IRL: Rahal Letterman Racing teleconference transcript (part 1)

Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript Dec. 8, 2004 Bobby Rahal Buddy Rice Vitor Meira Danica Patrick TOM BLATTLER: Thanks very much. This is Tom Blattler with the Rahal Letterman team. Obviously, we're all in Indianapolis today for ...

Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript
Dec. 8, 2004

Bobby Rahal
Buddy Rice
Vitor Meira
Danica Patrick

TOM BLATTLER: Thanks very much. This is Tom Blattler with the Rahal Letterman team. Obviously, we're all in Indianapolis today for an important media conference we had this morning at the (Indianapolis Motor) Speedway. Today, Rahal Letterman Racing announced its expansion of its Indy Racing League® IndyCar® Series program, including with its two leading partners, Argent Mortgage Company and Pioneer Electronics USA.

After its successful 2004 season with Rahal Letterman's Buddy Rice, the Argent Pioneer Honda program has expanded also to rising open-wheel star Danica Patrick. Buddy Rice, in addition, has signed a multi-year contract extension with Rahal Letterman, and he will drive the No. 15 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Electronics (Panoz) G Force Honda next season.

In addition, the 22-year-old Patrick, who has competed the last two years on the Toyota Atlantic Championship Series, where she finished third last year, will drive the No. 16 Argent Mortgage/Pioneer Electronics (Panoz) G Force Honda the entire IRL schedule for 2005.

In addition, Rahal Letterman announced today that Vitor Meira, who drove in 14 races for the team last year and finished eighth in the championship, has also signed a multi-year deal with Rahal Letterman Racing. The sponsorship details on Vitor's car, while finalized, will not be announced today. They will be announced at a later date.

Today, we have all three of our drivers and our principal car owner Bobby Rahal with us. I'd like to go to Tom Savage and we can have all four of our participants explain how things went today with the press conference, then we'll open it up for questions.

Q: All four of you, thank you very much for joining us today. Bobby, you made mention of it quickly in the press conference today, but a multi-car team, obviously that system worked last year in the IndyCar Series. You must be excited having the three cars join the league next year?

BOBBY RAHAL: I am. I think we proved to ourselves that we were capable of running three cars. Certainly, the month of May I think was a reflection of that. Certainly, we appreciated even more the fact that multiple car teams, whether it's two- or three-car teams, are a definite advantage over a one-car team, which we were the first two years of our IRL experience.

So I think it just made sense for us to expand. Obviously, we wanted to keep Buddy and Vitor, and of course, Danica has been preparing for this time over the last two years in the Toyota Atlantic Series. It just seemed to make a lot of sense. I'm looking forward to it. I think we can have a very successful year in 2005.

Q: Vitor, we talked about this today at the press conference. A year ago right now, we weren't sure what your future was holding. At Miami and Phoenix, you were driving the IndyCar two-seater. Congratulations on a multi-year contract. Give us your thoughts about today's announcement.

VITOR MEIRA: Thank you. As you said, a year ago I was bugging Mr. (Scott) Roembke and Mr. Rahal for a ride. Today it happened. So I just have to thank those guys and thank Honda and all the supporters that joined 2004 with me. I'm really looking forward for 2005 with Buddy, who is the Indy 500 champion. Again, with Danica, who is going to be a major help for our team. Being a three-car team, it's going to be an awesome. I hope it's as awesome as of a year, 2005, for us.

Q: Danica, we certainly would like to welcome you to the IndyCar Series. This is a great opportunity with a great team. Can you give us your thoughts on today's announcement?

DANICA PATRICK: It's something I've been preparing for for my whole life pretty much - over half of it anyway, 13 years. My dad was just saying, he's here with me, he was saying it kind of seems like a dream. I said, it is, it is a dream. I think it's difficult to see when it's you and you see yourself every day and you're trying hard every single day. It's like, hmm, it has taken 13 years.

I'm just excited we have the proper funding from Argent and Pioneer and Honda that we can get the job done the right way and have the cars prepared completely perfect.

Q: Buddy, great to have you back in Indianapolis, at the Speedway. You've been asked this quite a bit on the teleconference back in June. Now you've had an entire season to reflect on things since May, has your life changed? How has it changed? Certainly to repeat in Indianapolis next year with a three-car team, you've got to be looking forward to next May.

BUDDY RICE: I'm definitely looking forward to next May and all the '05 season. I think for us to add a third car, to see what it's done for our team both at Japan, at Indy, it kept everything rolling for the rest of the season for both Vitor and myself. I think this is a huge plus. It will make us that much stronger so we can take on the big teams, just shows how competitive this series is, what it's taking right now to run up front.

I mean, with the way my life has changed, obviously a lot of the obvious has happened: lots more media, interviews, things like that. But I think that's still to be decided exactly on how it's going to change and how it's going to constantly keep evolving. We'll see how that goes.

But I'm definitely looking forward to all three of us running strong. With Rahal Letterman, in what they've been able to accomplish in such a short time last year, now we have a solid game plan. We have three drivers. We have the proper sponsorship with Argent, Pioneer, Honda and (Panoz) G Force. We have a solid direction on what we're looking for and what we want to do this season. It will be a strong '05 season for Rahal Letterman.

Q: Bobby, regarding Danica, you have been very high on her for a very long time. It's been no secret for a number of years that you have been looking for this kind of a moment. What was it that you saw in her that really piqued your curiosity and made you say to yourself, "I want to work with her, I want her someday to drive an IndyCar for me?"

BOBBY RAHAL: What made me I guess open my eyes to Danica was, frankly, I had read about her years ago in karting magazines about her success. Kind of lost track of her. Then when I was at Jaguar and the Formula 1 team met up with her again. That previous fall she finished second in the Formula Ford Festival, which is a huge accomplishment, the highest an American driver has ever finished. I think the next closest was Danny Sullivan, who was fourth.

Of course, just the fact that she was over in England at a very young age racing in that environment, I don't think there's any tougher environment in the world than English Formula Ford, especially during the days she was there, where every young person around the world who wants to make it to Formula 1 goes there. They race against each other 20, 30 times a year over a summer. It's just a hugely intense, competitive environment.

Just the fact that she was there, let along the fact she did so well, really spoke volumes to me about her dedication, her hunger, and desire to succeed. Just the fact that she'd be in England at that age, that's a long way from home. That said something to me about her -- the strength of her conviction.

I don't know. I just felt maybe, as I was saying today to someone, maybe Jim Trueman was my mentor, maybe I felt like here is a person who is really trying to do something special, why not try to help her?

Thankfully when she came back to the States, I did as well, thankfully Argent Mortgage stepped up, as did Norwalk Furniture, they gave us the ability to enter in the Atlantic Series over the last two years. She's done a great job in that series. While we didn't win a race, we were awfully close on a number of occasions. I certainly don't lay that at her feet necessarily. I think some of the people we were racing against were extremely experienced and already champions in that category.

All in all, I thought she did an extremely good job. I just felt, as I say, in the beginning I felt she deserved the chance. So far she's taken advantage of it.

Q: We have a Christmas show coming up. Your thoughts on what type of Christmas your family has.

BOBBY RAHAL: As your children get older, they tend to all want to go something different. I'm looking forward to this Christmas. It's been a year of -- last few years have been one of upheaval for my family, yet I look forward to these holidays with my family.

I don't know. I just -- I'm awfully thankful for the life I've had, what we've got. I look forward, as I say, to the next two or three weeks. I look forward to a great 2005.

Q: Danica, please don't take this remark wrong, but a lot of women have tried to make it in IndyCars with little success. What makes you different?

DANICA PATRICK: Has there really been a lot of women, though? You know, I mean, there are a lot of guys that try and make it, too. There's so much fewer women that come through and are trying to make it, ratio-wise, if you find one in a hundred good guys, that's possible, or one in 50. For women, to have 50 women try and do it, it takes a long time.

I don't really think that it's necessarily that there have been a lot, and they all haven't succeeded. I think they've all had their own successes themselves. Everybody deserves the respect to get to this level because, let's face it, this is the top level of racing, and it takes some talent just to get here.

But I'm prepared for the year. Bobby has taken it steady and taken it the right way with me in doing one year at a time, making sure I'm ready to move on so that when the time does come, come March, I'll be ready, and I'll be experienced and able to perform at my best. So I have to thank him for doing that and not trying to rush the program.

Q: Is that the secret to success for any racer, the fact that sometimes they jump too quickly, but if you have a mentor like Bobby Rahal, one step at a time, you don't get in over your head?

DANICA PATRICK: I think it's important to have somebody that has a vision and that is smart enough to know when to say when and when to say go ahead. It's incredibly confidence-boosting when somebody like Bobby Rahal says something and believes in you to the extent that he does.

MODERATOR: Danica Patrick will be the third female to compete in the Indy Racing League. If she qualifies in May, she'll be the fourth woman to qualify for that race.

Q: Bobby Rahal, what stands out more today on this announcement, the fact that you're getting three solid cars in the IRL for the first time or you're putting a female, a woman, Danica, in a ride that many people are going to consider probably the best ride any female has had at Indianapolis or in the Indy Racing League?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think it's just a fact that we're going to have three competitive efforts I believe in 2005. I wouldn't do this -- I wouldn't have Danica in the position she's in if I didn't think she was capable of being competitive over time.

I don't expect her to be immediately competitive at the first race, but certainly come Indy, I expect us to be competitive. We've got three great cars. You're right, I think the third seat was a plum seat. When you've got Buddy and Vitor there, who have done a tremendous job for us, along with the engineers and the crew back at Rahal Letterman, I guess it's a pretty nice deal, that third seat.

It's going to certainly work to her advantage to a degree, but at the same token ultimately she's got to stand on the gas. That's going to come down to her. But I'm confident. Our testing has been quite positive so far, and I'm confident that the three of them will work together as closely as Roger, Vitor and Buddy did last year. The end result will be that all three will be extremely competitive.

Q: All three of these folks are getting a hell of a shot. For Buddy, put yourself in his shoes right now. A year ago, he was only sort of on the outside looking in as far as a full-time ride goes. What do you see different about him now than a year ago when you signed him pretty much as Kenny's fill-in? Do you see anything different about him. Is the hunger more than you thought he would be?

BOBBY RAHAL: He's richer, I know that (laughter). All kidding aside, I think Buddy was always a confident guy. But I think as the year went on, his confidence level went up. I think his knowledge of what he wanted in the car went up. He had a very good sense of what he needed. When we got off track, we got back on track quickly. I think he understood exactly what he wanted in the car. I think that had to have been a big change from one year to the next.

Of course, you win races and you win the Indy 500. I'm not going to say you feel comfortable about where you are, but you've kind of climbed the mountain. Since you've done it once, you want to go do it again. I just see the confidence level and the awareness level and knowledge level is probably greater now than it was a year ago.

Q: Buddy, you personally -- what is it like sitting here now with an extended contract, multi-year contract, as opposed to this time a year ago? I'm just wondering, what kind of burden does that lift off your shoulders? What kind of burden does it put on at the same time?

BUDDY RICE: I think the biggest thing, it now allows me to focus on what I have to do for next year, and what we're going to do from the start of the season and come up with a game plan. Everything happened fairly late. When Bob made the decision to switch to (the Panoz) G Force chassis, I had to learn that as well as the team did. I also had to learn how to deal with the Honda and the engineers and everybody. It was a pretty steep learning curve just to do it.

But I think with all the knowledge and experience that they have on the team, it helped make that curve happen quite a bit faster and it allowed us all to gel quite quickly.

I think that now going into the season, I've been able to sit back, talk with the team, talk with the engineers, and we've got a game plan. We know what we're looking to do. We know what we want to do. We have a schedule. I think that's the biggest thing.

I don't think I'm going to have any more pressure, there's not any more of a burden put on me because I think it's how you handle it and what pressure you put on yourself. I'm not going to change my approach to driving. I'm not going to change my approach to anything I've done. I've learned more throughout the year than obviously I have in the past couple years. I take a lot of that with me.

The experience, I think that's what going to be huge for this year. Going into pre-season testing, we already have a year of the G Force under our belt with Honda, I think we're going to be able to expand on that and do our own program and make sure we keep marching forward with Rahal Letterman and all three drivers.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bobby Rahal , Buddy Rice , Danica Patrick , Vitor Meira