Q&A with Team Rahal at Indy
MODERATOR: Thanks, everyone, for coming. I was noting, Bobby -- Bobby, by the way, 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner, one of the great races we have ever seen here, by the way, three-time IndyCar champion.
Note here 20th year on the team. That caught me out a little bit, Bobby. How about that?
BOBBY RAHAL: It caught me out. I said, ‘Yeah, we've been here about 10 times, maybe.’ I was wrong.
MODERATOR: Pretty exciting, obviously, to -- thank you, Graham, for helping me out there.
GRAHAM RAHAL: You'd think he would have it figured it out by now.
MODERATOR: But what about that, the ability to sustain? It takes a lot of effort, time, and people like Mike and David, et cetera.
BOBBY RAHAL: Yeah, it was shocking. This is the 20th year of my partnership with Dave. And, of course, Mike and I, we've been together now, I don't know, six years or so, I think. And, of course, Graham has been with Mike for a number of years prior to that.
But the 20th anniversary here for Rahal Letterman Lanigan is -- I didn't quite realize it was that long. You know, and, of course, it would be a lot more, a few years that we weren't here, unfortunately. But I mean if you count then how many years I've been coming here as a driver, then I hate to tell you how long it's been.
Yeah, it's pretty amazing, and it's a thrill to be here. Every year it gets even -- frankly, for me, every year it gets to be more of a thrill. I'm just excited to be a part of it once again.
MODERATOR: Always good to have you.
Mike and your Lanco group of companies have been involved in this sport. Tell us about the crossover with racing and your business interests and how those all seem to work together for you.
MIKE LANIGAN: We started getting involved with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1992 as a sponsor and been doing it ever since, not only as a sponsor, but as a team owner.
I'll give you an example. Manitowoc will be the title sponsor for Oriol. Their goal -- they manufacture construction cranes that cost anywhere from $300,000 to $10 million each. Their situation is not only do they want the exposure for the TV coverage, but also they want to build relationships with their customers. And what they do and what my family company does is we bring people to the track. We give them an experience of being a VIP. We literally take them into a world like being in the dugout of the New York Yankees. We talk to the drivers. We invite the spouses, and we give an experience that no one else can give them.
In my world people buy from people. So when we build relationships, hopefully that works for us, and it does, and continue to do business with our big customers as well as using it for employees, and, you know, after 25 years of doing this, it really works for us in a very big way.
MODERATOR: That's a great explanation, Mike.
Take a look at Graham, now, who will piloting the Steak 'n Shake Dallara again, Honda powered.
Graham, as I think about your first days here at the Speedway and so looking forward to having you, given the fact that we enjoyed watching your father race, I know this is a big deal for you to win this race, and I would think you have to take a lot from the fact that you really drove from the back to the front in the Grand Prix. That had to make you feel pretty good.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I think it's good momentum for the team. The guys have worked extremely hard here. And as everybody knows, the results haven't necessarily come easy for us. A little bit of underperforming and a little bit of bad luck kind of mixed in for us. And so it was nice in the Grand Prix to charge to the front. And I wish we could start out up front because I think we could win a lot of races, obviously that one being one. We were able to work our way through, and it's really led us into a solid week here. We worked hard on the Steak 'n Shake machine, and it's been fast. You know, it is fast. I'm looking forward to hopefully getting out there today and seeing what this Honda can do. I fully expect us to be right up there in the no tows. And the guys did a tremendous job building our car. It seems that both 15 and the 16 have nice speed. But, yeah, it was just good for our guys. I think it just cleared their heads a little bit, got them excited. It's tiring days. They were here late on Saturday, all day on Sunday, late on Monday. It has been brutal on us. So it was nice to get a good result to get them excited about what's to come, and hopefully we can have a good, smooth, fast next couple of days. And qualifying here, as Juan said a minute ago, is not the most important thing, but with the points that they give out now, it killed us last year. So we need to make sure that we have a pretty good run over the next couple of days, for sure.
MODERATOR: Oriol, I take a look at you and I think just the epitome of a professional racetrack driver. We've always enjoyed having you in Indianapolis. I think that's true for fans, officials, and peers alike. Noting it's going to be your 200th IndyCar start, your ninth Indianapolis 500, and fourth with this team. So I think it probably gives you a great deal of comfort. You can draw upon your experience, but you look around and you see some familiar faces and some new ones, as well.
ORIOL SERVIA: I have been around.
MODERATOR: Me, too.
SERVIA: And I'm following Bobby's steps. (Laughter)
SERVIA: But apart from that, you're never really comfortable here. It's nice to see the faces. But it's not just that you're driving on the edge, but you want this so bad that you're just not comfortable until May 28 and hopefully crossing the bricks first.
I'm just very pleased to be back, very pleased to be back with this team. I think -- you know, we're not talking about it, but Bobby got a call to add a third car at some point a couple weeks ago when a big name was coming in town, and he declined because he just wants to make sure he's got two winning horses. He doesn't want to weaken the effort. And I think that says a lot. And everything I see in the team, car preparation, the personnel we have, the commitment of the three owners, it's just to go and win, make no mistake, you know. It just feels good to be in that environment, and that's what makes you a little more comfortable, that, you know, you're not just yourself, you have a great group with the same aim.
MODERATOR: You'll be taking that Manitowoc sponsorship that Mike just described.
SERVIA: Great machines. And we're going to show him that we put great machines on track, too. So I hope we give them a great show on Sunday and they can enjoy winners’ circle.
MODERATOR: You've got Suzi on this side, and I'm on this side, so let's go.
Q: This one is for Graham. We talked in the past about the lack of a teammate and speed. Well, now you guys are up in the no tow list and Oriol is here. Is that a coincidence or is that a relation that teammates have ideas to bounce off of and with points available? Would that, getting in the fast lane, might kind of make up for the qualifying results earlier in the year?
GRAHAM RAHAL: First of all, it's been awesome to have Oriol because I think from the first laps that we turned, our feel of the car was identical. And to have, you know, just a guy like Oriol confirm that, not that anybody in this team ever doubts each other or doubts me or anything else, but it helps a lot that we can then hammer on down the same path, work on the car, try to achieve the same goals.
Yes, as a single car, that's more difficult, for sure. But when we started out, right away we felt the exact same things in the same corners and everything. So it was nice to be able to work on that. Have we completely solved some of those issues? No, but I think we've made a lot of big strides. I think the biggest thing is when you look at the no tow sheets, the cars are built very well. You know, our guys have done a tremendous job putting these machines together. The build quality, I don't know. You know, when I hear from the tech officials that they say we've got the nicest cars out there, you know, that means a lot, and our guys take a lot of pride in that. I think you see that on the speeds.
So we haven't even really, on our car at least, trimmed out that much yet. So I'm pretty pleased with what I see. Oriol is a great addition, and I think Dad will tell you that I have continuously pushed to try to get him here with us. We don't just need anybody here driving the second car. It's extremely beneficial to have a guy like Oriol with the experience. Our feel has always been the same, honestly, on any sort of circuit. What I've needed out of the car, he has, too.
As far as qualifying and points, last year in May we lost 89 points to Rossi, 89. That's two full races. You know, we still beat him in points, but the thing is that that is very hard to overcome. If we can be more competitive this year -- we led ourselves down a bad path last year. I think we're obviously a lot better off already this year. But we definitely want to start farther forward from a points perspective. My worst ever start is 29th, and it was my best-ever finish. So as far as that's concerned, I'm not that worried. But it would make our lives a lot easier.
SERVIA: If I may add something. Graham is always the most gracious with me. I am a good teammate but because he is a good teammate. You cannot be a good teammate to a not good teammate. You guys know he is a very mature guy. He's been a mature guy for a long time. And as a driver, he's been mature for a long time. So when we were teammates for the first time in '09, we just saw that -- we both understand that in order to be up front you need to work well with your teammate or you're not going to beat other teams.
And, honestly, many of the teams out there are multi cars. I can tell you they play in front of you have that they are good teammates, and they are not. That's, I think, a bullet we have against those bigger teams, that we truly work well together more than other teams, I know for a fact.
So we do have a shot.
Q: Question for Oriol. It was said earlier that you have 200 starts, experienced IndyCar driver. Nevertheless, this championship is very competitive. Before you came here, what kind of races have you done to stay sharp and focused and concentrated?
SERVIA: Do you know iRacing?
GRAHAM RAHAL: He drives in L.A. traffic every day. (Laughter)
SERVIA: Not much, honestly. It's always a question mark. When you haven't been in the car for a while, how is it going to feel? It always feels like yesterday so far. I'm sure there's going to be one year I will feel rusty. Even Bobby came in the cockpit after the first lap and made a joke about it. I feel great. I feel like I was racing last year. Also, this place is special that way. You have so many laps to get used to the car and track. But I don't know, I felt good right away.
Q: Bobby, you're kind of unique in racing that you drove in a race, you're a car owner and a father. How was each of those -- how nervous were you in each of those and how do you overcome it?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I'm far more nervous watching -- having my son in the seat of our racing car. You know, when you're driving, I mean, sure, you get butterflies because you're going out to compete. But once everything get going, all you think about is going as fast as you can go. As an owner, with Buddy, not that I didn't care about Buddy, but it's just different compared to, say, Graham.
I'm just pleased that -- how do I -- I'm getting a little better at it, I guess, at being able to deal with it all. It was funny, not too long ago, I was with Al Sr., and he said, ‘How do you do it?’ I said, ‘How do I do what?’ He said, ‘How can you watch your kid out there?’ I said, ‘Well, hell, you raced against your kid.’ He said, ‘It drove me nuts.’ And I always thought Al Sr. had ice water in his veins, that noting bothered Al. So for him to say that, actually, I felt kind of good about it because I didn't feel like my feelings were so odd.
But it's a thrill to see Graham do his thing, to see like races like he had last weekend. He's had many of those, you know, in Mid-Ohio. I have a great deal of pride, but I have a great deal of pride in this team. We're really happy to have Oriol back with us because I think he does contribute greatly. I think that's -- you know, I was just listening to Roger or somebody say we all want to be fighting for the lead in the last lap. That's our intent as well. You know, I think we can win this race. We've got two guys that can do it, and at the end of the day, it's may the best man win. But first and foremost is let's get there. Let's get to that stage.
You know, was it two years ago when Graham was fifth, first Honda, Oriol was our teammate in that race, and unfortunately he got caught out by Carpenter, wasn't it?
BOBBY RAHAL: Can you say that? Is that OK? And crashed as a result. That was unfortunate because I think both cars were really good, and we expect the same kind of performances this next week.
Q: I've got one for Mr. Lanigan and one for Oriol. Mike, when you first came here, it was to help boost your businesses that you have up there in the south suburbs of Chicago. You have a suite, longtime sponsor of this race. How valuable has this race been to your vast core of businesses?
LANIGAN: Well, actually, I came down here in '73 and never missed a race since as a fan.
We put our whole marketing budget and emphasis on the whole year with open-wheel racing. I said earlier, I mean we have -- it's evolved into building better relationships, evolved into -- because of the capital equipment we sell. But, quite frankly, the biggest thing that I really get a charge out of is I got my customers rooting for my car on Sundays. Now, how many people can say that their clients are thinking about you on Sundays? That's something you can't put a number to. I mean if you really think about it, it's unbelievable. For us it works from a -- and, yes, 85 percent of the 20 companies that we have evolves around this racing.
Q: And how many people do you have in your suite for the month?
LANIGAN: Well, the days are shorter now, shorter days. We probably have 700 or 800 in the Month of May. Back when it was the whole Month of May, we'd have 2,000 people. And like I said earlier, bring your wives, bring your kids, you know. It's a family affair. Yes, there's business that we want to do with these customers, but, again, when people buy from people, with all the new technology that we have out here today, with Amazon and everything else, thank God I don't sell cigarettes or clothing, but people buy from people, and we build relationships. We thank our current customers, and we try to create new customers, and we treat good -- old customers like new customers. In our world, it works.
Q: Oriol, you're well familiar with Fernando Alonso, you're friends with him. How much time --
GRAHAM RAHAL: He's the only guy racing here, isn't he? (Laughter).
Q: How much time -- earlier in the week you said you were going to spend a little bit of time with him. How much have you been able to do and what's stood out?
SERVIA: Not too much, to be honest, zero. I thought he was going to be nicer. Then I realized make no mistake, he's here to win like everyone else. He has a big group of people around him. He's got Gil. He's got Michael. He's got his little Formula One entourage around him. I think he's fine.
BOBBY RAHAL: But you've got me, Oriol. (Laughter)
SERVIA: I got plenty of love around me. I've got Mr. Lanigan, I've got Graham, and I've got Mr. Letterman, who always said I'm his fan on Race Day. So I've got plenty going on on my side.
Q: Have you had the Graham Rahal shake?
SERVIA: No, I haven't had the shake yet. I'm saving it for Race Day.
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's coming, man.
SERVIA: Can we have that milk in the Winner's Circle?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Why not?
Q: For both drivers, what's the difference for you between going into Turn1 on a day like, say today, assuming we can practice, versus Race Day? What are the different sensations? Does the wall come up that much faster? Just describe it to someone who hasn't done it.
SERVIA: First of all, I would love to convince myself that it makes no difference having 300,000 people watching you do that, but it does. So on Race Day it's just shocking; it doesn't matter how many times. I'm sure Bobby has been here the longest. On Race Day it just shocks you. But in terms of driving the car, there's really nothing like qualifying just because not only you get there a lot faster but you know that Turn 1, especially the first time you go by in qualifying, you have the car set up to be the most edgy and difficult of the month because that's how you're going to get the maximum speed. And you have the confidence it's going to stick but it's just confidence. You still don't know if it will and sometimes it doesn't. All of that plays into what's going on. That's what makes both days so exciting. You know, qualifying I think is, you know, the second most exciting day of my year after Race Day, it really is. You know, with that goes Honda.
Like we were talking about two years ago, Graham finished fifth, and I had a great car. That year we were maybe not as comfortable or confident with the horsepower we had. I think last year we showed, and this year, too, that we're going to be even faster going into Turn One thanks to that.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, yesterday Tim May asked me if today was like Christmas because you get to go fast. I said it's nothing like Christmas because it is the most nerve-racking day of your life. It's not something that you necessarily -- those four laps as a driver are probably the most challenging things you'll do all year but not necessarily the four laps you look forward to the most.
They will definitely be hanging it out quite a bit. As Oriol said, Honda has done a tremendous job and I really believe that that's going to make our lives a little bit easier this year. We're not going to have to take extreme measures that we did a few years ago to try to find speed, which I'm looking forward to. But yeah, I mean four laps is – Turn 1, it's intimidating no matter what, but qualifying is just intense. That's the best way to put it.
Of course, you come back for Carb Day, come back for Race Day and it's going to be full. It feels like you're driving down a tunnel when you go into One. When you go in, heck, I think I started 11th my rookie year or something, I was pumping the brake pedal going into One. The draft pulls you along so aggressively compared to anything that you've ever seen or witnessed or experienced before, so all of that is kind of part of it. But I don't know, for me qualifying is always the most intense thing that you can do around here.
MODERATOR: We've got two questions queued up on that side, and that will be it for this group.
Q: This is for Bobby and Graham. It seems like the only thing that race fans enjoy more than tradition is family, and we're talking about family here today with you guys. When you win you reflect on special moments and special members of the family. Graham, for you and your dad, you're coming down the final lap and you're going to win the Indianapolis 500. I've got to believe at some point for you in the car and your dad on pit road, you're going to reflect on your grandfather and what he meant. Share with us, since we won't be able to talk to you at that point, share with us what we can tell the millions watching on ABC that you're thinking about, and Bobby as well in the pits, about your dad.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, obviously my grandpa will come to mind. But this is -- I've got to say, you know, that a big part and a big reason, you know, for my love of racing is the family aspect to it. I think Dad has said all along, and I think that's the way that we approach our team, it's a family atmosphere. It is a family group. This is small, tight-knit, and I've driven for other teams that aren't that way.
So it's always been great to be here to be a part of it. But I grew up coming to the racetrack, I grew up coming here, going to Mid-Ohio, going to Cleveland, Elkhart Lake, all these places with my siblings, with my grandparents, with my mom, my dad, my uncle, everybody. You know, I think -- and trust me, I've thought about it and you try to not. I want to actually live it versus just dream it. But for us, and I've always -- Dad and I talked about this many times, to win Indy would be special but to win Indy together would mean more than you could really put into words.
As you guys know, there's only been one other father-son to ever do this. It's a guy, a family, and Al Jr., one of my dad's greatest friends in racing. As I told Al the other day, I hope that we're the second. I'm excited for that challenge.
Trust me, my grandfather, you know, he started our passion, our love for racing, but my grandmother equally. When we used to go to their house and they had every single race on tape. That was like our tradition when we go to our grandparents' house, we would put in a race tape, we'd watch Dad. Typically only if he did well, I didn't want to if he didn't. (Laughter)
Those were experiences as a little kid I will never, ever forget. But my grandmother, it was unbelievable, she would tell you 1971, Sebring, Porsche 906, we ran this lap time or this. I was like I can't remember what lap time I did last week and she could remember everything.
So it really is family. And the Lanigans have become family for me. I've driven for Mike since 2006 in Formula Atlantic. So it would mean the world to us, far more than if I could win it for anybody else. If we could all win it together, it would mean a heck of a lot.
BOBBY RAHAL: Well for me, when you brought that up, Jerry, I got chills over that, just the idea, right? Because I'm not quite sure how I would react. I would be happy, obviously.
But, you know, it would be a shame because I would love to, in a sense I would love my father to have seen that. We've been close at times. Winning Mid-Ohio and the other races that Graham has won, my dad was very proud of that. Yeah, but again, it's just a testament to him and without him none of this would have happened. I'm sure never would have gotten introduced to the whole idea of motorsports and racing. So it's been a thrill even to this point, the good times and the bad times.
You know, he's here in spirit and what have you, and my mother. We'll make sure we do a good job for them. But you know one thing I always wonder is when I won in '86, I was building a house in Columbus, and my dad couldn't make it here; he had back surgery. I called him up and I said: "Can you believe it? We won the Indy 500." He said, "Well, now you can pay for that damn house." (Laughter) Not congrats.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Sounds familiar. (Laughter)
BOBBY RAHAL: I'm pretty sure he wouldn't say the same to Graham. I'm sure he would probably say congrats. Let's hope we have to live that experience.
I mean, we're working hard to do this. We have a very good team, I think. We've shown that the last several years. We have great engineering. Yeah, maybe we haven't had some of the results this year, but we qualified sixth at Long Beach. Running fourth and fifth at the end, get a flat tire and what are you going to do? That's the roll of the dice sometimes.
We have a good team, and we've got two good racers. I think we've got a good chance at figuring just to the winning of this race.
MODERATOR: Final question.
Q: I'm going to embrace my inner Wolfgang and ask two questions actually. One of them, has the fact that the aero kit was frozen since last year, has that simplified your program this month? And second question is: As much as we talk about Honda versus Chevy as far as power is concerned, we've seen as recently as last year that fuel economy is a big deal as well. Have you done any running, race running to simulate and find out what you can about fuel economy?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, from the fuel economy standpoint, I've never really had -- with the Honda I personally haven't had the issues getting the economy. Even on the road course last weekend I went, I didn't even need to pit when I did. I think I could have gone a handful of laps further than everybody else. So I find it, depending on how you drive it and everything else, obviously on the oval you're flat out a lot, but in the tow, too, you can do a lot of lifting and stuff. So I'm not so worried about fuel economy right now. The guys would have all those numbers and stuff, but it has not been a topic that we have discussed to this point.
As far as the aero, I would say what would simplified the program is that the engine is a bullet. I mean, the thing is fast, right? So that helps us a lot. The aero hasn't necessarily gotten simpler. In fact, you know, I feel like still every single day we kind of get new data, new reads. I mean, Oriol is running through one program with qual sims and we're running through a different program trying to learn still. I mean, I don't think by any means we have this thing pegged. We're trying to learn as much as we can. We were fortunate to get a little bit of time in a tunnel not that long ago, which confirmed that what we did all last year was completely wrong here. But it also brings up a lot of other questions as to where we go and what we do.
So it's nice that it's frozen. But for a team like us, there is -- you know, we don't have the resources of some, so there is still a lot of learning and guessing to be done. But hopefully it will work out for us.
MODERATOR: Thank you very much for coming in, gentlemen.
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