NEWMAN/HAAS/LANIGAN RACING ANNOUNCEMENT WITH GRAHAM RAHAL, SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, CARL HAAS AND MIKE LANIGAN ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car media teleconference where we continue to build on our driver lineup for the 2007...
NEWMAN/HAAS/LANIGAN RACING ANNOUNCEMENT WITH GRAHAM RAHAL, SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS, CARL HAAS AND MIKE LANIGAN
ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car media teleconference where we continue to build on our driver lineup for the 2007 Champ Car World Series season opener, which takes place in Las Vegas, the Vegas Gran Prix, April 6th through the 8th.
I am joined on the call today by two of the co-owners of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Mr. Carl Haas and Mr. Mike Lanigan. I am also joined by the president of MEDI | ZONE, Mr. Les Kolb, and I am also joined by the newest member of the Champ Car rookie class, the driver of the No. 2 MEDI | ZONE Cosworth DP01 on Bridgestone tires, Mr. Graham Rahal.
As most of you saw in the release that went out from the team a little earlier today, Graham will be making his debut, will be driving a full season in the MEDI | ZONE sponsored Newman/Haas/Lanigan machine. MEDI | ZONE, for those of you that did not see it, is the leader of medically supervised weight loss, weight maintenance wellness and performance programs, products and services and is also the official health and wellness program for the Champ Car World Series in 2007.
Gentlemen, a very exciting announcement. Thanks for joining us today. My first question will be for Mr. Haas. Carl, a big day for you guys, something you've been working on for a very long time and something you're not unfamiliar with, having rookie drivers and having success with rookie drivers. You've had guys like Nigel Mansell and Sebastien Bourdais do very well in your cars in the past. Tell us about bringing Graham into the fold. What attracted you to Graham Rahal?
CARL HAAS: Well, I didn't pay too much attention to the racing he did last year, but he did a very, very good job in it, finished second. Our race team, our team members -- I should say Paul Newman and myself and Mr. Lanigan, were interested in making a move to get a team member to try it out.
What we did do, I went through some testing with him. I don't know what he's going to be or not, but we did quite a bit of testing, and the team was -- the engineers were rather -- very pleased with the situation. We kind of went from there. What else can I say? I think roughly that's about it.
MIKE LANIGAN: If I can jump in, I think what we found not only from our engineers watching him in the Atlantic Series, but we found out, number one, is he reads a car extremely well. Graham is very dedicated to racing, and you need to be focused to get to the highest level, and also he was extremely quick in the top three or four in all the tests that we did with him and we're certainly very pleased to have him on board.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations to both gentlemen. A very big announcement for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing as well as Champ Car World Series. We're having this conference call a little later than we normally do to allow you to make it back from a day's work at New Albany High School. Tell us about -- you're making this move into the Champ Car World Series and ran very well in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship last year, five victories there and fought for the title all the way down to the end. Tell us how you maintain such a schedule and still be able to maintain a school schedule and do well in carrying a 3.8 grade point average there in New Albany
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's very busy for me obviously, but school is something I've always had as part of my life obviously, and racing, as well, so they kind of have begun to work together. Thank God I'm in my senior year so I don't have to worry about it too much longer. But, you know, it keeps me busy. It makes me have to be more responsible with everything that I do, and I think for me as a person, it helps me become more mature, really, because I had to be able to get all my work done, whether it had to be racing or school.
And as you say, it was always a deal with my dad that I would maintain straight As and Bs, and it just so happens that it's worked out that way. As I say, racing for the last seven or eight years of my life, I've always been going to school, so it's just getting used to it, and it's become part of my life.
ERIC MAUK: As you make this move today and join The Champ Car World Series, we alluded before that you've been in the open test with the new DP01. You've been in the Newman/Haas/Lanigan car at all three of those tests, and now as you get ready to step into the MEDI | ZONE sponsored machine, tell us a little bit about your thoughts on the new car and on the DP01 this year.
GRAHAM RAHAL: First of all, it's great to have MEDI | ZONE on board with us, but as you say, the last few tests have gone extremely well for our team as a whole. Obviously with Sebastien being quickest at Laguna, the car is very impressive for only three tests so far. I think time-wise it's going to be much quicker than the old car, and more importantly, reliability has been good, and I think it's going to help improve the racing.
But, you know, this team is obviously the best, and we don't -- as far as Sebastien and myself and being competitive, I think it's just a trait of this team that they're able to do that. For me it's a dream come true to be able to not only move into Champ Car but to move into this team. You can see by the records that they are the best, and it's just an honor to be part of it.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations, Graham, looking forward to seeing you on track this year. Speaking of some of the successes that Newman/Haas/Lanigan has had, we are now joined by the three-time and defending champion of the Champ Car World Series, a young man that has put together 23 wins in four short years in the Champ Car World Series, driver of the No. 1 McDonald's-sponsored Cosworth tire DP01 on Bridgestone tires, Sebastien Bourdais. Thank you for joining us today.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Hi, everybody.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about your thoughts on Graham joining the team today.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think it's been a long time, everybody expected it, and I'm glad to finally be able to announce it. I think he's a great addition to the team. He's young, talented, and I'm sure he'll be up for the task.
ERIC MAUK: You came into this series as a rookie just four years ago. As we talked about with Carl before, some of the success you guys have had or Newman/Haas Racing and now Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has had with rookies, you and Nigel as rookies for this team are the only drivers ever to win poles in their very first starts in Champ Car competition. Looking back at what you did as a rookie, what kind of advice would you give right off the top to Graham rookie year?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think he is very well prepared, he's done a lot of tests over the winter starting middle of the season last year, and he's definitely ready. He knows what he's doing, and he's got a great engineer and got a great group of guys. I don't really have much to tell him.
I think he's learned pretty much everything he needed to learn before the season started, and it's a great thing for him. He's going to be probably one of the drivers who's really, in the rookie field the one that looks really strong because of the good preparation he's got and the talent he has.
ERIC MAUK: Before we turn it over to the media for questions about the team and about Graham and about Champ Car, talk about what you've been doing for the last week. I know you're dying to get back to Le Mans and you spent the week over with the Peugeot program and running very successfully.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, pretty busy, not with school like Graham, but I've done that before so I know what it is. Yeah, I've got a few programs together this year between Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and the Peugeot program with the 908, the 24 Hours at Le Mans. So definitely a very exciting season, and the car is still very new. We still have a lot of work to do, but it's fast so it's a good start.
ERIC MAUK: Is Emma sleeping through the night yet?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Emma is doing pretty good. She's usually sleeping from 9:00 to between 7:00 and 8:00, so she is pretty good right now.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. We'll open it up to the media. We have a very large contingent of media on the call so I would like to request that you keep your questions to one question and one follow-up for the first round, and if there's time we'll get to a second round.
Q: I have a question for Graham. For those who don't follow auto racing as closely as we do, how do you explain why you're in the Champ Car World Series when your father has been in the IndyCar Series so long?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, for me, most of all, I've always been a road racer at heart, and I find, you know, certainly Champ Car is a road racing-based series. I've always tended to prefer road racing rather than ovals, and I think that's the biggest reason. You know, I think, also, growing up as a kid, I was always -- when I went to the racetrack, I always went to the Champ Car races. Then it was called CART, but it's the same thing.
But at those times, as you know, IRL wasn't around. So for me, I was always biased towards Champ Car, it was always a dream of mine to race in the series, and that's why I'm here and not in the IRL. Really there's no reason for me to drive on ovals at this point in my career, and that's the main reason.
Q: I'd like to ask Graham, obviously this deal took a long time to come together. I was wondering if there was ever a time where you were feeling like it wasn't going to or if you believed all along that this was going to happen.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, I've always felt, as Sebastien said, I've always felt that I was part of this team. We've been working together for a long time. You know, it's been a long time coming, but there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to be part of this group and be driving for this team, and there was no reason for me to go and drive for anybody else, because like we said, there's no one better.
For me, I had no problem. I know it took a long time, but I had no problem waiting, it was just simply putting all the signatures to the paper, and now we're here. I've never felt like I wasn't part of the team.
Q: You said you don't see any point of doing any oval racing at this point in your career. Does that mean that you and your dad have not talked at all about the Indy 500 this year, or is that a possibility?
GRAHAM RAHAL: No, no, I'm not going to do Indy. That's not to say that my dad and I don't talk about Indy. Obviously I would love to win the Indy 500. I think that's a goal of many people's, but it's not something I'm focused on right now. I have other goals in mind, and that can come later in my career.
Q: I guess my question would be about your expectations, especially being with the quality team that you're with, how aware are you of the pressure or some of the expectations of you not only because of your father but because of the team that you're with, because of your teammate and everything else? How much do you feel like that helps you or how much does it weigh on you?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I don't think, as far as my name and everything like that, I've started to put that aside. I've always had that pressure on me. So that has faded somewhat over the years, or I've tried to put it behind me. And as far as the team goes, I mean, I think everybody involved, especially Sebastien, we know as drivers that everybody has got to learn, and that's the only way the results will come is time. You have to learn and gain experience.
And I think the team obviously having the success that they had with rookies in the past, they know that extremely well. So I don't feel any pressure from them. The most pressure I feel is from myself, to go out there and do well. Obviously the reason you race is to win and be competitive, and that's the pressure that I put on myself is to go out there and be competitive, and as far as everyone else, I just try to put it behind me and stay focused on what I have to do, and I find that that tends to work best for me.
Continued in part 2