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IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Indianapolis 500

IndyCar Series: Indianapolis 500

Buddy Rice
Scott Roembke
May 15, 2004


THE MODERATOR: Well, last time we saw you in here, Buddy, you were smiling, but you had one eye on the monitor. Now when push comes to shove, you own that piece of hardware next to you and the pole position of the running of the Indianapolis 500. Great accomplishment. Congratulations.

BUDDY RICE: A huge accomplishment for myself, but what it's taken me to get here for the Rahal-Letterman team, to expand to the operation they have this year, to get everybody as competitive as we are. Without Argent and Pioneer on board, the help from all the people at Honda, G Force, Firestone, obviously we wouldn't be able to be up here. I'm happy that MBNA sponsors the pole award.

THE MODERATOR: Scott, obviously we first saw Buddy Rice at Michigan at an Indy Racing League event, and he was spectacular there. An opportunity really came about for the two of you to come together. That relationship is certainly paying benefits today.

SCOTT ROEMBKE: Well, for sure. Bobby gets all the credit because he had his eye on Buddy for quite some time. We tried to do something with Buddy a few years ago. It just didn't work out. But he's always been part of the Team Rahal family and now Rahal/Letterman. I think our faith in him has been proven out this year, both the rest of the races and especially today.

THE MODERATOR: Now that the day has ended, teams came in here, were scratching their head, said they were surprised you were able to pull out that extra time. Tell us about it. Did you know you had that in reserve when it came time for qualifying?

BUDDY RICE: I mean, the same thing was said when we qualified on the pole at Homestead, as well. I don't think we always show our complete hand at any given point until it's time to do that, and that's what makes the strength of the Rahal-Letterman team. The engineering staff over there has been working very hard. We don't always have to put all the bits on that make the thing go fast until it's time. We never want to show our full hand. That just shows all the hard work and everything that's been going into make this car with the help from G Force and Honda. Those are two major key factors in working with them and doing that. Obviously, Honda has the top seven positions, which is excellent for them.


Q. Buddy, I guess you listed a couple things as memorable moments for you in racing. Obviously this would have to rank, supersede all those. Can you expand on that a little bit, what it means now to have won this pole.

BUDDY RICE: Well, I think -- I guess it goes back to go-karting. I think racing with my dad and doing single-lap qualifying, go-karting, to the two-liters to Atlantics, to come here. I mean, one of the biggest things in my career was to win the Atlantic Championship for DSTP. That was huge. But now to come here and drive for a team that is as big as it is with the Rahal-Letterman and to get not only their first pole for them at Homestead, it was my first pole, and now it's all of our first poles here again at Indy. It's just an unbelievable feeling right now. I don't think it's completely sunk in, exactly what has happened today. I think as the time progresses, and tomorrow starts to happen, over the next few days, yeah, I'm going to have to get back to work to make sure we get the car prepared for the race and all the hard work that both Roger and my other two teammates have done. But this is definitely the biggest moment right now in my career. Hopefully we're to be able to make that a little bit better here in a couple of days.

Q. All kinds of ways to win the pole. Last year Helio pulled one out at the end and took it. What was it like sitting there, taking some shots? Did you feel like you pushed it out there maybe unattainable?

BUDDY RICE: I don't know. I mean, I don't look at things like that. I mean, I'm a pretty realistic person. I just take everything for what it is right there. There's such a deep field here, anybody at any time could have taken us off. I mean, serious contenders were obviously the Honda-part AGR cars and the Fernandez group. You can't take that group lightly, especially with the Honda power. Obviously, my teammates were going to be extremely quick. Also from the other side, Penske and Ganassi have always had good runs here, they're very strong teams, have good drivers, as well. I think the depth of the field is unmatched right now and I think you're going to have an excellent race come May 30th for the win.

Q. Buddy and Scott, obviously Honda was fast with eight of the top nine qualifying positions. Can you address reliability issues with the new three-liter motor heading into the race itself?

BUDDY RICE: The reliability's not an issue, not at all. I mean, we've already completed 500 miles on one of our cars with Vitor running, and full tank trim. It's not an issue. At the open test we also had a couple cars complete over 500 miles. There hasn't even been a single engine failure all month. I don't think it's going to be an issue whatsoever.

SCOTT ROEMBKE: I mean, we ran the same engine -- we run two motors, one the whole week, the one we put in yesterday. So we don't have any reliability issues.

Q. Buddy, address the ability to drive and the ability to get a ride issue, if you would. Two years ago you were the hottest driver around, we were saying the up-and-coming American driver. You didn't get a ride. Nothing lined up for this year. You finally get in through an accident. Here you sit on the pole. How does that work with your psyche?

BUDDY RICE: I mean, I don't know. Basically, I mean, I was brought in -- I guess to go back, when I drove the Atlantics and I was coming up through the ladder system over there, that was supposed to be the way to do it. You're supposed to win championships, then from there you're supposed to get graduated into the next level. That never happened. For whatever reason, there was obviously a failure, and it's happened repeatedly over there. Obviously, right about that time also I was a backup driver at Rahal. I'd already been working with them quite heavily. Some of our opportunities that we were trying to make just didn't come together. But that didn't discourage me. Then to get the ride last year, even in 2002 for the few rounds I ran, just got to take everything as it comes. Everybody has a story, everybody has a rollercoaster ride to get to where they're at. I mean, every driver you go talk to, they've driven every year, but not all the years have been all that great. It's just part of the path that you take to get there.

Q. Was your qualifying run a rollercoaster ride? Do you like rollercoasters?

BUDDY RICE: I do. Scott gets nervous. I do like rollercoasters actually, I like them a lot. I think it's just difficult to explain. I mean, the car was probably the most freed up we've had the whole month. That's what we knew it was going to take to sit on the front row and the pole. It was just going to be whoever was willing to hang it out the most. There's some guys that went out and tried and overstepped the boundaries. I made a small mistake in the open test, had done the same thing on an out-lap. Yeah, it was a rollercoaster ride. It was a hang-on deal from start to finish, no question. We were going for it. I asked my engineer the first thing this morning, "Are we going for the pole? What are we looking for here? How many sets of tires do you want to throw at this thing to make sure we know where we're at?" That's what we went to do. We threw the big risk at it. Everything worked. It goes all back to, I mean, just a few key things. The engineering staff at Rahal-Letterman, and it goes to the power of Honda, the G Force chassis and the tires. Everything just worked perfectly for us. It was our day.

Q. You talk about everybody having a story, going through whatever they have to go through to get to where you're at now. Are there certain people that you look to as those who have been those that have picked you up when things weren't going well and are right there with you now when you're on top of the world right now?

BUDDY RICE: Well, I mean, yeah. I mean, there's always been the support of my family, some of my other sponsors that have always been with me. Obviously, one of my big supporters is sitting right beside me that's always helped me. Back in '98 when I drove my first Atlantic race, I started talking with those guys then, it's now blossomed into where I'm at. They've helped me and directed me in a lot of different situations that people don't even know about. I mean, the biggest thing has been my family and friends have always been there. Some of my key sponsors that stuck with me, made sure they could help me any way they could so I could pursue my dream and to get here and to be able to run in the top echelon open-wheel series. Yeah, I mean, it's just the way it's been.

Q. Sorry to bring up '94, but you didn't get much of a chance to avenge that. Is this somewhat sweeter? You only had one chance to blot out '94. Can you talk about what the team went through coming back here, to put a car on the pole after what you've gone through?

SCOTT ROEMBKE: Well, you know, there's been a lot of water under the bridge since 1994 and '95. This is a whole new team. It's a much better team. This result today I think is just a consummate team effort. As Buddy mentioned, we had an incident a couple weeks ago, and it put us behind. We've got 22 guys in Ohio that have busted their butts getting the cars repaired, finished, fixing the wrecked car, bringing everyone over here and getting prepared. We were about a day behind earlier in the week. It showed a little bit on the time charts. We never panicked. We had a plan. I can't say enough for our engineering staff. Todd Bowland and Tim Reiter, Ray Leto and Don Halliday, three engineers for the three cars, plus our technical director, they've always done just a tremendous job maximizing having three drivers out there this week. You know, we thought it would be a benefit to have a second car, then a third. It proved out. I'm just really pleased for everyone involved in the team. I don't want to look back to '94/'95. I just look back two weeks where we were, and to see what Buddy did today, go out there and hang it out like he did, you know, it takes a lot of effort. It was a thrill ride. You're not going to sit on pole here playing defense. You got to go after it. We thought we were close enough to be on the front row. You know, maybe we got a break here, a break there with someone else. Certainly, you know, when you go out there, Honda, what can you say? I mean, they brought the lumber, huh? G Force, you look at the grid. When Junqueira went out and did his time, I thought that he was pretty stout, but I thought we could go faster than he did. That was our barometer at that point in the day. Once again, just -- we got three different drivers, three different sponsors. It's a one solid team effort over there. We'll probably have more guys in the front row picture behind one car in the history of the sport tomorrow. We're all going in this together.

Q. You talk about the path you took to get here. Is today just a matter of taking advantage of the opportunities you've been able to get?

BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I mean, basically it probably was going to be one of my last opportunities if I didn't take full advantage of it. I mean, got tired of pulling me around in that wagon (laughter). No, it was probably going to be one of my last opportunities. After that, it was going to have to be go try something else. Obviously, not everything works out the way you think it's going to sometimes. Not everything's always ideal. But this situation presented itself, and I couldn't step away from it. Like I said earlier, to be associated with this team and their sponsors and everybody that supports them has been unbelievable. And I just -- I'm very pleased to be here and be able to show that, you know, I still can drive, obviously. Some people didn't seem to think so. But I think this year we've proven a lot of things, shown the strength of what Rahal-Letterman can do by switching chassis, sticking with Honda, doing that. They brought in three drivers, each one of us not having been here before, it's all new. At different stages coming in, but everybody is competitive. Also the help of Kenny Brack. Even though he's not driving right now, what he brings in from a technical side, things to look at, he's a past champion here, he's a past IRL champion, as well. So he brings a lot to the table, as well.

SCOTT ROEMBKE: I want to echo that. I left Kenny out of my little tribute to the team. He's been here all week. A lot of people forget that our three drivers, they have only been here one year. Whether it's just out of getting away on a rainy day, but Kenny has been up in the spotter's stand most of the week. He hasn't been overbearing. But if they want to talk about what's going on, he's been there for them. He's certainly been part of this also.


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