NHL Racing, KV Racing teleconference, part 1

Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript Wednesday, March 12, 2008 MODERATOR: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us. The guests to...

Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript
Wednesday, March 12, 2008

MODERATOR: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us. The guests to start the call are Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson who will drive for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing in the IndyCar Series. And we'll also be joined by Jimmy Vasser and Oriol Servia and Will Power from KV Racing Technology.

Graham is the 19-year-old son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal. He made one Indy Pro Series start in 2006, winning the pole for the Liberty Challenge on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And he went on to finish second that season in the Champ Car Atlantic Series.

Last year, Graham made his Champ Car debut, finishing fifth overall and recording a season-best finish of second in Houston.

Justin has finished second in the Champ Car standings in each of the last two seasons, and in four seasons overall he recorded four race victories and six pole positions. And he raced in Formula One in 2003 and started the race on the road course in Indianapolis.

Graham, first question for you. Unification just came together a couple of weeks ago. Give us an update with how things are coming together for the new program with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.

GRAHAM RAHAL: I think for all of us it's been quite busy. I was there last week. And for sure the guys were working hard. And you know we'll be there. But it's not going to be an easy task. For quite some time they've been waiting for parts and pieces and wiring looms and all this other stuff.

I think it's starting to show up now. The cars I think are all back from paint, so start assembling them and get ready for next week at Sebring.

MODERATOR: Justin, there will be a couple of opportunities to get into the car before the race as Graham alluded to next week at Sebring in a couple of days. Tell us what you've heard about the IndyCar Series cars - how long do you think it will take to adapt to driving something different?

JUSTIN WILSON: I'm not sure how the car's going to handle yet. I haven't got too much information on that. But the brief bit of information I've received, it looks very similar to what we're used to. And it will be a case of spending that first test at Sebring getting comfortable in the car and getting climatized with how it responds and build on that. So the key is getting some good foundations in before we go to Homestead and open up on the oval.

MODERATOR: Looking ahead at 2008, obviously you had a real successful career in Champ Car especially finishing second in the last two years. With the loss of Sebastian (Bourdais) you would have been considered the favorite this season. What do you set your expectations and goals for 2008?

JUSTIN WILSON: Like Graham said, it's going to be tough. We've got a long road ahead of us trying to work everything out. The guys are working very hard right now. So it's hard to understand what kind of goal to put on it. But our aim is, or my personal aim is, to do the best we can, whether that is trying to get a podium or pick up race wins. I don't want to overestimate and I don't want to underestimate. We've got to judge the competition when we get there and be realistic. And not get carried away. These first few races will be very difficult. The short time we've had to get the cars prepared and the lack of information we have as far as set-up wise, we don't have years of experience setting these cars up.

So that takes time. And I'm pretty confident that I'm in the right place being with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, that we can work it out.

MODERATOR: Graham, likewise, let's get your take on 2008. Coming off a very successful rookie season, I think you would have also probably been considered a title contender for 2008, with the change now in the series, where do you set your goals and expectations?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I think just as Justin just said, I think for us it's going to be tough, especially these first couple of races. Especially on the ovals for myself, because I've only ever done one before and that was in a Star Mazda car and that's obviously significantly slower than this. And it's going to be quite an eye-opener the first time I get in the car on the oval especially in race trim when we go to Homestead for the first race. I can't -- if we can put the thing back in the truck in one piece and I think that's quite a good result for us.

At the end of the day, obviously since we've gotten these cars late, and as I just mentioned the cars just getting pieced together, we certainly don't expect to be the quickest.

It's going to be very tough for us to contend with the Penskes and Ganassis of the world, AGR, but as time goes on it will get closer and closer.

So hopefully we can fight for the rookie-of-the-year award. And I think that's the most we can do at this point. Obviously on road courses we feel more confident that we can be close and hopefully contend for wins there. So it's obviously a great thing that the two series have come together. And just as you mentioned, I feel that if it had stayed as Champ Car, obviously there maybe would have been a shot for me to win some races and challenge for the title.

But now we look at it in a different light and we need to go out there and learn and do our best.

MODERATOR: Graham, you touched on the ovals there. Justin, let me get your take. I know you have a little more experience on ovals. You guys raced at Milwaukee, I understand your first test in the U.S. actually came at Homestead. Tell us a little bit about the upcoming season with the number of races on ovals.

JUSTIN WILSON: It's going to be quite an eye-opener, as Graham said. It's going to take a little bit of getting used to. Trying to understand all the different ovals. Like you said, I've done Milwaukee for a couple of times. Started to get comfortable with that after a year or two. But doing more than one season I think we'll start to learn and pick it up a lot quicker, understand what it takes to set the cars up.

It's quite a challenge. As you said, my first test was on an oval at Homestead back in 2002, the end of 2002 and that was with Newman Haas. That was quite an experience and great fun. But I felt a little bit under prepared for that.

But that and this year, we're just going to have to take it easy and learn as much as we can, because obviously these guys have been doing it for years and know how to race and know what it's like in traffic.

That's all stuff we have to work out and understand before we get too carried away.

Q: Graham, I was wondering, have you actually sat -- have you sat in your car yet; and, number two, what is your anticipation of how different these cars will be compared to the ones you drove last year from the standpoint of do you expect them to be a little sluggish, a little overweight? What's sort of your anticipation?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, yeah, I sat in the car last week. I had actually had a seat made at Rahal Letterman last year. At the time it was looking like it was potentially going to be a test I could do on a road course. I made a seat and I've taken that seat to NHLR and trimmed it out and everything to make it fit.

I sat in the car. I think fortunately for me I got a new car, so it should be light on weight. Certainly something we're going to face this year. Compared to Danica (Patrick) and some of the others, Justin and I are obviously a little taller and a little heavier.

So the lightest chassis is always the best thing. So we'll have one of them. As far as the car goes, obviously it's going to be very different than what we're used to. Or at least that's what I think. The turbo not being there anymore. A little less horsepower. At the end of the day these are still quick machines. And until you actually get in it and feel it, it's going to be tough to tell. If you look at test times at Sebring, certainly these cars aren't too far off.

For a car that was meant to be an oval car that's been transitioned to a road race car, I think they've done a great.

Q: We spoke about this, are you playing PlayStation, or are you watching video trying to get up to speed, so to speak, with the new tracks? Because literally you're going to almost all new tracks with the exception of three, I think. How are you getting up to speed with the new environment?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I think it's going to be tough. I've been watching as much video as possible. But at the same time it's, until you're actually doing it, it's always tough to tell how it's really going to feel. There are a lot of driving simulator systems out there that I've looked recently into getting my hands on. But unfortunately due to cost I haven't been able to. But I don't think -- at this point the best I can do is watch tape from not just last year but years in the past, every circle we go to.

And, you know, as far as the tracks I know, I mean we're looking forward to going back there to especially Long Beach and Surfers (Paradise) and really hoping that we can gain some experience, a lot of experience here at Homestead for the first race and go from there. And hopefully every other one after that will come a little easier. Obviously I don't expect it to be easy by any means. But after you get one off your shoulders, hopefully the rest will kind of fall into place.

Q: When you talk about watching tape, are you talking about in-cockpit shots or the whole thing in and out?

GRAHAM RAHAL: The video I have it's in-car stuff and I have some race footage, but mainly in-car.

Q: Graham, two-parter. Considering you joined the IndyCar Series, you'll be driving along side Marco Andretti and A.J. Foyt, IV, have you given it any thought you'll be part of a second-coming of sorts for many of these great oval names of the past? And if so, do you feel like you've got some outside pressure for that fact, or are you just trying to focus on yourself and just sticking to your own ways here?

GRAHAM RAHAL: For me at this point I'm just trying to focus at the task at hand. Obviously for the fans it's exciting you have the Foyts and Andrettis and Rahals racing against each other once again. To be completely fair, do I expect to run with them initially? No. Obviously I'd love to be able to say yes, I can go out there and do that.

But with my lack of experience on these ovals, it's certainly going to be a tough thing. I'm looking forward to getting back there with Marco (Andretti). I've raced with him in the past. He's obviously a very good driver and looking forward to racing with him again.

Like I said, at this point we need to focus on our job as a team at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and look at certainly put aside things like beating Marco and A.J. (Foyt IV). As much as excitement as that may offer for us, at the end of the day we want to go out there and beat everybody. That does include beating them as well.

Q: Justin, if you want to answer this one. I'm just curious on whether or not the team, man for man, pretty much made the migration over from what was Champ Car to now what is the IRL or IndyCar Series, did you lose anybody in the transition or are the teams pretty much intact on both sides?

JUSTIN WILSON: As far as I'm aware, no, everyone's taken on the task at hand of getting these new cars ready in such a short space of time. And they're working flat out. I think they changed a couple of the crew guys over the period as things have changed. But nothing more than any normal team happens to expect. So we've got a few new guys joining my side of the team, which actually people I know already from working on my car in previous years. So I'm pretty confident we've got a great bunch of people and a lot of experience inside the shop to get these cars prepared to the usual high level that Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has them prepared to.

Q: We still haven't seen the 2008 schedule maybe incorporating several of the Champ Car dates. We think Surfers is sort of in there. Long Beach has been handled a special way. But the fans in Canada are wondering what's going on. The Toronto race is gone for this year, should be back in '09. But Edmonton still hasn't made the list. Can I get a comment from both of you racing in Canada and getting the race back in Toronto?

JUSTIN WILSON: It's great to race in Canada. I've had some of our best results in the Canadian events. And very hopeful that Edmonton will be on the schedule this year, because it's a fantastic circuit, very demanding physically and mentally. So I'm looking forward to possibly going back there. I hope that comes off. Toronto is where I got my first win in Champ Car. Opens some special memories for myself. It would be great to see that back on calendar. I have no insight into when, how and where that would be, but I would definitely love to see it happen.

GRAHAM RAHAL: The same for me. I think every time we go to Canada we get huge crowds and that's obviously exciting as a driver to be a part of that.

For myself, you know, I'm really hoping to see Edmonton on the schedule. Last year, I finished third there in the Champ Car and the year before was on the podium in Atlantic. So I had some success there in the past and wish to continue that this year. I think that's a great circuit. And we all know one thing it's very physical.

As far as Toronto, I think Toronto certainly has been a very special part of the schedule every single year just from the standpoint that it's got so much history behind it. I think it would be great for all of us to go back there. So hopefully we'll see that in '09 and as for now, as you said, we'll wait to see exactly what the final schedule is.

Q: Graham, you've got a potential of an advisor there in your dad who won the '86 Indy 500. Have you talked to him about racing in Indianapolis and what's the big oval going to be like for you?

GRAHAM RAHAL: I think he's always told me that if there's, if you could pick one oval to drive on it's Indy. So it's the best. And obviously for me it's been going a heck of a long time. So to be able to race there for the first time is really exciting, and I'm really looking forward to it.

As far as getting help from him, obviously we're competing against him, so I don't know how much he wants to do that or at least in front of everybody else. Maybe if I ask him at home maybe he'll give me a couple of tips. I'm sure being dad as he is, he will certainly be there to help and he'll want to help out as much as he can. Obviously he's had a lot of success in his career whether it's oval racing or road racing, whatever it was, he was always the best. To learn from him certainly is quite the advantage.

As a kid I never really liked it, but the more I grow up the more I understand the advice I've received from him is definitely the best advice.

Q: Justin, realistically, how much of this year is really going to be lost in learning the new car and getting the team back up to speed in what's arguably a totally different formula?

JUSTIN WILSON: I wouldn't say it's lost. I would say it would be very valuable experience. But, yeah, we're not going to be in a position to try and chase victories each weekend, which is a shame. But that's the circumstance we're in and I think we're all pretty happy that there's one unified series now and it gives a lot of opportunity for the future.

So we're just going to do the best we can, keep working hard and try to improve. And hopefully, if we work methodically, we can understand what it takes to be successful and you'll see the number one car up at the top of the podium again.

Continued in part 2

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Justin Wilson , Jimmy Vasser , Bobby Rahal , Oriol Servia , Graham Rahal , Marco Andretti , Will Power , A.J. Foyt