Indy Racing League March 23, 2004 An Interview With Leonardo Maia & Al Unser, Jr. MODERATOR: Thank you and good afternoon everyone. We'd like to welcome two drivers to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. First, Menards Infininti Pro...
Indy Racing League
March 23, 2004
An Interview With Leonardo Maia & Al Unser, Jr.
MODERATOR: Thank you and good afternoon everyone. We'd like to welcome two drivers to today's Indy Racing League teleconference. First, Menards Infininti Pro Series Rookie Leo Maia joins us, and later in the call, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. will join us.
MODERATOR: Let's begin with Leo Maia, who had a tremendous start to his Menards Infiniti Pro Series career over the weekend at Phoenix International Raceway. In his first race in the series, Maia finished third in the Phoenix 100 after starting seventh, including an impressive pass of his teammate Jesse Mason in the closing laps. Maia was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, but moved to Oakland, Calif., at the age of three, and became a US citizen 10 years ago. Leo, thank you for joining us today. Congratulations on a great start to your IRL career.
LEO MAIA: Thanks a lot. It's great to be here.
Q: What a great start in Phoenix. Were you surprised by your result?
LEO MAIA: Actually I was. The way the weekend had started, I was just trying to get up to speed. Pretty much, trying to get to a grip with the car. Brian Stewart gave me a great racing car. The team just helped me out tremendously. Pretty much we knew the car wasn't the limiting factor, it was me. It's just a matter of me getting comfortable, getting up to speed. We were mid-pack in the practice sessions. I didn't qualify very well. I was just hoping for a top- five finish, and to come out on the podium was very exciting.
Q: We talked right after the race, I got a couple of quotes from you. We talked about how you were dizzy. You're not used to the ovals like that. Was that what was causing the dizziness?
LEO MAIA: Yeah, I think so. The race went green for the whole way through. It was really tough mentally. I'm still not sure to turning the left the whole way through the race, so that kind of caught me off guard. I'm still pretty new to the car. The more seat time I get, the more comfortable I'll be. Hopefully by the end of the year we'll be getting some wins.
Q: Leo, what are some of your goals? We're certainly happy you're in the Indy Racing League. Is it a Indianapolis 500 start, or a move to the IndyCar series, what are some of your goals?
LEO MAIA: Definitely to move to IndyCars and the ultimate goal to win the championship and winning the Indy 500 has been a goal of mine since I was a little kid, since I was pretty much a fan of racing. Now, it's really close to happening. Nothing's really happened yet. Racing in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series is just one step closer to achieving that goal.
Q: We see a lot of Brazilian influence in the Indy Racing League, and you were born there, but essentially you grew up in Oakland, what was your racing inspiration?
LEO MAIA: Ayrton Senna was a Formula 1 driver. I wasn't that big into racing until he died. Then I started following yet, and really thought that that's what I want to do. I signed up to do the three-day racing school at the Skip Barber Racing School at Leguna Seca. It was pretty much no looking back. I followed there ladder. They have a regional series, a national series and a professional series, and that's pretty much how I got here.
Q: You're very young, but I'm curious who some of your racing heroes were"
LEO MAIA: Pretty much Senna was the biggest one. He's pretty much the guy I try to emulate. The passion and dedication for racing. I was always a big fan of racing before I got involved in it. I've been watching Kanaan and Castroneves when they were in Indy Lights. Pretty much everyone racing in Indy Cars right now is sort of like a hero to me.
Q: Have you set goals at this point in your career?
LEO MAIA: The goals I've set, I've pretty much accomplished up to this point. A race car driver sets goals and as soon as he accomplishes a goal, he looks to the next one. You never say 'ok'. I don't think Castroneves won the Indy 500 and said, "Alright, that's it, I'm done, no more goals.' He had that as his goal, and as soon as you achieve it, you already look ahead for the next step. I don't think I'll be happy until I win like 15 Indy 500s. That's how the mentality is for drivers. They want to win every race, they want to lead every practice session, be on pole for every race. That's the goal we set, knowing that it's hard to achieve. That's our mindset going into any season or championship.
Q: Was the race hard for you?
LEO MAIA: I don't know if it looked easy from the outside, but I can easily say it was the toughest race I've ever driven. It's new to me, the whole race went green, a 45-minute race. In Barber Dodge, what I did last year, we had 40-minute races. To go green the whole way is pretty unusual. I was battling the whole time. I think I had maybe five laps where I wasn't behind someone or trying to pass somebody. It was definitely one of the toughest races I've ever driven.
Q: What brought your family to Brazil to Oakland, California, and how often have you commuted back and forth?
LEO MAIA: We came because my dad got a really good job opportunity from Bank of America. It's actually a funny story. They pretty much said, "Name your price. What do you want to make?" He quoted something that in Brazil was a huge amount, when they got to the U.S., it was barely enough to get by. We all moved here. During school we'd always have summer break, and I'd always go for the summer and spend about a month there with my family. Everybody, my cousins, grandparents and everyone is still down there. I would go and spend a month there, but lately with the racing season, it's pretty much the racing season runs the summer and the off-season. Believe it or not this year, since the actual racing season, I haven't had the time to go back there for about four or five years. Any chance I get, I really miss it and I want to go back.
Q: Growing up in the Oakland area and going to high school there and sports, racing isn't too big through there, is it? How did you get introduced, just because of going back to Brazil?
LEO MAIA: Yeah, pretty much. For everybody in Brazil, a big thing is soccer and auto racing. You're always around it no matter if you want to be or not. It's soccer and racing. I grew up -- I was always really interested in doing it. I sort of studied it and found out the best way to do it and that's how I did it. It's really sort of on TV in the background in my childhood.
Q: Your father, was he interested in racing?
LEO MAIA: He was a really big fan, but he never did any racing of his own. I'm sure he would have liked to. He just loved the sport. He's been to every single one of my races and he's really helped me out through my whole career. He's a big fan of racing in general.
Q: What did it mean to you this past weekend being around some of the guys that are the stars now? They will be coming to the Indy 500, and I assume you're going to drive in the Freedom 100 here.
LEO MAIA: It's really overwhelming. Rick Mears is our driver coach for the Menards Infiniti Pro Series and he's just the nicest guy in the world. He helped me out a bunch. It's weird. You're sitting there talking to a four-time Indy 500 champ, pretty much one of the best race car drivers alive. It was really overwhelming, and to know that I'm just sort of one step away from being right there with all of these guys that are in it right now is just, you know -- like I said before, I was a fan before I was a race car driver. I still go to the IndyCar Series races and sort of watch in amazement.
MODERATOR: Can you talk about your excitement of running the Freedom 100 this year in Indianapolis.
LEO MAIA: Yeah, that's going to be one of the best moments in my career. We were doing a Skip Barber race in Putnam Park over in Indianapolis, like an hour north, I think. We all went -- all of the drivers sort of went down there for Pole Day or the day before Pole Day or the day after, I can't really remember. As soon as you sort of cross, you go into the tunnel and come out the other side of the speedway. It's different than any other track in the world. You just feel like -- it's almost tangible, sort of the history there and like the tradition and all that. So, I mean, I'm super excited. As soon as I signed with Brian Stewart, that was the race I was looking forward to the most. Doing one lap at the Indy 500, Indianapolis, in a race car has pretty much been my dream. To realize that is pretty cool, pretty exciting.
MODERATOR: Can you talk, too, about teaming with Brian Stewart who has really got a history of grooming young drivers in open-wheel racing?
LEO MAIA: Yeah, I called up the series, and was like, 'I'm interested in running, do you guys have any teams that may be interested in running me?' When Roger Bailey came back and he told me that I could do it with Brian Stewart, at first I didn't believe it, and then I was really excited. I mean, he's coached -- you know, Formula I drivers have driven for him, Champ Car drivers. He's just -- he has a history of taking the best drivers and making them into stars. So hopefully I can learn as much as I can and follow in the footsteps of his previous driver.
MODERATOR: Leo, we appreciate it and we will see you in May when you run the Freedom 100. Al Unser Jr. has announced he is teaming with long-time racing owner Pat Patrick for the 2004 racing car series season. He will start the 2004 season at the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 in May. Thank you again for joining us today.