An interview with BOBBY RAHAL Part 2 of 2 Q: What about your Atlantic program, will that continue? BOBBY RAHAL: Absolutely. And, although I'm sure I won't be the most popular guy in the paddock, we'll still have our two-car Atlantic team...
An interview with BOBBY RAHAL
Part 2 of 2
Q: What about your Atlantic program, will that continue?
BOBBY RAHAL: Absolutely. And, although I'm sure I won't be the most popular guy in the paddock, we'll still have our two-car Atlantic team with Danica Patrick and Chris Festa. And then of course my son, Graham is going to be in the Formula BMW series on some of those weekends. We'll still be involved in the Champ Car series, but just in a different way.
Q: How much of this was triggered by Adrian Fernandez' move earlier this week? How viable do you think Champ Car is for this season now especially that you have left?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, number one, certainly Adrian's leaving, that was a brave decision on his part. Having said that, we had a lot of questions. There's a lot of uncertainty. It was very quiet over the wintertime. You know, when you've got 65 people on the payroll, it doesn't give you a lot of warm feelings to not know quite what's going on.
I think as a result, you know, while Adrian's move was an important one, I think there's been a lot of consideration on our part over those months as to what was going on and what was presenting us with the best opportunities short-term, long-term. This had been something that had been contemplated for some time.
Q: They were somewhat related, but not necessarily?
BOBBY RAHAL: Right. You said it better than I.
And as far as our leaving, you know, I don't think we're bigger than the Champ Car series. There's a lot of good teams, a lot of good drivers in it. You know, while I would love to believe that Champ Car -- everyone would like to think they were super important or super valuable to the series. But I'm sure Champ Car will continue without us, and I have no doubt that the people there are going to work very hard to ensure that they're successful in the years to come.
Q: I can assume and Michel and Gigante have not join joined you in this venture?
BOBBY RAHAL: That's correct. Michel will stay in the Champ Car series. As I said earlier, we wish him well. Neither will Gigante.
Q: I think one of the strongest things that Champ Car has had going for it in the last few years has been its fan base. Those fans have shown a bit of disdain towards the IRL. Adrian got roasted earlier this week by the fans. Are you anticipating any type of a backlash? How will you respond to it?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, there's a lot of passion on the forums - you know, both pro and con. Those for IRL, those against; those for Champ Car, those against. So there's a lot of passion. Racing brings out passion in everybody.
I have no doubt I won't be included on a lot of people's Christmas card list this year, but I might pick up a few new ones (laughter).
I don't mean to make light of it because I don't think anyone quite appreciates the difficulty that this decision was for me personally, given everything that I had given CART, you know, over the years, and given everything that CART had given me over the years.
You know, it was not easy, but at the same token, I can't run my businesses based on my personal feelings. I have to do what is right for everybody.
We have 65 people, 65 families, God knows how many hundreds of people, therefore. While the fans are a very important aspect of all this, the people that work with me are extremely important. I don't treat their futures lightly at all.
You know, sometimes you got to make the tough calls, and this is certainly one of them.
Q: Was there any one event in particular in the kind of downfall of Champ Car in the last couple years or so that sped up this move for you?
BOBBY RAHAL: I don't think there was particularly any one single thing. Obviously, it's been a difficult time for everybody, not just for us. I mean, I think it's clear that -- we're all in accord with the fact that, you know, all credit to NASCAR, but they've very much taken advantage of the discord that's been open-wheel racing for the last decade. And I remember what it was, and I have every reason to believe it could regain that popularity and perhaps even go beyond it.
Maybe it sounds a little self-serving, but oftentimes some of your decision is based on what you think is good for the sport ultimately, even beyond your team. Because if the sport grows, your team grows.
So, you know, as I say, it was a difficult decision. I'm sure I'll be hung in effigy, and I'm sure some people will even try to hang me now in the first race (laughter). Sometimes you have to make the tough calls. As I said, today was one of them, this week was one of them.
Q: A lot of the IRL drivers are concerned with safety on these ovals now. Will you be pushing for perhaps more road and street courses?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, you know, there's no question that oval racing is risky. I think everybody would agree. I don't think that's a very adventurous opinion on my part certainly. You know, it is risky, no doubt. I think some of that risk has to be the level -- the level of risk can be very much affected by the judgment of the drivers.
I think there's no question in the past that some of the judgment has been lacking, and that has certainly caused some of the incidents. Particularly when you consider the risk factor, I think you have to treat each other with respect. Sometimes in watching some of the races in the past, I felt like there wasn't a whole lot of respect out there.
I do believe personally that IndyCar racing was at its height when you had a nice selection of good road racing circuits and good ovals. You know, that kind of combination I think was one of the things that made IndyCar racing unique in the world. Certainly I think a lot of its popularity at the time was derived from that.
But there's also no doubt that the popularity of it was very much around the Indy 500, derived its popularity from that, and expanded upon it. As I say, I think the healthier the Indy 500 is, the healthier open- wheel racing will be.
Q: It seems like both you and Adrian made these decisions here after the recent Long Beach season premiere. Was that as disappointing for you guys as it was for me as a member of the media there? It was almost a depressing event to be a part of.
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, it was personal -- I mean, I guess I can best say I was underwhelmed. But I also appreciate there was a lot to do. Our move was not based on anything that was done specifically in a very short period of time. I think the decision to do what we've done is based on an overview of the long-term, you know, the things we needed to do this year for our own competitiveness in our team and to deliver value to our sponsors.
While it may have been underwhelming, I wouldn't like to say that was the trigger or that caused this decision to be made.
Q: Given your commitment to CART and everything over the years, had you been approached at all about investing in trying to really keep this series alive, even with all the stuff going on, the court case with the IRL? Where do you see the series really going now?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I wasn't approached, but that's okay. I've got investments in the automobile business that frankly take precedence. I would not have been in a position to do so.
Aside from that, I feel like I certainly invested my own personal time oftentimes to the detriment of my family and others. You know, several years ago, being in open-wheel racing, CART, Indy 500, whatever you want to call it, certainly it was my life to a large degree. So, you know, while I would not have invested in the series no matter what, you know, I still felt like I had sort of given at the office, so to speak.
The second part of your question again, please?
Q: Where do you see Champ Car going now? You were one of the last cornerstones to cross over, with all the rumors of 10 to 12 teams. What kind of future do you see?
BOBBY RAHAL: As I said, I don't think I'm bigger than the Champ Car series by any stretch of the imagination. I think there's a lot of good teams and good drivers. I may have been, you know -- a couple years ago Roger [Penske] left, Michael [Andretti] left, Chip [Ganassi] left. I certainly wasn't the first. You know, I worked hard to support the series.
I think the series has got some great events on its schedule, Long Beach and others. I think, you know, perhaps this will just redouble their efforts. I don't know. I certainly think that keeping Michel [Jourdain] was very important for them. You know, that was correct. You know, we tried to entice Michel to stay with us, but to no avail. I can understand, there must have been tremendous pressure on him to remain.
I think the series is going to continue. As I say, we're in the Atlantic side of it in the Formula BMW. We certainly assume and hope it will continue. But I don't think my leaving, I don't think we're bigger than the series. The series is definitely bigger than Team Rahal.
THE MODERATOR: That will conclude today's teleconference. Thank you, Bobby, for your time.
BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you.
-Team Rahal- Part 1