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CART Media Conference

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  CART

CART Media Conference

Al Unser Jr.
February 25, 1997

MIKE ZIZZO: We are now joined by Al Unser, Jr. of Marlboro Team Penske. Al finished fourth in the PPG Cup last season marking the 11th time in the last 12 seasons that he has finished among the top 5 in points. He is also the proud new father with the birth of his fourth child Joseph Scott on Monday. Al drivers the No. 2 Marlboro Penske Mercedes. Al, thanks for joining us at such a probably hectic time for you.

AL UNSER JR.: No worries. You know, I want to first off thank everybody for joining in on the conference and we are with the little one and as a matter of fact, I just got done burping him.

MIKE ZIZZO: Is he available for questions?

AL UNSER JR.: He is available for questions, certainly.

MIKE ZIZZO: We will open it up for questions for Al and Joseph.

Q. Could you talk a little bit about last season? I know the frustration of going without a win for the first time since 1987 just how you look back at last season and how maybe it even motivates you even more so this year?

AL UNSER JR.: Well, it was a little bit frustrating. We were going through -- there at the beginning of the season, I felt that the Honda Firestone combination kind of had an edge on us at the beginning. And, then, you know, they -- both companies worked very hard, Mercedes and Goodyear and by about halfway through the season I felt that we were very competitive with everybody on out there and we just seemed to be in a run of bad luck, I guess. But, we could always point something out, you know, that we could have done better or whatever had this not happened we would have been better off. And then Elkhart Lake, Road America hit us with, you know, a half mile to go and the engine let go on us. That is the handwriting on the wall of what our whole season was, you know, even when we did everything right, we still missed that No. 1 podium. So, you know, I really feel that our luck has hopefully changed. We have been blessed with an IROC win down at Daytona and then my son has been born and he is healthy as punch, so is Shelly. So, hopefully, things have turned around for us.

Q. Does going through a season like last year kind of rejuvenate you to get you really focused again?

AL UNSER JR.: Well, we were pretty focused last year, you know, and we are not going to change anything. There is -- me, as a driver, I am not going to change anything of the way that I have been doing things. I am going to attack it with the best I can and go at it like I have in all the years past. Now, you know, we have got some new engineers in Penske Racing and so, you know, that has definitely brought some new ideas to the team, John Travis has. And, to be real honest with you, I have never seen Roger this intense and this focused on the race team. And, so, you know, we are definitely -- at Penske Racing, we are definitely hungry and, you know, we haven't eaten in a whole year at that place and so we are pretty hungry.

Q. Congratulations on the little one.

AL UNSER JR.: Thank you.

Q. Two questions. What about the 1997 addition of the Mercedes? And, secondly, I know during the races you and Michael in particular happen to move up with each particular stop in the race. What is your opinion on the smaller fuel intake and the longer distances in regards to how many stops you have got to make during a race?

AL UNSER JR.: Well, I am happy with the way the Mercedes is running. You know, we still need more development for sure, always need more horsepower. So, you know, I think we are competitive with everybody. And, so far this winter testing I am happy with the development of the engine. What was the other question again?

Q. What is your opinion on the smaller tanks, longer distance?

AL UNSER JR.: I think the lower boost which we are going from 45 to 40 inches and then we are going from 40 gallons to 35 gallons in the car, it's going to maybe make for more pit stops in the race, which is going to add, you know, another element to the race itself which nobody really is used to. And, I tell you, I got the best team in the business and I am very confident that that third stop will help us improve.

Q. Is Miami a handling track or horsepower track in your opinion?

AL UNSER JR.: Every racetrack is a horsepower racetrack and every racetrack is a handling track. You know, with the lower down-force that we have at Homestead, I really see that you need to get your car working more mechanical than anything else and -- because we just don't have the grip to make the tires last longer. So they tend to slide a little bit more. So, you know, you will basically need to take care of your tires for your fuel run.

Q. Al, congratulations being the father of a little one. I know exactly how you feel.

AL UNSER JR.: Well, thank you.

Q. The question of the day is there have been these reports that Roger has talked about running Indianapolis in 1998. The question I have for you is: How much input you had in this decision if in fact this decision is for real?

AL UNSER JR.: I guess, you know, where I stand on it, Roger and I, we talked a little bit because, you know, all this kind of got started down at Daytona and when I showed up down at Daytona to run the IROC race I was told that Roger had an IRL car and all this other kind of stuff which he does not and, you know, when Roger and I were talking, I just -- the only thing that was -- really that I said to him was that "I don't care where you go and race, I want to be your driver, and so, whatever car you build and wherever you unload it, I want to be driving it." And so that is where I stand on that.

Q. How much time are you going to be able to spend with your kids over the course of this season?

AL UNSER JR.: Well, we will put little Joe-- actually, Albert, Cody and Shannon and Joseph once the three are out of school, we will get in the motor home and start travelling together like we always do.

Q. Al, last year you were the top points-getter on oval courses and, yet, on the road courses you were the points-getter. Was that caused by chassis, engine, tires; maybe, you? And, have you been working on the Penske chassis to make it particularly more competitive on road courses?

AL UNSER JR.: That we have. We have been working diligently to make it handle better and be more competitive everywhere; not just the road courses, but also on the ovals. And, you know, why we had the season we had last year was just simply, you know, no luck on our side. And, you know, I would rather be lucky than good any day and so we just didn't have any luck and -- but, we weren't as competitive as we needed to be, especially on the road courses and so we have worked hard in getting that done.

Q. You mentioned earlier "mechanical grip." Are you working primarily on the car on increasing mechanical grip for road courses and ovals as opposed to aerodynamic grip?

AL UNSER JR.: We are searching for any grip that we can get. I said that mainly because of the new Homestead arrow rules. This is the first time -- it is really the only time this season that we are running this type of configuration on a mile and a half track. And, so, you know, it is going to be very unique down at Homestead and I feel it is going to be pretty competitive, you know, so we have been trying to slow the cornering speeds down on the little one mile ovals or the one and a half mile ovals. And, I think we have accomplished this.

Q. You said that Roger has not -- there is not an IRL car that has been built. But, has the decision been made that one is going to be built or is this whole thing still up in the air or just kind of where does all this stand?

AL UNSER JR.: It is still up in the air because, you know, there is some rules that really need to be decided on at the speedway and, you know, right now, as it stands, I believe that -- well, for this year, I know that you had to buy a car, you had to buy the engine and so on. And, you know, the comment that Roger has been making really is he wants to build his own car and he wants to build his own engine and if he builds this to the specs that the IRL has put forward, then they should let him run. And, right now, that is what is pretty much up in the air. And, then also, you have the qualifying rules that, you know, if you don't run the IRL races, then there is only eight slots open at the speedway, you know, that needs to go away too. So, you know, there is still a lot on the table that needs to be addressed and so on.

Q. Has there been any conversations between Roger and Tony George about any of this?

AL UNSER JR.: Not that I have heard, no.

Q. You talk about last year not having any luck. Is that simply all you need this year is to get some luck to get back to championship contention or is there something else out there that you guys need to improve on?

AL UNSER JR.: Well, everything needs to be improved. The CART series is so competitive, especially within the last two or three years when these major corporations have entered into our sport, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, Toyota, Ford, you know, that is the engine front when you talk, Goodyear and Firestone, when these guys started going to battle against each other, the competitive level definitely went up. And, so, you know, we are looking at every area and any area to try to help us win races. And, likewise, so is Goodyear and so is Mercedes.

Q. Who do you see the top contenders being this year? Is that going to be the same crew Andretti, Vasser, those guys?

AL UNSER JR.: Well, hopefully, it is going to be Marlboro Team Penske having the year that they had in 1994. That is our goal and we are after a dominating season and that is what we want.

Q. Are you as hungry now as had you have been over the last few years or more so?

AL UNSER JR.: I am, you know, I want to go out and win every race that I enter in. And, you know, we will do anything to do that. And so I am just as hungry as I was when I was a rookie in 1983.

Q. I am currently doing a road test on multi-vex mirrors and based upon safety factors, can you elaborate on how that helps you during the race?

AL UNSER JR.: On what kind of mirrors?

Q. The aspherical mirrors, the multi-vex mirrors. I understand you have them on your car and you had them in the IROC at Daytona?

AL UNSER JR.: Right. Right. Any time you can see more behind you and actually not so much what is behind you, but what is in your blind spot which is, you know, your right rear corner and your left rear corner, any time you can see more of this, you are going to be better off and these mirrors definitely help take that blind spot out of there.

Q. How much do they help when you were able to slide by Mark Martin?

AL UNSER JR.: Not much. We were looking forward at that time.

Q. I think all the fans love to see you back at Indy, but do you think if the Penske team ran at Indianapolis that would kind of hurt the prestige of the CART Series at all?

AL UNSER JR.: No, I don't. I think it wouldn't do anything to the series, you know, we are No. 1 in the CART Series. We go to Australia. We go to Brazil, a couple of races in Canada. We want the world to see what we have to offer and so on and running at Indianapolis, I think, would be more of a personal level, you know, for myself it would be because the last time I raced there I missed the show and the year before that, I won the race. And, so, it would definitely be a personal thing to go back there and show that we are champions like what we did in 1994.

MIKE ZIZZO: Al, thanks so much for joining us and please I will pass our congratulations on to Shelly.


MIKE ZIZZO: Good luck this season.

AL UNSER JR.: You bet. We need all that and again, thank you all for being here and a part of our conference.

MIKE ZIZZO: Thank you very much. We will see everyone next week.

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