An interview with: Michael Andretti Al Unser Jr. Arie Luyendyk Arie Luyendyk Jr. THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us for the Indy Racing League teleconference. I do want to point out that starting here in May,...
An interview with:
Al Unser Jr.
Arie Luyendyk Jr.
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us for the Indy Racing League teleconference. I do want to point out that starting here in May, running through June 6, we will have our teleconference every Tuesday at 2 p.m. eastern.
We're honored today to be joined this afternoon by some very special guests as we prepare for the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500. We have two-time winners Arie Luyendyk and Al Unser Jr. with us, as well as Michael Andretti, who will be coming out of retirement to compete alongside his son Marco in his 15th Indy 500. We have Arie Luyendyk Jr., who will be making his Indy 500 debut.
Gentlemen, thank you for joining us this afternoon. Want to take the opportunity myself to ask a question or two of each of you and then we'll open it up to the media for their questions.
Q: Al, let me start with you. You're coming back for your 18th Indianapolis 500. Actually I just received a press release about 20 minutes ago talking about you teaming up with GEICO and A1 Team USA. Tell us a little bit about that partnership sponsoring your effort this year.
AL UNSER JR.: You bet. First off, I'd like to thank everyone for joining us today. We have made the announcement that the A1 Team USA car - red, white and blue car - it's going to be sponsored by GEICO, which we want to welcome both of those sponsors to the Indy 500. GEICO, of course, is the fourth largest auto insurer in the country. I feel really good about my racing because I've got the best insurance now, so I can just go get 'em. We do want to welcome them. I think it's really great that we've got some new sponsors coming into the sport.
I'm just really excited about coming back to Indy. I get to race with my good friend Michael Andretti and also his son Marco. Our families have been going at it for quite some time now. I really look forward to it.
Q: You're teammates on the Dreyer & Reinbold team with 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier. This is the first time since back in 1994, 1995 that two former winners have been teammates. Of course, you were also part of that combination in '94 and '95 as well. Tell us about the significance of having a teammate who has won this race.
AL UNSER JR.: Well, it's critical to have a teammate that you can get along with. Quite honestly, I think, you know, with Buddy's attitude and his style of driving, that we're going to be able to work very well together, be able to share the setups, just do some double duty out there. I'm sure that I'll be able to drive his car. I'm sure he'll be able to drive mine. We'll be able to really work together.
I can't believe it's been that long since two 500 winners have gotten together. I feel it makes the team that much stronger.
Q: Michael, there's only been three fathers and sons that have raced together in the Indianapolis 500. The Unsers (Al Sr and Al Jr.) obviously one of those families. You and Mario, one of the other families. I believe another set of Andrettis (Jeff and Mario Andretti) was the other. In 1984, your first year in the 500, you started on the second row together with your dad. What was that like from the son's perspective to race against your dad?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It was a big deal. To be that close to dad at Indianapolis starting, it was a big moment for me. I think, you know, to be honest with you, my first year there was pretty much a dream. Everything just seemed to really go my way. It was just so cool to see dad next to me when we were going down for the green flag and stuff. Those are moments that stick with you your whole life.
I'm hoping that I'll be able to share some of those -- have some of those memories with Marco.
Q: Obviously, the tables are turned now as Marco makes his debut. Take it from the father's perspective, what is the difference in perspective there?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: It's a pretty big difference, to be honest with you. It's going to be a little strange, I'll tell you. I think when you're out there as a rookie, you don't have to worry about him, you're just worrying about yourself. Now I'm definitely going to be concerned with what's going on with him. It's going to be a little bit more of a nurturing feeling out there. It's going to be a little bit of an adjustment for me, for sure.
Q: Arie and Arie Jr., you'll be working together on this Indianapolis 500 effort. Arie, you made 17 starts at Indy. Tell us about the advice that you're going to be passing along to Arie Jr. and tell us how the deal came together to form a team and run Indy.
ARIE LUYENDYK: Arie Jr. has been driving in the (Indy) Pro Series, the development series for the IRL. Obviously he's been around a lot of oval tracks with the series. Throughout the years, I've been his spotter on the radio with him, so he's been getting a lot of advice over the last couple of years.
But, of course, Indy is still Indy. I think the big thing there for me with regards to Junior is to keep everybody calm, keep him calm behind the wheel, take it one step at a time.
We're looking forward to it. The deal came together, we've been working on this for quite a while. We're still not totally funded. Hopefully we'll get there soon. We have some great people working for us, Skip Faul who used to be my crew chief for many years. We won Indy together and Tim Wardrop, the engineer, who I won Indy with, has a great track record at Indy, a bunch of other guys that have a lot of experience. We are definitely not a new team. We're a team with experienced guys on board. Chip Ganassi Racing has been a tremendous help in our effort. The equipment and the car belongs to Chip Ganassi, and we've got top-notch equipment to have a great effort this year.
Q: Arie Jr., you had a last-minute shot at Indy that fell just short. What type of goals and expectations do you bring into the month of May now that you have a little bit of experience under your belt?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: I'm trying to keep an open mind. Currently we only have the budget to run the second weekend. We're still trying hard to find the remaining amount of money to have me run the whole month.
As of now, I'd like to obviously get through the rookie test and show some good speed in those two days, then just kind of build from there and try not to really set any high expectations for myself and just try to be -- you know, take it one step at a time, one day at the same time. Hopefully all the pieces will fall in their place.
Q: Arie, with Al Jr., Michael, (Eddie) Cheever coming out of retirement and driving, have you thought anything about that, any desire for you?
ARIE LUYENDYK: A lot of people have asked me that question. I've already gone that route. I did that once. I retired officially in 1999. Then I worked for ABC in the broadcast booth for the Indy 500 in 2000. After that, I thought it would be a lot more fun to actually drive again. So in the following year, 2001, I raced at Indy, in 2002 as well. I decided to come back for one more try in 2003. I had a pretty big crash in practice, which put me out of the seat. Alex Barron drove my car in that race.
I've already been there and done that. I have no intentions of driving again. I think I have my hands full with running Arie Jr. in the team.
Q: You mentioned trying to get the funding for this pursuit. One of the things about open-wheel racing right now, it seems to be so touch-and-go getting your sponsor money together. Has that been more of a burden on teams now to try and come up with the money? Does it seem harder to get money than it did 10 or 20 years ago?
MICHAEL ANDRETTI: Well, I don't know. I think it's always been a problem. That's just part of racing. Ever since I've started, I've heard those stories. It's always been the biggest challenge I think sometimes is getting the funding to actually have a car out there.
I don't think so. I think people like to say that it's just because of the state of where we're at, but I don't think that's the whole reason. I think it's always been tough.
I think it is getting tougher overall to get it because, you know, there's so much competition out there nowadays for those dollars. It's always -- for me as a team owner, that's a main challenge day in and day out.
Q: How much more money do you need?
ARIE LUYENDYK: How about $5 million and we could race for the rest of the year? Our goal is not to just race in the Indy 500 but to build upon this program and hopefully become a permanent team owner for the rest of the year or for the future, like next year. Some of the potential sponsor companies we're talking to, we're not only talking about the Indy 500, we're talking about next year as well.
But like Michael said, it's never been easy. When I started racing in 1972, back in Europe, we were always fighting to find sponsors. It's nothing new. Like you say, there's a lot of competition out there from not just NASCAR but other sports as well.
Q: Arie Jr., could you offer your perspective on what you would like to do for the rest of the season, what do you think you'll have to do to attract sponsors and try and get this thing to become a full-season effort?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: I mean, obviously we want to have a good showing here at the 500. We want to keep all the sponsors we have on board right now happy and hopefully attract new sponsors with this race and the outcome of this race.
I hope to do very well. In turn, I hope to pick up a major sponsor for the rest of the year. That would be the ideal situation. That's what we're really trying to work on, is trying to, you know, not just build for this race, but build for the future for me, you know, try to do well in this race and move on from there.
Q: In terms of actual results, are you targeting something like a top 10 or something like that?
ARIE LUYENDYK JR.: Oh, definitely. Most definitely. I think it's going to be hard qualifying in the second weekend. But definitely a top 10 finish. My goal is to walk away from the 500 with a Rookie-of-the-Year award. That would be my ultimate goal. I have all the pieces in place, all the people around me to do it. It's just a matter of executing.
Q: Al, could you kind of go over what the pros and cons were of you returning to drive again and what made a swing in the favor of trying to come back.
AL UNSER JR.: Well, basically it was, gosh, watching the races last year, every time I watched a race I was commenting on the race. Finally, my wife Gina, she caught me yelling at the TV one day during one of the races that somebody should have done something different, ta-da, ta-da. Basically, said that I needed to get back in the car. She was tired of me hanging around the house.
We started thinking about it, started working on it back last September, October, right in that area. We were able to go down to Homestead for that first test and ran into Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl. We just hit it off. I mean, it was something that they're great people, especially Dennis and Robbie. They're just fantastic people. We said if we can get something together, let's do it. It just fermented from there.
With Rick Weidinger from the A1 Team USA, he's trying to get some exposure for that series that runs during the wintertime, all the different countries and so on. It was just a natural fit.
Now it rolled again even further with a first-time ever sponsor in the Indy 500 which is GEICO, an auto insurance company. It's just a natural fit. I'm just very excited.
Q: Are there certain things you definitely have to get back to be sharp again as a driver when you haven't driven for so long? What are the key things there?
AL UNSER JR.: I would say getting the car working. If the car's not working, then you're going to have a pretty long day, and you're going to have a pretty rough time. Really, if the car's working, we'll be right into it. I mean, there's been other cars that I haven't driven for quite some time. You get into them. I mean, I really feel Michael could tell you, he hadn't been in a car for quite some time. He got in a car at Phoenix or Homestead, whenever he first got in it, before long, like five or six laps, you're right into the groove.
Continued in part 2