Q and A with Bobby Rahal and Michel Jourdain Jr.
Welcome to the call, and talk about today's announcement and renewing your relationship with Michel who was very successful racing with your team in the not‑so‑distant past.
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, thank you. You know, I think we're very excited about this partnership again. Michel did a very, very good job for us really at some of the high points in Indy car racing in 2002, 2003, and probably should have won a few more. Not through his fault, but other things.
I'm just pleased that we've been able to put something back together with him. We started this discussion at Las Vegas actually last year and were able to work hard, and here we are. So I'm very pleased to have him back with us. He's still only 35 years old. I think people forget how young he was. He was 19 when he went to Indy for the 500 the first time, so he's only 35, younger than Franchitti and many others in this series. I think good drivers are good drivers. They acclimate themselves to whatever it is they're driving quickly. So I anticipate we'll have a very good month with Michel as part of the team
Q. Last year the team came within a few laps of winning the Indy 500. Do you feel like the pairing of Michel with Takuma Sato gives you another chance at winning a 500?
But never the less, I'm very pleased with where we're going technically. I think we're in form. The first few races have shown that. My feeling is that now we can have a competitive month. It's going to take a lot of effort to be sure, but no different than with anybody else. It's just up to us to make the best of it.
Q. You mentioned that Michel and yourself began talking at Las Vegas last fall. How did the deal come about with him and with Office Depot México?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think he's been entertaining coming back into IndyCar racing for some time. He raced in Europe in the touring car championship and has been doing racing here in México for the last several years, driven some endurance races. It's not like he's not been doing anything. But I think he's been looking at getting back into IndyCar racing. So knowing we had such a good relationship before, I think he reached out to us first. Of course I had an ongoing relationship anyway.
I think very highly of Michel. So I said absolutely, that I'd be very interested and would welcome him. He works hard, and we're very fortunate to have Office Depot and many of the other sponsors, Grupo Indi, Grupo Multi. So it's really almost like a coming‑home party in many respects. So we anticipated a pretty seamless reentry into IndyCar racing.
Q. I was wondering if you could update on where things stand with Luca (Fillippi).
BOBBY RAHAL: We're continuing to work towards Luca being part of the team. I received a call today which leads me to believe that's going to be soon. Frankly whether it's in time for Indy, I can't tell you at this stage. But it looks like we're making some progress there.
I know he's anxious to get going as we are, so we'll just have to wait and see. But I anticipate that he will definitely be with us, if not at Indy, certainly afterwards.
Q. Just to clarify, you said whether it's in time for Indy, I can't tell you. If something were to magically come together, could you field three cars?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, we have a capacity to do that, but obviously with each passing day, that becomes more and more difficult. So time is not our friend in this case. But for me, the biggest thing is to get Luca in with the team, regardless of whichever race, and then work towards the future. We anticipate and hope that Luca will be a part of the team for quite some time.
Q. Obviously the Indianapolis 500, the key race of the 2012 season and in the IndyCar season, how do you develop the chemistry between two new teammates for the biggest race of the season?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, again, certainly time is not our friend. But Michel has a number of races with us, Long Beach, Barber, St. Pete, being with the team who were with him the first time around, so some of the engineering is the same, not a lot of new people. But I think that's not going to be such a problem frankly. I think if you compare the driver and the way we go about our Indy ‑‑ the month of May as such, there's a lot of communication between the team, and we work hard at ensuring that ‑‑ we want to prepare ourselves as a team, not necessarily individually. So one day we might work on qualifying runs and the next day we'll do some race simulation work, and then the next day it's the other way around. That way we generate a lot of information, and a lot of time is spent pouring over that information.
But I don't think that there will be any issue with the team or Michel getting along, and I think from an engineering standpoint and from a team standpoint, many of the people that will be with us at Indy this year were with Michel way back when. So I think there's a lot of familiarity with most of the people there, and I think that will go a long way towards minimizing this decade‑long absence.
Q. Bobby, quick question for you. I know you talked a little bit about from the engineering standpoint, you said there's a lot of holdovers going back. Have you made a determination on kind of who that includes, and might Scott be on the pit box for that, or are you not sure yet?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, our technical director, Jay O'Connell, was with us during the years with Ford. He was with us during those years in Champ Car, so there's a familiarity there. Of course Scott Roembke, who is our strategic head now but was an operations guy, he called many of the races for Michel, and he's going to do the same thing in May. And Cole Selva, a specialist that was with Michel then. So yeah, there's quite a few people that were involved.
And then of course the engineering for Michel will be Bruno Couprie, who was Oriol Servia's engineer last year from Newman/Haas. He qualified on the front level with Michel, so he got something figured out there. I guess all in all when you start to add up all the assets that we have on the engineering side, I think we're pretty strong.
Q. Unrelated to this announcement, I was wondering what your take is on what's going on between Chevrolet and Honda to change the turbo charger?
BOBBY RAHAL: All I know is what I read. I haven't been in on the manufacturer meetings. But my understanding is that I think Tony Cotman made it pretty clear the other day. I read it somewhere, about the situation, and they mutually agreed that there would be some kind of equalization ability with the engine and what have you.
Again, I can only go by ‑‑ and Tony was kind of leading the discussion between them, and my only take can be what he says. I guess what happens between the two outfits, the other one don't want the other one to have any advantage or what have you. But as I say, I only know what I read.
But I do defer to what Tony Cotman said because he was there. That's about it.
MODERATOR: It looks like Michel has joined us. Are you there?
MICHEL JOURDAIN: Yes, I'm sorry.
Q. I don't know if you heard the question before you disconnected, but it's been 16 years since you last raced in the Indianapolis 500. What brings you back to the speedway to race this year?
MICHEL JOURDAIN: Well, really, you know, I came to the Vegas race and I've been following, of course, IndyCar all this time. I have all this time a lot of friends there, and then I want to come and try to do something. I spoke to Bobby and then spoke to the guys from Office Depot in México, and things have started running, and it's really a dream for me to get back into driving in IndyCar, especially in IndyCar's race to get back with Bobby team. To go to St. Pete and to Long Beach, and there's so many people that were there ten years ago when I was driving. I spent the best years of my life with Bobby, and I think it's a good situation to get back in it.
MODERATOR: What do you expect from the new IZOD IndyCar Series car? I guess this would be a good year to come back with everyone having less familiarity with the car at Indianapolis.
MICHEL JOURDAIN: Yes. It's part of the thinking that, you know, everybody is starting from scratch. Bobby's engineering group I think is really, really good, to see how they've done these races. They've done an amazing job, and every year, Bobby, the last couple years, the team has done a fantastic job. I think it's a good situation and a great year.
I think IndyCar racing, the two races I run this year it feels good, from the sponsors to the team to the fans. Like I said, it's fantastic. And we think it's a fantastic time to get back in it.
Q. Looks like Chevrolet kind of has the advantage at the beginning of the season. Is that your biggest concern for Indy, that you are going to have a little bit of trouble keeping up with the Chevy cars?
MICHEL JOURDAIN: Bobby or me?
MICHEL JOURDAIN: Well, for me, I have trust in Honda, that they will do a ‑‑ that they have done a great job. Dario was very close, I think, in Long Beach in qualifying, and in the race I think he was quite competitive. Hopefully it won't be a factor. But at the end, if it was the case, then that's what we have to work with and we'll do our best with whatever it is.
But I have really, really good confidence in Honda. Everything they've done over the years, they always do a fantastic job, so I'm not really ‑‑ I think it's going to be good to be joining Bobby's team. He has a Honda engine, and every time they do something, they do it the best.
BOBBY RAHAL: The only thing I can add is we haven't been to an oval yet. I think the jury is still out. I have no doubt that people are saving something for Indy anyway.
We've been pretty competitive, Chevy versus Honda, on the road courses so far. So I think it would be premature to say one has an advantage over the other at Indy.
Q. Michel, for you, considering so many of the cars you drove during your prior career had much more horsepower, do you think it's going to be an easier transition to come into something where the horsepower levels are a little down, and do you think it's the right amount or are you not sure yet?
MICHEL JOURDAIN: Well, I think horsepower at the speedway, I mean, it's hard because it's not that big of a difference. Yes, I haven't driven ‑‑ the last cars I drove at the speedway were more horsepower, but it's been a long time, so I think I'm starting from scratch in a way.
At the speedway, when you're at top speed, of course it's not that big of a difference. You are trying to be smooth and have a car that moves through the corners as smooth as possible, so I don't expect that to be a factor in getting back into one of these cars.
Q. You mentioned entering the series with a new car, but you'll also be seeing a lot of new faces in terms of the drivers you'll be competing with. What's your impression of the competition in the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series?
MICHEL JOURDAIN: I think it's really good. You know, I think the races have been very competitive. Yeah, there's a lot of old faces, but a lot of new faces. And I'm used to ‑‑ the last couple of years, I've done a different kind of series and racing with guys that you don't know, and in the end when you are inside the car, you don't care if it's your best friend. Through the years being in México I've raced against my father, my uncle, my best friends, and I spent so many years in the Champ Car I was racing with great friends. But I don't care if I know them. If I don't, I try to race my best all the time. But the level of drivers I think are higher than it's ever been.
MODERATOR: We will wrap up this portion of the teleconference with you and wish you luck at Indianapolis in month of May. We've now been joined by Helio Castroneves.
Helio obviously had an event in Brazil with the mayor of his hometown donating a bus, I believe, Helio?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, that's correct. I'm sorry to all of you, and obviously it's a big deal for the city. We're donating a bus that is actually ‑‑ one was in October last year, and because this project was a success, we decided to carry on in doing ‑‑ it's kind of like a playground bus. The area there in my hometown is very underprivileged kids in the area, so we decided to donate this bus together with a company here in my hometown so that this bus can go and help those kids.
So it was just great. We're going to start in 15 minutes, and that's why I was a little late. Hopefully you guys understand.
MODERATOR: Helio obviously drives the No. 3 Chevrolet for Team Penske. He's currently second in the IZOD IndyCar Series points standings entering this weekend's Sao Paulo Indy 300 in Sao Paulo Brazil. Helio, the season so far, is it what you expected, and do you think you have what it takes to win on the streets of Sao Paulo?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, the team has certainly been doing a phenomenal job starting obviously three races of the season and able to capture three wins. Certainly I feel great. I feel very good about the season, especially after what we had last year, and we feel great.
Unfortunately last race we had a little bit of issues with traffic and incidents, but we want to continue carrying this good momentum with the team, especially here in my hometown of Brazil. Certainly there is a lot of hype and there is a lot of excitement for this race. Everybody is really pumped. Hopefully Mother Nature helps this year so that we can have a dry race, and that will help the Brazilians.
Q. You have three big feats, and I would assume they're probably goals for you, that you have a strong chance to capture the season, with one of them winning in your hometown on Sunday. Second one you can win your record tying 400 at the end of May, and the third one is winning your first series championship. In what order would you rank those three feats that you'd like to accomplish?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Good question. I dream big, and my dream is to capture all of them, and I have no order. The order for me is as it comes, so Brazil, Indy, and then the championship. Certainly if you've got to choose one, I always dream about Indy and even now so close to do something very amazing. No question Indy would be an incredible achievement.
But again, for me, it's race and go out there to do my best and try to capture all my goals, and the goals is to win. Unfortunately there is a lot of people against that goal, and that's what we face every weekend in and out trying to beat everyone, and that's the beauty of the sport.
So I'm really excited to start the season the way we started so that we can achieve all the goals. And hopefully when we talk about it, we'll be inside.
Q. Unfortunately I followed the forecast that's calling for a bit of rain down there in Sao Paulo pretty much through next Wednesday. Do you guys have plans for a wet race setup, or do you have plans for dry conditions right now?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Yeah, we can't predict too much. If it's going to rain, certainly you're going to have to plan as Saturday comes with the fact that the practice will be the wet. It's a great indication that we can prepare our cars for the rain. If the track is dry, we can only do some basic setups, which I'm sure it's no different than a lot of guys.
And we just got to take it easy and make sure that we complete the first lap, because the last few years that we are here, unfortunately we have an incident on the first lap, and that's what we're looking for.
Q. I'm just wondering, Dario has had a lock on the championship for the past few years and seems to be unbeatable. This year things aren't going so great for him and for you Penske guys, you and Will, things are going pretty well. Is this your best shot at knocking him off the top in the last few years do you think?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, it isn't over till it's over. I can't speak for those guys. Certainly we're taking any advantage that we can. Even still the third race of the reason, a lot of points is in the game, and we just want to make sure that we take as much advantage as we can and don't give any inch to anybody. In this particular case, we're happy that Chevy is doing a good job and Penske is doing even a better job to put all the package together.
But we're not worried about what those guys are doing. We're worried to continue working our car setup, and hopefully we execute in the race weekend, as well.
Q. Just as a follow‑up, on the other side of that, Will has been second for the past couple of years, and you and he are right now one and two in the championship. If you have to fight him for the title, what strength does he have that you have to be aware of, and what can you do to beat him?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Well, Will certainly is a guy that I can put special qualifying, put corners together. But obviously him, and I guess right now having a very close race team and setups and the way the combination that we're having, it seems to be working for everyone, including my teammate Ryan Briscoe. So we just need to do it, just be in the right place at the right time.
The last few years he was close, and well, we want to make sure that one of our guys win this season. Hopefully it will be better for everyone, and I'll find ways to make it happen, trust me.
Q. I was wondering, with so many unknowns this season for everybody, with the new car, the engine manufacturers, Penske has still managed to be perfect, three poles, three wins. Why do you think that your organization has got it figured out so quickly right from the get‑go?
HELIO CASTRONEVES: Certainly Team Penske last year to this year, they hired a lot of people backstage, people that you guys don't see every day in, day out in the race weekend. I believe Roger has always been a key guy to put everything together. He certainly understands what it takes to win championships.
And I believe the organization right now at this point, we're taking advantage with the past few seasons, preseason that we've had at the beginning of the year and even the end of last year. We were able to learn ‑‑ together with all the team, we were able to learn and put it all together. So I believe with those changes that we have from last year to this year with the new equipment, we're able to start ahead of the game like it used to be. With all the resources that we have right now, with so many people, I think finally we're able to execute out there.
I think it's a little bit of the backstage of the shop that you guys can't see that is making a difference right now.
MODERATOR: We will wrap up today's IZOD IndyCar Series conference call. Thank you for your time and best of luck this weekend in Sao Paulo.
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