Continued from part 1 Q: Were you not referred to at one times as Mini Al? Was that the old days or young days before you got serious and got started? AL UNSER III: Oh, yeah, I was known as Mini Al. I was a relatively small child, which...
Continued from part 1
Q: Were you not referred to at one times as Mini Al? Was that the old days or young days before you got serious and got started?
AL UNSER III: Oh, yeah, I was known as Mini Al. I was a relatively small child, which helps a race car driver with limited weight. It wasn't until my dad changed over to Penske that the guys -- I was about 12, and so I was getting bigger in size. They came up to me and they were like, "Well, we don't really want to call you Mini Al no more, because you're not that mini, so what do you want to be called?" I was just like, "I want to be called just Al, just Al, that's all I want to be called." So they took it literally and said, "Okay, Just Al." We switched from one nickname to the next. At least whatever nickname they're calling me, they know who I am.
Q: Your style, closer to dad's style or granddad's style?
AL UNSER III: I'm really not sure. I'd like to say that I'm a little closer to my grandpa's style, since he's got four wins and my dad's got two at Indy (laughter). But either way, I definitely have taken advice from both of them. They basically both have the same style. You know, it's just smooth and consistent, work your way to the front.
Q: Eric, I thought I heard you say it was BOSPoker.net. Did you mean BOSPoker.net?
ERIC MAUK: BOSPoker.net will be the primary sponsor on the car. That is an entertainment-only gaming website, like Al alluded to. BOSPoker.com will be the website that will be sponsoring four of the Toyota Atlantic events. They will sponsor Atlantic races in Portland, Denver, Cleveland and Road America. They're two separate entities.
Q: I haven't heard much about your dad here recently. Is he involved with your career? Is he helping you out? If so, can you tell us what he's up to?
AL UNSER III: Well, what he's mostly up to is being retired. He does help me out with my career. I mean, we don't necessarily see him at the track all that much. But, you know, we'll probably get him out to a couple of these races, even though I'm always on the phone with him and getting the advice. But when it comes down to it, I'm the only one in the car. I can only use his advice to a certain extent.
Q: What is the biggest challenge starting in the middle of the season with a team? What is going to be the most difficult thing you have to overcome?
AL UNSER III: Well, the number one thing is definitely communication. I mean,not being there the first two races, most of the team, my chief mechanic and my other mechanic, may not quite exactly know what I mean when I'm saying I want some changes. But since I've worked with Peter before, that should be all right. The second thing is that I haven't seen any of my competition. I tested with my teammate Andreas Wirth, who I've seen that he's been up in the top two or three every practice or every qualifying. So during testing, I was only a couple 10ths off him, so I should be nice and competitive and prepared for this race.
Q: A quick question about going back with John and Peter. You had some races with them last year. Can you talk about, I don't know if there was much of a decision to be made, you know, just which team you would run with this year, but just again talk about kind of the expertise they bring to the table.
AL UNSER III: Well, John's definitely got some expertise, being a driver himself. Now that he's turned owner, I think he's focused a lot more attention on the certain aspects of the team that would make it successful, including chief mechanics and second mechanics and definitely the engineer, working with Peter Jacobs, I mean, the guy's definitely got some talent there.
Q: John, your thoughts on Al.
JOHN BROOKS: Well, we're just really excited to have him back. Last year we felt as though we really weren't able to accomplish everything we wanted to because he was dividing his time between the two series. We understood that he wanted to get as much seat time as he could and all, but if you remember, like in Denver, he finished the race in the Infiniti Pro Series car and then flew in and just did the morning warm-up in the race. It puts you at too much of a handicap and doesn't give people a true indication of what he can do behind the wheel of the car.
One of the things that Pete and myself both were excited about is that it was going to be a good, consistent program for the balance of the year, so there wasn't that jumping back and forth. He was going to be able to really know the car, understand what the car wants, what the car doesn't want, and give us a real chance to show people what all of us can do together in this series. And we have very high hopes and we're confident that we can get Al up in the front consistently and we can continue to improve throughout the course of the season.
Q: John, the Toyota Atlantic formula, the engine and the chassis has worked so well, a testament to the fact that the guys coming out of this series have gone to Champ Car and done well out of the box. Is there any talk at all about changing this formula? I don't know what you'd do to it necessarily, but Champ Car is looking at a new style of race car. What about the Atlantics? Has there been any discussion about changing the engine formula, the chassis, what have you?
JOHN BROOKS: There's been a lot of discussion. As everybody knows, our agreement with Toyota goes to the end of the season and they've got an option on years to come beyond this. And I know they've been discussing with Toyota the possibility of a future. Toyota has been so wonderful to support this series for as many years as they have and provide a really unique training ground for young up-and-coming drivers.
That being said, Champ Car also understands that if those negotiations don't provide a continued relationship, they've got to see where they can go from here and they want to continue to provide a good series for young drivers to be able to compete, demonstrate their skills and attract the notice of the Champ Car owners in the hopes that they can make the transition to the big cars. I know that Champ Car is looking at a bunch of different options. I know that Champ Car enjoys their relationships with their sponsors and vendors that they've had for so many years, and they don't want to disrupt that, but they want to continue to improve their product and be able to continue to showcase the talent of the drivers and the manufacturers and our series also.
So we're very much excited about what the future is going to bring, although we don't know specifically at this point in time what I understand in the very near future will be made public to everybody. We're just excited to hear what's going to happen. Our team will support the series with a two-car program for years to come.
Q: What about the family rivalry? Isn't this the 33rd season that an Andretti and Unser have been racing against each other? Any chance we'll get to see that again?
AL UNSER III: Well, Marco had just joined the Infiniti Pro Series, and he was only going to run one or two events. After he won St. Pete, I guess they announced he was going to be at more. His performance at Indy indicated that he definitely still has a little bit of learning to do on the high-speed ovals and so forth. He's definitely going to come along well. For sure we will be competing against each other. It's definitely a family rivalry. But as far as me and Marco are concerned, we really don't have anything between each other.
Q: At this point in your career, are you a ways away from being ready for a move up or do you feel like you're close?
AL UNSER III: I actually feel like I'm extremely close. With this upcoming year under my belt after we're done, I'd like to see if I can - of course sponsorship pending - get in and run the Mexico City race in a Champ Car. That would be my hope. As far as next year, I'd like to still do another year in Toyota Atlantics and hopefully run three Champ Car races. Then the following, third year, hopefully move on up.
Q: I've heard drivers and team owners say that the Star Mazda cars are fairly a good training ground also and they're less expensive than Toyota Atlantic to run a campaign. Is this something that is maybe on the works or viable or something that is too far in the background to consider?
JOHN BROOKS: Do you want me to take that, Al, or do you want to?
AL UNSER III: I'll let you.
JOHN BROOKS: If I understand the question correctly, I think what you're asking is, is the Star Mazda series like a viable competitor or similar characteristic to an Atlantic car at a reduced cost. I think when the Star Mazda series came out with this new car, they found a marketplace to where they could tap into a lot of their previous owners that were more the club-oriented type of team drivers. Because the car was so cost efficient, when it was first introduced a lot of those teams bought those cars and they could have a competitive environment to compete in.
What always happens in motorsports is the teams get more serious, they spend more money, hire better people. The budgets escalate because of that. The guys that were thinking they could do it at the level they were doing it the previous years find that they can't be as competitive.
Unfortunately, the costs go up, the performance of the car goes up because of that. I think that the series is a good series. It's a viable series. I don't think they have the venues that we have in Champ Car. I don't think they have reached the level of competitiveness and professionalism that the Atlantic Series is known for, but it's certainly a very, very good series.
I think that also demonstrates to us that the time is very, very soon that we have to be looking at improving -- not improving, but changing our package a little bit and maybe increasing the horsepower a little bit, a little bit newer and sophisticated chassis so we continue to be the steppingstone up to the Champ Cars. I think the Champ Car owners understand that and I think that's the direction they're going to go in the future.
Q: You mention that something is in the works. When the Toyota Atlantic contract ends, is that the direction you're going of looking at, whatever the new thing is going to be?
JOHN BROOKS: Us as a team, most certainly. We're going to support Champ Car. We're going to be an entrant in whatever the series is going to be next year, whatever components are going to be in the series. I've already made my commitment to Mr. Eidswick and Tony Cotman, that we will be there, we will be there with two cars, and we look forward to whatever direction they set for the future. And they have our full support that we will continue to support Champ Car.
Q: But you would like to see more horsepower, maybe more sophistication in the car, whatever that car is?
JOHN BROOKS: I'm a racer. I want to see more horsepower. I want to see us be, you know, as close to the big cars as we possibly can be. But I understand the way that the cost has to go to make it cost efficient for drivers and team owners like myself to where we can go out there and take good drivers and not necessarily be directed by how much budget each driver has or what sort of sponsorship package.
We want to put the best drivers in the best cars, that's the bottom line. We always try to surround ourselves with the best people, the best drivers. In all honesty, the cost is somewhat secondary. I mean, we can't do it for nothing. But we want to go out there, we want to compete, we want to ensure that the best drivers are in the best cars and as a team we can showcase that in a good competitive series.
ERIC MAUK: Al and John, I appreciate you guys coming on today and sharing your thoughts with the media. Again, congratulations on this. We're all very excited about it. We look very much forward to seeing you guys this weekend.
AL UNSER III: No worries. Thank you so much. We'll see you at the track.
Continued in part 3