Teleconference Transcript January 13, 2004 Bobby Rahal, Scott Roembke, Buddy Rice, Kenny Brack Part 1 of 3 MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome three members of Team Rahal to today's Indy...

Indy Racing League
Weekly Teleconference Transcript
January 13, 2004

Bobby Rahal, Scott Roembke, Buddy Rice, Kenny Brack

Part 1 of 3

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome three members of Team Rahal to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Last week, Team Rahal announced an expanded partnership with Argent Mortgage out of Irvine, Calif. Argent Mortgage was involved with the team last year, but has now expanded its partnership as a co-primary sponsor with Pioneer Electronics. Team Rahal will be running a G Force/Honda/Firestone package in 2004.

Joining us in the first half of today's call is Team Rahal general manager Scott Roembke along with newly named 2004 driver Buddy Rice. Team co-owner Bobby Rahal is out of the country right now and we are having trouble getting him into the call. When we do, we'll get him on line.

Scott, let's start with you. With Kenny Brack's situation, you knew heading into this season you would need a replacement driver to at least start the season. Was Buddy on a short list of drivers for you guys?

SCOTT ROEMBKE: Well, thank you for having us on the call, first off. Secondly, we had a list of three or four guys who luckily were available. Buddy was, you know, always among the top guys we wanted. In the end, he's the guy that Bobby identified to take over the seat.

MODERATOR: It's my understanding that Mr. Rahal has joined us, so the second question, Bobby. We certainly don't know the return status of Kenny Brack at this time. But if he does return in 2004, are there plans potentially for a two-car team or maybe even at the Indianapolis 500 a two-car team?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think both Scott and I, first off, we're hopeful that Kenny recovers quickly. You know, he had a difficult time there in the beginning, but he seems to be back on track. You know, I know his spirits are good. Of course, having a new baby daughter does wonders. But, yeah, we're hopeful that he'll get back ASAP. And if he should, say in time for Indy, we don't know that, but if he should, we would do everything we could to make sure Buddy was up, particularly if we were figuring in the championship. You know, depending on how the first couple races go, if we're in the top three, I think it would be foolish for us not to try to figure out how to put something together to keep Buddy doing the obviously good job he's been doing up to that point.

MODERATOR: I'm curious about Miami and Phoenix and even Twin Ring Motegi, if Kenny will take on a consultant role, if you will. Will he be at the racetrack the first few races?

BOBBY RAHAL: I don't know. Scott may know more specifically. Certainly we've always said that irrespective of whether Kenny is in the car or not for those first few races that I would hope he would remain a member of the team, come to the shop. I haven't heard anything to the contrary. I think Kenny will be very involved because, obviously, if he does come back, he wants to have his finger on the pulse of what's been happening up to that point. So I would expect him to be at some of those. Now, you know, again, a lot of it depends on the speed of his recovery and the rehabilitation and everything else. But, you know, as I said many times, Kenny is the kind of guy that if a doctor tells him it's four months to heal, he'll try to do it in three or better. So I can't tell you for sure, but I'm sure that he'll have some role throughout the first part of the year.

MODERATOR: Before we open it up for questions for Bobby or Scott, Buddy, driving for Team Rahal seems to have been in the works a few years now. You signed with the team in 2001 as a backup driver. Give us your thoughts of finally getting the chance to race with this team.

BUDDY RICE: For everything that Team Rahal has done to try to help me even in the past, and like you said, with signing me to do -- to try to help out the team with some of the testing, do a backup role there, you know, this is an excellent opportunity for myself. Obviously, not exactly the way you want to come in, but as we've been saying, the seat is going to be kept ready and up to speed for Kenny's return, whenever that might be. My main objective right now with everything that Team Rahal has done for me in the past right now is to make sure that the No. 15 Pioneer Argent car is up front all the time. With the excellent Honda power we have and the new G Force chassis, I think we'll have a chance of running up front consistently.

MODERATOR: You raced a Craftsman Truck series race at the end of 2003. You and I talked about how much you wanted to stay in IndyCar Series racing. Is this your preferred form of motorsports?

BUDDY RICE: This is where I want to be. I grew up racing open-wheel cars. Everything I have been doing is to take care and make sure I want to stay here in the open-wheel ranks. With this excellent opportunity, it's allowed me to stay in the IRL and do what I want to do.

MODERATOR: Buddy, over the last several weeks, we've seen four driver announcements for the 2004 season. Three of the four were American-born, including yourself, Ed Carpenter and Bryan Herta. Do you see a trend at all in the hiring of those American drivers?

BUDDY RICE: Well, I think you've seen obviously Bryan came in as a fill-in role such as I did. He's done an excellent job. It helped him to get a full-time spot back this year. It's an excellent thing and he's been working really hard at it. With Ed Carpenter, obviously he came up through the Indy Racing League's Infiniti Pro Series, which I think is an excellent thing to do, try to graduate drivers from our smaller series up into the top ranks. It's something that didn't happen on the other side with other series and stuff. We need to make sure that happens. It's good that they're all Americans right now. It gives the kids that are coming up that are pushing hard trying to make it in America that there are spots and opportunities for them.

MODERATOR: Before Kenny Brack joins us, we will open up questions now for Bobby Rahal, Scott Roembke and Buddy Rice.

Q: Bob, you've got to be pretty proud of the fact that over the years you really have taken advantage of some excellent talent that's graduated from the Toyota Atlantic series, and Buddy of course has come up through those ranks as well. You have to be proud of that fact because, as Buddy alluded to, you have to get drivers from those development series, otherwise those series die, right?

BOBBY RAHAL: Absolutely. I think the whole progression of a young driver from, say, karting on up, you know, there's been efforts. Of course, we've made our own efforts with Stars of Tomorrow to try to create more of a professional series in karting. I think it's working. There's a lot of great young talent at that level that will be graduating to cars over the next three, four, five years. We talk about young Americans being hired. They've got to cut their teeth in an extremely competitive series. The Atlantic Series has always been tough; it's always been a great training formula. Buddy is certainly one example of that. I mean, certainly that's why we have Danica, Patrick in the Atlantic Series, because we believe it's the best series to teach young drivers the tools that they need to be able to compete at higher levels. So, as Buddy said, it's always been tough. I think more often than not, it's just a matter of opportunities available. But I think as more and more team owners see the quality of young drivers -- young American drivers -- improving in these junior categories, that they're far more confident when they hire these young people to come in and drive their IndyCar Series car that they know they've got a guy or girl for that matter that can compete against anybody, no matter where they're from.

Q: Buddy, the last little while here there's been some concern about driver safety, simply maybe inherent with the IRL's all-oval format, talk about reducing the horsepower in the car, take away some of the grip, make them less drivable. Scott Dixon has various ideas on what he thinks should be done with the cars. What about you? Any concerns about all the oval thing, safety thing, what they may want to do to make these cars safer, if they need to do that?

BUDDY RICE: I think so far with what the IRL has done, their formula, Bthe way they have been working on things, I think they've done an Bexcellent job. I think with that I mean there are probably a few Blittle things you can do. I think maybe the SAFER wall barrier things Bare a big help. We're just going to have to wait and see, kind of Bleave that up to the IRL right now. Until we have some more data and Bsome more things to work off of, then I think you can start making Bother suggestions and things. But I think it's just going to take a Blittle bit of time to kind of iron out all the little things that Bhappen. ut I think for right now the cars are quite safe. There have Bobviously been a few big accidents. But to show how well the safety Bis, at least Kenny is one of the ones you can look at and say for Bhow horrific the crash was, for him to still be here and being able Bto hopefully be able to come back is a huge testament to how they Bstructured the rules and the safety gear and everything that we use.

Q: Bobby, question in regards to driver choice. Why do we see drivers from USAC and the Silver Crown Division leaving for NASCAR and got getting rides in the IRL?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I don't know how many there have been. Obviously, you got the standouts like Tony Stewart and people like that. There's certainly a lot of money in NASCAR. That's got to be an enticement, to be sure. Sam Hornish Jr. stayed in the IRL. I think it depends really on what you want to do, what kind of cars do you want to drive. Open-wheel cars, I don't think there's anything really more exciting than that, irrespective of where it might be, whether it's a sprint car or Outlaws or an IndyCar Series car for that matter. I think a lot of it depends on what that person wants. Without question, there are a lot of opportunities in NASCAR. There are a lot of cars. Having said that, there's only a handful that are consistently competitive. But there are opportunities, and that's what I was saying earlier, you know, as we all make the Indy 500 and IndyCar Series racing more and more popular, it becomes more and more legitimate from an advertising standpoint. Companies will invest more money in it. Then, of course, it's up to the young drivers out there to prove that they're ready to go toe-to-toe with the Brazilians and the whoevers because these Brazilian kids, they're tough, they're tough. They've grown up in the equivalent of a street fight in karting or what have you down in Brazil. You know, these guys address it in a very, very professional way. We've just got to try to ensure that our young North Americans approach it in the same fashion. There's no question that they can compete on an equal basis. It's just a matter of the opportunities, and then when you get that opportunity proving your worth.

Q: Bobby, I'm watching how I phrase this, but with the situation with CART and the open-wheel series, do you foresee the IRL going to road course events this year or next?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I only know what I read or hear like you do. You probably know a lot more than I do. I certainly think that there are great road racing events that would be nothing but a credit to IndyCar Series racing. Long Beach, Toronto, Elkhart Lake, these are great; great circuits and have big crowds. That's just a plus. I think it's really up to Tony (George) and Brian (Barnhart) and all the people that founded the IRL. Certainly it was always based on the fact that it was going to be oval racing. But, as I say, it's pretty hard to ignore a Long Beach Grand Prix. And I think you hear all kinds of rumors about the potential of going road racing. You know, I think that would be of great value. I think that's what made open-wheel racing so successful in the 1980s, for example, and early 1990s, was, you know, when you had sort of a combination of both. You know, personally, yeah, I'm hopeful that road racing is a component of the IRL. But that's really not up to me.

Q: Bobby, the question kind of comes from where you just were. Open-wheel racing has gone through enormous changes, from being one of the premiere events in American sports to something less than that now. Is that a frustration for you to have come up through the ranks, from Toyota Atlantic to the highest levels of the sport to where now it's a struggle to see what direction it's going to go?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, certainly it hasn't been. You know, the last 10 years in particular haven't been a lot of fun to be honest with you for me personally. When you look at the struggle, you look at where open-wheel racing was, the Indy 500 and everything else, you know, over the last 10 years has been this upheaval. But having said that, I think it's got the opportunity to regain a lot of that, a lot of what it had. NASCAR is a lot bigger now than it was 10 years ago or 15 years ago when open-wheel racing was clearly -- if it wasn't No. 1, it was co-No. 1 status with NASCAR in the spectators' minds -- what have you. But I think we've just got to get this focus, just got to get back to it and do the right things. You know, last year Indy, I certainly felt compared to the year before there was a lot more buzz. I wouldn't say there was as much as there used to be. I think it's certainly increasing, and I think that's a good sign. I think there are some good people that have been added to the staff of the Indy Racing League. You know, there are growing pains. There's always going to be growing pains. But having one clear leader in the sport certainly to me is of great value. If I look back on CART, clearly that's what it didn't have. That probably pre-empted or probably produced much of the unfortunate things we've seen over the last 10 years. We're all in this together. And I think if we want open-wheel racing to be what it once was or at least get on the path to what it once was, then we've got to all work together.

Q: Bobby Rahal and Team Rahal were put in sports car racing maybe investigating that as a potential growth for your business. Is that still on the table or are you putting more of your interest into this expansion of open-wheel?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think certainly the American LeMans series in particular is of great interest to me personal because that's really where I cut my teeth years and years ago. And, yes, Formula Atlantic was there obviously. But sports car racing was always a big interest of mine. I won Sebring. I won Daytona. It was a very big component during the early part of my racing career. I've seen a lot of exciting things happening there. Aston Martin announced they're going to have a factory team. Ferrari has factory cars now. I think particularly in the GTS category there's a lot of excitement. You know, we have a racing company, so if the opportunities avail themselves, we'd be foolish not to look at it closely. I can't tell you precisely when we're going to find out if that's a go or no go for 2005, but certainly we're looking at it.

Part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Bobby Rahal , Scott Dixon , Bryan Herta , Kenny Brack , Buddy Rice , Sam Hornish Jr. , Ed Carpenter