Champ Car Media Conference
Topics: Champ Car
March 29, 2007
ERIC MAUK: Welcome, everyone, to today's Champ Car media teleconference where we continue to build on our driver lineup for the 2007 Champ Car World Series season opener, which takes place in Las Vegas, the Vegas Gran Prix, April 6th through the 8th.
First of all, let me apologize for the situation regarding the phone numbers at the top of the hour. That was a mistake on my part. I apologize and appreciate you guys sticking through and getting through the call. We have a large contingent of media here today for what is a very exciting announcement.
I am joined on the call today by two of the co-owners of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, Mr. Carl Haas and Mr. Mike Lanigan. I am also joined by the president of MEDI | ZONE, Mr. Les Kolb, and I am also joined by the newest member of the Champ Car rookie class, the driver of the No. 2 MEDI | ZONE Cosworth DP01 on Bridgestone tires, Mr. Graham Rahal.
As most of you saw in the release that went out from the team a little earlier today, Graham will be making his debut, will be driving a full season in the MEDI | ZONE sponsored Newman/Haas/Lanigan machine. MEDI | ZONE, for those of you that did not see it, is the leader of medically supervised weight loss, weight maintenance wellness and performance programs, products and services and is also the official health and wellness program for the Champ Car World Series in 2007.
Gentlemen, a very exciting announcement. Thanks for joining us today. My first question will be for Mr. Haas. Carl, a big day for you guys, something you've been working on for a very long time and something you're not unfamiliar with, having rookie drivers and having success with rookie drivers. You've had guys like Nigel Mansell and Sebastien Bourdais do very well in your cars in the past.
Tell us about bringing Graham into the fold. What attracted you to Graham Rahal?
CARL HAAS: Well, I didn't pay too much attention to the racing he did last year, but he did a very, very good job in it, finished second. Our race team, our team members -- I should say Paul Newman and myself and Mr. Lanigan, were interested in making a move to get a team member to try it out.
What we did do, I went through some testing with him. I don't know what he's going to be or not, but we did quite a bit of testing, and the team was -- the engineers were rather -- very pleased with the situation. We kind of went from there.
What else can I say? I think roughly that's about it.
MIKE LANIGAN: If I can jump in, I think what we found not only from our engineers watching him in the Atlantic Series, but we found out, number one, is he reads a car extremely well. Graham is very dedicated to racing, and you need to be focused to get to the highest level, and also he was extremely quick in the top three or four in all the tests that we did with him and we're certainly very pleased to have him on board.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations to both gentlemen. A very big announcement for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing as well as Champ Car World Series. We're having this conference call a little later than we normally do to allow you to make it back from a day's work at New Albany High School. Tell us about -- you're making this move into the Champ Car World Series and ran very well in the Champ Car Atlantic Championship last year, five victories there and fought for the title all the way down to the end. Tell us how you maintain such a schedule and still be able to maintain a school schedule and do well in carrying a 3.8 grade point average there in New Albany
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's very busy for me obviously, but school is something I've always had as part of my life obviously, and racing, as well, so they kind of have begun to work together. Thank God I'm in my senior year so I don't have to worry about it too much longer.
But, you know, it keeps me busy. It makes me have to be more responsible with everything that I do, and I think for me as a person, it helps me become more mature, really, because I had to be able to get all my work done, whether it had to be racing or school.
And as you say, it was always a deal with my dad that I would maintain straight As and Bs, and it just so happens that it's worked out that way.
As I say, racing for the last seven or eight years of my life, I've always been going to school, so it's just getting used to it, and it's become part of my life.
ERIC MAUK: As you make this move today and join The Champ Car World Series, we alluded before that you've been in the open test with the new DP01. You've been in the Newman/Haas/Lanigan car at all three of those tests, and now as you get ready to step into the MEDI | ZONE sponsored machine, tell us a little bit about your thoughts on the new car and on the DP01 this year.
GRAHAM RAHAL: First of all, it's great to have MEDI | ZONE on board with us, but as you say, the last few tests have gone extremely well for our team as a whole. Obviously with Sebastien being quickest at Laguna, the car is very impressive for only three tests so far. I think time-wise it's going to be much quicker than the old car, and more importantly, reliability has been good, and I think it's going to help improve the racing.
But, you know, this team is obviously the best, and we don't -- as far as Sebastien and myself and being competitive, I think it's just a trait of this team that they're able to do that.
For me it's a dream come true to be able to not only move into Champ Car but to move into this team. You can see by the records that they are the best, and it's just an honor to be part of it.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations, Graham, looking forward to seeing you on track this year.
Speaking of some of the successes that Newman/Haas/Lanigan has had, we are now joined by the three-time and defending champion of the Champ Car World Series, a young man that has put together 23 wins in four short years in the Champ Car World Series, driver of the No. 1 McDonald's-sponsored Cosworth tire DP01 on Bridgestone tires, Sebastien Bourdais. Thank you for joining us today.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Hi, everybody.
ERIC MAUK: Tell us a little bit about your thoughts on Graham joining the team today.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think it's been a long time, everybody expected it, and I'm glad to finally be able to announce it. I think he's a great addition to the team. He's young, talented, and I'm sure he'll be up for the task.
ERIC MAUK: You came into this series as a rookie just four years ago. As we talked about with Carl before, some of the success you guys have had or Newman/Haas Racing and now Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has had with rookies, you and Nigel as rookies for this team are the only drivers ever to win poles in their very first starts in Champ Car competition. Looking back at what you did as a rookie, what kind of advice would you give right off the top to Graham rookie year?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, I think he is very well prepared, he's done a lot of tests over the winter starting middle of the season last year, and he's definitely ready. He knows what he's doing, and he's got a great engineer and got a great group of guys. I don't really have much to tell him.
I think he's learned pretty much everything he needed to learn before the season started, and it's a great thing for him. He's going to be probably one of the drivers who's really, in the rookie field the one that looks really strong because of the good preparation he's got and the talent he has.
ERIC MAUK: Before we turn it over to the media for questions about the team and about Graham and about Champ Car, talk about what you've been doing for the last week. I know you're dying to get back to Le Mans and you spent the week over with the Peugeot program and running very successfully.
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Yeah, pretty busy, not with school like Graham, but I've done that before so I know what it is. Yeah, I've got a few programs together this year between Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and the Peugeot program with the 908, the 24 Hours at Le Mans. So definitely a very exciting season, and the car is still very new. We still have a lot of work to do, but it's fast so it's a good start.
ERIC MAUK: Is Emma sleeping through the night yet?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Emma is doing pretty good. She's usually sleeping from 9:00 to between 7:00 and 8:00, so she is pretty good right now.
ERIC MAUK: Congratulations. We'll open it up to the media. We have a very large contingent of media on the call so I would like to request that you keep your questions to one question and one follow-up for the first round, and if there's time we'll get to a second round.
Q. I have a question for Graham. For those who don't follow auto racing as closely as we do, how do you explain why you're in the Champ Car World Series when your father has been in the IndyCar Series so long?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, for me, most of all, I've always been a road racer at heart, and I find, you know, certainly Champ Car is a road racing-based series. I've always tended to prefer road racing rather than ovals, and I think that's the biggest reason.
You know, I think, also, growing up as a kid, I was always -- when I went to the racetrack, I always went to the Champ Car races. Then it was called CART, but it's the same thing.
But at those times, as you know, IRL wasn't around. So for me, I was always biased towards Champ Car, it was always a dream of mine to race in the series, and that's why I'm here and not in the IRL.
Really there's no reason for me to drive on ovals at this point in my career, and that's the main reason.
Q. I'd like to ask Graham, obviously this deal took a long time to come together. I was wondering if there was ever a time where you were feeling like it wasn't going to or if you believed all along that this was going to happen.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, I've always felt, as Sebastien said, I've always felt that I was part of this team. We've been working together for a long time. You know, it's been a long time coming, but there was never a doubt in my mind that I was going to be part of this group and be driving for this team, and there was no reason for me to go and drive for anybody else, because like we said, there's no one better.
For me, I had no problem. I know it took a long time, but I had no problem waiting, it was just simply putting all the signatures to the paper, and now we're here.
I've never felt like I wasn't part of the team.
Q. You said you don't see any point of doing any oval racing at this point in your career. Does that mean that you and your dad have not talked at all about the Indy 500 this year, or is that a possibility?
GRAHAM RAHAL: No, no, I'm not going to do Indy. That's not to say that my dad and I don't talk about Indy. Obviously I would love to win the Indy 500. I think that's a goal of many people's, but I -- it's not something I'm focused on right now. I have other goals in mind, and that can come later in my career.
Q. I guess my question would be about your expectations, especially being with the quality team that you're with, how aware are you of the pressure or some of the expectations of you not only because of your father but because of the team that you're with, because of your teammate and everything else? How much do you feel like that helps you or how much does it weigh on you?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I don't think -- you know, as far as my name and everything like that, I've started to put that aside. I've always had that pressure on me. So that has faded somewhat over the years, or I've tried to put it behind me.
And as far as the team goes, I mean, I think everybody involved, especially Sebastien, we know as drivers that everybody has got to learn, and that's the only way the results will come is time. You have to learn and gain experience.
And I think the team obviously having the success that they had with rookies in the past, they know that extremely well. So I don't feel any pressure from them. The most pressure I feel is from myself, to go out there and do well.
Obviously the reason you race is to win and be competitive, and that's the pressure that I put on myself is to go out there and be competitive, and as far as everyone else, I just try to put it behind me and stay focused on what I have to do, and I find that that tends to work best for me.
Q. My first question is for Carl. There have been four CART Champ Car races in Vegas. You've won three of them, two with Sebastien and then the first time I believe in '83 you won with Mario. Do you recall some of the aspects of the old Caesar's track?
CARL HAAS: I'm sorry, say part of that again. I didn't understand it exactly.
Q. Do you remember the '83 season when you won in Vegas, and do you have any memories of that racetrack at Caesar's?
CARL HAAS: Yes, I do. It was great, yeah.
Q. Anything stick out about racing on that track?
CARL HAAS: Well, I haven't seen the track, the current track. The old track, it was quite nice the old track. I won also a race there, but I hope this is going to be very good this week, this next weekend.
Q. To follow up with Sebastien, as I recall, you weren't a big fan of the big oval out here. Are you looking forward more to coming out here and racing on the street circuit?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: I really didn't have anything against the oval, it's just the wind package we had didn't make for exciting racing, at least as far as drivers go, because we couldn't really drive the car. It was just flat all the way around, just very much like the IRL is doing these days, and we're not big fans of it.
I think I'm really happy that we moved to the downtown area, and it's received great support from the community, and I think from what I've seen of the layout, it should be an exciting track, so I'm definitely looking forward to it.
Q. My question was actually for Sebastien. I was just wondering, when you've now won the championship three seasons in a row, what's kind of keeping you going and what do you feel like you have left to accomplish?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: Well, obviously once you've won once, you want to win a second one and so on and so forth. I think it's not hard to find the motivation when you are with such a dedicated team and really high quality equipment and everything is given to you to perform, you really enjoy it. And I think everybody is having a lot of fun to race Champ Cars, and for me that's just the best option. It's a professional series.
There's one step for me that might be available, but we still have to be waiting on it. It might be Formula 1, but again, I really want to be competitive, and I'm given everything I need to do this.
So the motivation just is very easy to find. I just go out there, race my very best and try and win races, and when you do that, usually motivation isn't really hard to find.
Q. I have one for Graham. Can you kind of talk about what are reasonable expectations of you? What do you expect to accomplish this year? What kind of goals do you have?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, I would love to win a race. I mean, that is the goal at this point. Then again, as we all know, the series is very competitive. Sebastien has obviously been the leader of the pack for a while, so that also helps me because I know that the main guy I need to shoot for is my teammate.
I think that these first couple of races for me are going to be -- obviously going to be difficult. I've never driven a Champ Car in an hour-and-45-minute length, so I don't really know how that is yet. At the same time, I'm really looking forward to it. I think no matter what, we should be competitive come the first race, and I think we've shown that through our testing time.
Now really for me it's just to gain experience, and hopefully come season's end we cannot only win the Rookie of the Year Championship but be in the fight for the overall championship.
Q. Congratulations. This has finally come around. For Graham, tell us a little bit about your early experiences working with the Newman/Haas team, the engineers there, and specifically with your team, Donny Hovel, Tim Coffey and so forth. Tell us a little about that early experience.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, as you know, the guys on my car, Donny and Timmy and those guys, they're all very experienced, and I have an extremely close relationship with them. It's special. But working with Todd and Bruno and the whole engineering group on my side of the car has been a lot of fun. I mean, we've had a great experience. Everything we've done so far has been successful, so obviously we hope for that to continue.
But these guys have made it extremely comforting for me to just slide into this team and head into the first race. I mean, it could be -- to go back to an earlier question, there could be a lot of pressure, but at the same time, the team makes it a lot easier for me and makes the transition a lot more smooth than maybe it should be.
But I've had a lot of fun with the guys. I have a good relationship with them all, and I think this year our success should come because of that.
Q. Congratulations to everybody. It's an exciting day for Champ Car racing and for Newman/Haas/Lanigan racing and everyone involved.
I guess a question to Graham. Sebastien was just over testing at Peugeot getting ready for Le Mans, and obviously Sebastien's career has mainly been in open-wheel cars but he has stepped out from time to time doing sports cars. You yourself raced at Sebring I guess earlier this month and are looking, I guess, at doing a little bit of sports car racing over the course of the summer as it fits in with the Champ Car program. I wondered if you could maybe just talk about some of the cross-pollenization, if you will, what you learned in sports car racing that maybe might be applied to the Champ Car racing and vice versa, and ultimately how it helps you grow as a driver?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, for me or for any driver, I think, for me to just drive anything and just have seat time is really where I gain -- when I gain my experience, that's what's going to make me better as a driver at this point in my career. So any driving I'm able to do, I need to take that opportunity and go and drive.
And I think that's why I focus on sports car racing so much. At the same time, we all know that some of the biggest goals in any racing driver's life is to win Le Mans or win Sebring, Daytona, these types of events. So for me that is also a goal of mine, not only to win Indy and win several Champ Car championships and everything else, but those are the goal. So that's why I do sports car racing the most.
I feel that the transition, obviously it's a lot different, especially from what I have driven in the past, being Porsches and things like that. There's a lot more weight, the cars roll a lot more than an open-wheel car. But like I say, any experience that I can get in any car is going to help me.
Now, as far as someone with Sebastien's experience, you'd have to ask him because obviously I'm not at that point yet so I don't really know. I just know that I enjoy driving the cars and that's why I do it.
Q. Sebastien, anything you would care to add on that point?
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: No, I think Graham really pointed out the right thing. It's just the more different and various experience you get of driving cars, the better you can adapt to different situations and scenarios, and I think that's very much the reason why I've done this, plus the fact that I've had a lot of fun doing it.
Q. Graham, congratulations.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Thank you.
Q. Listen, you mentioned earlier that you've kind of moved past some of the pressure of the name, of the Rahal name. I'm wondering, are you also interested in kind of being known more as Graham Rahal, kind of making your own name, instead of Bobby Rahal's son? Is that important to you?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's very important to me. I've always wanted to step out of dad's shadow and make my own footsteps, so to speak. It is something that I would like to do.
I think for me, the reason I try to put the pressure behind me is because ever since I was a little kid, it was always, well, you're Bobby Rahal's son. Well, now I hope to reach the point where I can just become Graham Rahal, like you said, and move away from the name.
Obviously it will never disappear, but hopefully I can create my own, so to speak. You know, it's something that we always say the name can be a double-edged sword, so to speak. It can help but it can hurt. You just try to remove the ways that it can hurt you, which in a lot of ways is the pressure.
ERIC MAUK: I'd like to bring in Les Kolb, the president of MEDI | ZONE, who will be the primary sponsor of the No. 2 car. This is your company's first foray into Champ Car World Series competition. Tell us a little bit about what attracted you to the series.
LES KOLB: Well, it's just all about performance, and it's all about excellence. This series and this particular race team and this driver exemplify all of those characteristics in a penultimate fashion. We're just delighted to have the opportunity to align our corporate objectives with this team and this series and this driver.
ERIC MAUK: Welcome to Champ Car World Series, look forward to 2007 with you.
LES KOLB: Thank you so much.
Q. Again, without necessarily trying to get involved in the nitty-gritty, I wondered if perhaps if Mr. Kolb or Carl or Mike at Newman/Haas/Lanigan could maybe address the fact the fact that this sponsorship and this deal had sort of been percolating for quite a while, and as Paul Newman rather famously said, "Lawyers gotta eat," back at the Monterey, at the Laguna Seca test. Could you perhaps shed a little light on the timing of it and why it sort of took longer than so many people might have wished and expected?
MIKE LANIGAN: Well, I'll answer my side of it and Les can comment. Number one is good wine takes time to settle and become a good wine, but what the delay was, quite frankly, was a lot of good negotiating, the MEDI | ZONE part. They were new to this end of the business and needed to understand what values they were getting, and when we did settle on that a while back, quite frankly, then the attorneys had to interpret that into writing, and that's what took most of the time is the attorneys putting the language in with both parties being satisfied.
LES KOLB: Just to embellish on what Mr. Lanigan said, speaking on behalf of MEDI | ZONE, we're absolutely convinced that this driver and this team will be much faster than bringing this deal to the table. We're convinced that this is an ideal role for us in terms of exemplifying our performance programs and products by what this team and what this driver and this car can do.
We're out to set the new standard, and that is what this car and team and driver are doing all the time.
MIKE LANIGAN: I'll just add one other thing. We are really proud to have Les and Alex and MEDI | ZONE on our team because they are definitely a very high-end-type medical weight loss program, and our association with them actually brings us up a little, also.
Q. Thanks, and I imagine everybody is working under the rubric of good things come to those who wait, so we'll see you all in Las Vegas.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring an end to our Champ Car media teleconference today. We'd like to thankless coal for joining us today. Congratulations again. We look forward to seeing you guys on the track in two weeks' time.
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