Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
Al Unser Jr.
May 2, 2007
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests with us today. Joining us in a few minutes will be IndyCar Series team owner A.J. Foyt, who will announce his second driver for the Indianapolis 500.
To start the call, we're pleased to have IndyCar Series driver Marco Andretti. Marco is in his second season in the IndyCar Series, driving the No. 26 NYSE group Dallara for Andretti Green Racing. Last year he was the IndyCar Series and Indianapolis 500 Rookie-of-the-Year. He won at Infineon and finished second at Indianapolis. This year he's recorded a fourth-place finish at St. Petersburg.
Marco, unfortunately other than that fourth place at St. Petersburg, you've had some tough luck in three of the first four races of the season. But you kind of had similar struggles last year heading into Indianapolis. Obviously you were still able to finish second. Do you have any concerns as we head into Indianapolis or is it a completely fresh start?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No, that's exactly what it is. I've got to look at it just like that. You know, now we have a month. I think my biggest struggle lately has been no warmup. It's no excuse because everybody is in the same boat. But it has caught us out twice in the first four races. You know, Homestead and obviously last week in Kansas. We couldn't tell you what was wrong. You know, we really were struggling with the balance.
As a competitor, as a driver, it's been an absolutely miserable year so far from what I had hoped to start the season. I was hoping to be right up there in the championship hunt going into Indy. But now I can just think about winning the Indy 500. That's got to be my main mentality.
You know, like I said, the positive thing is that we have a full month. That's what allowed me to turn my season around last year, as well, because going into Indy last year I barely had any race experience. I mean, we broke two drive shafts, then I just wanted to finish Japan, which was almost like a test session just doing laps because we ended up 12th or something.
Anyway, I mean, I'm looking forward to Indy, having a month, driving with dad and everything like that.
THE MODERATOR: You alluded to it right there, you'll be competing against your dad again for the second time. What does it mean to you to be able to share the track with him again?
MARCO ANDRETTI: It's awesome. It's good. With his experience, along with my other teammates, of course, but he has a ton of experience. He knows what it's like for a good car, number one. Last year, I mean, I was struggling with the balance a little bit. He goes, Well, get in my car, get in my car. I was able to on the same day get in his car and experience what a good car is supposed to feel like. From then on, I'm like, Okay, now I know what that feel is, so we got to get back to it. That was huge for me.
Having him drive on that same track that particular day definitely helps me.
THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions for Marco.
Q. Do you feel the Speedway owes you one this year from how you lost that one last year?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No, I don't think it owes me anything. I nearly won the thing at my first go. I'd say a good example is it owes my dad one. I only had one go at it, like I said. Everything worked out. Yeah, it was kind of a bummer. I don't know what's worse, losing it the way I did or in dad's case almost a lap on the field and with 10 to go the car breaks.
I don't know, I wouldn't say it owes me. I'm still young. We got time.
Q. How long did it take you to get over that? Is it still something that bothers you to this day?
MARCO ANDRETTI: It's going to bother me till the end of my career, even if I win that thing four times. The race is so huge, I don't know, especially our family. I explain it to my friends. There's no Grand Prix single race that's as big as that. That's the biggest race in the world. It just slipped away. Of course it's going to bother me. I'm a competitor.
Q. Sam was saying he bought you several dinners. Is this something you're going to keep holding over him, keep getting him to do stuff for you?
MARCO ANDRETTI: No, we bought each other dinners. I'm going to correct that.
No, I don't know, he's a competitor as well. He's going to go try to win the race. I don't hold anything against him, you know. If you say the better car should have won, then that's what happened. Just kind of the way we lost, we were like in fifth in the closing laps, we charged to second. We lost by a straightaway. That's a good day. That's an awesome day. But the way we lost it, leading out of turn four, kind of bothers me. But no big deal.
Q. I wanted to jog your memory about a track in Upstate New York, Oakland Valley. What do you remember most about racing there, go the go-karts?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, there was a couple kids that raced there week in and week out. They were very competitive. They had that track down. They had the track stuff. They were the ones to beat. Actually, I mean, I got a lot of good experience racing up there. Like I said, the competition was very tough. I felt when you beat those kids, you've done something. It's not just like you go up and you win a go-kart race. It was a good feeling to beat them because I think they were very talented individuals.
The track itself was pretty fun. It's very local to me. It's about an hour and a half from my dad's house in PA. It's fun to go up and hang out and have fun.
Q. When is the last time you've been there? Not since you raced?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Not since I raced. Maybe five, six years. It's been a while.
Q. I talked to your grandfather. He said everyone was there. How was it to have the whole Andretti clan up there of watching you do your thing?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, I mean, if it was up to me some weekends I'd just go up and just do it myself, not even tell anybody I'm racing, just to go up and get the experience. But they brought the TV crews and everybody out, stuff like that. It's always good, too, to get positive exposure. They help me when they can. They obviously bring a lot of attention, too.
No, I mean, like I say, it's always good. It's good to have that support, for sure.
Q. Can you tear it up there one last time? Any chance of you making an appearance?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I don't know. The last thing I want to do is go up. I can't just go up there and say I'm going to test. I'll go up there Saturday, feel I'm quick enough to race Sunday, I'll end up staying overnight and try to win the thing, getting hurt doing it. That's the last thing I want to do.
Q. You say you're struggling. Is it something you think you can correct or your engineers got to correct? Is it horsepower or just the car itself?
MARCO ANDRETTI: I think it's a combination, of course. I mean, there's no way I can just blame anybody. One thing I can tell you is I didn't forget how to drive in a year. If anything, I think I'm a lot better this year just because of how much I learned last year.
But even when you don't have the results, or on an oval when the car is not working great, it's both of our faults because maybe I didn't relay good enough of information about what the car is doing to him or whatever. You can't just blame your engineer or anybody like that.
Like I said, even when things aren't working out, and you have a year like I had so far, you tend to lose confidence. That's the last thing I should do. If I do that, it's just going to spiral downwards. I just need to keep my head up and things will get better.
The only thing I'm bummed obviously about is the points. Like I said, I didn't forget how to drive a race car in a year. We'll just get a good balance underneath us. It is frustrating especially on an oval when the car's not working. It is so frustrating, a bit embarrassing, to have to park it. It's either that or crash the car, which I did the week before. It was a bit better to park it.
Q. Before the season, when you were in Sonoma, you were optimistic about everything. Has it been any one thing in particular you can pinpoint or lots of little things?
MARCO ANDRETTI: The first race caught us out because we're like, okay, we got greedy. We went so far out there in our setup to catch those other guys because their speeds were frustrating us the whole off-season. We were like, man, how could these guys be going so much quicker. We went so aggressive on the setup, it kind of caught us out. My mentality going into last weekend was, All right, let's just be flat all day, let's be conservative, everything like that. Whatever it was, it caught us out again.
It really is easy to dial it right out on ovals like that. It's easy to tip the car over from a good car to not even being able to drive it. We're going to try to make sure that never happens again. That's a miserable feeling. There's a long season. We just didn't get a great start. All we can do right now is go try to win some races, especially the Indy 500.
Q. Speaking of the Indy 500, you have a whole month to concentrate on it. Coming back to Indy, a place where you did have that good ride last year, does that give you some renewed confidence, momentum?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah, for sure. I always knew it could be done, but it always helps your confidence if you can go out and really prove to everybody, man, we can win this thing. You said it. The month is the key for me. It's just seat time 'cause, you know, I still don't have many oval races under my belt. I'm not saying I'm a rookie any more by any means. That excuse I can't use any more. It's just not been as smooth as I would expect.
I did come in this season with very high confidence, which I can say I'm not sure I lost. I still feel -- I still have confidence in myself and the team. Dario looked very strong. Obviously so did Tony and Danica. We can build off that. Now we have a month to, again, get my act back together and hopefully compete for the win.
Q. Now that we're getting closer to Indy again, how is your dad handling things? Is he beginning to get his game face on?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Yeah. I mean, he knows exactly what needs to be done. Yeah, he's getting in race mode a little bit. I like to see that. He's very focused. I'll be sleeping in till 9:30. I'll wake up, he's already got his run done and everything like that. He's been on it.
It's good to see. Like I said, he knows exactly what he needs to win. Now he just needs a little bit of that luck. Man, all I can say is hopefully he gets it.
Q. Do you carry any extra pressure as Andrettis coming into this place, trying to break the jinx, win one for your dad?
MARCO ANDRETTI: For sure. I mean, there is when you look at it on the big picture. Yeah, it is. On that particular weekend, I'm not feeling it at all because my thinking on it is I want to win this thing so bad myself. I just do everything in my power to maximize every time I'm on track and the whole race, my thinking on that, as well, it's so long. Everything I do in my power during the race is just to make sure you minimize mistakes. I think if you do that all day, it's almost guaranteed you'll be in it in the end if you have any kind of speed. That's exactly what I did last year. That's what we're going to try to do this year.
Q. Your record last year and so far this year has shown pretty much you can dial a car awesomely when it comes to reasonably flat tracks like Richmond, Milwaukee and Indy. On the high banks, is it just overall balance or balance in traffic?
MARCO ANDRETTI: Well, no, I mean, if the car's good on its own -- well, I shouldn't say that. If the car's good, it's going to be good in traffic. I mean, it has been a bit of car balance for me on the mile-and-a-half's so far this year. But there's no excuse. My teammate, Tony, for example, after Motegi, I called him, I'm on the phone with him for three hours saying, You kicked my butt, how did you do it? I'm picking his brain.
It's a bunch of little things that add up. I'm just trying to, again, learn from that and do everything in my power to make sure it doesn't happen any more.
But, yeah, I mean, we have work to do I think when it comes to car balance. You said it, I love going to the shorter ovals and stuff like that. Actually, I love Indianapolis. It's a unique place. I'm looking forward to the rest of the season, but now we've got to just win some races, like I said earlier.
THE MODERATOR: Marco, thank you so much for taking the time to join us this afternoon. Good luck this month.
MARCO ANDRETTI: Thanks.
THE MODERATOR: Joining us now is IndyCar Series team owner and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt. Good afternoon, A.J.
A.J. FOYT: Good afternoon.
THE MODERATOR: The team is announcing today that two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser, Jr., will drive the No. 50 A.J. Foyt Racing entry this May.
A.J. congratulations on today's announcement. We've talked earlier this season about this being your 50th season in open-wheel racing. Tell us about the decision to put Little Al in the race.
A.J. FOYT: Well, the biggest reason, his father, when he first went to Indy, drove for me. I've known Al since he's been born. I think he's a great driver. I think he's a race driver that's going to win the race for us. That's what we're all working towards this year. We're trying to turn the team around with Darren and him both. I don't know who else I could have found that would be better than Al because I've known him, like I said, since he run little midgets and sprints and all that stuff. He's a hell of a racer.
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Al Unser, Jr.
AL UNSER, JR.: Thank you for all coming.
THE MODERATOR: Al, of course, won the Indianapolis 500 in 1992 with Gallas Racing and in 1994 with Penske Racing. Tell us about coming back for your 19th Indianapolis 500 and the chance to do so with A.J. Foyt.
AL UNSER, JR.: I'm real excited about coming back, especially driving for A.J. He's been a hero of mine since I was a little boy. For him to give me a call and really ask me to drive for him, especially in his 50th anniversary, then driving the 50 car, it's just a real honor. I'm really proud to be driving for A.J. We're going to go out there and give it everything we got.
THE MODERATOR: Let's open it up for questions for both A.J. and Al.
Q. Al, what have you been doing to stay ready? What shape are you in physically for May?
AL UNSER, JR.: We've been training quite a bit. We've been doing the regular stuff, the cardio and so on. Pretty much doing the same thing we've done in the past. We're really ready to go out there and have some fun and be competitive and see what we can do to work with Darren. I'm very excited about that, so on. He's a very talented race car driver.
To get the opportunity to work with A.J. is just a dream come true.
Q. When is the last time you were in a car?
AL UNSER, JR.: It was a year ago last May is the last time I was in an IRL car. It didn't end up the way we wanted it to, but we sure did have a great time. Again, when A.J. called, it was just a great phone call and a great opportunity.
Q. Al, you've known A.J. all your life. What are your earliest memories of him?
AL UNSER, JR.: They go back a long way. My first memories of A.J. we were at a racetrack. I was probably six or seven years old. I remember walking with him and dad and Uncle Bobby. We were in the pits somewhere. The reason why we were walking around was because it was raining. I had the gumption or the stupidity to splash water on A.J. with my foot. I stomped in a puddle. What did A.J. do? He stomped right back in the next puddle and got me wet. Those are my first memories of A.J. Then it just keeps going. We'll leave it at that for right now.
Q. How would you rate this Indy 500 field? Is it shaping up as a real challenging one? Have you seen better?
A.J. FOYT: Well, to me, any time you go for a 500-mile race, it's very challenging. I don't care if it's one car or 500 cars, it's a big challenge. Everything's got to be perfect that day. The team's got to be perfect or you're going to get beat. Any kind of mistakes on a 500-mile race is going to cost you the race.
It's always a big challenge any time you go to Indianapolis. It's like the Kentucky Derby. You go there and it's an open field. You never know who's going to win. A lot of times when the favorites are favored to win, they're in the back. It's always open.
Q. Do you have any picks for the derby?
A.J. FOYT: No, not really.
Q. A.J., could you tell me about your experience with Al. How did you two get together way back when?
A.J. FOYT: With the Unsers, his daddy and Bobby, we always run sprints in California, Ascot, all over the Midwest and all that. Little Al come along in the picture. I don't know if his daddy really wanted him or if it was a mistake, but anyway he arrived, we become great friends. I watched him come up through the series.
I remember I was teasing him because Tracy Hines broke both legs the other day on his motorcycle that drives our Silver Crown. I called Al. I said, Al, you want to drive a Silver Crown at Iowa this week? He said, Man, last time I drove them, I was 20 years old.
Anyway, I've known him through his whole racing career. We've always been great friends. I've been with his daddy Al, Bobby, all of them. We always been close. We all kind of come up together. I watched his son come up. When I heard he was open, I was pretty excited about getting him in our second car.
Q. The one thing that has changed drastically since the advent of the IRL is we now all have standard engines with the Honda. How does that enter into equation? We used to be looking for 10, 15 cars maybe to finish the race. Now no one is falling out.
A.J. FOYT: I think that's good. Last time there were 30 or 40 horsepower different and it made some people really stand out that shouldn't have been standing out. Now it's the driver and the team and tweaking the chassis for everything you can.
Like you say, you don't have all those explosions where (indiscernible) is all over the racetrack and cause wrecks. Any of them can blow up at any time. But so far the ratio has been very good. When you go there and race now, you better plan on racing 500 miles. It's not who's falling out and who's finishing. That makes it pretty interesting.
Q. Al, you're one of the few individuals that came up through the midget and sprint ranks. I still quote you saying that sprint racing is a contact sport. How did you make the transition where other guys have not been able to?
AL UNSER, JR.: Oh, gosh, a lot of it was really my family, my father, the advice that he gave me, Uncle Bobby. I was racing go-karts when I was nine years old. My dad was a very big part of my growing up in racing. My dad had a simple theory that a race car is a race car. Whether it be running in the dirt or a front-engine or rear-engine car, you need to adapt to it and get the most out of whatever you're driving in and learn how to drive it. Basically that's what I did all growing up. Anything I drove, I just treated it as a race car and tried to get the most out of it whether we were at Manzanita or Ascot, like A.J. said, or going to Milwaukee or Indy. You get the most out of it.
That goes all the way to today's racing. A.J. was exactly right when he talked about the engines. It has changed in the aspect that the team really has to go out there and work as a team and not make any mistakes, get the most out of the car, make it consistent. If we can do that, we'll be up front somewhere at the end of it.
Q. A.J., how special is this year to you? It's got to mean something to you.
A.J. FOYT: Well, when I first started, everybody said I wasn't going to live to be 22 years old. Hell, it means a big, big day to me.
But, no, it's just to me another day, another race. I guess I'm glad I'm still looking down at the grass and not up at it where a lot of friends of mine -- just like last night, I had a good friend of mine die that I didn't know till this morning. Just like (indiscernible), we were very good friends down in Florida, passed away.
Kind of just like George Snider says, the yardstick is getting a little shorter. But I'm just glad to still be here and having a lot of fun. Because when you quit having fun, I think that's when you need to leave.
Q. Al, does this mean something special to you to help A.J. this year?
AL UNSER, JR.: Oh, for sure. It's really hard to put into words what that phone call meant to me. Driving the 50 car for A.J. on his 50th anniversary, you know, I'm just super proud. I mean, those are really the only words I can come up with. He helped my dad get going in 1965, and now there's another Unser driving for A.J. I couldn't be more proud.
THE MODERATOR: Gentlemen, thank you so much for joining us. Congratulations again on the partnership for the month of May. Best of luck.
AL UNSER, JR.: Thank you.
A.J. FOYT: Thank you.
THE MODERATOR: Our next teleconference will be Wednesday, May 9th at 2 p.m. Our guests will be Indy Pro Series driver Sean Guthrie and four-time Indy 500 winner of Al Unser.
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