Indy 500: IMS Media Tour - Rahal, Wilson press conference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Graham, you grew up in the open-wheel split and watched it. I can remember your dad being a very strong proponent of CART and Champ Car and then, of course, became an IRL owner. How did all that affect your ...

Continued from part 1

Q: Graham, you grew up in the open-wheel split and watched it. I can remember your dad being a very strong proponent of CART and Champ Car and then, of course, became an IRL owner. How did all that affect your career choices and then how bizarre is it now to be sitting here today in a unified series?

RAHAL: Well, I mean it affects you quite a lot because, you know, growing up, always being around CART or Champ Car, I think, you know, for myself I was always a road racer and that's really the reason why I went the Champ Car route, went through Atlantic and all the formulas, you know. I didn't feel like it was -- you know, when you're one series, it's fine to be on ovals and it's fine to be in the situation we're in and that's something we needed so badly. But at the point in my career, which is not very long ago, obviously, it was one of those things where the opportunity came with a team that everybody knows is one of the best, if not the best. So you want to, you know, grasp an opportunity like that at any time in your career. I was fortunate it came so early. So to be in Champ Car was the logical choice. Really, that's where I was. And growing up and being around circuits like Cleveland and Mid-Ohio and all these places, you really, you want to be part of it some day.

To be where we are now obviously where we can have all these races, the Long Beach, I mean St. Pete was a great event, Indy, all of these types events are things we need in a unified series. I feel so fortunate that it is that way so early in my career. Because trust me, if you had asked me at the end of last year, I really didn't know when it was going to end but really glad it did so soon.

Q: Question to either Justin or Graham, whoever you want to answer. What is the situation with Long Beach, are you going to Motegi or are you racing in Long Beach?

WILSON: We actually go to Long Beach as part of the deal that the Champ Car teams transitioned, would go to Long Beach. I've heard the entries are up to 20 now. So it's going to be an interesting race, a lot of fun and we're going to hopefully be at the sharp end of the grid and stay out of trouble because there's lots of guys out there that don't have any championship or anything to lose and, you know, if they win the race, they look like heroes. If they don't win the race, nobody will know. So we've got to stay out of trouble, and we're still going for championship points.

Q: With both of you drivers having driven on the Champ Car schedule, you know, not going one by one but when the '09 schedule is drawn up next year, what would be the additions that you would like to see added to the IndyCar schedule?

WILSON: I think there's a couple really great circuits out there that could be added. I'll let Graham add a few, but there's two that spring to my mind -- I know which one Graham is going to say, so I'll leave that one out. But the other two is Road America, which is a fantastic road circuit, and Toronto. Toronto is a special place for myself, that's where I got my first Champ Car race win. So I'd love to see us go back there. I don't know if there's a chance of that but that would be a great track.

RAHAL: Yeah, I mean those are certainly two that would be great to have back. And the one obviously that I'd love to have back is Cleveland because, you know, again when you go back to growing up around circuits, for me it was always Cleveland and Mid-Ohio, like I touched on. I know it's hard to have two races in the same market but I think it's always been pretty strong in Ohio and in the past it was always successful. But Cleveland is such a great circuit, so wide open, so quick. For the fans you can see everything. From a driving standpoint for me, it's just a lot of fun because I like really fast corners. Cleveland, I mean you've got the hairpin obviously to start the lap but everything else is flowing and fast, and it's just awesome.

Q: Just to follow up on that, though, you talk about having two races in the state of Ohio, do you think the state of Wisconsin would be able to justify two races there?

RAHAL: I think it's, you know, it's been successful in the past. I mean, of course, when you go to Road America it's a different deal because Road America is a circuit that -- I mean, if you ask any driver what the best circuit is, I guarantee you 90 percent of them, 99 percent of them are going to say Road America because the speed is so cool. And to go there, it's just an awesome circuit. There are a lot of fans up there who realize the history of that event and just love going there. It's always produced great races. So I mean I think they can do it, as well. It comes down to, you know, whoever decides on the markets they want to pick and obviously these days, street circuits like St. Pete have been successful. And that's a formula that Champ Car was based on a lot, and I can assure you that Long Beach has been getting stronger and stronger. St. Pete was obviously a great event, Toronto has always been strong, Edmonton, so it depends whether they want to go in the countryside or be right in the cities.

SULLIVAN: Other questions?

Q: Graham, this is for you and it's more of a family-type deal. But being the youngest winner in major Indy Racing, have you had that conversation with your dad with like, "Dad, when did you first win in this big series?"

RAHAL: Like when did he first win? I can tell you when he won because I was just told; he was 29. And I know where he won: It was Cleveland, which was also an airport circuit. I mean, we talked about it a little bit. But to be honest, this day and age it's completely different than when Dad started because when he started you couldn't even drive unless you were 21 or something. He started way later. That's why I always feel lucky because, you know, I'm sitting here at such a young age, and I've always tried to just tell myself I have to kind of envision where I will be at their age, you know, whether it's -- whoever it may be. And there are a lot of drivers, obviously, that I admire and respect a lot and certainly, you know, you look at the many years of experience they've had, I mean it's a -- I'm trying to sit back and just try to build up as much knowledge and everything as I can. As I said, it's just different now. You get guys that are starting at 5 years old, and, I mean, it's just a different time.

Q: Justin, you sit there and listen to all the history he relates to and yourself growing up elsewhere, what was your earliest thoughts about Indianapolis and American racing?

WILSON: Well, it all started for me when Nigel Mansell came over here. That's when it started getting televised in the UK, and you could stay up and watch the races. You know, that was the big eye-opening for the UK fans, you know, that this racing was very cool. Everyone was in similar types of cars; it wasn't like Formula One where you had one manufacturer building a car that was a second a lap faster than anyone else. Everybody here has a chance of winning, and, you know, it produced some great racing. That's what captured my imagination was just the racing that's going on. I grew up in karting, I started racing go-karts when I was 8 years old, and I always loved the racing. You know, qualifying is great fun, but it's all about overtaking people and moving to the front and getting those race wins. So that is my earliest memory.

Q: This is for Graham and Justin. Were you both surprised by the overall immediate success at St. Petersburg of the Champ Car transition teams and drivers?

WILSON: I think so. Before the weekend happened, I would have said we'd be happy if we scored a top 10. But straightaway, the car was on the pace, and it seems like our setups have transferred across. After all, the cars aren't vastly different and they did all the calculations and the math that went with that to get the setups to work. So it seems like our guys did their homework and we were able to compete. By the end of the weekend, you know, wasn't expecting or looking for a top-10 finish, was now thinking about podiums, and obviously Graham went one better.

SULLIVAN: Final question.

Q: Actually I'm going to break it up into a two-part question. Do you think that the first two races really kind of showed that in the respective racing disciplines of the two series how, you know, the regular IndyCar guys were on the ovals, that's what they do mostly, the Champ Car guys all excelled on the street courses because that's what they do mostly? And then I have a follow-up after that.

RAHAL: I think it's slightly different because, I mean, of course, the Champ Car guys would succeed on a road course because that's what we do. But I think the reason the ovals is a little bit different because I do think Champ Car teams and drivers can succeed on ovals. We have not had these cars nearly as long. So the biggest difference is we've had no time to develop them. Because I can assure you, Justin can say because in the race there were a lot of times where his pace was just as good as the leader's. But the thing is our cars were very good at the test. We could run around the bottom flat. But when you're running around the bottom flat like they do in qualifying and you're only going 209, flat is flat. Unless you get drag off of it, it's not going to go 213. So the biggest thing is we need time to develop these cars. Before Homestead, I think we only had them three weeks. So you're looking at a different, you know, time scale there from three weeks to five years. So it's -- I mean, I think by the end of this year, if we get more time to develop in the wind tunnel and keep working. Like I said, our setups are already good, our cars felt good and solid and stable, but it's a different deal.

WILSON: The one thing I've learned over my years of racing is a good team is a good team no matter what series they're in. It's about the way they work and the way they apply themselves. So, you know, just the same as if Penske went to Formula One or whatever, whichever way you wanted to look at it, a good team will always move toward the front of the grid.

Q: And also follow-up was your Newman/Haas/Lanigan, the whole crew hadn't been back to the shop since March 23rd, what were they able to do to kind of celebrate the victory? Were they able to finally relax a little bit or did they just have to start thrashing, get back here and bring the Champ Car out for next week?

RAHAL: Well, I'm sure that as much as the guys would like to celebrate, I'm sure they appreciate the sleep even more than they did any celebration because I know they had to get up early the next day to catch a flight. Because I was leaving, I drove home yesterday, I was leaving St. Petersburg about 6 a.m. and I passed them on the freeway, so I know they were up early. I doubt there was any sleep then. I was talking to them today, and they were already at the shop working away. So there's not much celebration right now; it's a lot of hard work.

Fortunately for us, the Champ Cars were built before we left and they were sitting there, all four of them, ready to go. There are obviously little tweaks and you have to start them up and make sure everything is fine. But hopefully they can get at least a weekend off.

SULLIVAN: Well, I'll tell you, Justin made the comment good teams are good teams, and we're delighted to have your team here for the 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500. It's a delight to have both of these gentlemen, Justin and Graham. Thank you very much. (Applause)

-credit: ims

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Nigel Mansell