97th Indianapolis 500 Press Conference - Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
MODERATOR: Good morning, folks. We'll have a quick conference with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for those of you that will come forward with questions. Including 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. Jay O'Connell, the technical director of Rahal Letterman Racing.
As always, it's a difficult month. Jay, talk about the preparation and how it's gone this far.
JAY O'CONNELL: We're having a lot of fun here at Indy. Especially today with the increased turbo boost, we're looking for another 2 to 4 miles an hour on our cars, and hopefully not competition, but I'm sure we're all going to go faster, and we're looking forward to going faster because that's what it's all about here.
MODERATOR: Yes. It's going to be an interesting thing.
Bobby, you know, you came pretty close again last year. You've been in Victory Lane not only as an owner but as a driver, and last year almost the second time. That's got to feel good, too.
BOBBY RAHAL: Yeah, we won the Indy 499 and a quarter (Laughter).
You know, we've had pretty competitive efforts here over the years, three years, in particular. And tell you this group has done a very good job over the years. I think our month, this year, has gone reasonably well. I think it picked up pace yesterday. We were pretty pleased where we ended up yesterday. You know, I think that we should have a good race car; we have some more running to do on that front. But all in all, I think there's a lot of experience in the team, particularly in the “500” here.
So I certainly hope that, you know, we can make the most of that. Of course, we sure miss not having Scott Roembke with us. He was such an important part of this team. But I think we're feeling his vibe.
So, as I say, we expect to have a little competitive effort with our drivers on Memorial Day.
MODERATOR: Scott was not just a loss to your team; he was a loss to the sport.
BOBBY RAHAL: I definitely think often times it was everything I could do to keep from recommending him to INDYCAR racing higher-ups, and I'd lose him. Because I felt Scott had a tremendous sense of what the sport should be, where it should be. He was selfless. He was never looking at how it was going to be good for him; it was all about what was going to be good for the sport. I know he and Brian Barnhart had a very close relationship. I think Scott, when you asked him his opinion on something, what you got was the unvarnished truth. And that could be critical at times.
MODERATOR: That's right.
BOBBY RAHAL: If you don't want to hear the answer, don't ask the question. Yes, not having Scott is certainly a loss for our team, but as you said, it's a bigger loss for the sport.
MODERATOR: Mike Lanigan and Graham Rahal are also joining us.
Folks, we have only a little time here, so we'll turn it over to you all for questions. Taylor is going to be running the mike so we get it all recorded. Any questions?
Q: Hey, Bobby. Could you and Graham talk about, was it, as you look back on it now, was it better that you went off and did your own thing for a while, and now does that sort of make it, you know, all that nicer to be together now?
BOBBY RAHAL: Will, I think it was important for Graham as a person, you know, to go out and see what the rest of the world, how they go about it. He was very fortunate to be with great teams.
Newman/Haas/Lanigan -- Mike was with Carl and Paul at the time, and then, of course, then Chip. He also had a year where things were looking good and then fell apart in 2010 when McDonald's pulled out in January. He went from having a deal to not. And he had to scramble drove for Sarah, drove for Dreyer & Reinbold, drove for us, drove for Newman/Haas again. Didn't do a whole series. It's not pleasant, but it does nothing but show the driver -- we've all been through that. It's not all a given, you know. You have to work hard for it. I think he did.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think it's important for anybody to go out on their own a little bit and gain respect of their peers and the others that are around them. For me, it's certainly -- you know, driving for your dad is a different atmosphere than driving for most other teams that you don't have that blood connection to.
It was right to go out and be with the other operations that I drove for, but at the same time it's best that we're here. I think for Dad, myself, Mike, Dave, everybody within this team, you have to look at what's best for each and every one of us. As I talk to a lot of different teams last fall, it just became clearly apparent to me that this is where I wanted to be and this is where I needed to be to further my career, to have the success that I want to have, and the dedication to our program.
And I think vice-versa. I think that works on so many levels for the team, as well.
We've enjoyed it. Dad and I, I think, have a really special relationship. I think a lot of father-son combos have a lot of relationship. But my mom would tell you that Dad and I are too similar. We are very much the same person in the way that we sound, the way that we act, and all that sort of thing.
And Mike, you know, I've been driving with Mike since 2006? '06 was my first year in Formula Atlantic, and then we went on to Champ Car together, and now he's here with us.
So it's been a lot of fun, but it's important for any young driver, doesn't matter where you come from, that you need to go and experience other things other than just driving for the family. Even in Formula BMW, was the only year growing up that Dad put together a team. Other than that, it was always someone else.
Q: Because everybody spent the first six days pretty much focusing on race setup, which is good for next weekend, do we have a gauge what to expect for tomorrow, who to expect, who is going to be fast? Jay, if you want to chime in a little bit.
BOBBY RAHAL: I think there was some qual sims being run. Didn't know what the weather was going to be. On Monday, Tuesday, it looked like it was rain on Thursday, Friday. Could still rain today. Yesterday we managed to avoid it. There's been a lot of race running, too. I don't know.
It's going to be faster than last year. How much faster? I can't really honestly -- I don't think anybody has a good feel for that yet.
Q: Will it be the same usual suspects?
BOBBY RAHAL: I'm sure.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I'm sure the cars you've seen are fast and in race trim are going to be fast in qualifying. Yesterday, you know, we worked a little bit on race setup -- or sorry -- qualifying setup to get the car a bit more comfortable. We felt pretty good about where we were with the no-tow. I think our fastest lap of the day yesterday was by ourselves, which I'm not sure anybody else on the time sheets could claim that.
But you know we -- it's pretty hard to say at this point. I think that the Andretti cars clearly seem to have an advantage, whether it's race trim or qualifying. They just seem to be fast.
You know, Penske cars -- it's hard to tell at this point what to say. But I think here soon we're going to find out. I'm sure when the boost level goes up, the speeds are going to go up pretty considerably. That might magnify some handling issues that we haven't seen just yet, but we'll see.
O'CONNELL: Bruce, for today, we're definitely gearing for at least 4 miles an hour faster at the end of the straightaways, so the average lap speed will be 2 to 3 miles an hour quicker. But as they said earlier, the whole field will be going quicker. The challenge will be as the driver approaches these corners 4 miles an hour faster, does he have enough grip to get through the corner and whether the car's handling it. I think some cars will rise to the occasion, and others will struggle with the increased power because they don't have enough mechanical grip on the car.
Q: Mike, where's been your observation about the Bobby-Graham matchup here? Do you like what you've seen? Talk about what you've seen from it.
MIKE LANIGAN: Well, as Graham mentioned, we've been together on and off since 1996. He was still in high school, I think.
GRAHAM RAHAL: 2006.
LANIGAN: With the Mi-Jack Racing, I've seen a lot of relationship from '06 and up until today.
But Bobby could not be a better teacher, in essence, to complete the master's degree for Graham in racing. Graham learned everything pretty much on his own through the years because he drove for other teams. But this is kind of like the icing on the cake. As Graham and Bobby says, the relationship is really good. Who else would you want to teach you? I guess teaching may not be the right word, but round out the edges of where Graham wants to be. I haven't seen them argue one bit yet.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I can tell you that's -- our radio's gotten interesting a couple times but never that bad, never that bad. Marco and I ran out of fuel with two corners to go; he wasn't very happy. But it's all right.
MODERATOR: Question up here. This will be the our last question.
Q: Just for Mike and Bobby, you've got two famous names. You've got two teams that in the past have been very strong and very innovative. It seems to me that a team runs as much on chemistry as they do on ethanol. What's the status on the unified team? How is it going? What are your observations? Where do you go from here?
LANIGAN: It's a big question. Well, I mean, Bobby, pretty much, is the rainmaker as far as the team ownership. I couldn't be more pleased with the team that he's developed over the last two years. Are we pleased with the results we're getting so far? Of course, Long Beach was wonderful.
I know one thing: We got a lot of smart people here. We have a lot of great individuals that know what they are doing, and I know we will get it to where we need to be on the 26th of May.
You've got a Graham Rahal and a James Jakes and a Michel Jourdain, that's a pretty good team. We've not shown it yet, but don't, don't, count us out yet.
BOBBY RAHAL: I think people tend to forget, or many people feel like this team's been around for quite a long time. If you really look at it, a number of people have, but for the most part it's a new team. A lot of new people on our team, all having come from good teams. So I think we're still building that chemistry internally. I'm very close with Jay and, of course, Jerry Hughes, we spent a great year last year. Now we've got Eddie Jones, all on engineering side. These guys are smart people who bring a lot of value to our team. The mechanics that we attracted to the team as we've grown, I think are all, you know, very, very good, great talent.
It's all coming together. I think we've seen -- there's been a lot of work done by this team internally to build the camaraderie, to build that chemistry that's so important that guys like Penske have or Ganassi or Andretti for that matter. Great teams have to have that, as you mentioned, and we're getting there. It's a lot of effort, but we're getting there.
One thing is both Mike and David and I are committed to, I think, reclaiming a spot that Team Rahal once held and has shown over the years and holds in sports car racing today, in IndyCar racing, to be one of the leading teams. We're getting there slowly. Graham's going to be one of our horses to do that. James, as well, on a regular basis.
But we're committed to being at the front of the pack over the long haul. And we've shown little bits of that so far this year, Long Beach, in particular, but as Mike was saying, we certainly expect to be in the thick of it come Memorial Day.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much.