Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
May 26, 2010
J.J. O'MALLEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this special edition NASCAR Grand-Am teleconference. Joining us today are Alex Gurney and Buddy Rice, will race in the Memorial Day Classic, the debut of the Daytona Prototypes at historic Lime Rock Park.
Buddy is the winner of another May Classic, the 2004 Indianapolis 500, and won the 2009 Rolex 24 At Daytona. He joins Antonio Garcia in the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona Porsche Coyote.
Buddy, you've been running the lone Coyote in the field. Will the fact this is the first Daytona Prototype race at Lime Rock work to your advantage?
BUDDY RICE: I have no idea. I think the main thing we want to do this year is work on the car, keep progressing every round so we can try to compete with the top five cars that are consistently up there.
I think we've been doing a good job with that. We're getting much closer and getting a lot more consistent. I think this weekend leading into it, we're going to need to make sure we don't have any mistakes. With the shortened schedule, myself and Antonio never being at the track, it will be a steep learning curve. With the things we've done with the Spirit of Daytona team, I think we should be able to be fairly competitive.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Alex is the reigning and two-time Daytona Prototype champion, joining Jon Fogarty in the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley. The following Saturday four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champ Jimmie Johnson will join them for the Sahlen's Six Hours of Watkins Glen.
Alex will coming to a new circuit for the Daytona Prototypes followed by an old favorite at Watkins Glen give the GAINSCO team the opportunity to bounce back after a slow start?
ALEX GURNEY: I sure hope so. We've had a rough go of it these first four races. We're definitely looking to turn it around. We've had a good break trying to regroup and figure out what we need to do to get back to trying to win races again.
We had a good test in Lime Rock just after the last race. Pretty short day, but we definitely learned a lot. So we feel good about our chances. We're going to give it our best shot.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you.
We'll turn it back to the operator for questions from the media.
Q. Alex, Daytona Prototype engine failures are a rarity, yet you have had more than your fair share this year in the couple of first rounds. Can you tell me if and what progress has been made on the engine development side not just to get you the power but the reliability you need?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, yeah, it has been a struggle. You're right, it's been pretty rare where we've had any reliability issues on that front. We've had several good years without any problem really. So it's taken us a little bit by surprise.
I think some of that stems from just trying to get the most out of this motor. We as a team feel that maybe the series still needs to make a further adjustment. We have a two-valve motor, where the rest of the field is a four-valve. We feel like it's not quite aligned yet as far as getting everything equal.
So we've really been pushing the limit. I know our engine builder has. I think there's maybe an announcement on that front I'll leave to Bob Stallings. That's coming soon. But we have made a change on the engine builder. We will be running a different motor. We're still with Chevrolet, but a different engine builder at the next race.
Q. Buddy, your team has made an amazing amount of progress this year with the Coyote chassis. Recently I had an interview that Zach Brown who said he's hoping to enter the Daytona Prototype series in the future using a Coyote. How much help would it be to you and your development and progress to have more than one team out there running full-time to help move the Coyote program forward?
BUDDY RICE: Well, I think that's one of the big things, with everybody running Riley, sharing information to some degree, they've been running them for so long, there's a lot of information out there. For us to have a second Coyote out there to be gaining knowledge and just constantly trying to speed up the progress really of the car would be huge for us.
It's probably really no different what the situation Alex is in running the sole Chevrolet. Anytime you can add more information and more parties to the development of anything, I think it's a positive. So if we can get a second or third Coyote out there running, I think you'd see the development of the car would definitely speed up exponentially.
We just have to keep working to show that the Coyote is a competitive car, getting people to buy those. Or Zach is going to run one himself. We need to get more out there to be quicker and be more competitive that way.
Q. With this being a short track in road course vernacular, how many liberties can you genuinely take to root some of these GT guys out of the way? How fragile is your car? How much can you afford to bully your way past a slower car on a shorter track?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, I mean, over the years, I think we've seen that the cars are pretty stout. There's been plenty of barging, bumping and banging over the years and the cars seem to hang in there okay. I'm not too worried about that.
You're right, it is a very tight track. It was even tighter than I had imagined when we tested the car there just recently. It's going to be difficult to pass. There are a few spots, and the GTs will actually help us pass each other, as well.
You know, I would imagine there probably will be a little more bodywork lying around the track at the end of this one (laughter). But, you know, you just got to be smart and try and make good decisions throughout the race. Hopefully that won't be a big factor.
Q. Buddy, looking ahead a week to Watkins Glen, for the benefit of our listeners, comparing the car preparation for the six hours versus the shorter Sprint race when the circuit goes back in August, how significantly different will car prep be? Is it strictly the brakes? Is it more than that?
BUDDY RICE: No, I think that, you know, everybody and all the teams do such a good job at prep, you don't make it to where it just runs three hours. These will be able to go a lot longer.
I think the prep work leading into the six-hour race is going to be different because of what Alex just touched on. We as a team Spirit of Daytona did not show up for that test. With as short as the track is, as hard as it is going to be pass, Alex said there's going to be a lot of bodywork laying around. We'll show up with enough suspension and gearboxes, we'll switch over and put all brand-new stuff on the car, treat it no different than a long race just because of that situation and the loads that are going to be presented to the car at Watkins Glen. There's a lot of elevation change. There's a lot of high-speed bank turns and stuff there. You do some running on the curbs there.
Everything needs to be prepped up like you're going to run a 24-hour race and make sure everything is bulletproof. It's going to take a perfect car. You don't want to have any failures at that track because of the speed and everybody being in the points chase.
Q. Alex, you were talking earlier about the troubles you've had this year. You mentioned the engine. Does a lot of this have to do with your loss of factory backing that you had from Chevrolet, from that division, normal sponsorship woes you've had this year?
ALEX GURNEY: It's certainly possible. It's hard to say. The failures have been kind of different things that we've had. You know, that may have contributed to it, if I'm honest.
But I think mostly just a symptom of pushing the envelope, trying to keep up with these other guys that seem to have stepped it up another level in the engine department. So probably more a function of that, I would say.
Q. You said you were changing engine builders for Lime Rock, and then the Glen also?
ALEX GURNEY: Yeah, for the rest of the year.
Q. Is that change a different engine builder than you used last year?
ALEX GURNEY: Yes, a different engine builder than we've had, different engine builder than has been in the series, I think. I don't even know if I'm allowed to say it, but I'm sure that announcement is coming any day here.
Q. On the engine thing?
ALEX GURNEY: Yeah.
Q. As far as who it is and so forth?
ALEX GURNEY: Yeah, yeah.
Q. A question about the Glen being, what, three or four days away from Lime Rock. Does that put a big strain on the crew? Is that something everybody is up for?
ALEX GURNEY: Yeah, I think so. I think everyone is used to that type of thing.
Q. Three or four days?
ALEX GURNEY: I guess you're right. The Glen isn't too far of a drive. So that's not too bad.
But, you know, if you manage to stay out of trouble and not have a wrecked car, I think that will be the biggest difference. The guys are pretty used to prepping these cars with quick turnaround. As long as the car has no big damage, I think it will be fine.
Q. And your team's record and your record at the Glen has been pretty good. What are your thoughts going into it? Is that a track you think you can break through? Or do you think you might be at a disadvantage because the other teams have stepped things up?
ALEX GURNEY: A little bit of both. We've had really good luck there. We've had really good cars every time from the moment we entered the series in 2005. I think that was our best finish right away. So, you know, for whatever reason, certain tracks tend to click with a certain team. Whether it's the short track or the long track there, we've just had really good cars.
I expect that, you know, to keep going. Hopefully the new engine will push us forward even more.
Q. You're aware the Glen has made some changes, SAFER barriers, so far, in the inner loop, but also the exit of the last turn. I'm going to be interested in getting your angle. They moved the SAFER barrier at turn 11 right to the edge of the track, you usually use all the track on the exit of that corner?
ALEX GURNEY: You definitely use quite a bit of that curb. That will be interesting. I think I found a YouTube video of the latest changes. It didn't look that out of the ordinary.
You're right, you do use a lot of the curb at the exit. You're going pretty quick. Maybe you have to be a little more careful there. That will be interesting to watch.
Q. Buddy, even though it's been a couple years since you won Indy, do you get a feeling this time of year you belong there working on that? Do you consider that chapter of your racing career closed or do you hope to get back in IndyCars?
BUDDY RICE: I mean, I think I might run the Speedway again in the next year or two possibly. We'll just have to wait and see. But I'm happy with where I'm at. I like racing the Grand-Am Series. I like road racing full-time. I like the new challenges of having to share a car. I like competing against the drivers and teams that are in this series. There's a lot of really good drivers and teams here.
Also with the schedule the way it is, this type of racing obviously allows me to do other things I haven't been able to do in the past eight years. So it's kind of something that's kind of nice. It's a little bit different.
There is some stuff I probably could have ran the Speedway if I wanted to this year, but I'm not going running unless I can run with one of the top teams or at least have a shot of getting to Victory Lane again. There's no sense of going around and pounding out laps at that place. It demands more respect than just showing up.
Q. Buddy, you tested these cars at Indy. Have you heard any updates about that lately?
BUDDY RICE: No, that's going to be up to the series. I know there's quite a few cars that took part in that, but I have no idea what the outcome will be after that.
Q. You haven't heard any murmurs, whispers?
BUDDY RICE: No, I haven't heard anything. Obviously, Indianapolis Motor Speedway is making a lot of changes. I think it's going to take a little bit to decide what they're going to do anyways.
Q. As a lobbyist, you're all in favor of having these cars at Indy?
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I'd love to go race there. I think it would be great. It's exciting. I think we're the only other car that's -- the Daytona Prototype is the only other car that has been on the infield besides the Moto GP and F1. That's cool to take part in that and go back there. It's an historical place for racing. I think it would be great for Grand-Am to be able to get there.
Q. Since I'm from the Daytona paper, Spirit of Daytona is based here, what is it like racing for a smaller team? Do you feel more comfortable in that sort of setting rather than like a big corporate monster?
BUDDY RICE: I think at the end of the day you still have the same job whether it's a small team or a large team; that's to come in and perform as a driver.
I think it doesn't matter whether it's a big team or little team. Depending on who owns it, the sponsorship, who's running it is always different. Some of the big teams are run like small teams and vice versa.
I think my relationship with Troy has been really good. I like the direction. I like his thought process. I like the approach. I don't think for us being a smaller team takes anything away from us being able to compete with the big teams.
At the end of the day you have to be mistake free and get the most out of your car. We've been working very hard on this chassis with Coyote and Pratt & Miller and also working very hard with the Lozano brothers getting this Cayenne Porsche up to speed and consistent.
I think once we put all the pieces together, I think there's no reason why we shouldn't be able to be competing for wins week in and week out just as the other top teams. It just takes time to put all the right pieces together in the puzzle and have the whole team gel and come together.
It's new for Antonio to be running over here full-time and running with me and sharing the car, me sharing with him, his relationship with the team. We're constantly trying to put all the pieces together to make sure we can do that.
Q. Alex, are you getting tired of that stock car guy getting the attention when he shows up in racing with you?
ALEX GURNEY: Which stock car guy (laughter)? Just kidding.
No, not at all. We love to have him there. Jimmie Johnson will be with us at the six-hour race. I've been exchanging texts and emails with him. He's getting his iRacing going. We're talking about the track. Should be a lot of fun. He's kind of become a friend of all of us on the team. We like having him around.
Q. When you look at the track at Lime Rock, what would you term that track, a high downforce or low downforce track?
ALEX GURNEY: Uhm, well, it's tricky. I think you could probably make it happen either way. So you probably end up in the middle. It's a tough deal. There's really only one straightaway. That's preceded by a very fast corner. So you want to get through that last corner quick. You probably need downforce to do that. Then you want to get down that straight quick, but you don't need downforce for that.
You know, you just have to learn from your testing and think about it well, read the data in the right way, come up with a decision. So hard to say at this point.
Q. Buddy, not only is the Flis operation a fairly small operation, but particularly when you compare it to somebody like GAINSCO, which Alex is associated with, but it's a family operation. You have four family members, five if you count some really pint-sized members. What is it like being in there with all those family members? Do they work together or against each other?
BUDDY RICE: No, I think Troy does a very good job of having everybody work together. I think it works out extremely well. I think, you know, everybody knows what they're supposed to do. It's very professional at the races, what everybody has to do.
At the end of the day, they all get along. They are family after the race. Everybody knows what they need to do, what's expected of them on the team. I think it's probably one of the few organizations that you can have not only one family member but multiple family members working together and actually everybody kind of understands what the situation is.
I think it's good. You know, from what I've learned from not only Troy but his brother Todd, everybody else, that's how those guys have always done it, so it's nothing different for them. I think everybody kind of knows the situation.
Q. Buddy, you had mentioned that both you and Antonio haven't run Lime Rock before. Especially with the short schedule, how do you go about learning the track quickly to become competitive quickly?
BUDDY RICE: One thing I think Antonio and I both are both able to do is learn tracks quite quickly. We've also both been talking. There's video games that have that out there. There's simulators that have the track. I've been on a simulator here, working on that. I think that will definitely help speed up the process.
Q. What is your fast time?
BUDDY RICE: I'm not saying (laughter).
But I think when technology has advanced so far, we felt because of the weather and the situation, we thought it was better for us to go test somewhere else and make better use of our time. That was a decision that Troy made.
With the way technology is, we have the ability to go and use simulators and computer software to get ourselves kind of back up to speed. I'm not exactly sure all what Antonio has done or not done, but I know I've had that able for me to use that at my disposal here. I think that will help us in our learning curves when we get there. Nothing is better than being in the car and driving because you get the whole feeling and the sensation.
Q. Any chance you might try to get in a Continental Tire Challenge car on Saturday?
BUDDY RICE: No. I probably wouldn't do very good at that. Probably spend more time out in the grass and dirt than I would on the pavement.
Q. With the short time frame between Lime Rock and the Glen, how do you measure as a driver the risk and reward to being a little bit more aggressive knowing that both your teams are pretty far away from your bases, if you trash a racecar, you might have a challenge to make it to the Glen? Would that enter your minds at all?
BUDDY RICE: For us, we'll have enough stuff onboard. I would assume the GAINSCO guys do, too. They've been doing this a long time. They're used to the quick turnarounds, getting that stuff knocked out. I would assume that Alex and his team are in the same position we are.
We're out to try to win races and we're going to push as hard as we can to win those races. I don't think that will really fall into the fray of thinking about it when you're driving. The boys will be prepared. They know what to expect. I would assume with all the talk, everybody knowing Lime Rock, you expect the worst. If the car doesn't come out completely tore up, we'll be in good shape. They're used to getting that stuff prepped up and back together.
ALEX GURNEY: I agree with everything Buddy said there. We'll be ready one way or the other. I know our boss wouldn't be happy if we hurt the car, but he wants us to go and push to the maximum, try and get everything out of it, so...
Q. Alex, how is Jimmie progressing as a road racer?
ALEX GURNEY: I don't think he gets anywhere near enough credit for being a really good road racer. I don't think you need to look further than the lap times at Daytona. He's really right there.
I'm hugely impressed. I think everyone on our team is as well. I don't think it will take him long to get up to speed. So, you know, I know he's dying to win a race, win a Cup race on a road course. He'd love to do that, too, in Grand-Am. We're going to all push hard together and try and make it happen.
Q. You essentially have two days to get everything figured out at Watkins Glen. What kind of stress does that put on your teams to get it right quick?
BUDDY RICE: I mean, we're kind of used to two-day shows. Obviously, I haven't run on the Grand-Am tour as long as Alex has. Really from the little bit we ran last year and this year, everything has been a two-day show. I think that's why you have to put a premium on your testing, making sure when your car rolls off the trailer, you're in the ballpark.
I don't think it's going to be different than what it is every other weekend for us, making sure your car is good when it comes off the trailer, knowing your car, being at those circuits, having experience. That's one thing a lot of the other teams have over us, but we've been working hard on our testing and being prepped properly.
ALEX GURNEY: I guess I can continue on with what Buddy was saying. I guess Lime Rock is even worse with a one-day event. So we'll be used to it by the time we get to Watkins Glen. We know that track really well. We have lots of data to draw from the last few years. We're not too worried about it there. We're definitely more worried about Lime Rock.
Q. Alex, Jimmie is going to be coming into a configuration for the six-hour which differs from the second visit in early August during which the Rolex Series will take the track the day before the Sprint Cup Series. That's a shorter course. Is there any knowledge Jimmie can really gain out of this thing that he can apply to his stock car racing there?
ALEX GURNEY: Well most of the track is the same. It leads into the boot section after that fast right-hander after the chicane, then it rejoins in nearly the same spot. He'll be doing most of the track that he will be doing in the Cup car as well.
I think there's definitely quite a bit to be gained. You know, learning the boot section for him is something new. I know, like I said before, he's working on the simulator to try and know that section really well and nail it. We'll be talking about that more in the lead-up to the race.
I know every time he drives, he feels good about it. He loves to get back in. I think he gets something out of it that hones his craft a little bit more.
Q. Alex, when you were up there testing at Lime Rock, the conditions were poor. 40 some odd degrees, rainy. It's going to be about 40 degrees warmer this go-round coming up this weekend. What is it that you gained or what can you apply from the first test to this weekend?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, maybe not much actually. I know that just getting on the track for John and I as drivers was a big help. We only started that I think it was 3:30 p.m. and ran till 5:30 or so. Wasn't a lot of laps. But definitely good to get your gearing right, at least have a direction on the setup.
The heat definitely will change things. But for sure it was an advantage to run during that test.
Q. Buddy, this is a nosy question. I remember watching David Letterman last night and he referenced your win in his car. He basically said it was the greatest day of his life. Do you keep up with each other?
BUDDY RICE: Yeah. I still talk to Dave. Actually it's the third most important thing in his life because his first one is his open-heart surgery that kept him alive and his second one is his son Harry. So it ranks three with him.
Q. But that's okay with you?
BUDDY RICE: That's fine for me. If it wasn't for the open-heart surgery, Uncle Dave would not be around. He needed that. I talk to Dave, keep up with him. He's a busy guy, got a lot of stuff going on. Every once in a while stuff bounces back and forth, thing like that. He's been a great guy. It's been a great relationship.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you very much, Alex and Buddy, for joining us. Best of luck in Monday's Memorial Day Classic in Lime Rock Park and the following week's Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen. I'd like to thank the media for taking the time to join us. We appreciate your coverage.
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