Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
Al Unser, Sr.
May 9, 2007
TIM HARMS: Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. Our guests this afternoon are Indy Pro Series driver Sean Guthrie and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, Al Unser, Sr.
Sean is in his second season in the Indy Pro Series, driving the No. 4 Guthrie racing entry. He made his debut last year at Indianapolis about six weeks after his 18th birthday, and he finished 11th. He went on to record top 10 finishes at Nashville and Kentucky. And Sean is the son of Jim Guthrie, the Indy Car Series Rookie of the Year 1997 and a three-time starter in the Indianapolis 500.
Al is one of only three drivers who won the Indianapolis 500 four times, and this is the 20th anniversary of his fourth win at Indy. Overall, he made 27 starts in the 500 with 13 of those resulting in top 5 finishes. And of course his son, Al, Jr., won the 500 twice and is competing again this season. And Al's brother Bobby won the 500 three times. Currently, Al is the driver coach and consultant for the Indy Racing League.
I'll ask a couple of questions of each of you and open it up for questions from the media.
Sean, taking a look at the season so far, really you probably should have three top 10 finishes, considering you were running sixth at Homestead and tenth in both races at St. Petersburg, when contact kind of ended your day in all three cases. How do you maintain a positive attitude moving forward and kind of keep those things in the background and keep them from ruining your season or putting a damper on your season?
SEAN GUTHRIE: Really, we look at what we should have done. On Homestead, we were passing for fifth or fourth and the car was just fantastic. Moving really quickly. Probably would have ended up with a podium finish there. Run it really consistent at St. Pete. Both races, we were really quick. I think in one of the warm-ups for St. Pete race we were like fourth quick. We were just looking at the highlights. We realize our car has been fast. We've got one of the hardest working teams in the whole Indy Pro Series series.
So those are highlights we're looking at and we're just moving forward. Obviously we're hoping we've got the bad luck behind us. We think we do. We had a fairly good test at Indy. Maybe not the quickest times, but we learned an awful lot because we just had to buy a new car. In Homestead we actually broke the tub and the car crashed there.
The team has been hard at work and hopefully we can settle down into a good rhythm for the rest of the season.
TIM HARMS: One of the things that stands out to me as I look at your results in the Indy Pro Series is the fact that you've really had some real strong results on the ovals, which to me, you know, a lot of today's drivers come from more of a road course background than the days of when Al, Sr. and everybody was running sprint cars on dirts and ovals. What do you think makes you so quick on the ovals?
SEAN GUTHRIE: I grew up racing dirt go-carts on the ovals here in New Mexico. I've always enjoyed the ovals and I have a lot more experience on them. I think part of it is just my driving style.
I carry a lot of momentum and really more smooth. So on some of the road course situations you've got to be slightly more aggressive. If you try to drive an oval aggressively, nine times out of ten it's going to bite you.
Plus, I'm really concentrating hard on setting the car up -- and obviously Al is going to agree with this, and Rick Mears has said many things about it -- if you can get the car to work for you, then your job is easy.
So that's what the Guthrie Racing Team has always focused on is getting the car set up right. And if the car is good on an oval, you go into the front. So that's where we've gotten our best results is just myself taking the time to work on the car, get it right.
And usually, if you'll look at our results, we're kind of middle of the pack during the early practices but by the warm-up and the race, we'll be posting some of the top times.
TIM HARMS: You grew up in a racing family, obviously, with your father involved in the Indy Car Series. What did it mean to you last year to make your debut here at Indianapolis where your dad had raced three times and then also this year to come back and do it again?
SEAN GUTHRIE: It's just a fantastic experience. I can't thank all my fans and team enough. They've worked so hard for me. It was really, really neat as I drove under the track into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway last year for the first time.
It was only the second oval I'd ever been in in the Indy Pro Series car. It was my first race. A lot of firsts and a fantastic experience. Obviously with the history behind Indy, just being able to drive on the track, you're among an elite number. And being able to race on it is an even smaller number.
Hopefully we can get a win this year and it will put us -- I think it probably hasn't been more than 150 guys ever won any race at Indy, whether it's Nascar, Indy Car race, Formula One race. Doesn't matter. Just that track, so much history there. It's really neat to be a part of it.
TIM HARMS: In addition, to your father's influence and family influence, growing up in Albuquerque, how much did you follow the racing exploits of the Unsers, how much influence did that have on your career?
SEAN GUTHRIE: When I was growing up I was really focused primarily on my dad's career. Obviously his first year in a Indy car was my first year in a go-cart. I was always following in his footsteps.
When I was starting to pay attention to racing, it's really when Al, Jr. was recording all his victories and running for Penske and all of his wins and everything was really in that time period.
So, of course, I paid attention to him. It was neat to know that he was from Albuquerque. And my dad, obviously, was a big fan of his. Everyone was watching it. It was natural for me to cheer for those guys as well.
TIM HARMS: Al, let's take a look back 20 years ago, and maybe you can kind of just recap that entire month. You came to Indy without a ride. Got into a car, I believe, with Team Penske that year, correct, late in the month, middle of the month, and walked away with your record time fourth win. Can you kind of recap that month for us?
AL UNSER, SR.: Well, it was one of those times where you know when I came back here, I elected to come back without a ride because there wasn't a car that I really wanted to drive that I thought could win. Because all the good cars and the good teams from already taken.
So I elected to kind of sit out and then I was going to go home after the first weekend of qualifying. And then my son, Al, Jr., didn't get qualified, so I decided to stay here and see if I could help him.
And then Danny Ongais had his problem and they didn't release him with the Penske team, and so Roger called me and asked me if I would run his third car and I said dang right, you know, because that's the kind of team I wanted. And to be able to pull off what happened was, you know, just a terrific deal.
TIM HARMS: If I have my facts correct, too, you were in an older chassis with maybe an underpowered engine compared to some of the other things, so it was really quite a drive to the front.
AL UNSER, SR.: Well, the only one that actually, you know, outrun us that day was Mario. Mario outrun everybody. There wasn't anybody that could touch him.
But here we go again, you first have to finish, finish first. And when he had his problems there at the last, that just left the door open and I was in the right place. And the battle with Guerrero and I went, and he had his problems and there I was.
TIM HARMS: 27 Indy 500 starts overall. And obviously in addition to the four wins, I think 13 of them resulted in top 5 finishes. From all that time in Indianapolis, is there a moment or two that really sticks out to you as the most gratifying moment at Indy?
AL UNSER, SR.: Well, there's many. In other words, I could sit here and talk for probably an hour. But the last, you know, one I won, because of the circumstances, was the most gratifying, because you have to remember the first one is your most gratifying. But then you don't know what it's like thereafter, until you get close to the end of your time, I think.
And I was lucky enough to be able to get the ride and end up winning the race. There wasn't anybody that gave us a chance of winning, and I ended up doing it, the team did and I.
So gratifying, you can sit here and bring up many a times that out of four wins I could bring up several incidents. But I think the last one sticks in your mind the loudest.
TIM HARMS: And now, of course, today, you've been with the league for several years as a consultant and as a driver coach doing this, working with some of the drivers. In fact, the other day I saw you dropping off some stuff to Milka Duno and talking with her a little bit. Tell us about your role as the driver coach, and is it something that you enjoy working with today's drivers to kind of help them improve and do the best they can do?
AL UNSER, SR.: I really do enjoy it, because it keeps me involved in racing, and I love the sport. I think it's a very demanding and hard sport. So to still be involved with the IRL and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway here, it's just unbelievable. But to be able to talk to the young drivers, old drivers, doesn't make any difference.
If you see them do something that you think is not right, I'm able to go to them and talk to them and show them and try to help them.
When I came along in my younger days, we didn't have this. And that's why I think that the IRL is so far ahead of everything right now and everybody, other organizations, because they try to reach out and make it easier for drivers to adapt to their racing fraternity. So it just makes it great.
TIM HARMS: Let's go ahead and open it up for some questions for both Sean and Al.
Q. With all that Al, Jr.'s had happen to him off the track over the years, how much does it mean to him to get this chance with the A.J. being the 50th year for him and everything else, how much does it mean to him?
AL UNSER, SR.: I can barely hear you. This phone must not be working very good. I'm having a hard time hearing you. I'm hard of hearing anyway because of the race cars.
I think it's great that Al's back. He's capable. The man still has the talent. So I think it's great. I'm proud that he's here and I'm proud that he's racing again.
Q. A lot has been made, people have made an issue that this race may be too much too soon for Milka. Do you think she's ready to compete in a race like the Indy 500?
AL UNSER, SR.: I think he is. IRL must think that he is because they issued him a license. He's in better shape now than he was a year ago or whatever you want to call it. There's nothing that we can prove or do of what kind of shape he's in until the green flag goes down and he starts racing. But he is capable and he's still talented.
TIM HARMS: And what about Milka? I think he was also referring to Milka Duno and her progress?
AL UNSER, SR.: Milka, I think she's doing a very good job for a rookie. I watched her and worked with her at Kansas City. And she responded to everything that I asked her to do or suggested her to do. And she's doing the same thing here. She gained yesterday tremendously with all of us working with her with Johnny Rutherford Rick Mears and her spotter Pancho Carter, between all of us, you know she has gained. And I think she's capable.
We won't know again until the green flag goes down and we see how she handles traffic and the race for 500 miles. Hopefully she does well. I think she's doing a great job right now. I really do.
Q. Sean, I'm looking at I guess you call it a blog that you have on the Indy Pro Series about how you have just taken over as parts manager at Car Crafters and before that you were a body tech for a while. Obviously you have people on your team that know Indy cars inside out. But as a driver, has it helped you to know the nuts and bolts, so to speak, as well as you do from your work at Car Crafters?
SEAN GUTHRIE: Not only do I do a lot of work at Car Crafters but really in the last couple of months I've been the only quote, unquote full-time employee at Guthrie Racing.
A lot of our crew guys are out of Colorado. Some are here, have other jobs. Weekend warrior crew. Every nut and bolt on my Indy Pro Series car I've touched. I've done everything from changing gears to rebuilding steering racks. Only thing I haven't done is take shocks apart.
I do know the ins and outs of the cars. In many ways it has helped me. In the past I've helped set up cars. That helps me the most, being not only be able to tell my engineers what's going on, but I kind of have a library of changes that we've made in the past on all different kinds of cars. I can say when we did this last year at Chicago we changed the shocks slightly and it improved, maybe we should try that again because the car feels the same.
And that is a better resource maybe than being able to work on my car. Although it never hurts to be able to grab a wrench if you have to and help repair your car, my teammate's car.
At St. Petersburg, teammate Tom actually crashed and the team was slammed working on my car and his car getting my car set up for the next qualifying session. It just so happened I picked up a couple of wrenches and helped put the rear end back on the car.
So with our side of the team not having as many guys as some of the big name teams, it does help quite a bit.
Q. Al, you mentioned your position is one of the positive changes in open wheel racing since your last win at Indy. What would you say is the biggest change since then? Is it in the technology? Is it in the organizations? Does any one thing stand out?
AL UNSER, SR.: I think the cars today, the technology of the race car is so advanced now than when I was in it. It was just all these computers and all the technology that is here today was just coming in when I was at my last stages 10 years ago or 20 years ago. It doesn't seem that long. But it is.
But things have changed. The rules, the cars, the basic safety of the cars have tremendously gained today than they were when I run.
So the whole package. But it still takes a team. It takes a team from the driver to the janitor to make a winning car out there regardless of today's technology or anything else on the cars. But things have changed tremendously, yes.
TIM HARMS: Gentlemen, thanks for taking the time to join us. We appreciate it and wish you both well this month.
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