IRL: Indy500: Al Unser Jr.-Rick Galles press conference

HOST: Mike King GUESTS: Al Unser Jr., Rick Galles MIKE KING: Good morning, everybody. Hope you're having a good week. I don't think this mic is up. This press conference, like many of the others, is being transcribed. So even though it...

HOST: Mike King
GUESTS: Al Unser Jr., Rick Galles

MIKE KING: Good morning, everybody. Hope you're having a good week. I don't think this mic is up. This press conference, like many of the others, is being transcribed. So even though it would be very easy to yell out your answers, for our transcriptionist back there who is on headset, if you could wait till the microphone gets to you to ask your question, that would be great. Rick Galles, obviously, is no stranger to any of us here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a longtime car owner, has won this thing and knows what it's all about to be in Indianapolis during the month of May. Al Unser Jr. is one of the legends of the sport, twice has won the Indianapolis 500. It was almost three times, the great battle with Emerson Fittipaldi in 1989, won this race from the pole in 1994 in a dominating style. I guess let's get, Al, from you first, your thoughts on the month up to this point. Then we'll get something from Rick, and then we'll take some questions.

AL UNSER: Well, first off, thank you for being here this morning, and we've had kind of an uneventful month. We've just been going along trying to develop our Starz SuperPak race car, and, you know, we feel like we learned quite a lot as the week has gone on. And so what can I say? We're going to try some more things today, and then we'll be putting our big engine in for qualifying tomorrow and seeing if we can get it in the show.

KING: Rick?

RICK GALLES: It's just great to be back again. It's a little bit different this year with the group from CART here and Tony Stewart and some of the other guys, and I just think it's -- you know, for the Speedway and for the sport, I think it's great. And it's good to see Roger (Penske) back and, obviously, with Chip (Ganassi) and everything. So it's going to make for, I think, a fantastic qualifying weekend, actually both weekends, and then a really super race. So we're looking forward to it.

KING: OK. Let's get questions.

Q: Yeah, for both Rick and Al, if you'd talk a little bit about the fact that it appears that qualifying is going to be amazingly close tomorrow. I mean, there's literally 15 guys who could be up in the front row I would think, if not the pole. That's the way it looks from the speeds we've been seeing this week. Can you talk about the competitiveness this year here?

UNSER: Well, I think first off, the competitiveness is quite a bit closer than it was last year, and I guess the main reason why that is, is because the rules have been in place. There hasn't been any change of rules. There haven't been any change of formula, of engines or anything like that. And so when you have consistency in the rules and so on, you know, the teams are going to start figuring the cars out as time goes on. And I feel that most of the teams have, you know, got a handle on these IRL cars. And, you know, I for sure myself am feeling way more comfortable this year than I did last year, and it's not just here. It's at all the racetracks, you know, and even when we go testing. And so I just feel the teams are knowing their cars a lot better now, and so it's making it for a very, very close field, and, you know, my prediction is this will be the tightest field in the history of Indianapolis from the pole time to the guy who starts 33rd or the slowest speed in the field.

KING: Questions? Yes.

UNSER: Are you going to answer that one?

GALLES: Well, I don't think anybody knows really right now what's going to happen tomorrow or next week because I know I don't. I usually have a feel what it's going to take to make the show and what it's going to take to make the front row, and, you know, putting four laps together is going to be interesting because Indianapolis is still Indianapolis. It's not like Atlanta where you're flat. You know, it's easy being flat, and you really trim everything out. This is still a handling racecourse. So I think tomorrow, you know, you could see some real surprises, particularly from the front row back as to what happens, and then I think another interesting aspect is when you go out and when you try your deal and if you wait too long, you're going to wait till, you know, till 5, and then you're going to get caught in the rush. So I think it's going to be very, very interesting tomorrow.

Q: As a veteran on the team, do you feel a certain amount of responsibility for leadership to your teammates?

UNSER: Myself?

Q: Yes.

UNSER: Definitely. I think, you know, I've been trying to work as much as I can with Casey (Mears) and Didier (André). You know, they're definitely rookies, and ever since we started testing at Phoenix and the year started, you know, we have been working with them and talking to them as much as we can and so on. So sure, I feel a big responsibility because, you know, we're here to have one of these Galles racing cars either win the race and/or win the championship. And so, you know, we're doing everything we can to help them come along.

KING: I guess for both of you, does the forecast of considerably cooler temperatures tomorrow than what we've seen all week long, does it concern you in the least?

UNSER: No, it doesn't concern me. You know, it's just going to make the car work a little bit better in the colder conditions, and so, you know, it will be to a benefit for us.

GALLES: You know, I think cool temperatures are definitely going to make for better qualifying efforts for everybody, but the problem is everybody's going to have cool temperatures, not just us. So again, I think it's going to be a really exciting qualifying. I know that I've been here, I think this is our 19th year, and I don't think I've ever seen a more balanced field of entries. You always have, you know, your really, really good teams and quick guys up front and everything, but you always normally have some guys at the back that are just kind of fill-ins, and I don't think you're going to see that this year. I think, you know, I think more so for the race than qualifying, there's probably a potential of 15 to 20 cars that could actually win this race.

KING: OK. Questions? Yes, sir.

Q: More for Rick. What is Casey's status at this point?

GALLES: Casey, as you know, had a problem in Atlanta which, obviously, wasn't his fault, and we came here. We rebuilt, got three cars ready to go, and then with two cars in the process. And then unfortunately, he had a problem a couple days ago, and we just wanted him to sit out a little while to get his back to where it was comfortable and everything else. But the car's finished now. We'll have him out here this morning.

KING: OK. Questions?

Q: Al, how do you adjust from practicing all week at 80 degrees and then, you know, we had even a race one year where the weather, you know --

UNSER: Uh-huh.

Q: -- if I remember right. And how do you adjust the car? How is it set up differently for the cooler track?

UNSER: Well, you really won't do anything with it. I mean the temperatures are going to be what the temperatures are going to be, and so, you know, we'll see tomorrow morning. We've got the practice session in the morning before qualifying, and it's going to be pretty cool at that time, and so if there's any changes, it will be very minute. It will be all aero, and so we'll see what the car does tomorrow morning.

KING: Al, with 13 previous starts here and two wins, obviously, under your belt, do you have to recharge yourself to come here, or are you constantly up at Indianapolis?

UNSER: I don't have to recharge myself. I mean I've been waiting 300 and some days since last year. And so, you know, ever since the checkered flag fell last year, we've been working to come back here and have a better race.

KING: Questions?

Q: Yeah, I'd like to get both of you guys thoughts on Penske Racing being back here at the Speedway.

UNSER: I think it's great. You know, I ran into Roger yesterday, and I can tell you he's smiling from ear to ear, and he's having a great time, and I think, you know, he's going to probably go back to CART and tell all the boys over there that he had a great time. And hopefully, we'll get more and more competitors for the Indy 500.

Q: Al, you've had a couple of fairly quiet years, you know. You haven't done the kind of things that you'd really like to be doing. Do you feel like you're still at the top of your game?

UNSER: Yeah, I'm at the top of my game. I'm -- there's reasons why we haven't won as many races as we have in the past or whatever, and so, you know, what can I say. I guess that would be a question for Rick. Am I at the top of my game? (Laughter)

GALLES: Yeah, you know, Al's -- and I don't mean to say this in front of him, but you know, I wouldn't trade him for anybody right now. And he's as good as he's ever been when he's ever driven for me, and last year, we led I think some 238 laps and very easily could have won four races, and this year, I think the start that we got this year is really kind of my fault because I underestimated probably, from an engineering standpoint, what it's going to take to run three cars and to bring -- we've got 35 people now, and we had 15, and so we brought on 15 brand new people. And it's taken a little while to get them to gel, but I'm real proud of their effort, and I think the fact that we've lost three race cars in the last week and a half and we're still going -- our goal is to get three cars qualified tomorrow on the first day is a tribute to the team. So I'm proud of Didier. He's come a long way since Phoenix, and I think Casey, once he gets some laps under his belt, he's going to be fine. But Al's our leader, and we have every intention of competing for the win here and going on and, you know, at Miami, he went up. He was in second place and very well could have won that race had we not had a fuel mapping problem. So I think we're working out some of our problems. But again, I'm not going to let him go anywhere. He's going to have a great season, and we're looking forward to getting qualified tomorrow and having a good race the next couple of weeks.

KING: Al, you've been up around the 220-mile an hour mark a couple of different days of practice. What are you going to be comfortable with today at the end of the final day of practice before Pole Day? I mean do you set a goal?

UNSER: Yeah, and our goal is to drive that thing as fast as it will go, you know, and so whatever numbers come up, I hope they're good enough for the field, which I think they will be, and, you know, we'll just go from there. The goal is to get that thing wide open all the way around for four laps; and hopefully, as each lap goes by, it will be a quicker speed. So that's the goal.

KING: Rick, with that in mind, Al has obviously done this and, you know, plays at whatever game or whatever it is in his head to get himself prepared for this, but Didier and Casey never have. So do you have a target speed for them that you say I throw the yellow flag on the fourth lap or I take it where absolutely you have to see tomorrow?

GALLES: Yeah, oh, yeah. I think every owner does that. But we don't know what that is yet because I haven't seen too many cars consistently run the speeds that they're running. In other words, I haven't seen, except for Greg Ray and a few of the other guys, I haven't seen four or five laps of 220, 221, just knock them off like it's no big deal. And so we're going to be studying a lot today and in the morning to find out, you know, what that is. Normally, like I said, I've got a feeling. Right now I don't have that feeling because I'm not sure. You know, last year was kind of like this too, and last year they stepped up the pace, and the qualifying was actually, the pole, and everything was actually higher than what I expected, and the last place guy was less than what I expected. So we're going to take a good look at it and try to come up with a number today.

KING: OK.

Q: Al, four-lap qualifying is so unique here, and over the years, a lot of people have talked about how tough it is. With these cars, is it as tough as it used to be to put four consistent fast laps in?

UNSER: Yeah, Mike, it's just as tough as it always has been. I mean Indianapolis is a place that you need a consistent race car because it is four laps versus, you know, the best lap of two at all of our other events, and so, you know, you need to put four of them together. They average the four together, and then that's your speed. This is the only racetrack in the world that does that. You know, we can go in the past Long Beach and, you know, those are half-hour qualifying sessions, and they take your one fastest lap. They don't average anything together. And so at Indy, they average all four of them together, and so if you have a slow opening lap, it's going to affect your overall average which, you know, in '95, that was my biggest, biggest downfall was that opening lap just killed me. And so you've got to put four of them together and you've got to put four good ones together. And so, you know, we've learned it the hard way in the past, so...

Q: Al, I've talked to a couple drivers who said they'd be nervous with anything under 221. Do you feel the same way?

UNSER: Yeah, yeah.

Q: Rick, at one point tomorrow, do you maybe make the call about whether the laps are good enough or not good enough should any of your drivers be in that situation? Is it based on just what everybody else has done or what you think you can get out of the car?

GALLES: Again, it will be -- with Al, it will be a little bit different than with Didier and Casey, you know, and we're just going to make that call. I may make the call on the warm-up lap. If the warm-up lap doesn't look like it's going to be strong enough because this is a momentum racetrack now with these cars the way the engines and the specs are, you need to have a good out lap, and if the out lap doesn't look good to me, I may not even throw the green, I may never put the green up, because we don't want to use -- we're a little bit short on race cars now with what's happened, and we've got to utilize every attempt. So, you know, hopefully, we'll have a feel for how the guys do today. Our goal was to work up to a peak for Saturday which is kind of what we've done. And so today's a big day for us, and hopefully, we'll get to run a lot of miles and get a feel for it tomorrow.

Q: Al, I came in a little late, but when you look up and see Michael walking around and, like you said, the Penske's and stuff, is it starting to feel like old times here a little bit, or what does it feel like?

UNSER: Well, to see Mikey here and see Penske here, the Target cars, I think it's awesome. I think it's great, and we need to get more and more of the teams that used to run here real strong and competitive back and enjoying what the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" is all about. And they know what it's all about. They've been here and, you know, they -- I don't know why they're not here. I'm here, and that's what counts.

GALLES: I'd like to just comment on one thing. I think it's important if -- this isn't a political statement of any kind, but I think that the key to the IRL right now and the Speedway is their rules package. They've got a really sensible rules package, and I would hope that -- you know, I would hope that CART would really look at that package so that, you know, some day we may want to go run Long Beach. I mean it goes both ways, and I want to compliment Brian (Barnhart) and the whole technical staff on their rules package because I think it makes sense.

Q: Al, obviously, your two rookies are going to be nervous as they approach the line.

GALLES: "Your" two rookies. That's what I was going to ask you. It's Galles Unser now.

Q: How do you keep your nerves down while you're waiting in line for your turn to go out?

UNSER: I guess what I've done in the past is just keep thinking about the laps that you're going to do and really just stay relaxed, you know, that whatever's going to be is going to be and, you know, go out there and just put four good ones together, and that's it, you know, try to be as smooth as I can and just, you know, put them together. And so, you know, as you're sitting there ready to go, you're just thinking about, you know, the laps and running the laps through your head. As you would sitting there waiting for them to say, "Gentlemen, start your engines," you know, what you're thinking about is the start of the race, how it's going to come down, who's around you, what do you think they're going to be doing on that first straightaway going into Turn 1, and that's as far as you can think. And so -- because everything's going to change as soon as you enter Turn 1. And so, you know, the thing to do is just, you know, what I'm doing is just running the laps in my head, running what I want to be there, and so the way I drove the car last, how it felt, you know, and just go out there and just try to put four of them together.

Q:  Rick Mears said yesterday that he kept his nerves down by falling asleep
in the car as they're pushing it.  Have you ever fallen asleep?

UNSER: I have fallen asleep before in the car, but it was at a test, you know, and so I never got that relaxed at pushing in the line for the Indy 500, no.

KING: Other questions?

Q: Al, what was it like during '95 when you had to have that banzai run that last ditch? What were those nerves like? You know, it all hinged on --

UNSER: I don't know. I mean '95 was just -- the only the only thing I can say about '95 is panic, and that's what was set into the whole team. And so everybody was just, you know, the nerves were going crazy. It was just a panic situation, and it was a panic situation for three solid weeks, you know, and so I mean it was -- that was such a tough year that, you know, nothing we did was right. I mean I could -- I could stiffen or soften the springs. I could work on the car, the shocks, the tows, the cambers, the ride heights, wing angles. No matter what we did, it was wrong, and so, you know, it was just panic. That's the only words I can use for it, and, you know, we wanted to go out there and do a good job and, you know, it just -- you know, it wasn't there, you know, for neither Emerson or myself. You know, I mean, you know, a good show of that is, you know, Emerson was in the show on one of his first attempts, you know, and panic is what set in to the team. And so, you know, you just don't know, you know, and, you know, it wasn't Roger's deal at all. I mean he did not know that that speed that Emerson was doing that first attempt or whatever would have been good enough. It was too close to call. And so, you know, the safest thing he did was bring up that yellow and call off that run because you just didn't know. And so, you know, it just -- it was in the air. It was in the gods. The gods were controlling what was going on, and, you know, it was a very, very sad situation that we were in, but, you know, Marlboro Team Penske missed the show in '95, and that's -- you know, that's what happened. It wasn't any one man's fault. It wasn't nothing but the good Lord above said, "You're not racing this race," and that's all you can bring it down to.

Q: Al, do you consider Greg Ray a favorite for the pole?

UNSER: Greg Ray's been a favorite for the pole at every single race we've gone to for the last now year and a half, OK? You know, I've been running the IRL for a year and a half, and, you know, Greg Ray, he rips them out there when he goes out there to qualify, and, you know, he pulled a half second on everybody at Colorado Springs. Where did he get it? Who knows. You know, I mean their team does a great job when it comes down to qualifying. So, you know, you might see Greg Ray. I mean he's running the 24s out there by himself. And, you know, he may bump it up a couple mile an hour for qualifying tomorrow if the conditions are right, you know. So I mean I've seen him do it in the past. So you never count him out.

KING: OK. We're approaching 10, and we're going to wrap it up. As far as the press conference, will you guys be available for a couple one-on-ones? OK. So Rick, good luck to the entire team. Al, good luck to you tomorrow. 10:15, Team Penske will be here. Thank you.

-IRNLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Rick Mears , Emerson Fittipaldi
Teams Team Penske , Team Penske