96th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference: Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
MODERATOR: We'll welcome Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. We have Mike Lanigan, Takuma Sato. Great to have Michel Jourdain Jr. back. Bobby, you've won as an owner and a driver, which is quite a rare accomplishment. The feelings that go into both and your feelings about this upcoming Indianapolis 500.
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, first it's great being back here for the month of May, getting prepared for this great race. I think we've got two real good opportunities to win it again. Winning it as a driver obviously was very thrilling for me, particularly given the state of Jim Trueman's health at the time, the sadness that sort of came with that seven or eight days later. To win it, it changes your life forever as a driver, both personally and professionally. Winning it as an owner doesn't quite have that same effect. I think even though as a driver you recognize there's a lot of pieces that have to be put together in order to win the race, as an owner you get a much greater appreciation. Drivers have to be a little bit selfish, frankly, to be good. So, yeah, you give it lip service, but you really don't know. When you're on owner, you know, you're writing the checks, dealing with all the personnel issues. You understand how difficult it is to win. Different feelings. But very rewarding. For me to be one of three to have done both in the history of the Speedway, I can take a great deal of pride in that. Especially when the other two are A.J. Foyt and Parnelli Jones. That's pretty good company.
MODERATOR: It's interesting. We were looking over some notes. Mike Lanigan, we're with Walter Payton and Dale Coyne, Carl Haas, Paul Newman, now Bobby and Dave.
BOBBY RAHAL: He finally got it right (laughter).
MIKE LANIGAN: I've been involved since 1992 as an active sponsor, then got involved in the ownership side. Bobby is right, I finally partnered up with the best-looking guy at the track, gets the cheapest haircut, too (laughter). No, it was always a pleasure to be here with Walter Payton. Paul Newman was here a lot previous in '96. It was my honor to be with him in May of '08 before he passed away. We had Graham Rahal, who had a great month, but we had some bad luck, which happens on Sunday here in the month of May. But it is a pleasure to be with Bob and David, here with Takuma and Michel. I'm proud to be associated with the Rahal Letterman name. Thank you very much for being with us today.
Q: Takuma, have you found your way to the donuts now?
TAKUMA SATO: Yeah, I supposed to bring, but never had a chance. Finally this morning, with help from Michel. I feel kind of relief.
Q: We already have taken some photos of your helmet, which is very special. Tell us about it.
TAKUMA SATO: OK. Obviously after the 11th of March last year, we did a Japan campaign. This is a special helmet that I just received last night, a charity. The family, Matsumotosan family designed this beautiful design. This cherry blossom become icon. The reason is before March, the 11th of March, this cherry blossom was covered by sea water by tsunami. After that it bloom. That become a big hope for the older Japanese people because they couldn't believe the tree was underwater, but it bloom beautifully. This becomes my helmet for the special “500.” I'm going to wear this for the race and qualifying. After that, I'm going to put this for the charity auction and it goes with the Japan campaign charity.
Q: Talk about your year thus far, your season.
TAKUMA SATO: Season been really good. I'm very, very happy. Obviously the new team, new package, everything for this year. But it's been really good experience last few season. Really felt comfortable. Of course, Bobby's operation is fantastic. They bring everything together. As a new team, OK, the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team is a historical winning team. For this Indy challenge this year, it's like rebuild the things. It just fantastic. We have such a strong engineering, great mechanics. Even though one-car team, we've been performing outstanding. I'm really, really happy. Of course now we have Michel. The team operation is really good. I'm very excited to be back in the “500” with Bobby.
Q: Michel, you've had your best result in open-wheel racing with Team Rahal. Interesting how this project came together for you and how this fits with your professional goals.
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: I'm happy to be back. I came to the Vegas race last year. Called me to go to Indy to see all our own friends. To me, I didn't think I wasn't going to be back into Indy cars ever again, I've been away so long. We spoke in Vegas. Maybe Indy, maybe we can try to do Indy. Thinking about it, it's a race where you can come back and come back, you have a lot of time to build up speed and confidence. That's what we've been trying to do all this week. For me, it's fantastic to be of course driving an Indy car, to be at the Indy Motor Speedway, to do the Indy 500. To be with this team, for me it was very important part of a project because I feel like a family. Not everybody on the team was here when I was here, but there's a lot of faces. The new people, the people that was not here then, have welcomed me so good. Everybody, like Takuma said, engineering team is fantastic. Takuma, he's a great guy. I feel like I have a very good new friend. He has helped me a lot getting up to speed. I have learned a lot from him. He's very, very fast. I think he will do very good tomorrow and in the race, and hopefully we can do good, too.
Q: Jay O'Connell, the drivers we've spoken to in the press room say it's fun to develop the new car. How about for you? What's been the challenge of this new car?
JAY O’CONNELL: The new car has been a welcome challenge after running the old car for so many years. It's great to have a new set of compromises, a new set of parts to work around, and to work with the drivers how to get the best out of it.
Q: Tom Anderson, you had a different sort of task. You had to help move the race team to Indianapolis and then get the team to jell. What kind of a challenge does that present?
TOM ANDERSON: I think you have to look at it as an expansion team. Bobby, Scott Roembke, Steve Dickson put a tremendous team together over on the ALMS side. So there was a lot of backup. So assembling a new group, being able to have a bullpen, shall we say, to draw from made the job quite tolerable. Success has come fairly quickly for the expansion team.
Q: The horsepower, Jay.
JAY O’CONNELL: For today, you mean? The increased horsepower is going to be a good challenge. Everyone has been doing their simulation, but we're looking for at least a couple miles an hour faster today. So I know Takuma and Michel are looking forward to trying that, too. I just wanted to say we've really been lucky to add Gerry Hughes to our organization, who has worked with Takuma before, with Bobby and I in Formula One, then we have Bruno, who engineered Oriol Servia to second on the grid last year and sixth overall. So it's really helped us on the engineering side.
MODERATOR: Questions for the group.
Q: Michel, if I remember correctly, when you left the open-wheel business in America, at that time Champ Car was still existing. You did some touring in Europe. Coming back to open-wheel, how difficult was it to adapt to open-wheel racing again?
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: I've been NASCAR, doing other cars with rallying. I don't know how to describe how difficult it has been to adapt to the car again. What we just did is to try to take it very little by little, to make sure I kept my confidence, felt good all the time. People ask me what's the difference to this car to the other cars. It's been so long, to tell you true difference is hard. I wanted to start from scratch. I have some ideas from before that I have to delete, and that's not easy. It's been about confidence. To tell you truth, I thought it was going to be in a way harder. So because of that we've been trying to make sure that we stay all the time in the right path, go little by little, by myself, on traffic. Even for qualifying we haven't done pretty much nothing because we want to make sure we have the car under me and I get confidence all the time.
Q: Bob, just wanted to ask, you were at the forefront of bringing Danica in. What is the impact of not having her here, pluses and minuses?
BOBBY RAHAL: I'm not sure how this is all going to get written, but at least we get to focus on the racing now and the people who are here, who are damn good drivers. Danica did great things for this series, but I think oftentimes perhaps at the expense of the series. It was a ying and a yang. The other drivers that were here didn't get the attention they should have gotten. Now we get to get back to what it's all about, which is great racing. Maybe we don't have that great personality, which now NASCAR has, whether it's Earnhardt or herself. Now it's all about the racing, which to me is what it all should have been about in the first place. People will say the racing is not as good as it was in the heyday of CART. I totally disagree. I think the driver level today is as good or greater than it was during the height of IndyCar racing late '90s, early 2000s. We get to focus on a new car, new engines. Chevrolet is back. There's a lot of stories that are very important. In the end, I wish her well. Obviously, I brought her into this series. Now, as it should be, it's all about the racing.
Q: Do you have to avoid getting overconfident with the extra power you're going to have which you won't have on Race Day and will there be passing opportunities in this race that maybe we haven't seen in the last few years?
MICHEL JOURDAIN JR.: Yes, I think today and tomorrow, whatever we learn, we have to forget. Today and tomorrow is totally different day with the extra power. I don't think anybody will be doing traffic runs or anything. You just have a qualifying setup and then we erase everything after tomorrow, on Sunday. About passing, I think there will be a lot of passing. You know, I mean, some guys have figured out the race setup, running in traffic really good. I feel on my side I'm not 100 percent there. I think I'm better than a lot of guys, not as good as some other guys. I think Takuma is better in a way, the experience in running in these things ... It's something that for me I was used to running superspeedways, I had so much more power that the driving was so different in traffic. That's something that I've been trying to get used to. I will have 500 miles to learn and hopefully master, you know. But I think passing will be good.
Q: Tom, what is involved in switching from the change in boost? If you guys go out, get satisfied with your qualifying setup, can you go back quickly to the lower boost to just work on race setup?
TOM ANDERSON: You know what, I'm going to defer that question down to the other end. That's more of Jay and his technical group.
JAY O’CONNELL: Basically the changeover is pretty straightforward for Honda. The changed the engine calibration and they had us change the waste-gate springs. A little bit of hardware change, mostly software change. We can switch back and forth. Assuming everything goes well tomorrow like we expect, we should be back 130 kilopascals race boost on Sunday to do some race running.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much, gentlemen, for coming in.
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