Grand-Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand-Am Road Racing
September 14, 2011
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. A very special edition of this week's Grand-Am teleconference as we're looking ahead to this weekend's season-ending EMCO Gears Classic presented by KeyBank at the historic Mid-Ohio sports car course in Lexington, Ohio. Really big weekend on tap. Saturday morning the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge wraps up the year, followed in the afternoon by the season-ending Rolex Sports Car Series event.
We have two historic story lines developing. We have the two drivers as our guests today who can really speak to these story lines: Sarah Cattaneo and Bill Lester. Sarah enters the challenge season-ending race with a chance to become Grand-Am's first female champion. She and her codriver Owen Trinkler won the Street Tuner Division and are now third in the standings, only nine points behind the first-place team.
Bill Lester, he and Jordan Taylor are the co-leaders of the Rolex Sports Car Series GT class. Three-point lead. Bill has a chance to become this country's first African American professional auto racing champion. Bill and Jordan had a great milestone earlier this year when they won at Virginia. It's an unbelievable historic doubleheader that we can potentially realize going into Mid-Ohio.
I'd like to start off with getting a quick opening statement from Sarah and Bill about their championship chances this weekend and the season overall.
Sarah, you get to lead us off.
SARAH CATTANEO: Coming off a win in New Jersey has really put the whole team in really high hopes for this race at Mid-Ohio. Not only is it the season ender and everybody is super excited to close it out, be on top, but we have the chance to win the whole thing.
I think for me, I've been here for like a week. Coming off a win brought my confidence up to a new level. I know the team has worked so hard to get here and everyone is in great spirits and just excited for this race to see what happens.
HERB BRANHAM: Bill, tell us about this week and what it feels like with a chance for this title.
BILL LESTER: Well, it's exciting, needless to say. Everybody is gunning for us. I keep reading and hearing about all the preparation that Brumos is putting into their team, SpeedSource, what they're doing with their team, saw Hurley Haywood on Wind Tunnel talking about what their expectations are, what they're trying to achieve.
The fact is I think our Autohaus Chevy Camaro team is poised for a terrific result. And we're confident going in. That's why we run the race, because you never know what the outcome is going to be.
To be in this position is very exciting and rewarding. Herb, I have to thank you for continuously bringing to my attention the historical significance and relevance of what I'm about to achieve or what I have achieved. When I won at VIR at with Jordan, I didn't know about, didn't think about the historical significance.
Needless to say, when you tell me when this milestone means as far as my ethnicity is concerned, it makes me proud, but it's not something I'm focused in on. I'm just somebody that has been doing this for quite a number of years, really excited about the opportunity that Chevy and Autohaus have given me this year, what Jordan and I have been able to achieve. We'd like to be able to cap off this season with a championship. We're poised and ready to go.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, Bill.
We'll go ahead and take questions for our guests.
Q. Bill, you said you've been doing this a long time. I guess you don't have any regrets about leaving your desk job with that big company 20 years ago to pursue a racing career?
BILL LESTER: You got jokes. I never looked back once I left there. I'm so glad I took that leap of faith, that my wife was supportive of what I wanted to do with my life. It's amazing that so many people back in my high-tech past have stayed in touch with me and continue to tell me they're living vicariously through me and they are really proud of what it is I have been able to achieve.
I never wanted to look back on my life and say could have, would have, should have. I made a bold move, and as they say, with great risk comes great reward. Fortunately everything has been working out well for me.
Q. Sarah, I'm not sure how old you are, but does Danica have any relevance in your career?
SARAH CATTANEO: I'm 25. No, I don't think so. We're extremely different in a lot of ways, other than our hair is brown. That's probably the only similarity we have. But, no, I don't think she does at all. We're two completely different people in my eyes.
Q. Would you like to follow that path and get to maybe a series that has a little bit more notoriety?
SARAH CATTANEO: I don't know about the notoriety. I obviously want my career to go somewhere, and I would love to drive pretty much anything and everything. I've completely devoted myself to racing. It's my passion. I hope to go somewhere with it.
Q. Bill, what has been the biggest challenge this year? Obviously seen a lot of competition in GT. Has it been the competition or any other aspect you've seen throughout the year?
BILL LESTER: Well, I'll tell you, for me personally the biggest challenge has been acclimating myself to a GT car, first off, and then this Chevrolet Camaro secondly. What I mean by that is I came from NASCAR where I was running about 700 horsepower, then when I was running a Cup car, 800 plus horsepower, then driving Daytona Prototype the last three years or so. That's a good power-to-weight ratio. Different type of handling package, especially with the Prototype, very stiff and immediately responsive, to a car in the GT ranks, which is softly sprung, doesn't have the horsepower I'm used to, has a lot of pitch and roll.
All of my expectations, especially from a sports car perspective, running these Grand-Am tracks, has had to be reset because I have a certain feel and expectation I have going around these corners and attacking these tracks that is completely obliterated by the Camaro. It's such a different feel, such a different drive, I've had to totally recalibrate myself. It's pretty much taken me this whole year to be able to do so.
I would say personally that's been my biggest challenge, is just getting the grips to the Camaro.
Q. Are you taking any different approach this weekend or pretty much business at usual in terms of setup, strategy-wise come race day?
BILL LESTER: Yeah, we're not going to change what's been working for us. It's pretty much business as usual. We're going to pay complete and total attention and be mindful of execution, which really has been our strong suit. We've never always been the fastest car, but we don't beat ourselves. We take pride in that. We execute very well. Our preparation has been terrific. We're just going to continue to pay particularly close attention to that.
Our driver strategy, team strategy is going to pretty much stay consistent. I'm going to lead off, Jordan is going to bring it home. We think that's going to pay dividends for us. What they say is: If it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Q. Bill, last time we saw you was when you were running trucks. What have you been doing in the interim since then? Specifically what have you been doing the last four or five years?
BILL LESTER: Yeah, since leaving NASCAR in 2007, I focused my attention on coming back to sports car road racing and with Grand-Am. For those that don't know, I started out road racing in the mid '80s with SECA Amateur. Got an opportunity to do a few professional races, IMSA, when it was a thriving series in the late '80s, a couple Trans-Am races, and also a research and development project manager at Hewlett Packard living a dual life.
So then when I did the NASCAR deal in the 2000s, ran in the Truck Series a number of years, made a few Cup starts, all that was fine, but money became scarce. I've come full circle. I've come back to sports cars and road racing, which I love. I love turning right and left. I love upshifting and downshifting than putting it in fourth and turning left. That's really what I've been doing.
The last three years before this one I was racing in a Prototype. This past one was in a GT, Autohaus, and it's been a terrific experience.
Q. What are some of your earliest memories of Mid-Ohio, some good things that have happened there, bad things that have happened there in your career? What is your personal history with the tracks in Lexington?
BILL LESTER: The first time I drove Mid-Ohio was in 1990. I did a couple of Trans-Am races. I raced with Tom Gloy in his Chevy Beretta in 1990 here. Enjoyed that experience. Was not in a good car at that time. I enjoyed the Mid-Ohio sports car course. I'm glad we continue to have this track on the circuit. There's a lot of tracks I'd like to kick off the circuit, Mid-Ohio is definitely not one of them.
By the same token, when you talk about experiences that are kind of crazy here, this track completely changes character if it gets wet. The ALMS race last month verifies that. I remember being in the rain in a Prototype, you couldn't find grip anywhere. It was atrocious. It's so different, the characteristic of this track, between being wet versus being dry, probably more so than any other track I'm aware of.
I really like it. It's challenging. You got to be good through the corners. You got to be consistent. This track really rewards that. It's a good place to end the championship.
Q. The history that is kind of surrounding you with this thing, does it add pressure to what you're doing this weekend? How are you handling all the things that are out there concerning your possible historic championship?
BILL LESTER: As I mentioned before, I'm appreciative to Herb for mentioning the historical significance of what I've already accomplished and what it is I could possibly accomplish because I don't focus in on that at all. I mean, I was asked in my NASCAR career so many times what it's like to be a black driver in NASCAR, whatever the case is. I said it time and time again: I don't consider myself a black racecar driver, I consider myself a racecar driver who happens to be black. I don't focus on the historical significance, I guess, the exclusivity that I bring, that sort of thing.
I just am fortunate that I get to do what it is that I feel is my calling, and that's being a racecar driver. All these other things that come along with it are very gratifying. I've come to realize a lot of people follow what I do and take pride in what I do, especially being a black man. But for the most part I just am excited about having the opportunity to win a championship. It's been a long time since I've won one. As a matter of fact, the last championship I won was in SECA racing in 1986. So it's been, what, 25 years or so. It's been a long time.
To have this opportunity staring me right in the face, that's really where the pressure is, not from my exclusivity and ethnicity, but just from the standpoint of being able to be in a position to win a championship because I know very well how hard it is to be in this position. You don't want to let something like this slip through your fingertips if you can at all help it.
Q. Sarah, what have you been doing this week to kill time there? I'm assuming you're still in Lexington. How long of a week has this been for you?
SARAH CATTANEO: Yeah, I'm still here. I took Monday and Tuesday, I did some shopping, hung out around Mansfield. Just been chilling out. Owen got back last night. That was nice.
But, you know, a few people stayed out here from the NASA National. I've had plenty of people to hang out with.
Q. Bill, you say you're not going to change anything as far as how you've approached this. What do you have to do in your stint this weekend to be able to win the championship?
BILL LESTER: First off it comes with qualifying well. That's going to be a priority. Mid-Ohio is very tight. It's going to be very difficult to pass other competitors here. We're looking at 19 entered GT cars. I hear a rumor there could be as many as 20 if Lou Gigliotti brings his car here. It's going to be a real crowded place here. Real estate is going to be prime. Qualifying up front is going to be of particular importance and something I'm focused in on.
Whenever Jordan and I have had really good success it's because I brought him a car in great position. So I want to be able to do that, give him a car that's in top five. Whenever I do that, he's able to take care of the rest.
Those are really my priorities for the weekend.
Q. You've run Daytona Prototypes at Mid-Ohio before. How does that experience maybe help you this weekend?
BILL LESTER: I'm not going to be able to rely on my Daytona Prototype experience very much, I don't think, because, as I was mentioning earlier, the handling characteristics of the GT Camaro versus the Riley Prototype are day and night. It's almost like I have to throw away everything I learned in the Prototype to race the GT car competently.
However, the track knowledge is going to be helpful and carries over. Then again, having just said that, since the last time I drove here, I understand there is track sealer that wasn't there initially. I'm going to be out there searching for the optimum grip and seeing what line still works. If it's the line I remember is the hot line, which I assume it is, just how effective it will be.
This first session on track is going to be definitely one with a high learning curve but I'm confident I'm going to get the job done.
Q. Sarah, can you explain to me exactly how your team can win the championship because you're in third place nine points back? What do you have to do to win the championship at this point?
SARAH CATTANEO: I haven't sat down and gone through all the points things. That's not really my deal. But we're going to go out there fighting our hardest. I mean, we just want to win. Winning the last race of the season would mean so much to this team.
Really, yeah, we're in the running, we're third for the championship. It's amazing. I feel so blessed to be in the spot that I am, with the team and Owen. To bring this home for us with everything that's gone on with our car this year would be amazing.
But, I mean, I'm going out there to do my best and put everything else behind me, drive my hardest, to be where I can to give Owen an amazing car to bring it home with.
Q. You're in the opposite position of Bill because Bill is trying to defend and you're trying to chase the championship. Does that kind of take the pressure off you, that you don't have to defend, that you're chasing?
SARAH CATTANEO: I think there's pressure either way. It's just a different kind of pressure. I mean, there's pressure both ways. This team wants this so bad. I want it. Owen wants it. Everybody wants it. Whether you're defending or reaching for it, there's just pressure either way.
But for me personally I try to put it behind me, win my race and do the best that I can.
Q. Bill, 1986, you were, what, 10?
BILL LESTER: I'm twice the age of young Sarah there. I'm five decades (laughter). I just don't act my age.
HERB BRANHAM: Sarah Cattaneo and Bill Lester, we appreciate this very much. As we touched on the historical aspect, we're very proud of that possibility here at Grand-Am, that we could crown both of you as champions because of the historical significance. More than anything else, we would just be proud to call you champions. Best of luck to both of you toward that end this weekend at Mid-Ohio.
SARAH CATTANEO: Thank you very much.
BILL LESTER: Thank you.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to all the media who participated today here at Grand-Am and NASCAR. We appreciate the coverage.
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