IRL Teleconference: Rahal and Wilson; Servia, Power and Vasser
Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson, Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing
Jimmy Vasser, Oriol Servia and Will Power, KV Racing Technology
MODERATOR: Thank you. Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us. The guests to start the call are Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson who will drive for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing in the IndyCar Series. And we'll also be joined by Jimmy Vasser and Oriol Servia and Will Power from KV Racing Technology.
Graham is the 19‑year‑old son of 1986 Indy 500 winner Bobby Rahal. He made one Indy Pro Series start in 2006, winning the pole for the Liberty Challenge on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. And he went on to finish second that season in the Champ Car Atlantic Series.
Justin has finished second in the Champ Car standings in each of the last two seasons, and in four seasons overall he recorded four race victories and six pole positions. And he raced in Formula One in 2003 and started the race on the road course in Indianapolis.
Graham, first question for you. Unification just came together a couple of weeks ago. Give us an update with how things are coming together for the new program with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing.
GRAHAM RAHAL (1:50): I think for all of us it's been quite busy. I was there last week. And for sure the guys were working hard. And you know we'll be there. But it's not going to be an easy task. For quite some time they've been waiting for parts and pieces and wiring looms and all this other stuff.
I think it's starting to show up now. The cars I think are all back from paint, so start assembling them and get ready for next week at Sebring.
MODERATOR: Justin, there will be a couple of opportunities to get into the car before the race as Graham alluded to next week at Sebring in a couple of days. Tell us what you've heard about the IndyCar Series cars - how long do you think it will take to adapt to driving something different?
JUSTIN WILSON (2:30): I'm not sure how the car's going to handle yet. I haven't got too much information on that. But the brief bit of information I've received, it looks very similar to what we're used to. And it will be a case of spending that first test at Sebring getting comfortable in the car and getting climatized with how it responds and build on that. So the key is getting some good foundations in before we go to Homestead and open up on the oval.
MODERATOR: Looking ahead at 2008, obviously you had a real successful career in Champ Car especially finishing second in the last two years. With the loss of Sebastian (Bourdais) you would have been considered the favorite this season. What do you set your expectations and goals for 2008?
JUSTIN WILSON (3:30): Like Graham said, it's going to be tough. We've got a long road ahead of us trying to work everything out. The guys are working very hard right now. So it's hard to understand what kind of goal to put on it. But our aim is, or my personal aim is, to do the best we can, whether that is trying to get a podium or pick up race wins. I don't want to overestimate and I don't want to underestimate. We've got to judge the competition when we get there and be realistic. And not get carried away. These first few races will be very difficult. The short time we've had to get the cars prepared and the lack of information we have as far as set‑up wise, we don't have years of experience setting these cars up.
So that takes time. And I'm pretty confident that I'm in the right place being with Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, that we can work it out.
MODERATOR: Graham, likewise, let's get your take on 2008. Coming off a very successful rookie season, I think you would have also probably been considered a title contender for 2008, with the change now in the series, where do you set your goals and expectations?
GRAHAM RAHAL (4:30): I think just as Justin just said, I think for us it's going to be tough, especially these first couple of races. Especially on the ovals for myself, because I've only ever done one before and that was in a Star Mazda car and that's obviously significantly slower than this. And it's going to be quite an eye‑opener the first time I get in the car on the oval especially in race trim when we go to Homestead for the first race. I can't ‑‑ if we can put the thing back in the truck in one piece and I think that's quite a good result for us.
At the end of the day, obviously since we've gotten these cars late, and as I just mentioned the cars just getting pieced together, we certainly don't expect to be the quickest.
It's going to be very tough for us to contend with the Penskes and Ganassis of the world, AGR, but as time goes on it will get closer and closer.
So hopefully we can fight for the rookie‑of‑the‑year award. And I think that's the most we can do at this point. Obviously on road courses we feel more confident that we can be close and hopefully contend for wins there. So it's obviously a great thing that the two series have come together. And just as you mentioned, I feel that if it had stayed as Champ Car, obviously there maybe would have been a shot for me to win some races and challenge for the title.
But now we look at it in a different light and we need to go out there and learn and do our best.
MODERATOR: Graham, you touched on the ovals there. Justin, let me get your take. I know you have a little more experience on ovals. You guys raced at Milwaukee, I understand your first test in the U.S. actually came at Homestead. Tell us a little bit about the upcoming season with the number of races on ovals.
JUSTIN WILSON (7:00): It's going to be quite an eye‑opener, as Graham said. It's going to take a little bit of getting used to. Trying to understand all the different ovals. Like you said, I've done Milwaukee for a couple of times. Started to get comfortable with that after a year or two. But doing more than one season I think we'll start to learn and pick it up a lot quicker, understand what it takes to set the cars up.
It's quite a challenge. As you said, my first test was on an oval at Homestead back in 2002, the end of 2002 and that was with Newman Haas. That was quite an experience and great fun. But I felt a little bit under prepared for that.
But that and this year, we're just going to have to take it easy and learn as much as we can, because obviously these guys have been doing it for years and know how to race and know what it's like in traffic.
That's all stuff we have to work out and understand before we get too carried away.
Q: Graham, I was wondering, have you actually sat ‑‑ have you sat in your car yet; and, number two, what is your anticipation of how different these cars will be compared to the ones you drove last year from the standpoint of do you expect them to be a little sluggish, a little overweight? What's sort of your anticipation?
GRAHAM RAHAL (9:00): Well, yeah, I sat in the car last week. I had actually had a seat made at Rahal Letterman last year. At the time it was looking like it was potentially going to be a test I could do on a road course. I made a seat and I've taken that seat to NHLR and trimmed it out and everything to make it fit.
I sat in the car. I think fortunately for me I got a new car, so it should be light on weight. Certainly something we're going to face this year. Compared to Danica (Patrick) and some of the others, Justin and I are obviously a little taller and a little heavier.
So the lightest chassis is always the best thing. So we'll have one of them. As far as the car goes, obviously it's going to be very different than what we're used to. Or at least that's what I think. The turbo not being there anymore. A little less horsepower. At the end of the day these are still quick machines. And until you actually get in it and feel it, it's going to be tough to tell. If you look at test times at Sebring, certainly these cars aren't too far off.
For a car that was meant to be an oval car that's been transitioned to a road race car, I think they've done a great.
Q: We spoke about this, are you playing PlayStation, or are you watching video trying to get up to speed, so to speak, with the new tracks? Because literally you're going to almost all new tracks with the exception of three, I think. How are you getting up to speed with the new environment?
GRAHAM RAHAL (10:30): I think it's going to be tough. I've been watching as much video as possible. But at the same time it's, until you're actually doing it, it's always tough to tell how it's really going to feel. There are a lot of driving simulator systems out there that I've looked recently into getting my hands on. But unfortunately due to cost I haven't been able to. But I don't think ‑‑ at this point the best I can do is watch tape from not just last year but years in the past, every circle we go to.
And, you know, as far as the tracks I know, I mean we're looking forward to going back there to especially Long Beach and Surfers (Paradise) and really hoping that we can gain some experience, a lot of experience here at Homestead for the first race and go from there. And hopefully every other one after that will come a little easier. Obviously I don't expect it to be easy by any means. But after you get one off your shoulders, hopefully the rest will kind of fall into place.
Q: When you talk about watching tape, are you talking about in‑cockpit shots or the whole thing in and out?
GRAHAM RAHAL: The video I have it's in‑car stuff and I have some race footage, but mainly in‑car.
Q: Graham, two‑parter. Considering you joined the IndyCar Series, you'll be driving along side Marco Andretti and A.J. Foyt, IV, have you given it any thought you'll be part of a second‑coming of sorts for many of these great oval names of the past? And if so, do you feel like you've got some outside pressure for that fact, or are you just trying to focus on yourself and just sticking to your own ways here?
GRAHAM RAHAL (12:30): For me at this point I'm just trying to focus at the task at hand. Obviously for the fans it's exciting you have the Foyts and Andrettis and Rahals racing against each other once again. To be completely fair, do I expect to run with them initially? No. Obviously I'd love to be able to say yes, I can go out there and do that.
But with my lack of experience on these ovals, it's certainly going to be a tough thing. I'm looking forward to getting back there with Marco (Andretti). I've raced with him in the past. He's obviously a very good driver and looking forward to racing with him again.
Like I said, at this point we need to focus on our job as a team at Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing and look at certainly put aside things like beating Marco and A.J. (Foyt IV). As much as excitement as that may offer for us, at the end of the day we want to go out there and beat everybody. That does include beating them as well.
Q: Justin, if you want to answer this one. I'm just curious on whether or not the team, man for man, pretty much made the migration over from what was Champ Car to now what is the IRL or IndyCar Series, did you lose anybody in the transition or are the teams pretty much intact on both sides?
JUSTIN WILSON (14:30): As far as I'm aware, no, everyone's taken on the task at hand of getting these new cars ready in such a short space of time. And they're working flat out. I think they changed a couple of the crew guys over the period as things have changed. But nothing more than any normal team happens to expect. So we've got a few new guys joining my side of the team, which actually people I know already from working on my car in previous years. So I'm pretty confident we've got a great bunch of people and a lot of experience inside the shop to get these cars prepared to the usual high level that Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has them prepared to.
Q: We still haven't seen the 2008 schedule maybe incorporating several of the Champ Car dates. We think Surfers is sort of in there. Long Beach has been handled a special way. But the fans in Canada are wondering what's going on. The Toronto race is gone for this year, should be back in '09. But Edmonton still hasn't made the list. Can I get a comment from both of you racing in Canada and getting the race back in Toronto?
JUSTIN WILSON (15:30): It's great to race in Canada. I've had some of our best results in the Canadian events. And very hopeful that Edmonton will be on the schedule this year, because it's a fantastic circuit, very demanding physically and mentally. So I'm looking forward to possibly going back there. I hope that comes off. Toronto is where I got my first win in Champ Car. Opens some special memories for myself. It would be great to see that back on calendar. I have no insight into when, how and where that would be, but I would definitely love to see it happen.
GRAHAM RAHAL: The same for me. I think every time we go to Canada we get huge crowds and that's obviously exciting as a driver to be a part of that.
For myself, you know, I'm really hoping to see Edmonton on the schedule. Last year, I finished third there in the Champ Car and the year before was on the podium in Atlantic. So I had some success there in the past and wish to continue that this year. I think that's a great circuit. And we all know one thing it's very physical.
As far as Toronto, I think Toronto certainly has been a very special part of the schedule every single year just from the standpoint that it's got so much history behind it. I think it would be great for all of us to go back there. So hopefully we'll see that in '09 and as for now, as you said, we'll wait to see exactly what the final schedule is.
Q: Graham, you've got a potential of an advisor there in your dad who won the '86 Indy 500. Have you talked to him about racing in Indianapolis and what's the big oval going to be like for you?
GRAHAM RAHAL (17:30): I think he's always told me that if there's, if you could pick one oval to drive on it's Indy. So it's the best. And obviously for me it's been going a heck of a long time. So to be able to race there for the first time is really exciting, and I'm really looking forward to it.
As far as getting help from him, obviously we're competing against him, so I don't know how much he wants to do that or at least in front of everybody else. Maybe if I ask him at home maybe he'll give me a couple of tips. I'm sure being dad as he is, he will certainly be there to help and he'll want to help out as much as he can. Obviously he's had a lot of success in his career whether it's oval racing or road racing, whatever it was, he was always the best. To learn from him certainly is quite the advantage.
As a kid I never really liked it, but the more I grow up the more I understand the advice I've received from him is definitely the best advice.
Q: Justin, realistically, how much of this year is really going to be lost in learning the new car and getting the team back up to speed in what's arguably a totally different formula?
JUSTIN WILSON (19:30): I wouldn't say it's lost. I would say it would be very valuable experience. But, yeah, we're not going to be in a position to try and chase victories each weekend, which is a shame. But that's the circumstance we're in and I think we're all pretty happy that there's one unified series now and it gives a lot of opportunity for the future.
So we're just going to do the best we can, keep working hard and try to improve. And hopefully, if we work methodically, we can understand what it takes to be successful and you'll see the number one car up at the top of the podium again.
Q: Justin, five of Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing's eight Champ Car titles came from the split years. Some people might see that, put forth the question whether or not your team is truly one of the better racing teams in North America. Where do you gauge your team's chances in the long‑term as far as proving that Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing has and always has been one of the top operations in IndyCar?
JUSTIN WILSON (20:30): I don't think it would be fair to judge them on 2008, because we're starting so late in the season. I think what I've heard there's a new car coming out in 2010. So if that is the case, I think that would be the best time to really judge Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing. And the same with all the Champ Car teams. Everyone's in the same boat, where we're starting very late in the year with a car we don't know compared to some excellent teams that have had them for four or five years. So it's going to take a little bit of time to catch up. Once we all get the same equipment at the same time I think you'll see a lot closer racing and most of all competition.
MODERATOR: Gentlemen, that's all the questions we have for you this afternoon. Thanks for taking the time to join us and good luck as you get ready for the season.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Jimmy Vasser, Oriol Servia and Will Power from KV Racing Technology.
Earlier today the team sent out a release announcing the change in name to KV Racing Technology, and that Oriol and Will will be the team's drivers in 2008.
Will comes to the IndyCar Series following two full seasons in Champ Car. He was the rookie of the year in 2006 and finished fourth overall in 2007, recording two victories and four pole positions.
Oriol has made 126 starts in Champ Car since 2000, recording one victory, a pole and 16 podium finishes. Last year, his best finish was second at Long Beach.
Congratulations on the announcement today guys. Jimmy, why don't we start with you and maybe you can give us an update of how things are coming together since the unification announcement a couple of weeks ago.
JIMMY VASSER (22:30): As you can imagine, having just spoken with Justin and Graham, that all the Champ Car teams are absolutely flat out, it's a huge undertaking, and we're working around the clock seven days a week just to get prepared for first the test at Sebring, which I think we'll make but it will probably be difficult for all the Champ Car teams that are switching over to be there. And then subsequently on the road for back‑to‑back races at Homestead and St. Petersburg. So it is what it is and we're working real hard.
I think there aren't many people out there that won't agree this is the best thing for the sport of IndyCar racing, for the future. The timing probably wasn't the best, but we have our heads down and we're looking forward to getting on track.
MODERATOR: Tell us about having Oriol and Will as your drivers as you move forward.
JIMMY VASSER (23:30): I'm really excited. I mean with that lineup both guys are front runners for the last few years in Champ Car and race winners both of them, great experience. They know what they want out of their cars. We're really excited. I think it's a great lineup.
MODERATOR: Oriol, can you tell us a little bit about the move to the IndyCar series, what you're looking forward to this season and having Will join you as a teammate?
ORIOL SERVIA (24:00): I think everybody's kind of on the same, sharing the same view and on the same page. We all know it's a little bit too late or a little late for us, but as I said earlier, to me it's like, you know, when you have kids that have divorced parents and after 12 years of separation they get together. No matter how you look at it, it's good news.
Maybe we were the ones living with the mother, now we're under the same roof and it will take some adjusting for all of us. And we are the ones that have to adjust the most because we're the ones getting to the house a little late. But we're all excited. It's good news for everybody, and as we were saying it's a huge challenge for us drivers and the teams.
I was actually thinking the league always has a special award for rookie driver of the year, which I think Will and myself are good candidates for.
But I think this year in particular the championship should have a special award for the rookie team, because all these teams are definitely having a bigger challenge than ever and just amounts to being ready to be racing and look eye to eye to the other (IndyCar Series) teams is not going to be an easy one.
MODERATOR: Will, let's get your perspective. First of all, congratulations on joining KV Racing Technology, a team you competed against the last few years. Tell us about the team.
WILL POWER (25:30): It's been a really long off season for me. I haven't driven a car since Mexico City. And I'm really happy to be joining these guys. They're really professional and I was in the shop yesterday and they have a lot of good resources. And I think they're going to be running at the front of the Champ Car teams and hopefully later on in the year we'll be, especially when the road courses come around, running at the front of the series and hopefully getting a couple of podiums.
It's definitely going to be a tough road, for sure. Having one or two test days before we start racing in the car that we don't know and a new series. Looking forward to the challenge. Just can't wait to drive.
MODERATOR: You kind of addressed my next question there which was goals and expectations. But maybe talk a little bit more about adapting to racing on the ovals. Probably not something you have a lot of experience with. What will that be like for you?
WILL POWER (26:30): I've only raced on one oval in Milwaukee in 2006. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed it because it was a lot different from everything I've done at that point. It was a totally different style of driving and discipline.
So it was exciting. It's pretty tough to get the hang of. It's daunting driving into a corner flat all the way until the middle. And you really get on the car, gotta be good with the feedback and work hard with your engineer.
My expectation is the first race, Homestead, I'm just planning to finish that. We don't have many spares. We don't have a spare car, so it's going to do us no good putting it in the wall trying hard. It's all gaining knowledge and learning.
MODERATOR: Oriol, you had an opportunity to race on a few ovals. I know Milwaukee, as Will mentioned, and maybe Phoenix and a couple of others. Will it take a while to feel comfortable getting up to speed on the ovals?
ORIOL SERVIA (27:30): For sure I'm a little rusty. I must say I was good in the ovals in Indy Lights in 1998 and '99. In CART, we had ovals there. I have good experience in ovals. I always enjoyed them and had a great time.
But, again, it's going to take a little bit and myself and the team to remember all the important things and make sure we don't make mistakes, which is what, in an oval, we'll go through the most.
So I'm excited. I'm excited to start. Maybe I would like, I would prefer to have a street or road course before we hit the oval, but the schedule is what it is going to be. This is going to be our first one. Hopefully we'll be ready. And, like I said, we're not going to make mistakes, which would be the biggest problem for us at the beginning of the season.
Q: Jimmy, this came together obviously at the last minute. But what, if anything, did you and Kevin (Kalkhoven) have in the discussion before all the signatures were signed on the unification document?
JIMMY VASSER (29:00): I'm not sure I followed that question.
Q: Did you have any advanced notice?
JIMMY VASSER: No, not really. We're still flat out trying to get the cars on track. And myself and Mark Johnson, who is our general manager of the team, we started to speculate that if things ‑‑ because I think a week to 10 days there was rumors and action going on. But it still wasn't 100 percent. So we just started to plan a lot of what‑ifs. And just so we knew how to react when the unification did go down.
Q: So Kevin didn't tell you ahead of time, 'Hey, I'm going to go sign this tomorrow?'
JIMMY VASSER: No, no, he didn't tell me that.
Q: Will, you kind of touched on this earlier. Just one oval start in your Champ Car career. Have you and your team kind of flushed out a list of things to check off, so to speak, for the Homestead test? And in your mind what would make a successful test on the oval there?
WILL POWER (30:30): I think it's just being accustomed to driving, driving on a fast oval. The aim will be to just go do laps, see what I think, see what I feel. And the second day I guess start working on the car. And it's just going to be a slow process. It will be a learning process. I'll have to ease into it because you just can't afford to make any mistakes on an oval because it costs you a lot of time and money.
And haven't really got any set plan. I just went to the team the first time yesterday and haven't made a plan yet. But we'll have to see how it will be, just ease into it.
Q: You guys are paired up with team Ganassi. A lot of the old Champ Car teams are teamed up with current teams. How has that whole process gone so far and have you had a chance to talk with anybody?
JIMMY VASSER (32:00): The process is fantastic, and I think ‑‑ I met with Chip (Ganassi) personally on a couple of occasions recently, and they're fantastic trying to do whatever they can to get us up to speed.
I think they believe, unlike some of the other teams I think, meant to help out the transition teams, but they believe that the better we do, the better it is for everybody as a whole. They want us to do well. And really they've had a real open book policy, given it's our first car, and I couldn't thank them enough.
Q: You've been an owner for a while now. How has that change gone compared to being a driver and ever have any desire to get back in one of these cars?
JIMMY VASSER (33:00): The desire is always there, but my drivers have been telling me that I'm not really a driver anymore. I'm acting more like a owner. I'm getting to be more like a hard ass. So you're always going to want to drive. Quite honestly, there's no feeling like driving Champ Car or an IndyCar. Throw you the keys to drive the thing and you get it done. Now kind of standing on the outside trying to give everybody the tools they have to succeed is quite a bit different.
I'm sure it will be as satisfying when we start to win. But up until now it's been a real grind trying to get the team to a level where we could really contend for race wins and championships and so that's our goal. We're not there yet, but we're on our way.
Q: Jimmy, presumably you guys will be running at Long Beach as opposed to Motegi correct?
JIMMY VASSER: That's correct.
Q: I just want to get your comments on running at Long Beach and what will be the Champ Car finale, your feelings on the end of an era so to speak?
JIMMY VASSER (34:30): I think it's going to be ‑‑ it's going to be great. Long Beach is always great. The Champ Cars are a fantastic machine, and it's going to be sad to see them sidelined - the DPO1 and turbo Cosworth. I think it's going to be a little bittersweet. But I think everybody's working hard to make it a celebration race and I'm looking forward to it. But, again, I think it's going to be a little sad to hear the turbos shut down for the last time and to see the DPO1 parked, because quite honestly it is a racing machine. It runs circles around the Dallara. But racing, it's the same thing, it's going to be difficult to run up front in whatever you're running.
Q: Will, you're coming from last season, you had a rookie teammate and familiar surroundings with the crew and the team. And now you're moving to a brand new team with two members you don't know. At least Oriol is a seasoned driver, with experience on ovals and road courses. If you could talk a little bit about what it's like to move into such a brand new situation because you also have new cars and new tracks as a challenge.
WILL POWER (36:00): Yes, makes me feel like a rookie again. It's tough leaving a team where you've had a group of guys around you. And the good thing is that my engineer has actually, he's moved across and that will be good to work with him again. But I'm looking forward to the challenge. And I think it's good having Oriol as a teammate with a lot of experience on ovals and road courses.
And I think between us we'll be able to speed up the transition and really get the hang of these cars. So it's all coming together at the last minute. It's going to be tough. But I'm up for the challenge. And at the end of the year I want to be running like the sun.
Q: You've raced against Oriol. Now he's going to be your teammate. And how do you approach working together after being competitors?
WILL POWER (37:00): I know that Oriol's a good guy, a great racer, hard racer. He has a reputation as being a very good teammate and fair and gives everything up. Doesn't hide anything. And I'm the same. So I think it will be a good combination. We're both front runners in Champ Car. So like I said, I think we're going to work well together and we're going to work this car out very quickly.
MODERATOR: Gentlemen, congratulations again on today's announcement and new partnership moving forward and thank you for joining us. And good luck in 2008.