Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League, Rahal Letterman Racing
November 9, 2006
TIM HART: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have a number of guests today set to discuss the driver and sponsor lineup for Rahal Letterman Racing in the IndyCar Series in 2007. Rahal Letterman racing has participated in the IndyCar series full-time since 2003, recording 33 top five finishes and three race victories including the 2004 Indianapolis 500.
We'll talk to the driver and sponsor representatives in a few more minutes. First to make the announcement for 2007 is team co-owner Bobby Rahal. Bobby?
BOBBY RAHAL: Thank you, Tim. I'd like to say hello and welcome to everybody, and thanks for calling in and being part of this announcement today. Obviously we're very honored to announce our lineup, our two-car lineup for 2007. A little bit of a change for us going back to two cars, but we think it's the right move for us, and we're looking forward to that.
The first entry that I'm very pleased to announce, especially the driver, this almost came to pass about ten years ago, I think, but our #8 car will be driven by Scott Sharp this year and sponsored by Patrón Spirits.
Of course Scott, it's hard to believe, he's pretty young, but it's hard to believe he's a veteran driver, nine-time winner in IndyCar Series. I think we've already seen the kind of leadership that he can bring to our team in the test that was done in Iowa, and we're very excited. The buzz in the race shop is great after that, and we're very, very pleased to have Scott join us.
Of course Patrón Spirits Company has established itself as the premium brand of tequila, and having tasted it, I've been impressed with their attention to detail and dedication in establishing this program. We are anxious and excited to be working with the Patrón Spirits people over the course of this year, ensuring that they achieve their marketing objectives.
Our second entry, the #17 Team Ethanol car will again be driven by Jeff Simmons. Jeff really I thought came on very well towards the end of the year. Obviously he had a rough start with us, but it was a difficult -- some difficult shoes to fill, and he came in and really, as I say, with each race just gained more and more confidence. I think Chicago in particular, the last race of the year, I was very impressed with the job he did there. So we're pleased to have Jeff back.
Obviously he's young and doesn't have quite as much experience as Scott, but I think the two of them are really going to work well together as a team and really produce the kind of results that we're working hard to create.
Then of course with Jeff, how fortunate we were and are to have the relationship with Epic and the ethanol industry for this last year. The commitment to our team and to the sport is obvious and well-known, and it's just getting stronger and stronger, and we're very proud and pleased to have them back with us and of course continue to believe very strongly in the whole program of what ethanol means for not just racing but to this country and its fuel dependencies.
Certainly the tests so far on the 100 percent ethanol have gone very, very well, and so I think, once again, it's just going to prove that this is not going to have -- any of the myths that were associated with the lack of performance pretty much were shattered during this testing, during these last few tests that the IRL has put on. So we're real pleased.
I guess in the end, and I don't want to take up all the time, but in the end we feel very fortunate to be working with two world-class partners in ethanol and in Patrón Spirits. There is no question that they're giving us a foundation for success for this season and beyond.
We've made a lot of changes internally at Rahal Letterman to ensure our success for this coming year, and I think having both Scott and Jeff leading the charge for us, while it's never easy, I think we're going to have a much more successful year in 2007 than we have the last several.
I guess with that I'll turn it back over to Tim.
TIM HART: I should say congratulations to you on this very exciting announcement.
We'd like to first introduce the IndyCar Series driver Scott Sharp and Patrón Spirits president Ed Brown, and then a few minutes later in the call we'll also talk to Jeff Simmons and Tom Slunecka.
Scott, Ed, congratulations and good afternoon to you. Scott, of course Bobby alluded to this, you're kind of the ironman of the IndyCar Series, one of the original competitors back in 1996, and shared that inaugural Series Championship. Overall, 129 career starts, including the last 121 consecutive races, and as he mentioned also nine career victories and also 72 Top Ten finishes.
Scott, tell us a little bit about your partnership with Patrón. I know if I understand correctly that actually came about last year, and now your new relationship with Rahal Letterman.
SCOTT SHARP: I couldn't be any more excited right now, Tim. First off, just the last year to see a relationship that started off as a small sort of beginning entry level for Patrón to get a taste of IndyCar last year and for me, the relationship that grew throughout last season, it's just a dynamic organization, just growing by leaps and bounds. Everything that they do is at the highest level. I'm just really proud and excited to represent that.
It's been great. Every person that's come from Patrón to the track starts off at the top with Ed, and his people have just been tremendous to work with, and I'm so fortunate to have this opportunity with those guys. I think we're going to have a lot of fun both on and off the track together. And I enjoy the product, so that's always good, too.
Don't worry, Bobby, that will be away from the racetrack.
And then about ten years ago I was just coming out of Trans Am, and we had some pretty serious conversations about possibly driving for Bobby at the time when he was the factory team with Honda, and that didn't end up panning out there.
I'm not saying this because he's on the phone at all, he's always been one of the guys that I aspired to growing up. Obviously his record speaks for itself what he did in the car, but you always knew that he was just a different kind of driver beyond that. He really seemed to control his career, eventually winning a team ownership, had a very successful team, and at the same time, simultaneously built a tremendous business.
So sort of growing up in a real entrepreneurial racing family, that was someone I always aspired to. Back ten years ago to start to have some of those discussions and the chance to maybe work with somebody like Bobby was very exciting, and we've kept the good relationship up over the years.
I think as this opportunity rolled around, a big thing for me, I think that really got me excited was Bobby's commitment level, when he just said, hey, this is a team -- and certainly I think as I've gotten to know them, this is a team that has for the last decade run at the front -- or even longer than a decade, run at the front of open-wheel racing. They've won races with six or seven different drivers, they've won it with different chassis, different engines and even different series. This is a team that's used to running at the front.
What Bobby said about the guys at Patrón, I'm 100 percent committed. We will get this team back to the front, and you sensed his hunger, and as I've gotten to know the guys on the team, you sense their hunger, and that's exciting for a driver. They're as hungry as I am after coming off the kind of season we did in '06 and really wanting to do more and get the race wins. It's wonderful to be associated with a team that has that same hunger.
TIM HART: Ed, IndyCar Series was glad to welcome you last year when you partnered with Scott. Tell us about that relationship from your perspective and why you're proud to participate in the IndyCar Series.
ED BROWN: We've been kind of messing around with racing the last few years. We looked at NASCAR a couple years ago and really probably realized that wasn't the consumer we were going after. So when Scott and I met -- I'm basically a speed freak myself, so I was kind of really wanting to get into racing and start to expose the brand to the consumer that way.
But we're just thrilled to be involved with really what I think is the best of the best; with Rahal and Letterman and Scott driving the car, I think we've put ourselves in a position to be very competitive this year, and not only in racing but I think that we're going to offer the fans and the consumers a whole different way to go about it at the racetrack when you see our whole plan for '07 and in the future.
Like I said, I told Scott and Bobby about a month ago that the only reason that we really want to get involved is that we only do things the best that we can do, and I wanted to put ourselves in a position to win, and that's what we're about.
Our commitment level is to be able to put the team in a position to be very competitive in the future, and we're really thrilled to be a part of it.
TIM HART: We're all looking forward to seeing what comes together for 2007.
Let's go ahead and open it up for some questions for Bobby, Scott and Ed.
Q. This is for Bobby. Bobby, was there a requirement that your two drivers be college graduates from Connecticut, or what was the deal there?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think being a college graduate is a plus as a driver. We certainly probably have the two smartest guys out there. But no, that wasn't a prerequisite. I mean, as I say, I do think it's a plus.
What I like about both of them, they're very professional, very business-like, they obviously can drive the cars very well. I can't overstate I think the value of leadership that comes with these two guys for this team. You know, I can only do so much.
I think the drivers can really motivate and lead a team. I mean, I think I always did it as a driver, and I think the drivers really play a role that goes way beyond just driving the car, and I think with Scott and Jeff, we've got two guys now that can provide that leadership
I'm real pleased. I think there's a lot there -- there's a big buzz going through this place with these two guys coming on and Jay O'Connell coming in to run our technical department. I feel good things in our future.
Q. Bobby, change happens for one reason or another. Obviously Danica didn't choose to reup without Buddy. Did you feel like your team needed sort of a change or whatever you want to call it? Did you sense that at the end of the year?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think it was somehow said or it was somehow voiced that I had lost interest. That's about the farthest thing from the truth, and I think what we needed is we needed -- Scott Remke's back being healthy, which he's been the last six months thankfully, but we've got two great sponsors here where we have real partners. I think that and bringing these two young guys in that are real leaders, it just starts to all add up.
I don't want to say anything about what happened in the past, but I don't think there's any question that we have the ingredients both internally, the changes we've made, and many of them are not necessarily obvious, but we've made a lot of changes internally and brought some new people in with new views, new perspectives, and I think that all those things are going to contribute to taking us back up to the top where we belong.
Q. Scott, one quickie: Were you and Patrón a partner or did you go looking for this, or how did you hook up with Bobby in this situation?
SCOTT SHARP: Basically, Ed and I and a few members of Patrón, we all discussed our aspirations and our goals, and I think we've pretty much talked about all those things. We want to do the best we possibly can do. We want to win races. Where do we want to go and what's the best way to achieve that. Certainly I think it gets back to just the type of organization that Rahal Letterman has been and what their goals are, and I think those goals align quite well with ours.
Q. Thank you for coming on today, and congratulations to everybody. This is to Bobby and Scott: How long did this whole courtship take place? Did this happen after Buddy's announcement or has it been going on for some time? What's been the timeline here?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think to be honest with you, I can't remember precisely. It wasn't that long a courtship. I think we met with Scott, and as I say, we went a fair way down this road before. Just the timing was right, we met, we talked, we came very comfortable with what each of us wanted to do. I mean, Scott made it very clear to me that he wanted to win.
I think I made the same thing clear to him. I don't think as a result there was a long courtship. What was going on with Buddy and everything else, of course that was sponsor-related. Ultimately that sponsor decided to go somewhere else, and so unfortunately we were not able to continue.
Scott would have been here no matter what anyway. As I say, I think we sat down and discussed and really felt like we were in sync as to what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go.
Q. Scott, did you consider any other teams, or was this your first choice?
SCOTT SHARP: Certainly. I mean, like I said, I spent a lot of time consulting with Ed and looked at a lot of different options. For a while there we even looked at the potential of maybe trying to do my own team.
But really, it's all about performance now. I didn't want to like try to build a new team from scratch and deal with the growing pains like that. I don't think Ed from a Patrón perspective did, either. Certainly he can jump in here with his opinion.
But we all want to succeed and we want to succeed now, and I think the overall turn here, we just aligned perfectly for everybody.
Q. Scott, last year in this moving around, I think one of the first times I ever heard you use the expression "old" in regards to yourself, and you seem to be feeling as though you're running out of time to accomplish some of the things that you'd like to do before you get out of the driver's seat. What makes you think that you're going to be able to do that with Rahal Letterman?
SCOTT SHARP: I don't ever recall saying "old" to you. I don't use those words (laughter).
Well, let's be honest and frank about it. When the close of the season came in '06, there was the top two teams and everybody else trying to chase them and trying to do the best moves in the off-season to get themselves on an equal level with those two teams.
I think when you look at that, it starts with a lot of things we've been talking about here today. It starts with the desire and that commitment level and that leadership level, and then from there all the necessary things that need to be done from that. Once that's established and that's set and that's made, this is what we're going to do, the other things are almost like dominos and they start to fall into place.
I think Bobby and I were pretty quickly on the same page there, naturally what came next, and you start talking about the technical side of the package and you start talking about what we need to do to make the right moves to advance up the field a little bit more and what areas can everybody, including myself -- everyone -- you have to look in such a competitive environment like this, you've got to look at what are all the potential things we can do to make ourselves better.
And I think certainly Bobby was quite willing to do whatever it takes, and I think I feel like I'm willing to do whatever it takes, and I think Jeff -- I don't want to speak for him, but he's real hungry and I'm sure he'll do whatever it takes. I think it's that kind of attitude is what's going to move everything forward.
Q. Even though I found my voice thing with you stating what we talked about earlier, I won't replay it for everybody else.
Mr. Rahal, Daytona looms as being a place where the IndyCars will find themselves some day, and hopefully we'll see that happen hopefully come the first of 2007. What are your thoughts on Daytona?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, the circuit -- I was not there for the test. I mean, of course, we just talk about Daytona itself, it's obviously a tremendous facility, France family, it just gets better and better. I was there last year with Graham at The 24-hour, and it's certainly changed a lot since I was there racing in 1981.
But not being there for the test, I know the circuit was different. You know, I think that the challenge for anything will be -- the cars will put a great race on, I have no doubt of that, if they were to have one there. Bringing IndyCar racing to the south like that, the big challenge will be filling the seats.
But why not? I think we want to be in the best circuits in this series that we can be at, and certainly Daytona is one of those. It should make for -- I think it would make for a very exciting, very interesting race.
Q. Bobby, you sound rejuvenated.
BOBBY RAHAL: I am excited. We're very fortunate to have ethanol and Patrón Spirits. I can't overstate that. I guess what got me excited was after the Iowa test, the kind of job that Scott did with the team there, I mean, everybody, all the guys, the engineers, everybody came back just -- they were off the ground a bit. I mean, they were walking on air. That always gets you going.
Bringing Jay O'Connell into the team was big for us. There's no question in my mind.
As I say, all the changes that we've put forth this year -- you know, none of us, me in particular, liked the results from 2006. We had a tragedy to begin with. We changed cars -- I mean, we asked a lot of this team, and I don't think many of them could have managed it.
But in the end, with the exception of two teams, we were right in the middle of it. Now we've got to make sure that we join those two teams at the front.
All the things that we've done in this off-season so far, and it's pretty new as an off-season, it just ended, they're just giving me nothing but a lot of enthusiasm to look forward to the coming year. So yeah, I'm very enthused and I thank Scott and Jeff and ethanol and Patrón and Jay and Scott Remke, all the people for that feeling.
Q. Question for Scott: Do you look at this as one of the best chances that you've had and maybe the last best chance that you will have at accomplishing the goals that you want?
SCOTT SHARP: Certainly I think of it as one of my best chances for sure. I think success will determine whether that's -- I'm hoping it's not my last chance. Hopefully I'm staying with this whole situation with Bobby and Patrón for many years and we get to keep trying at it.
But as far as the opportunity, I certainly think that -- once again, going back to just the history of the organization and the consistency of the performance, yeah, I think one of the times I was pushing Bobby pretty hard when we were talking about putting this together, and he goes, "Man, you've got to remember that two years ago we won the Indy 500, a year after that we finished second and fourth," and that's just so true.
That's one place that this team has consistently done very well at, and I think that statement in itself, we all can become so short-sighted in our thinking, and I hate to keep bringing up the same words here, but that level of commitment and the performance that's gone on for so many years, I'm very excited about the potential of this team. And I think a lot of that also -- Jeff and I can really maximize our abilities to work together. That's got to take us up even a whole other level, and I think the potential is huge here for us.
Q. Is this going to be the young teaching the old and the old teaching the young situation with you and Jeff?
SCOTT SHARP: Hopefully just everything is on the table, and I think that's certainly the way the team operates is everything is open to everybody, and I think to be successful you have to be that way, so I fully expect it to be that way.
I think it's just going to be -- obviously maybe the fact that Jeff and I are both from Connecticut, even though we have that sort of reserved Connecticut attitude, we'll understand each other and there won't be any problems.
I just think certainly he'll have a different style from me and I'll have a different style from him, and if we're both pushing hard and we together can get the team pushing hard, it's just going to help to provide better communication and feedback and help push us to new heights.
Q. A question to Ed if I may. I know in marketing it's as big as race as it is on the racetrack. I'm sure you're not going to show us your entire hand, but can we see your up cards on what you're looking at for 2007 promotions?
ED BROWN: When it comes to IRL, listen, we want to make it a total experience for not only the customers but the consumers. One of the things we're going to do is have actually a Club Patrón at every race where we'll unload like a nightclub at each race so that our customers and our consumers can really enjoy it.
Of course the more successful the team is, the better that is for Patrón tequila. I think we'll tweak things by each race and we'll learn from it. This will be really our first full year where we're really involved. So it'll take us a little time to really figure out what's going to be the best thing for the consumers and for the audience.
TIM HART: I want to bring in Jeff Simmons and Tom Slunecka. They've been kind enough to hold for a few minutes while we've had some questions and want to get to them.
Jeff, good afternoon to you. Obviously you worked long and hard to get an opportunity in the IndyCar Series last year. Jeff competed two full seasons and two partial seasons in the Indy Pro Series, recording seven victories. He joined the Rahal Letterman Team at Motegi last year and finished the season with six Top Ten finishes in the last seven races.
Jeff, things really started coming together for you in the second half of the season. Can you tell us just about the opportunity to come back now for a second season with Rahal Letterman and ethanol?
JEFF SIMMONS: Yeah, thanks very much, Tim, and hello to everybody. Let me start off with letting Scott know one piece of advice coming into the team here that Bobby doesn't mind if you stay out late, have your Patrón and have a good time, but it better work. If it works, there won't be any problems there.
Obviously it's great to be back. I'm proud and honored to be associated with Rahal Letterman Racing and ethanol again, and obviously last year it came under difficult circumstances, but everybody around has been extremely supportive, both on the team, sponsor side, and I'm just looking -- really looking forward to having the off-season this year to learn more about ethanol. It's something that I've become very passionate about and excited to learn about.
I've always kind of been into science and that sort of thing, and it's been great to travel around and learn more about it now that I've had some time to do that and read up on it.
It's funny, I get some stuff I think from just about everybody. I get stuff from my parents and from friends and from people that I've never seen, never talked to, probably never will, from their small town newspapers or wherever it's from, I get information on ethanol, and it's been exciting to learn about.
This off-season hopefully we're going to get a chance to do some testing, as well, which is one thing I didn't have the opportunity to do last year, so I'm really looking forward to that and kind of building the team chemistry before we get into the season instead of trying to do it in the middle of the heat of the competition.
It's great to have Scott on board. I'm excited to get to work with him, and we haven't had a lot of chances to talk yet but I was at the Iowa test and he did a fantastic job there, and I'm there listening on the radio and picking up things already from him. It can only help. A guy with his experience, his ability to win races, it's going to be a great thing for me and certainly I think for the whole team, and we're all very excited.
Everybody has already touched on how excited everybody sounds around here, how happy everybody is, and that's just the way it is. We're really focused on being race winning and hopefully championship winning team this year.
TIM HART: Tom, welcome to the call. Thanks for hanging with us for a little while here. 2007 should be a banner year for ethanol and the IndyCar Series turning to 100 percent fuel grade ethanol to power its Honda engines. Talk with the partnership between the ethanol industry, Jeff and Rahal Letterman and then tell us about some of the new things ahead.
TOM SLUNECKA: I'll tell you what, it has been an amazing last 12 months. Our involvement with Rahal Letterman and the Indy Racing League. This partnership, the IRL's commitment to proving that they can have a high performance platform that's environmentally friendly and good for this economy has taken ethanol to all new heights.
Consumers all around the country and even around the globe are now saying, look, if they can run it in the highest performance vehicles in the racing series today, we certainly can fuel up and make our way to church and to school and to work every day.
We are hearing that sound byte back every single day on our web communications and all of our marketing tools that are out there.
The E on the side of that car is starting to represent far more than just a simple brand for a commodity product. It really is a movement that has been strengthening for the last 12 or 14 months, letting consumers know that the performance in that IndyCar, the performance that Jeff shows can be done on every weekend can be purchased locally at their gas station.
So some of the things that are new and occurring across the country is that E label is making its way across the United States and you'll soon find it at many, many gas stations across the country. We're going state by state, so that E is there, and every time they see that E they think of that race car and they think of the performance and the environmental aspect.
We're also proud today to announce that the fuel will actually be provided by one of our members in particular. Of course all of our member plants are producing the same high quality product, but Renova Energy will actually be fueling the IndyCar Series with product coming out of their plant out of Torrington, Wyoming. They've proven over the last few months to be able to lead in the technology arena and be able to be a strong technical partner in making sure that this fuel supply is safe and fast.
We couldn't be happier about being back with Rahal Letterman this year and Jeff Simmons as our driver. Jeff has proven that not only is he a good driver but he is a good study, and every time we go and speak, he impresses me more and more on his ability to speak about ethanol, and we're proud to be associated with the team and with Jeff and with the Indy Racing League as a whole.
TIM HART: Let's go back to question and answer session, and for Jeff, Tom, Scott, Ed and Bobby.
Q. Scott, this has been a pretty difficult sponsorship environment, but we're going on near ten years now where you've always had pretty substantial backing. What are you doing different that maybe some other people could learn?
SCOTT SHARP: I don't know about that. I've just been really fortunate. I certainly had a great one with Delphi for quite a while and I really owe them many thanks. It was, I think, a great partnership there.
It was really exciting this year to bring on a new company into IndyCar racing with Patrón and let them get a feel for it. At the early stages you don't really know where it's going to go. You don't know if this is just a one-shot year and they might not be fond of it or whether it's something that they're really going to sink their teeth into.
I think after Indianapolis they really saw the type of consumer that is in IndyCar meets up really well with the type of products that they sell. I think that excites me. Certainly I enjoy that end of the business for sure, but I think most of it is just I've been very fortunate and lucky to get myself aligned with some really great people.
I enjoy that end of it and feel that the reason we're in business is to help companies sell their products, and I think when you're looking at it that way, I think maybe you make some moves that are a little different than if you're just out there not thinking about the marketability of the products.
Q. Jeff, you're coming into your first full year as an IndyCar driver. What are you looking forward to as goals? Have you set any for next year? What's your plan of attack for 2007?
JEFF SIMMONS: Well, the first ones are maybe the goals I didn't accomplish from last year, and that was I wanted to win a race. Scott is not in this, I'm not in this, Bobby Rahal isn't in this, to run around even Top Tens. We were fairly happy in the second half of the year when we were getting consistent Top Tens because that was even a struggle in the first half of the year.
I'm there to win races and obviously to be a good spokesman for ethanol, and that's something that this off-season is going to allow me to do, develop more, and hopefully be a better spokesman when it comes time for 2007 when we're going to 100 percent ethanol. That's a big deal.
Tom Slunecka mentioned that everybody is going to associate the E with performance. It's not going to be just because of my performance, it's going to be because of all the cars out there, as well.
But for me, I want to win races and take care of the equipment better than I did this past season. Those are some of my main goals.
Q. This question is for you, Ed. Can you talk a little bit -- obviously this off-season, the hot button has been how many cars will be in the field next year and it's looking at anywhere from 14 to 17 full-time rides. Why does a sponsor like yourself choose a driver?
ED BROWN: Well, my relationship with Scott last year really started to grow. I mean, first of all, he's a great human being, and in my opinion I truly believe that he is a great driver.
I think the key with us is that really early on Scott and I started to work as a team, and I think we were listening to each other. Scott made the comment to me that I learned about racing really quickly.
So I just think that because we've worked so well together in making some decisions on where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do and how we could be different from everybody else, it was just a really easy decision to go with Scott and go with Rahal Letterman because I think it's going to just present the best exposure for our company and give us the best chance to be winners, and that's what it's all about.
Q. As a follow-up to that, you talked a little bit about what your target market will be within the IRL community.
ED BROWN: That's the unique thing about Patrón is there's probably never been a brand in the beverage alcohol business that crosses all the demographics. When people ask us what is our target, it's really about every single human being on the planet. I know that's kind of strange, but this brand crosses over to everybody.
You know, I think everybody knows that the IRL consumer is a higher income, established consumer, and that fits in with one of our strategies with Patrón.
You know, we have many, many strategies when we're targeting people, but IRL is definitely right at the top of where we want to be.
TIM HART: Looks like we've taken up all our questions. Scott, Bobby, Ed, Jeff, Tom, thank you all for taking the time to join us today, and congratulations again on an exciting announcement for 2007. We certainly look forward to seeing you guys all at the racetrack very soon
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