Q and A with Bobby Rahal and Takuma Sato
Gentlemen, welcome to today's call, especially Takuma who I understand is calling from Japan, where it's very early.
Takuma Sato: Good morning and good afternoon, everyone.
Q. Bobby, talk about the team's recent news. How excited are you to add a driver the quality of Takuma and how did your relationship start?
Bobby Rahal: I'm excited that Taku has joined us for our 2012 IndyCar season. I had a chance to see Taku not when he first started racing but when he was Europe in England in Formula 3 in 2001 when I was over there with Jaguar Formula One. I managed to watch Takuma win a lot of Formula 3 races. I think Formula 3 has always been considered a very good judge of talent.
Of course, you know, I kept an eye on him when he was in Formula One. So I've known his competitiveness, his speed. I've seen that many times over the years.
I was very pleased that we were able to come together. We've spent some time together. Taku spent a lot of time in England, so he's got a lot of English slang and colloquialisms, so it's almost like being back in England when you're around him.
I think we all look forward to having him with us because, as I said earlier, he's shown his pace over the last couple years in IndyCars. As I said in the beginning when we reentered IndyCar racing, it was important for us to do so with someone who was going to be competitive. I had no real interest in just being here. Taku certainly fits that bill.
I think we are quite excited for the start of the year. We have testing to do yet. We've done a little bit already in December which went I think pretty well. So I think everybody's just anxious to get going.
Bobby Rahal: This has actually been under consideration for a number of years. It's really become the center of IndyCar racing, the Indianapolis area. You look at the resource that exists here within the area, both the human resource, but the subcontractors, what have you, that can provide services for an IndyCar team.
It just seemed to me that we needed to be in sort of the epicenter of IndyCar racing now that we were going to come back into it on a full-time basis. So we managed to lease the space that Gil de Ferran used to be in from my friend Don Prudhomme. It's a nice shop up here in Brownsburg. This is a start for us. But the IndyCar team will certainly be headquartered here for many years to come because we think this is the place to be both for now and in the future.
Q. Taku San, it has to be a relief for you to get your plans for 2012 settled after what has been a pretty long off-season.
Takuma Sato: Yes and no. Obviously I'm very excited to be announced I'm joined with Bobby's big project. I'm extremely pleased and extremely excited.
As Bobby said, I made the first contact immediately after the season ends last year. When I heard from Bobby, it was such an excitement project for his 2012 restart with the IndyCar project.
We talk about lots of various options, the great stories, what could be the scenario. It was just a matter of all the preparation.
It was a long winter. But I was always confident that we could do a great deal with it. Suddenly the announcement this February, very excitement. But I've known it's going to be happen from very early stage of the end of the season last year, so I'm extremely pleased.
Q. This will be your third year in the IZOD IndyCar Series. What led to your decision to change teams and do you feel that Rahal Letterman Lanigan can help you get the first win in the series that you've been so close to getting?
Takuma Sato: Yeah, sure. As a driver you have to look at the options, the various options, after the season ends. As I said, Bobby gave me a great offer. I believe very strongly this team is going to be huge potential.
I mean, Bobby's team, Rahal Letterman Lanigan team, it's shown great history. The numbers in racing is very impressive winning record. It's just great success. Okay, the IndyCar Series wasn't entering full-time in a couple years, but they showing great speed last year every single time they were entering IndyCar. So I was very confident.
Of course, with the new operation, (indiscernible) very experienced, and such a great opportunity to see all the possibility for the great performance. When I discuss with Bobby how it's going to operate with the new team, I was very excited.
My expectation is ever so high. I was very confident we could do a great job this year.
Q. Bobby, I know you talked about not only having Taku, but having a second car. Since you're coming back into the series, have you gone over with the series how Leaders Circle money might be allocated? Is there a date where you need to have the second car confirmed or else that engine contract, you might not have that?
Bobby Rahal: First off, on the Leaders Circle situation, I'm not quite sure what the situation is there. We certainly made a presentation to them, as did many other teams.
I think we bring some unique assets to the equation that can really help IndyCar. I think we've already utilized many of those, thanks to David Letterman. But that process is still going on as far as I know. We've not heard one way or the other.
We certainly hope to receive one of the Leaders Circle memberships and believe we deserve to be, frankly. But, again, it's out of our hands at this stage and we'll just have to wait like everybody else. I think it is important for us to be one of the members of the Leaders Circle, so we're certainly hopeful.
In regards to the second car, we're very close on that. All of our efforts are being split right now between getting Taku's car ready for the Barber test. This last week we did not go to the Sebring test because we felt it was more important for us to understand the car, what we have a little bit better, so we spent several days on the seven-post rig up in Canada, which we've used quite extensively in the past in IndyCar Series and ALMS cars. We came away with a lot of good information from that.
Quite frankly, there's plenty of time. You're limited to 1,000 miles per driver pre-season anyway. So by doing Barber, Sebring and Sebring again, we'll be able to accomplish 1,000 miles.
I think right now it's getting Taku's car ready for those tests and working hard to finalize our second driver. The second car is being prepared as we speak. As far as we're concerned, we're going to have two cars, two drivers, and that's really our focus at this point in time.
Q. Bobby, what is the importance of having multiple cars, with your new car? Do you have more chance to find out more about them?
Bobby Rahal: For sure having multiple cars within a team is better I think up to a point. I think ideally a two-car team is probably the right number. We've run three in the past and been successful with that. But, nevertheless, organizationally it's a much tougher deal. That's part of the reason why we want to be a two-car team.
Having said that, I had my best years, some of my best years, on a single-car team. We've gone to Indy the last several years as a single-car team and done I think pretty well.
While a single-car team may not be ideal, I think your ability to be competitive is just as good there as anywhere else because you're able to focus all your efforts on one driver, one car, a small group of people tightly knit. That can do a lot of good things.
In the end, if we have our options, we want to be a two-car team. We're working hard for that. I think we will be. So that's how we're going forward at this stage.
Q. Do you think the input from two different drivers really helps?
Bobby Rahal: Well, it can help. It can be good and it can be bad. If you have two drivers who drive completely differently from one another it's like having two one-car teams. The real advantage for many multiple-car teams is where you've got drivers who can drive each other's setups and each of them can enhance the other guy's setup with his own insight. So you really get a powerful combination when that happens.
When you have two drivers, it's not an automatic that the information is going to be the same or similar because it could very well be completely opposite.
As I say, there's pluses and minuses to it. You certainly hope when you do something like that you're on the plus side.
Q. Takuma, I know Honda has been a big part of your racing career. Landing with a Honda team must give you some confidence heading into this upcoming season.
Takuma Sato: Yeah, I'm extremely pleased to be again working with the Honda family. Obviously I worked long-term, since Europe, and then obviously in IndyCar last two seasons with Honda and HPD. It was extremely impressive working with all engineers. Particularly when I was entering with manufacture testing in December, the way working with operating with the new engines was very interested. We working with the various different programs to improve the engine drivability testing. In December it was extremely enjoyable. And it was big confidence that we would be very competitive.
So, once again, working with Honda and HPD is extremely exciting thing. Of course, with the history with Bobby's success with Honda is very important to have as one of the (indiscernible) and with the big family. I'm very pleased.
Q. Bobby, we talked a bit about the team's expansion, Tom Anderson being the main one in team manager. I know he said there were a few Newman/Haas crew brought in. Have you determined who is going to be the engineer for Takuma's car or the engineer for the second car?
Bobby Rahal: As you know, we brought Bruno Couprie in from Newman/Haas. He was Servia's engineer last year. While Bruno's main focus will be on the BMW program, he also will have an involvement on the IndyCar side. Of course, Jay O'Connell is our technical director. He's led the charge in terms of staffing the engineering side of the occasion.
We do have an engineer for Taku. Unfortunately, I can't tell you who it is at this stage of the game. But he's been a very successful one over the years. So we're pleased when he'll be onboard officially.
We're talking to a number of other people. I don't like the lateness of some of this stuff, as you might imagine. But there's some good people out there. There are people from sort of other walks of life, so to speak, that haven't necessarily been in IndyCar in the last year or two but still are very accomplished engineers.
There's a fairly large pool to choose from. Obviously the pool gets smaller when you're looking for better and better engineers. But there's talent out there for sure. We don't rely on one guy to lead the charge really because it really has to be a team effort, even more so on the engineering side.
No matter who it is that comes in here to be an engineer for a car, he's got the backing and the support of the entire department. I think each of our guys, there's a lot of experience on our team in IndyCar engineering, there's a lot of contributions that can be made.
Q. Takuma, of all the driver opinions we've gotten on the new DW12, would you talk about how it feels, drives and sounds compared to cars you drove before?
Takuma Sato: It was one of the another exciting thing that we having absolute brand-new car. I know Dallara a long time, since obviously Formula 3 days. Once again, working with the Dallara car when I come to the States two years ago, it was another excitement thing.
Having experienced two years, I know how its characteristic would be in IndyCar with road course and oval. With the new concept Dallara car, DW12, it's showing good (indiscernible) in road course.
Obviously I only drove it at Sebring a day testing. But basically all area was include from last year's car, let's say the Dallara chassis. It was very positive. There was more downforce. It's more, how can I say, precise with the feel of the car. I've got more grip, as well. And particularly with the new carbon brake, seems to be very consistent to be able to have consistent stopping power which gives the driver confidence. I'm sure with very close racing with IndyCar tradition, I'm sure we will see lots of the braking performance on the car, which will be good.
Working with the engineering side as well, it's a very good response. Whatever we changed, it seems to be clearly responded very well. So that was exciting thing, too, having a lot of discussion with the new season, new car, the engineers, going to looking forward to that.
I don't know how well is following the other car because in manufacture testing I didn't have a chance to do that. But hopefully this car has got a good characteristic to be able to have exciting racing with road course, street course and of course oval as well. I'm looking forward bring back this car to go to oval and the road course too.
Q. I read several of the NASCAR people saying that the economy is turning around, sponsorships are becoming easier to get. Do you see any of that in the IndyCar ranks?
Bobby Rahal: I definitely think over the last year, first off we're seeing definitely IndyCar in an upward trajectory. Seems to be a lot of interest in it. I think there does seem to be a little more interest out there. It's still tough. It is still tough. People are still being very conservative in the corporate world. But there's opportunity out there, for sure. It's just a matter of finding it.
I think one of the things that makes IndyCar racing unique in terms of selling is that there's so many races that are street races that no other series in the United States offers. You really can sell something that's different, that allows these companies to get very, very close to their clientele by being in the middle of these cities. That is something that seems to be drawing a lot of interest out there in the corporate world.
It's not like they're knocking the doors down to come in. You still have to go out and knock on doors and make things happen.
THE MODERATOR: We'll thank our guests for joining us today and wrap-up today's IndyCar conference call.
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