Rahal, Letterman Lanigan Team Q&A from Indy

Rahal Team
Rahal Team

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Bobby Rahal
Mike Lanigan
Graham Rahal
Spencer Pigot

Friday, May 20, 2016

MODERATOR: Welcome, this is a big day. This is a standard time we've had particularly with Bobby over the years. Bobby, we rolled back the clock, the 1986 500, we had an incredibly washed-out weekend. We had to sit and wait and come back in a week, and in terms of the racing it was certainly worth it. It ended up a terrific battle between you and Kevin Cogan and Rick Mears. You made a tremendous restart mid race, and, in so many ways, provided us with so many iconic images that are a part of this history of the 100th Indianapolis 500. Your moment with Jim Truman, of course, in Victory Lane which was just poignant.

How often do you think about that? And can you believe it's been 30 years?

BOBBY RAHAL: To answer your question first, no, I can't believe it's been 30 years. Sometimes, you know, it seems a long time ago, sometimes it seems like yesterday. But, yeah, 30 years, that's — I haven't aged, I don't get it (Laughter)

MODERATOR: I agree with you.

BOBBY RAHAL: But that was a great day for us on many fronts, for the team. I really wish Steve Horn was here today to celebrate, or this month to celebrate the win because he was a great team manager. And we had a — some of the guys that were there that day 30 years ago are still with us today, still working for the company.

But yeah, it was — when I see those, the movies or the pictures of Jim and I, you know, it's still kind of easy to get emotional about it. You know, I always think about just how would racing have been different, frankly, had he stayed alive. But to win the race for him, for the team but for him especially, was very satisfying. You know, we never got the big awards banquet. If you remember, it was held down behind the Speedway Inn on the golf course. There's me, Rick, and Kevin and eight other people. Saved me from having to give a big speech, I guess.

But still, to win that race — it was a great race. I think Rick and I led probably two-thirds of that race. I think we led close to 70 or 80 laps. And Kevin drove the wheels off his car. I mean, it was really an amazing — it's still, you know, you show the video of that, the last ten laps, and it's still a pretty amazing finish. The first race in under three hours, and I'll never forget the grandstands.

You know, if you remember, Sneva crashed on the warmup, on the pace lap. So here we had another delay waiting for that to get cleaned up.

Next thing you know, one half of the grandstands saying "Tastes great" and the other side "Less filling." And then you have 50,000 people mimicking that commercial. And that broke the ice and everybody started laughing, and we had a great race.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]It's fun to be able to look back on it. And then, of course, 2004 for us was kind of very important for other reasons. As I'm sure you all know, we have this 30-year thing going between Graham and me, I'm going to Vegas. I'm playing the odds on that one.

MODERATOR: There you go.

Mike Lanigan with Rahal Racing. We look to your team, there's a couple new sponsors that have come on board, Manitowoc, United Rentals, Budweiser also is still with you. Pretty darn important to keeping your race team viable and a lot of excitement about the 100th running coming in.

MIKE LANIGAN: We're pleased and excited to have Budweiser back because that was Bobby's sponsor 30 years ago. Not that we're superstitious or anything like that.

The off season was very good to us. We have Manitowoc on our team, who is the largest crane manufacturer in the world. They manufacture cranes. That first time I met Bob, I said I'm not worried about hitting the wall at Indy, I'm worried about going through the wall with these cranes.

Then we have United Rentals, largest rental equipment company in the world. We have Hyatt on board, and of course we have DA and Pengrade. What an honor it is to be driving the car for the presenting sponsor for the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

So on the business side, we're really pleased. Obviously without the sponsors, you know, we're nothing, you know. And we do have a budget that is capable of two of our guys winning this next week. So that's what I'm excited about.

MODERATOR: We just had Roger Penske in the room, and he said that his first Indianapolis 500 was 1951. That particular race Lee Wallard was the first to win the race under four hours. The gentleman who was first to win the race under three hours was Bobby Rahal. Just out of curiosity, what's your first memory, your first taste of the Indianapolis 500?

LANIGAN: First of all, I wasn't born in '51, so I can't tie that one. I've been to 42 of these in a row, started out the first 15 or 18 as a fan, around the snake pit in the early '70s, was out here on Saturday night on Georgetown with all the young kids back when they had about 75,000 crazy kids being overserved.

But there's probably two things memorable to me: One is bringing Paul Newman back to the track in 2008. As we know, there was a lot of bad communication between the track and the other guys, the CART people. But that was a proud moment. Of course, Paul was not healthy at the time, but Paul was the most enthusiastic guy about this track. I mean, he believed in open-wheel. There was no bigger enthusiast than Paul Newman.

I'll give you one quick example about how much this guy liked this track and liked open-wheel racing. If you go to his house, he's got a nice 200 year-old house, and he's got a barn in the back which is where he invented Newman's Own. And he has a couple shelves inside the barn. It's all modernized, and you see a couple big IndyCar models when he won the Texaco car, I believe, and the Kmart car. And behind them, tucked in the corner, are the Oscars. So think about that. His priority was racing even before — even more so than acting.

But the second one was when I was here when Tom Sneva broke the 200 mile-an-hour barrier in qualifications. I think that was like '75, 200,000 people here that day. That was quite an exciting moment. Those are two of the most memorable of mine.

MODERATOR: Pretty good ones.

LANIGAN: Not bad for an old guy.

MODERATOR: Well, Spencer Pigot's in the Mi-Jack Manitowoc Dallara Honda Firestone entry, and this is a guy who has come up through the ladder system the right way. And every step of the way he's been a winner, defending Indy Lights Series Champion.

Spencer, you had some bad luck earlier in the week and that's going to happen from time to time. But just your overall experience and the thought about being able to compete in the Indianapolis 500.

SPENCER PIGOT: Obviously the Indy 500 has always been the dream of mine, ever since I started racing go-karts and remember watching it every year on TV, and then finally got to come to my first one as I was racing in the Road to Indy Program, 2011, and just always wanted to be part of this race.

Now to get to experience it as a driver and get to take part in all the practice sessions and do all these events around town is just a very unique experience. And seeing the enthusiasm from the fans in Gasoline Alley every day. Then when we were rained out, they're there and people are recognizing me. More people have recognized me the past few days than ever in my life. So it's cool to just be here and be a part of it. And just really looking forward to getting back out on track today and taking part in the 100th running.

Like you said, we had a setback earlier this week, but the guys have done an amazing job working extremely hard to build another car for me. So I can't thank them enough. We're just looking to get back out on the track today and make up for some miles that we lost the past few days.

MODERATOR: I've always thought of Graham Rahal as an incredibly intelligent young man. Somehow when he thought last year, when he had all these attractive women walking around handing out milkshakes to the various media members, that somehow that would move the needle some. Well, he was right. And last year was a great year for you professionally and personally. And the Steak 'N Shake car made a great run at the title.

Then I know what happened with the Angie's List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but, boy, you made up a lot of spots. It looks like you're carrying a lot of momentum into this event.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, last year was a good year, and particularly for this team. I think a lot of people counted us out at the start of the year. I knew that I had a feeling in the fall of '14 when we started to rebuild a little bit that we were getting a lot of guys in place and that it was really a recipe for success. I think everybody saw that through '15. And it's just a tremendous group of people.

A lot of people look at me and say it's me, I'm driving better, I'm driving different, but the truth is no matter what, it's all about the team. And no matter where the driver is, the driver is only as good as those around him. I think our guys have just done a tremendous job.

Yeah, our goal was the end of last year, I felt like we ended the year with a little bit of bad luck there two in a row being taken out. I felt both Pocono and Sonoma, we could have been challengers and possibly get a championship and to be taken out of both kind of hurt. But we were determined to carry the moment up to this year.

Again, we started off with a little bad luck and punted in St. Pete, but I think we've responded and had a couple good results here as of late.

The Grand Prix was frustrating, obviously being disqualified. I think had we started up front, I think we were probably the car to beat on Sunday, so it was kind of disappointing. But I stand by my team. I still maybe — call me stupid. I still don't think that we did anything wrong. You know, we just got caught out there as did, obviously, Newgarden and it's frustrating. But we responded well on Saturday and made up a lot more positions than I thought was going to be possible.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]We are carrying momentum. Yesterday was a great day for us, to be second on the no-tow list was promising. But I think even more promising than that was at the end of the day I felt extremely comfortable with my race car. If you had asked me two days ago, I was pretty nervous. I think we had a great day overall. We're just excited to get out there today, and hopefully this weather stays nice, these cross winds stay calm a little bit, and we have some fun.

MODERATOR: Some questions?

Q: Graham, talk a little bit about the maturation, so to speak, of Honda this year compared to last year and how that experience last year maybe kind of preps you a little bit in terms of comfortable or seeing what they're doing.

And do you think the Chevies are sandbagging?

GRAHAM RAHAL: It's hard to say. It's very hard to say. We're going to find out, I would think, tomorrow where everybody really stands. Yes, obviously today we turn up the boost, everybody is going to be going fast. It's still hard to say who is doing what. It's pretty easy to turn these engines up or down.

Having said that, I feel very good about where we're at. I think Honda has done a heck of a job, you know, preparing. We're still kind of in a box a little bit as far as what we could do for as far as an aerodynamic side here at the Speedway. Having changed the road course kit, it only left a couple boxes for us to change here. As you've seen, the car pretty much, in essence, looks pretty much like last year.

On the engine side, I think they're doing a great job fighting as hard as they can. Overall if you look at the progress we've made, it's impressive. I'm proud of them and all the work that they put in. Clearly, I feel a lot of pressure to be their lead team and to perform the best. I think we've done that, but obviously this is a challenging month for us and we're going to keep our heads down and work hard for them.

But, again, I remind people all the time, Honda is more than just an engine manufacturer to us. They're a partner, having a couple Honda dealerships under Dad's wing and that sort of thing, it's far more valuable than just being here at the racetrack with them. We stand by them, we're going to keep working hard for them.

Q: A question for you, Bobby. Looking into the history and motor racing in general, not IndyCar, Indy 500, 100th running, I'm surprised a traditional name is returning with your team, Theodore Racing. Can you talk the preparation come together competitive in the Macau Grand Prix and then Formula One team and now together —

BOBBY RAHAL: I know. That's a real privilege and pleasure for us to win this. Teddy Yip, Jr. Teddy is in the audience here somewhere.

I knew his father and, of course, if you look at the name Teddy Yip, Theodore Racing, you can associate that with some of the best drivers in the history of the sport. Allen Jones, future Formula One World Champion, Tony Brise, Brian Redman, the list went on and on and on. Here he was at Indy with Dan Gurney for a number of years.

And Teddy was just a real character. He was, you know, in physical stature a small guy, but in real kind of worldly terms, he's a huge guy. I remember going to Macau where, of course, he had the hydrofoil service between Hong Kong and Macau, among other things. We did a celebrity race there I think back in '89. Teddy was just a huge fan of racing. I think it's wonderful that Teddy, Jr., here is equally a huge fan.

When we were approached by Teddy and his group, we thought this was a fabulous opportunity for us and hopefully for them. We announced it at Long Beach and, frankly, did so because Teddy's father was very instrumental, really, in the beginnings of the Long Beach Grand Prix. So I thought it was fitting that we fly the flag there as well. I think everybody was happy by doing so.

Yeah, we're really proud to have the association, have Theodore Racing on the side of the car. We're obviously hopeful it continues for many years a to come.

Q: This is for Graham. If you look back over all the drivers who have competed out here, can you think of a few maybe you would have liked to race against?

GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah. Everybody thinks I would say him (indicating), but there's probably too much competition in this family. If he beat me, I'd never hear the end of it, so it's probably best I —

I mean, if you look at this place. I've been lucky enough to compete against Dario, Helio, guys that have had so much success here.

The two names that come to mind to me all the time is probably A.J. and Rick Mears. I think Dad got to compete against Rick Mears. I think the guy is like the definition of cool, you know. A.J., to race here as many years as he did — was it four decades or something? I mean, it's insane. So it would have been cool to, you know, to race against him in his heyday.

Q: Question for all of you. How was the team dynamic changed with Spencer coming in for these races? And Bobby, if Spencer has a good result at Indianapolis, what are the chances of seeing him at some more races this year?

BOBBY RAHAL: I guess I'll answer first. First and foremost, you know, I think what made us successful last year and continuing to make us successful, you know, we're the little giant, right? We're a single-car team but we have a focus in producing a great car for Graham that I think has allowed Graham to do what I always knew he could do, which is run at the front. I think Graham's one of the best racers out there. And we've seen the results of that, and that's really — as I say, we have great people in this team that work very closely together. And we're very protective of that. And we don't want things to come in and kind of muddy the water a little bit or — and that can happen whether it's intentional or not just because the more cars, the more people, the more issues can come up. So we're very protective of what we've got.

We love being the little guys beating the big guys. That's kind of fun. The little engine that could. The little team that could in this case. But when we had the opportunity to run Spencer, I had watched Spencer race and I felt he would be — I liked the way he went about his craft. He just kind of let the results talk for him and he was — when he had to deliver the goods last year in Indy Lights, he did, and ended up winning the championship as a result. I've known Spencer for many years and his father. I felt, OK, Spencer would fit well within our team. And I think that's been the case.

We have guys taking care of his car that are part of our team, so it's not like we brought other people in, outsiders in. It's still people within the core of our company. If you look at the results, while it was a little bit of a bumpy debut at St. Pete, you look at the pace and the race, Spencer's pace was one of the best in the whole race. And last week the Indy Grand Prix, eleventh place right in the middle of it all, so very pleased with that.

So, you know, we've been very happy. It's unfortunate. We had a tire that went down, that's what caused the crash. It wasn't anything that Spencer did. It's unfortunate because obviously we didn't need to have that happen, but this stuff happens and we'll recover just fine.

I'm sure we'll see Spencer in the future, whether it's with us or somebody else I can't tell you, but I'm sure — we certainly like his style and I think he fits well within the organization, as I said. So for us it's a plus, I think, having him. As I said, we jealously guard the atmosphere that we've created within this team and he's fit right in.

GRAHAM RAHAL: I think he's done a great job. I think as Dad said, Spencer has a great mind-set, you know, and that helps a lot within the team, you know, in the organization. You certainly need a group that can be extremely cohesive and work well together and ultimately develop a great race car. I think, quite frankly, up until the time of the accident, I think he was doing a great job of that. I mean, it was nice to be able to —

It was interesting actually. I had to remind my engineers that we had a second car because I think they forget all the time. I'm like, "Guys, they're learning a lot of stuff up there with aerodynamics and stuff, so we need to be kind of getting the info back and forth." And it helped a lot once we started doing that.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]We've certainly been at a disadvantage when it comes to others with data logging and things like that. So to have him has been a lot of fun. He obviously did a great job at the GP, and I think he's got a bright future. I think you're going to see his name a lot in this sport going forward.

PIGOT: Thank you for the nice words. For me it's been a great place to be, obviously. The team has got so much experience in IndyCar racing and especially here at the 500 between Graham and Bobby, they've been very helpful answering all my questions and giving me tips about how to go about passing, working traffic, qualifying, how to rebuild after, you know, a crash like we had.

So for a rookie, I think it's just been a great place to be. Ever since St. Petersburg, everybody has been super helpful making me feel a part of the team. It's been a great experience so far, and I can't thank them enough for the opportunity to be part of their team.

Yeah, I think we had a good race in St. Pete, a better one here at the Grand Prix, and there's a lot of learning for me to do these next few days still to be comfortable and fast around this place, but definitely have the right team in place to help me do that.

Q: Question for Bobby. As a former driver and a current owner, what are two, three bits of advice to whether it's a veteran driver like Graham or a rookie like Spencer, to navigate this two-and-a-half-mile oval?

BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I don't have, really, much to add for Graham, frankly. He's been a few years now. He's done a great job, you know. Every race we've been here, he's been pretty competitive. Early on some bumps and bruises here and there, but last year did a fabulous job. So, you know, people forget he was third in 2011 here. So he's run at the front. So there's not a lot I can add to him.

But certainly to Spencer, we've talked about, you know, the whole idea of how to pass, what to look for. Now, again, a lot of that, when you're in the car it's still going to come down to you.

But the thing is that we just — we have a good team. Both these drivers know that — and I think it was exemplified last weekend at the Grand Prix in Graham's case, that we're your partners in this and we're going to get you to the front, whether it's strategy or whether it's giving you a good car or great pit stops, you know. You're not out there by yourself.

So for both of these guys, I think they can go into race weekend knowing that they've got — that nobody has got more on their side than they do, than these guys. No other team has given their drivers anything more than we're giving ours. So it's nice going in knowing, you know, that you've got an equal shot at it, and maybe better an equal.

So, you know, as I say, and I'm an old guy, and these are the young guys. How many young guys listen to old guys anyway? (Laughter)

It's like, "Yeah, you raced way back then, you know."

But it's fun. I personally, I think — I don't want to speak for Mike, but I can tell you that we're having a lot of fun. We love being here for this race, the 100th. It's going to be crazy. I just can't imagine what it's going to be like a week from Sunday.

But in the meantime we've got qualifying coming up, and I think we're going to be right in the thick of it. I'm excited about the possibilities.

MODERATOR: Very good. Thank you.

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