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Al Unser Jr - Q&A

17 July 2009


Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. is now a driver coach and consultant to the Indy Racing League, and took time out to give his mid-season report for the IndyCar Series.


Q:
We are ten races into the IndyCar Series season, you've seen most of the races in person. How would you assess the championship to this point in the season?

Al Unser Jr:
I think it's very competitive. We've had some great races this season. We've had some not-so-good races this season. Quite honestly I feel the most recent ones with Dale Coyne winning his first race at the Glen is something very, very special, and a real feel-good win that he had for his team. He's been trying for 25 years, so it's great that he finally got his.

Up in Toronto, we've entered into a new market up there. There was a lot of passing for the lead. Everybody's just very super close. You know, you had some high drama with Tomas Scheckter throwing his gloves at Alex Tagliani. It reminded me of the good old days with our racing that we had up there in the '80s and '90s when the single-seat open-wheel series was at its peak. I'm looking forward to the second half of the season.

Q:
Who have been some of your big surprises of the year?

Al Unser Jr:
I guess one of the biggest surprises this year is, of course, Dale Coyne winning, Justin Wilson driving for Dale Coyne. They've gotten great performance out of their car. Another one of the big surprises that's not such a good surprise is seeing where AGR is, Andretti Green Racing. You know, they've been struggling most of the season. You've been seeing them qualifying, you know, kind of in the back half of the field, which is very, very surprising for Andretti Green.

It's just, again, that shows how competitive the racing has got. You know, these cars are super close. If you're off just a tiny bit, then you're going to start at the back of the pack. The cars are definitely equal.

Again, that's also kind of been one of the causes for our not-so-good races on some of our ovals, is that they're so close that they're hard to pass. You know, what the IRL is really looking to do, and they're working with the teams and the drivers and everybody is working together vigorously to return back to the side-by-side racing that the IRL is so well-known for. They're making changes immediately. So when we get to Kentucky, I feel that we're gonna be back to side-by-side racing, so....

Q:
Let's look at the assessment of some of the individual drivers in the IndyCar Series this year. Your thoughts on our points leader going into Edmonton, Dario Franchitti?

Al Unser Jr:
Dario's had a very good season, you know, coming back from NASCAR racing. He was at the top of his game when he left. I think he's the 2007 IRL champ. He went to NASCAR for 2008. He's come back in 2009. He's leading points, driving for Chip Ganassi. He's doing a super job.

Q:
And Dario's teammate Scott Dixon is only two points back in second place.

Al Unser Jr:
Last year's champ. Showing that Target Ganassi Racing is on the top of their game, they're on a roll. They could, in fact, be a two-in-a-row championship team.

Q:
Third place we have Ryan Briscoe, who is 13 back of Dario.

Al Unser Jr:
Ryan is doing a great job for Penske Racing. They've got a little bit to gain to get the Target cars. I'm sure they're working very, very hard to make up that gap.

Q:
In fourth place we have the Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves.

Al Unser Jr:
Helio is just a special story in itself. You know, at the beginning of the season he had his legal problems with the IRS. He got out of that. Very fortunate to be racing with us. You know, that's a Cinderella story, to be fighting the government one day and then a few months later be the Indy 500 champion is truly a God blessing on Helio and his family.

Q:
Fifth in points is Danica Patrick.

Al Unser Jr:
Danica is doing a great job with what she has. She comes out of the Andretti Green stable. Really I think, you know, of course her being a very good racecar driver, she's got Michael calling the race for her. Strategy has played an important part in her finishing in the top five and top ten in points consistently. That's what's put her where she is.

Q:
Next is Dan Wheldon who is sixth in points.

Al Unser Jr:
Dan is, again, one of those with Panther Racing, a top team from a few years ago, that is just missing that little bit that you need to be in the top five. But, again, his team is very deep with talent. So, you know, he's got every potential of winning a race coming up soon.

Q:
Seventh in points is Marco Andretti.

Al Unser Jr:
Marco, you know, again one of the ones coming out of AGR's stable. Quite honestly I think they're searching. They're looking for more. Marco definitely has the talent to get more. Really kind of things out of their control that's kept them out of the top five.

Q:
Another Andretti Green Racing driver is eighth in points, that's Tony Kanaan.

Al Unser Jr:
TK again is suffering from things out of his control. Running a great race at the Indy 500 this year, and had a mechanical failure down the back. Has a horrendous accident. Broke some of his ribs. It just seems, you know, again, things out of human control that is keeping AGR out of the top five.

Q:
The next driver you touched on a little earlier, Justin Wilson, who is ninth in points.

Al Unser Jr:
Justin, again, I think is another Cinderella story. We're gonna see more wins out of Dale Coyne Racing. He's coming over from the Champ Cars, really making the most of everything. Dale Coyne, it's great to see him win races.

Q:
And in tenth is Graham Rahal.

Al Unser Jr:
Graham, again coming out of the Champ Car Series with the Newman/Haas stable. They're getting a lot out of their cars. I feel that they're lacking just a little bit. I don't think it's anything that they're doing wrong. It's just, you know, some hit-and-misses there. Again goes to how competitive the series is that's keeping them out of the top five. But I see lots of talent with Graham, and it's just gonna mature as the races go on. As the years go on, Graham has a championship and a definite Indy 500 winner contender in the future.

Q:
Starting in the second ten is the fourth Andretti Green driver, Hideki Mutoh.

Al Unser Jr:
Suffering from the Andretti Green blues. That's all I can say about him. It's things out of their control that are keeping them out of the top five.

Q:
The next driver is the leading rookie right now, Raphael Matos.

Al Unser Jr:
Raphael is a super talent. He's with a good team. They're new. They're competitive. He's doing a great job. Potential race winner sometime this season.

Q:
The next driver started with Vision, and is now with AJ Foyt, that's Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Al Unser Jr:
Ryan, he's gone through a couple teams there. He won the Glen last year. He's got a lot of talent. He's just been bouncing between teams, you know, that is kind of unsettling.

But, you know, the best of luck to him. He's gonna do well.

Q:
The guy who is battling for rookie of the year is Robert Doornbos.

Al Unser Jr:
Robert is a great talent. He seems to have gotten up to speed very well on ovals. This is the first time he's ever run 220 miles an hour. He's doing a great job. Doornbos

Q:
Ed Carpenter is 15th for Vision Racing.

Al Unser Jr:
Ed Carpenter, Vision Racing seems to be lacking just a little bit of that running up front. I don't think they can really place their finger on it yet. They have a lot of talent within their organisation. They'll find it soon.

Q:
A guy who was kind of picked as the biggest surprise in our driver pole earlier this year, Mario Moraes.

Al Unser Jr:
Mario, he's needing to settle down just a little bit. He seems to really - he's got a lot of talent. He drives really super hard - sometimes a little too hard, overdrives the car a little too much, which gets him in trouble sometime during the race. I see him maturing, settling down a little bit, and the sooner he does that the sooner they're going to run up front.

Q:
I guess you could say the same for our next driver, that's Mike Conway, who is from Dreyer & Reinbold.

Al Unser Jr:
Mike Conway has got great talent. He's a rookie this year. First time on the ovals running 220 miles an hour. You know, he's had that learning curve there, but he's with a great organisation with Reinbold. They'll find it soon.

Q:
The next driver had some bad luck early in the season. He's kind of recovering from that. That's EJ Viso

Al Unser Jr:
EJ, whatever the team did, it was the wrong thing to do. He's had a couple first-lap accidents that they're trying to recover from. Again, trying a little too hard, a little too soon in the race. As soon as they get through this little slump, they got a great race team. Keith Wiggins, the owner, he does a great job. EJ, the driver, you know, he does a great job. He just needs to settle down a little and think about the end rather than leading laps at the beginning.

Q:
Let's look at some of the drivers who haven't been full-time drivers this year but will be probably factors in the second half. We'll start with Will Power.

Al Unser Jr:
Will substituted for Helio when Helio was out of the car at the beginning. He's with Roger Penske. He's got a great organization. He's got great talent. He'll grab a win soon.

Q:
The next driver is Tomas Scheckter, who has been with Dreyer & Reinbold.

Al Unser Jr:
Tomas, again, great talent. He's with a great team. He showed a lot of passion at Toronto. Good to see. Hopefully he'll do a lot more running with us.

Q:
And your thoughts on Alex Tagliani, who led a lot of laps at Toronto this past weekend.

Al Unser Jr:
Alex, you know, a great talent. He's got a lot of experience. He does a good job on the ovals, as well. So he's with Eric Bachelart, the Conquest team. They're one of the teams that truly get the most out of what they've got. So hopefully he'll do some more running with us and continue to do well.

Q:
A driver who is running really well at Toronto before some contact towards the end of the race is Paul Tracy.

Al Unser Jr:
Paul just needs to... he's with KV Racing, which is teammates to Mario Moraes. They're one of the Champ Car teams that have come over. They've got a great race team. Paul needs to run more often with us. If he did that, then he would definitely be in the top 10 if not the top five.

Q:
The last two are Sarah Fisher.....

Al Unser Jr:
Sarah just needs to do some more running with us. She's got great, great sponsorship coming in, working really hard. She's a wonderful lady, a lot of talent. The more she runs, the better she'll be.

Q:
Finally last but certainly not least, Milka Duno, who is going to be sharing a car with Tomas Scheckter.

Al Unser Jr:
Milka is improving more and more each time she drives. We hope to see her continue to do so. You know, with Reinbold, she's got a good team.

Q:
All right, Al. Appreciate your time today. Any final thoughts about the second half?

Al Unser Jr:
I'm very excited about the second half. Going up to Edmonton, you'll see PT running up there again, Alex Tagliani I think will be at the front of the grid, Justin Wilson will be at the front. You know, you've kind of got some really showing that if you put some real good shoes in the car that they'll run up front, especially on the road courses. The ovals, we're working as a league, the team, the owners, the drivers, everybody's working to improve the cars on the ovals, and we'll find out if the changes that we've made to the cars will improve the racing at Kentucky and the rest of the season.


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