Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everybody, to the Indy Racing League's teleconference. Today's teleconference features Al Unser from the Infiniti Pro Series, and later we'll have owner/driver Adrian Fernandez from the IndyCar Series. Al joins us on the call first. Again, Adrian will be on with us in about 15 minutes. Al, thanks for joining us today.
AL UNSER: Thank you so much.
THE MODERATOR: You've been in the news quite a bit lately, the timing of you joining with the Infiniti Pro Series coincided with the retirement of your father. Have things started to return to normal yet for you?
AL UNSER: Yeah, slightly. I mean, we got a bunch of hype, so to speak, on the Pro Series just because my dad was retiring, we were coming into it. I guess I'm the only Unser left in open-wheel racing. It did put a lot of focus on me, focused a bunch of attention to me. We're happy for that. But, yeah, it's starting to return to normal, but it's still only the second race, so there's still a bunch of hype going around.
THE MODERATOR: There's been some talk about having that Unser pressure, as you mentioned, the only Unser left in open-wheel racing. Your father talked a little bit about it during his retirement press conference. He said he's sure you feel some of the pressure, as well. What is the pressure you feel? Have you put some expectations on yourself looking far ahead to qualifying and winning Indianapolis even?
AL UNSER: No. You can't. I do feel the pressure, so I can't take it and ask myself to live up to the pressure, so to speak. I don't ask for any expectations. The only expectations I ask from myself is to bring the car home at the end of the day, make sure it rolls back on the trailer. With that, I think I take a little bit of the pressure off of myself. I don't pay attention to it. Pressure is just kind of how you take it. If you want to take it, "I have to do this because of my family," this and that, it's just not going to work, you're not going to have any fun. I just go out there, go, "Okay, let's have some fun, go race with these boys." Same thing I did in Kansas, and we had a good result.
THE MODERATOR: You first got into the Infiniti Pro Series car in early June in a private test with Sam Schmidt. How did that whole opportunity come about? I know you started with a race out in Long Beach in the Toyota Atlantics. How did that evolve, you getting into the car with Sam Schmidt?
AL UNSER: Basically I'm trying to drive whatever I can that's got open wheels on it. I was in the Atlantics, and we had an opportunity to go test with Sam Schmidt. He gave us a call. I'm not abiding by any boundaries, so to speak. I wanted to dabble in both series this year. We went out there and did the rookie test so we could do a race later in the year. Then Keith Duesenberg came abroad, we started testing right away after that June test, and got me in the race real quick in Kansas.
THE MODERATOR: That was for your debut race kind of a difficult weekend. We had a lot of rain that really washed out almost all of the practice time. How did you go about, once you were at the track, really preparing for that first race with the rain and things like that that came into play?
AL UNSER: Boy, I have to thank Keith Duesenberg and the Western Union Speed Team for that. As soon as we had that first practice session, I had a good car. They put a great setup underneath me. We were able to go out there and run some decent practice times. They got us a little bit on qualifying because the practice ended up being qualifying. A bunch of them got into a draft and passed me, as far as position-wise. But, you know, for the race, I knew we had a good car. We got out there in warm-up. During warm-up, all I really wanted to do was experience drafting in the car. I tried to follow whoever I could. Even if I was faster than that person and could get around them, I was just trying to stay behind him and feel how the car reacted in the other cars' air. Once we felt that, we made some other changes to the car. I had a great race car for the race.
THE MODERATOR: What role did your dad play in preparing before the race? What was your communication with him like before the race?
AL UNSER: You know, before the race, it's just all the same thing: We got to bring the car home at the end of the day. That's really the most important aspect. We don't want to risk damaging equipment because then you finish in the back of the field. If you could go ahead and let the person go, let the risk subside for a few, then you can go ahead and get back after it, and you're going to have a better finishing position than you would if you would have tried to hold that risk and maybe stuck a tire to somebody and ended up in the wall. His attitude, what he was saying to me at the beginning of the race is basically just that. I had a lot of other help there with my grandfather. I know a lot of the whole scene with Johnny Rutherford, a bunch of the other people there, just basically the same thing. You just got to finish the race. They all knew I could race these guys. We just needed to finish, and that was the most important part.
THE MODERATOR: Obviously you did finish. You brought it home in third place in your debut. I know, too, your father and grandfather being at the track, they were able to watch you throughout the race, obviously be very proud of you. Have you had a chance to sit down since the race and kind of analyze it and go through it with either one of them and get some more advice from them based on the result?
AL UNSER: Yeah, I did a little bit after the race with both my father and my grandfather. They didn't give me much more help because we did a pretty good job. But the only thing my dad suggested to me, because I was telling him that I couldn't close up on Paul Dana, I was able to close up on him once, then he shut the door on me, and I wasn't really able to do it again because of his air. My dad just told me that I needed to get closer. If you can get closer, the way the air comes off the car is not as disturbed right after the car than it is a car length after the car or two car lengths after the car. We're trying to talk about that stuff. My grandpa told me I just needed to work on my starts and restarts because we did mess those up. But I was really just getting used to the drivers that are in the series, seeing what they're going to do, seeing how the car reacts to jumping on the throttle. I wasn't sure if I jumped on it right away if it was going to spin the tires at whatever speed we were doing. Think we were starting the restarts in third gear. Wasn't sure how everything was going to react. I had to adapt to it. By our second restart, I got that one and made a couple positions up on that restart.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned you're not sure about spinning the tires. Before the call started, we were talking about Nashville, how that's a different surface with the concrete versus the asphalt. Does any of that strategy, what you've learned at Kansas, does any of that change going to the different surface at Nashville?
AL UNSER: Of course. I mean, your strategy's going to change from racetrack to racetrack, even if they're the same shape and the same surface. But here we got a slightly different shape, a little bit shorter of a track than Kansas. Definitely it's a way different surface. We'll have to find out in practice and so forth how it's going to react there. I did some testing, but I didn't really do testing as far as, you know, how is it going to react to restarting or at the start of the race. The testing I did there was setting up the car. We got a good setup. I'm going into this weekend with some good high hopes. We had a good finish in Kansas, did really well in testing, so I'm ready to get after it again.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for Al.
Q. I've been wondering, the competitive spirit within the Unser family, both on and off the track, and when I say "off the track," I'm even talking about the things like the annual snowmobile race, does that prepare a young guy like you for the battles of professional racing?
AL UNSER: I believe so, you know. I mean, I've been doing that sort of battle since I can remember. Ever since I've grown up we've been on a snowmobile. I mean, every winter we go up there and snowmobile ride. I think it prepares you for the mental aspect of having a competitor and trying to beat that person, so to say. I'm in agree-ance with you. I think it does prepare very well.
Q. When you made the decision to go racing professionally, what kind of conversation did you, your dad and your grandfather have?
AL UNSER: Well, you know, it was kind of, "Are you sure? It's hard work." What my dad used to tell me was if it was easy, everybody would be doing it, and obviously that's not the case for the population, for how many race car drivers there are. It was really just a bunch of my decision, if I really wanted to do it. Then the second question was where to place me. We started at a racing school.
Q. When you watched your dad, your granddad and your uncle throughout their careers, was there something that you saw in what they did that you said, "I'll do what they did, that will make me better, but I won't do what they did because that will make me better"?
AL UNSER: I don't know. I'm not really understanding the question.
Q. Did you sit down and look at the pros and cons of what they did, in other words, some of their strengths and some of the things you said, "Maybe that's the weakness that I can enhance on"?
AL UNSER: Yes, yes, of course. Now I get what you're saying. I definitely did. Looking at my grandpa's races at the Indy 500, he is a very smart man and he knows that the race doesn't matter until that last lap. See who's first at the end of the line. You could tell some of his races, a couple of his wins, especially the one in like '87, is just off strategy. He wasn't necessarily the fastest or led all the laps, but he led that last lap, which is the most important. Looking at some of the negative aspects, I have learned a few things of what not to get myself into, trying to avoid staying out of trouble, so forth.
Q. On and off the track?
AL UNSER: Exactly.
Q. Are you planning on staying with the Infiniti Pro Series through the season or are you going to look at other things, as well, maybe do another Atlantic race? I know your mom was hoping you would do more road racing. What are your plans with regard to that?
AL UNSER: Well, right now we're in contract negotiations with Keith Duesenberg, the Western Union Speed Team. We're looking to see if we're going to do a couple more, try to continue through the rest of the season. Either/or, if we do a couple more or do the rest of the season, I still want to jump into a Toyota Atlantic car, go do some more road racing because I believe the IRL and the Infiniti Pro Series is going to go road racing next year. That's definitely an aspect that I kind of have to prepare for.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Al, for taking time to join us today.
AL UNSER: No worries.
THE MODERATOR: We wish you best of luck in Nashville. We hope you can get that deal worked out with Keith Duesenberg and see you back for some more races after that.
AL UNSER: Thank you. Thanks everybody for calling.
THE MODERATOR: Now let's welcome Adrian Fernandez to the call. Are you with us, Adrian?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yes.
THE MODERATOR: I know we talked with you a couple months ago on the conference call. It was right after your decision to move your time to the Indy Racing League. I know the first couple races were days everyone made the adjustments and learned the new things in the car. It seems like things really came together for you guys during the month of May at Indianapolis. Was all of that practice time really the key to things turning in the right direction?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yes, definitely. That month of May was very important for us to be able to get used to the car and get a better position in the race car, getting used to the engines. Also in Indianapolis was a turning point on the engines. Basically everybody started with a new piece of equipment. That was very important to us. Just spending more time with the car, also learning the competition, learning about the drivers, some of the drivers I haven't competed before, different type of driving, more side-by-side racing, which I was not used to, using the spotter. Also getting used to the load disability on the G Force. Now we have made some modifications. We put mirrors where I can see more, so I feel more in control than before. All those things have helped me feel more comfortable and more competitive in the race car.
THE MODERATOR: That has obviously shown. You have turned in four straight finishes in the top seven. The confidence level has to be really high right now on the team.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: It is. It is pretty high. We have been very consistent, very solid in the last few races. The only thing really we need to do is improve a little more the car to make it a little faster and be where Rahal is. Right now in some of these races, they're the class of the field. We need to do a better job in terms of the car. But hopefully we have some good progress. We're on the process right now. Hopefully in the next few races we'll be able to show that.
THE MODERATOR: What's the main focus of the team right now? Is it just staying consistent and improving bit by bit with some good finishes or are you really pushing hard for that first victory even as early as this weekend in Nashville?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: I think the first victory will come any time soon. I think if we manage to break through this new development we're doing on the car, and it works, I think we'll be able to be in a position to win the race in the next few coming races. I'm confident I can do the job, I'm confident the team can do the job in the pits with the preparation of the car. It will depend on how this progress and the new developments is going to work.
THE MODERATOR: You're driving with the same Honda power obviously that the leaders, at least the Top 3, Tony Kanaan, Buddy Rice, Dan Wheldon. You mentioned you might need some gains, G Force adjustments. Are there some gains you can make with that power to get up there, too?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To be honest, Honda has been the class of the field this year. They developed a very strong engine. The 3.5 liter was very strong in Japan. The 3 liter has been very strong since Indy. Obviously, that's helped us tremendous, having a great engine. The G Force seems to be very good. In some of the tracks, shorter tracks, the Dallara seems to be a little bit better. But there is -- we haven't really developed the G Force ourselves, and that's where we've been lagging behind the Rahal team. They've done a better job in that respect. They deserve the results they've been having. We just have to do a better job so we can get closer to the front than we are right now.
THE MODERATOR: Let's go ahead and open this up for questions for Adrian.
Q. How tough is it for you to balance both driving and owning not only your car but another car? Anything that's sort of taken your attention away there the driving as far as any of the duties you have to perform as an owner?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: At this stage no, because I'm a more relaxed. My partner has done a great job with the team and I don't really have to get involved in a lot of the day-to-day running of the team. Major things we need to discuss, we discuss it, when the time is right. We have very good people on the team. I try to help Kosuke as an driver and owner, to give him the guidance, the apprenticeship he needs to get in his first rookie year. He realizes that being fast is one thing, but you have to have the complete package to get to the end of the races. I think he learned and Simmons learned a lesson last weekend when they had this crash, which I was right behind. That could be completely avoidable. That's part of being a rookie. That's the type of thing that I'm trying to teach. And that takes time. That's just part of it. But it's really not taking me more time, you know, the team right now. I'm enjoying my driving. Tom is doing an excellent job in that respect.
Q. Nashville Superspeedway, it's a little different than what you've seen so far on the Indy Racing League circuit, especially the track surface itself, concrete. Talk about that for a moment.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah, I have heard about that, that the concrete is different. You know, you expect to have a little less grip in that respect. But the same again, you know, Richmond for me has been one of the most different tracks that I have ever competed: high banking, very short, very fast, extremely fast because of the banking and the pavement. I mean, I felt in qualifying we were going way, way too fast through the corners. But then in the race it was totally different. We get used to it. We have very little running there. Once you got used to it, it was better. I have a great race actually there. So I expect the same things even though I've never been in Nashville. My team has been there last year, so there's things that we know we can expect. I will take it like I've been taking it. I like these two-day events, that way you don't have to confuse yourself too much. Hopefully we will have a good start-up. Learning the track these days is not that difficult. Is more about learning where the car is. We just have to adapt to this concrete and the banking, just make sure we learn the lines and all that. It's just another track. We should be very competitive there.
Q. I'm just wondering, since you haven't been in the series very long, you're getting accustomed to the Panos G Force, how difficult it is is not to have the ability to go out and test on a regular basis, go to something like a two-day event like this one and get to the front of the field?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: To be honest, I enjoy the no testing situation. I like it. It used to be very hard on the mechanics and everybody when we used to test a lot. I don't particularly like testing. I like more racing.
Q. You like racing better?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Yeah. So I think the way they have it right now with very limited testing is great. I mean, it doesn't take too long to learn the ovals. It takes a lot more time to learn a road course. Oval, it's a different shape and all that, but after a few laps, you pretty much know where you are. It's just about getting the car set up and all that. I love the two-day events. Is I think more efficient for everybody. You normally don't have many people on Friday anyway. So having two-day event, it's a good economical situation for all of the team, it's also good situation for the drivers. You go there, have two sessions of testing, qualifying, go racing next day. I think that's fantastic. I like it.
Q. It allows you to focus more on getting the job done without too many distractions then?
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Right, yeah. I mean, you can be testing there for a week. But what's the point? The point is the racing. I think that's what, if we can have more two-day events, I think that's where we need to go.
THE MODERATOR: Adrian, thanks again for taking the time to join us this afternoon. We wish you the best coming up at Nashville this weekend and for the rest of the season. We will talk to you soon.
ADRIAN FERNANDEZ: Thank you, my friend.
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