IRL: Indy 500: Rahal Letterman Racing Fast Friday press conference, part 1

2006 INDIANAPOLIS 500 PRESS CONFERENCE Friday, May 12, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Danica Patrick Buddy Rice Jeff Simmons Ray Leto MODERATOR: Welcome on a gorgeous day here at Indianapolis. Hopefully it will get a little bit better. It's...

Friday, May 12, 2006, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Danica Patrick Buddy Rice Jeff Simmons Ray Leto

MODERATOR: Welcome on a gorgeous day here at Indianapolis. Hopefully it will get a little bit better. It's our annual meeting with Rahal Letterman Racing. We're delighted to have them with us. Ray Leto, the acting GM, has joined our driver lineup, which you know very well. Jeff Simmons, two-time Barber Dodge Pro champion, also a gentleman who has been a standout in the Infiniti Pro Series. Buddy Rice, of course, a 2004 Indy 500 winner. Danica Patrick, last year's Rookie of the Year. Always great to have them with us.

Ray, you have a good driver lineup here. Talk about how things have gone thus far. Kind of a soggy first week here at Indy.

RAY LETO: Yeah, we've hit the weather every day. Little bit different strategy coming in this year with everybody on the same engine and limited mileage, trying to budget our miles to make sure we split the testing up between preparing for qualifying and preparing for the race.

We had a good open test here before we went off to Japan. It's been kind of a strange week for us. Haven't gotten everything done we wanted every day because of the weather or other stuff that's going on. I think we're going to go full-bore for qualifying here starting today. Hopefully if we get out today or tomorrow, find out where we stack up.

MODERATOR: Jeff, I was thinking about the fact that a couple years ago we had a press conference here after a good run in the Infiniti series, you got the word you had a chance to run the Indy 500. You'd never made a green-flag pit stop in competition, yet did a really remarkable job Race Day. You're coming in with a whole different base to start out with. Obviously, you've had experience in this series. You have to feel very good about your chances.

JEFF SIMMONS: Yeah. I mean, certainly just to be with a first-class team like Rahal Letterman Racing and to have the whole month to prepare, I think I've already done -- we haven't done that many laps, and I've already done more laps than I did before qualifying in 2004. It's a whole different program here. With good teammates like Buddy and Danica, we're able to at least get a lot more information in the limited time that we're going to have here. Obviously, they give good reads on the car. I don't really have a lot of experience in these cars and haven't had a whole lot of testing or anything.

We're just trying to build up to it, and hopefully we get a little more time today on the track.

MODERATOR: I was reflecting, Danica, on the fact a couple years ago we had a little conference upstairs. You had indicated that your hopes were to come to Indianapolis. You not only came to Indianapolis, but had you a fabulous month of May. First of all, welcome. Talk about how things have gone thus far for you.

DANICA PATRICK: Yeah, I wish I could say it's good to be back, but it's been a little bit of a struggle this year. Last year was, I guess, comparatively easy.

We're struggling, for sure. We're doing the best we can to make our cars work. We just can't seem to get the car to grip up. We can't really trim out and go fast right now. That's kind of the problem. We're trying to work around it. I think that other people have found out how to make their car go fast in a trim-out condition. I think that's why Target and Penske are so fast, is because they learned how to do that last year without the horsepower. That's another one of those things that isn't working to our advantage now that we are amongst all Hondas. By all means, obviously they made it possible to have a series, so that's also really a good thing.

That's about all I had to say. If I had any answers, I would put it toward the car and we wouldn't be talking about this.

MODERATOR: Buddy, I have to tell you, for all of us who are fans of the race, last year you were in this press conference, we all felt miserable for you. As race fans yesterday, we all groaned for a moment and thought, "Oh, no." But you're here this morning. Tell us how you're doing physically and your thoughts coming to the 90th running of the Indy 500.

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I mean, I feel good. Obviously, we had a bit of an issue yesterday. You know, after they inspected it, they figured out what had happened. We'll fix that and carry on.

I think we got obviously a little bit of work to do. I think we'll have very strong cars come race time. I think between the Ethanol car and the two Argent cars, we're going to be very good come race time. That's what we really need to make our strengths are, and we need to focus on that.

We may not have the outright speed right now, but there's still going -- could possibly rain for the next three days and we'll have another week or so to work on that as well as full tanks, make sure we have solid race cars.

So far what we've learned, I think we'll be OK when it comes race time. We need to make sure we need to get a little bit more out of our cars for qualifying. It's definitely possible. It doesn't take much to find a lot of speed around this place. I think you spend so much time, it's very easy to get -- just miss by a little bit, and it looks like a tremendous amount. Kind of like a road course. If you just make up a little bit in one spot, it snowballs, it just spools the car up all the way around. I think with the three drivers we have up here and our engineering staff, I think we'll be OK come qualifying, though.

MODERATOR: You're OK physically?

RICE: Yeah, I'm OK. (Dr. Henry) Bock I don't think is here yet, so I'll just go over and see him, do the standard procedure. Shouldn't be an issue at all.

MODERATOR: Good news.

Questions for the drivers.

Q: Buddy, how concerned are you about making sure even though you don't have the speed right now that you're up in the front in that first group maybe of 11 to stay out of all the, Ray called it muck yesterday, in the back of the field at the start?

RICE: Well, I think obviously, I mean, we ideally want all three cars to qualify on the first day in the top 11, and we'd go from there. That's going to be somewhat dependent on weather right now. If tomorrow gets rained out, obviously they do the next 22. We'll have to see what happens.

I think I started in the back my first year here, toward the back. I know what that's like. I know kind of the hurdles you have to go over through that. But then obviously the following year we started up at front.

I think this race is so long, so many pit stops, the one thing you need to make sure you have is a lot of patience here. A lot of us as drivers are very impatient. We're all very aggressive and all want to get right to the front as fast as you can. But still you need to have some patience at this place. I think we'll be fine when it comes to that.

I think if we have a couple more days here, depending on the weather, obviously the Penske cars are very strong, so is Target, there's still the possibility of making everything come together. It's just going to take a little bit of work right now.

Q: Danica, could you talk a little bit about the differences for you this year. Last year you got such a splash for being a woman in the situation you were in. Do you feel like you need to take it to another level in order to sort of validate that? What are your thoughts about what you need to do to sort of put the stamp on things?

PATRICK: I think that last year people knew about me because I was fast. That's it. I mean, you know, I had the fastest speed of the month. I almost got pole. I almost won the race. I mean, those are things that I think are remarkable for a rookie. I think that's what caused it, not because -- I mean, it helps that I'm a girl, no doubt. That makes the story that much more interesting. But I think they're great for a rookie. It doesn't seem so great now because we're just working at to go fast right now. It's just not quite as easy. It happens to the best of 'em, you know. I mean, one year Penske didn't qualify, and now look at them.

I think at some point in time, you know, team made the cars very fast. The drivers drove them. Now we just need to figure out how to make the car work so that the drivers can do a lot with them.

It's tough right now. But, again, I don't think anybody thinks I'm a bad driver. It's just we're struggling right now. I don't think there's anything in particular that I have to do to validate. See, I have a problem with people thinking that 'cause there's exposure, that I have to do something. I don't feel like I have to do anything. I feel like I have to get the most out of myself, but that's it. I promise you, there's not a single time I go out on the track without giving everything I've got. So I'm living up to myself, and that's all I can do.

Q: When you climb in the cockpit Saturday to go qualifying, then on Race Day, will you take anything with you, a lucky charm, Bible verse, photo of your significant other? No?

PATRICK: Take my brain with me. Try and take some calm thoughts with me. But I don't think there's anything I take. Nothing in particular. So, no.

Q: Jeff?

SIMMONS: There's nothing that I bring. Over in Japan, a woman gave me what she said was a lucky cat. I was sure as hell not going to bring a cat in the car with me. That wouldn't end up so well (laughter).

Q: Buddy made the comment about the inspection of the car that crashed yesterday, you found out what was wrong. What was it?

LETO: After a crash like that, we're always looking at pieces on the car, trying to make sure that something didn't fail. Right now we're not a hundred percent, but it looks like maybe a part on the car gave up and turned the car around on Buddy.

Picking back through the data, it's a pretty tough thing to pinpoint anything like that. But we've got a part that doesn't look like it broke on impact or we're not a hundred percent sure whether it did. We've taken care of that. That's kind of why we were down with all three cars after that yesterday, just making sure that we went through and inspected all the cars. That's our supposition right now. I don't know that it will ever be a hundred percent, like I said. I'm not sure. But looking at the data, I mean, up to that point, everything was going fine, then the car just came around on him. There wasn't a lot of video evidence to help us figure it out. We're being conservative and going through all the parts on all the cars.

Q: It was in the rear end?

LETO: Yeah.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Buddy Rice , Jeff Simmons , Danica Patrick