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February 18, 2014

Graham Rahal

THE MODERATOR:  First guest this morning is Graham Rahal.  Second season.  Kick things off by asking Graham, last week there was an announcement about the National Guard and the responsibilities you'll be having for on track and off track representing the Guard. 
GRAHAM RAHAL:  Certainly we're all excited to have the Guard onboard.  I know it was first reported many months ago, but it took quite a while for everything to fall in place, as you could all imagine. 
So for us now it's certainly a sigh of relief to be able to move forward with the National Guard.  I think our entire team and organization is thrilled to have them onboard.  I know all the team owners are as well. 
For us, there's quite a lot of pride involved in this.  I know Dave is certainly extremely excited, probably the most excited I've seen him in years to be involved in a program like this.  So is, of course, Mike Lanigan.
There is quite a lot of responsibility for us.  On-track performance is key.  We want to do a good job.  But off-track performance is equally as important to the National Guard and we need to make sure the main goals of recruiting and retention are things we carry through each and every day and do the best we can to help them out, try to keep them in the sport as long as we can. 
They're a great partner for us already.  We're extremely excited about all the opportunities that are coming.  Kathy and Brian Marks who lead the team, seems like there's something new coming up every day.  Pretty new and exciting for us as a team. 
THE MODERATOR:  We'll open it up for questions for Graham. 

Q.  Do you have a sense for commitment to number of days, activities?  From Panther's standpoint, this was almost a non-stop association with the Guard. 
GRAHAM RAHAL:  I don't have an exact number or anything like that.  I didn't think it was bad, considering.  I thought everything was very manageable.  I think everything that we do and the focus, as I said, is on recruiting and retention. 
School visits, things like that, are going to be very important.  We try to be a great partner for any sponsor.  If there's a little bending we have to do, everybody is capable of doing that for them. 
Like I said, if I look already at the season, all the things that have been planned out, a busy first couple of months here.  There's a lot of stuff I'm extremely thrilled to go and do, visits to Walter Reed and things like that that are going to be I'm sure very humbling for me. 
I don't think anything they're asking is going to keep us too occupied.  I think everybody is excited to get out there and do everything we can do help. 
Is it busier than my sponsors in the past?  Yes, but it should be.  I think the National Guard is more important than anything I've represented in the past.  Hopefully we can do a great job for them. 

Q.  You've had to learn the business side of the sport early.  Is this about as secure as you've felt?  A big investment they're making here. 
GRAHAM RAHAL:  It is.  I think for our team this is a big deal because as all of you know, my dad and Dave, Mike Lanigan, this isn't a business.  They do this because they enjoy it.  Do they want to spend their own money like they have in the past, no.  But they love it.  As a team, this elevates us to a whole new level us because it allows us to invest in the people, shock programs that we haven't had, that the Ganassis, Penskes, Andrettis of the world have. 
I think it's going to help elevate us to a different level we haven't been in many years, probably since the team was a Ford factory team or funded by Miller or Shell in the old days.  It kind of gets us back to that sort of level. 
Everybody's excited about it.  Our engineering staff is completely new for this year across the board pretty much other than Eddie Jones has stayed onboard.  Everybody else is pretty new.  Wayne, my assistant last year, is going to move over and just do shocks this year.  Everything has been completely turned upside down.  A lot of new faces. 
This is going to allow us to continue to invest in those sorts of people we need, the programs, that sort of thing. 
If you look at us last year, we never really did any development at all, never did any shock development.  Coming from Ganassi where I was trying four different pairs of shocks every single weekend, it was completely different to come to this team where we never had an option.  We ran the same ones every single track, every single race. 
Pretty different.  Takes quite an investment.  I think we're going to be to that point now. 
Clearly we're only a month away from the season.  Being that the deal came together a little late, the guys are full-bore right now back at the shop to have the funding to do these things.  Hope we can see performance gains right away. 
We're requesting Barber in a week and a half.  Probably a lot of things they're going to see.  I thought my days at Newman/Haas were pretty secure, but that certainly got turned upside down overnight.  I would say this is probably the best I felt in a long, long time. 

Q.  You mentioned engineering staff.  Bill Pappas moving over.  There's an open test on March 17th and 18th at Barber.  A lot of things to develop and get done before the start of the season. 
GRAHAM RAHAL:  There's a ton.  The list is going to be a mile long, as it always is.  I know when we tested before the end of the year, we ran at Sebring for a few days, it was non-stop all day.  Both helping with Honda with the twin turbo, which we tested pretty early on, then working on shocks and things like that. 
When I got out of what was my car last year, drove what was a Bill Pappas car for the first time, didn't feel like the same chassis.  The car felt so different it was like driving a sports car versus an IndyCar.  Completely different sensation. 
I'm sure with that package there's going to be quite a lot to continue to develop that we don't know yet. 
Every driver has his own little - I don't know - desires what he wants out of the racecar.  Luckily Justin Wilson is very similar to me, so Bill already has a pretty good understanding of that.  But there's going to be a lot for us to develop. 
As I mentioned a little bit earlier, the first time I think we're going to get on an oval is right after Long Beach, which I think we're supposed to go test at Texas.  That will be right before Barber, then of course the 500.  That will be the first time I'll do any laps on an oval to see how different the car is. 
Justin had a helluva run at the 500 last year.  Not much has changed since then. 

Q.  How much of a difference have you felt with the twin turbo in testing over the single turbo? 
GRAHAM RAHAL:  It's definitely better.  My first impression was that I was surprised that we were as competitive.  I was impressed with Honda, I must say.  How we were as competitive with Chevrolet as we were using the single turbo.  The twin turbo has far more boost response, better off the corners, not a lot of boost lag that we spent the last couple years trying to overcome.  It doesn't have that. 
However, I haven't driven the latest, latest spec of engine.  The last time I drove head-to-head with one of the twin turbos, we were fastest on the day with a single turbo, that was at the beginning of December.  It's come a long way since then, but we haven't been in it.  
I think it should be a huge performance.  I don't think we will see it on a road course, but at Indy.  Everybody knows how we struggled there, I think that's where we should see the biggest performance gain. 

Q.  What is it like to work for your dad? 
GRAHAM RAHAL:  Well, I feel pretty lucky.  I think that my dad and I have a great working relationship.  We both have a great amount of respect for each other.  I think that works well for us both on and off the track. 
I think we're very good at separating racing from family.  Rarely, even as difficult as the year was last year, do we butt heads about anything. 
This year I think dad trusts in me a lot to help him when he needs something, needs to get some inside scoop or anything like that.  I think we have a very close relationship that I think a lot of people, father-son relationship, whatever it may be, the business can tear that apart, but I think we're pretty good at balancing that. 
Is it different than, say, driving for anybody else?  Yeah, it is a little bit different.  We had a phone call the other day.  He said to me something about like, What would you say if you were talking to Chip Ganassi on the phone?  I said, It would be different because Chip Ganassi wouldn't call me, so it would be a different case. 
Generally we work very well together and we don't really ever have any sort of issues.  But, you know, sometimes it's still hard to listen to your dad.  I just try to make the most of it. 

Q.  What is the reaction and reception you've announced the National Guard?
GRAHAM RAHAL:  I think it's all been extremely positive.  I think a lot of people are just thrilled more than anything to have an American.  If you look at the history of the program, the only American has been JR. 
Dan is an exception because I think Dan was Dan.  The personality that he had, he was such a charismatic guy, I think he could pull it off. 
I think what I've received, I haven't had anything negative whatsoever, not one comment.  I think a lot of people are happy it's an American.  I think that we can do an exceptional job for them.  I think our job is both performance on and off the track.  National Guard hasn't had a win in IndyCar yet.  They've been competitive with Panther at Indy, we'd like to be one better. 
Haven't had any negative feedback.  I went up the elevator, a few people got on and off at every floor.  Every single person asked me if I was in the National Guard.  I was batting 1000 today, people constantly asking about it.  Definitely a lot of interest, a ton. 
I was out at the NHRA drag racing a couple weeks ago.  We only announced it a couple days before.  I had a lot of National Guardsmen come up to me at the races talking about how excited they were to have us as a part of it.  That meant a lot to me. 

Q.  Do you think you'll do anything with Dale Jr.? 
GRAHAM RAHAL:  I haven't met Dale.  I know my dad and Dale Sr. had a great relationship.  I would like to.  Essential we would like to try to pull the cars together more similarly, the designs and stuff, some things we can't do back and forth.  Like the font of the car number and stuff are the same at the Guard's request. 
Maybe if we do specialty paint schemes, things like that, they'll look similar, Memorial Day weekend, things like that.  But I think it is key we work together.  Obviously Dale Jr., Hendrick, it doesn't get any better than that.  We need to continue to try to expand that. 
My dad and Rick Hendrick have a great relationship.  They've already talked.  I'm sure there's things that can come down the pipeline.  Right now has it been discussed?  I hope so.  It would be cool. 

Q.  Have there been any updates on a second car or teammate?
GRAHAM RAHAL:  No, not for me.  You can ask my dad (laughter). 

Q.  I'll call him later. 
GRAHAM RAHAL:  We'd love to have one, okay?  But I think that the key is at this point we definitely talked about earlier, with the opportunity we have with this program.  Number one, we can't do what we've done in the past, rob Peter to pay Paul. 
If we run a second car for however long, we're on the same page, it has to benefit the team.  We can't do it just to do it.  We have a great opportunity to take our team to the next level.  We just need to make sure that we're not taking a step back by throwing someone out there and creating issues.  That's really my only focus as far as a second is concerned. 

Q.  Although your dad is the ultimate authoritarian figure, who else on the team do you see in that role?
GRAHAM RAHAL:  He's the guy.  Since Scott Roembke passed, dad has stepped into more of a management role.  He's at my house more than I am these days.  He's definitely at the shop quite often. 
Lanigan is very involved.  If it comes down to anything financial at all, Mike is the guy that has the say really.  Ricardo, our general manager, you could call him, he is. 
Nowadays, 100% of everything gets cleared by dad, which is different than maybe a few years ago when Scottie handled everything.  He could say yes or no on where the budgets were going.  But now dad, he's really the guy. 
THE MODERATOR:  Thank you, Graham. 
GRAHAM RAHAL:  Thank you. 

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