Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
June 16, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to the special edition NASCAR GRAND-AM teleconference. Joining us today are Jon Fogarty and Leh Keen, who will race in Saturday's EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio, opening the second half of the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season. Both of them are two-time winners at Mid-Ohio. Jon joined Alex Gurney and the GAINSCO Chevy Riley in victory lane in 2007 and 2008. He is also a two-time and defending Toyota Prototype Champion.
You've had more than your share of bad luck so far this season, what are you thoughts on returning to Mid-Ohio, a track where you have had great success in the past.
JON FOGARTY: I'm sure, I mean, looking forward to it, it's a great track to race at. Really fun driver circuit.
So, you know, despite the way the season is going, I am excited to go to a nice natural terrain road course, and a place that we've had success at. So just going to try to, you know, get into the second half of the season and get some points on the board and try to establish a little bit of rhythm that involves podiums. You know, it's definitely been a trying first half of the season and seems like it's been forever since Daytona. I can't believe we are halfway there.
You know, when things aren't going well, it seems to be that way. Time flies when you're having fun, and when you're not, it seems to go by pretty slowly.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks a lot, Jon. Leh, time flies and you're having fun, just got back from Le Mans, the only American on the podium with a second place finish. I know you're keeping busy. What's your thoughts on making it three in a row at Mid-Ohio?
LEH KEEN: You know, the last month has definitely been a blur. Mid-Ohio is a special place for me for sure. I had a bad crash there in '07, took me out of the season, I missed three races after that, and came back and won, and then again won in '09.
Right now, racing, just back from Le Mans, just on a roll, two podiums in the last three races and came pretty close to winning at the Glen. I'm really thinking that we can win this Ohio race. Like you said, we have done well there in the past and now we really have got our stuff together. Second half of the season now, and so we are really going to have to turn it on and get as many points as we possibly get so we can be there at the end of the championship run.
Q. My first question is for Jon. In a teleconference a few weeks ago, you talked about getting a new engine builder for your Chevys. There have been rumors going about a NASCAR team building your motors. First of all, is there any truth to that, and second of all, have you run the motor and what did you think, if you did run it?
JON FOGARTY: There's truth to you all of that. You know, we just felt it was time for a change, and we had, you know, great success obviously with our past Chevrolets and Pontiacs, two championships and a lot of wins with podiums. We are looking forward to a change and looking forward to being partnered with somebody who can carry us into the future. We anticipate maybe some changes or allowances in the Chevrolet motor package going into the future and we want to be a part of somebody who is capable of, you know, accommodating that.
So the motor is good. It's no better, no worse than what we have been running in the past. Within the current rules package, there's really not a lot more that can be done with that motor.
So, you know, we have had a tough beginning of the year with a few failures, and we are hoping to eliminate those issues. You know, like I said, we are looking forward beyond 2010 at this point, and I think there's going to be more information coming out probably closer to the race weekends on what that might entail.
Q. You had a great record at Mid-Ohio, especially the last three years, what makes you guys so good at Mid-Ohio?
JON FOGARTY: It's definitely a handling track, and that's always been a strong suit for the GAINSCO No. 99. It seems like you could actually chart our relative performance: If you have a ratio, amount of times spent cornering versus amount of times spent accelerating on straightaways, and the greater the ratio is, the corners to straightaways, the better we do and Ohio is really all about getting through the corners.
Really a handling circuit, a place that's just fun to drive and I think it suits our car. So we have confidence. Once you do well in a place, obviously when you show up, you feel confident going in. That's a huge part in auto racing, as well.
So just a place that's got a good track record for us and a place we enjoy driving our car, so we strive to do well on every track, but I think Mid-Ohio is one that just suits us.
Q. Leh, you obviously won the championship last year in Porsche and now you're running a Mazda. There's been a lot of talk between Porsches and Mazdas, the different disparities. What's your take on the Mazda compared to the Porsche?
LEH KEEN: Well, we did a lot with Porsche last year. You know, now they have the 3.8 litre than can load in the rear of the car, which is a huge benefit to them, and it's also got some weight taken away. The Porsche right now in GRAND-AM is very good; I would say probably one of the fastest cars.
The Mazda, of course is a very good chassis and you can see that in the results with many strong teams running the Mazda. You know, it's not a surprise that there's one on the podium every race, because it's a great car. Just driving them, the Porsche really squirts out of the low speed corners. It makes all in the grip on the rear end, engine platform, of course, produces massive grip and with the 3.8 litre, so they can really get up the corners really good. So that does use up the tire more, if you take advantage or take too much advantage of it.
The Mazda, you have to keep it through the corners, keep it up in the rails, and it's a little bit lighter so it doesn't use up the tires as much. I've really enjoyed the Mazda this year for sure.
Q. For it both Jon and Leh, just looking forward to the race in New Jersey Motorsports Park coming up in about a month, you guys actually had to deal with dry heat and a ton dust the first year you came to New Jersey Motorsports Park, and then last year was the complete opposite, was a total monsoon and just completely wet. What are you looking forward to this with race coming up in a few weeks? What are you expecting?
JON FOGARTY: I assume now that the place has been there a little while and they have gotten some rain and everything and some green grass growing. Even if it is dry, cars are going off, it is not going to be creating the dust storm situation.
I bet you it's going to be hot one way or another. Not looking forward to that, but it's going to be the same for most of the races from here on out.
I think it's just warm on the dirt track and we had good crowds both in the hot and dusty and in the monsoon. I think if it's going to be fair weather it's going to be great.
LEH KEEN: Yeah, it's been -- every time we go to New Jersey, for sure, so it was pretty good for us last year, but I think it's going to be hot and dry and maybe not so dusty. I think they have got some pretty good grass down now and like Jon said, the track's been there for a while now, so they have it figured out.
Q. When you left last year of the Rolex Series and went down and got your championship trophy, you pretty well dominated the show such that when you went into the final race of the season, really had to more or less start the whole deal and finished it, you could have finished it off at Miller Motorsports Park and then things hit the fan in the off-season and you started wondering about where you're going to be in 2010 and getting into a Mazda, a completely different creature. The team is starting to fire on all cylinders to use a metaphor. And you've scored a number of podiums now already, and now we are starting to turn the corner into the rest of the season and it looks like a favorable points run is in the offing for you, a championship run perhaps. A question I pose with that background is: Did you expect that to possibly happen this year?
LEH KEEN: Well, I think we are firing on all rotors -- (Laughter).
Q. Good one.
LEH KEEN: You know, ever since Daytona, the first day of the Daytona test days, we got in in a brand new car and we were fast straight out of the box. And Michael did a great job of getting the right guys together to make it all come together. And of course, you know, new team, new car, new co-driver, that's kind of the most difficult situation. Normally it usually takes about a year for the team to really go, and then we had podiums right off the bat, first podium, first spring race. We had a great car at Daytona for the 24, but had a rock or something get through the car and through the radiator. And that's how the 24 goes; anything can happen.
And now I wouldn't say that I'm completely surprised where we are right now. Would like to be top three in the championship for the end of the year and that's really our goal.
A podium, a race win and top three in the championship at the end of the year is what I want this year. I mean, of course I want to win every race and win the championship, but realistically, that's pretty high goals, and it looks like, you know, we are going to do that.
So we just have to keep trekking along like we have been doing. The team has just been great at figuring out the cars. At every session, we are still learning something. And we have a good group of guys and a great sponsor in Global Dining, and we are still raising money for the children's hospital out in Seattle. So, yeah, it's a great team. It's great to be a part of it and I'm glad I can been pull my own weight.
Q. How do you continue to maintain the enthusiasm coming to the track every day given your position this year?
JON FOGARTY: That's easy. I mean, definitely I mean, I'm racing cars, I love what I do. It's pretty easy to be enthusiastic about it and it's a great team and we have the ability to win races I think. We all know that in the team, and we have kind of had past seasons where we have down on luck, and you just keep your head down. And you know, we have got a positive crew, from Bob Stallings, a positive team owner and everybody just wants to win real bad and we enjoy at least having the opportunity to go and make that happen.
No problem there. We are definitely fired up to win races, always, you know, so that's easy.
Q. If I could draw a compare ton, want to get your reaction, NASCAR is encouraging it's drivers to be, how shall I say, a little more aggressive on the racetrack and expressive off of the track. I understand you were placed on probation after the Lime Rock event for what you said about maybe needing to get dirty. Can you compare the differences from stock car racing and GRAND-AM racing and how GRAND-AM might be different than the NASCAR era of boys, have at it.
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, it's a difficult question. I'm tempted to just keep my mouth shut because opening it is what got me into trouble in the first place.
You know, you get mixed messages a little bit. For sure we know that the rivalry between the 99 GAINSCO car and the 01 TELMEX car is real and is something that is attractive to the fans, for sure, and that should be attractive to the series. You know, comments that I make, obviously somewhat premeditated and intended to be inflammatory, and I guess they were maybe too much so. And I think I was in some way encouraged to not do that any more, and so I guess I've just got to watch what I say and let the driving and what happens on track speak for itself.
I think there's never been any sort of formal kind of program or direction that the series has towed the drivers to take. I think it's important to just let things kind of happen a little bit more naturally and organically and therefore, it's actually real. That's obviously the most exciting thing for fans.
And you know, it is what it is. It's fine. I understood; it's a point well taken. I think definitely it was not for what happened out on the racing circuit, it was for what happened in front of the camera, so it was a little bit, I don't know, it is what it is and I'm okay with it.
And I don't know, there's obviously -- there is a disconnect or a difference between what goes on in the circle track and what goes on in the road courses. You know, sports car racing I think historically has been a little bit more subdued in that fact you about this is GRAND-AM road racing, it's fender-to-fender, it's competitive, and it's basically NASCAR racing on road courses.
So I think it's good for the fans to have that sort of aggression and makes it fun to watch.
Q. I wanted to follow up, just from your vantage point, have things gotten -- in the last couple of years, gotten more physical on the track in this series where there's less quarter shown than ever?
JON FOGARTY: No, not really. I mean, the incident at Lime Rock was completely benign, really. I mean, it's the track surface that caused the problems. You look at '08 and the 01 car, they were smashing people like you wouldn't believe. I think that was probably one of the worst years for contact. But this year, I think it's been fairly tame.
You know, it just -- when there's a lot of cars, championship is tight, that's when things happen. Right now that's not so much the case, so I think that's maybe why this year has not been as wheel-to-wheel.
Q. That said, has Scott Pruett, has he slowed down at all, or is he as competitive as he's been? Explain how fast he still is, at his age, in this series?
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, I hate to give the guy props, but he has not slowed down at all. Definitely he's as competitive as ever, which is pretty cool. He's not the youngest guy in the field by any means, and I hope to be in his position at his age. He's a formidable competitor, age 50 or not.
Q. And is Mid-Ohio, is it a little bit of a difficult track? Obviously it's kind of a narrow track in subpoena people ace mind. I wonder from your vantage point in some people's cars, is it a little bit of the follow the leader type, or have you found that you can be side-by-side to a certain extent and certain places in certain areas?
JON FOGARTY: No, despite the fact there's a relative lack of straightaways, and there's actually a lot of overtaking opportunities. Turn one is a tricky corner to get through and it's easy to scrub your speed and lose momentum out of there, which sets up and opportunity heading down into the keyhole. And then the long back straightaway is actually long enough to set up a draft if you're in position to take advantage of it, and there's another opportunity. And if you throw in GT traffic, there's almost endless opportunities around the rest of the racetrack.
I think it's a pretty good place for overtaking. The GT cars do help, a lot in that regard, but for a track that's dominated by corners, it's still a good racing track.
Q. With this race being two hours, 45 minutes, I think is the time limit, last time you raced was a six-hour race at the Glen. Just in a nutshell, what is the mental transformation or whatever adjustment you need to make, you know what I mean, because this is literally a Sprint race for you guys, and how does it change your flat approach to the race?
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, the early part of the race, in a Sprint race or two hour and 45 minute race is more critical as far as when you are going to pit and take a yellow or put it under yellow. Basically those early stops become game-changers; where in a six-hour race, you can stop all the time until there's an hour and a half to go and then it's a race.
But here you've really got to think about, you know, your fuel strategy relative to the distance to the race. I think it's more difficult for the guy up on the stand to make the calls. As a driver, we just go out and race as hard as we can, so not too much to think about in that regard.
The one thing that I'm already thinking about, I'm looking at the weather, it's going to be hot, and even though it's a Sprint race, it's tough to be in a car when it's in the 90s out.
Q. Hydrate, that's the key word.
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, start thinking about it right now.
Q. I can remember back at Mid-Ohio, 2007, looking at the 99 car, looking at though you are on the rails you guys still look so good; what's happened since then?
JON FOGARTY: I mean, a ton has happened. There's been a tire change, you know, we have gone from Hoosier to Pirellis, so that's a big one. You know, at that time, the Pontiac, which was predominate in the field, probably half the field to that point, was one of the strongest, if not -- it was a very strong motor, if not the strongest motor in the field. So we had, you know, we had a cream of the crop there.
Things changed. Now we are the only Chevrolet left and the rules are such that people have found it advantageous to shift away from the GM power plant and pick up something else. We are the solo act out there right now and we don't have strength in numbers and so that's been challenging.
And those are probably the two big ones, and other than that, we have not forgotten how to drive, our engineer has not forgotten how to engineer and a package that is not quite as dominant as it once was. And obviously we have seen now the Dallara and the Lola both come on and the Paoli (ph), to that extent. Their packages keep evolving and the Riley has, you know, not been allowed to do so. So things changed, for sure. A lot of changes.
Q. Leh, thinking earlier, a lot of the questions posed, and the comment about having you guys out there blocking, it reminded me of one of the most spectacular offs at any racetrack ever by Joey Hamm a was years ago in a BMW M3. How do you feel about being such fodder?
LEH KEEN: Well, it's a part of the deal. You know, these races, it's a pretty common thing now. It's a skill that you have to kind of evolve and work on. These new guys, the kids, they show up, they are fast and they get in a crash with a GT car coming through, they are just not used to that. It's just part of the deal. It does add a little bit of excitement, for sure, and you know, sometimes you can use it to your advantage, the car can get hung up by a GT car and you can squeeze by and sometimes we do the same thing, too, to work the GT traffic.
THE MODERATOR: We have a special guest on the call, James Gue, thank you for joining us. It's been a big season so far in the No. 41 Global Driving Solutions/Team Seattle Mazda you co-drive with Leh Keen. I understand you are taking time from a visit to join us; can you tell us about it and your thoughts on the upcoming weekend?
JAMES GUE: Thanks for having me on. We actually just wrapped up a hospital visit here at the Nationwide Children's Hospital, part of the Circle of Kids Group that they offer the Seattle Children's Hospital to be a part of. We just spent a couple of hours going around seeing a bunch of kids. Everything went well. It was good, and obviously heading into Mid-Ohio this weekend, I think we certainly have got a lot of momentum behind us and coming off two good weekends, we are certainly looking to continue to improve on our seconds and thirds and trying to get up to the top step of the podium here.
THE MODERATOR: In the last couple of weeks, you ran a Porsche at Watkins Glen in a Continental Pirates Sports Car Challenge Race and then you ran Mazda in the Salem Six Hours and then you flew to Le Mans to run the Ferrari; what was it like going from car to car to car?
LEH KEEN: Yeah, it's interesting. You have to learn some different things, or remember different things about the car. A race car is a race car, you start it up as well balanced and neutral as you can. Each one has its pluses and minuses. The engine Ferrari and Continental compared to the competition has very good entry speed; I think the chassis helps on that. And then the Mazda, of course, is a two-frame chassis. The suspension geometry is very, very good on that. You can blow over curves and everything like that, and it won't knock everything out of whack.
But I mean, it's race cars. It's fun to go fast. Love to go fast, so I'm happy. The Ferrari has a suede dash and pretty cool little telemetry system thing, so that's kind of cool. You remember what makes it go and things like that, and you go from there with it.
Q. What is it like when you experience running all three 24 Hour races thus far this year?
LEH KEEN: Well, the 24, it's very special to me. I want to win that race one day for sure. Le Mans is -- I guess and you could say Nurburgring is the biggest as far as the most cars and longest track and I think it was 300,000 fans or something like that, all crazy Germans having a good time.
Yeah, each one just prepares you for the next, and Nurburgring kind of prepared me for Le Mans and I was a little bit better off when I showed up there on Monday. And those races now, are getting where you can do one back-to-back. One weekend do the 24 Hour race and the next weekend do another one. It doesn't take too much out of me, because I'm racing now pretty much every weekend anyway.
Yeah, cool stuff for sure. Just be able to do the races in Europe, the fans over there are incredible, and it's an honor to be able to do Le mans and end up on the podium, the only American. Yeah, it's definitely special for me, it's a cool deal.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much and thank you, Jon, Leh and James for joining us today.
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