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April 3, 2020

Will Power

Graham Rahal

Robert Wickens

Indianapolis, Indiana

THE MODERATOR: Welcome, everyone. This week we will virtually head to Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama. The event on Saturday will be broadcast on NBCSN at 2:30 p.m. eastern.

Joining us on the call today are IndyCar drivers Graham Rahal and Robert Wickens. We'll be joined by Will Power very soon I am told. We'll go ahead and get started with Graham.

Graham Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Rahal Lanigan Racing Honda. How are you getting acclimated to iRacing and what do you expect from Barber this week?

GRAHAM RAHAL: It's been good. I had never done it before. At least it probably had been 10 years since I had driven any sort of sim. First of all it's addicting. Rather addicting. Second of all it's bad for your marriage. It's a great way to kill a day of quarantine.

But I think it's been a big challenge just to get used to the way that you feel a car, the way that you drive a car in the sim, it's all completely different than real life. To get used to that sensation, to get everything set up right is a huge part of it.

For me it's kind of been a challenge to just figure out the right settings, what to do from afar, too. Obviously you don't have anybody here that plays iRace or anything to help you firsthand. It's been a bit of a challenge. I've really enjoyed it.

I think Barber is going to be actually more difficult than Watkins Glen. The track has a little bit less grip than Watkins Glen did last week. I thought Watkins, while everybody was still crashing there, I think you can get away with more than what you can at Barber. In real life it's that way, too. I'm looking forward to it. I think it will be fun.

THE MODERATOR: We should have been joined now by Will Power. Will, are you there?


THE MODERATOR: Will is the driver of the No. 12 Team Penske Chevy. He actually finished third last week.

Have you been practicing Barber this week? What should fans expect at the road course?

WILL POWER: Yeah, I did a practice race last night. Was leading then ran off, then got crashed. It's like Graham said, actually less grip. It's kind of good because people make more mistakes, means less about qualifying. If you just do a mistake prerace, you're going to end up pretty good. Probably going to be some yellows or a yellow. That's going to mix things up a lot.

Yeah, it's amazing the amount of coverage, the numbers it gets for TV. We haven't had TV yet, just streaming. We're expecting a pretty big number, which is great for the sponsors in this time when we can't be out at tracks. I think we should all just have fun with it, try to race as clean as we can.

It's hard on the sim. You get this thing called 'net code' where if you don't even touch someone, you can take someone out if you don't even touch them. A little bit of that goes on.

THE MODERATOR: A new entry for this week is our driver of the No. 6 Arrow McLaren SP, Robert Wickens.

We're glad your equipment has arrived this week and you're able to join us. You're going to be competing against your peers again. How is the training going so far?

ROBERT WICKENS: It's very early days. The sim finally was set up by SimCraft. Finished yesterday at around 3:00. I was able to put in a couple laps last night for the first time.

It's weird. It's kind of a mental overload. My brain was exploding from trying to figure out how to use the handbrakes, to learn the feeling of it and everything. A lot of work to do in a short amount of time. I was hoping I'd pick it up a lot quicker than I am.

Like what Will and Graham said, the Barber track seems to be fairly low grip. I'm spinning a lot more than I intend to. I'm just so happy that I can get back and compete with these guys. It's going to be a lot of fun.

The biggest thing for me is although this is fun, I see this as the long-term project of getting me back into the racecar. I always knew through simulation was going to be the best way to trial different handbrake or paddle configurations. This is step one of a hundred to get me back into the NTT IndyCar Series.

THE MODERATOR: We'll open it up for questions.

Q. Graham, there's been a lot of other drivers that have spent a lot of time all week - 10, 12 hours a day - practicing on this thing. You're a relative newbie. How much does that concern you that a lot of these guys have been spending all this time able to practice, especially the single guys?
GRAHAM RAHAL: That's the challenge. I could definitely spend way more time up there. My line to Court is, Just give me two laps. Like an hour and 45 minutes later I'm still sitting there. It's frustrating.

As Robbie said, the frustrating part is you go out, you put in a good lap, then it's, I need to go beat that. You spin and you spin and you spin. Then you get mad. The competitiveness in you, two more laps, two more laps. You try to go and go and go.

ROBERT WICKENS: Glad it wasn't just me last night (laughter).

GRAHAM RAHAL: You sit there for hours and hours and hours.

But it is interesting because I go on pretty frequently to see what's going on. A lot of guys are on all the time. Scott down in Australia, Bourdais has been on a load, Kanaan, Willie P. I think everyone is enjoying it. But it's a huge challenge.

There's a couple of guys that are clearly quicker than everybody else, Will being one of those. Just trying to figure out where and how to find the lap time. I'm telling you, it's so different than reality in that way.

But it's been fun, man. I've enjoyed the challenge. Like I said, yes, it's good for the exposure, good because people are paying attention. You can see it on our Instagram. If you look at the clicks or page views in the last seven days, they've been doubled since we started to do this stuff. While it's great for that, it also does help kill a ton of time.

Q. There's been a lot of people from other racing series, including Dale Jr. at NBC that's real interested in this. What do you think of Dale Jr.'s interest in this, how that can through IndyCar and other avenues with your TV partners open up the series and this form of racing to new fans?
GRAHAM RAHAL: I mean, I think it's been great to have Jimmie cross over. I think Jimmie is a tremendous guy who is so well respected in our sport. To have him come and race the Watkins, I think he's racing at Barber if I'm not mistaken, he'll be better at Barber than Watkins because he practiced a lot. He was on the sim a ton. He was expecting to test there in April with Robbie's team. I know he spent a ton of time on the sim.

If we can cross over and do more over there, too, it would be great. I'll admit, I think it's not a fixed setup, I don't know how they're doing it, but if it's not a fixed setup in the simulator itself, it would be tricky for any of us to go out there and figure it out. We have no clue of what to do or where to go.

I can tell you, I tried to drive a Cup car last night a couple of places. I had never driven anything that handled worse in my life. I texted Jimmie at midnight. Dude, I hope this is not real.

Again, the reason is because I don't even have a setup. I just click on it and you just go, it is what it is. If those guys had a fixed setup, we could go race with them. They could come over here and race with us. We do utilize fixed setups. I think it would be a lot of fun.

This is a time where we can think outside the box. Why not? It doesn't do any harm.

Q. Robbie, can you talk about your sim experience, what happened last week, and how are you liking the new steering wheel?
ROBERT WICKENS: Sim experience, I mean, in terms of the home simulators I have none. But experience through simulation, I did a lot of development work for Formula 1 simulators with Red Bull, Mercedes, Williams, Renault. I was the behind-the-scenes guy when I was in Europe in my pursuit of Formula 1.

I'm aware of the simulators, the quirkiness that goes along with them. Every piece of software is a new animal. iRacing does a great job of giving the everyday person the chance to drive a very realistic car.

Being a real driver, there's always those things that take you away from reality. It's an adjustment, like what Graham and Will were taking.

It's going to be tough. But in terms of the hand control settings, Max Papis, MPI, did an amazing job in the race against the clock to get a steering wheel ready for me to send over so I could do the race at Watkins on Saturday. It was due for overnight shipping to arrive Saturday morning. It was going to be a steep learning curve, let's say, to get me ready in time.

The courier I guess misread the label, they didn't put it on the truck for the Saturday delivery. Instead there's a whole bunch of confusion, the wheel got sent back to MPI, and I only received it yesterday finally.

I just want experience at this point. We were able to figure out another option for a steering wheel for this weekend. I'm going to be using a Fantech McLaren-based steering wheel because it has a clutch paddle. I'll be using throttle with the clutch.

I have a brake lever off to the side I'll be hand-braking with for short-term until I can get more time to experiment with some other configurations.

Q. Robert, you're actually not using the MPI wheel this week, that's what you're saying?
ROBERT WICKENS: Yeah, I won't be using it this weekend. I only got up and running last night. It's not a quick disconnect, plug-and-play. I need to disconnect, calibrate it. I don't want to spend half a day trying to get the steering wheel set up and see if I like it more.

It's kind of a race against the clock to get competitive for Barber. I'm just going to commit to this system that we put on the sim right now, then after this weekend I'm going to start experimenting with Max's wheel. Hopefully it's a better solution than what I have now.

For example, with the steering angle you need for turn five in Barber, I can't reach the throttle at the apex. I need some adapting to carry enough entry speed to not lose lap time. It's all a compromise right now. And until we can develop kind of my own custom steering wheel that suits my exact needs, I'm always going to face those challenges.

If you guys want, I can give you a tour of the sim and how it all works a little later on so I don't have to bore Graham and Will.

Q. You mentioned here at the start today that this was essentially step one of a hundred trying to get you back in a car eventually. Have you done a lot of sim work already in your rehab process or is this really just kind of the start of that, and it came at a great time to be able to compete with a lot of other drivers given the situation?
ROBERT WICKENS: Yeah, I mean, simulation was always step number one for me. Unfortunately through one reason or another, it was very challenging to basically do it right. I didn't want to purchase an Amazon setup, try to learn on that. I wanted to build a good foundation that you can evolve and make better.

Like I said, I see this as a great training tool for me to make my hand control second nature, but I didn't want to do it on a budget. That was always the challenge.

Now obviously with what's going on in the world, current pandemic, the simulation, the virtual racing, eSports, basically took center stage and made it all reality very quickly. I guess you could say I'm almost a beneficiary of what's happening in the world right now.

I'm grateful for SimCraft, McLaren SP, for making this happen. I'm excited to drive something. Last night was the first time I've driven any form of racecar since the accident in Pocono. Even though it was virtual, it still felt pretty good.

Q. What do you anticipate tomorrow being like? I imagine it might be pretty emotional. Getting to this point tomorrow, what do you expect that being like for you?
ROBERT WICKENS: I can say with pretty big confidence honestly I'm probably not ready for a race just yet (smiling). Might as well get thrown in the deep end and see how you get on.

We're taking it one step at a time. I know I'm not going to set the world on fire in the race tomorrow. I do know that while everyone gets the hang of iRacing with the IndyCar, I think the most important thing is to keep the thing running and keep it on track. That's going to be goal number one for me, hopefully not make too many mistakes. So far I can only do about five or six laps without spinning, so there's a lot of work to be done.

Q. IndyCar's iRacing Challenge has been very successful. What do you think is behind this success? Is it the realism of the up-to-date cars, real world drivers or something different?
WILL POWER: I think it's because no one has anything to do right now is a big reason. We have big numbers. It would be awesome if that continued after everyone gets back to work.

To be honest, the racing looks very real. The driving is very real. If you're watching on TV, I mean, you could almost feel like you're watching a real race. I think it's good to watch, it's good competition. Yeah, I think iRacing has done a great job of making a simulation that can be very close to the real world.

GRAHAM RAHAL: I think Will is right. I think a lot of people are just dying for something to do, something to watch. The competitiveness in all of us wants to see some sort of sport.

I know there are other buddies like hockey players that are watching it because they just want to watch something. They need something to do. So I think that's a big part of it.

I think it's great that NBC Sports is covering it this weekend other than just being online. I think it will be tremendous to see how that turns out.

I agree with Will, it is very realistic. When you see the cars on track, you watch a replay, see the photos, it's eerily real looking. I did a race at St. Louis last weekend. It was extremely entertaining I think for the drivers that were participating. Other than 400 yellow flags, which happened early in the race, it was really, really entertaining to be a part of. People who watched that race would have loved the show that they had been seeing. I think there's a lot of realism to it.

I think it's also people just want something right now. The desire and the demand is there to log in or tune in and see something competitive on TV.

Q. Robert, can you describe how great it is to have Max help you on having the sim equipment, despite not using it this past weekend.
ROBERT WICKENS: I think I'm going to sound like a broken record. Just the fact that I have so many people supporting me on my return is amazing. When Max found out that I was in the market for a steering wheel, he jumped on and just got to work. He actually had already been doing stuff in the background that I wasn't even aware of.

The company is called SimAbility. He had been communicating with them, already had the hardware in his shop. I guess he was just waiting for me to reach out. Silver lining is great, but I also wish I had known that a few weeks ago.

But he's such a good guy. He's a competitor at heart. Although he's retired from the cockpit, I think he sees his entrepreneurship as a new form of competition. He wants to be the best in the industry, he works hard. I think he's doing a great job.

I can't wait to try his steering wheel after this Barber weekend because it looks great. Just like I said, I'm not computer-ly inclined enough to figure out how to switch it over in quick order. It's probably going to take me a good amount of time to get it calibrated, up and running.

Q. We talked about Jimmie coming over. Would you see any interest in some Formula 1 drivers, drivers from other series around the world in the IndyCar iRacing?
WILL POWER: Yeah, I think that would be great if we can get big-name drivers from other series, like we have with Jimmie, Scott Maclachan from V8 Super Cars. Getting a couple guys from Europe would be cool.

Q. A colleague of mine spoke to Jack Harvey earlier. He said that the race should be on things like YouTube or Twitch. Wanted to get your interest on should the race be on YouTube or do you prefer to see it on NBCSN?
WILL POWER: Graham can answer that.

GRAHAM RAHAL: I don't know why it couldn't be on all forms. I think clearly being on TV at this stage is still better value for all of our sponsors. There's real TV behind it all after that other stuff.

Clearly as has happened over the last few years, they've been getting better and better on not only seeing view counts on YouTube or gaming streams, but also the values, which is important.

When you look at the ratings, you look at the RLI, what a sponsor actually gets out of it, the media value as they consider it, I know a handful of years ago it was very hard to get that out of like an in-app stream. I think today that's changed a lot.

To me NBC Sports is key one. I still think that is the best format. From there obviously Internet right now is going to be a big way. I think we've all spent way too much time watching Tiger King on Netflix and everything else. Clearly the Internet TV is getting more and important popular.

NBC Sports, it's great they're going to cover it this weekend. That's a big deal for us. We all should be pretty proud of that.

Q. Will and Graham, we've all witnessed Robbie's recovery over the last year and a half. How cool is it to watch his progress and have a chance to race against him tomorrow?
WILL POWER: Yeah, it's been great watching his progress. Yeah, I think like he said, his first step was to get back in a sim. It's pretty cool he's actually able to get on and compete in a competition. Obviously it's very early days for him. It's going to be tough.

Yeah, man, he deserves to be back in the series. Tremendous talent that you know was going to be a champion. I really hope that he gets back, that he can create a system where he can get back in the car and use his talent. It's such a pity to see that go to waste.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Robbie and I, we started, what, 10, 11 years old racing against each other.

ROBERT WICKENS: Taking rocks in Jacksonville, Florida.

GRAHAM RAHAL: Pretty much.

To see his determination, to see his recovery process, to see his mentality and the way that he's thought through this is admirable. But it's not surprising from him if you've known him for a long time.

I could tell you from going to see him in the hospital pretty early on after the accident, the determination was always there. It was always there. His positivity, really with Karli, I'd like to think if it happened to me, I have that in me. I'm not sure I always have that positivity. It was always really great for us to see and to be around.

But like I said, he's a guy who is just from day one committed to getting back on his feet, to getting back in a racecar. It's great to have him out here competing with us. The likelihood he's going to figure this out and kick all of our butts again...

Hopefully we can keep up with him a little better on the sim than real life.

ROBERT WICKENS: You have some time. Don't worry (laughter).

THE MODERATOR: I want to thank everybody for joining us. We have to get the drivers off to practice.

FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports

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