Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
TIM HARMS: Welcome, everybody, to this week's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our guests today are all second-generation drivers and have been called "the future of open-wheel racing." We're joined today by IndyCar Series driver AJ Foyt IV and Menards Infiniti Pro Series drivers Arie Luyendyk, Jr. and Al Unser. Thanks a lot, guys, for taking some time and joining us today. AJ, I want to start with you. You're the youngest, but you're kind of the veteran of the group. Obviously the grandson of four-time Indianapolis 500 winner AJ Foyt. You started racing at the age of 10, champion of the Menards Infiniti Pro Series 2002, and now you're in your third season already competing in the IndyCar Series. You're still only 20 years old. In fact, due to turn 21 just four days before this year's Indianapolis 500. AJ, all of you guys have obviously grown up in the shadows of famous relatives, but your situation is probably a bit more intense since your grandfather runs the team you're driving for. Can you tell us about any pressure you felt growing up coming through the ranks and then particularly as you've moved into the IndyCar Series.
A.J. FOYT, IV: I put the most pressure on myself. It's been hard growing up, but it's definitely helped a lot having him behind me and supporting me and now owning my team. I don't think I could be in this position without him, so it's been a big help to me. You know, you're going to get pressure from other people. I've gotten used to it for years of driving under his name. I'm just trying to do the best I can, make my own name, just do my own thing.
TIM HARMS: You made that transition from winning the Pro Series title in 2002 into the IndyCar Series. You're in your third season. You've had a couple top-ten finishes, even one this year already. The remarkable thing is really you're still 20 years old. What kind of expectations do you have for yourself for the rest of this season and what are some of your longer-term goals?
A.J. FOYT, IV: I mean, I know I'm only 20 years old, but it's my third year in the league. I look for us to start doing a lot better. The season started out well. We didn't do so well at Phoenix or at St. Petersburg. Feel good about going to Japan and the rest of the year. I think Toyota has made a big improvement on their motor program, so I expect to get some top-ten, top-five finishes, just put myself somewhere up there in the front at the end of the race where I think if all is right I can win a race.
TIM HARMS: Arie, son of two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Arie Luyendyk, started racing karts at age 10, in your fourth season in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. You finished in the top five in 17 of 33 career starts. Just 23 years old. Tell us, you joined AFS Racing about halfway through last season; you're back with them again so far this year. Seven starts with them. You've been in the top five six of those races. What has been the good connection there with AFS that's generated those strong results?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: Well, last year I think it was just moving teams, you're always a bit motivated to kind of prove yourself. The team and I worked really well together. It's really relaxed over there. We haven't tested as much as the other teams and our budget is pretty -- we don't have a big testing budget, let me put that it way. It's been good. The team, we really gel. This year we've struggled quite a bit. We're looking to improve on that if we run the Freedom 100. Now it's a race-to-race deal. Finishing in the top five is never a bad thing, it's just we need to break into the top three to start contending for some wins here.
TIM HARMS: Your father accompanies you to most races and acts as your spotter. Looks like he's taking a very active and positive part of in your career. Being part of that famous racing family, do you feel any extra pressure to perform out on the racetrack?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: No, not really. I mean, when I was younger, I did a little bit, especially when I was racing in Europe. But in the Pro Series, it's very comfortable. It's a good atmosphere. I don't really feel the pressure, the added pressure, of being the son of a 500 winner. It just basically motivates you a little bit more. It gives you goals that are set really high, and that only makes you a better driver. So I think it's a good thing. It's very positive. I think that's why you see so many second-generation, third-generation drivers, because it's just you get the opportunity. It's a little easier to find sponsors - not much easier, but it's a little easier. You kind of know everyone in the industry, so it makes things a little bit easier. Also your goals are always set very high and it makes for a good race car driver. I think it's only a good thing.
TIM HARMS: Al, you're part of a family with nine wins in the Indianapolis 500. You pointed that out a couple weeks ago, that's about 10% of all the races there. You're 22 years old, in your second season in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series. Last year you had five third-place finishes in eight starts. Let's talk about your family a little bit. You have your grandfather, obviously a four-time winner at the track, every race weekend. I know he has some other responsibilities as a League employee. How much time do you get to spend with him at the track and how much feedback is he able to give you as you get into the race car?
AL UNSER: I can spend a fair amount of time with my grandfather. He is an IRL series coach. All I really got to do is go and find him really between my sessions. I can find him in race control or in the IRL hospitality usually. I can get as much information out of him that I need to get me going faster on the track.
TIM HARMS: It's my understanding, too, he comes back to New Mexico quite regularly between races. Do you get a chance to talk to him between races?
AL UNSER: Oh, yeah. After St. Pete, I definitely went up to his house and sat down with him for a few and let him know what happened during the race, what I felt -- how I felt the car was doing. Also during the winter, he has his cabin up in (indiscernible), where my dad's is, as well. We go up there and go snowmobiling and get to race each other on snowmobiles.
TIM HARMS: The last couple weeks, you've been in a couple press conferences. You've been asked a question similar to what we asked AJ and Arie there a few minutes ago, just about being under pressure, if there's any extra pressure being an Unser. I won't ask you that again because you've answered that and basically you just said that's all you've known, is just being an Unser, and it comes down to you performing in the race car. Let me ask you a slightly different variation of that question. You're kind of competing in a lot of forums against these other second-generation drivers, whether it be Arie or even Marco Andretti last week. Is there pressure maybe from family or media or fans to out-perform these other second-generation drivers?
AL UNSER: No, not really. I mean, the second-generation drivers, they all have their own deal. I'm quite low on budget. Marco had a little bit more budget than both me and Arie had. When we go out there, I'm really trying to compare myself to my teammate, somebody who is in basically the same exact car that I'm in. I came within a few hundredths of his time during the race. He was just a couple of seconds ahead of me and I couldn't catch him. But other than that, no. Granted, when I do see Arie out there, when I saw Marco in St. Pete and at the test in Indy, you recognize the car and you want to get and get him. But the same thing happens when you see Simmons' car or anybody else's car out there. If you have a personal connection with that person, it's fun to dice it up and race with them.
TIM HARMS: All of you are getting ready for the month of May at Indianapolis, whether that be the 500 or the Futaba Freedom 100. Can each of you take a minute and describe for us the significance of Indianapolis both to you individually and to your families. AJ?
A.J. FOYT, IV: I think Indianapolis, you know, everybody knows it pretty much made my grandfather who he was. Just growing up going to that track and watching him race, then later after he retired watching his team race, he's won it both ways. It's been really big for my family. Me going also there, I just kind of fell in love with the place myself. I've been lucky enough to race there the last two years and haven't done really as well as I wanted to there. I know I got a lot of stuff to learn about that track and how difficult it can be. I'm looking forward to getting back there this year and hopefully putting on a good performance.
TIM HARMS: Arie, what are your thoughts?
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: Well, I think as far as the Pro Series goes, I mean, Indy, it's a huge step for the Pro Series to run at Indy. I think that's one thing that AJ missed out on. I think it's one thing that the Pro Series drivers now have an advantage at, we now get to drive on the same track with a similar car. The experience is just priceless. I think that's a really good advantage for all the Pro Series drivers. It's a great event. The first time I ran at Indy with a Pro Series car, it was kind of unbelievable. The qualifying run was really spectacular, how you had to average the times together. It just puts a lot of pressure on the driver. That's the one everyone wants to win. It just makes it a really great event. As far as my plans this year, I hope to run the Freedom 100, but I also hope to run the Indy 500. We're working really hard on plans for that. As of yet, we can't announce anything. I have a feeling that we're getting close and this might be my best shot at it yet.
TIM HARMS: That's great to hear. Al, how about you, significance of Indianapolis just to you individually? Obviously, working towards running it for the first time ever this year, and your family.
AL UNSER: Yeah, hopefully we get to run it this year. It does mean a great deal to me. I watched my grandfather and my father both have joys of winning that race, tears of joy running down their face when they get out of the car. I have stood in victory circle, but I was next to my dad. I want to be the one in the center. Going to that track is definitely an experience. I mean, even when you just go and visit the place, it's such a prominent figure in the city, you just drive into the city and all of a sudden there's this huge two and a half mile oval, unlike any other oval. I mean, Fontana is out in the middle of nowhere and so is Michigan. For it to be right in the middle of the city, it really shows a lot. It does mean a great deal to me because my family has won a lot there. I want to perform there as well. I'm really looking forward to getting in the IPS car and going around that track.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and take some questions.
Q. Al, I was wondering how you feel your racing skills are developing on the Pro Series, how much you feel it's helping you out, maybe what kind of timetable you think you may be on as far as getting to the IRL.
AL UNSER: Well, I feel that now that the Infiniti Pro Series has gone to road courses, it is a big help in developing your skills. I mean, when I got on the ovals last year, I did learn a lot. I mean, to learn how to draft and how the car feels behind another car, air really messes up other cars at 190 miles an hour. Now that I'm in the series, a timetable for the future would be, you know, I'd like to run -- I'm like Arie, I would like to run the 500 this year, I just don't think my budget's there. But hopefully I can move up into the big cars next year. I've spent half a season in IPS last year, and hopefully we'll contend for the championship this year. I've had some bad first starts these first races, but we'll get back after it and hope to be in the big cars next year.
Q. At any point in your lives has someone within your family said, "Maybe racing is not something you want to do"? AJ?
A.J. FOYT, IV: No, I never really heard that before. Racing has never been forced upon me, my cousin or anybody. I started when I was nine, just for fun, just like every other kid, I believe, then just kind of fell in love with the sport. So, no.
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: No, I've never really -- that never really came up. My mom says that sometimes, I don't know. She doesn't like watching racing. She would much rather me be a full-time Realtor or something. But, no, that never really came up. I'm sure all three of us will keep on pushing until we start winning races, winning the 500 and whatnot. I don't think that's ever been a question.
Q. Al, how about you?
AL UNSER: I kind of had it a little bit in my family. My father said -- what did he say? "If racing was easy, everybody would be doing it." I was kind of more given the choice. I mean, I'm sure we all -- none of us were pressured into racing. I don't know, it was pushed on me a lot, so I didn't do the early karting that AJ and Arie did. I didn't start until I was 17. It's probably the reason why, was because I had the idea of I don't have to do racing. But really there's an itch that I need to scratch, and racing does it. I guess I kind of do have to do racing just to keep myself happy.
Q. AJ, after winning the Menards Infiniti Pro Series championship and then having to fight your way through the IRL, has it become frustrating, especially when you have a week like had you at St. Petersburg?
A.J. FOYT, IV: Yeah, I mean, it's definitely frustrating. But just as long as you keep on making gains and you keep on doing better and better. It's my third year. I'd rather accomplish more than I've accomplished by far, but just got to keep on making gains and keep on learning and hopefully it will come.
Q. Has there ever been any thought in your head in these last couple of years because of those frustration, it's just too hard for you to do at this point? I don't mean physically hard, but just dealing with the mental stress of trying to do what you want to do.
A.J. FOYT, IV: No. I mean, I've been racing for a long time. I've been through tough times before - maybe not quite this bad. But I'm willing to fight through it and get where I need to be.
Q. Al, could you talk a little about how you think you're competing on the Pro Series. You haven't been in it that long. Rate how you think you're doing against the competition at that level.
AL UNSER: I think we're doing great. I mean, last year we busted in real nice. I had a third-place finish in my first time out there. Granted, that's as high as I got the rest of the year. I had five thirds in eight starts. I really wish we would have won one last year. I'm really looking forward to winning one this year. I mean, the competition has gotten better from last year. For example, my teammate Wade Cunningham came aboard, Marco Andretti coming aboard, Jeff Simmons is still there, and so is Arie. The competition is still there. I think I'm doing great. We're still moving forward. We're definitely learning a lot. Hopefully we can get some more sponsor money and get back out there.
Q. Al Sr. retired when Al Jr. really started to make a name for himself at the speedway. As you come along, all of a sudden your dad retires. Is there a plan there in the family?
AL UNSER: Actually last year it worked out as a coincidence. When my dad announced his retirement, I just got my deal put together with Keith Duesenberg Racing to run in the Infiniti Pro Series. So it was a coincidence that we were able to make the announcement on the same day. I get a little bit of the feeling of the subject you're trying to touch on is that my dad and my grandpa got to race each other in the big leagues. That is something that I will miss. I definitely wished I could have raced my dad in IndyCars. I'll be able to race him every year on snowmobiles.
Q. There's talk of Marco, Michael and Mario doing the 24 hours of Daytona, the Rolex Series. Maybe the three of you can get together for that.
AL UNSER: Yeah, you know, that would -- it was an idea that we had this year. We couldn't come up with the budget quick enough for that race. Hopefully we can continue on and next January when that race comes back around we'll all be there.
TIM HARMS: One more question for AJ. You go through most of the season obviously just a one-car team. Indianapolis, you guys have three cars entered, Larry Foyt and Scott Mayer. How do you think that's going to affect your results with having some ability to share information with a couple teammates for a change?
A.J. FOYT, IV: Unfortunately, both my teammates are not very -- they got less experience at that place than I do. I mean, it would be better if I had a teammate with some experience. But, you know, Mark Taylor came up with a sponsorship for the race. My grandfather was willing to give him a shot at it. My cousin raced last year. I think he did quite well for his first year -- throughout the month. He didn't have a good race, but he did well throughout the whole month. I think me and my cousin will be able to work pretty well together. We seem to have the same driving style. I think it would be a help having him there again this year. I think it helped a little bit last year.
TIM HARMS: Guys, thanks a lot for taking some time out to join us today. We appreciate that. Best of luck as we move forward through the 2005 season.
A.J. FOYT, IV: Thank you.
AL UNSER: Thanks, guys.
ARIE LUYENDYK, JR.: Thank you.
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