IRL: Rahal Letterman Racing press conference transcript, part 1

88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Bobby Rahal, Vitor Meira, Buddy Rice, Roger Yasukawa Thursday, May 13, 2004 Part 1 of 3 TOM BLATTLER: We thank everybody for coming in the rain. This is the first time Team Rahal has run three cars at...

88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference
Bobby Rahal, Vitor Meira, Buddy Rice, Roger Yasukawa
Thursday, May 13, 2004

Part 1 of 3

TOM BLATTLER: We thank everybody for coming in the rain. This is the first time Team Rahal has run three cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and obviously from some of our speeds you have seen, we look pretty competitive right now. We'll start off with Bobby making an announcement, and then we'll get into questions and talk with all the guys how qualifying and the race looks for them.

BOBBY RAHAL: Thanks, Tom. And I echo Tom's appreciation for all of you being here. It's good to see you. It's my first day here this week, and I'm glad I got up at 5 to come to the rain. (Laughter) And I didn't bring it, I came from the East. But in any event, I am very pleased to really sort of confirm, I suppose, that Team Rahal's name for entry purposes for the remainder of this year and beyond has been changed to Rahal Letterman Racing, which I think far more aptly describes our relationship with -- my relationship with David. While Team Rahal probably was appropriate at a certain point in time, I think David's involvement, while being the same as it has been from day one, nevertheless, I think it far more -- the new name far more reflects accurately the role he plays on the team and what he does for us. So I'm very pleased to have everything known as Rahal Letterman Racing. Team Rahal still exists as a corporation, certainly, but Rahal Letterman Racing is an Ohio LLC that operates under the Team Rahal corporate banner. So form now on I would appreciate it if you would convey that to the public under the Rahal Letterman Racing name and really that's about it. Any questions about that, I'm happy to answer, or if David is coming, which I believe he is for race weekend. Anyway, then of course you want to talk to the real stars, not the old washed-up one.

Q: Bobby what took so long? I mean he's been involved with this for a number of years and never quite visible.

RAHAL: Well, we were Rahal Letterman last year here at Indianapolis. Of course, that was more of a one-shot deal being at Indy for us, although we did run obviously one car in the IRL series last year. But the Indy effort was much more of a Rahal Letterman program. And that probably paid homage or homage or credit to David's roots here in Indiana and how important this race was to him, is -- was and is to him. But making the kind of commitment that we've made to the Indy Racing League that, not just three here, but two for the remainder of the year, I just felt that it was time to really formalize it and, as I say, give -- not that we didn't give credit where credit was due, but just make it more of a formal change and one that would go on for as long as the team is in existence. So I think making that step that we made this year to the IRL by not being would involved in Champ Car I think that was probably the motivator to a large degree.

Q: Does this mean he has more of an interest in the team now?

RAHAL: No, his interest is the same, as I said. I look at it as we've kind of transitioned in the last sixth months and the time was appropriate to do so. And, frankly, I think it sounds pretty good, too.

Q: Are we going to see more of your partner at the races?

RAHAL: Well, Chris, I wish he came to every one. His schedule, it's so demanding that I think when he gets a chance to rest, he takes it, takes advantage of that. And traveling to races all over the country, while it might be fun, it's probably not very restful for him. As I say, he'll be here. Last year he came to one or two more races. Usually he's never been to more than two or three anyway. But obviously he watches them. We hope, but I don't see -- I see nothing that would make me think that he'll be at more than that, as I say, the two or three.

Q: What was his reaction when you told him this? What was his reaction to you? I know he has a quote here?

RAHAL: Well, last year he was pleased, you know. As I say, I think it has always been a very good partnership, and I felt that -- and this was very motivated by my sense of, I think my sense of what I felt this relationship was all about, and it was time to bring him in, in a more public way so that he was given the credit. He's pretty quiet about it, although I don't think anybody promotes racing on television more than he does. But I just thought it was the right time.

Q: So which driver will get to go on his show? (Laughter)

RAHAL: Well, whichever one wins. They can win other races, too, and still be on the show.

Q: Bobby, and this is for the drivers as well. The Honda powerplant has been amazing this month of May so far and we haven't really seen any engines really let go. We talked a little yesterday with some of the guys about reliability factors. Are there any signs of these things letting go at any point? And have you run anything over 500 miles yet?

RAHAL: Well, first off, I think the Honda engine has been -- and these guys can tell you, for sure, because they've been driving them -- but from the outside looking in, I think the Honda engine has been certainly the best engine to date, even though this is a new specification. But from the start of the year, the pole with Buddy in Homestead and of course Wheldon's win in Japan. If you looking at qualifying, it was pretty clear. It takes a great car too, but certainly the powerplant is extremely critical. So I think they have done a tremendous job to this point. Obviously, yeah, I'm sure -- I know they've been working extremely hard, and I think I'm sure there are engines that have been run 500 miles, whether it's been on a dyno or in a car. That's no guarantee, but certainly I personally, and the drivers can tell you their own feelings, but personally I feel very confident about the performance of the engine and the reliability, as confident as one can ever feel for this race.

PAUL KELLY: If we could ask everyone if you do have a question, just to raise your hand because they're trying to get a transcript of this, and it's a lot easier for the transcriptionist to hear your questions on the mike. Thanks.

Q: Bobby, a little history lesson for some of us. Could you tell us how your relationship with David Letterman began?

RAHAL: My relationship with Dave started in '86 after I won here, I was on the show, I think it was in the fall of that year. And we used to race at the Meadowlands. So every time we went in there -- he says I'm the only guy that ever took him to dinner. But every time I'd go in there, I would go see him, I'd ask him to dinner or go see the show or what have you. Just over time it just, the relationship grew. And then when we raced at the Meadowlands, he would come to that race. At first he said, 'Geez, if you ever start a team, I'd be interested.' That was probably six or seven years before we actually did. And so the day that I decided to start Team Rahal I called him up and I said, 'Well, do you still feel the way you did seven years ago or so?' He said, 'Absolutely. Where do I sign up?' And that's how it started, in terms of creating Team Rahal. But our relationship, as I say, I was on the show several times. When I'd go to New York, I'd see him, we'd talk cars, stuff like that, and it just kind of built over time.

Q: Am I allowed to digress? I'd like to find out from your drivers, Bobby, if this year's specification car is easier or harder to drive than the older specification, are the drivers asked more today than they were a year ago today? Buddy?

BUDDY RICE: I think with the way the rule package is and the aero package on the car, definitely. Because with the dome skid being put on the cars and they're raising the cars 10 millimeters, now the undertray is not nearly as efficient in producing the same downforce numbers as last year. Also I think as you gain in speed down the straightaway there's more downforce put on by the body. With us being slowed down not only by running the 3-liter engine and taking some horsepower away and also raising the car, it's definitely put more of a demand both the engineer and the driver to make sure to hit the setup or the sweet spot has been narrowed up. I think definitely there's been more of a demand been put on from those aspects. But I think it looks obviously with the way the competition and stuff, there's more people that are switched down this year so you see that the times are a lot closer than they have been in the past few years. But just going from last year's spec to this year's spec, I think definitely there's more of a demand put on the engineers and the drivers to get the setup right, especially when it comes to full tanks.

Q: Your view, Roger?

ROGER YASUKAWA: Yeah, I think I agree with Buddy, just generally speaking. I think the car is more affected to the weather condition, especially the wind, probably because we're running the height much higher than last year. To hit the sweet spot is very difficult, you know. Overall I think we're going a little bit slower, I think because of the 3-liter engine we're going a little bit slower through Turn 2 and 4. I feel that those two corners seems a little bit easier than last year, but definitely Turn 1 and 3 is more demanding than last year. So overall I think it's a harder car to drive.

Q: Your view, Vitor.

VITOR MEIRA: I agree with everybody in the one thing that makes even harder at Indianapolis from the transition from 3.5 to 3-liter is that the power bend is a little more, so you really have to carry the momentum all over the track. If you just lift a little bit once you really lose a lot of time. And that's another thing that even is making more difficult because you really have to keep the momentum and the car has to be right to make this happen, even by yourself or traffic or whatever. That's another thing that it's making even more demanding.

Q: The blueprint of this track shows four identical turns. Why are two turns more difficult than the other two turns?

RICE: Well, I think that obviously the straight aways are so long that when you carry speed into 1 and 3 the mile an hour is up higher than it's going to be when you go into 2. Because no matter what, as the car goes through the turn, it's going to scrub speed. Also I think with what happens with the weather out here, different from the weather maybe out on the West Coast and stuff, but from all the heat, then the ground freezes here and then it comes back every year it keeps changing, so what that's doing is changing the surface also. So every year the bumps get worse. It's been a long time since Tony (George) has obviously repaved the track, and that's going to be coming soon a new paving job. But definitely just the way the weather is out here changes all the turns differently just from the expansion and the shrinking from the weather.

Q: Pick the easiest turn and the hardest turn?

RICE: Four is the easiest, and then I would say 1 is probably the toughest one because of the stands and the way the wind comes across and also because it has the most amount of bumps in there.

Q: Do you share that view, Roger?

YASUKAWA: Yeah, I think so. Again, that's the beauty of this track and the challenging part. I think 4 is the easiest turn, and 1 and 3 is the most difficult one. Certainly 1 probably because it feels like it's more blind because of the grandstand and the wall, bigger grandstand on Turn 1 coming up to you. So 1 is the most difficult corner.

Q: You got a favorite Vitor?

MEIRA: Well, for sure they look from outside and also looking at the numbers and degrees and the banking and everything, they look like the same. But from inside, they are completely different turns. It's not one oval circuit; it's four different turns. What I prefer the most for sure is Turn 1 because it's the one you really have to work on it. If your car is good in Turn 1, you have a good car. It might not be the best on the other turns, but you have a good car, for sure, because of the momentum you have to carry also.

Q: To follow-up on Chris's first question, do you guys like the fact that it's a more difficult car to drive. If you could each address that. (Laughter)

RICE: All right. Yeah, because I think it puts more of a role back on the driver, which with some of the other tracks and the way the rule packages have been at some of the other places -- I mean, for instance, even at Homestead when we were still running the 3.5-liter, you could leave the pits basically, put the throttle on the floor and just drive it around. It was definitely much more of an engineering exercise all the way up until it came time for us to go into the race and stuff and then it changes a little bit. But definitely coming here it's taking a lot more of putting us in the mix of things, and we can do a lot more to help out the engineers. It let's us put more of an impact on exactly what's going to happen because it's not just necessarily a running dyno all the time for us. It's nice to go to the smaller ovals because I think that's why a lot of the guys like those is because we play more of a role in both coming up through the testing and qualifying even before we get to the race.

Q: Roger.

YASUKAWA: Yeah, I think I agree with Buddy on that, too. I think the car is definitely more challenging. Throughout the long runs I think the car needs to be balanced well. Again with the 3-liter engine the momentum is everything and if your car falls off and you start lifting, I think the speed will slow down a lot more than what we saw last year. So, a difference between a good car and bad car is going to be much bigger than last year. And in order to be fast here, I think you need to set up the car to be good throughout the stint. So that's basically going to be based on our feedback to the engineer, and we certainly need to have a good car to do so. So I think for that reason I like the change and think we're looking good.

MEIRA: It's definitely demanding, and also I've been trying to run on full tanks all the time here since the beginning, and even with full tanks it is slowing down the car and making it heavier, it's really still really demanding. We carry 30 gallons of fuel, and that's a lot of weight, and the car changes a lot toward the -- from the full tanks to the empty tanks. And it's definitely making more demanding all through, I mean the whole way through the run, even on qualifying runs and also quite a lot on full-fuel tanks run.

Part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Roger Yasukawa , Buddy Rice , Vitor Meira