Indy 500: IMS Media Tour - Rahal, Wilson press conference, part 1

Graham Rahal-Justin Wilson Press Conference Transcript 2008 Indy 500 Media Tour Tuesday, April 8, 2008 PAT SULLIVAN: Well, certainly two gentlemen who we believe are going to be part of a very special 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500. It is...

Graham Rahal-Justin Wilson Press Conference Transcript
2008 Indy 500 Media Tour
Tuesday, April 8, 2008

PAT SULLIVAN: Well, certainly two gentlemen who we believe are going to be part of a very special 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500. It is always a pleasure to welcome and welcome some familiar faces and names, a first-rate team in Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. It's a delight to have these two gentlemen with us, both who have had success here at Indianapolis, although on the road course.

Justin Wilson, of course, scored points here at the U.S. Grand Prix in his Formula One days and Graham Rahal here with the Firestone Indy Lights. I tell you, this is kind of a -- how about a round of applause for Graham winning his first race. That was very exciting. (Applause)

Justin, first of all, it's a delight to have you with us in the series. You led some laps at St. Petersburg. Talk about your thoughts coming to Indianapolis and this time on the oval.

JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, obviously it was an interesting weekend. I really enjoyed getting to drive the Dallara around the street circuit. Everything went well all weekend. And extremely happy for Graham to get his first win on his first start. So I think he did a great job. You know, I watched the replay last night and watched those final few laps where he just pulled away from everyone. I think he did a great job and really lifted everyone's morale inside the Newman/Haas/Lanigan race team. So we're looking forward to moving on. I'm looking forward to coming here to race here, go the proper way around the circuit and get to experience all four corners. So it is obviously a tremendous privilege to come and race at this track. It's something I've wanted to do for quite a while.

SULLIVAN: Graham, for some reason I have a fairly vivid memory where I was when I watched your father win his first race in IndyCar competition. I know it's exciting for him, and, of course, ultimately he parlayed that into a victory here at Indianapolis. I know you're excited to come here. But obviously when you're the son of a winner, there has to be a little bit of pressure.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, there's always that pressure. I think fortunately for me after last week and finally getting my first win, I think it certainly takes a bit off. Yeah, I mean really looking forward to coming here in the month of May. For both Justin and I, it's going to be a pretty tough month. It's a long month as you guys well know. We're really looking forward to come here and run on the oval. I think I've been here a couple times on the road course, really enjoyed that. But as Justin said it's a whole different thing when you're here for the 500.

To say I'm nervous is an understatement. I'm certainly looking forward to being part of it. I've been coming here a lot of years with Dad and in the past cheered for Rahal Letterman Racing, but this year the tables have turned slightly, obviously, and I'm looking forward to going out there and doing our best.

For me, I'll only have one oval under my belt by that time but, as Dad said, Indy is a whole different deal. The whole month, if we can keep working on the cars, we ought to be one of the teams up front, and we're really looking forward to that.

SULLIVAN: Let's open it up for questions.

Q: Question, two questions, one for Justin and one for Graham. Justin, as long as you are in American open-wheel racing, you were with Champ Cars, is there any big difference with the Dallara compared to the Panoz? Second question for Graham, preparation for the Indy 500, will you get some advice from your father with setup-wise with his experience and with the IRL chassis?

WILSON: Well, it's been interesting driving the Dallara. It reminds me a lot of the Lola chassis we used to have in Champ Car. So I found it quite easy to get along with. It also helps when the team put a great setup on off the truck. Straight away we were on the pace and felt comfortable, very much at home. It all worked well. The paddle shift works exactly the same way it did in Champ Car, so I found the transition much more straightforward than I expected. I think that showed in the results were the first time we actually ran this car for real in anger was at St. Petersburg in the first session. We finished at the top of the time sheet with the McDonald's car.

RAHAL: I think on the preparation for the "500," I mean, you know, for all the Champ Car teams that are transitioning over, we've all received a lot of help and great support from the teams. Especially on our side from Rahal Letterman Racing, it's not a team nearly as big as say the Ganassi, the Penskes, the AGRs of the world. But the help we've received from them is tremendous. Coming into the "500," they've obviously been very competitive here in the past and I think that any setup help that we can get or information we can get would be quite an advantage for us. I think that certainly we -- I don't know if they've given us a setup for the "500," but I think every team has received a basic setup from every other IRL team just to give you an idea.

But even at the IRL Homestead test, the car was, I mean it was really good. We don't have the ultimate qualifying pace but I think our guys, you know, they've got a good handle on this thing, although it's so new to us. These guys are professionals at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, and hopefully we can come out of the box and be competitive.

Q: This is for both of you guys. Obviously, Indianapolis is a place that you look forward to running, but are there other venues after Indianapolis on the IRL schedule that neither of you have run that you're looking forward to and then some that you might not be looking forward to?

WILSON: The one that really springs to mind for myself is Watkins Glen. It looks such a great road circuit, and obviously that's where most of my background has been, so I'm really looking forward to that, the fast, flowing corners there. But you said apart from the "500," so this is No. 1, and this is where if you are going to choose which race you're going to win each year, this would be it. I've seen fellow drivers, Dan Wheldon and Dario Franchitti, do well in the last couple years, so it would feel very good to follow in their footsteps.

RAHAL: Of course, for me, you know, if there's got to be one other than the "500," I think it's -- I've raced there in the past but of course not in IndyCars but that would be Mid-Ohio, the reason being its in my backyard. I think being an Ohio boy, if I have memories of racing, you know, when I was a kid with Dad, it was always Mid-Ohio or Cleveland. So really looking forward to going there and hope to have a lot of fan support. That's a great circuit that they've just redone. They had a great crowd there last year, so obviously I'm really looking forward to going there. That's just going to be a lot of fun for all of us.

Q: Graham, in all the years I've covered racing, I've never seen a losing car owner rush over and hug the winning driver before. (Laughter)

How is the relationship going to go now with you with one team and your dad running another team?

RAHAL: Well, I mean, I think you know, you're looking at a special scenario there. But, you know, I think for Dad anytime that I win, he's going to be happy. That's just the way it is. I think, you know, for myself, if I can't be out there winning, obviously I would love to see his team do well. I think it's just, you know, the family ties, obviously. You always want to see one another succeed. I think the relationship hasn't really changed even though I am racing against him. I mean I'm still his son. We've always been very, very close. So I think that no matter what, you know, and I got the question actually earlier today, if you ever drove for him, would it be a business relationship? I don't see us ever being that way. As a kid growing up, we were always together, whether he was going testing in Sebring or wherever it may be, I was always with Dad. So the relationship is so close that in a situation like that the other day, I think he was just so proud of me and so happy that it I finally got a win that it just, I think it was just natural that a situation like that occurred.

SULLIVAN: If I could interject, I saw a message board comment that said, "How do you think Rahal Letterman felt about Bobby being in Victory Lane," and the next person responded, "Do you have a son?" I thought that was very good.

Q: For both of you. Graham, like you said, you pretty much grew up here and at Mid-Ohio. And Justin has just come over to this country to drive, have you shown him where the bathrooms are here and everything?

RAHAL: This has changed quite a bit since the first time I was here. No, I'm sure he can find them on his own. You know, there's got to be a lot of them around. This is a big place.

Q: (Inaudible)

RAHAL: Well, I think that, you know, growing up, growing up here being around oval racing, it's just a completely different form of racing than what a lot of the European drivers have seen. Trust me, I know there are a lot of them that come over that think this is just a simple, easy thing to do. When they get out there for the first time, I think it opens their eyes quite a bit, just being around it and getting used to the strategy. For myself, as I said, I was always very involved, and I've just, I loved watching Dad and the team and just seeing how everything worked. So as a kid, I think, you know, coming into it like last year into my first season in Champ Car, even the way the yellows come out and the strategy that you play then, that's completely different than Europe because in Europe don't really have safety cars unless it's something really big. So it's a completely different mindset. I think it does give you an advantage, but at the same time, a guy like Justin, he's been around here long enough, and I can guarantee you he's not going to have an issue with it.

Q: Guys, when I saw you at Homestead a couple of weeks ago, it's like we saw both of you together almost the entire weekend. So my first question is about the chemistry the two of you guys coming together and getting along so well so quickly. Secondly, with the most combined height for a team, you guys are locked for the sand volleyball championship this year?

WILSON: Well, yeah, as you pointed out, we hang out together. So we obviously get on very well. It's great having Graham as a teammate. He sits up here and talks away about his experience, and it's hard to think he's my younger teammate. He doesn't seem like it. He's very mature and does a great job in the car and outside the car. It's quite amazing to see how well he can do under the pressure and the scenarios that we've been in. So I've got a lot of admiration for him and for the job he's doing. He's real easy to get along with as a teammate. That makes our life easier; we can go concentrate on racing and the performance of the car rather than trying to beat each other.

RAHAL: Yeah, I think much the same. Trust me, it's a lot easier when you've got a teammate that you easily get along with. I mean, the chemistry in the team is definitely strong this year, maybe even stronger than it's been in the past. I think that anytime, especially for us, you touched on the height, and I think the biggest thing about that is that we're both kind of in the same boat here. You know, both big guys, there's nothing we can do about it. But in the past the engineers sit there and say Sebastien (Bourdais) is 5-3 and weighs 130 pounds, when are you going to weigh that much? So with Justin it's a lot easier to get together and build a base setup for the cars that will be the same. Because in the past, you know, it was one of those things where there were just weight distributions, little things that I couldn't get to that maybe other drivers could, whether it was in Atlantic or other things. But here we're sitting and working together. The chemistry in the team is really good, and it's just working out really well. I think it certainly, I think it's showing with the results. I know it's very early in the season but even when I was in Champ Car testing earlier in the year at Sebring, we were right up front. I think overall it's just a really good relationship.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Graham Rahal , Dan Wheldon