Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League, Rahal Letterman Racing
TOM BLATTLER: Thanks very much. This is Tom Blattler with the Rahal Letterman team. Obviously we're all in Indianapolis today for an important media conference we had this morning at the speedway. Today Rahal Letterman Racing announced its expansion of its Indy Racing League, IndyCar Series program, including with its two leading partners, Argent Mortgage Company and Pioneer Electronics USA. After its successful 2004 season with Rahal Letterman's Buddy Rice, the Argent Pioneer Honda program has expanded also to rising open-wheel star Danica Patrick. Buddy Rice, in addition, has signed a multi-year contract extension with Rahal Letterman, and he will drive the No. 15 Argent Mortgage Pioneer Electronics G Force Honda next season. In addition, the 22-year-old Patrick, who has competed the last two years on the Toyota Atlantic Championship Series, where she finished third last year, will drive the No. 16 Argent Mortgage Pioneer Electronics G Force Honda the entire IRL schedule for 2005. In addition, Rahal Letterman announced today that Vitor Meira, who drove in 14 races for the team last year and finished eighth in the championship, has also signed a multi-year deal with Rahal Letterman Racing. The sponsorship details on Vitor's car, while finalized, will not be announced today. They will be announced at a later date. Today we have all three of our drivers and our principal car owner Bobby Rahal with us. I'd like to go to Tom Savage and we can have all four of our participants explain how things went today with the press conference, then we'll open it up for questions.
TOM SAVAGE: Thank you, Tom. All four of you, thank you very much for joining us today. Bobby, you made mention of it quickly in the press conference today, but a multi-car team, obviously that system worked last year in the IndyCar Series. You must be excited having the three cars join the league next year.
BOBBY RAHAL: I am. I think we proved to ourselves that we were capable of running three cars. Certainly the month of May I think was a reflection of that. Certainly we appreciated even more the fact that multiple car teams, whether it's two- or three-car teams, are a definite advantage over a one-car team, which we were the first two years of our IRL experience. So I think it just made sense for us to expand. Obviously we wanted to keep Buddy and Vitor, and of course Danica has been preparing for this time over the last two years in the Toyota Atlantic Series. It just seemed to make a lot of sense. I'm looking forward to it. I think we can have a very successful year in 2005.
TOM SAVAGE: Vitor, we talked about this today at the press conference. A year ago right now, we weren't sure what your future was holding. At Miami and Phoenix, you were driving the IndyCar two-seater. Congratulations on a multi-year contract. Give us your thoughts about today's announcement.
VITOR MEIRA: Thank you, Tom. As you said, a year ago I was bugging Mr. Roembke and Mr. Rahal for a ride. Today it happened. So I just have to thank those guys and thank Honda and all the supporters that joined 2004 with me. I'm really looking forward for 2005 with Buddy, which is the Indy 500 champion. Again, with Danica, which is going to be a major help for our team. Being a three-car team, it's going to be an awesome -- I hope it's as awesome as of a year, 2005, for us.
TOM SAVAGE: Danica, we certainly would like to welcome you to the IndyCar Series. This is a great opportunity with a great team. Can you give us your thoughts on today's announcement?
DANICA PATRICK: It's something I've been preparing for for my whole life pretty much - over half of it anyway, 13 years. My dad was just saying, he's here with me, he was saying it kind of seems like a dream. I said, it is, it is a dream. I think it's difficult to see when it's you and you see yourself every day and you're trying hard every single day. It's like, hmm, it has taken 13 years. I'm just excited we have the proper funding from Argent and Pioneer and Honda that we can get the job done the right way and have the cars prepared completely perfect.
TOM SAVAGE: Buddy, great to have you back in Indianapolis, at the speedway. You've been asked this quite a bit on the teleconference back in June. Now you've had an entire season to reflect on things since May, has your life changed? How has it changed? Certainly to repeat in Indianapolis next year with a three-car team, you've got to be looking forward to next May.
BUDDY RICE: I'm definitely looking forward to next May and all the '05 season. I think for us to add a third car, to see what it's done for our team both at Japan, at Indy, it kept everything rolling for the rest of the season for both Vitor and myself, I think this is a huge plus. It will make us that much stronger so we can take on the big teams, just shows how competitive this series is, what it's taking right now to run up front. I mean, with the way my life has changed, obviously a lot of the obvious has happened: lots more media, interviews, things like that. But I think that's still to be decided exactly on how it's going to change and how it's going to constantly keep evolving. We'll see how that goes. But I'm definitely looking forward to all three of us running strong. With Rahal Letterman, in what they've been able to accomplish in such a short time last year, now we have a solid game plan, we have three drivers, we have the proper sponsorship with Argent, Pioneer, Honda and G Force, we have a solid direction on what we're looking for and what we want to do this season. It will be a strong '05 season for Rahal Letterman.
TOM SAVAGE: We'll go ahead and open it up for questions.
Q. Bobby, regarding Danica, you have been very high on her for a very long time. It's been no secret for a number of years that you have been looking for this kind of a moment. What was it that you saw in her that really piqued your curiosity and made you say to yourself, "I want to work with her, I want her someday to drive an IndyCar for me"?
BOBBY RAHAL: What made me I guess open my eyes to Danica was, frankly, I had read about her years ago in karting magazines about her success. Kind of lost track of her. Then when I was at Jaguar and the Formula 1 team met up with her again. That previous fall she finished second in the Formula Ford Festival, which is a huge accomplishment, the highest an American driver has ever finished. I think the next closest was Danny Sullivan, who was fourth. Of course, just the fact that she was over in England at a very young age racing in that environment, I don't think there's any tougher environment in the world than English Formula Ford, especially during the days she was there, where every young person around the world who wants to make it to Formula 1 goes there. They race against each other 20, 30 times a year over a summer. It's just a hugely intense, competitive environment. Just the fact that she was there, let along the fact she did so well, really spoke volumes to me about her dedication, her hunger, and desire to succeed. Just the fact that she'd be in England at that age, that's a long way from home. That said something to me about her -- the strength of her conviction. I don't know. I just felt maybe, as I was saying today to someone, maybe Jim Trueman was my mentor, maybe I felt like here is a person who is really trying to do something special, why not try to help her? Thankfully when she came back to the States, I did as well, thankfully Argent Mortgage stepped up, as did Norwalk Furniture, they gave us the ability to enter in the Atlantic Series over the last two years. She's done a great job in that series. While we didn't win a race, we were awfully close on a number of occasions. I certainly don't lay that at her feet necessarily. I think some of the people we were racing against were extremely experienced and already champions in that category. All in all I thought she did an extremely good job. I just felt, as I say, in the beginning I felt she deserved the chance. So far she's taken advantage of it.
Q. We have a Christmas show coming up. Your thoughts on what type of Christmas your family has.
BOBBY RAHAL: As your children get older, they tend to all want to go something different. I'm looking forward to this Christmas. It's been a year of -- last few years have been one of upheaval for my family, yet I look forward to these holidays with my family. I don't know. I just -- I'm awfully thankful for the life I've had, what we've got. I look forward, as I say, to the next two or three weeks. I look forward to a great 2005.
Q. Danica, please don't take this remark wrong, but a lot of women have tried to make it in IndyCars with little success. What makes you different?
DANICA PATRICK: Has there really been a lot of women, though? You know, I mean, there are a lot of guys that try and make it, too. There's so much fewer women that come through and are trying to make it, ratio-wise, if you find one in a hundred good guys, that's possible, or one in 50. For women, to have 50 women try and do it, it takes a long time. I don't really think that it's necessarily that there have been a lot, and they all haven't succeeded. I think they've all had their own successes themselves. Everybody deserves the respect to get to this level because, let's face it, this is the top level of racing, and it takes some talent just to get here. But I'm prepared for the year. Bobby has taken it steady and taken it the right way with me in doing one year at a time, making sure I'm ready to move on so that when the time does come, come March, I'll be ready, and I'll be experienced and able to perform at my best. So I have to thank him for doing that and not trying to rush the program.
Q. Is that the secret to success for any racer, the fact that sometimes they jump too quickly, but if you have a mentor like Bobby Rahal, one step at a time, you don't get in over your head?
DANICA PATRICK: I think it's important to have somebody that has a vision and that is smart enough to know when to say when and when to say go ahead. It's incredibly confidence-boosting when somebody like Bobby Rahal says something and believes in you to the extent that he does.
TOM SAVAGE: Danica Patrick will be the third female to compete in the Indy Racing League. If she qualifies in May, she'll be the fourth woman to qualify for that race.
Q. Bobby Rahal, what stands out more today on this announcement, the fact that you're getting three solid cars in the IRL for the first time or you're putting a female, a woman, Danica, in a ride that many people are going to consider probably the best ride any female has had at Indianapolis or in the Indy Racing League?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think it's just a fact that we're going to have three competitive efforts I believe in 2005. I wouldn't do this -- I wouldn't have Danica in the position she's in if I didn't think she was capable of being competitive over time. I don't expect her to be immediately competitive at the first race, but certainly come Indy, I expect us to be competitive. We've got three great cars. You're right, I think the third set was a plum seat. When you've got Buddy and Vitor there, who have done a tremendous job for us, along with the engineers and the crew back at Rahal Letterman, I guess it's a pretty nice deal, that third seat. It's going to certainly work to her advantage to a degree, but at the same token ultimately she's got to stand on the gas. That's going to come down to her. But I'm confident. Our testing has been quite positive so far, and I'm confident that the three of them will work together as closely as Roger, Vitor and Buddy did last year. The end result will be that all three will be extremely competitive.
Q. All three of these folks are getting a hell of a shot. For Buddy, put yourself in his shoes right now. A year ago, he was only sort of on the outside looking in as far as a full-time ride goes. What do you see different about him now than a year ago when you signed him pretty much as Kenny's fill-in? Do you see anything different about him. Is the hunger more than you thought he would be?
BOBBY RAHAL: He's richer, I know that (laughter). All kidding aside, I think Buddy was always a confident guy. But I think as the year went on, his confidence level went up. I think his knowledge of what he wanted in the car went up. He had a very good sense of what he needed. When we got off track, we got back on track quickly. I think he understood exactly what he wanted in the car. I think that had to have been a big change from one year to the next. Of course, you win races and you win the Indy 500. I'm not going to say you feel comfortable about where you are, but you've kind of climbed the mountain. Since you've done it once, you want to go do it again. I just see the confidence level and the awareness level and knowledge level is probably greater now than it was a year ago.
Q. Buddy, you personally -- what is it like sitting here now with an extended contract, multi-year contract, as opposed to this time a year ago? I'm just wondering, what kind of burden does that lift off your shoulders? What kind of burden does it put on at the same time?
BUDDY RICE: I think the biggest thing, it now allows me to focus on what I have to do for next year and what we're going to do from the start of the season and come up with a game plan. Everything happened fairly late. When Bob made the decision to switch to G Force chassis, I had to learn that as well as the team did. I also had to learn how to deal with the Honda and the engineers and everybody. It was a pretty steep learning curve just to do it. But I think with all the knowledge and experience that they have on the team, it helped make that curve happen quite a bit faster and it allowed us all to gel quite quickly. I think that now going into the season, I've been able to sit back, talk with the team, talk with the engineers, and we got a game plan. We know what we're looking to do. We know what we want to do. We have a schedule. I think that's the biggest thing. I don't think I'm going to have any more pressure, there's not any more of a burden put on me because I think it's how you handle it and what pressure you put on yourself. I'm not going to change my approach to driving. I'm not going to change my approach to anything I've done. I've learned more throughout the year than obviously I have in the past couple years. I take a lot of that with me. The experience, I think that's what going to be huge for this year. Going into pre-season testing, we already have a year of the G Force under our belt with Honda, I think we're going to be able to expand on that and do our own program and make sure we keep marching forward with Rahal Letterman and all three drivers.
Q. Danica, is this moment right now, you guys kind of put this together over the last couple months, is this a nervous moment of kind of like jumping into a new situation? Is it a feeling now you kind of have to stand and deliver? What is going on in your brain right now?
DANICA PATRICK: It's always a stand and deliver every race you go to, every day, because there's always somebody bigger, better, faster, stronger that's trying hard.. you've got to try to stay ahead of that. You just take it in stride. I'm ready for the year. It's not something that we've really put together in a couple months. It's something I've been putting together since I was starting off in go-karts and something that I've been developing with Rahal Letterman for now coming up on the third year. It's not brand-new. It was kind of a sketchy plan that we came up with a couple years ago. Bobby put his name on that piece of paper, which I thank him greatly for, because without him and without Argent and Norwalk and Atlantic and now Argent, Pioneer, Honda and IRL, nobody would be here. There's a lot of drivers who are good and don't have teams and don't have sponsors. There's a lot of drivers who are good and don't have teams at all. I'm just fortunate and am going to take advantage of it in every way possible.
Q. Vitor, you personally -- were you getting a lot of phone calls from other teams? How much did you want to stay with Rahal Letterman? Exactly what was going on with you the last several months?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, I did have offers and everything, but when I was without a ride, which happened to Buddy, too, nobody gave me a chance. But they did. We got along really well. I had one of my best years in IRL here with Rahal Letterman Racing. More than everything, I'm grateful for that. Plus I think they were the best-performing team, having considered everything that happened last year in the late start this year, as Buddy mentioned. I think there was no-brainer choice. At least, I mean, it's -- more than anything, I'm grateful for the chance they gave me when I had nothing. This is going to be always huge, not only on my opinion, but in my life. That's the major factor. After that comes Honda and all the sponsors and all the great people we have on the team. That just made it easier.
Q. Bobby, it sounds like Kenny just told you that he doesn't feel he's ready. That was kind of a decision that you made together, I guess. Am I right there? Tell me how that kind of came about as a decision for Kenny still recuperating.
BOBBY RAHAL: No, it was really Kenny's decision. We did the test at Richmond with Kenny. I think it was in June or July. While he went reasonably fast, he didn't feel that he was ready. So we respect that. We had originally intended to do another test for him this fall, but we just weren't able to do it. We're not contractually obligated -- we don't have a contractual obligation to Kenny at this point. But because he's been -- he's a friend and he's done great things for our team in the past, what have you, we wanted to help him reach whatever determination he will come to. So I expect that we will test him again sometime in the first quarter, if possible. I know he's put a lot of thought and continuing to put a lot of thought into the question, because obviously he doesn't want to go through that again, that's for sure. So we're just going to, you know, go forward on that basis. If he decides that he had enough, then God bless, what a great champion. I still feel like I would try to do whatever we could to help him, whether he wanted to help bring Swedish drivers into this country or what, I don't know, but we'd try to help him. If he decides he wants to continue, then we'll see how we can help that or how we can help make that happen. But I think first things first, and that's get this next test done and see where we are.
Q. It sounds like he just still isn't sure whether he's capable of doing it again. I don't know if he ever will be or not. It seems like it was strictly that he's just doesn't feel comfortable yet and he'll go from there and see whether he ever is. Do you think he may have a future, if he doesn't drive, in another aspect of the sport?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I mean, I think he should because he's a smart guy and he's a national hero in Sweden. I think there's a lot of things that Kenny can do in the sport beyond just driving. Frankly, I'm pleased to see him taking the time to make the decision whether to come back or not. I think he's even considering other forms of racing, like sports car racing or something, which carry a little less risk and what have you. But he went through an extremely traumatic incident and recovery period. Anybody with half a brain would reflect a lot more or getting back into the car given what happened. He's a great champion and a personal friend. We'll just play along with him and see what happens.
Q. Bobby, there was some talk at one time that you were considering sports car racing as an option. Is that just Internet talk that got no value?
BOBBY RAHAL: Sports car racing is something I want to do, want to do as a team. That's really been -- that was much more my beginning than anything else, I suppose, if you look at my career and the kind of racing that I grew up around. That is something I would like us to do as a team down the line. We have pursued some sponsorship opportunities, none of which have really panned out yet. It's doubtful that we will do anything like that for 2005 at this stage. But certainly we're looking at 2006 and beyond to have some kind of effort in one of the endurance racing series, I'm not sure which. I definitely want us to go to LeMans at that point and win that as a team. That means you're in the ALMS series. We're looking at all options. But the sport of sports car racing is definitely an avenue that we want to take down the line.
Q. With these drivers?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I mean, you never know. It's kind of like why not, I guess. I used to do a lot of sports car racing when I was driving IndyCars in the '80s. I mean, we've got a great complement of drivers here. If they're interested in doing it, why not? I don't see any reason to look outside unless somebody says, "I really don't want to do that." I this that would be our first approach, then we would see what would happen afterwards.
Q. Buddy, now that you've become the quarterback of Rahal, I know it's a team, everybody works together, every team has to have a quarterback. It seems like you're the guy that's emerged as the one that's at the front of the line. Do you feel that? If so, how does that change maybe the way you would approach this year?
BUDDY RICE: I'm not sure I'm going to change the way I approach my year. I'm going to go about it the same way. I think one of the big things that helped us this year was how open, not only when we ran three cars with Vitor, but how open all the information was. It kept everybody working together and striving forward and making the group better. I think the biggest thing is to make sure myself and Danica and Vitor keep all the communication open. Obviously, with the engineers, that will be happening as well. It will help us all keep pushing each other to make the cars better, to make ourselves better. I guess we'll have to wait and see how it all plays out, if I'm the quarterback or however you want to put it. I guess it helps that I have quite a bit of experience and can understand exactly what's going to happen. I know Vitor and I talked a lot last year on a lot of different aspects together. We both constantly kept coming up with different ways to achieve the same thing. I think that's the biggest thing. We still have to work together to make sure that we keep doing it, to stay focused, moving forward.
Q. Danica, the last couple years you've become very visible as a show host on television, so forth. Is that going to diminish a little bit as you concentrate on this new phase in your career or is that something that won't have an impact on what you're doing on the racetrack now?
DANICA PATRICK: It's important to keep in mind what you're there for, which is in the front of my mind, and that's to drive the race car, and to keep everybody happy, and keep the sponsors happy and on board. I don't think it really will affect it too much. It's all about scheduling and it's all about how you can balance your life out. I might be a little bit more busy than I was this year and the years past, but I don't think it's a maybe, it's probably a pretty definite thing. But, no, I don't think so. To go tape my Spike TV stuff, I go every other month or so. Doesn't take too long. Contrary to what you might think, I am in different outfits, but I do them all in one day.
Q. A lot of sponsors require drivers to be of a certain look, corporate look to represent their company. Does Danica Patrick -- will that change some of the revealing outfits and the places that you've been seen? Will that change in the future as you go forward into the Major Leagues of racing?
DANICA PATRICK: Well, you know, all I was wearing was like a bathing suit. You can see that on a beach. But I don't think I'm going to change who I am and my values and what I think is appropriate or inappropriate. That's always going to stay the same. I also believe it's good to get your sponsor out there in all kinds of different venues in front of different crowds and different people so we can make the sport grow. Whether it's hosting a TV show or whether it's being in a fitness magazine or being in FHM, it's a different group of people and you're trying to touch all kinds so that you can spark their interest in the sport that we all love.
Q. Bob, what was the one thing you wanted Danica to work on in her closing season with the Toyota Atlantic Series, before you gave her this chance in the IRL cars?
BOBBY RAHAL: I think she needed just another year of intense, very competitive racing. She ran up front in just about every race with Jon Fogarty, now a two-time champion, who drove for us on two occasions last year. She was right there with Ryan, who won a number of races, some of the others. I wouldn't say we necessarily had the best effort every time. I think we had a good effort. But just the fact I wanted her up front on more of a consistent basis and to have her get another year of racing under her belt. Even though she's been around a while as a young driver from 16 or so, there haven't been many complete seasons in her resume prior to 2003. It's just getting more experience. I think she succeeded in that. We had some awfully good races. She had the first pole position a woman has ever had in 30 years of Formula Atlantic. She had a number of strong races. I think she definitely improved this year. There were times when last year, in 2003, where she threw the car away, threw the race away trying to make it do something it wouldn't. This year, just a little bit more experience and knowledge about what you can do and what you can't do. So I just -- it was just more of that seasoning, so to speak, before we made this step. And it's a big step, there's no question about it. But I don't think another year of Formula Atlantic would have achieved anything for her. I just felt that the right driver will make the step up. No matter what you put them in, it might take a race or two or something, but, boom, if they've got talent, if they have the mental capacity and everything else, they get to come to grips with it quite quickly. I expect she'll do the same.
Q. Danica, certainly your last year in Atlantic is not going to hurt at all when you consider that the Indy Racing League is going to do some road racing this year.
DANICA PATRICK: That's true. I do have a very, very strong road racing background. I did a couple of oval races in Milwaukee. But that's about the extent of it. I actually did some velodrome racing here in Indianapolis in go-karts. That's my other oval experience. I was in a five horsepower Briggs and Stratton. If that counts as oval racing or not, you can decide that (laughter).
Q. Bobby, how do you think your drivers are positioned for the fact this year not only you have ovals, but you're going to have street races, that type of thing? Maybe Buddy hasn't been too much on the street circuit. How about all your drivers?
BOBBY RAHAL: I don't think there's anybody any stronger. Buddy did win the Formula Atlantic championship a few years ago. There's a lot of street and road courses there. Vitor, of course, raced in Europe, in Brazil, road racing. Danica's past has almost completely been road racing. I think that we certainly are equal to anybody else in terms of depth and talent amongst the drivers to be competitive on any type of circuit.
Q. Danica, how much oval racing have you done?
DANICA PATRICK: Just two races at Milwaukee in the Atlantic car, and then a little bit of go-kart oval racing here in Indianapolis at the velodrome. That's about it.
TOM SAVAGE: Thank you very much for taking some time out of your busy day to talk with us today. Appreciate it.
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