An interview with Graham Rahal Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript August 13, 2008 THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us today. Starting the call with...
An interview with Graham Rahal
Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript
August 13, 2008
THE MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us today. Starting the call with us is Firestone Indy Lights driver Dillon Battistini and the executive director for Firestone Indy Lights, Mr. Roger Bailey. Joining us in a few minutes will be IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal.
We are joined by Graham Rahal. Good afternoon, Graham.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Good afternoon, thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Absolutely. I understand you're up in Chicago today enjoying the day off.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I'm actually just driving back to Columbus, just leaving Chicago now.
THE MODERATOR: We are appreciate it. Graham, of course, in his first season in the Indy Car Series, driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, won his debut race in St. Petersburg in April, and recorded Top-10 finishes in Iowa and Richmond.
With the win aside and the great start, there have been some challenges this season for not only yourself, but also really all the teams that joined the series at the last minute. Tell us about some of the high points of the season for you so far.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It was great to do well at St. Pete, and we knew it was going to be challenging, and it certainly has been. We've worked hard as a team, and I think that we saw we were getting closer, and I think we are.
It's just it takes quite a lot of time and effort to get to the top. And obviously as you mentioned, being that we came in so late in the year; that the merger was announced so late, it didn't give us any time to really prepare. So the first opportunity we are going to have is obviously this upcoming off-season.
We are extremely looking forward to that. It's been obviously busy not only for us, but everybody, and to keep this thing going has been quite the challenge.
THE MODERATOR: With three races left, what are some of the things you'd like to accomplish at Infineon, Belle Isle and Chicago?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, obviously with two road courses, we hope to do well there. I don't think our results on road courses have been as good as they should have been so far. Obviously we are hoping to change our luck there.
And obviously with Chicago, it's a hometown for both our team and the team sponsor, McDonald's. We would love to do well there for all of the employees, and we have gotten closer on these mile-and-a-halves.
So at Kentucky we were going to be extremely competitive, going from 20th up to 11th or 12th within the first 10 laps was a good sign. And I felt like we had a good car there. Unfortunately we had some gear box glitches and that kind of took us out of it.
Like I said, we are going to keep working, and certainly I think if we can get some good results in these coming races, that's going to be a good sign for us in the years to come.
THE MODERATOR: That's kind of my next question. As you look ahead to next year, how important is it to finish the season strong? Is it possible to really carry momentum over through the winter into the start of the next season?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think it is. I think that's what we are hoping for. Obviously we need to -- we all realize that we need to get some good results here at the end, and of course, that gives us more of a knowledge base. And if we are winning or doing well on road courses, that gives us something and that gives us confidence going into next season knowing we've figured things out so we'll just keep moving forward like that.
THE MODERATOR: A lot of teams are out at Infineon testing this week. How much of an advantage is it? I know you were in Chicago yesterday, but how much of an advantage is it to get a dew days at a track in advance of a race?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Oh, I think it's huge. It's something that we could use lots more of, trust me. We're obviously still way behind when it comes to really knowing what these cars need on the ovals, and as I said, it's still going to take some time for us to figure it out.
When you do get time to go out and test, I think that's hugely important, and obviously having Justin (Wilson) out there yesterday, we really do hope that that's going to help us in the near future.
Q: The popularity of the IRL -- in terms of the rivalries, what's it been like coming on to the scene this year and being one of the young drivers in IRL, and also having some other big names from recent past like Marco Andretti; have you guys always had a rivalry, and can you share with us any of those anecdotes about your past history with Marco?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think first of all, it's great for the series to have a lot of young names. I think as we go forward and as we go on, I think it's important for us that there are names that people recognize, obviously coming from the Champ Car side last year, something that we really struggled with was the fact that every year you had a new name coming into the series.
I think that it is important that we have some good names here, and I think that's really going to help us in the future.
As far as Marco goes, naturally being for him, an Andretti, and even Rahal, there's naturally a competitive spirit against one another that we want to go and beat each other. But at the end of the day we are both out there trying to do well. As I've said, if there was one guy I could beat every week, it would be Marco, but unfortunately this year, things haven't gone that way too often. But we're going to keep working on this, as I said, and it's all part of learning.
Q: As far as your last two series winners have gone to NASCAR, but the last couple weeks, some of the top drivers have signed on with their teams; do you think that trend might end because some of those drivers are not having great success in NASCAR, and also because of the unification? What are your thoughts on that, and down the road, losing some of these young drivers to NASCAR?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I'm absolutely with you. I think that trend will stop, and, a lot of the reason for that is that this unification should help us in the long run, No. 1.
And No. 2, there have been some guys that have gone over to NASCAR thinking that they are going to immediately be competitive. As we can all see, it's no easy task over there. And I'm not going to say that that's going to turn anybody away from us, but if you're having good success here and the series continues to grow and get stronger and stronger, that's certainly no reason to leave.
Q: As a new guy to the series this year, what are your observations of Scott Dixon and what he's been able to accomplish this year? How has he been able to pull off this type of season in your mind?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's been impressive. Obviously he's extremely good and we've all seen it and we'll continue to -- I think we'll continue to see it.
Scott is incredibly talented. I think we all know that. I've been surprised to see him kind of beat Dan (Wheldon) on a consistent basis, but it's one of those things, as they always say, if it's your time, it's your time.
And with Scott this year, it doesn't seem like they can do anything wrong. I mean, you look at Nashville and he missed his pit call and he ends up winning the race. You know, nothing has gone wrong. They have had some mistakes, I'm trying to think of exactly -- Watkins Glen obviously, but in the big picture, it's just his year; that's the way I kind of look at it.
As I said, he's extremely talented and I look up to him, and it would be great to -- if there's any guy that's a deserving champion, I think it's him. He certainly seems to be pretty humble, and you hate to see guys do well that are arrogant, in my mind.
Q: I wanted to ask you about the days after St. Pete, how crazy was that for you?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It was obviously incredibly busy, but at the end of the day -- and I tell Kathi (Lauterbach), our PR lady, this all the time: If I'm winning, I have no problem doing stuff like that. And unfortunately, I haven't been doing enough of it.
But to be as busy as we were obviously with Long Beach a week later, and kind of going back and forth to the Letterman Show, and then flying overnight to Long Beach, I mean, it does wear you out. But at the end of the day, it is the best feeling to know that you've accomplished something like that. And for me, to accomplish it so early was a dream come true for me, and now we just need to make that happen just a little more often.
Q: With yourself, Danica (Patrick) and Ryan (Briscoe) all winning races this year, is it important for American drivers to do well and win races and compete for the championship in order for the series to grow?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I do think so, because the American fans ultimately -- and we are seeing it right now obviously with the Olympics. I think naturally American fans want to see American drivers do really well. And since I think it's the old patriotism thing and a sense of pride; it's one of those things, and it is an American-oval based series. I think it is important for there to be a lot of American drivers, No. 1; and No. 2, for them to be doing well.
Q: Do you see a lot of young drivers, say, 14, 15, 16, seems like they all want to gear towards stock cars. With the unification, and as prize money gets a little better, do you think that will change a little bit, some young drivers may start thinking about going to open-wheel?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I think that naturally a lot of drivers would rather go open-wheel to be honest.
I remember when I was in go-karts, it seems like everybody wanted to go open-wheel. But a lot of them just faced the fact that, you know, their parents didn't have deep wallets. And to get into open-wheel racing, because of the split at the time, NASCAR was kind of an easier route.
But as you say, as prize money gets stronger, and if we can get some big sponsors into the series, yeah, I do think there will be a lot more kids that will want to come this way, and at the end of the day it comes down to the strength of the team. We don't need drivers that are bringing sponsors. We need teams with sponsors that are hiring the best drivers, in my opinion, and I think that again, with the strength of the series, that's going to come.
Q: Is there a difference in atmosphere at these races, at these IndyCar races, than there was in Champ Car from week-to-week? What's the atmosphere like from week-to-week? Is it any different than it was last year?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, there's definitely a lot more enthusiasm going on in the paddock.
With the schedule as tight as it's been, everybody gets pretty worn out pretty quickly. But, it's great to see the fans, the crowds that we have had in a lot of these places. And it's one of those things that we are certainly looking forward to seeing what the future may hold for us or have in store for us.
I think in my position, it's exciting for me looking forward to see what may come, and I think the enthusiasm in the paddock is certainly what proves that.
THE MODERATOR: Graham, thanks again for joining us. We certainly appreciate it and good luck as we finish out the season.