IRL: Indy 500: Rahal Letterman Racing press conference

89th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Transcript Friday, May 13, 2005 Rahal Letterman Racing: Bobby Rahal, Vitor Meira, Danica Patrick, Buddy Rice MODERATOR: Buddy, we'll begin with you. Obviously, a comment from you, just get a sense of how...

89th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Transcript
Friday, May 13, 2005

Rahal Letterman Racing: Bobby Rahal, Vitor Meira, Danica Patrick, Buddy Rice

MODERATOR: Buddy, we'll begin with you. Obviously, a comment from you, just get a sense of how you're doing.

BUDDY RICE: I'm feeling OK. Everything is going good. I've been meeting with Bock and Trammell. I have another evaluation this afternoon and then we'll see how everything goes. I'll be back, I'll be ready to go. This is obviously -- with me sitting out, it's not a help to the team, so it's not a help to our sponsors or the car. But Vitor and Danica have been doing a superb job. They're obviously improving the cars every day. It's going good. Hopefully they can keep up what we did from last year.

I don't think I'll be able to necessarily qualify this weekend. We'll have one more meeting about it, but more than likely it's probably not going to happen. After that we'll just wait and see.

I think the team is strong enough. Everybody is doing a good job. Vitor and Danica are carrying the torch excellently. Hopefully they can contend for the pole and have both cars up on the front row.

MODERATOR: Questions.

Q: Danica, you commented about your goals, a lot of learning, a lot of seat time. Have your goals changed?

DANICA PATRICK: I think overall the team is good so my goal was to be up with the team. I think that's kind of what I'm doing. They're ahead of me sometimes, and sometimes I'm ahead of them.

As far as the goals for the season go, I guess, you know, it's moving forward quicker maybe than what I thought. Things are going a little bit better. As opposed to qualifying up in the top 10 all the time or up in the top five, I'm fortunate enough to have the confidence and have the car, good enough engineers and teammates that we're all going for pole. So I think it's good.

Q: How much of a setback is it to have one-third less of your drivers out there in testing and everything else, setups, that kind of thing?

PATRICK: I think it's tough, you know. I call Buddy the leader of the team and he's got tons of experience. He's a smart guy. Every time I talk to him, he's smarter actually with the car. I'm serious. I have a lot to learn from him.

Him in the hospital didn't necessarily do me any good. But I just hope that we can give him a good car when he comes back. So we'll continue to learn for the rest of the season. Yeah, it hurts a little bit.

Q: Bobby?

BOBBY RAHAL: I think the only thing that -- I think the team is strong enough that as a team we can -- I mean, yeah, it's not the ideal, but I don't think it inhibits our chances for this weekend in terms of vying for pole. I think both Vitor and Danica have realistic chances at it, assuming everything goes smoothly.

I feel bad for Buddy because best he can do is 23rd on the grid. While that doesn't mean -- I mean, we can win from 23rd on the grid. It's a long race. As was proved last year, I think he was about the only guy that was going through the field. So it's just unfortunate to not have the chance to get a pole again for him at this race.

So we'll step up. As Buddy was saying, I'm real pleased with the job that Vitor and Danica have done in terms of, there's no hand wringing, Woe is us. It's, Let's get down to work and get these cars as good as we can for ourselves and when Buddy does come back.

For me it's more of a shame for Buddy. For a strong team, for as good as we believe we are, as strong as we believe we are, it shouldn't have an effect on our performance this weekend.

Q: Buddy, how painful is the back? Is there any therapy? Bobby talked about maybe getting therapy from Danica's fiancee.

RICE: Like I said earlier, I was talking with Trammell quite a bit yesterday. We have some stuff scheduled later on this afternoon. I leave right from here. I'll go talk with Bock. I'll have a couple follow-up things right there.

Actually, the back is not that bad. I'm just waiting, as soon as I get cleared to get back in the car. I know I'm going to have good cars because both my teammates are running up front. They've obviously been developing their cars. We know they're good. I'm excited. I just want to get back in there, just like anybody else would want to.

But really the back is not that bad. I don't have any major discomforts or anything. Right now it's just going through the steps and the motions to get back in there.

Q: Vitor and Danica, can you talk about what the speeds feel like, how comfortable or uncomfortable the cars are at these speeds out here?

VITOR MEIRA: I think after the last change they did on the track with the new asphalt and everything, we gained a lot of growth. That's one of the reasons we are running much faster than we were running last year. Plus the engine has improved a lot and the car either.

It feels just as comfortable as last year, but faster. I mean, we for sure improve the setup. I mean, it feels pretty comfortable. There's no problems on the track at all. It's actually even a little bit more smoother.

PATRICK: I don't really have anything to base it off of. But just for me, this is the fastest that I've ever gone, I don't know, I think somewhere top speeds around something of 235, 234. I've been learning that your hand movements have to be really, really slow and small. I experienced a little bit of that at 200, 210, 212. Another 15 miles an hour or so is making a bit of a difference.

It's just getting used to it and getting all the timing right for each corner. So for me these speeds are fast. Yeah, these speeds are fast. They just change the driving a little bit for me.

Q: Does it kind of boggle your mind to realize how fast you really are going out there?

PATRICK: Actually, it's something I've thought about. These speeds are pretty darn fast. I thought to myself in the car the other day, I've got to make sure that these are just numbers in my head and I don't start thinking about how fast we're going and everything. For the most part, it doesn't feel like that on the track. You really don't feel like -- I don't feel like I'm going 200 plus. It might feel like 150. I don't know, maybe it's because everybody's going about the same speed, same direction. Like a highway.

No, they really are just numbers, though.

Q: Vitor, for a lot of reasons the spotlight has been on Buddy and Danica. You've been the forgotten man. Is that something that bothers you?

MEIRA: It actually doesn't bother me because on the team, everybody the same. I got the same stuff that Buddy and Danica have. Really, my most concern is performance, is not going there and being on the spotlight.

Of course, that's going to come with wins and everything. But my main concern is having whatever Buddy and Danica has, which is really -- which the team does really a good job and so does Honda.

I definitely don't feel last. That's definitely not the case. I mean, I'm just proud and I'm accomplishing whatever I have to accomplish.

Q: Buddy and Vitor, Danica has talked about your input into the race cars. Could you talk about her input into the race cars? Has she surprised you with input or is she still in a total student mode? What is her input like?

RICE: I think, no different than anybody, the first time you come into driving IRL cars, there's going to be a steep learning curve. I mean, we call came from smaller formulas. Once you hop into the IRL car, each of us came in differently than what we had in the past. I was obviously in 2002, got the phone call. I had to hop in. Got about, I don't know, 50 laps worth of testing, then I was off to Michigan and started running.

But the biggest thing is just with these cars is seat time, getting yourself familiar with the cars and what you're looking for. Obviously, with some of the testing in the off season and coming into some of the races that she's ran, I think that she's done a fantastic job.

I mean, I think it's the same thing. It's a constantly learning exercise the whole time. I don't think you ever stop learning in these cars because as we keep making the cars better and keep making the cars faster, we're constantly learning as a group. So the more we all work together, the more we put the input in, whether it comes from just -- it's not just me and Vitor putting input. She's also putting input in as well. The more seat time she gets, the more familiar she gets with everything, the more input she will be able to put in.

Right now she's giving everything she's got. She's obviously shown she can do what she can do. We'll just keep proceeding along. We are all learning together as a group. No one is going to stop learning.

MEIRA: If she's a student, I can't imagine when she graduates in the class.

Q: Bobby and Buddy, can you talk about your thoughts on the new format for qualifying?

RAHAL: Well, I mean, for me, it's going to make it a lot more interesting, I think. It's going to make for a long day. If you're in danger of getting bumped, I mean, you've got to be ready to go at any given second on that day.

I mean, it's definitely going to create more drama. You know, ultimately I think it's maybe a little fairer. I think the old system was always a little bit unfair. If you went out and did your time, you know, where other guys could go out and take a couple incomplete shots at you and then wait till the cool of the day, I never thought that was -- maybe that was part of the game, but I never thought that was necessarily right.

So, yeah, I mean, it's just like qualifying as I guess we would know it in the past in terms of road racing in particular: whoever is fastest at the end of the day out of a number of given laps, that's it. It should make for a lot of drama and make it interesting.

Q: Bobby, you have a fairly young team of drivers. What do you tell them as you approach qualifying to keep them on track? What advice do you give them?

RAHAL: You know, I mean, it's easy to say, "Stay cool." I always felt there was more pressure for qualifying than there was for the race. You know, you've been working hard all week. There's a level of fatigue I think that creeps in. So keeping rested and quiet. You know, everybody is pulling at you, obviously, especially for, you know, Buddy and Danica this year. Even if Buddy hadn't had the incident, being the defending champion, everyone wants a piece of you. For Danica, it's obvious why. So trying to balance all that and still do the work every day is tough.

The only advice I can give them, and we can protect them as a team, try to make it organized for them, is, "Let's stay focused, let's keep working hard. Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Come tomorrow, we'll see what happens."

That's about all I can say. As I say, that's easy to say. You know, when you're on the other side of the fence, as I've been, it's pretty hard to stay cool sometimes.

Q: Buddy, your thoughts on the new qualifying format?

RICE: Well, I mean, I don't think it changes for what the situation is. I think, you know, I echo a lot of what Bob says. I think it's definitely going to make it more exciting. The fastest cars are going to get in.

Obviously, some of the outlook and the way things are now are different than what they used to be 10, 15 years ago when you had, you know, 40 some cars trying to get into the field and trying to bump in that way. So I think that makes it a lot different. But I think this will definitely add a lot more excitement, a lot more drama to the whole month, and to qualifying.

Sometimes it will put a little bit more effort on some people's qualifying efforts instead of what Bob was talking about, going out and making runs at you and trying to kill time. Now you're going to need to make sure you're up there in that top group. The slowest car in the group, no matter what day you qualify, if I understand it correctly, is going to be the one that gets bumped out. You are going to make sure you are getting proper times instead of going out there to pound around to try to make it in on that day.

Q: Buddy, does this type of package make it a little easier to drive where you will start on Race Day? Tony Kanaan started in the back, passed 12 cars in Phoenix. Does that give you hope you still got a really good opportunity?

RICE: Actually, what gives me a lot of hope is my teammates sitting at the end there, Vitor. I think he passed more cars last year than anybody else. I actually had the fortunate enough to be starting towards the front. Vitor had some problems throughout the thing. I think he went through the field at least two times.

Obviously, Rahal Letterman is going to know how to give us a proper car that we are going to be able to come through the field, no matter where I start. Obviously the maybe focus right now is I just need to make sure I get cleared through Bock and Trammell, get back in the car, get the thing qualified and make sure we have solid and stout race cars. That doesn't go just for me, it's going to be for all three of us so we give ourselves and the whole team a shot at winning and doing the back to back for this team. That's what's important right now.

No, I think we'll be fine. I think the Panoz and the Honda combination is the one to have. I mean, I think our package is good enough that when we start in the back, we'll be able to charge back to the front. I know I have one of the best crews in the pit lane. We won the pit stop competition last year. They make up spots all the time when we need it. We'll be strong.

Q: Buddy, wondering what you remember from the accident? Do you have any sense at all?

RICE: Yeah, I mean, it definitely wasn't good (laughter). It's not one of my funner days, that's for sure. And no one wants to go spend a night in the hospital, no matter how many people come visit you, whatever. It's just a horrible place to have to go hang out at. You don't want to be there. Any time you're there, it's not for a good reason.

Yeah, I mean, I'm not sure exactly why the car stepped out. It's really odd because we weren't completely trimmed out. I know we were trying some simulations and stuff and looking at things. Also I didn't get released until about midday yesterday, so I haven't been to the track until now.

I'll sit down with my engineers, we'll go over some of the telemetry and stuff, sort it all out. It could be as simple as driver error. It could be something like Mother Nature. It could be a lot of little things. I would assume that's probably one of the two things that caused the whole issue.

To lose it in turn two seems a little odd. Usually it's one and three. You never know. It could be anything. When you're traveling this fast and trimming the cars out and trying to go as fast as we're trying to go right now, everybody is on the edge. But, like I said, once we go back, I'll look at it, see exactly what happened. We'll just try to make ourselves smarter about it and just not let it happen again.

Q: Danica, you came in on rookie orientation as probably the most high-profile rookie, maybe not because of your driving. Does that make you feel like you need to improve a lot more?

PATRICK: No. I think that my drive to be fast has always been the same. It's always been the most it can be, the most I can handle anyway. So I think that that stuff is just -- it's just a different side of me a little bit. It's part marketing. I mean, it causes a stir and it brings attention to the sponsorship on the side of the cars, on the top left and right of my T-shirts. I think I have fun doing it. It's nothing more than just a bit of fun and benefit for attention and sponsorship I think.

MODERATOR: I thank all of you very much. Good luck.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Tony Kanaan , Buddy Rice , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira