Car Racing Media Conference
Q. Good day to both Paul and Al. Hope everything has gone well so far.
PAUL TRACY: Good day.
Q. I guess a question to either one of you all, Paul. I guess maybe, first of all, to Al, you know, anyway that you can just -- first thoughts and comments on the way the new car is working, and any kind of read, you know, initially on what the new regulations seemed to have done to the car?
AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, David, first impressions of the car are really, really good, to be honest. You know when a good car is good and it's good right out of the box, and this one seems to be. It went pretty quick right away, and so we are pretty happy with the new car. The new rules, it really hasn't slowed us down very much and so, you know, we will find out later on once we get into our first race and so on and deal with traffic and all that kind that stuff, because that's an unknown at this point, but so far, everything is pretty good.
Q. Good afternoon. I am curious about the dynamics of the testing program over the winter both to you, Paul and to Al. With Emo being gone and Paul returning, how is the testing method going to be carried out as far as the majority of the weight through the winter season? Is there any particular adjustment on your part, Al, with the two changes, Paul being back and Emerson being gone?
AL UNSER, Jr.: There won't be any adjustment on my part and, you know, the testing will be shared equally between the three of us just like it was done in '94, and so I really don't see any differences other than it being a different year from '94. I think that we are definitely all going to be working together and trying to make the best of the Marlboro car.
Q. So with the arrangement with Emerson with the separate team, you guys will still be testing together, sharing information as you have done all along?
AL UNSER, Jr.: You bet.
Q. My question is for Paul. You have been testing first at Indy and now in Phoenix. Both of those are venues which you are likely not to compete at this year. Has that diminished the value of the testing session at all?
PAUL TRACY: Absolutely not. You know, I thought about that myself. Why are we running at these places when we are not going to race here, but our main reason is we have got a base line. We have got data from both tracks. We have been here in the past, in Phoenix with the new car. Done a lot of miles over the winter. We have got a log in the computer of what the car did in the past, in '95, in '94, in '93, so we know where we stand, and we came back out here and we have been running just to compare. We brought both the '95 and the '96 cars. We have compared the both, and the '96 has been very competitive. It's been very good right out of the box.
Q. I would like to ask both Al and Paul your thoughts on the current situation with IndyCar and the Indy Racing League, and also your feelings about the possibility that your team won't compete in the Indy 500 next year?
PAUL TRACY: Well, personally, you know, it's a sad situation that we are in right now with the conflict with IRL. My personal feelings is, I hope that they get everything squared away and straightened out so that we can go to the Indy 500 and be able to qualify and so on, and really, that's it. I pretty much feel the same way. It's disappointing and it's frustrating. I hope everything works out for the best, and whatever happens, I hope racing in general doesn't suffer because of it.
Q. This is for Al. I know it sounds like you would be very disappointed if your racing address in May would be Brooklyn Michigan. On the other hand, the CART Boys had said that they were going to announce this Michigan race probably before Christmas, which is in the next two weeks or so. Are you guys getting any vibes from your owners or your sponsors that, you know, you will not be in Indy? I mean, have you gotten the final word yet, Al?
AL UNSER, Jr.: No, we haven't gotten any final words at all. I really feel that Andrew Craig of CART is really trying hard to work with Tony George at the IRL and figure out these problems and their differences before any final announcements or anything like that are made.
Q. Do you think though something can happen within the next two weeks? Are you getting anything? Are you hearing any word at all?
AL UNSER, Jr.: You don't know. You know, I hope so. You know, I hope that they are getting somewhere, but, you know, right now, it doesn't look very good at all.
Q. In the same vein, you failed to qualify last year and then may have to sit out this year. How frustrating would that be for you?
AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, you know, the Indy 500 means a lot to us, and we definitely want to go there and run, and so, you know, it would be frustrating.
Q. One more question. What kind of speed - I know everybody talks about time, how many seconds around this track - what kind of miles per hour were you getting out of your test at Phoenix?
AL UNSER, Jr.: I don't know for sure. I know that in timewise, you know, we were like the mid 20's. So, speed, I don't know what that computes out to. It was pretty much the same as last year, very similar to the type of speeds we were running in practice last year, and really, the new rules hasn't slowed the cars down that much. What they were hoping to do was making it back in mechanical grip. The car is that much better.
Q. This is for Al and for Paul, too. What has been your reaction to driving the '96 car with less down-force? Is it a big adjustment? Is it a minor adjustment? Both of you have driven things with less down-force before. How big an adjustment has it been for you?
AL UNSER, Jr.: Really not that big. It has been a minor adjustment. You know, the steering is a little bit lighter. The car feels a little bit more on edge, but, in general, Nigel Bennett I feel has designed a great piece, and so the car doesn't feel too bad, to be honest.
PAUL TRACY: I pretty much feel the same. Aerodynamically, on paper, it's 30 percent inferior in down-force, but Nigel has done such a great job with the suspension and the geometry, that he has been able to gain that back in mechanical grip, and really, that's what you want. You want mechanical grip and not have to rely on aerodynamics to make the car stick. So I think we have got a very competitive package. Until we start running in traffic, we don't know what the car is going to be like, but, right now, I am really happy.
Q. Do you think - and this is supposition - like you said, you don't know until you run in traffic, but do you think that will restrict passing opportunity perhaps or is it something you just don't know yet?
PAUL TRACY: I think it's hard to say. I think you are going to need to be a little bit more creative when you get in high traffic situations finding new lines and trying to find a place to run and, you know, I feel you are going to see a lot more creative lines during the racing when you get in the group of eight or ten guys.
Q. Al, do you think that having Paul return to the team and having a young gun back in there will add to your motivation this year coming off a good year as opposed to a great year?
AL UNSER, Jr.: I reckon so. Paul is a great race car driver, and he is very, very fast and, you know, when you get two guys on the same team that are very, very competitive and can go out there and race each other, you know, then you're going to have some good races, and with Paul joining us, you know, he has definitely helped out already, and I really feel that we're going to have a competitive season this year.
Q. Al and Paul, you know, one of the things that the people at the IRL were talking about, the reason why they created the series was because they thought that oval racing is kind of like a lost art. We need to have more oval racing. I just wonder what you guys think about the need to have more oval racing? If they do work things out between IndyCar and the IRL, that the IRL is something that can exist and be a long running series?
AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, I think that, you know, that oval racing is definitely American, and we are racing in America and all of that, and so we should not loose that. At CART, I really don't feel that we did or that we have in any way. Now, there have been more road courses than there have been ovals in the past five or eight years, whatever it is. I would like to see more oval races, but to go strictly oval and get rid of the road courses would be a big mistake, too, because I really feel that the road courses have brought in the world market for us, and so we are going over to Europe or grabbing the attention of the European people and worldwide people and so we don't want to get rid of that at all. So, you know, you definitely need a mixture of the two. To go one way or another would be a mistake.
PAUL TRACY: I pretty much feel the same. I think we need a mixture, a balance of all three, road courses, straight courses and ovals to really find a true champion, a guy who is well-rounded on everything. On the other hand, I think ovals are great and the racing is great, but with the speeds that we are doing now down the straights, they are getting awfully dangerous. The cars are very, very fast, and the teams like the Penskes and the Hogans and the Rahals, they can keep up on the car and maintain the car and make sure its safe. I think with some of these smaller teams, they let some things slide, and safety is an issue as well.
Q. Paul, do you think that the IRL is something that's going to be around five, ten years from now, or do you think it's something that will be around for a couple of years and then go away?
PAUL TRACY: It's hard to say. I just hope we can work something out with them and maybe join them and have it all back the way it was. That's what I am hoping.
Q. Have either of you guys been to Homestead yet, and if so, what are your impressions?
AL UNSER, Jr.: I have been to Homestead, and it's an impressive racetrack. I think it's very challenging to drive with the shape of it being like a miniature Indianapolis with four corners to it makes it challenging to drive, but at the same time, it makes it very, very difficult to pass, so I really feel that the race is going to be a heck of a challenge and it's going to be tough.
Q. Same question to you, Paul.
PAUL TRACY: I haven't been down there yet. I am going to be testing down there in mid-December just before Christmas.
Q. Al, if I can come back at you, is it too fast? I mean, it is flat, but I understand the average lap down there is exceeding 190 already.
AL UNSER, Jr.: It is pretty quick. It is pretty quick.
Q. The question really is for both of you guys. First off, with regard to the IRL, can you give me from a driver's perspective for both of you what is the core bottom line issue for you guys as drivers. We have all read about the sponsor concerns. We have all read about the franchise owners' concerns. What's the bottom line for you guys as drivers?
AL UNSER, Jr.: I guess the bottom line for us is that, you know, we don't feel that, you know, the Indy 500 is a place that you want to go to and you want to be able to go to and have a fair shot at qualifying, and you don't have to go to Orlando, you don't have to go to Phoenix or any of these other races in order to ensure a spot in the Indy 500, and so the way that the rules are set up right now, you have to go to these other racetracks in order to be one of the 25 that are ensured a spot in the Indy 500, and the Indy 500 has never had a promoter's option and, you know, the way that we see it, if our car owners don't want to go to Orlando or Phoenix, and then there is 25 or more cars show up at those other two racetracks, then we only have eight spots that we can go for in the race and so, you know, to really put rules on qualifying procedures like that, especially at the Indy 500 is just very hard to swallow.
PAUL TRACY: I pretty much feel the same way. The Indianapolis 500 has always been known for the 33 fastest qualifiers; not 25 that are already set in place. You know, in the past, guys who just wanted to come for the month of May, they didn't have to come too Long Beach or Phoenix or any of the other races to go out and be one of those 33 fastest cars. I think the way the curve is set up, it's just not fair to the guys who can't make the IRL races.
Q. Let me ask you, Paul, on another level with relation to the sponsors' position. Your coming from Newman/Haas and having involvement with Texaco and Budweiser and now coming back to Penske with Marlboro, you have probably, you know, have gone through the question marks and confusion that sponsors have had now with two teams. What's your view on how the sponsors are viewing all of this? What could the potential ramifications be of this situation to them?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think it's frustrating for everybody. I think it's the Superbowl. It's the World Series. It's the biggest event of the year for car racing, and I am sure that the sponsors are frustrated, but I think, on the other hand, they are sticking with their car owners and believing in what they are saying and, hopefully, you know, everything is going to work out.
Q. I have two questions, one for Paul and one for Al. I would like to try Paul first. Paul, can you comment on how the new Penske package is different from last year?
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think, mechanically, it's a lot better balanced than the Lola. We struggled quite a lot last year on ovals. In the race situation, the car was good. We had a mechanical under-steering of the car that we could never get rid of which made the car very difficult to set up for qualifying, to get that one lap to qualify. But in the race situation, the car always had an under-steer so it never really went loose on it, so that was a nice option to have, but I think, you know, driving the car over the last two days, we have been able to balance it. We have been able to make it loose. We have been able to make it neutral. We have been able to make it push real good. So, we can get it to do everything. You know, now we know we could set it up how we want to for the race. Whereas, with the Lola, we just always had that push and it just would not go away.
Q. For Al, have there been any major changes made to the team?
AL UNSER, Jr.: Say that again.
Q. Has team Penske made any changes to the team, makeup of the team to improve on last year's performance?
AL UNSER, Jr.: No, we haven't. It's pretty much the same that it was last year.
Q. This one is for Al. How are you feeling lately? You got banged around a little bit. You had some trouble with your shoulder and things like that. How are things going that way?
AL UNSER, Jr.: Actually, we are feeling really good lately. It's something that I went back to Indianapolis and the end of the season and had some MRIs done on my shoulder. They said calcium deposit disappeared. They think it's due to the vibration of the car, driving it and taking care of my shoulder and so on, and so I was looking at surgery at the end of the year and it turned out to be not so. They didn't see any reason on going in there, and so shoulders are real strong, and we are really looking forward to developing the new car.
Q. The fact that, you know, if you had that shoulder problem continued and you had that surgery, is the car the way it is now, does it buff at you more or is it slicker considering it has less down-force?
AL UNSER, Jr.: That's pretty much the same. The way the cockpit is and all of that kind of stuff is almost identical to last year.
Q. Al, so far as all the talk is focused on the new chassis, I wondered if you might say a few words presumably about the latest Mercedes and, you know, what differences you notice between, you know, this spec and last year's engine?
AL UNSER, Jr.: Well, David, I wished I could say that we ran the new Mercedes, but we haven't, and I guess they are telling us that the packages, the new packages will start showing up in January. It will come in stages.
Q. Okay. Question to Paul. Your thoughts -- obviously, you have been away from Penske for a year. Coming back is a little bit like a homecoming.
PAUL TRACY: Well, it really is. It's good to get back with the same people that I have been with for the last few years. It was a big change going to Newman/Haas, getting to know everybody, and making everything happen, and I guess coming back is, you know, I wouldn't say a relief, but it definitely makes me feel a little bit more comfortable. I got the same crew guys back. My engineer is coming back from '94. Nigel which is going to be a big help for me. I am excited about '96. You know, talking about the power, the current package right now, it's very competitive. In Indianapolis, we ran real strong. I was very happy with the power that the motor was making. You got to step up to keep up with the Honda. I think the Toyota is going to be strong. We can't sit back on our heels.
Q. This is for both Paul and Al. Both you guys appear secure in what I think most people would consider the best ride in IndyCar racing. Aside from winning IndyCar races and championships, are there any goals left in terms of doing F One, NASCAR or the 24 hours in Le Mans or anything?
AL UNSER, Jr.: For myself, no. You know, my goal is real simple, to win the PPG Indy Cup World Series and try to put that number one back on that Marlboro car, and that's it.
PAUL TRACY: Well, I think my goals, obviously, are to win an IndyCar championship and multiple championships, but I still have that dream since I was a kid of driving in Formula One which is a long-term goal.
Q. Al, I guess there would be a lot of new drivers at Orlando with some veterans. I know it appears you won't be there. Would that be an uncomfortable situation for you, Al, with so many new guys that are new to IndyCar?
AL UNSER, Jr.: You know, I feel a little bit about it, you know, not too secure, and the only reason is because I haven't raced against those people. If we were to go to the Indy 500 and, you know, race these guys that really have been out of racing for quite a while, my only concern would be that, you know, I am not used to running with these guys, but on the other hand, I feel that, you know, USAC will put them through their test and, you know, that they will be safe drivers out there, and so running against people that you do regularly, you definitely feel more comfortable and safer about that.
Q. Al and Paul, either one of you, would you consider running in Orlando? Is there anything conflicting with the schedule?
AL UNSER, Jr.: It's not really our decision. You know, it's Roger's decision what he plans to do. From my standpoint, I am employed by Roger If he wants me to drive a dump truck, that's what I am going to do.
Q. He hasn't said anything about you going to Orlando?
AL UNSER Jr.: Not at all.
Q. What is the IRL going to do for drivers?
AL UNSER, Jr.: I think it's a good opportunity for some young guys. You know, no doubt, there is guys in there and the teams that they can't afford to do a full season of IndyCar. I think it's a good opportunity for some younger guys, but there are some points that we don't agree with. The way the qualifying structures set up for Indy is the one complaint. I think it's a good opportunity for some of the guys that don't have the budget to do a full season of --
Q. Last season, the Firestone tires came off particularly strong at the end of the season. Looking at some of the times coming out of testing down in Orlando, they seem to have picked up where they left off. Running Goodyears, does that give you any concerns?
PAUL TRACY: Obviously, you know, Firestone is very competitive. They are doing their homework. They have got more teams on board, and I think more competitive teams with Ganassi and a couple of the other teams. Forsythe, I think, switched to Firestones. I think they are definitely going to get stronger and stronger. I think Leo Mehl realizes this. We have really been doing a lot of testing. We did a six-day test in Indianapolis for Goodyear, and we got another Goodyear tire test coming up in Homestead. They are doing their homework. I think Goodyears are still going to stay on top.
Q. A question for Al. Robby Gordon has taken a couple of pretty good shunts here in the past six months or so. Do incidents like that cause you any additional concern?
AL UNSER, Jr.: Not at all. You know, the only thing we think about is, you know, hopefully, that Robby is okay, and apparently he is and all of that kind of stuff. He has got a pretty hard head.
Q. For both of you, if there is any compromise, and Tony George doesn't seem to mind the compromise, but I am saying that if there is, the season would extend somewhat. Al or Paul first, what is the maximum number you think a team could withstand, and do you think that maybe IndyCar gives up too much by stopping in September and giving up the limelight for six months as it does?
PAUL TRACY: You know, I kind of like the way that the season was laid out this year. I thought, really, when you start running into the football season and baseball playoffs, you really take a back seat in terms of exposure to the public, T.V. Time, air time. You get cut off all the time. I think the season worked out well. I mean, sure, during the middle of the season with back to back races, it gets to be a bit of a grind, but, you know, the season went by fairly quickly, and you can pack a lot in in six months and, you know, I think it works out pretty well. It gives us more time to test in the off-season, and everything is not rushed. You know, you can take your time building a new car because you have more time. I think it's works out pretty well.
Q. What could you stand as a maximum season with these teams with these cars?
PAUL TRACY: Gosh, I really don't know. I think that, you know, you start getting 20 races, and up above 20 races would be tough.
Q. I am curious about the off-season for you guys. Al, I know you probably spent a little bit of time on the snowmobile this winter, although we haven't had much snow in this part of the country. I am curious about how little Al is doing and, Paul, I would like to know how you spent your off-season and if you guys are refreshed and ready to go for a new year?
AL UNSER, Jr.: You are right, we don't have any snow, and so we are waiting intensely for some snow to come to northern New Mexico, and little Al, right now, he is concentrating real big in school and trying to bring home some good grades, basically.
PAUL TRACY: As for me, I have had some time off because I wasn't able to test in the last couple of weeks. I have had just a lot of time around the house spending time with the kids and with my wife. It's tough to travel all winter. I didn't come to a lot of races because my son was so young. So it's just been doing jobs around the house, getting things done, and getting prepared for the Christmas holidays and family coming down, and I am going to spend some time doing some skiing in January, but, right now, we're getting pretty busy with testing.
Q. Paul, you are living full-time in Arizona now?
PAUL TRACY: Yes.
MODERATOR: Thank you. At this time, we have no additional questions registered. We just wanted to let you guys know that we are really glad that you called in, and thank you, Paul and Al, for taking time out. We know you are really busy. We will talk to all of you soon.
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