One-year unification anniversary teleconference, part 2

Continued from part 1 Q: Eric, how has the economy affected this off-season, your trying to find sponsors and drivers? Where are you with that now? Will you have one car or two cars? ERIC BACHELART: Obviously it's been a challenge. We were...

Continued from part 1

Q: Eric, how has the economy affected this off-season, your trying to find sponsors and drivers? Where are you with that now? Will you have one car or two cars?

ERIC BACHELART: Obviously it's been a challenge. We were all excited about the unification. Of course, we don't want to be hit by the economy. That's something we are facing. We have to have the best reaction with it.

And altogether I think we have to change our approach of sponsorship. In today's economy, I think that people are looking for a short-term impact on their business. If we can provide a solution just on short-term impact to the business, then I think we can find sponsorship.

It takes more time, that's for sure. People are careful. As a matter of fact, we're still negotiating right now as we speak. So I'm quite confident that we're going to be there with the car for the whole season. We might have to piece it a bit together. From there, we'll see if we can do more.

We were a two-car team last year. It's our ambition to stay a two-car team. We have to be realistic. It's very possible that we might have to share the car between two drivers for the season.

I think sometimes it's important just to last and go through some difficult times, looking for better times. It's certainly not the series' fault or whatever. You see it everywhere, in Formula One, in NASCAR, in IRL. So this is the fact.

I think that when you look at it we haven't lost any teams, and everybody is working hard, being positive about it. I think that we have some very good things ahead of us: a new television package, and a very strong schedule with some new venues such as Long Beach and Toronto. All these things are very positive.

So it's certainly a good help. Within a few weeks we should know a bit more where we stand.

Q: Terry, could you get into a little bit more the how and why you think the IRL might be in the position to expand and grow from last year? If there is a car count and a sponsorship issue with some of the teams this year, would the league consider subsidizing them as a bridge to get you to better times in a year or so?

TERRY ANGSTADT: On the how and why, I really think that, as Eric touched on, everyone has challenges. I think motorsports is certainly one that might even be, you could argue, a bit more impacted than others because of some of the connections to the OEMs. The automotive industry, we are not as dependent as others, but at the same time there is an effect.

At the same time, we really feel that the value proposition within the IndyCar Series versus some of the other choices is quite strong. Translation being if you had a couple of million bucks to spend, we think we may be able to deliver not only some compelling results against that, but you would get more for that same amount of money. Position-as-to-value proposition, we think we will do better in a challenged economic environment.

That's kind of one of the whys.

On the how, I think we have a pretty strong organization. We did some reorganizing over the last couple of years and have a pretty seasoned team in place. People kind of know where the restrooms are and know how to go about our business. I think we've got a very motivated and experienced team taking on this challenge. That's why I think we're going to win more than we lose.

In terms of the car count, again, as Eric touched on, it's challenging out there, and that's one of the challenging parts of this - not only league sponsorship but team sponsorship.

You ask the question, I think we're looking at I would say a low of 22 cars - and it could be 24, 26. We've got to have a couple things happen certainly to hit the high number. I think the low number's relatively secure. So we feel real good about that during this particular time.

In terms of subsidy, that's always challenging for any business. Ours is not unlike others in that we have our own challenges in terms of making our series financially viable. As we know last year, to assist, we had the engine-based lease and chassis. This year it is just the chassis. It really is up to the talent of those teams to close the lease of the engine value gap.

This is no news to anyone, certainly, that we're in close touch with. We're not in a position to subsidize teams. It will be what you see is what you get. We are working real hard to help secure sponsorship for teams with a dedicated sales team, doing presentations, doing research, trying to do all the things to assist. But writing checks we just can't do.

But we feel good about the number of cars that are going to show up and the competitive nature of those cars and teams. Again, in a pretty tough time, I again could not be more proud - to the drivers, to the teams, to the organization going forward.

Q: Terry, it seems you've hit some bad luck. Kind of the story of the IRL: there's momentum, bad luck hits, the economy, Helio's situation. Does it almost feel like you got hit with another dose of bad luck, given all the things that have happened, on the heels of what was a good start to unification?

TERRY ANGSTADT: I appreciate that question.

You really can't control those developments. We really don't focus on those. Again, you deal with them. As I said, I think the good organizations answer the call as strongly and as aggressively as they can. That is our approach. That's why I do think we're going to grow this year.

Yeah, we've been tossed a couple of curve balls. You have to know how to hit those on occasion. Again, I'm not trying to sugarcoat anything. We've got some challenges out there. At the same time I think we're going to have 18, 18 plus, at the test next week. I think that's a pretty good sign. And by the time we get to Homestead, we're going to be very proud of the guys that answer the bell down there and get ready to race for '09.

Q: Graham, I know you don't make the decisions at the team. If you were guessing how many cars ended up from Newman/Haas at Homestead, one, two or three?

GRAHAM RAHAL: You know, to be honest, it's one of those things that I don't know exactly where everything stands at this time with the team. That's a question that's better posed to Carl (Haas) than me.

As I said, to be quite honest, for me this off-season obviously being that I'm not necessarily in Chicago all the time, I don't hear all the stuff that's going on. I just honestly have focused on what I have to do to be successful this year.

Obviously there's a lot of reports that there's a lot of things happening up at NHL. I can't confirm anything. I'm quite honest. I'm focused on being there next week. I know my car's ready to go. I'm just looking forward to getting the season started.

Q: Your father's team, if it doesn't participate, what kind of message does that send for you personally?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I think obviously for dad - and I can't exactly speak for him - but if it's not a viable thing to do as far as the business goes, then it doesn't make sense for him to put a car out there. Knowing him, if it can't compete, if it can't win, he doesn't want to take part in it.

I don't know exactly what happened with the sponsorship situation at the end of last season for them, but it just came down to it and it wasn't happening for them at this point.

I know I can guarantee you they're still working very hard over there to get something put together. Everybody knows that certainly dad's heart is in open-wheel racing and he definitely wants to have a team here. Unification is something he obviously pushed hard for for many years. For it to finally be there, I'm sure he wants nothing more than to be a part of it.

Q: Graham, it was great with you and Justin being able to win for Newman/Haas/Lanigan. There were a couple difficult things as the year progressed. What can you say are official reasonable expectations now that you've had a full off-season of preparation as opposed to just a few weeks, with teammates sharing information? Since it's been so long since off-season tests, how do you stay focused on the task at hand when you've been out of the car for so long?

GRAHAM RAHAL: To touch on last year, obviously with my victory, then Justin in Detroit, we certainly had a lot of ups and downs. Everybody knows that certainly I didn't personally make that any easier on the team. I had several incidents that I'm not exactly proud of or anything like that.

But, as we go forward this year, we talked about the time that we've had to basically improve the cars in the off-season. Having the positive test we did at the end of last season, I think as a whole, we don't want to set the expectations too, too high, but at the same time I see the effort that's being put in up there at the shop in Chicago, and I know that the guys certainly want to win.

As it's been for everybody, it's been a tough off-season for them. They want nothing more than to go out there and to do well. That's what we're aiming to do.

The way I look at it, if we can get some victories this year, if we can fight and be in the top five on the ovals, do the same on the road courses, we can finish I'd like to say in the top five in the championship at the end of the year, that's certainly doable. It's going to take a lot of consistency and a fast car, and I think we can achieve that.

As far as keeping sharp for me, it's gonna be interesting because I don't think I've ever spent as much time as I have this year outside of a racecar. In years past I've done Daytona, Sebring, things like that. This year it's obviously different with the Barber test being right after Sebring, I'm not going to be able to do them both. Unfortunately it throws a bit of a different mix in it.

As I said, I'm just looking forward to getting out there next week and getting back in the car and seeing what we can do. I think that it's gonna be interesting to go back to Homestead, knowing the last lap I did there I put it in the fence. Certainly we're looking to move on. As I said, I think we've done a lot, made a lot of improvements in the car.

As far as my off-season effort, it's never been the same. I'm looking forward to it.

Q: Terry, how big a blow would it be to the IRL if Castroneves can't drive this year? There's no question he's one of the two drivers you have promoted the most for your races. There's a good chance he won't be able to drive. If that happens, how big a blow to the IRL?

TERRY ANGSTADT: Helio is a fantastic competitor, arguably one of our well-known, if not the most highly recognized drivers we have. So that's never good.

I kind of go back to you really try to focus on the things you can improve and control, not the ones you can't. Unfortunately, we're not in control of Helio's situation.

You could also look at it that as one door may partially close at this stage for Helio, we hope that goes well, one opens for Will Power. Will is a fantastic talent that has been given an opportunity to step in, a great seat from one of our premiere teams. Again, I think that's what we'll stay focused on, and that is a strong entry for Will.

We wish Helio the best. I thought, as one would expect out of the Penske organization, when Tim (Cindric) was up here to announce that, they did it in a first-class way and made it very clear that that's Helio's seat whenever he gets beyond his particular issue.

That's our approach. We would love to not have had that happen. But we're going to focus on the things we can control and improve and look forward to hopefully Will having a good experience for however long that exists for him.

Q: Terry, can you talk about the status of finding a series sponsor. Obviously with this economy, what's been said today, I'd like your comments on that.

TERRY ANGSTADT: Absolutely. And that's one that I think I tend to be an optimistic guy, and I think you need to be in this business, I would have bet a large amount of money we would have had one by now. I would have lost that, so I'm glad I didn't (laughter).

But we have active conversations going at present, not only for the title, but in hotel, travel, quick serve, insurance, spirits and beer, just to name a few, some pretty good possibilities.

We would even - I'll certainly say to this group anyway - you like to start a season with a title sponsor. We're prepared to do anything we can to lure one in as quickly as possible, transition to those marks and opportunities for that sponsor if we secure it and really hit the ground running for next year.

So still like our prospects. Wish it would have happened by now. We are hard at a few key categories to try to make that happen.

MODERATOR: All right, gentlemen. Thanks again for the time, sharing your insights with us about 2009, the one-year anniversary of unification. We wish everybody the best of luck throughout the season.

-credit: irl

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Will Power