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IndyCar Series: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

IndyCar Series: Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg

Graham Rahal
Al Speyer
Justin Wilson
April 4, 2009


ST. PETERSBURG, FLORIDA

THE MODERATOR: Guys, we appreciate your time. We're going to bring up the front row now.
We're now joined by our front row. For many of you in the room I noted earlier that Graham being our pole winner, he is the youngest pole winner in IndyCar Series history at 20 years, 90 days. Obviously most of you will remember that Graham made history here last year, becoming the youngest race car winner in IndyCar history, IndyCar Series and IndyCar history.
We're also joined here by Justin Wilson, who was starting second. It's the best ever starting position for Dale Coyne Racing, and we've asked Al Speyer to join us, so if there's any other questions about the Ultimate Tires, Al can answer that, but we'll start with you Graham and your run out there today.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously it was a great day for the McDonald's team. When we started out there this morning, the car wasn't quite as good as we had it at the end of yesterday, so we made a few more adjustments going into qualifying, didn't really know what to expect. I think we knew we were going to be pretty competitive and should be able to make it through the first segment at least pretty easily, and then obviously things get a little tougher.
For us, we ran obviously primaries at the end, but the Ultimate Tires were very good and we ran them in the first segment to see what they were going to do and then again in the second. Fortunately, or unfortunately, we didn't have a set in the end because for me I think the red tires were probably a good four or five tenths quicker.
At the end of the day it sounds like those who had the reds, the handling wasn't quite right and played into our hands. I didn't quite know what to expect when I saw Justin and Dario go out on the red tires. I thought they were going to be pretty tough to beat, especially knowing how quick they both had been in the previous segment. So a bit of a shock.
But obviously happy to be up here. I guess this place treats me pretty well. I'm certainly enjoying it.
THE MODERATOR: Justin, how about your run out there today?
JUSTIN WILSON: Yeah, obviously pretty happy, and it's been a great day for the Sonny's Bar-B-Q team. We've had a good run and I'm pleased to be second. But I felt that we had it in us to go for the pole today, and unfortunately Dario slowed up on what was going to be my best lap and starting my last lap, which is the perfect time for the Ultimate Tires, so we came in the pits and topped it with fuel and went back out and did a second outing on those tires, and that's when I did my best time. So I felt we had a lot more potential, but we didn't have the opportunity to show it today.
Like you said, it's the best starting position for Dale Coyne Racing, and to be ahead of the group of guys that just left means a lot to us, and we'll take any small victory we can. So we feel pretty good today.

Q. With two street course races starting off the season, it's an opportunity for some of you guys to really get a good jump start on the points race. Talk a little bit about that since you're not going to see an oval until the third race.
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously we want to make the most of these first two races because we don't have the big budgets to develop our cars for the super speedways and for the ovals. So this is where we've got our best chance to compete, where it's mechanical grip and we've got a pretty standard car and just make it as nice as we can. That's what the guys have done a great job at.
This is our opportunity, and later in the year when we get to those ovals, we're going to be struggling to stay on out-and-out performance, but we'll do what we can and keep working on that area as much as possible, as much as our budgets will allow throughout the year.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's the same for us really. People would be surprised, but we won't be doing much development anymore and haven't done as much as we'd like this winter. Obviously the testing miles really limits us quite a lot. We're still way behind the big teams, and for us it's important to get points on these two tracks. We've had obviously success here in the past and the team has certainly had some success at Long Beach. So I think that with our experience there, some of these guys haven't driven there in a while, I'm sure they'll pick right up where we left off, but certainly it is a bit of an advantage for us, and we need to go in there and try to grab the maximum points, as well.
It's going to be -- I think our cars are pretty good on the ovals, but it's going to be pretty interesting to see what happens come Kansas, but at the end of the day, the street or road courses are still where we need to really get our wins and get our points.

Q. For both guys, a lot of what you guys do is routine to you, but to fans it's fascinating. Could you talk about what still humbles you about driving an IndyCar?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think that to drive anything that's as fast as an IndyCar, has the performance of an IndyCar, that's what's exciting about it for me. Really the thing about racing and specifically the series that really draws me in is the competition and the performance. I mean, you look at the technology, how close everybody is. I think you saw today it was pretty close in qualifying. That's what really kind of draws me into it, and that's why it never gets old going out there every single day and being fortunate enough to be able to have this as my job, really.
JUSTIN WILSON: I think Graham said it all. It's all about the competition and these cars are a lot of fun to drive. It's the same car for everybody, so you have an equal chance of competing relatively speaking, and on tracks like this where it's just a case of working out your setup, we're able to compete. So that's what it's all about is having fun.

Q. Graham, did you come here thinking you could win the pole?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think the team, the entire McDonald's crew, we thought that we felt pretty confident here. We had had a good couple of tests before, and truthfully, I think everybody worked so hard in the off-season that there's a lot of smiles going through that team right now. I think we did feel pretty confident that we could run with the big guys here, and to be honest, I heard someone say earlier that we won it off strategy last year, and we did, but we definitely had the speed. We pulled away from Helio four seconds in the last ten laps or something. I mean, we had the speed to do it. Our car was pretty good, basically started where we left off, and here we are.

Q. For the two drivers and Al Speyer, some teams have used two sets of reds and have one in the back. Are those reds considered scuffs that they can put back on during the race?
AL SPEYER: Yes, they can put any of the reds that they've already run back on the car for the race, and as we're sitting here talking they're all getting a third brand new set of reds mounted up, which is the set that they have to run in the race, the set that's being mounted now.

Q. First question is for Justin. What did Dale Coyne have to say after you got your second place?
JUSTIN WILSON: Obviously he's extremely happy and he had a big smile on his face, and he just said, "Well done. Great job."
I think the whole team is very motivated and feeling pretty good right now. It's a great result for us, and it's part of the battle is done starting at the front, just to get that track position. I think we just want to have a good race and hopefully finish on the podium with the Sonny's Bar-B-Q car.

Q. I believe the new rules state that you have to declare what tires you're going to start on within one hour is it of qualifying? Have you guys determined which tires you're starting on yet, blacks or reds?
JUSTIN WILSON: Well, Graham is going to tell us now and then I'll decide.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I haven't even thought about it, to be honest. Either way, I must say that my car was definitely quicker on the red tires, but at the end of the day, it was extremely consistent overall. So I don't think that -- it's tough here with the fact that you do have to declare an hour after qualifying because in Champ Car we'd wait until like the last second to see what everybody else was doing because you just didn't want to be the odd man out basically. Now anybody could end up that way, and everybody could do the same thing and make the wrong decisions, you never know.
But I think for us, I'll leave it up to the engineers to decide, but either way I think it's going to work fine.

Q. Graham, can you give me a sense of, for a driver, what the atmosphere is like from the fans? Do you get a sense that the popularity is climbing?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think that IndyCar racing is on the rise if you ask me. Really if we look at some of the other major sports, we've got a very solid company in Honda behind us as our engine supplier, and I think the fact that it is a pretty spec series makes it exciting.
When you look at it, we're lucky that we're not currently dependent on the big three. I think that they're obviously in some trouble, and for us, the fans are truthfully part -- I think that things are getting -- the excitement is starting to get back in it. I think you could see it kind of start last year, but still, it was so new, the unification, people were still unaware of what was going on. And then finally over the off-season, it's been a little quiet but things are starting to heat up here, and it's exciting times for us, and we're fortunate that as I said, we've got some good people, a lot of sponsors like Firestone behind us that are really going to help us in the long run.

Q. I was reading this week at that you were looking forward to kind of maybe developing a rivalry with Marco, that you two were the two young big names in the series. Last year you won the race and dethroned him as youngest winner in IndyCar Series history. Today you win the pole and you dethrone him as youngest pole winner in IndyCar Series history. Is there more satisfaction for you that that sort of enhances that?
GRAHAM RAHAL: To be honest it doesn't get any sweeter. You grow up as a Rahal and you're meant to want to beat the Andrettis. That's just how it works, and vice versa. If you think of the two big names in open-wheel racing, those are them. But to be honest, beating Marco is a great thing, it's always nice, but to be on pole you've got to beat everybody, and that's what's more important to me. I want to go out there and win races. It's not nearly as satisfying beating him when we're like 20th and 21st. That's what's important to me.
And of course it's nice any time you get to beat an Andretti, but at the same time there's still a long ways to go here.

Q. Justin, you touched on this a little bit already. How gratifying is it for you to go to a team with a smaller budget and have immediate success like this?
JUSTIN WILSON: It means a lot to myself, and I think I said yesterday, I feel like I'm proving that I deserve to be here. It was a difficult off-season where I didn't know what was going to happen and I didn't know if I was going to be back in a car. It was very frustrating after the progress we've made over the years, and finishing second in the championship in Champ Car two years in a row and then coming across and winning a race as a transition team, and I felt we were showing well. But just unfortunate circumstances that I was out of a drive.
It was a long off-season, and now to get back in a car and prove to everyone that I can still do this, it means a lot, and obviously I want to translate it into a podium finish tomorrow. But it's one step at a time, and like I said, we'll take this small victory and just try and build from that.

Q. Graham, you had a real close call out there. I know you whitewalled it. I mean, how close was that to being a lot bigger disaster?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It wasn't that close, to be honest. That was right after I had done my good lap, and it was good enough for a pole, but I really -- truthfully I didn't feel like I got all of it. So I thought, okay, here's going to be one last shot really to get a good lap in. So coming off the last corner I just tried to get to full power earlier, and once I went over -- there was a bit of a crown on the road and I went over the crown and it snapped on me. But the steering was straight and it didn't affect anything. It was just after that we only did one more lap pretty much and that was the end. So it didn't really matter.
I mean, everybody was -- if you're going for the pole, you're pushing hard, and I don't know about adjusting, but I saw Dario rubbed it a couple of times. I think everybody has done it once or twice.

Q. Graham, how do your levels of excitement, anxiety, confidence compare with just a year ago this time entering this race?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I'm definitely excited to be back, for sure, because I felt that this was -- last year this was going to be -- other than Long Beach this was going to be our best shot to win, and it happened. Coming into this season I feel like we've got two good opportunities to start right away.
But this track, I really enjoyed it last year. I love the atmosphere, which is what I -- when you go to a racetrack, the track is one thing, the atmosphere is a completely different one, and that's what really makes it exciting.
For me as far as the confidence goes, I felt more confident coming into this year, but at the same time, still, you knew that it was going to take a lot of effort. You don't just go into a new season not working any harder and expect better results. It's just not going to happen. So certainly tried a little bit harder this year. The team has been working extremely hard.
Obviously stepping up to the McDonald's car was exciting for me, and I knew that there was certainly pressure that comes along with that because if you look at what the McDonald's team has done in the past, there's always been success, so we certainly want to continue that streak.
It's exciting. I think the whole team, everybody has got a big smile on their face as I said earlier, because to work as hard as everybody did this off-season, and as Justin calls it a small victory and being on pole, I think that for us is great because I don't know if it was expected, but certainly for all the mechanics, it's well-deserved.

Q. Al, Brian Barnhardt said out there that this was going to be probably the least difference between the primary and the alternate tire because the primary tire among is already among the softer compounds that you make. How much difference will be there in two weeks at Long Beach, and could you elaborate a little bit more on just the small difference between the two?
AL SPEYER: Sure. What we saw today is exactly what we wanted to see, and in a word it's variety. Everybody has been asking us what the difference is, and I've been trying to explain to everybody, there will be more difference between drivers on the two tires than there is the tires themselves, and that's exactly what we saw. It seemed like everybody picked up on the reds, there were a few that didn't, but just about everybody did, and I think really the faster the car was in general, the less it picked up. Some of the slower cars picked up more on them. So there's a certainly a driving style in there.
We also saw variety on the amount of wear that was taking place on the red tires, even short qualifying runs, but I clearly know there are drivers out there who can go quite a long way on these reds. They're not going to drop off that much.

Q. (No microphone.)
AL SPEYER: Yes, the gap here is probably a little bit bigger than we thought it was, what we saw today. We'll still go download all our data, but the gap at Long Beach will be a bit bigger than it was here at St. Pete.
I'd like to add my congratulations to these two guys, Graham and Justin. Super job today. It was a really exciting qualifying for all of us that got to watch it. You put on a great show, slapping the wall and all that. Great ambassadors for the sport, and all the best in the race tomorrow.

Q. Graham, you mentioned Thursday you were going to have a pretty big family contingent in the pits on Sunday. Who's going to be coming, and did you have a chance to talk to your dad after you won the pole and do you think you gave him a reason to stay on Sunday?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I saw him briefly as I was walking to the PEAK Motor Oil, the pole award. He has a reason now, but you never know what he's thinking, so he might disappear. But I'm not normally superstitious, but because he was here all weekend and it's been a pretty good one, I'd hate to see him leave.
As far as the family goes, my mom is here, my little sister is here. Pretty much everybody, my uncle, anybody who has got some sort of interest in racing and isn't currently -- well, I shouldn't say employed, but like my brother, for instance, has got to work, so he can't make it.
It's been a lot of fun having them here and a pretty relaxed atmosphere, which is normally how I like it. I try not to get too wound up about anything, and I prefer that it's pretty calm and just cook out at the track at the end of the day. So that's what's been going out, and pretty much that's how I want to keep it tonight.
It's been exciting having them all here, and being able to do this in front of them, it's been a trip for sure.

Q. Justin, how tough is it not having a teammate to share setup data with?
JUSTIN WILSON: It's pretty difficult. We've got to work it out ourselves, and with the limited number of tires this year, we only get nine sets as opposed to ten, we've done a lot less running. We've got the same track time, but we've been on track less.
We really have to pick our changes and try and make sure we go the right direction, and we've got a couple of ideas with the car to make it even better, but we just daren't make that big a step because we don't have time to change it back.
If we would have had a teammate we could have tried two things and decided which one was the better direction. But it's just what we have to deal with now. We've got to try and study the data and try and make the best choices.

Q. Al, who publishes the tire choices that the team gets to pick, black or red?
AL SPEYER: That is a good question. I think we've had some discussions about that. You will get something from us, but if it's coming from Firestone or IndyCar PR, we'll find that out. I think IndyCar is going to publish something, but I think we're working through that with you right now. I would imagine we'll put it in the trackside report that we put out throughout the day.
THE MODERATOR: Guys, thank you very much. Good luck tomorrow.



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