One-year unification anniversary teleconference, part 1

An interview with Terry Angstadt, Eric Bachelart and Graham Rahal Indy Racing League IndyCar Series press conference February 18, 2009 MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference.

An interview with Terry Angstadt, Eric Bachelart and Graham Rahal
Indy Racing League IndyCar Series press conference
February 18, 2009

MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our guests today are joining us to talk about the one-year anniversary of the unification of open-wheel racing under the IndyCar Series banner. On February 22nd of last year, the unification agreement was signed, and five days later a press conference was held at Homestead-Miami Speedway in conjunction with the first Open Test of the season.

Now one year later, the IndyCar Series is preparing to head back to Homestead for testing next week. There will be nearly a dozen Firestone Indy Lights rookies on track Monday, followed by the full field on Tuesday. The IndyCar Series will be on track under the lights on Tuesday and Wednesday, with the rookies getting some time on track on Monday night.

Also on Monday, the IndyCar Series will stage a major photo op at the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami. Past champions Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan will pose with a giant sand sculpture of the IndyCar Series trophy, and that is scheduled for 3 o'clock.

Joining us now this afternoon are Terry Angstadt, the president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League, Eric Bachelart, owner of Conquest Racing, and Graham Rahal, driver for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.

Terry, let me ask a question of you first to get us started. Obviously it's been an eventful year for the IndyCar Series with the unification, all that brought about. Can you take a quick look back for us and also a look ahead to 2009, what we can expect.

TERRY ANGSTADT: I think the look back is really an easy one. That was the pride I think everybody felt when we had the number of cars, 26 cars or so, on track at our opening race. You really can't appreciate the work done to first complete the merger and then the work accomplished by the transition teams, in particular with the cooperation of existing teams, to get all those cars ready, built and pretty competitive race one. So that was an incredible accomplishment, I think.

Then shortly following that, Graham's win was unbelievable to our business and to our series and to me personally. That was shortly followed by Danica (Patrick) winning. And then Justin (Wilson) to win at Detroit, when (team co-owner) Paul (Newman) was still with us, I think was so memorable and so good for our business.

Again, from a memorable standpoint of last year and a bit of a look back those kind of highlights I think are pretty hard to top.

But I think looking forward, to me, I really think that the organization we have, and that includes drivers, teams, venues and our staff, I think look forward to taking on the challenge of really not kind of sustaining or maintaining our business in the most challenging economic times any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes, but really growing our business during this period. And I think we're really well-positioned and ready to take on that challenge.

So as a look forward, I think we're going to grow the business and have a fantastic 2009.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

Eric, Terry mentioned there briefly it was a scramble last year, indeed, for you and the other teams, especially that were coming over, and even the existing teams that were trying to share parts and help out in any way they could. Is it kind of fair to say that this year, you guys with a year under your belts, maybe we can call this the first true year of unification?

ERIC BACHELART: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's a good statement. If you remember about a year ago there were the transition teams and there were established IndyCar Series teams. When we showed up at the first race in Homestead, basically the transition teams were looking to be the best out of these transition teams, you know. And from there, first of all there was incredible solidarity between everybody and the league. I mean, we really did a fantastic job to accommodate everybody within three weeks. That was a very high spirit at the time. Everybody jumped on board and everybody was quite excited about this new opportunity.

From there, there was a lot of hard work just to keep up with the heavy schedule. Over the winter we kept working hard. I think that the transition teams managed to catch up quite a bit and understand the cars better, understand what it takes better.

So now we're going to go into 2009 with, I guess, a better understanding and probably even closer competition. I don't think that we're going to talk about transition teams anymore, just IndyCar teams. It will make things simpler for everybody. We won't have to explain what it was about before.

Open-wheel racing becomes quite simple now. This is just one IndyCar Series and everybody understands that. So it's much more simple and I think it's important for the sport to grow, simplicity and efficiency. I think that's what we're doing. Looking forward to it. I think it's going to be quite exciting just to have a good amount of teams and very close competition.

MODERATOR: Thank you.

Graham, a couple questions for you. I know when we talked earlier in January, you mentioned that this is going to be the first time in your career you've run a series in consecutive seasons. Tell us a little bit about that, how that adds to your confidence level from the experience you gained last year, to be able to come back now and do the same series for a second year.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think it's definitely one of those things, as I went on through my career, we always planned to have two years in pretty well every series. Obviously being with Eric's team in Atlantics only a couple years ago, having such a great season there, we moved on to Champ Car, and it never really made sense to kind of stay back.

So this will be the first year, even through the years that I was really in karting, that I will have driven the same thing for two consecutive years. And I think as far as the confidence that it gives you, it's one of those things that once you have an understanding of the tracks, understanding of the cars, and you can focus on what it takes and what you need to be more successful and more competitive the next season, it allows you to kind of put your head down and move forward and basically just highlight those things that you need.

In the past, every year - and it continues to be this way - every time you get in the car, every race, it's a learning experience. At the same time in the past for me, it wasn't just a learning experience. You're trying to figure something out that's completely new to you and yet be competitive at the same time.

So finally to understand what it takes and to be able to move forward as a team with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, again, I'm really looking forward to it. I think in my mind, I've definitely taken this off-season more serious than ever before and certainly focused on my fitness and everything else to make sure that, as a whole, we have a chance to go out there and win and hopefully fight for the championship this year.

MODERATOR: Last year you came into the series obviously off a very strong rookie season on the Champ Car side. You made a very quick first impression with the win at St. Petersburg. I know you talked about that win a lot before, but give us a little history there. What did that mean to you, especially to make your debut in a new series and to get that win with the unified series?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's obviously always a special time when you win any race. But for me, especially winning that, becoming the youngest winner, all of the records, all that type of stuff, certainly it didn't even hit my mind. To be honest, I hadn't even remembered that that was on the line.

So really just to win, it felt so good, after having a year in Champ Car where we had some success, finished on the podium quite a bit, but never really winning, it was a great feeling to do it.

I think it's one of those things that if I had won in Champ Car, it certainly wouldn't have gotten the same credibility if you win in IndyCar, the unified series. No matter what anybody says, a lot of people probably looked down upon some of the Champ Car guys and vice versa, as far as how good they are. Then once you put them together, it obviously showed that some of the best drivers in the world were out there competing against one another. It gives you more credibility.

So the win came at really a perfect time. As Terry touched on, you had (Scott) Dixon that won the first race. He's the deserving champion, obviously did a great job last year. Then me, and Danica shortly after. You had some exciting times there, really a storybook start to the unified series. That's what's just great. It's an honor for me to be a part of it. That's why I'm looking forward to this season so much.

Q: Graham, can you talk a bit from the team standpoint, the team last year had six weeks to bolt a car together, it was a miracle to get cars running at the first few races, just what it means from the team standpoint now to have had a winter off and start doing a little bit of work to close the knowledge and development gap that you faced last year.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think, from the team's point of view, everybody is excited to be a part of this. Everybody realized the unification was needed. We all knew it was going to be tough at the end of last year to make it happen. It wasn't going to be an easy task. Certainly with my crash at Homestead in the first test last year, I didn't make it any easier.

As far as this year goes, it's been nice. I've spent a fair bit of time up at the shop with the guys. It's been nice to see that everybody can take their time, we're bolting these things together properly, covering all the bases needed to make sure we can go out and compete with the big teams in this series.

We'd like to be one of those teams that can go out there and win on any given weekend. That's what we've done. That's what we've taken our time to do.

Obviously when you have several months to sit there and to kind of rub on the thing for a while, make sure that everything is fitting properly, all that stuff, it's obviously a nice thing, especially when last year, as you said, we pretty much bolted a car together in only a couple of weeks. Not only that, you didn't really have time to catch up the whole season because of how tight the schedule is.

Now when you start at a point where we hope to go out next week and be competitive in the Open Test, obviously looking forward to some of the road course tests, then back to St. Pete to start the season, I think we definitely feel like we're much further ahead than we were last year. Having some positive tests at the end of last season, you can probably tell, I definitely feel a helluva lot more confident going into this season, the 2009 season. I think we should have some great performances. For the team it should be an exciting time.

Q: Eric, could you perhaps add your two cents to that.

ERIC BACHELART: Absolutely. I remember when we went to Homestead last year, we were just happy to have a car on the track. We just built the car with the parts we could get, not the parts we wanted to put on the car. So that's how we started.

From there we had just to keep up for the whole year, sometimes just present the car. Didn't have much time at all to do anything. So, I mean, the IndyCar is quite a bit different than the Champ Car Series because of the nature of the racetrack that we were driving on, that we were racing on, and altogether the attention to details to this car has been quite incredible.

As Graham said, we've been rubbing the car quite a bit over the winter, really looking forward to go to these tests now and see how much improvement we managed to do over the winter.

Again, I think that everybody's been doing that, trying to catch up, understand better and analyze all the details from last year, do some more testing, I mean, on seven poles or whatever, and see what we get.

The challenge for us is really to do well on the ovals. When it comes to the road courses, that was obviously our forte. We showed that last year on the road courses - all the ex-Champ Car teams were competitive.

So again, it was good to have all these months, and we took advantage of it. Basically, again, see what we get in Homestead and that's going to be our goal, just to feel as competitive as we can be now.

Continued in part 2

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