Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
April 21, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: We're going to go ahead and continue now and swing into your Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series of today's teleconference. The Rolex Series resumes Saturday at Virginia International Raceway with the Bosch Engineering 250. We're joined today by two of the premiere competitors in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, Scott Pruett and Darren Law. Scott has been delayed at this point and we're waiting for him to call in, but we do have Darren.
Darren has been with Grand-Am Series since the sanctioning body debuted in 2000. His victory this year in the Rolex 24 At Daytona came in his record 113th start. Incredible number. David and David Donohue, his co-driver, are the only drivers that started every race in the Daytona Prototype class. Darren won the Rolex Series GT title in 2001, had eight class victories before he moved up to the series Daytona Prototypes class.
Darren, big week coming up. After suffering some tough losses in Rolex over the last two seasons, how important was it to finally get that first Prototype victory this year at the Rolex 24?
DARREN LAW: That was really important to us, not only for David and myself as drivers but for the team. We put in so many hours of testing and so much hard work over the last couple years, a lot of hard work over the winter. It finally paid off in this year's race.
HERB BRANHAM: The layoff, it's been a little while, tough to stay focused or is it easy to stay focused because of your anticipation toward racing again?
DARREN LAW: Well, you know, for me it's probably a little different than some because I'm running a couple different racing series. So I've been in the seat still several times over the last couple months, so that's been good.
But it is tough to have a big break like that, with a lot of time off. Luckily for us during the layoff, we've been out testing and trying to do some development work with the car to get ready for the rest of the season.
HERB BRANHAM: The Talladega level and true depth of the Prototypes and throughout Grand-Am, it just continues to increase every year. It looks that way from the outside. What about from your perspective, would you agree?
DARREN LAW: Oh, I would totally agree. As I mentioned, I run in more than one series here. I would say the Grand-Am Daytona Prototype is the most competitive racing series that I'm involved in. There's a number of cars that can win and all of the drivers are good. It's very tough. But it's a lot of fun from a driver's perspective.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll go ahead and swing it open to the media for questions now for Darren Law. When Scott Pruett joins us, we'll get Scott right in there.
Q. Darren, fans love racecars, but most don't get the opportunity to drive them ever. Can you describe how you muscle or finesse a speeding sports car.
DARREN LAW: You know, it's a lot of work. There is so much more involved in driving than what people think. You know, it takes obviously many years of preparation and you have to have a lot of different skills in being able to handle a car. There's a lot of heat to deal with. There's a lot of different factors, being able to handle the G loads, understand not only the driving portion but some of the engineering side of it, what makes a car do what, and why it happens the way it does. So there's a lot involved in it.
Q. You mention all the series you run. Is every race still an adventure for you?
DARREN LAW: It is. Every race brings something new. I've been doing this for a lot of years now and I feel like I learn something different every weekend. I love what I do and I love going racing.
Q. Since NASCAR purchased the Grand-Am Series last year, do you think that has raised the profile of the series much and do you think it would help or hurt if more Cup drivers were to occasionally attempt a Grand-Am race?
DARREN LAW: You know, first of all, I think it definitely raises the profile for our series. It's always tough to bring other sports into the racing industry and be noticed and get publicity. Having NASCAR behind the program definitely helps.
As far as other drivers coming in, I think it's great. Especially like the NASCAR guys, they're very popular. Those guys are as fast as anybody. Having them come in and join us is a plus for the series, for sure.
Q. Can you talk about the difference between preparing for a race that's as taxing physically as the Rolex 24 and then going to the shorter races that you'll be facing this weekend.
DARREN LAW: Sure. There's obviously a difference in the amount of time that we're in the car. When we do something like the 24 Hour, it's not as much -- you don't take it as easy as they did in the years past. It's pretty much a sprint race the whole way through. You have to really take care of yourself because after each stint you've got another four or five or six to go.
The shorter races, it's all out and you run hard and you can exhaust yourself and you're done within the one stint. But to run these long ones, you have to basically, you know, conserve and make sure you've got the energy and stamina to run several stints.
So it's definitely different.
Q. How are you going to prepare to come back to Daytona in July?
DARREN LAW: Well, that one is considered a sprint race for us. Both David and I, I mean, we push as hard as we can all the time. The thing that makes it tough as we get into the summer months, especially when we get around July and August, is it gets very hot and very humid. So we have to make sure we're extra hydrated and we stay cool because it's pretty harsh inside the cars, easily a hundred degrees or more inside. I don't know how many people really take notice, but the cockpits are basically sealed. There's no window openings or anything. So it's tough to deal with the heat, especially when it's humid.
Q. Do you feel extra pressure coming back, having won a race here already?
DARREN LAW: I don't know if I feel extra pressure. We'd just like to build on that win. Again, we put in so much effort and hours and hard work all for the 24-Hour. Now that we've won that, we'd like to keep it going for the rest of the season. We're looking forward to going to VIR this weekend.
HERB BRANHAM: I understand we're joined by Scott Pruett. Scott, are you with us?
SCOTT PRUETT: Yes. Got jammed up a little bit on airline flights.
HERB BRANHAM: We're joined now by the leading winner in the history of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series, with 20 overall victories, all at the wheel of No. 01 Telmex Lexus-Riley. Truly one of America's greatest road racers ever. Scott won the 2004 Daytona Prototype title with Max Papis. He repeated last year with Memo Rojas, and also led Ganassi Racing to the 2006 team title.
Scott, last year's victory at Virginia was your third in four races. Gave you solid momentum that carried you to the championship. Given today's level of competition, which we were talking about with Darren earlier, how it's toughened up each year dramatically in Grand-Am, how important is it to get the season off to a strong start?
SCOTT PRUETT: It's always important. I guess the only frustrating part has been it's been such a long period between Daytona and now going to VIR. I know that things didn't work out going to Mexico City. I think you get this momentum going, especially coming off the Rolex 24, and you carry it -- we went to Homestead and then to Mexico. That piece of it's going to change a little bit, too, because all of us have had a lot of time off. There's only been one test. I think for a lot of teams this is going to be almost like the start of the season again, even though we have one race under our belt, then it gets pretty hard. We go to VIR, New Jersey back to back. We're excited to get back to racing. With the Telmex Lexus, it's always good to be leading the championship out of the box. Every point counts. I mean, you got to race hard. You got to race 110%. The points are so close and tough in the Rolex Series, you can't afford to give up anything.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks for that opener, Scott. We'll go to the media now for questions for Scott Pruett and Darren Law.
Q. Since you've both been in sports car racing for such a long period of time, what are some of the things you think has made Grand-Am stronger than a lot of other series in this big economic downturn, other series are having trouble filling a good-sized grid?
SCOTT PRUETT: I think a big piece of that is affordability and competitiveness. When you're a major car company, and we've seen over the years when major car companies get involved, they spend millions of dollars on their team and their team only. One, it's difficult for competitors to come in and feel like they can race head-to-head with these factory teams. Then when you do have economic downturn, one of the first things to be cut are some of these discretionary dollars for advertising, which could be under motorsports. Now they start cutting these programs and unfortunately then you start losing the truly factory-funded programs we see in other series, and they start dropping out quite quickly.
That's one thing I believe from an early stage with the conception of Grand-Am how we see it today, there is no true factory-supported team. As a competitor, you can buy whatever engine package with whatever chassis you want and know you're going to be competitive, and that in itself keeps the costs low.
DARREN LAW: I'd agree with Scott. I'm involved with some other series as well. When the other manufacturers are there, they're so dominant, it's hard to compete. As I said earlier, in Grand-Am you have several teams with several different combinations that have a chance at winning it. I think it keeps the costs down when you have individuals running instead of manufacturers spending millions upon millions to run the program.
Q. Scott, I was going to ask you about the Barber race this summer. Seems like every year the big issue with that race becomes the heat, its effect on the drivers. Do you think that race should be moved on the schedule to later in the year or earlier in the year?
SCOTT PRUETT: Yeah, especially after visiting. I was in Barber last weekend for the Mustang Challenge race. The weather was nice. It was cool. It was a little overcast. Great conditions to go racing in comparison to going back in July. It's always smoking hot.
Not that things are difficult anyway. But I think we all kind of have to look and pick and choose the right time of year to go to some of these racetracks, which makes not only sense from a driver/team standpoint, but also from a fan standpoint. Hanging out in 110 degree temperatures all day long not only takes its toll on the drivers and teams, but also on the fans where they may not want to go. Typically that's why you see us go to places like Florida, Arizona and California in the spring and then into fall and then go places in the Midwest through the summertime where typically the temperatures are a little bit more mild.
DARREN LAW: I'd agree with that. David and I, we don't really run. We have cool suits and different things to help driver cooling, but that is the one race where we do everything we can to try and stay cool. It makes it tough.
Q. Regarding the Ford Mustang Challenge race, what is your opinion of that as a development series?
SCOTT PRUETT: I like the series, the Mustang Challenge, for instance, where there's only limited things you can do with the car. I think they change roll bars a little bit, I know they can make some shock adjustments, no weight or body changes. It's a factory spec BF Goodrich tire. When you're looking at new drivers and new talent coming into different series, that's just a natural place to begin to move from there to the GTs and from the GTs potentially into the prototypes. When you have those kind of series, the cream is always going to rise to the top. In a short period of time, what you're finding out, it's truly the driver challenge typically that's going to make those cars win because they're so limited on variations to change the cars. I think it's a great thing. I love the fact that Grand-Am has embraced it and Ford as a motor company has embraced it. They see it not as a factory-supported one-car program, about you here for grass-roots, very competitive racecar that's very affordable. As a new driver getting into the series, especially on a race weekend where they run in conjunction with the GTs and with us, what a better way to be looked at.
Q. Scott, you put your helmet on probably countless times now. When drivers put their helmets on in all forms of sport, do you think their personalities change?
SCOTT PRUETT: We've seen it. I don't know. I think it really dependent on the driver. I think you can look just back through history and see some guys when they put their helmet on they don't get their brain engaged, they get caught up in the red mist and made some bad mistakes.
The reality of it is that a lot of those drivers probably won't win championships and probably won't be around that long because team owners just can't afford them. For the most part, especially at this day and age, I don't care if you're looking at IndyCar Series, NASCAR, or if you look in our series, the drivers, yeah, I think their personality changed a little bit, they get a little more focused, a little more determined. But at the same time there's a lot of smart, very talented drivers out there that know how to get the most out of the car but also how to keep their car going to the checkered flag.
Q. Fans love racecars and sports cars, but most of them never get the opportunity to get behind the wheel of one. Can you describe how you muscle finesse a speeding sports car.
SCOTT PRUETT: It depends on the track really. You go to a place like Daytona, it's very fluid, almost like you compare it to a ballet dance. In comparison you go to some of these tight tracks, Birmingham, very aggressive with the track, very aggressive on with the car, very aggressive on the gearbox, almost like some slam dance. There's a lot more aggression that goes to that.
From a driver standpoint, it's funny, because I got a chance to take a number of people for rides over the weekend in one of the Mustang Challenge cars. From a driver's standpoint, when we get the opportunity to take passengers onboard, it's such a great experience for the passenger because it's one thing to talk about it, one thing to see it on TV, one thing to go to the racetrack and kind of watch it, but when you get in one of those cars with a professional drivers, I know Darren has done it a lot of times, too, when you're done, their jaws have dropped, their eyeballs are big as saucers, and they can't believe we do what we do and how we do it. Most of the time they're going, I didn't think we were going to stop for turn one. I thought we were going to go right off the track and crash. There's nothing more satisfying for a driver and probably almost anybody in any sport when you can get anybody, whether it's the press or just one of the fans in with you to just give them a little bit better understanding of what we do.
Q. Scott, you've been around for a while. You've seen some talent come and go. What does your teammate Memo Rojas bring to the table?
SCOTT PRUETT: A couple things. One, a great talent out of Mexico. Telmex has a whole development group of talented Mexican drivers. Some are coming to the States, some are going to Europe. He's the absolute best of what comes out from south of the border. Also with Telmex and with Memo, now we get a lot of exposure south of the border. Unfortunately we didn't get to go to Mexico this year. I think for a personal opinion, I think it's the danger with the drug wars and so on, just didn't want to put anybody in harm's way or potentially in harm's way, especially our truckers taking everything down there. That's always good from a sport standpoint. Our core is North America but going north and south of the border, especially when you have guys who their nationalities are from Mexico or from Canada, it makes it that much more exciting. Whether it's TV or the newspapers or whatever, they'll continue to follow us race after race after race and keep the fans exposed even though they may not see the race in their country, they will absolutely follow their driver.
Q. Darren, you see Watkins Glen twice during the summer. How much easier does it make it to prepare for the second race when you know you're coming back?
DARREN LAW: I guess it's not hugely different as far as part of the course. But it's a different track. It's a different setup. It's different gear ratios. From a driver standpoint, most of the guys out there have been to both the tracks several times. We feel pretty comfortable getting on and just running. It's a different preparation from the team standpoint and setup. The first time we go to Watkins is a six-hour, the second time we go back with a short race with NASCAR. So it's quite a bit different.
Q. Scott, what do you think about a 50-year-old man winning a stock car race?
SCOTT PRUETT: I thought it was awesome. I got to see the last 20 laps of that race. Mark is a good friend of mine. One I think he's got a tremendous amount of talent. Getting involved with Hendrick, I think all of us saw that as a good opportunity for Mark, but a huge opportunity for Hendrick, with all of the understanding that Mark brings, his focus and certainly his ability to I think help that team, not that the team needs any help, mind you, I'm not saying that. But I think he can just help with a few other things that Mark has learned over the year. One, to see Jeff get to Victory Lane at Texas and then to see Mark get to Victory Lane lane in Phoenix was awesome for me. I know those guys both very well. Especially with Mark, especially looking at it from my standpoint, which I'm one of the older guys in the sport, I thought it was just awesome.
Q. Mark is considerably older than you, isn't he?
SCOTT PRUETT: He's got to be 10 years older than me at least (laughter). I think he's lying about his age, though. I think he's more like 55 personally.
Q. Now that Grand-Am is under the NASCAR umbrella, with Ganassi you have interaction with those guys, but are you seeing more interest from your sport to stock car racing or more interest from those guys to sports car racing?
SCOTT PRUETT: No. I don't really see that because we already had a lot of that, with Daytona, with Watkins Glen, then with a couple other races during the season where potentially a couple of NASCAR drivers would come over and drive and then Daytona you had NASCAR drivers, ex Formula One drivers, IndyCar drivers. I think all of that just brings more attention to our sport. I think with NASCAR getting involved and branding our sport a bit more has been more from the standpoint where I think people see it, especially sponsors, see the credibility and the excitement of such a motorsport giant that's had so much incredible success over the years that they now have another property which they're going to use the same philosophy with, and from a sponsor standpoint they can see how awesome they've done in these other forums. There's no reason they won't do the same thing here. The entry level cost to get in our sport is significantly less.
Q. Do you have any feelers out for road races in Sprint Cup this year?
SCOTT PRUETT: I already had a point to go race at Sears Point, unfortunately it's a conflict with our Mid-Ohio race. I wish we could get that moved or race our cars in conjunction with the NASCAR at Sears Point, or Infineon as you might call it. Then we'll see what happens later in the year for Montréal, Watkins Glen
Q. How do you feel about the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers participating in the Rolex 24 At Daytona? Is it good for the Grand-Am Series or are they taking seats away from full-time Grand-Am drivers?
SCOTT PRUETT: I think it's great for the series. The stronger we are as a series the more opportunities there will be for drivers because there will be more teams. A lot of that, whether you like it or not, is driven by sponsors which ultimately is driven by the fans. So if the fans support what we do, they like the racing that we put on, they're entertained, they'll then continue to support it. As they support it, more sponsors get involved. I see that as an opportunity from our sport, which I think is just an awesome form of motor racing, just to get more eyes quicker, because some people, What is Grand-Am? Let's go watch Jeff Gordon run the 24, let's watch Jimmie Johnson run the 24, or another point with the IRL guys, Scott Dixon, Dario Franchitti, won a race over the weekend in Long Beach, get them coming to the racetrack or anything else. We saw Daytona at the start of our season this year being one of the biggest races that I have ever seen at Daytona for the 24 Hours. So I think it's an awesome thing.
HERB BRANHAM: Scott Pruett, Darren Law, really appreciate you joining us today. We love these NASCAR/Grand-Am teleconferences. Thanks for helping us do it.
SCOTT PRUETT: Thank you.
DARREN LAW: Thank you.
SCOTT PRUETT: Sorry for being late.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media for calling in today. As always, we truly appreciate the coverage.
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