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CHAMP CAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
May 2, 2006
MERRILL CAIN: My name is Merrill Cain. Welcome to the Yokohama Presents the Champ Car Atlantic Championship powered by Mazda. We're happy to welcome two generations of two of the most famous names in all of racing today. We are joined by two teammates in the 2006 Champ Car Atlantic Championship, Graham Rahal and Al Unser III, who both joined the new Mi-Jack Conquest Racing Atlantic team this season. We're also privileged to welcome the legendary fathers of these two young and up-and-coming drivers, three-time Champ Car champion Bobby Rahal, and two-time Champ Car title winner, Al Unser, Jr. Thank you all for joining us this afternoon, gentlemen.
Let's begin today's call by getting some opening comments from all four of our guests today. For the norm on the Champ Car teleconference, we'll open it up to the media members on the line and take some questions from them.
Bobby Rahal, himself a graduate of the Atlantic Series, owner of 24 wins in his illustrious Champ Car career, and proud father of Graham. Bobby, what attracted you and Graham to the Atlantic Championship for the 2006 season and how exciting was it for you to watch Graham last month in his series debut in Long Beach as he brought home a fifth place finish in Atlantics?
BOBBY RAHAL: First, it's nice to be on the call with everybody. We're excited. I've always felt strongly about the Atlantic Series being an excellent training ground for young drivers. I think both Graham and I felt this was the next logical step after Star Mazda. I frankly couldn't be happier with the way the season's lining up. Tremendous depth, great competitiveness throughout the field. I think that's going to make for a very exciting year. Hopefully we'll get more than our fair share of that excitement.
But it was a thrill to watch Graham and all the guys at Long Beach, having driven there especially. Of course, I never won like Al did. Nevertheless, I thought it was a good first outing for everybody. On to the next one.
MERRILL CAIN: Bobby, can you describe how you help and how you work with Graham during a race weekend. I got a chance to see you working closely together. You were pretty much bending his ear all weekend long.
BOBBY RAHAL: I pretty much stay out of the way (laughter). I think that's usually a pretty good policy. I go out and watch. Graham works real well with Don Halliday and Mike Zimicki, his driver coach. I mean, the last thing they need is me getting in the thick of it. They're doing a great job and have been doing a great job. I just kind of go out in the corners and stay out of the everybody's way, at least I try to, and watch. Every now and then, I come into the pits.
I tend to, when it comes race time or qualifying time, be out watching like a fan.
MERRILL CAIN: As it should be.
Next we'll hear from Graham Rahal, Bobby's 17-year-old son, junior at New Albany High School in New Albany, Ohio. Graham is in his first season competing in Atlantics after excelling the last several years in the Formula BMW USA series, Star Mazda, most recently in the A1 Grand Prix series. As we just said, he finished fifth in the Atlantic season opener at Long Beach, driving the #18 Gehl Company car for Mi-Jack Conquest Racing.
Graham, as you look back on your Atlantic debut, can you assess how you did? What was it like taking the first green flag among the 28 cars in the in the new-look Atlantic Series?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously, it's great to be part of series. Long Beach was very good for us. Obviously, like you said, we finished fifth, which may be a little bit better than expected. But on the first lap I actually hit the wall in turn 10. That changed things a little bit for the rest of the race.
Really, if you look at it in the big picture, it's a very successful event for us. We were quick all weekend. Never really had a bad session at all. We have to be pretty pleased with where we're at. Really in the end it's all about points. When you look at the points table, we're only a couple points out of the top two or three positions. Everywhere we go, we just need to keep building on that. At the end of the season, we hope to be there.
MERRILL CAIN: Graham, you touched on it a little bit, your dad touched on it a little bit in his comments, but how much confidence does it give you in the race weekend and when you're just starting out with this team knowing that you have such an experienced crew with you, with your dad in your corner, guys like Don Halliday, Mike Zimicki behind the scenes, making that learning curve much easier, I would think.
GRAHAM RAHAL: Obviously, that does help. It's not just Don and Mike, but the entire team. Especially having Al, it's a whole group. When we put it all together, we definitely have the most experienced team. Really when you put all the minds together up front in the engineering department, we definitely try to take as much advantage as we can.
It's for sure, you know, when we go to tracks like Long Beach, where dad and Al certainly have a lot of experience and success, to have their feedback along with Don and Lee, it always gives us a little bit of an edge on everybody else.
MERRILL CAIN: Al Unser, Jr. is also a graduate of the Atlantic Championship. He captured the checkered flag 31 times in his distinguished Champ Car career. He was also at Long Beach last month to witness his son Al make his debut with his new Atlantic team.
Talk about the development you've seen in your son as a racer over the last few years competing in Atlantics. It's his third season in the series. Can you reflect on some of the memories that you have of Bobby as a teammate when you were at Gelles Racing with CART in the early '90s?
AL UNSER, JR.: Wow, okay. First off I want to thank everybody for joining us today. Long Beach and Al, he didn't have as successful a time as Graham did. I mean, we put the deal together very last minute. My son had very limited time in the car. But, you know, he came away with some points and brought the thing home in one piece basically.
You know, the Atlantic Series, I feel the same way that Bob had just said, that it's very, very competitive, the field is very, very deep, and it's just a great training series. The cars, the size is good, the power is good with them. Everything about them is very good to teach a young driver as he progresses in his career. Al has run a little bit in the IPS cars. He did a real good job there. Moving into the Atlantics, my basic feeling is the more different types of cars that he can drive, the better driver he's going to become and be able to adapt to different situations.
I really enjoyed watching him. I, too, like Bobby, I was out watching in the corners and stuff like that. The team is very, very good, the Mi-Jack team. Al's engineer Lee Dykstra is very, very experienced, very smart. I think everybody together, what Graham was saying, the engineering, there's a lot of experience there. I think they're going to do a great job at the next race in Houston.
You know, what can I say? My years with Bobby. Bobby helped me win my CART championship or Champ Car championship when we were teammates. Him and I got along very well during those years. I really feel our boys are going to do the same.
MERRILL CAIN: Is it a little unusual for you to kind of look back on those times and now see your two sons at teammates here 20 years later?
AL UNSER, JR.: It's not unusual. It makes me feel old. That's what it does.
BOBBY RAHAL: Ditto.
MERRILL CAIN: You guys are still going strong. Don't think you have to worry about that.
Last but certainly not least, Al Unser III. Al is in his third season of Atlantic competition. He drives the #30 200+MMP car for Mi-Jack Conquest. Al, it's no secret you got into professional racing a little later in your development. You're really still starting to come into your own as a driver at age 23. How tough was it for you to establish your own identity and earn your opportunities in racing, especially carrying around the name 'Unser', which could probably help you and hurt you in some ways?
AL UNSER, III: You know, I'd like to again thank everybody for being here.
I'd say the name's a double-edged sword, being that I started late. People are expecting some stuff out of me in the early years. I think that I took it one step at a time. Whatever pressure you put on yourself is something that you do to yourself anyway. I think we plugged away through it pretty good. Now we're still here still learning, very excited to be Graham's teammate and part of the Mi-Jack Conquest team.
MERRILL CAIN: How has it been working with Graham and the team? Do you spend much time talking about what it's like to follow in your dad's footsteps?
AL UNSER, III: No, not really. We kind of both know what it's like, this kind of stuff. The press conferences, media stuff, I think comes a little bit easier to us. Other than that, we definitely talk about the cars, who has what setup, who is running what springs and so forth so that we can find an ultimate balance for each of our driving style.
MERRILL CAIN: Let's open it up for questions from the media.
Q. Bobby, in the last six, eight months, Graham has driven about everything but a Yugo. How much have you seen him take quantum leaps forward in his talent or showing his talent? What do you think all that experience has meant for him?
BOBBY RAHAL: I believe, like Al, Jr. was saying, the more types of cars you drive, the better you're going to be. I think certainly, like you say, the last six, eight months, I mean, he's driven a Formula 3000 car in Italy, the A1GP car, GT3 Porsche at Daytona, RSR Porsche at Sebring. All these experiences, especially for any driver, more importantly for a young driver, the more you're in a car, the better you're going to get, the more experience you're going to get. That does nothing but help.
You can't say any one thing is going to be specifically helpful in any way. It's just the overall experiences I think really start to add up so that when he gets into any kind of car, he's just got that much more to bring to the equation.
For Graham, I think especially running the A1GP, the Formula 3000 car, to get in those and to do what he did, I think it just gives him a lot of confidence. Still a long way to go, still just starting out. Comparative to a year ago, it's a whole different person. You would expect that. Nevertheless, that's why we continue to try to find other rides in sports cars, what have you, because it's all additive. Each experience helps.
Q. You and Al, Jr. both, with your sons coming along like this, Marco running IRL this year, do you foresee that day when that generation soups up the open-wheel thing even more in the next decade?
BOBBY RAHAL: I think it already is to some degree, it seems. There's a lot of interest in the fact there's the names Rahal, Unser and Andretti going at it again, the next generation. Yeah, I don't see -- it can only do a lot to sort of energize open-wheel racing. On top of that, there's an awful lot of other good young drivers that these guys are racing against this year in some other categories. I think there's an awful lot of talent. That just I think bodes well for the future of open-wheel racing.
Q. For the two young drivers, you have these great resources in your dads, you have about 80 years of engineering experience in Halliday and Dykstra, Eric Bachelart running the team. You have tremendous experience and resources to draw on. This looks nothing but good. Is there any downside to it? Is there any danger of overengineering the car, that aspect of things, or does all of this experience drag you back to reality if and when you have to?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Certainly for me with Don, when we do our debriefs, everything else, we're all there together. Like you said, we've got tons and tons of years of engineering experience sitting there.
I think that Don and Lee are definitely aware that there is -- there's definitely a possibility of overengineering. I can be the first to say that at Long Beach we were probably the most conservative of everybody because we knew we were close, and we hadn't had much time testing.
They're obviously both extremely smart. They know if you're close, you don't want to do anything too much to get yourself in a hole then. Certainly, as you said, there is a danger there of going too far. With all their experience, you know, certainly they can do that if they'd like.
I think so far, even Don has said he recognizes that. I don't think we'll be getting ourselves caught in that situation at all this year. Certainly testing this weekend at Houston will help a lot because, as I said, we're very conservative at Long Beach, and it will help us gain a little more knowledge of what we can and can't do.
AL UNSER, III: You know, I think Graham said a lot right there. We were very conservative. We've got not that much test time. We kind of look at it as, you know, we stick with making one change at a time. There's a lot of time between the sessions at the racetrack and not a lot of time on the track. We don't want to be chasing our tail out there.
Q. Bobby and Al, obviously you have been around racing long enough to know about the 'racing dad syndrome'. How do you strike that balance between giving your sons the guidance and support, the kick in the behind, without becoming the 'racing dad syndrome'?
BOBBY RAHAL: You're first, Al.
AL UNSER, JR.: I can tell you, it's difficult. What I learned in my career is there's a real fine line between aggressive and being too aggressive. That falls in the category of a father talking to his son. It doesn't really have to relate to racing. It could be baseball, football, soccer, what have you. A father can be very aggressive.
Really what I've tried to do is learn from my Uncle Bobby and my father. My Uncle Bobby did it in a very different way than what my father did. I'm trying to do it more the way my father did than the way my Uncle Bobby did. My Uncle Bobby was just, you know, straightforward. If you didn't get around the track, then he started making things happen that you really didn't like as a driver.
But the desire has to be there. The aggressiveness has to be there. Basically, you know, you just -- myself, I just work with Al. You know, I definitely learned with my father, he's got to ask the question in order for me to answer it. On Uncle Bobby's side of things, you didn't even have a chance to ask the question, he told you what you were doing wrong, and you better fix it, all that kind of stuff. I don't think that method works. I think the student has to ask the teacher the question in order for the student to understand what he's doing.
Like I said, it's a fine line. You definitely have to keep yourself in check. I do all the time. I have to keep myself in check all the time because I'm definitely wanting my son to be successful and so on. You push too hard and pretty soon he's in the fence, then nothing's done.
BOBBY RAHAL: I think it's a lot like Al. You want the best for your children. You want them to achieve their dreams and their goals. You want to help them. A lot of times the best way of helping them is not getting involved, which is difficult to do, because that sort of runs contrary to what you think.
As Al said, this is relevant whether it's baseball, football, basketball or whatever. I mean, any time fathers and sons get together, one's trying to do what the other did, there's all kinds -- there's lots of free advice out there, but not much -- lots of advice, but where do you turn. That's why I asked Mike Zimicki to get with Graham like a year or two ago. The same thing with Don. There's that lack of emotion. There's just that disconnect, enough of a disconnect that, you know, Graham, he's not inhibited by them. It's just a healthier deal.
It's difficult, like Al says. Sometimes you see things and you just want to jump in with both feet because that's what you've been used to doing. You just sort of approach it as if you were driving the car. Of course, you're not. You see things, and you really have to bite your lip a lot of times. Not that there's that many occurrences of that.
You know, it's really, like Al said, a full-time occupation for me making sure that I stay out of everything. That's why I go off and watch from the corners. I want to be with him at the races. I figure if he really needs me, there's that glass booth where it says, "In case of emergency, break glass," well I'm kind of behind that glass. If it's that bad, he'll look for me and, like Al said, ask the question. In the meantime, it's best for me to hang out with Vicky O'Connor and talk about the old days.
Q. Bobby and little Al, it would have been maybe natural because you and little Al are plying your trade in the Indy Racing League that your sons, although they had a lot to do with where they want to race, would maybe think about the Infiniti Pro Series. Why did you decide it was going to be good for the offspring to learn how to race on the Champ Car side with the Atlantic Championship?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, in our case, in Graham's case, he's not old enough to run the IPS series. Having said that, we are going to run -- he can run at the US Grand Prix event. He's going to do that. Because he couldn't run there, I guess that wasn't really much of an option for us.
I do think the road racing, especially the new Atlantic car, it's going to have more power, I think we both felt that was a good place to be. We certainly really feel that way. I think the talent level in the Atlantic Series this year is probably as good as it's ever been. That's saying a lot when you consider in the days of Rosberg and Villeneuve, Brack, all those guys. I don't think there was anything other than the fact this was the best venue for us to be given all the situations.
Q. Little Al?
AL UNSER, JR.: Pretty much the same thing. With the new cars that the Atlantics have, really the depth of the field, I mean, Bobby's exactly right in what he's saying about the competitiveness, the talent that's out there right now. You know, Al's run in the IPS. He did a great job. I just felt that, you know, he needed to step into something else and get some more experience in other types of cars. With the opportunity that did come up with such a good team with Eric Bachelart, all of their engineers, that whole operation, it was just a no-brainer to get involved in it.
Q. You're working with almost 30 cars in this thing. Not that long ago it was thin in terms of car count. You have a tremendously deep field. Talk about how tough that is. You're going for quite a purse here with $2 million. Talk about the difficulty of getting through what is an incredibly talented field, deep field.
AL UNSER, III: I think having a deeper field, going up through the grid, makes it instead of 10ths to hundredths. If you can get a few hundredths of a second out there on the track, you can gain two to three positions. That makes it extremely difficult, as well as with more cars, there's usually more accidents, it makes the races a little more distracting, having a yellow every few or four laps.
Other than that, I love the deep field. I love having more cars out there. We put on a good show.
GRAHAM RAHAL: For me, it's much of the same. It's always good to be able to say that you've raced in big fields, just as I did last year in Star Mazda. At the same time it's great this year because not only do we have a big field, but we've got a big competitive field. There's a lot of people out there that can win any given weekend. We showed that at Long Beach. I know one practice session, I was eighth. I was literally 2/10ths off first. That says a lot when you're that close. I don't expect to see anything different all year.
Really having that much competition in the field, having so many people, everybody being so close, it makes you really dig deep inside and find those extra hundredths, as Al was saying. That's really what makes the difference.
Q. At Long Beach, how big was the sigh of relief when they threw the checkered flag because of the way that course is and how tight it is?
BOBBY RAHAL: For me, it's always a sigh of relief when you see the checkered and he's taking it. But particularly given there were a couple close calls, some guys tried to make some bonsai moves, almost took him out in turn one on more than one occasion, I was just pleased he had a good run and a good finish. I know he was trying hard. It was a good start. Good start to the year.
I know he's a little frustrated not to have been a little higher, but I think everybody did a super job. As I say, you're always pleased to see the checkered come out and get a good finish under your belt, then on to the next one.
AL UNSER, JR.: I pretty much feel the same way. We didn't have as good of a day as Graham did at Long Beach. Any time that checkered comes out, you've got all fours wheels on the car, like I've always said, if it rolls in the trailer, you've done a good job. We had both cars at Long Beach roll into the trailer. I feel that both drivers learned quite a lot. The whole team is working together. They're going to continue to get better and better. I look for a better performance out of both drivers at Houston, at the next race.
Q. Al and Graham, has there ever come a point when either one of you have said to your dads, "I'm driving the car"?
GRAHAM RAHAL: As far as on the street or what?
Q. You're getting too much input.
GRAHAM RAHAL: I mean, I got to think of a political way to say it so dad doesn't get mad at me when we have dinner tonight. It's always very difficult to take anything from your father. Whether he's won the Indy 500 a couple times or not, it's very difficult to take anything.
Really, when you look at the big picture, obviously dad and I have a lot of experience. We always have to -- as much as it hurts, Al and I always both have to listen to what they say. Obviously this year it's a little bit different with Don, and as dad said, my driver coach Mike Zimicki, who I'm obviously very close to.
I remember in the go-kart days, dad always had something to say. Now he's backed off a little bit. I think that's a little bit better. I don't know if he's learning or what, but something's changed.
AL UNSER, III: I'm right there with Graham. Basically my dad's always kind of been pretty loose about it, pretty relaxed. I've never really had to say that "I'm driving the car" other than maybe some of the nitpick "be careful out there" kind of things. Other than that, I think it definitely helps having our fathers at the track. They've been driving for so many years, they can see stuff happen through the corners and so forth. They'll be able to come in and let you know about it.
Q. Al, do you look at the two boys when they race against each other and think about all the great battles you and Bobby had?
AL UNSER, JR.: No, not really. I'm looking at both boys and trying to see how they're going through the corner and if I could help in any way. Bob and I had some great races, but that was a long time ago. Things are way different. The kids are doing such a great job. For myself, I would love to be there all the time trying to help as much as I can.
Q. Graham, you've driven now a number of different cars. Can you compare the new Atlantic car to those cars? Al, can you tell me how this new Atlantic car compares to the old one?
GRAHAM RAHAL: For me, it's very difficult to compare. I mean, everything has its own little features that the next car won't. Obviously, this doesn't compare at all to a GT3 or the GT3 RSR. They're totally different animals.
Obviously, the A1GP car just has a lot of power. Maybe not for dad or Al because they've driven things like a Champ Car. But for me, 550 horsepower, it's got plenty of power. The grip, it's actually fairly low on grip. It's probably worse than the Atlantic car as far as grip goes, but it's very good for driving because it makes you have to drive the thing extra hard, and you have to slide it to be fast.
Obviously, GT3 and the RSR both, the big difference in those two is the RSR just has more grip, more downforce, better brakes, better tires. That's basically the highlights there. Obviously, they're heavier cars. Compared to the new Atlantic car, really there is no comparison, they're totally different animals. Obviously, the new Atlantic car for me is a joy to drive.
I did drive the old one. I won the SECA championship last year. I got to do a bit of driving in it. Certainly the new car is very enjoyable. I've had a great time. I just can't wait to get back in the seat every time.
AL UNSER, III: For the differences between the new and the old, the old Atlantic car felt a little lighter. The new one feels a little more heavier, which I enjoy a little more because it kind of slides around or moves around a little bit.
The new car feels like it has a little bit less downforce when it has, in fact, a little bit more, that relating to it moving around. The new car's definitely a lot bigger, even cockpit-wise. In the old one, I was wearing elbow pads because I was hitting my elbows. This one, it's pretty free. I don't have to do that. I've got room to move.
Other than that, I think the new one's going to bring heavier competition. It's not a certain type of stab-and-go car like the last year's one was. I think we'll have some good competition, some good races.
Q. With the rumors that there's a possible merger coming up between Champ Car and IRL, do you see moving your sons into IndyCars? If that were to happen, would that seal the deal for you to move these two young drivers up into IndyCars next year?
BOBBY RAHAL: Well, I think for me, I mean, I think it has to happen anyway for the sake of open-wheel racing. Of course, we've been saying that for many, many years. I'm just hoping that all this discussion is coming to a positive end.
In regards to Graham, I think he very much wants to go to Europe. I think at his age, to some degree time is on his side. I'm fully supportive of him going there for a year or two, seeing how he does. If you excel over there, you're pretty much assured you're going to excel everywhere else.
I think for us, our sights are for Europe for next year. I think we'll be in the A1GP series again this year, so that's good for him. If we spend two years over there, decide to come back, he's going to be 19 or 20 years old. Still a long time and a chance to build a long career in open-wheel racing, if that's where he wants to go. Really it's more up to him than it is to me.
Q. If you were to win that $2 million prize this year, would that persuade you?
BOBBY RAHAL: That might create a problem (laughter).
Q. Al, do you think with a strong IndyCar Series next year, whatever it's going to be called, that would be the time to move Al up into the IndyCars?
AL UNSER, JR.: First off, I totally agree with Bobby, they need to get together. It needs to be unified, all going in the same direction. The split has definitely hurt single-seat open-wheel racing and it needs to be rectified ASAP.
Then I also agree with Bobby on the other hand. It's really up to Al. It's up to him on where he wants to go, what he wants to do. I'd be the proudest dad in the world to witness my son qualify at the Indy 500, then go out there and race in it, and all the races, Long Beach, all of them in the big cars.
But, you know, again, it's up to Al. You can wish for things with your son, but really you got to go at his pace, his speed to get the most out of it.
Q. Graham, with all the driving you've been doing all over the world, how do you find time to be a normal teenager?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It's difficult, honestly. I go to school every day, almost every day. I shouldn't say every day, because I missed 55 days this year. I try to at least. Other than that, it's really -- it's just -- you seem to find extra time in your day that you really never knew was there. I'm sure it's much the same for Al. You just -- when it comes to homework or anything I do, you just have to find time in your day to get it done. Hanging out with friends or going to dances or whatever it is, it's something that comes in your spare time. As dad says, racing is second to school. I disagree with that a little bit. But, you know, I do have to get my schoolwork done. That's obviously number one when I get home.
To be a normal teenager, it's very difficult. It's something that you just find time for when you can.
AL UNSER, JR.: I'd like to know what a normal teenager is (laughter).
Q. Graham and Al, what is the best advice your fathers have given you about racing?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Actually it's tough to come up with one single thing. I'm always reminded by dad that at the end of the day you've got to say that you've had a good time and you feel happy with what you've done, you've done your best. It's basically the same as it is for any sport. If you're not having a good time doing what you're doing, then you shouldn't be doing it.
It's very difficult to think of one thing, whether it's driving line. I can honestly say dad's never told me how to drive a car because he knows every car's a touch different, so there's not one way to drive it. That's the best thing I could think of at that point, just you got to enjoy what you're doing.
AL UNSER, III: I've got the same thing, just in different words. I was told to just have fun. I mean, it is a competition, but if you were able to come away from the weekend or go out there and have a good time or have fun, you had a good race usually.
I'd say if I'm to pick one thing, it's what dad said earlier in the teleconference, to bring it home. If it rolls on the trailer, you had a good day, having fun and making sure the thing comes back home. We're definitely looking at the $2 million at the end of the year, so we got to finish races, we got to take the checkered flag in order to do that.
Q. Graham, do you have any plans for education after you finish high school?
GRAHAM RAHAL: (Inaudible) no matter what, I have to go to college. Lately we've decided that I will most likely be taking a year off. Obviously, this is a tentative schedule. If things go the way we hope they do, I'd like to take a year, try to go to Europe, see if you can make it to Formula One. As dad said, if not, obviously I have time to come home.
I think a lot of people have said to me, there's always Oxford you can go to over there and stuff. If you're going to be pursuing something full-time, I'd like to not be involved with college and writing papers every night.
Yes, in the big picture, you can always be injured, something can always happen, you need something to fall back on. If you don't have an education, you're not going to be able to fall back on anything.
Q. But you are thinking about doing the real school of hard knocks, Formula One?
GRAHAM RAHAL: As far as dad and I have talked, like he said, we're planning on doing A1GP next winter, hopefully doing GP2 for the two following seasons after that. We'll see what happens.
I mean, it's a goal of everyone's. Most every young race car driver knows that Formula One is the ultimate. As dad has said to me, there's no disappointment at all with saying you were Champ Car champion 10 times. Most people won't be like Michael Schumacher. There's no disappointment in having a great career here.
MERRILL CAIN: One follow-up questions for both Bobby and Al Jr. When you look at the Atlantic Series now, the depth of talent we have in the field, does it remind you of what the series used to be like in the '70s? What does that make you feel like when you look at this field?
BOBBY RAHAL: For me, I think it definitely reminds me of that. I think most importantly the level of competition, it's like when I went to Europe to Formula 3 after Formula Atlantic, went to Monaco, in my heat I was second on the grid. It just prepared you. No matter where you wanted to go, the competition was such that it prepared you to be able to go do that and compete on a worldwide basis.
Whether the guys running Atlantics this year, in Champ Car, some try to go to Formula One, I think the level of competition is of such a high standard that they will be able to do that, that they will be able to go and compete against anybody. We haven't had that in this country for some time I think, that level of a preparation formula like we have this year. I think what Al III said, anybody can win. There's no question, you look at at least the top 20 guys, these are all very good drivers that on any given day could be competitive for a win. That's precisely what this kind of formula should be.
MERRILL CAIN: Al, Jr., any comment?
AL UNSER, JR.: Just myself is ditto what Bobby said. Myself, I didn't spend very much time in an Atlantic car. I raced it one time at Long Beach. I don't know that much about it when I was coming up. Bobby spent a lot more time in it. He knows a lot more about that.
I just see what I see out there today, a very deep field, great cars, great talent in those cars. I totally agree with Bobby, we haven't had that in this country for quite some time. It's great to see that it is happening now.
MERRILL CAIN: Graham and Al, it's tough to tell after one race, but if you were to take a look at this field, who are the legitimate threats for winning the championship?
AL UNSER, III: I'd say look at the top five positions at Long Beach. With Andreas running last year, he was my teammate last year, definitely a good driver and a good kid. Sierra Sierra is always a threat with Matos this year since he won the Star Mazda championship last year. The Forsythe boys, that super team, the rest of them have a chance, Hinchcliffe, Phillippe, all of them. With that many cars on one team, you're able to share a lot of data.
GRAHAM RAHAL: As Al said, for sure I would say anyone -- those up front at Long Beach I would guess would stay up front the rest of the year. Obviously, Forsythe, they're going to be the team to beat because they have four great drivers there. When you're sharing all that information from everybody that can run in the top five, you know you have a big advantage there. Really I would expect to see them up front all year.
Just like Al said, Andreas, obviously I raced against him in Formula BMW. He won the championship that year. Raphael Matos, James. I've raced against those guys for a long time. I know they're all good. I wouldn't expect to see much different.
MERRILL CAIN: Going to come right down to the edge. That will wrap things up for today's Champ Car Atlantic media teleconference. We thank all our guests for participating in today's call.
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