2010 INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE Saturday, May 15, 2010 An interview with: Bobby Rahal Graham Rahal MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us in the Economaki Press Conference Room. Welcome to Saturday here ...
2010 INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE
Saturday, May 15, 2010
An interview with:
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much for joining us in the Economaki Press Conference Room. Welcome to Saturday here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway as we get things on track for the Indianapolis 500, the 94th running. It's our pleasure today to make this announcement for Rahal Letterman Racing. As you can see, we are joined by two men that need no introduction here at Indianapolis, but I'm going to give them one anyway.
On your far right, three time IndyCar Champion, the winner of the 1986 Indianapolis 500, and co-owner of Rahal Letterman Racing, Mr. Bobby Rahal.
And directly to his right the youngest ever IndyCar race winner, and he will be driving the No. 30 Quick Trim RLR Special for Rahal Letterman Racing, Graham Rahal.
Gentlemen, a big announcement today, Quick Trim will be joining us as the primary sponsor on the No. 30 car. Bobby, tell us a little bit about this deal.
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, we're very pleased that we were able to come to an agreement with Quick Trim. There's a lot of interesting sort of aspects to this agreement. For those of you who may not be aware of it, Quick Trim is associated with Kim Kardashian, who will be in attendance, along with, I guess, her whole family, and the E Network, which I think is going to be great for us certainly as a team to get that kind of coverage, but also great for the series to receive that kind of coverage in something that you not normally would see it.
We're real pleased. They have been great to work with. It's sort of come at the last minute, frankly, like anything does. Of course, we only decided to enter the series, enter the race I should say, not so long ago and to commit to Graham. It's all been pretty hectic for Rahal Letterman over the last month or six weeks. But I'm very pleased, and I think we can be competitive on Race Day. For me, it's obviously a thrill to have my son drive the car for us and to be associated with this great product.
MODERATOR: Graham Rahal, as you all know, driving for Rahal Letterman Racing for the first time in open-wheel cars. He's competed with the team in sports cars, most notably getting a podium finish at Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta a couple of years back.
Graham, tell us a little bit about your constant presence around Rahal Letterman headquarters over in Hilliard; but to strap in one of those cars for the first time, tell us a little bit about what's going through your head.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's been a lot of fun to come and be a part of this. As you say, it's nice to have an experience that's been this kind of hands-on. I've been at the shop pretty much every day. I've been a big part of what's going on, kind of helping, trying to remember the things that I remember from what we did in Newman/Haas; and obviously, Scott Roembke, who runs the team, has been very up to date on what's going on.
But it's exciting for us to come together. As you say, I've never really driven for Dad; twice, I think, at Sebring, in Petit in the sports car a few years back. But this is a whole new experience, new adventure that we're -- basically, this month is something that's going to be a lot of fun for us.
I know that Dad clearly has had a lot of success here. If there's one guy that you would like to be involved with or someone that you can kind of take advantage of all the advice that they can give you, it's him, especially here. If you look at the record, you know, he won in '86 but finished second I don't know how many times, and third, I don't know. But seemed like more than half the time he was right up there in the top three. So I think that's pretty impressive. So we're going to try to pull from that; and clearly after my first two experiences here, we're going to try to turn some things around and make sure we get to the end.
MODERATOR: To further illustrate that point, between Bobby's driving career and his career as co-owner of Rahal Letterman Racing, Rahal Letterman cars have started here at Indianapolis 32 times; 15 of those they've come home in the top 10. So a long list of successes with both Bobby behind the wheel and atop that pit wagon.
We'll go ahead and take questions from the media now. If you have a question, please hold up your hand. If you would be so kind as to wait for the wireless mike.
Q: If you could both address how interesting the dynamic is going to be not only working for the team but working for your dad, plus you've grown up with most of the guys you're going to be working with. Just how interesting is that dynamic going to be for the two of you?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think that we've always tried to, I think, separate kind of the business from the personal side of things. And certainly it's always been of Dad and my opinion that we needed to separate that for me to kind of make my own footsteps, so to speak, and kind of branch out. So it is something that we haven't done, as we said, and it's going to be interesting. But I do think, you know, obviously knowing everybody at the team from the top down as well as I do, because I am there all the time, I think that it's going to be a lot of fun for us because it's not like you're starting with a new team that you have no experience with, never seen them before or anything like that. I think everybody knows each other very well.
As I said, I think the advice that I can pull from Dad and, quite frankly, from Scott who -- I mean, Scott called Buddy's race here in '04 when he won. As Eric said, RLR has always had successful cars here. Even with Servia, before the fuel pump up, they got him up in the top 10 ahead of Townsend Bell and they finished fourth, and they only got one day of practice. So if you look at that, it's pretty impressive. So I think we're looking forward to today and getting everything kicked off.
BOBBY RAHAL: I think, for me personally, I always felt that Graham would come drive for us at some point. I never felt it was going to happen quite this quickly, particularly last fall when it looked like things were set.
No. 1, I'm thrilled to be back here for the 500. I really wish we were part of the series in its entirety. We're working very hard to make that happen. We've worked very hard with the IRL and everybody we could to do what we could to get here and to return to the series, and that's certainly our goal.
Getting back to the Graham equation, you know, I think we knew it would happen at one point or we thought it was a strong possibility. But, as I said, I didn't quite expect it this quickly. When Scott and I, when I said we need to get the car ready and we need to -- and, you know, we're going to put Graham in the car, I think the reaction by the team was everybody was really excited. And then a split-second later everybody is going, "Oh, we better make sure this is a good program, we've got the boss's kid in the car." Not that we've ever come here without a good program.
It does present some dynamics that we've never really faced before. But I'm very confident in the people we have in the team, starting with Scott Roembke, and many of the people that are the mechanics. Ricardo Nault was the chief for Buddy's winning year and has been with our team for quite some time. And there's a number of other people that are part of our team that are going to be here all month, the next two weeks, I guess, is maybe a better way of putting it. So there's a lot of experience. And I think we can help give Graham a great car. At the same token, we've seen in the past you've got to have a guy who can stand on the gas to really create a great car. There's no question I think Graham has shown his ability to do that. So all in all I think, for me personally, I think it's a great thing. I think for the team it's a great thing and we look forward to getting underway later today.
Q: Bob, can you talk about the logistics of fielding this car and going to Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca next week with two BMW cars?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, unfortunately, I'm not going to be here for qualifying. That's the biggest -- not that I can do anything about it. All I can do is watch and bite my fingernails, which is what I have done the last few years. I'll be doing it via TV, I'm sure. But, as I say, I think that would be an issue if we didn't have so many experienced people, but we've got a lot of good people here all week. So, yeah, it makes it more difficult, but it's not impossible. And I think, like I say, the only thing I wished, I would prefer to be here for qualifying but unfortunately there's prior commitments.
Q: Who stays, who goes?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, we have Steve Dixon, who's been with us for a number of years. He ran the program last year because, as you remember, we were in Salt Lake City last year during qualifying weekend. So Steve, Ricardo and a number of others that have been on our team that have IndyCar experience. Then we brought in some good people from within the industry, you know, from fellas who have been released from other teams or were out looking or whatever. So I think we've got a lot of good people, and I'm pretty confident we'll be in the thick of it.
Q: This is for both of you. Bob, the change in qualifying, having to go out and try and be in the top nine, number one, and then you start from scratch all over again. So you've got the double pressure of not only get there, but once you got there, you start all over again. Do you think it's a good move as far as qualifying, putting a lot of pressure on the driver, and do you think the fans are going to go for it?
BOBBY RAHAL: It's kind of similar to the last year, top 11, then you were in. Now, you could withdraw your time and try to go better. Now this time, obviously, you get in the top nine, you're in the top nine no matter what. They're issuing points this year for the first time, as far as I know, the first time ever at least in my experience. So I think that is, I mean that's going to -- those points are going to be critical to where somebody is going to end up at the end of the year.
So does that put a lot of pressure on the driver? Yes. On the team? Yes. Will there be people -- we've seen in the past just trying to make the top 11, there's been incidents trying to get into that top 11 because there's a real value to that. Now this year, what is it, the first 22, I guess it is, is in. So that removes the pressure. The next day you can begin doing your race setups or whatever. Last year you had to wait and wait and wait, so that's why the pressure was to qualify in the top 11.
But yeah, I think for the crowd, for the spectators I think it's going to just be an added element of suspense and excitement. But, for sure, the risk factor goes up if you want to play that game. If you're in the top nine, you want to try to go for pole, you're going to have to hang it out even more than you're already hanging it out. So, yeah, it's going to be pressure packed, for sure.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, I mean to follow up, I think it does. It's going to add a lot of pressure because, as you say, once you get in, you've got to do it again. And the facts are with points, with the prize money being increased, all of those things, and obviously with the pride of starting on the front row here at Indy, guys are going to really be pushing all out to make sure they can be up there. At the same time, as Dad said, you're getting more cars in on the first day, so now from a fan's perspective, it's more interesting. Because it used to be when we were qualifying the top 11 last year, there's guys who knew there's no way they're going to make the top 11, so they just wouldn't run. Now there's probably a lot of guys who think that they can make it on the first day, so there's going to be a lot of guys trying to make it in, and it's going to be packed. I mean, obviously, in the past we've seen where even the qualifying line would go quiet for a little while or this or that during the six hours we had to qualify, but I don't think anybody is going to see that happen now because it's going to be quite busy trying to make sure that everybody pushes hard. Then, again, you get in the top nine, go do it again. I mean, Dad already put the pressure on us. He told us, I think, the first day we even thought about doing this program that he was going to be disappointed if we don't qualify in the top nine. So the pressure's on.
Q: Graham, the days of just driving the race car are over in this sport. Talk a little bit about the last few months, the educational process and how that will benefit you as a driver and a business person moving forward.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's been interesting. As Dad said, last fall we were all set, you know, then things obviously changed at the beginning of this year. So, you know, certainly it's one of those things after we had a great year like last year, you wouldn't imagine that you would be in this situation, but it has been a good experience. It is tough, but to learn the marketing side of it, to be involved in the meetings, to kind of reach out and work as hard as you can to try to fix the issue yourself rather than sit back and waiting for someone to do it for you, I think that's been a really good experience. I think at the end of the day you're going to benefit from it.
Now, you know, would I want to go through this experience? Probably not. I mean, we'd like it to be different. We'd like to be at every race. Unfortunately, it's not going to be the case. The big thing is we're proud to have Quick Trim on with us here at the 500. And I think truthfully if there was one race that we could do this year, this is obviously the one. And to come here with Dad and to have a sponsor like Quick Trim and receive the help that we've received from the top down, everybody at the league and Brian Marks, who helped us with the sponsor, the whole deal, it's been nice to see. Everybody that's reached out to help us, it's been great. But, as Dad said, I think the ultimate goal is to build on this. We, whether it's myself, Rahal Letterman, or all of us together, I think everybody wants to be in the series full time. Of course, it comes down to funding.
Q: Bob, when you were here driving in your career, it wasn't required, if I remember right -- my memory is getting a little weak -- that you didn't have to come in with a boatload of money. You were hired as a driver, usually a team owner had sponsorship lined up, but that's completely gone 180 the other direction. Do you think it's good to get a driver like Graham involved and know what it takes to put a team together and make it work?
BOBBY RAHAL: Truthfully when I came here with Jim Trueman in 1982, at the end of 1981, Jim came to me -- and he had always been a sponsor of mine but relatively small sponsor -- and I had to go find other people, you know, to help sponsor whatever I did, Formula Atlantic or whatever it might be. In 1981 Jim said to me, "I'll tell you what, I'll put up the sponsorship, but you've got to find the people to buy the engines and the cars."
So, I mean, yes, Jim had faith in me, but I had to help create the situation. And that had happened to me in Can-Am with Ampex Corporation; I found them. To me I think it was of great value. It makes it harder, yeah. It would be great if all you did was show up and everybody falls over for you and throws money at you; and that happened later on once I had proven myself. But in the beginning, you had to help, you had to figure out how to get it done.
As I said to people about the situation that occurred with Graham, I think maybe the unfortunate part is it happened so late, so the opportunities weren't there. But in the end, I think he's going to be better for it. It's part of the education, it is -- today, and it's not just today, it's been this way for some time, as a racing car driver, you have to sell yourself as much as be able to drive a car quickly and successfully. So ultimately I think it will be good for him.
I've been very proud of him that he didn't sit there and, you know, cry, "Woe is me," and wait for it to happen. He's gone out and driven everybody crazy trying to make things happen. But it just shows that, A, he really wanted to be here in IndyCar racing; and B, that he's willing to do what it takes to get that done.
So, yeah, I think ultimately, while I wouldn't wish it on anyone to be in the situation he's been in, and others have been in -- Will Power was in it a year ago or year and a half ago or so -- but it just makes you a better driver, and I think it makes you a better person in the end.
Q: Bobby, I just wonder how have you guys as a team, how do you shake the rust off? You guys haven't competed in an IndyCar race since this time a year ago. Just how are you all approaching it, shaking the rust off and making sure the car is up to date, so to speak? And how much of a challenge is that for this kind of one-off situation?
BOBBY RAHAL: This race is so different than the other IndyCar races where the wing angle is not mandated and things of that nature. So, number one, we always keep our ears to the ground anyway. There's not many secrets in racing. We've had these cars for some time. We've spent a lot of time on them sort of in preparation that perhaps something was going to happen even before this, and not necessarily with Graham, but just in total, because we've been looking for sponsorships. As I say, there's people in the industry, you know, as I say, there's not many secrets.
Now, there's going to be little things. We haven't been in the wind tunnel, per se, but we were last year and the cars have been stabilized, restricted in so many ways that there's really not a lot of developments that you can do. I'm not going to say we're at the level of a Penske or a Ganassi, but I think we're next in line. And there's a lot of expertise and a lot of -- you say the rust? Well, the people that have worked on this program historically have been working on this program and our other racing program, so it's not like they've been sitting around either. So I think that as we showed last year where we only did what, two days of practice and qualified, and on that day we were the second or third quickest of that group, I think we can get up to speed pretty rapidly. A lot of it depends on the guy in the seat, you know, knowing what he wants in a car and really being able to give a good feel for it and -- get a good feel I should say -- and be able to convey that, and I think we've got that with Graham. So I think there's -- as I say, yes, we haven't been in it all year but I think this race is unique and, therefore, that allows us to enter and be, I think, competitive even though this is the one and only event we're doing so far.
MODERATOR: We have a drivers' meeting in here in just a few minutes, so we'll take one last question.
Q: Graham, two weeks ago on the telephone you said you weren't really sure this was the move you wanted to make or not. What was really the tipping point because you said --
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I said it wasn't the move I wanted to make if Dad was paying for it, that's what I said. I mean, as I told you, you know, the facts are that you're coming to the largest sporting event in the world, single day, and you're coming here with a team that's won this race. You're coming here with a name that has been synonymous with success at this place. And so, you know, I wanted to make sure that no matter what happened, we were in a car that was fully funded, that we had a sponsor that we could come here. You know, I've said all along that the one thing that I didn't want to do was come here and have my family pay for it or, you know, quite frankly, do any racing and have my family pay for it. We didn't want to come here to do it just to do it. That was the other thing. And it takes, to do this race properly, it takes quite a big sum of money.
So I feel extremely confident. I mean, as does Dad, I feel extremely confident. Obviously, we've got to be kind of cautious about our expectations and stuff. But I think all along, as we talked about before, RLR has always had competitive cars here. Servia last year, limited practice as we've touched on, all those types of things, they've won the race. You know, they basically, I mean, letting Danica lead here in the 500 and putting a good car under her made her who she is. Vitor second. They've always been strong here. So I think I feel confident coming here with this organization. And with Scott, I mean Scott, this is what Scott lives for. So I feel confident coming here with him calling the race; he knows what he's doing. In fact, it's nice because it's kind of, from where I've been over the last three years, it's a fresh approach. And so I'm excited to see how it all turns out.
Q: How did you get connected to the sponsor?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Really, there was a whole bunch of things that kind of came together. As I mentioned, Brian Marks, helped us. That was the initial connection. So basically I kind of passed it on to Dad, and that's how it went. I mean, it was a fairly painless process once it all came together which, as Dad said, we only decided to do this a week and a half ago. So it's been busy, it's been packed over the last couple of weeks. But I think everybody is really looking forward to it.
MODERATOR: Ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much. The No. 30 Quick Trim RLR Special will be on track this afternoon. For those of you who need pictures, we are in Pit No. 1, pit out. Thank you very much.