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Indy Car Racing Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indy Racing League

Indy Car Racing Media Conference

Al Unser Jr.
January 31, 1995


ADAM SAAL: I would like to thank everyone for joining us. We have got a full house today and Al is kind enough to give us 30 minutes of his time. We will try to as many as we can in the 30 minutes. Al, welcome. Thanks for taking the time out about what I know is a busy off-season for you to join us today.

AL UNSER, JR.: Thank you very much.

ADAM SAAL: You are going to be wrapping up your testing pretty quickly as is everybody as we head into the Marlboro Grand Prix of Miami. The big question is can Al Unser Jr. and Marlboro Team Penske repeat in 1995 their great season from 1994.

AL UNSER, JR.: We sure hope too. It was a great season last year, but hopefully we can do what we did last year. I would like to thank everybody for joining us today. It is quite a lot of you out there, but I want to thank you and we are ready to go. The testing has been doing real good; so we are ready.

Q. My question is, Al certainly touched on it, it was just superior, Al, how do you plan to top it in 94?

AL UNSER JR: Well, we plan to top it by just keeping the number one on the Marlboro car, you know, the team is doing a good job and 95 car is running very well and so, you know, with a little bit of the good Lord helping us up above and have some good luck, we are going to hopefully repeat.

Q. Al with your father passing from the scene and Mario retiring, can you talk a little bit about the young guys that are coming along on the scene and why there won't be a void there?

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, hopefully, we are still considered as one of the young guys. You know, it is a passing of the guard. I think, you know, that class of '65 which was my dad, Mario, Rutherford, Gordon Johncock, you know, and then with Foyt retiring a couple of years ago, it is a different generation, but it is a lot -- the talent is the same, believe me. The driver's names have changed, yes, but Robby Gordon is doing a great job, Paul Tracey is doing a great job. You know, these young lions that are coming up, Jacques Villeneuve, you know, he is going to be really something to watch out for in the upcoming season, so, you know, I just see the names changing a little bit. That is all.

Q. You were just out of a test at PIR on the oval in a Firebird; there were quite a few of you at PIR, and everybody ran pretty closely together and quite competitive from all the testing we have seen, so far it really looks like it is going to be a pretty fiercely competitive year. Can you talk a little bit about that and talk about, you know, what the strengths you think of the new car, new Penske PC 24 are, you know, versus the competition?

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, Jack and I were talking about that just yesterday, as a matter of fact, as we were out testing, and I guess from what we have seen so far, we feel that the 95 Lola is better than the '94 Lola. That the 95 Raynard is a better car than the '94 Raynard, and so far in testing, the gains that we have gotten out of the Penske '95 car is a little gain, but it seems like the Lola and the Raynard, it helped there car a little bit more. So they seemed to close the gap a little bit in the testing and so, you know, last winter, we weren't the fastest thing during winter time and this year, it is the same thing, we are not the fastest thing either, but I really feel that the Marlboro car really shines on race day and so, you know, we will just have to wait for the Marlboro Grand Prix down in Miami to find out where is where.

ADAM SAAL: Andre Craig has joined us.

ANDREW CRAIG: Good afternoon everybody.

ADAM SAAL: We are going to continue on with Alan Unser Jr.; then we will open up for questions for Andre Craig later on. I wanted you to know that he is on board.

Q. How many miles have you done this year to this point versus last year?

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, at this point, we have done less miles but we were developing two different race cars last year and so, you know, with the Mercedes 209 for Indianapolis, we were doing special tests for that. This year, that is not the case. Mercedes has come on board with us another time, and so we are concentrating on one engine for the whole PPG IndyCar World Series, and so we are going at it like that.

Q. Personally, how many miles would you have done, Al?

AL UNSER JR: Not enough. Still a little too close to us, so we need to do some more miles.

Q. In an interview to our magazine in Italy, your friend Tracey says that for 1996 he has already signed with the Penske to come back; by that time, they will decide who will be in Formula I with Penske. Can you clear up the situation a little bit?

AL UNSER, JR.: I don't know anything about that. Right now, I have been trying to make the new car go quick and so I don't know what is happening past the Marlboro Grand Prix in Miami. That is all we are concentrating on right now.

Q. Can you draw some parallels for us between what you experienced with the Mercedes engine as it relates to the Ilmor package for '94?

AL UNSER, JR.: I feel that the new Mercedes Ilmor is stronger than last year's Ilmor engine, and so you know, I am looking forward to a great year, you know, I think it is stronger. We are going to be doing some durability test here in the near future, and so that will be the final stages of it.

Q. I'd like to pick up on the comment that you made regarding the young lion. And look, I will still keep you in that area.

AL UNSER JR: Thank you.

Q. Can you see in mentioning Robby Gordon and Jacques Villeneuve and some of the others, can you see -- and have you and your dad talked about any possible driving style difference between the new class that is coming in and those of you who have been around for awhile?

AL UNSER, JR.: No, not really. Me and dad have been concentrated on our snowmobiles during the wintertime, actually. But no, you know, if anything was said - and I know my father would say this - that only the names have changed, you know, you got Robby Gordon with a lot of aggressive talent, reminds a lot of people about when A.J. was younger, and so same way with Paul Tracey, he is a go-getter and gets out there. Jacques Villeneuve does the same thing. He reminds me a lot of, actually, myself; jack does because he gets out there; tries real hard, but is real level headed and knows that winning the race is the most important thing, so, you know, it is all the same.

Q. Will you do anything different this year -- is it different having that number one on your car throughout the season?

AL UNSER, JR.: You bet. You bet. It is what we worked really hard for, and it is what the whole Marlboro Team Penske wanted and we are not going to give it up easily anyway, and we are going to try very hard to keep it.

Q. Nobody has repeated a PPG Championship since Bobby Rahal. I am wondering with all the success you had last year, how hungry are you?

AL UNSER, JR.: I don't know. I guess we will find out down in Miami, you know. We are going to do the same thing we did last year and, you know, it will start my 13th year in IndyCar racing, I think, or 12th year, something like that and I am not going to change a thing. We are going to go at it just like we did last year and try to keep the number one and do well at Indianapolis too, the Indy 500 is our crown jewel, and so, you know, we will just do our best.

Q. You have always been a great street course driver. You are going to at a new venue and the one in Australia, for instance, has been different. What do you look for at Miami.

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, I think the main thing everybody will be looking for is reliability. At the first few races, there is a lot of race teams and you know, even our race team, we don't go out and do quick field stops during testing or anything, so the engine stays running the whole time during the race, and so you look for durability. I think it is going to be a great place to find out where everybody is compared to each other, as far as how quick and how fast they can go because we will be on a level playing ground, you know, as far as the difference between testing and the races, and so there is a lot of exciting things that tell you a lot for the upcoming season at that first couple of races.

Q. Speaking about coming down to Miami, we haven't had an IndyCar race here in awhile and the state in the southeast, I am sure, is looking forward to this. Would you talk a little bit about that.

AL UNSER JR: We are very excited about that. All of the drivers; all of the teams from the PPG IndyCar World Series, it's been a long time since we have been down in Florida and the last time we were there was at Tamiami Park, and so we enjoyed coming down to Florida at that time, and it is time we got back. We have always wanted to be in Miami Grand Prix, and race in the city streets in Miami and it is a great market and so we are looking forward to coming down.

Q. Your team dominated so much last year. If you dominate to that extent again this season, what effect will that have on the series?

AL UNSER, JR: I guess the effect will be that they need to work harder to outrun us. But, you know, I don't know, it ain't going to affect the series at all. It is going to be a very competitive series and if we do what we did last year, we worked very, very hard for it. It is something that doesn't come easy, by any means, so it will be another great year for Marlboro Team Penske.

Q. Last week, Indy Racing League made some more noise and your name was mentioned in maybe being one of the drivers that would want to run both series. What position do you have vis-a-vis the Indy Racing League and what effect do you think that is going to have on other drivers and on IndyCar?

AL UNSER, JR: Well, you know, the Indy Racing League, it is something that I guess it is a political thing and it is up to the rule makers and it is in that stage right now between the IRL and IndyCar, and I am a race car driver and, you know, if people start talking about race tracks; then I want to go race and -- but I really feel that between the two they have to get the rules together and they have to kind of join forces and that is up to them. I don't have any control in that area, and so you know, that is where we stand on it, I guess.

Q. As the PPG IndyCar World Series Champion, do you feel any personal obligation or role in carrying that banner through another year; is there something different maybe off the track that you will do?

AL UNSER, JR: No, not really. You know, we want to -- we are very proud to be the champion of IndyCar, and we are going to work very hard in the future to maintain that and keep it. That's it.

Q. You got an IROC break coming up at Daytona in the middle of all your IndyCar testing. Do you look at that as a welcomed diversion or some real serious work in the IROC car and also maybe a little bit of seat time at Rusty Wallace will?

AL UNSER, JR.: Yes, I am going to be returning to IROC, and, you know, IROC has been very good to us in the past and I really enjoy running the series. It is a little bit of a break from the champ cars, but it is still very serious racing and there is very serious money up, and all of that, so, sure, we will be down there and actually we will be rooting Rusty Wallace on to victory. We will be watching the race and hopefully maybe Roger will give me a radio. We will see.

Q. Talk a little about the dominating season last year and congratulation on all the wins last year, but contrast with that, the pressure that is on you this year to perform to that same level.

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, last year was a great year and believe me, there was a ton of pressure on us last year, and I really feel like it is kind of exact opposite; that some of the pressure is lifted and in some areas and in other areas there is going to be more pressure, but it is still going to be hard work, and with a little bit of lady luck, you know, we will do good next year.

Q. Talk about the contrast, how much difference will there be between having operated three cars last year and two this year?

AL UNSER, JR.: I really don't think the team is going to be affected very much. When the team went from two cars to three cars last year, you know, you kind of thought that there was going to be an effect, but, in fact, you know, we ran one, two, three, five times and all the great success that the team had, the 12 wins which is the most in IndyCar history, and so there wasn't much of an effect there in a negative sense, so when we go back, I really don't feel it is going to be any effect at all. The one area that it does affect is the engine shop. Those guys really had to bust their tails last year and I feel that this year with the going back to two cars, will have a little bit more time to develop this Mercedes engine and make yet a dominating engine in the years to come.

Q. You talked a little bit about the pressure that you felt last year. Where did that come from?

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, kind of came from all sides, really. When you sign with the best IndyCar team in the business and the one that has set the standard in auto racing for, you know, the last 10, 15 years, there is a little bit of pressure on you, and when your uncle has been so successful and your father has done the same and as soon as I get home, I got these guys calling me up putting pressure on me too, but you know, it was great and the team is everything that both uncle Bobby and my father said which is the best team out there.

Q. Let me talk to you about Formula I. With the passing forward of the baton to some of the other lions in F-I and seemingly fewer really good quality rides out there, do you feel any particular pressure to make your move into Formula I; considering the fact that that environment now exists and it looks like some of these young guys there will be in these good seats for the next several years?

AL UNSER JR: Myself, I love the Indy 500 and now that I am with the Marlboro Team Penske, you know, it is the best team out there. I am not going to do anything to risk losing that and so I tried a few years ago getting into the Formula I and, frankly, they didn't want me, so you know, we have committed to this and we are going to just stay in America and race here.

Q. I remember talking to you during the off-season; you said that you had some ideas on why Roger Penske was so successful in motor racing. Now that you have a year under your belt with the team, what is the secret or is there a secret that Roger Penske passes along to the entire team and actually both teams including the Winston Cup Series?

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, it is real simple. Effort equals result, and that is the secret, so Roger gives us the team, the people around him, in everything, the best opportunity to try as hard as we can, and give him our best and that is what Roger gives us and that is it.

Q. 17th race this year. Does that make a difference or would you like to see the schedule expand it even more?

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, I really don't know. I mean, 17 races is a good number of races. I guess that would be a question for my car owner actually because they know the logistics move. If I could drive my race car seven days a week, I would, and so, if we could race every week; then that would be great.

Q. I just wondered what would it mean to you to win the 500 back-to-back like your dad did?

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, it looked good on the winter glasses this (laughter)-- the whole new family makes. You know, what can I say? It would mean an awful lot, and you know, to do this the second back-to-back or the next back-to-back winner would be super. It sure would. You know, I guess we are the only ones with that opportunity going into the race.

Q. That is right.

AL UNSER JR: We are going to work as hard as we can to take advantage of it.

Q. What do you know about the Unser Challenge in northern Alberta and are you going to be part of it?

AL UNSER JR: I know that uncle Bobby asked me to race in it, an ice race.

Q. Have you done that before?

AL UNSER, JR.: Never done that before, and I said that now is not a good time to start learning, so it is going to be uncle Bobby, my father, Bobby Unser Jr., and Robby Unser, which are my uncle Bobby's two boys. They are going to go up there this coming up weekend, I guess it is.

Q. Mazda RX 7's?

AL UNSER, JR.: Yeah, I guess they all brought their own cars, so it is going to be one heck of a race, I guess.

Q. But you declined; you are not going to be there?

AL UNSER, JR.: No, I won't be there. I will be testing my IndyCar.

Q. Too bad.

AL UNSER JR: Yep.

Q. I know that you were down at Daytona there when Rusty Wallace was doing some testing. Was he kind of picking your brain a little bit or were you down there for your own reasons; maybe hoping to get back into a car for this race, and --

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, we were down there to try to help Rusty. It started to limit their testing a little bit down there and Rusty has a new car this year and we were trying to -- we were running two cars on the same days and I was doing kind of like mechanical stuff and he was getting the car workin, and so we were trying to get more things done than what normally we would have been able to do with Rusty by himself. We were down there helping. I enjoyed driving the stock car. One of these days, you know, you will see us racing down there again and so it was a great experience.

Q. Did you have any premonition this time last year that things were going to work out like they did last year and do you look back at last year and go, hey, you know, a lot of forces came together; it might be tough to duplicate that again?

AL UNSER, JR.: Well, it is going to be impossible to duplicate it. We are going to either go out and do better or we are going to do a little bit worse, as far as race wins and all that, but, no, there were no premonitions or nothing. If you would have seen us in that first race in Australia last year, it was something, so no, we are going to go out and take it one at a time and do the best we can.

Q. Could you talk about the impact of having two competing tire brands in IndyCar this coming season?

AL UNSER JR: Well, with the two tire brands, with Goodyear and Firestone going head-to-head again, I think it is going to bring some extra life to the whole PPG IndyCar World Series and it is going to be a good thing because, you know, these tire companies take their tires and develop them on the racetrack and then that correlates right to passenger car tires. So Goodyear, I feel does the best job at that and we will come find out on race day what happens.

Q. Along those lines, Bobby Rahal said he expects to see some incredible lap times at every venue this year primarily because of the tire situation. Do you anticipate the same thing?

AL UNSER, JR.: Yes, I do. You know, it all depends on the way the rules are going to come out on how you do your tires and I don't think that is a set feel yet, so that, you know, if you have to race what you qualify; then you are going to be thinking about if you put the soft ones on or the hard ones, so you know, we will have to see what the final deal is on the move, from CART and we will go from there.

Q. Several folks we talked to have been concerned at the speeds at Michigan. With another tire company and the fact that it has a new surface down there, talk little bit about what a driver feels at a place like Michigan; especially when it is that fast.

AL UNSER, JR.: I think it is great. I think if, you know, the faster we can go, the better it is at this point. The safety aspect of these race cars today are very, very safe. The high tech in quality and safety equals the high tech of the speeds that the car is running, so I feel the cars are safe and with the IndyCar safety crew there, they are the best in the business, you know, with the speeds, I think it is going to be good. I think it is a good change that Michigan got repaved and it will actually make it safer even if we do end up going a little bit quicker with the bumps out of the place it will be safer.

Q. How does it feel in the car now having more room inside the cockpit, you aren't quite as compact inside the cockpit.

AL UNSER, JR.: Dick, actually the amount that they moved it, I really can't tell, so my elbows are still rubbing the sides.

Q. I know you touched on this a little earlier with the change from three cars to two cars. But can you talk a little bit about now competing against Paul Tracey now that he is not a teammate. I know you compete in the races as well, but it is going to be with him on a different team.

AL UNSER, JR.: I don't know how much different it will be. I think Paul Tracey will be in a different colored race car and I think that my team is the best team out there and so I think that he will be in our rearview mirror quite a lot; at least I hope he is anyway, and that will be it.

ADAM SAAL: Let us go ahead and do four final questions for Al so he can get on with his other business. Then we will go ahead and move onto the Andrew Craig questions.

Q. Give us maybe your thumbnail sketch on what we can expect this season from the other teams; have you been able to maybe eyeball some of these teams during the testing dates and who are some of the teams you are going to be looking at; maybe some dark horse.

AL UNSER, JR.: Gosh, there is a good amount of them. The Newman/Haas team with Michael and Paul. I think Bobby Rahal's team with Raul Boesel, the two of those guys together are going to make a good combination. They are going to be tough. You got Derrick Walker's team with Robby Gordon that is going to be good. Gary Green's team, the Forsythe team with Jacques Villeneuve is going to be a good contender. There is a lot of them out there that are going to be strong contenders and, you know, we can't leave out my teammate, Emerson. He is going to be awfully strong and it is -- there is going to be some good racing going on throughout the whole IndyCar season.

Q. I don't mean to be facetious here, but Newman/Hass will be stronger on race day with Paul Tracey instead of Mario -- does that add a factor?

AL UNSER, JR.: I think you have got some new blood in the Newman/Haas stable; some young blood; I think maybe halfway through the race, the second half they may be a little bit stronger than they were the first half, but not very much, you know, Nigel Mansell and Mario Andretti are two great race car drivers than they were the last time they drove those cars and so you are not going to see a big change, but sure, maybe at the end of the race you will, I don't know.

ADAM SAAL: Anything else? Thanks, Al.

AL UNSER JR: Thank you.



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