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Marlboro Team Penske Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Penske Racing

Marlboro Team Penske Media Conference

Al Unser Jr.
July 28, 1994


Q. We were talking with Paul a second ago. He mentioned that he felt guys were starting to close -- other teams were starting to close the gap on you guys a little bit at the middle of the season and on. I am just wondering if you had any comment on that and if so, where were they making some of the gains and how do you guys look to that; does that put any extra pressure on doing something at Michigan in order to keep your cushion?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, yeah, I kind of agree with Paul in the aspect that it has closened up, tightened up, but that is what the PPG Indy Car World Series is about. It is very, very competitive and if you have a slight edge, it is definitely hard to find and, you know, the Marlboro team Penske has had a good edge so far this year because of the new car working so well and also the hard work that Ilmor Engineering has done over the winter to help the horsepower in the Ilmor engine and they have. So with the combination, we have been pretty strong as a team and it is still there. We still have our edge, but you know, it is a very, very tough competitive series and so --

Q. Any idea where some of the other teams might be picking up that you guys may have had a little extra gap on them before?

AL UNSER, Jr.: No. I think it is just all around. I believe that the Lola car is working a little bit better you know, the Reynard. They are starting to learn that car quite a bit and the teams are getting the bugs out of that thing and so, you know, they are just working hard and we are working hard and it is a tough competitive series.

Q. Maybe if I can go one step further maybe the way to ask it, how much more room is there for you guys to move ahead in respect to them catching up, I mean is are you pretty close to your ceiling and they still have you know, steps to go in order to catch up with you or do you still have just as much room ahead of you as behind you?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, I think everybody is operating at their ceiling. It is an ongoing process on developing the race car and you know, the closer it gets to the end of the year, you know, everybody has had a lot of races under their belts. They have had quite a few tests. They start working their cars out, and I felt that we were pretty strong in the beginning and we are just as strong right now as a team than as at the beginning and, you know -- so we will just have to really wait and see on the races to come. I really feel the Cosworth is going to have a little bit of an edge over us at the Marlboro 500 it is a long race and it is 500 miles and so far everything has been pretty good on the Marlboro team Penske, so, you know, we will have to really wait and see when we get to the road courses, the races to come. The short ovals are really strong for the team and we will just have to see.

Q. You had so much success throughout the season until Toronto. When you realized that you were going to make the early exit at Toronto. What went through your mind?

AL UNSER, Jr.: It was one of those days. I really didn't have any problems to speak of on the prelaps and when we got on the throttle we dropped a valve and it is just one of those things that happens in racing. We were on a pretty good roll and we will just have to start over again and get back on it.

Q. Do you kind of expect at some point something is going to happen and you start saying in your mind, well, you know, when is it going to happen instead of if it is going to happen?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, sort of, you know, in this business it is very tough and there is a lot of items that you really have to watch out for and then there is some that you can work as hard as you can and it is that 50 cent piece that will get you, that is pretty much what happened to us. We just -- we lost one of those items that you could not foresee at all and you know, I was -- I really don't expect anything to happen or wait and know that it is or you know, we will just -- we just take one race at a time and try to win them and with this team it has been a great year.

Q. I know you had commented; particularly at Indy that when Roger Penske called, you had had a lot of advice from your father and uncle that if it-- ever the call was to come you better take it. But on the other hand, most drivers prefer a one-car team where everything is focused in on their car. Did you have any concerns along that line and what does Roger Penske do to alleviate those concerns among his drivers?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, I really didn't have any concerns with it because of who I was joining. The Marlboro team Penske is the strongest team out there and I asked Roger a little bit about it and he just said, you know, everybody gets all the equal stuff and all of his cars are equal and I think proof of that is we have qualified 1, 2, 3 at a few of the events and in order to qualify like that, you know every car has the best that can be had. So with that type of effort, it laid to rest all of anything that I had been thinking as far as one or two or three car team.

Q. You say the 229 was kind of what he might be looking for out of the Ilmor up in Michigan; what do you think it's going to take to get the pole there?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, I will answer like my dad does. The pole is what the pole is going to be. The track record is 234 and so that is the mark. That is what we are all going to be chasing.

Q. You got the Marlboro this weekend and then there is another race in Indianapolis. How much do you want to be there?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, we are going to be down there at the Brickyard to watch the race and see what happens down there. It's their inaugural event their, first one, so you really don't know what is going to happen. Right now the focus is on the Marlboro 500 because that is what is going to give us the 20 points or whatever to try to win the cup, so we need to do that.

Q. How much does Roger want to win the Inaugural Brickyard?

AL UNSER, Jr.: I think Roger wants to win whatever race he is in that weekend. If he is at a NASCAR race he wants to win that; that is top priority, and when he comes here this weekend for the Marlboro 500, that is going to be top priority, so Roger is a very, very competitive person and so he is going to want to win whatever he is at.

Q. Will they have an advantage at all at Indy?

AL UNSER, Jr.: No. Their advantage is going to be with Rusty Wallace and the Ford and they have been pretty strong all season long and Rusty has been doing a great job for them. So they are going to be strong contenders at the Brickyard, for sure.

Q. Unfortunately you had a pit side-view of that charge that Michael Andretti made at Toronto. You and he had -- on the track had battled over the years. What did you think when you saw the way that he was picking off the traffic and I guess, what I am looking for is, did you think to yourself, here he comes again and maybe I am going to have to deal with him before the season is over?

AL UNSER, Jr.: My thoughts were when I saw Michael doing a great job out there is I wished I had been out there. But it wasn't in the cards or anything, so that is it. Michael is tough no matter what teams he is with or what time of the season it is. Mikey is tough and so you know, when I saw him having a good run I just wished I had been out there.

Q. Two years ago when Bobby Rahal was going for the championship you made a comment that you could see he had the eye of the Tiger; you could see it in him. When you look in the mirror these days do you see the same look looking back at you?

AL UNSER, Jr.: No, it don't look nothing like Bobby Rahal, but no, we are going out -- I am very enthusiastic this year. It has been a great year because I have got such a great team and the guys are right there 110 percent all the time and Roger is right there 110 percent and the results are showing it and you know, you get up in the morning and it feels good knowing that in pit lane you have got the fastest car out there before you even get in it and when you have that kind of feeling, it is definitely very special.

Q. Follow that up, though, drivers work all their careers hoping to get a shot like this, I mean -- or a ride or a season like this. Are you looking at it in those terms? I mean, is this one of those dream seasons if you can just keep riding it out?

AL UNSER, Jr.: You bet. I mean, we have worked very hard the last 11 years in Indy Car racing and I have had breaks go against me; I have had breaks go with me, but I really feel that all of that work is what has gotten me the opportunity to drive this Marlboro car and you know, so it has all come together and it is definitely a dream come true.

Q. Speaking of work, I know you have worked hard. Now you are at the, so to speak, top and you have talked about how Penske works. Is this as hard as you have worked during the season in your career when you think back to all the testing?

AL UNSER, Jr.: No. Not really. We have -- we are putting in the same type of efforts this year as we have in all the years past and what Roger has given me is more opportunity to have success, you know, he gives me the best car out there. He gives me the best guys out there. He gives me the time to go and test when before I didn't have that testing time, so all Roger really has done is given me the opportunity to work hard to try to win the Cup.

Q. Are you training any differently now that you are with Penske than you were last year and the years before that?

AL UNSER, Jr.: No. No. In the racing fraternity, no, they are all good friends and have been like that this year too.

Q. Is there any envy?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, we were out at a Go-cart track earlier today and there was a little. But, no it was all in fun and all that kind of stuff.

Q. In other words, you had the fastest Go-cart?

AL UNSER, Jr.: No, actually they kept me out of the fastest one. Tracy jumped in it right away and Robby Gordon jumped in the other one right away, so it was a lot of fun.

Q. You mentioned that it feels great to know that you have got the fastest car sitting on pit row before you climb in it?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Yes. You know, most definitely. It is the best team out there and I am loving every minute of it.

Q. Did you not feel that last year with Rick?

AL UNSER, Jr.: No, I haven't really felt like this in all of the teams that I had been with or, you know, the two teams, with Shearson team and with the Galles team we had to work very hard and you know, to be able to run with the fastest guys and so, you know, this year it is a different feeling, you know, we still have to work hard and all of that, but like I said, Roger works a little bit harder in giving the whole team a better opportunity to be successful and that is what it takes. It starts right at the top, right with the boss and if he is willing to have that kind of desire and that kind of dedication, it just filters right down through the whole shop and they see it out of their box, so they are one team to give them back the same that he has given them and that is the feeling throughout the whole shop.

Q. Who won the Go-cart race?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Tracy did.

Q. How much different is the Marlboro 500 compared to the Indy 500 just from a physical standpoint or whatever? I mean, do you feel the difference in the way you drive, etcetera?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Yeah, you feel a little bit of difference. You are more in a corner at Michigan most the time than at Indianapolis and also instead of 200 laps it is 250 laps and so, you reach -- there are several times that I have reached 100 laps and go, "we are halfway" and we are not, you know, and -- so -- but most of the biggest differences is that you are in a corner quite a lot here at Michigan and Indianapolis you are down the straight-a-ways more.

Q. Is it the same, though, in terms of winning; what is necessary for being there at the end and so forth that is obvious, but can you tell me how it is different because you are in the corner so much because the speeds are what they are?

AL UNSER, Jr.: No, it is a lot the same. These race cars are very quick whereever they go and you have to be careful you know. We run two abreast sometimes, three abreast, in the corners here at Michigan and so you have to be a little bit more careful because you really do run a little bit more closer here than you do at Indy, so. . .

Q. Do you have any advice for Rusty or any of the other NASCAR drivers since they are racing on your track?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Sure. Right foot goes down, left foot comes up.

Q. Can you predict the number of laps to be run yellow in the Brickyard 400?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Gosh, I really don't know. That is a lot of the reason why I am going to watch this year's race and try to learn from it and then, you know, maybe we will be in next year's race or whatever, but we are going to watch and just see what kind of strategies do unfold and then I feel I will have a better outlook of the races to come.

Q. A little bit earlier Paul was talking about what he has learned from listening to you talk about setting up race cars and what have you. Even though you got almost nine or ten years on -- nine years on Paul Tracy as far as experience, have you been able to learn anything from his youthful exuberance?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Sure. Paul is a very talented driver and he gets in it, he is fast right away and that is why he is working for this race team and so you know, we have learned a few things. I try to learn as much as I can from all the drivers out there because they have all got special talents that make them winners and so the more I can learn about that, the more it is -- the better, hopefully, I will become, so you know, there are quite a few things I have learned from him.

Q. What is the worse part about running with a three part-team? Is it knowing in a race day that there are at least two other guys with the same weapon you have on pit road?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, I guess, you know, the worst thing about it -- that would be a great question for Chuck Sprague our team manager, I mean, managing all the pieces and making sure that the gearboxes are all fresh and you know, all of that without really doing overspending and so that -- it is a tough thing to do to equip three cars and so on and have them all equal to each other, so I think that is the toughest part about it.

Q. You have been through a championship season before. What are you telling yourself right about now, I mean, don't look past your nose or --

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, what we are doing right now is just taking one race at a time and finishing; that is the big thing, is to finish these races and so, you know, we had a pretty good lead on Emerson, my main competition right now, and after Cleveland because he fell out, and then what do you know, I go to the very next race in Toronto and fall out of that one, so the points tighten right back up again, so the biggest thing right now is to finish these races.

Q. Emerson is known for his sense of humor; albeit, sometimes a strange sense of humor. With this battle between you and he for the Cup, does he say anything to you in gest; to try to put a psyche job on you a little bit?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Oh, yeah, he is always telling me take care of the older guys, which he is a bit older than me, so that he is trying to do the same thing my dad used to do to me, take care of the older guys and so I said, okay, as long as you move out of the way, I will take care of you great.

Q. I asked Paul a while ago the difference between the Mercedes Benz and the Ilmor. Can you put it into words, the difference that you feel in the car at Michigan? I don't know if you have actually driven both of them in Michigan yet, but explain the differences from a driver's standpoint?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, I have driven both of the engines here at Michigan. It pretty much comes down to torque. The Mercedes would bullet out of the corner really well and about halfway down, it kind of flattens out, where the Ilmor just keeps pulling and pulling and pulling and it is a more of a top end type engine and so, you know, those are the main differences, the power band is pretty narrow on the Mercedes's engine and it is a bit wider on the Ilmor, so you know, it definitely has a bit more torque and a bit more horsepower, the Mercedes over the Ilmor, but you know, if we get the cars working right, which is -- it is a great race car, we will be okay here at Michigan.

Q. Which of the two would be faster? Just from what you say, it would automatically be the Mercedes engine?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Yeah, if it was allowed the boost that we were allowed at Indy. Under the rules, we are allowed 55 inches which they have now moved to 52 inches and you know, the Ilmor runs at 45 inches, so it is-- the Mercedes definitely was the stronger of the two.

Q. What speed would you think you can do if you were allowed the Mercedes with the 55 boost?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Pretty much as fast as Roger would let me go. That is pretty much that. It is really hard to say. We had straight-a-way speeds at Indy at 240 plus and you know, it is pretty a flat out racetrack and so you know, it would really be hard to tell, if we really got the cars working we could run somewhere around the 234 mark which we are after.

Q. One of the things that I have noticed it happened a couple of times when you won on a Sunday and on that same Sunday that Rusty Wallace won, your race would be over 30 minutes to an hour before his; yet in victory circle he already knew and congratulated you and the Penske Indy team on working. Is that a signal that there is team unity between Penske South and the Indy Penske team? It is just uncanny.

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, it is kind of surprising. All of Roger's businesses are together as a team, Detroit Diesel; his dealerships in California, everything that he does is based on a team atmosphere and you bet, whenever Rusty does well, we know it right away and whenever we do, Rusty knows it right away.

Q. Is that why Roger is so successful?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Gosh. Roger is so successful because he works hard. He is like the old fashioned way. He works his tail off and you know, that is why Roger is successful because he works hard.

Q. You were referring to dropping the valve in Toronto and you connected that with, you know, the idea of sometimes it is a 50 cent piece. Was it really something like that in this case or was it not a little more of a catastrophe?

AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, it was -- what it actually was a spring failure. The spring in the engine failed and which in turn let the valve drop a little bit low and it ended up shooting it right through the engine and stuff, so it was a low dollar item that, you know, created quite a show or whatever. It went up through the head and so on and there was steam coming out of the engine. So it turned into a pretty expensive break, but I think the biggest expensive break was that we fell out of the race and didn't get the 20 points that we needed.

Q. Thanks.

AL UNSER, Jr.: Thanks everybody for being on the phone with us.

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