IRL: Rahal Letterman Racing press conference transcript, part 2

88th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference Bobby Rahal, Vitor Meira, Buddy Rice, Roger Yasukawa Thursday, May 13, 2004 Part 2 of 3 Q: I would distill these comments. In addition to having to have driving skills, judgment is more important this...

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

Part 2 of 3

Q: I would distill these comments. In addition to having to have driving skills, judgment is more important this year than in the past?

MEIRA: Right.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Bobby, just looking at the drivers' suits and what you found for Roger and Vitor as far as sponsorships go, put the cart in front of the horse here and look to the day when Kenny (Brack) decides to return and run in the series again, any chance of having a four-car team?

RAHAL: Well, I think anything is possible. I think it has definitely been an advantage for us to have three cars here. It was certainly a disadvantage for us last year to have one car, car, particularly with the restriction in testing and what have you. I think that's been the strength of some of these multi-car teams, particularly if they're properly organized. It's just a huge plus, much more so now than I think it was say five or 10 years ago. If everything worked out where we could keep these three guys plus Kenny, that would be a win-win, as far as I'm concerned. I've been very pleased with the job these young men have done for us this year. I'm excited about this coming weekend and the race. I think we've never had a better chance to win this race in all my years of coming here I suppose and, as I say, much of that is due to their working well together and the changing of information and the commitment. Vitor has been doing all the grunt work, so to speak, with the race configuration, which isn't much fun for a young driver when he sees his teammates going a lot faster, getting the headlines, and there he is plodding around in the back. But I'm confident that, because they've communicated and worked well together, each and every one of them is going to have a really good chance at pole position come Saturday. So, yeah, if we could bring Kenny in and have all these sponsors stay with us for the remainder of the year, we absolutely would run four.

Q: Kind of a similar question from a sponsorship statement. This is for Roger and/or Bobby. What or who is Sammy?

RAHAL: Roger.

YASUKAWA: I actually have to answer that question almost every day. Sammy is basically a company that manufactures Pachinko machine and slot machines in Japan, which is a pretty big market. They're still in process, and I think they have just bought Sega, a computer game company. So they're looking into becoming more of an entertainment company just rather than Pachinko or a slot machine manufacturer. So right now they do slot machine, Pachinko. They're getting into cartoons, a little bit of movies. So entertainment, in general.

RAHAL: My daughter Samantha thinks it's because of her. (Laughter)

Q: I'm wondering, Bobby, is Dave going to send you a box of Cubans for this thing?

RAHAL: Well, if we win, I'll bet, at least that. Yeah, I don't know. I don't smoke cigars, but if we win I think I'll light one up.

Q: There you go. Give us a perspective. When these guys talk about handling and cars that are harder to deal with, compare that to when you drove.

RAHAL: Well, I think it sounds very similar to the days, particularly in the '80s and even the early '90s, but in the '80s when the speeds really started to climb and horsepower started to climb back up. I remember it was difficult to -- we ran I think in '87, we ran 217 or so around here, and that took a lot of doing. I remember in '82 coming here to break 200 took a lot of doing with the configuration that was present at the time. And I don't ever remember being able to just put your foot down and drive it around flat foot for -- to do it for four laps took a lot of effort. So I like the idea that somehow the cars are a little less -- that they're less, I don't want to say stable, but that the driver has to contribute more than just his pure bravery. He has to use judgment and he has to use his intelligence and he has to work well with the engineers. And also to take the car, you know -- the thing about this place is for you to find out what the car really wants to do, you have to extend yourself, you have to commit to a certain level just to see what it's going to do. Obviously, you want to commit to a point that allows you to get out of a situation if it starts to go bad. But unless you really push the car, you're never going to be able to take it to the next step or the next level. So I like the idea that that's back much more so than it has been in the past several years. And I think it does -- you will see it on Race Day, you will see big differences. While that may not mean the closest racing out there, I think you're going to see the cream -- like anything, you will see the cream rise to the top, and it will make for a great race. And I anticipate the buzz and the excitement for this coming weekend and this race to be no less so than it ever was. I think it's going to be a great year.

Q: Bobby, with you being the '86 champion here and David's ties to Indiana, I'd like to hear your thoughts on the likelihood of not having a 33-car field.

RAHAL: Well, I know tradition is a tough thing at times. It causes people to do things that they probably wouldn't do otherwise. I guess I'm not -- I've always been one that thought quality was better than quantity. And certainly, you know, I remember in '82 and '3 you had very few really super competitive cars and there were a lot of cars that weren't very well prepared and weren't around after 10 or 20 laps. Certainly, just from being a traditionalist, I'd love to see 33 cars, but to me it would not make the race less so if there wasn't. I think certainly the economy is having an effect. It's even having an effect on NASCAR. If they're affected by it, for sure we're going to be affected by it. I don't agree with what we saw earlier, was it Daytona where one guy showed up without even crew and when he ran out of fuel that was it. I don't think NASCAR liked that either, by reading all the reports afterwards. So I'd much rather have 28 or 9 really strong cars than 28 or 9 really strong cars and four field fillers. Because those field fillers are going to affect the race. Those guys are going to be getting lapped in 10 laps, 15 laps, and you don't want to see anybody out there that doesn't deserve to be out there.

Q: Bobby, how important is the restart technique on the part of a driver? I know that you were the master of that. Do you have classes for these guys on restarts?

RAHAL: I yell at them. (Laughter) I tell them there's no easier time to pass somebody than on a restart. I think it was Roger or Vitor were saying with the lack of torque and with the even greater peakiness of these engines, restarts, judging traffic, when to pass, when to start their getting the run at the guy, that's going to be the telling tale of this race, is who is going to be able to understand, you know, the closing rates and where you want to pass a guy and where you don't want to and how much are you willing to give a little bit to get the guy at the right place. Because what we saw last, Castroneves got balked a little bit in traffic and that's all de Ferran needed. That's going to be even more so this year. And that's where the driver intelligence and everything else is really going to come into play. So it's going to make for a very interesting race. I think restarts are going to be super critical, especially if there's one with five to 10 laps to go where traffic won't be an issue, lap traffic, because you'll have five or 10 laps of free, clear track ahead of you. And who can do what I did in '86 is going to be pretty hard to beat with five laps to go. So, yeah, I think it's going to be -- the smartest driver is going to win this race, no question.

Q: If we lose a lot of time to rain today and tomorrow, which we may, the forecast is pretty iffy for both days, how is this going to affect qualifying and adjust in general your preparations? How much is this going to set you guys back?

RICE: Well, I think with the way the team scheduled our testing and stuff with Roger and I doing more of the outright speed stuff, right now I think we're pretty well set. We do have some fine-tuning and some massaging we want to do, and I think there's still some left in our cars. So with that, I don't think that if we don't get on track today it will be that big of a setback for us. Also with Vitor running on full tanks all week long, I mean we have a very good start starting next week to start setting up for our race pace. So everyone has been doing their job, like we've bought into do. I think right now Team Rahal is looking really good, we're very pleased with our cars right now, and we're definitely prepared if we had to go into qualifying right now I think we could be a contender for the front row, if not the pole, and I think that's what we're looking at.

Q: Bobby, as a car owner with no real battle to get in the race, does three days of qualifications become a bit excessive? Does the schedule become a bit excessive? Is there a waste of money and perhaps even an unnecessary risk of danger?

RAHAL: I don't think so. Let's face it, it could rain all weekend, and all of a sudden that third day is going to be pretty important. You don't want to -- it would have to be to me a last, last, last resort to set the grid by championship standings. I guess that's not such an issue for me at any other race in the series but for this one it would be an issue. Because winning the pole has always been a huge deal here. Being on the front row has been a huge deal here. And you would hate to see those go just by the basis of where you might be up to this point in the championship. So I don't think it is onerous in terms of time and effort. I don't think we've ever been here where the weather has been great every day of the month, so invariably you get days like today. I don't think it's bad. I don't think it's any more dangerous than otherwise. As Buddy said, I feel we're ready. If we had to qualify, if it rained today and tomorrow and we show up there on Saturday morning, we're ready to go I think.

Q: Gentlemen, this Indy Racing League competition has been noted for the ability to pass, be passed, and the rules have kind of made it a little bit more difficult to get up close to a guy. Do you think we're going to see the same kind of stuff that we've had in the past occurring here and through the season because of the changes in rules?

RICE: I mean so far with the way the rules have been with the 3.5-liter through the first part of the season I think there's been pretty good racing. I think maybe for the short oval stuff we're going to need more downforce to make the racing more exciting and to make it more competitive for everyone. But definitely on big speedway stuff -- at Homestead there's obviously a big pack of us all running together, people are changing. It just depends on how the rules are going to be. This is the first time everyone has run the dome skid and the first time that we've run the 3-liter engine, so I think there's definitely a little bit of a learning curve for all the teams to have that and to keep playing with it and to learn exactly what they need for their cars. But obviously with the work that we've done with G Force and what our engineering staff has done, we're very pleased with where we're at. And obviously Honda has been doing an unbelievable job all season, both with the 3.5-liter and now coming with the 3-liter. And obviously Bob made the right decisions over the offseason to bring in the G Force chassis and the Honda combination, and that's obviously the right way to go and we're going to carry that all the way through the year and we've been very pleased with everything.

Q: Buddy, you said Team Rahal is looking pretty good. Bobby, shall we say Team Rahal-Letterman or should we stick to Rahal-Letterman Racing and not ever say Team Rahal again?

RAHAL: Old habits die hard.

Q: I just want to make sure, because Team Rahal seems to roll off the -- all right.

Q: Danny Sullivan was saying that qualifying here, the four laps was the most terrifying thing he's ever done in his life on a racetrack. I was wondering if you guys could put me in the mindset of when you're going for the pole what's going through your mind and is it terrifying?

RICE: Bob would be a good one to answer because he's got more miles than all three of us stuck together right now.

RAHAL: I don't think it's terrifying, but I don't know of any more four more pressure-packed laps in racing than these. I always felt there was a lot more pressure for qualifying than there was for the race. I thought the race was not anti-climatic, but a lot can happen in 500 miles. Particularly as the field started to get closer and closer, you had to make sure that a little bobble -- you could go from being on the first row to being on the fourth row, and nobody wants to do that. So, yeah, I wouldn't say terrifying, I would certainly say pressure packed.

Q: Just to follow, the terms of how much bravery it is versus smart and stuff, has that changed much over the years with the way the cars --

RAHAL: I don't know, I haven't driven these since '98. I don't think brave, dumb drivers ever do as well as brave, smart drivers, and usually the smarter you are the less brave you have to be. (Laughter) So at some point you have to stand up in your seat and grab hold of the thing and drive it, you know. But, as I say, it seems to me that the guys who -- there are a lot of guys in racing who have a lot of accidents, and there are a lot of guys in racing that don't have very many accidents, and I think that probably has something to do with IQ.

RICE: Also with the qualifying thing, though, like all year we have two laps to qualify. The biggest track, other than Michigan and Fontana, we're going to qualify is a mile and a half. Here is two-and-a-half miles of four laps. So to set the car up for qualifying is completely different than anywhere else we'll go. This is the most trimmed-out we'll run all year long. So to set this thing up to go that many miles, that many laps on the same set of tires is completely different than what we'll plan for all year. So that's what I think makes it very difficult for the engineers and everything is to make the car that consistent for four laps instead of just going out and blistering one off, because the whole setup of the car is completely different.

Part 3

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