Indy Racing League Media Conference
Topics: Indy Racing League
TOM SAVAGE: Good afternoon, everyone. We'd like to welcome the two Rahal Letterman Racing drivers to today's teleconference. Both Buddy Rice, currently second place in IndyCar Series point standing and Vitor Meira, currently seventh in the standings join us on today's call. Rice is a three-time winner in 2004, including the 88th running of the Indianapolis 500 back in May. He trails IndyCar Series points leader Tony Kanaan by 57 points heading into this weekend's race in Kentucky. Meira joined the Rahal Letterman team at the third race of the season at Twin Ring Motegi, and has climbed to an impressive seventh place in the points standings behind four top-five finishes in the last five races. Guys, thanks to both of you for joining us today.
BUDDY RICE: Thanks for having me on.
VITOR MEIRA: Thank you.
TOM SAVAGE: Buddy, we haven't had you on a teleconference since May, but we've kept you quite busy since the 500. Things settle down a little bit for you since winning the 500?
BUDDY RICE: I don't know if they've really settled down because really basically we're in the heart of the season right now and in the midst of this points championship with Rahal Letterman. So I think some of the media travel has toned down a little bit, but otherwise we're still really busy. We've also had a test here in the last week and a half with Vitor down in Kentucky and myself up at Nazareth. We're charging super hard to get this championship.
TOM SAVAGE: How important are these next three consecutive races in regards to that race for the championship?
BUDDY RICE: I think all the races that are left are going to be very important because of how tight the championship is and where everyone's placed at right now. So I think we just need to make sure we stay focused, keep running up front. If we keep both Vitor and myself, both of our cars up front, it bodes very well for us in the championship hunt right now.
TOM SAVAGE: Vitor, for people who are in the IndyCar Series world, your rise here to the top is not a surprise, but to a lot of folks, didn't really know a lot about you coming into this year. You've had such a good run here these last five weeks, can you talk about your strong run so far this year?
VITOR MEIRA: A big part of it is, I mean, no driver can do a great run without a car or a good engine. And the big part of it is the work that Buddy just mentioned, the work that Rahal Letterman did and the work that Honda has been doing. I mean, we are clearly stronger in engines and also we had a great team that set up the G Force chassis the way it should. That's honestly the biggest part on the great runs I had. The only thing I'm doing is leveling up the team. It's been the team to beat actually since the beginning of the championship.
TOM SAVAGE: Was there a time this year when you were concerned that you may not get in a car this year? I know at Miami and Phoenix, I saw you walking around the paddock area. Were you scratching your head thinking, "There's a chance I might not get in one this year"?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, I was not. The first two races I was out of a ride. That was the monkey on my back, I would say. That's why I was there knocking every door. I wanted to be in, but I was not sure if people would recognize the job I did before. Thanks God Rahal and Mr. Roembke and also Mr. Letterman from Rahal Letterman Racing, they recognized me and they gave me the opportunity, together with Honda. And that's how it's been doing since -- that's how we've been going since actually Texas, when Centrix Financial renewed the contract for the whole year.
TOM SAVAGE: We'll go ahead and open it up for questions to the media.
Q. Either one of you, I think is probably more directed toward Buddy, though, would you talk about the contributions that Jim Foley has made to the team and how he plays into your success and all that.
BUDDY RICE: Well, I think with what Jim does on the team from data acquisition and strategy and simulations, I think he puts in a huge contribution with the other engineers. I think one of the things that we have going, because we have two cars, and all the engineers this year at Rahal Letterman are all focused on the same series, I think it's been a huge help. So now everybody can kind of put all the resources together to strive in one direction instead of going in two separate directions when they were running the other series. I think everybody's learning together. I think that's what makes everybody so much stronger. I think obviously Foley does a lot of the simulation work and so many other things. I think it's a group effort from everybody.
VITOR MEIRA: I agree with Buddy. Foley, it's one of the best members of the team. But, again, it's all about the teamwork. I mean, everybody does so well their job, that that's what has to happen. I mean, on the race, you can't win races or you can't be as strong as we are on the championship if there is a failure on the whole system. Everybody does a perfect job at Rahal, and Foley is one of them, together with all the engineers. Also with Buddy, the teamwork that we do. Again, it's all a part of -- if anything goes wrong, you can't win races. That's why we've been so strong.
Q. Buddy, tell me of all the blur of things that happened in that post time after Indy, is there anything that you did that maybe fulfilled some fantasies, dreams of things you've always wanted to do and never had a chance?
BUDDY RICE: Oh, I think there's a lot of things I was able to do that were just, without winning, I probably wouldn't have been able to. I think definitely throwing out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium was pretty cool. Obviously, I'd been to the White House once before, but I didn't have my own personal tour. We weren't able to meet the president. Obviously go into the Oval Office where so many of the world's decisions get made, not only for our country, but so many others. So I think you always want to go, be able to do those things, but without having the opportunity to actually see what it's all about and learning about that, that's been like probably one of the biggest highlights of the whole thing.
Q. Pretty heady stuff for a racer from Phoenix, isn't it?
BUDDY RICE: Exactly. I think the whole thing, even the 500, is still a little bit of a disbelief right now. It's just so much. You work so hard to try to get there.
Q. Has your success this year, you're competing for the championship, does that prove there might be some flaws in the methodology that people use to seek out open-wheel drivers in America today?
BUDDY RICE: I don't know. I think that's hard to say. Obviously some people, we all know that their thought process isn't normal anyway. I think from that aspect, that's just the way it is. But, no, I think everybody does a pretty good job of sorting out the open-wheel drivers and stuff. But there's so much, so many things have to fall right into place for everyone to be able to make it. I think that's like been the biggest thing. I wouldn't say there's a huge flaw in it, no.
Q. Are there other drivers or maybe other owners who didn't take your calls 10 months ago who treat you a little different now that you have established some success in the IRL?
BUDDY RICE: From the driver's side of things, I don't think so. I think racing is such a team deal, a situational sport, that if you're not in the right situation, the right environment, it's very hard to excel in that environment. Obviously, some people made their own decisions last year in what they thought I was capable or not capable of. But I think we've definitely showed that that thought process wasn't correct. So I think the situation I'm in now, I'm in such a much better team that it's just been huge. The whole thing has just kind of come together all in one big hit.
Q. Are you throwing out the first pitch at the Reds game, did I hear?
BUDDY RICE: I'm not sure. I think that's a possibility. I think I might be doing that this weekend, yes.
Q. Vitor, any plans or hopes or wants to throw out a first pitch this year?
VITOR MEIRA: Well, I've got to learn with Buddy. I've never played. Buddy has to pitch me some (laughter). Oh, yeah, I don't know. We'll do whatever it takes.
Q. For both drivers, your expectations this weekend for Kentucky Speedway, and also what do you think about that mile and a half track here just south of Cincinnati?
BUDDY RICE: I mean, for both Vitor and I, our expectations is one simple thing: make sure that both cars are up front and they finish up front. I think that's the whole goal. Like I said earlier, if we do that, we'll make sure the championship comes back to Rahal Letterman. With as strong as we've been on the mile-and-a-half ovals and stuff, I think we stand a very good chance of rolling in there, running up front, and trying to go for the win. I think that's what's very key. Obviously with the layout of the track, the facility's awesome at Kentucky. It's very fan friendly. Vitor will be able to talk about this better because he just tested down there, but it sounds like they've grinded the track and made it a lot smoother than what it was the previous year. I think that will be a huge help.
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, as Buddy was saying, it's all about first the teamwork we did again. When Buddy was testing in Nazareth, I was testing in Kentucky. The track is way better than last year. It doesn't have as many bumps as we did last year. The rest of the facility, again, it's really, really, really great. I mean, part of our speed on the one-and-a-half-mile oval, it's, again, Honda, it's the engine to have. Again, the cars are going to be good. I tested there. The cars are going to be as good as we had in Kansas. But, I mean, we just going to have to play the game there. I'm sure there are people that are going to be really fast there and they're going to be really competitive. But we going to have one of the strongest packages there. From my side is play right all the weakness that we have, which some of it was the pit stops. We've did teamwork that Centrix brought as philosophy. I think we can do much better and go for the first win.
Q. Buddy, the run that you have been on since you captured the pole at Indy and then won the race, from the outside looking in, it looks like something happened at Indy that either gave you confidence or the team confidence or a little bit of both. Is that pretty correct?
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I think there's definitely some confidence. I think the biggest thing we needed that we were able to do at Indy was to get testing in. With this new chassis, me being new to the team, my engineer coming over from the other side of Rahal Letterman's group to come to the IRL, all of us getting an understanding of this chassis and the Honda package and everything, we just missed a little bit in the first part of the season on the four days of testing. We only ended up testing two days because we had problems, so we only got really one day in at Homestead and one day at the Phoenix test. Since then we've gone from basically what we looked at as one of the worst short oval cars at Phoenix to where we ran second and were in a position to win at Milwaukee. After our Nazareth test, we were quite quick there. I just think that we got some testing time in. We grew together as a team and understood what we were looking for from both my side and what the chassis wanted. I think also it was a big help to have Roger there and Vitor there because we're getting that much more data and information that it allowed us to be much more aggressive on setups and to try a lot of other things that we weren't going to be able to try. I think that whole combination of everything is what's made it all happen for us.
Q. Buddy and Vitor, what is it at Rahal Letterman that causes this success? I know it's all about people and all of that, but if you're standing in the building as a driver, can you just feel success in that building?
VITOR MEIRA: Actually, yes, you do. I mean, I think the whole thing, again, is the simplicity that everybody approaches the work and the goals. I mean, we have clear goals and we have simplicity how to get there. There's nothing really complicated. It's not anything huge going on. It's just like Buddy said before, it's the quality of people that they have there. Those are the only assets on the race team, is the people, and how well the team works together. Me and Buddy, we work really, really good together. After every test session, we both meet at the engineer's room and we discuss the same problems, and everybody works towards one goal. I know that everybody there is working, too. But I think our thing is the simplicity and the guys we have on board, which with Buddy is Argent and Pioneer, with me it's Centrix Financial. Without them and Honda, that would not be possible. Again, what makes the thing great is the people and the teamwork we do.
BUDDY RICE: I mean, I think Vitor hit the nail on the head. I think it's just the teamwork. I think certain things happen. I think Bob made adjustments last year that he thought was going to be better for the team, and obviously one of the changes he was not anticipating was obviously having Kenny out of the seat. They made their decisions before the final race, and it was unfortunate for what happened with Kenny. So I think that they were making adjustments already for what they thought was going to be better for this year. You know, to have to fill in for Kenny, I'm just fortunate enough that I was the one they decided to choose to have me come fill in for him. I think it's a group effort, and there's just a combination of the G Force chassis and the Honda has been the right decision right now. We're very pleased with that. But I think the way they've made the adjustments with engineers and moving people around and different things, it's all kind of coming together. I mean, Bob has been in this position before. He's been in the position chasing championships with Kenny, back in the CART days, things like that. So I think that it's -- I don't know. Right now it's all kind of clicking and we're all on the same page and everyone's doing their job.
Q. You can feel it but you can't really see it is what it sounds like, you can't just put your hand on what it is, it's just there?
BUDDY RICE: Exactly. I think it's just something that happens. It's no different when I won the championship in 2000. It's just one of those things that everything starts clicking and rolls just in the right direction. It's all coming together nicely and hopefully we can keep the steamroller moving.
Q. Buddy, a lot of compliments over the weekend about the X Games move you made at the Indy 500 with the four-wide pass down the main straight.
BUDDY RICE: The pass on that restart was something that we needed to do at that point at the 500. I think obviously there was some great stuff going on at the X Games this weekend, as well.
Q. The ABC crew thought you might have been rubbing it in a little bit after the race was over because Tony was frustrated, you ended up getting the checkered flag, and they had to go find him because he stormed off. I don't think he did the TV interview for second place. Is there a rivalry developing? I know you guys are all in the Honda camp, but is there a rivalry going on between Rahal Letterman and Andretti Green? It seems like it's either you or them every weekend.
BUDDY RICE: I don't know if there's a rivalry really. That's something that gets played up by certain people who want to make a big drama scene or something. But I think that right now, two big Honda-powered teams are running up front and fighting for it. That's exactly what Honda wants. It's good for all of us. But it's not to say that the other engine manufacturers aren't working hard. To say that I was rubbing it in after the win against Tony, I have no idea. I wasn't even out of the car yet when all that had happened. How was I supposed to know that he was that upset or that was even going on? To say I was rubbing it in I don't think is correct.
Q. Vitor, I remember a couple years ago on the same day that a Brazilian won the pole at Indianapolis, Bruno Junqueira, was the day of the Ferrari team orders. Rubens Barrichello was to step aside, and the president of Brazil got on television and was ripping Formula 1. How do they feel at home? What kind of response are you getting back home from the IRL? We know Helio and Gil are huge heroes back there. Is there a growing sense of excitement about the Indy Racing League in Brazil?
VITOR MEIRA: Yes, it is. First, we have several Brazilians in the championship, but mainly it's because how great the race has been. Not only with Tony fighting for the championship with Buddy, but how the races and the finishes have been. I mean, we had the second closest finish in the history. We had almost every race finish, if not side by side, it's never more than half a second away. That's what nowadays racing needs. Again, at that time that Rubens had to let Schumacher go, they were really disappointed on racing, and the racing there started to lose a lot. Mainly F1, it's the team that dominates there. But IRL is really having a real nice recognizement (sic) there. It's only going to grow. The TV packages are going to improve for next year. IRL is doing a really good job not only here in America but all over the world. I mean, it can only get better from now on.
Q. Going out to Anaheim to see the Angels and Baltimore Orioles. We'll start lobbying them to get your first pitch when they're in California in September.
VITOR MEIRA: Cool.
Q. Neither one of you has had great luck at Kentucky Speedway. I'm wondering if that creates a problem for you this weekend or if you can just look past it because of the packages you had before weren't nearly as good and the teamwork wasn't.
BUDDY RICE: I think you just said it. I mean, it's obviously -- we're in a completely different situation. I definitely am in a completely different situation than I was last year. I think that's what's making the biggest difference. I don't think we're overly concerned that our past results weren't as good there, especially after the test Vitor just had down there with some of the other teams. So I think we're both going to roll in there no different than we have at any of these other mile-and-a-half tracks that we just plan on doing what we have been.
VITOR MEIRA: Yeah, I mean, I feel just like Buddy do. We did have some not really good times, but that wasn't only in Kentucky. That also happened on my side, for example, like Michigan last year and Kansas last year, we didn't finish races and we had really bad luck. But those place, they've been really good for us. I think Kentucky, if we play everything right, if the group comes together, it's going to be no different. I mean, everything's going to fall in place as it's been happening. It's going to depend on our work. That's what is going to teach the way.
TOM SAVAGE: Thanks very much, gentlemen. I know you have a lot going on this time of year. We'll see you in a couple days in Kentucky.
BUDDY RICE: Thank you.
VITOR MEIRA: Thank you.
TOM SAVAGE: Thanks again, everyone.
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