CHAMPCAR/CART: Bobby Rahal, Kenny Brack teleconference transcript, part I

An interview with: Bobby Rahal Kenny Brack Part I T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone, welcome to the CART media teleconference. We're pleased that you all could take the time to be with us today. Our guests this afternoon are FedEx ...

An interview with:
Bobby Rahal
Kenny Brack

Part I

T.E. McHALE: Good afternoon to everyone, welcome to the CART media teleconference. We're pleased that you all could take the time to be with us today.

Our guests this afternoon are FedEx Championship Series points leader Kenny Brack of Team Rahal and his team owner, three-time FedEx Championship Series champion Bobby Rahal.

Good afternoon, gentlemen. Welcome to the call. Thanks for being with us today.

KENNY BRACK: Good afternoon.

BOBBY RAHAL: Good afternoon.

T.E. McHALE: Kenny, the driver of the No. 8 Shell/Ford/Lola became the first driver of the FedEx Championship Series season to reach 100 championship points when he drove to victory two weeks ago in the Target Grand Prix presented by Energizer at Chicago Motor Speedway. The Victory was a series high third of the season for Kenny who also drove to victory at Motegi, Japan in May, and the Milwaukee Mile in June. He also owns pole positions this season at Mexico; Texas; Milwaukee, where the starting grid was based on championship points; and Michigan, where the starting grid was based on practice times.

He has scored championship points in eight of 11 starts to date, including a podium finish of second at Nazareth and has led a series high of 472 laps this season. Heading into round 13 of the FedEx Championship Series, this weekend's Miller Light 200 at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Kenny stands at the top of FedEx Championship Series championship with 104 points.

Bobby Rahal is one of two men to have earned three CART driving championships, in 1986, '87 and '92. He earned 24 race victories, fourth on CART's all-time list, and 18 pole positions, fifth in CART annals, during a 17-year driving career, which lasted from 1982 to 1998.

Bobby stands third on the CART career list with 264 starts, fourth with 3,107 laps led, and third with career earnings totaling $16,344,008 dollars. He served a six-month term as interim president of Championship Auto Racing Teams from mid June through November of last year and currently heads up the Jaguar Formula 1 racing program.

Before we begin taking questions, the Miller Light 200, Round 13 od the FedEx Championship Series will be televised live on ESPN this Sunday, August 12th, beginning noon eastern time.

With that, we will open it up to questions for our guests.

Bobby, being your home course, a bit of a Mid-Ohio expert, but if both of you could talk about the demands of Mid-Ohio. Specifically it's a very technically demanding racetrack. Would I be correct in saying that from the point of view of the Lola, this would be perhaps your most challenging track left in the season to really be competitive at that track? Talk about what it takes to be competitive there. Kenny, if you could talk about that and then Bobby add some comments.

KENNY BRACK: Well, obviously Bob knows the track perhaps more than I do. He's been there more times. But we had a really good run there last year.

Personally, I think the track is nice. It's a very challenging track. I think that one of the factors this weekend, the heat is going to really be a factor I think if it continues to be hot like this. It's been like 95 to 100 degrees here in Columbus. That's real grueling. That's going to take a toll on race day, on equipment and everything.

As far as being competitive, I think that I don't feel that we're going up there having any deficit to the Reynard teams. I think the Lola will be okay there. I think we have a good package for that type of course with the Lola and the Ford.

We've been competitive in other road and street circuits this year. Hopefully it will be the same there. Obviously, you never know. It's the first time we'll be there with this package. Especially the chassis, it's a new chassis for us this year. We haven't got any previous information, but we've done a pretty good job of it so far. I think that will be all right.

Physically, Kenny, before Bobby talks, is the Mid-Ohio, particularly with the potential heat, is it the most physically demanding track on the schedule?

KENNY BRACK: Yeah. The track itself is the most physically demanding track on our schedule. You know, even if it's a moderate good day, it's still very physically demanding. In this heat, it's going to be tough, that's for sure.

Bobby, any comments you could add about Mid-Ohio, getting the car and team and Kenny right for this race?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, nice to talk with all of you, first off.

I think, no question, I think it's always been here at Mid-Ohio. This is just an extremely physical circuit. Ultimately, in some respects, this is as much a test of a driver's conditioning as it is of actually how well the car handles.

Obviously I think qualifying is extremely important. I mean it's that in any road circuit. But being able to pass, certainly there are opportunities, but there aren't many of them. You know, you have to be ready to take advantage of anyone's sort of miss-cue, which means you have -- you just have to be running every lap almost as though it was qualifying laps.

You know, I think this is a hard circuit, hard on the cars. As Kenny said, it's been very hot here in Columbus. Don't know what the long-range forecast is, but I know for the next several days it's going to be this hot. That's just going to have a huge effect.

In '95 I think it was, you know, you could see I think it was Jacques Villeneuve leading early on, and literally by the third distance, he was dying in the car and had fallen back. A lot of people fell out of the race, making mistakes in the heat, what have you.

It will be tough. But the racetrack is a great circuit. You know, pit stops, pit strategy is going to be real important. You know, the usual things.

I think at some circuits, you have more opportunities than others in which to pass people or make a difference. Maybe the value of qualifying isn't quite as important. But I think the value of qualifying is almost paramount here. You've got to be in the first row or two. I think past that, it becomes really tough to win.

You know, obviously for Team Rahal, for Kenny and Max, we have to make sure we give them two cars that they can put on the front row.

Bobby, I just wanted to ask, I guess I feel strange asking this question long distance, but both your teams have won races, you have a guy en route to the championship in a year that you haven't got the hands-on, day-to-day running of the team. Human nature being what it is, have you asked yourself, "I wonder why they're doing so well when I haven't been involved as much as in the past"?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think maybe I was involved at the right time. I mean, I'm still obviously involved very much. I mean, I'm on the phone virtually every day.

As I've always said, I felt my role was very much sort of a 25,000-foot role, viewing the big picture stuff. Certainly knowing where we had been as a team, which was often close but not quite, you know, I was just committed, and David Letterman committed himself, too, that we were really going to sort of change things, bring some new people in to change the way that we did things.

Mark Johnson certainly is a prime example of that, giving him much more of the operation's aspects, Scott Roembke, him having done so much anyway in years past, really sort of out from underneath my shadow, getting the credit that I think he is due after all these years.

So, you know, my decisions were those big ones like, "Let's change from Reynard to Lola," which wasn't economically the easy decision, because it would have been far less onerous for us just to stay with Reynard. But we wanted to do what we needed to do to win races. There were some big decisions made I suppose early on by me, but in concert with Scott and others and Don Halliday. Then it's like, "Get out of the way and let these people do what they're supposed to be doing."

If I have to stay away while they keep winning, I'm more than happy to do that (laughter). I'm a big fan of this team and of the people on this team. I'm so pleased to see them having the level of success. My ego doesn't need to say it's because of me. I had my time in the sun. You know, I just think it's great. We're going to work very hard to ensure that Kenny wins this championship and that Max continues to have good races. You know, he's done a good job for us, as well, this year.

If I could follow up on that. When you get in a situation like what happened with the two guys at Michigan, is that something that you as the owner would step into and help get things resolved, or is that something that you would just kind of stay away from and let it take care of itself?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I have to admit, I made clear my opinions following that. They shall remain private. The Golden Rule here is: Don't hit each other. That was a tough race. You know, for 220 some laps, I thought it was the greatest race I'd ever seen because our two guys were right up there, lead pack all day long. I thought the team had done a super job.

But I think in the end, while I could talk to Kenny, talk to Max, talk to Scott, everybody here, in the end, I think the way they came back at Chicago, on all counts, whether it was from Kenny's standpoint or the team, Max had a good race in Chicago after a troubled qualifying, all credit to them because they're the ones who pulled themselves together and sort of said, "Okay, that's happened, now let's get on with it."

Chicago to me, perhaps if we are fortunate enough to win the series at the end of the year, we'll look back at Chicago and say, "That was the turning point."

Kenny, I was talking with Bob at Michigan. I asked him a question. I said, "Why did it take people so long to basically discover Kenny Brack?" You're 35, 36, driving like a 25-year-old at this point. I'm wondering, were you frustrated at any point in your career? What was the magic break? Was it the AJ Foyt ride? What's it like now riding this ski jump?

KENNY BRACK: I mean, you know, I think that -- I don't think age necessarily have anything to do with speed. I think the older you get, within reason, I think the better you get because you get more experience. Obviously, the factors are physically if you can keep yourself physically in condition so you can drive, but I believe you can do that till you're well above 40.

What really comes into play is your determination, your will to succeed. You have to have talent and work hard, but if you don't have the will, it doesn't matter if you're 20, 30 or 40, you won't win. As long as you have the strong will, as you always did, then you only get better and better. So that I think answers one of your questions.

The other thing is that I never had a manager running around the paddock, you know, telling team bosses how great I am as a race driver. I guess I never found one that I thought could do a good job for me. I had to do everything on my own, finding sponsors and stuff like that. It really wasn't until I came to the United States when I won the 500 and all that that I got a lot of publicity, and maybe that helped a little bit.

I talked about it already back in 1996, I won a lot of races Formula 3000, came close to winning the title. I won races in all the leagues I've been driving in my career. But we talked back then, and there was no opening in the team. You know, we've been in contact -- had been in contact for a while, even though we didn't get together until the year 2000.

I think I've had a real good career so far and had lots of fun and learned a lot of stuff. I had to do a lot of stuff on my own. You know, that only strengthened me as a driver because whatever you do, I still have that knowledge with me. I wouldn't change anything for the world in my career. I've had a really, really good experience with everything. I hope I will continue to do that in the future.

You keep talking about taking it race to race. The fact that you've won the IRL championship a couple years ago, the fact that you have matured as a driver, does it kind of steel you for what's ahead, keeping your mind in the game, so to speak?

KENNY BRACK: Well, you know, I've been running for championship in all the series I been in. I guess you get -- you know what it takes to run for a championship, to get used to it maybe. But still there's new challenges thrown at you all the time. I believe in myself. I believe I have the ability to run for the championship in any series, given the equipment.

I think Team Rahal, I mean, we're the team to beat right now. I'm extremely proud of the team, you know, how we have developed through our time together, you know, the different systems that we have developed in our time together. We have the Lola, the Ford. Everybody, we're working really, really good together, and we obviously have good support from Shell. We're a championship winning team. It's not one man's doing; it's a team of people that have to be really, really dedicated.

Perhaps a driver can motivate or enthusiasm (sic) a team a little bit like that. But if you don't have the skill (in/and?) the people, you're not going to win. This team right now is at the top of its game. I'm really, really proud to be part of that situation.

Bob, this weekend, you guys have your traditional CART race at Mid-Ohio. Down the road at Kentucky, the IRL is running basically head to head in a similar market for maybe the first time ever. I'm wondering, how do y'all escape confusion in the marketplace about who y'all are, who they are? Y'all's got the guys who finished in the Top 5 at Indy, but they're who they are. How would you explain that to people at this point?

BOBBY RAHAL: I don't know if you can reduce any confusion. I think there's been a tremendous amount of confusion since 1996. That's why we've always tried to find some way of unifying this deal.

But in the end, it comes down to, you know, which series has laid claim as the road racing series, the street racing series, the predominant road and street racing series in the country. It's had some successful events on the ovals. It's had some that are tremendous races, yet don't seem to attract a lot of people.

I don't know if there would be a lot of spill-over. I think those people are ending up going to Louisville were going to go there anyway. And I think the ones that were going to go to Mid-Ohio were going to go there, and given the option would still go there. I think it's two different crowds. The series are very different, obviously.

I think the fact that -- you can draw all kinds of conclusions from the fact that, you know, the last several years' worth of Indy 500 winners are at Mid-Ohio or the top six cars were run at teams that will be at Mid-Ohio. I think there's obvious lessons from that.

As I say, ultimately for open-wheel racing to regain its rightful place, I think there's going to have to be some solution one way or the other.

Are you talking about one series or a double series?

BOBBY RAHAL: I don't know. I mean, there's been so much talk over the years. It's been, what, four or five years since all this started, since the discussions have started. I mean, it's clear from the CART side that it's pretty much going -- can you almost see it going back to the way it was, going to Indy, after Indy everybody goes back to CART.

Having said that, I think ultimately for open-wheel racing to regain its rightful place, as I say, there's got to be some kind of unifying solution, I would say.

Do you agree with that, Kenny?

KENNY BRACK: Yeah, I don't have any solutions. As far as the driver is concerned, I've been in both leagues. I liked driving in the IRL. But I like driving in CART. It's a very versatile series. It's tremendously demanding for teams and drivers trying to be competitive in all kinds of different situations. One week we're running on a super speedway, next week is a short oval, next week is a street or road course race, then back to an oval. That is very challenging for anybody. I'm driving in a situation where I feel comfortable right now.

Yeah, if there's a way of unifying them, that certainly wouldn't hurt. But those discussions, I don't know if anyone have a solution for that right now. I leave those discussions up to others. Right now I'm trying to concentrate on winning. That's all I can do right now. That's all I want to do for Team Rahal right now.

In Formula One this year, you knew what you were getting into pretty much with Jaguar, a team that's been struggling. Has it been more difficult than you expected at this point or are you about where you figured you'd be at right now?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I guess I assumed it was going to be bad going in (laughter). I was prepared to be pleasantly surprised. I think it's had aspects of it that I think are far better than it's given credit for. I think that there were aspects obviously of it that were very much in need of repair.

I will say while the results don't show it, necessarily, the team has responded quite well this year, and we've really closed the gap quite considerably to our group of competitors, which I've described as the BAR, Jordan, Sauber, and Benetton group. We're a long way away from a Ferrari, McLaren, or Williams for that matter.

While the car has made tremendous improvements, while there's been tremendous improvements to the car over the year, you can only do so much generally with what you've got.

Having said that, R3, which is next year's car, will be the first car that has been conceived by the whole new technical team brought in at the end of last year, Mark Handford, Steve Nichols, our technical director, and a few others. I'm quite enthused and optimistic about how I see R3 coming together, and knowing that this was going to be a multi-year program, that this was not going to happen overnight.

I guess you prepare yourself for the hard days, but that doesn't make it any less easy or somehow more comfortable when you go to a race expecting a certain level of performance, and you don't get it. I mean, it still hurts.

All in all, while it's been very difficult, I don't know if it's been any more so than I had thought going in.

Part II

-CART-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Jacques Villeneuve , Bobby Rahal , Kenny Brack
Teams Sauber , Williams