Wednesday, July 25, 2012
IndyCar News and Notes – July 25, 2012
by Amy Konrath
1. If you missed it - Graham Rahal conference call: Earlier today, IZOD IndyCar Series driver Graham Rahal participated in an INDYCAR conference call to preview next weekend's Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio. Rahal, driver of the No. 38 Service Central Honda, is 10th in the IZOD IndyCar Series point standings after scoring a fourth-place finish at Edmonton. He will join several IZOD IndyCar Series drivers for a one-day test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on July 26.
A full transcript and a broadcast-quality MP3 are available at media.indycar.com. Selected quotes from the interview are below.
Q. Graham, coming off a fourth-place finish at Edmonton, it has to feel good taking some momentum into a test day at your home track.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Without a doubt, it does. It feels good anytime you can build momentum at any point in the season. Particularly for us at this point, of course going to Mid-Ohio, which is my home race, a place that's always kind of stumped me, I've never really had a great result there. Even more than that, I think the season's been so up and down, it means a lot to us just to get a good finish.
Really I'm happy with the result we had at Edmonton. I feel like it's a result we should be having every weekend, or certainly more frequently than we have been right now.
But I think things are looking good ahead.
Q. You mentioned Mid-Ohio being your home track. It's been a special place for your family. Your dad is a two-time winner at Mid-Ohio. You won the SCCA runoffs there not too long ago. Talk a little about Mid-Ohio, racing at home, near Columbus, the pressure of racing in front of friends and family.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, I mean, the pressure of the atmosphere got more to me in my first or second year. Now it's I just want to get a good result there.
I love the racetrack. There's a lot of history there in IndyCar racing. Certainly with the Rahal family, it goes back to Jim Trueman giving my dad his first opportunity in Indy cars. Actually, really giving my dad his first opportunity and sponsorship for Atlantic.
Really for us to be at home, it means a lot. Like I said, we've always been fast there. We've had some really strong runs, but we always have contact, I made a mistake in 2009, 2010. We were kind of charging through the field, made contact with Danica. Things have not been quite what we want. But hopefully we can turn it around here.
Q. In addition to racing at home, you have some pretty special promotions through your foundation to raise some money for some causes close to your heart. I know there's a ticket deal that benefits the Columbus Zoo.
GRAHAM RAHAL: This is very important to me, something I've been working hard to push.
A lot of people don't know this, but my godfather is Jack Hanna. Jack has transcended the world of a normal zookeeper, I think. He's really turned the Columbus Zoo into one of the greatest zoos if not the greatest zoo and aquarium around.
I asked Mid-Ohio if they would be willing to do something to not only support the foundation, hopefully we'll do this at more tracks in the future, but also help a local charity, or in this case the zoo. They're working on building a new exhibit, the safari exhibit, really focused around cheetah and cheetah conservation.
We said, 'OK, $5 of each ticket will go towards it.' For people that already bought their tickets, there will be jars or collection places at all the concessions around the racetrack. They can still go online and just donate if they wanted to.
On top of all of that, I have a specially designed helmet and gloves. My gloves are actually cheetah print, they're extremely cool. People are going to have to bid a lot to out-bid me on those. But the helmet is another thing we're doing. Again it's got cheetah print, cheetah conservation, cheetah safari on the top. Really we're just trying to help out the zoo.
Columbus, I'm here right now, and it's one of my favorite places in the whole world. It's home to me and I love it. Certainly to help Jack would mean a lot. Hopefully it's something we can continue on in the future.
In fact, I was just at lunch discussing all the things we can do at the foundation. Certainly Mid-Ohio is the hot topic of a track that we like to do something at. Hopefully it's the first of many years to come that we can do this.
Q. I know Scott (Dixon) and Sebastien (Bourdais) are racing in the GRAND-AM race here at the Speedway, I think Tag (Alex Tagliani) announced he's going to race the NASCAR race in Montréal, do you think that shows off the versatility of the drivers in the IndyCar Series?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Sure it does. My dad and I always said this: I think the difference between a good driver and a great driver is a great driver can drive in everything and be competitive in everything. Growing up for me, my dad was that guy. He could drive a sports car, he could drive a Cup car, he could drive an IndyCar, he could drive a GRAND-AM car. Didn't matter, anything he got in, he was fast.
That's the way I try to approach it, is I want to drive all these things and I want to be in all these different events. Not only does it help me in my brand, not only is it fun, but I think it establishes you on a worldwide basis that you can be competitive in anything you drive.
I would have loved to be doing the GRAND-AM race this weekend. I pushed Chip really hard to do it, and unfortunately Juan and Jamie actually got the ride due to their NASCAR sponsorship and connections.
Nothing against that. I simply love driving in all these different events. To win the 24 Hours at Daytona last year was one of my proudest accomplishments. I mean, Indy 500 still ranks right up there.
You know, I just try to do it all. I enjoy it.
Q. Graham, as close as the series has been, there's been 19 different drivers in the top five this season. Does the closeness of this field surprise you this season?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Yeah, you know, it doesn't at all. I think that the new car, when we started testing it right away, it was like. "Holy smokes, this is going to be awfully competitive.' The times were so close together. I think everybody was awfully impressed by that.
I also think that the crop of drivers in this field is as good as there is anywhere in this world. I mean, people say, Formula One, those guys are meant to be the best. I understand that. But, you know, we're talking about a car that has no driver age, it has a relatively low running budget, teams, engineers, the whole deal. It's a very minimalistic approach in many ways.
At Edmonton, over a fairly large course, the whole field was within a second I think at one point in time. That is incredibly close. I'm not surprised by it simply because I do think the driving quality is very high. We didn't have a yellow at Edmonton. I think that says a lot.
But it's kind of fun. We love it. I mean, we want to, when we win, or even finishing fourth for me last weekend, it's all good because you know you beat some really good guys.
I can't say I'm surprised. I think it's been kind of heading this way since, say, 2009 or so. I felt that it really got competitive, and it's only built since then.
2. Let the Games (watching) begin in earnest this week: Scott Dixon has some racing business to attend to within the fortnight before setting aside his Target Chip Ganassi Racing cap for one with the New Zealand flag emblazoned on the front.
A break in the IZOD IndyCar Series schedule following the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio aligns with the final week of the London Olympics, so the two-time series champion and his wife, Emma -- a former 800-meter runner who represented Wales and Great Britain in international competition - will soak up the sights of the Summer Games.
"London at the best of times is a pretty crazy town, and now with the Olympics going on it will be pretty cool)," said Dixon, who will attend his first Olympic Games. "I know we'll be at the Thursday track and field events and the finals Saturday (Aug. 12, which includes the women's 800-meter final). Track and field is definitely the marquee event outside of the opening and closing ceremonies."
He hopes to see the New Zealand flag raised above the medal podium.
"New Zealand is big in rowing and they'll be strong this year in the triathlon with Bevan Docherty (plus Kris Gemmell and Ryan Sissons)," Dixon said. "We have quite a few competitors that are strong and I'll try to get to a few of those events."
Drivers note as they watch fellow athletes perform on the world stage - especially in competition that revolves every four years - they appreciate not only the abilities but the dedication to their particular sport. IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights drivers will - like most living in North America - have their TVs or mobile devices tuned in to the action.
NBC Sports Network, the cable home of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights, will carry much of the Games programming. Opening ceremonies are July 27.
"I love the Olympic Games even though Colombia is not usually at the top," said Firestone Indy Lights driver Carlos Munoz, who won the Edmonton 100 last weekend. "I will love to watch, especially the 100 and 200 meters. The running for me is incredible. I love sports because as a driver you have to be an athlete outside of the car."
The sports that interest drivers are widespread. Some, such as Takuma Sato and Justin Wilson, pay particular attention to cycling (road and pursuit) because it's an integral part of the in- and off-season conditioning. Others enjoy the Games for the pure athleticism or get hooked on sports that aren't in the mainstream.
"Gymnastics is amazing," Oriol Servia said. "What they can do and how the cameras can capture how nervous they are beforehand. That emotion is translated through the TV very well."
"My favorite Summer Olympics sport is archery," Firestone Indy Lights driver Peter Dempsey of England said. "I'm really good at it in the video games, and I like to watch the professionals do it and see how good they are at it."
"Swimming. Just seeing (Michael) Phelps and (Ryan) Lochte chase the records is fun," Graham Rahal said. "Being an American I follow it all. I really want to see other Americans succeed, and as a country we've done fairly well in the Summer and Winter Games. It's a good time to be a fan of a lot of sports."
"I have a lot of respect for weightlifting and the history around it," Firestone Indy Lights driver Sebastian Saavedra of Colombia added. "I love swimming. Anything in the water is just amazing and I have a lot of respect for those guys. Unfortunately, we're not big in sports in my country. We have soccer, now some (auto) racing, and that's about it."
More athletes represent Simona de Silvestro's homeland of Switzerland in the Winter Games (in 2014 in Sochi, Russia), but national pride swells no matter the season.
"I definitely watch the tennis, because Roger (Federer) is playing," she said. "Usually when the Olympic Games are on it's on my TV all the time. We definitely don't have that many Swiss athletes in the Summer Games, but it's always cool to support your country."
3. Newton-John returns to Fan Force United at Baltimore: After qualifying eighth in his first Firestone Indy Lights race at the Freedom 100 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Emerson Newton-John will return to Fan Force United at Baltimore in September.
Newton-John was caught up in an accident on lap 5 with several other cars and didn't get to show the potential in the race had shown in practice and qualifying.
"Indy was definitely an emotional deal for me," he said. "To be back in a car after so long and to be back at Indy of all places was incredible, but to only make it four laps due to being caught out in someone else's mistake, was a massive blow.
"We had been so fast in practice and qualified really well. I honestly felt like I had never been away from the sport. At Indy, people only got to see what I was capable of during practice and qualifying, but I didn't get that chance in the race. I'm definitely looking to change that in Baltimore, and give my boys at FFU a well-deserved strong result."
The team, co-owned by former IZOD IndyCar Series competitor Tyce Carlson and his business partners Chris Williams and Scott Williamson, fielded USAC standout Bryan Clauson in the oval race at Milwaukee and Iowa after Armaan Ebrahim left the team in June.
The 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series race continues with the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio on Aug. 5 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The race will be televised by ABC at 12:30 p.m. (ET) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network on SiriusXM (XM 94 and Sirius 212). The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Grand Prix of Trois Rivieres on Aug. 5 on the Streets of Trois Rivieres, Quebec.