Terry Angstadt, Eric Bachelart and Graham Rahal were guests on the Indy Racing League teleconference, discussing the one-year anniversary of unification
About Unification: The IndyCar Series and Champ Car World Series signed an agreement Feb. 22, 2008 to unify North American open-wheel racing under the IndyCar Series banner. Five days later, team, driver and league representatives formally announced the agreement at a press conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway in conjunction with the first Open Test of the season.
The 2008 season saw increased competition on the track as well as increased awareness away from the track. Angstadt, Bachelart and Rahal anticipate an even better season in 2009.
About the speakers: Terry Angstadt is president of the commercial division of the Indy Racing League, the sanctioning body for the IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights. Angstadt has responsibility for sales, marketing, public relations, broadcast relationships, business planning and development, and organizational operation.
Eric Bachelart is owner of Conquest Racing, which fielded two cars in the IndyCar Series in 2008 with a best finish of fifth at St. Petersburg. Bachelart won the Indy Lights title as a driver in 1991 before advancing to Champ Car where he made 24 starts. He began his career as team owner in 1996.
Graham Rahal is the 20-year-old son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 winner Bobby Rahal. Rahal became the youngest winner in open-wheel racing history when he took the checkered flag at St. Petersburg in 2008 in his IndyCar Series debut. He went on to record three additional top-10 finishes in 15 starts.
Select Quotes: Listed below are select quotes from today’s teleconference. The complete transcript and audio MP3 file are posted at www.indycar.com/media.
Q: It's been an eventful year for the IndyCar Series with the unification, all that brought about. Can you take a quick look back for us and also a look ahead to 2009, what we can expect.
TERRY ANGSTADT: I think the look back is really an easy one. That was the pride I think everybody felt when we had the number of cars, 26 cars or so, on track at our opening race. You really can't appreciate the work done to first complete the merger and then the work accomplished by the transition teams, in particular with the cooperation of existing teams, to get all those cars ready, built and pretty competitive race one. So that was an incredible accomplishment, I think.
Then shortly following that, Graham's win was unbelievable to our business and to our series and to me personally. That was shortly followed by Danica (Patrick) winning. And then Justin (Wilson) to win at Detroit, when (team co-owner) Paul (Newman) was still with us, I think was so memorable and so good for our business.
Again, from a memorable standpoint of last year and a bit of a look back those kind of highlights I think are pretty hard to top.
But I think looking forward, to me, I really think that the organization we have, and that includes drivers, teams, venues and our staff, I think look forward to taking on the challenge of really not kind of sustaining or maintaining our business in the most challenging economic times any of us have ever seen in our lifetimes, but really growing our business during this period. And I think we're really well-positioned and ready to take on that challenge.
So as a look forward, I think we're going to grow the business and have a fantastic 2009.
Q: Is it kind of fair to say that this year, you guys with a year under your belts, maybe we can call this the first true year of unification?
ERIC BACHELART: Yeah, absolutely. I think it's a good statement. If you remember about a year ago there were the transition teams and there were established IndyCar Series teams. When we showed up at the first race in Homestead, basically the transition teams were looking to be the best out of these transition teams, you know. And from there, first of all there was incredible solidarity between everybody and the league. I mean, we really did a fantastic job to accommodate everybody within three weeks. That was a very high spirit at the time. Everybody jumped on board and everybody was quite excited about this new opportunity.
From there, there was a lot of hard work just to keep up with the heavy schedule. Over the winter we kept working hard. I think that the transition teams managed to catch up quite a bit and understand the cars better, understand what it takes better.
So now we're going to go into 2009 with, I guess, a better understanding and probably even closer competition. I don't think that we're going to talk about transition teams anymore, just IndyCar teams. It will make things simpler for everybody. We won't have to explain what it was about before.
Open-wheel racing becomes quite simple now. This is just one IndyCar Series and everybody understands that.
Q: Last year you came into the series obviously off a very strong rookie season on the Champ Car side. You made a very quick first impression with the win at St. Petersburg. I know you talked about that win a lot before, but give us a little history there. What did that mean to you, especially to make your debut in a new series and to get that win with the unified series?
GRAHAM RAHAL: Well, it's obviously always a special time when you win any race. But for me, especially winning that, becoming the youngest winner, all of the records, all that type of stuff, certainly it didn't even hit my mind. To be honest, I hadn't even remembered that that was on the line.
So really just to win, it felt so good, after having a year in Champ Car where we had some success, finished on the podium quite a bit, but never really winning, it was a great feeling to do it.
I think it's one of those things that if I had won in Champ Car, it certainly wouldn't have gotten the same credibility if you win in IndyCar, the unified series. No matter what anybody says, a lot of people probably looked down upon some of the Champ Car guys and vice versa, as far as how good they are. Then once you put them together, it obviously showed that some of the best drivers in the world were out there competing against one another. It gives you more credibility.
So the win came at really a perfect time. As Terry touched on, you had (Scott) Dixon that won the first race. He's the deserving champion, obviously did a great job last year. Then me, and Danica shortly after. You had some exciting times there, really a storybook start to the unified series. That's what's just great. It's an honor for me to be a part of it. That's why I'm looking forward to this season so much.
The 2009 IndyCar Series season opens April 5 with the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. The race will be telecast live at 2 p.m. (EDT) by VERSUS. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season begins with a doubleheader race weekend April 4-5 at St. Petersburg.