An interview with Mario Dominguez and Al Unser III
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, Mario. Mario is a rookie in the Indy Car Series and, in fact, he and the Pacific Coast Motorsports team are preparing for their first race in the series. Earlier in the season Mario finished third at Long Beach and he has previously competed in Champ Car for six seasons, earning Rookie of the Year honors in 2002 and winning two races. Mario participated in the Indy 500 Rookie Orientation Program Monday and completed three phases Monday, and he completed the fourth and final phase of the program yesterday.
Welcome to the IndyCar Series. Tell us about the opportunity to come over to the series with the team and now compete in the unified series.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, this is an incredible opportunity. Obviously very happy and very excited about the unification about the fact that we are back to the name IndyCar like it used to be 12 years ago, which is a household name.
And I'm just very excited to be here with Pacific Coast Motorsports, one of the former Champ Car teams that is also making the transition, and I give them a lot of credit. They got the car a week and a half ago, and the fact that we are here turning laps around Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a complete miracle and a credit to their professionalism.
As far as I'm concerned, it's just a real dream come true to be able to drive here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's really been my dream ever since I can remember, and I am more than excited. There's hardly any word to describe what I'm feeling right now.
THE MODERATOR: This is your first time at Indy, and that is my next question on what it's been like the last couple of days. Can you elaborate, what's it been like to get on track and put some laps around this place?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: It's been incredible. I have a lot of oval experience, and nothing that I've ever dreamed compares to this racetrack. Just compared to being here, there's just so much history here and so much tradition, that you can really feel it. To drive around this racetrack is just an absolute dream come true.
I've been here as a spectator a couple of times, and it's unbelievable. I've been to visit just the grounds a couple of times as well, and now it hasn't really hit me yet that I'm driving here, so it's fantastic.
THE MODERATOR: The team, obviously even Sunday could not get out on the track because as you mentioned, still putting the car together and doing everything they could in the last moments to get on track. What would be the goals for the month; what kind of expectations have you guys set, and what would make the month a success for you and for the team?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, obviously making the race is going to be the most important one, and it's not going to be that easy. You have everybody, all the best drivers and all the best teams now together in one series, and the competition is tough.
We have the potential, and obviously I would say a realistic goal and something that would make us have an incredible race and a great month would be to be the Rookie of the Year.
So that I think would be our main goal for this race.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned earlier that you have some oval experience, and Indy obviously the biggest oval of them all, and we transitioned to some others, including Milwaukee that you've run in the past. Maybe talk a little about the fact that you've got some oval experience; are you excited about coming back and driving on some more ovals?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Absolutely. I think this is the best combination. I would not like to do ovals 100 percent of the time, just like now that we are running Champ Car the last year, we were missing; almost we weren't doing any.
I think the combination we have now is the best: When you have superspeedways, half‑mile, one‑mile ovals, mile‑and‑a‑half ovals, street races, road courses, so that combination is the best. And it really puts the drivers and the teams and the engineers and everybody to a challenge, and it gives the fans a big variety of racetracks and things they can watch out for.
So I think we have the best combination again in the series.
Q. I have a question for you regarding Saturday's qualifying pole, I was wondering if you could maybe take us through what your expectations are, and what is the key to running a good lap there?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, I have to be honest with you. I don't think at this point in time we have a shot at pole position Saturday. We are years behind in development of cars. We just got the car a week and a half ago, and we will be competing against teams that have been developing this car for the past five years.
But I think qualifying on Sunday, on the first week of qualifying, we have a very good shot of doing that. It's not going to be easy, but I think we can do it.
I think what it takes to be fast around here, you need a car that doesn't have much grip. So you need to take a lot of aero out of it, and at the same time, it has to be steady. It has to be stable in the corners, because this place is tough. It can bite you pretty hard. And it's certainly a completely different oval to anything I've ever driven.
So to make a long story short, these cars have to be very, very much on the edge, all the time, and the driver has to put a lot of input driving it and has to use a lot of courage to be fast around here.
Q. What are your memories of the Indianapolis 500, anything that made you want to pursue a racing car career in general
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: As long as I can remember, I watched the Indianapolis 500. I remember once I was very little and probably five years old and my dad says, 'Hey, come watch this race.' He knew I liked racing, but why I liked racing, I don't know. He was not a racer, and he said, 'Come watch this race.'
And I said, 'What is it?'
'It's the Indianapolis 500.'
I said, 'What is that?'
And he said, 'It's the biggest race on the planet.' So ever since then, I got hooked.
And then Josele Garza, another fellow Mexican driver racing here in the mid 80s, and he got Rookie of the Year. So I remember watching him in that race, and he got to lead 13 laps, if I remember correctly. Honestly, ever since I can remember, since I was very young, just, you know, I've been wanting to race in Indianapolis. So hopefully my dream will come true.
Q. Being one of the drivers coming over from Champ Car, how challenging has your transition been preparing racing for Indy, and how long do you anticipate it will take you to get comfortable in your new car?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, it's been very challenging, not only for me but for the team, especially. Like I said before, the team just got this car a week and a half ago. So the fact that they were able to put it together and to bring it and make it a car that is raceable is incredible. It just shows how professional they are.
And as far as myself, I'm getting used to it very quickly. Yesterday was my first real day of running and I got used to it very quickly. I started to turn some decent lap speeds, and we started to change things in the cars so I could learn more about it, but it's difficult.
Right now, if you're asking a former Champ Car team to compete in the ovals, because obviously Graham Rahal gave us a lot of hope when he won in St. Pete on the street course. If you're asking one of the former Champ Cars to compete on the ovals against the teams that have been racing the series for the last few years, it will be very difficult, because they have been able to do a lot of development with wind tunnel and all sorts of development processes that these teams have.
But in any case, I think we have a very strong showing and have our own goals and like, for example, my main goal would be to be Rookie of the Year.
Q. Could you talk a little bit about, you had a chance to do some testing yesterday in practice; could you talk about some of the differences between the Champ Car and the car you'll be running for the Indy 500, maybe some of the different challenges this car offers you?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, they are actually different. The Champ Car was kind of lighter. It was turbocharged engine. And the gear box, they are both sequential gear boxes.
I think the main difference is the engines. One was turbocharged and this one was normally aspirated. I never got to actually drive the Champ Car in an oval.
Yeah, there's differences in the cars, but the good thing is that everybody right now uses the same car, and if you have the proper budget and the right engineers and you can do a lot of development, you can have a very competitive car.
Ideally, the ideal situation would be that next year the series would freeze the rules and you would have to buy spare parts and there would not be any more of that development that the teams do because that becomes sort of a money war, and then money becomes a lot more important. I mean, money always is in racing, but in this case, it becomes ten times worse.
Where in the other car, we had to run the exact same parts, and that was also the rules; everybody had to run the same thing. So you can change the aerodynamics of the car, so going into the wind tunnel wouldn't matter, or where doing a lot of things wouldn't matter, so it was certainly a lot cheaper.
Q. Who were your heroes in racing growing up?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: Well, I've had heroes ‑‑ my biggest one probably Ayrton Senna, Rick Mears; one of my biggest heroes, Al Unser Jr., Emerson Fittipaldi, Mario Andretti. I think they are on the top of my list.
Q. What were the feelings going out on the track for the first time when you hear all of the nostalgia; going out, what was your feelings?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: It's hard to describe, but it was incredible. I felt like at that point in time I was one of the happiest men in the world because so many years and so much time of thinking I would get here and finally being actually able to do it was just fantastic. And like I said before, sometimes I don't think it has hit me yet, so I am actually here and driving around, and it's just incredible. It's such a different place to anything else I've ever been in any, as far as the racetrack is concerned, as far as the race fans and as far as the history.
Q. A follow‑up question, they have paired most of the transitional teams, as they called them, the teams that came over from Champ Car with regular IRL teams. Who are you teamed up with?
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: We are working very closely with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. Their driver is Max Papis, and that's been very helpful also. We get good feedback from what they are doing, and it gives us a baseline because none of us, neither the engineers nor myself have been at Indy before. Even though they are very experienced engineers, they had not been here, so the fact that we have been able to team up with them has been I think a big plus and a big help for this month.
We'll be running the rest of the season, we'll be in Mexico City, and I invited Senator Hillary Clinton, who was at the racetrack yesterday, to come and visit and she said soon, and she's been there before. The race is awesome and it's really creating a lot of expectation in México. It's going to be televised on 96 JumboTrons around Mexico City, as well as TV. It's going to be huge, and it's a great project and I'm obviously very happy to be part of it.
THE MODERATOR: All right, Mario, thanks for joining us and that's great news about the JumboTrons. Hopefully you'll have a long race on Sunday, May 25th, and the fans down in Mexico City can cheer you on all afternoon.
MARIO DOMINGUEZ: That is correct, yes. It's fantastic, and I have a big responsibility, too, because this is the project of our country now, not the project of a company or a team or a driver, this is a big deal, so we'll do our best.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks so much and we appreciate it.
And ladies and gentlemen, we are joined now by Firestone Indy Lights driver, Al Unser III. Good afternoon, Al.
AL UNSER III: How is it going?
THE MODERATOR: Doing great. Thanks for giving us a call. Al in his fourth season of Firestone Indy Lights competition, driving the No. 21 Playa Del Racing Car, and in 20 career starts, he's recorded eight top‑five and 15 top‑10 finishes, and he's getting ready for his third Firestone Freedom 100 at Indianapolis later this month, and he's finished fourth and eighth at Indy previously.
Let's talk a little about the season overall. First you've got your two top‑10 finishes in the first four races, how have things gone so far?
AL UNSER III: Things are going great. The Ethos car is running well. We did pretty good at the season opener, and then St. Pete was a lot of fun, definitely the second race had its fair share of chaos going on.
It was good to be back at Kansas. And other than that, you know, we've just been finishing races and that's what's kept me so good in points.
THE MODERATOR: You've competed in parts of four seasons going back to 2004; from your perspective, how is the season or how has the series changed and developed since your first few races back in 2004?
AL UNSER III: Well first of all, it's really nice to be running a full season, even though I'm in my fourth season, I really have never done a full one. So it's really nice to be doing that.
But also, the competition level has gone up so much, especially this year, and we've got the highest car count that I've ever seen with 25, 26 cars at some events. That just brings ‑‑ everybody has to step up. You know, Kansas, I think the whole field qualified within a second and a half or something like that, and it just makes it all that much more challenging and makes the decisions you make have so much more impact.
THE MODERATOR: Let's talk a little about Indianapolis. Obviously a very special place for your family. How much would it mean to you to win the Freedom 100?
AL UNSER III: Huge. Huge. I was there ‑‑ I just flew back to Henderson (Nevada) last night, and I've been hanging out in Indy watching the rookies going around and so forth. I was there; the Speedway was honoring my family for what they have done there. It means so much to be able to win at that track.
I was listening to Mario and some of the things he was saying about Indy, and he's right; it's a really fun place to race and it's very challenging. It's unlike any other place that I've been to, and to win there with what my family has done would be huge.
THE MODERATOR: Kind of in the same vein beyond winning the Freedom, how important is it to you to some day maybe get the chance to run in the 500?
AL UNSER III: Big. Big. Watching those rookies going around, going, man, I can do this, it just made me itch to get in the car.
And then yesterday watching Marco (Andretti) set his fast lap, you know, he got a big toe off of Graham (Rahal), and I'm watching both of them run out there going, man, I should be right there with those guys.
THE MODERATOR: Just tell us about the sponsor that's backing your effort. You brought Ethos on board late last year. Seems like that's a pretty strong program.
AL UNSER III: Yeah, the sponsor is Ethos Fuel Reformulator, and Ethos ‑‑ the product is the Fuel Reformulator, and it's a deal you put in your gas tank and in your crank case, and it gets you better fuel mileage. It also cleans up your emissions.
And this is a product that me and my dad are both endorsing, and before we did that, we got some of the product and took it home and tested it in our cars at home. It works. We are getting better fuel mileage, and I've seen an improvement with how long I get to go on a tank of gas, which I guess this days is a big help.
Q. How with your dad and your grandpa there as lead advisors and stuff, how much input do you get from them while you're practicing and throughout the month so far?
AL UNSER III: You know, from my dad, I get a fair amount, and he's the official driver/coach for the big cars, for IndyCar; as well, with my grandpa.
But my dad will come down during my sessions and help me translate some of the language to the engineer, explain some of the stuff that maybe he's felt and really he's a big help and he watches my line and definitely chimes in on if I don't get a good restart or something.
But other than that, he's a big help. And my grandpa, as well. If I have any questions, I can go and hit him up, and he gives me straight, fair answers.
Q. Have either one of them said, let me take it out for a lap
AL UNSER III: No, they haven't. I think they are pretty done with their racing career. I know that my dad definitely wants to be in the 500, and I would love to race against him, especially at Indy would be lots of fun.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks for joining us and we appreciate the time and wish you best of luck in a couple of weeks when you get your shot on practice.
AL UNSER III: Of course, and we'll be in the number 21 Ethos Green Machine, and just keep an eye out for us.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks.