Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
September 1, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR Grand-Am teleconference as we look forward to Thursday's historic test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. I can't think of a better guest to have than Buddy Rice. Buddy won the 2004 Indianapolis 500 from the pole and he opened the 2009 season by winning sports car racing's crown jewel, the Rolex 24 At Daytona. He currently is the lead driver for the No. 90 Spirit of Daytona racing Porsche Coyote.
Buddy, how are you approaching the test, what do you think you'll be thinking Thursday when you cross the yard of bricks for the first time in a Daytona Prototype?
BUDDY RICE: Well, how I'm preparing for it, it's going to be a special day. Obviously, we don't know exactly what to expect when you take the Grand-Am cars out there to the road course. It will be like any other course. We just need to find out what's the best layout and what is going to work best for those cars. It's going to depend which direction we're running when we first go out there. Obviously, if we're running on the F1 track, we'll be running across from the bricks backwards from what I'm used to. If we're running the Moto GP, it will be the same direction.
No matter what, I think it will be a special day, exciting day. Sounds like the weather is going to be extremely nice back there in Indy.
THE MODERATOR: We are going to fun the F1 course from 10 until noon and the Moto GP course from 1 until 3. We'll go to media questions for Buddy Rice.
Q. What is everybody looking for with this test? Is it like a compatibility test? Can you explain that to me?
BUDDY RICE: Well, I think that's really what it is. I think they want to see what everybody's thoughts are on running the cars there, finding which layout I think is best. I would assume you're having a compatibility test to see about having a race there.
I mean, I'm not in the main discussions of what's happening, whether they're going to do a race there or not. I know when it was proposed to me about a month or so ago, I just told them to make sure they run both tracks because one track might be a little bit better than another for those cars and for the show.
Really I think we're going to go out there. It's going to be the first cars other than F1 cars to be out there on that track and to check it out and see what everybody thinks.
Q. I'm sure you've seen the F1 course. Have you seen the Moto GP course up close?
BUDDY RICE: Yeah. I was there last year for the inaugural run for Moto GP. I've been there for the F1 races. Really I think it's like anything else. Some of these tracks I think are better suited for racing and then there's others that are better suited for testing. I think they want to make sure this is a good one for the racing and they can do something special there.
Q. Being an Indiana native, does this take away from what Indianapolis was, but it seems to be like another racetrack, motorcycles, Formula One, NASCAR, maybe Daytona Prototypes. Do you get that feel or do you think about that as a driver?
BUDDY RICE: No, I don't think it takes away. I don't think any of the races that they have, you know, at Daytona take away from it. I think they're all very special. The Supercross guys talk about winning at Daytona as their biggest race to win throughout the year. I think the motorcycle guys kick off with their Speedweeks out there with their racing. I don't think that takes away from the Daytona 500. And obviously I think they have the 400 that's out there as well. It doesn't take away.
No, I think the historical value of what the Indianapolis 500 stands for and what it is I don't think will ever go away. It's a very special place. I hope that if they do have a race there on the Indianapolis grounds with Grand-Am that it's a special race, it's not a standard race, it needs to be something on the same level as the historical place that it's being run at. So hopefully, whether it's a six, 12, or 24 hour race, it needs to be something of a special value.
I don't think it's going to make it just a standard race because I know right now when I drive in there Thursday morning, I'll still get the normal chills I get when you run underneath the tunnel and you're coming into that place, no matter whether you're driving IndyCars or what. It's a very special place. If you ask other drivers who have come back there, I think they would say the same thing.
Q. Which configuration do you think is going to work best, the Moto GP or the F1?
BUDDY RICE: I have no idea until we go really drive it and see what it's going to be about. Yeah, we'll just have to see. Obviously the gearing is going to be completely different because like the F1 cars, the straightaway is going to be so long, you have to see how that works out. The F1 cars have more gears than what we normally would run. We'll just have to see what works out and what gives the most amount of braking zones and passing zones and what works best.
Until we run it, I don't think you can give it a fair evaluation. Just because one looks better on paper doesn't mean it races that much better.
Q. What would be your ideal race? You talked about making it special before. What would be your ideal race format for a race like this?
BUDDY RICE: I mean, I have no idea. I think it needs to be, like I said, a six or a 12, I highly doubt they're going to be a 24-hour race there, but something of a six or 12 hour race, something longer than their norm. It's a special race because we're racing at a special place. There has to be some consideration put into that.
Q. What knowledge translates from the open-wheel cars to these type of cars? Is there anything counterintuitive between the two cars that makes it more difficult?
BUDDY RICE: Well, I mean, I think no matter what you drive, the more variety you drive, I think the more complete and a better racecar driver you become. I think that's something, that's what made Rutherford and Foyt, the Unsers, Mario so good. Back then those guys drove almost every single weekend, they drove so many different types of cars.
I think the open-wheel car obviously runs a lot different because of the downforce numbers and the lightness of the car and the size of the tires and stuff. I think one of the biggest things you have to overcome a little bit that you find out is driving the Grand-Am car, you have to be a little bit more patient with your inputs and be a little bit more patient with everything you do because of the fact the speeds are down and the car reacts slower, it's heavier. So it takes a little bit.
I think one of the biggest things I've had to do is make sure I back up all my braking points. You can't drive as deep into the turns with the Grand-Am car as you did with the IndyCars. Little things like that. Everybody learns to adapt. It's okay. It just takes a little bit. Some of these circuits I haven't been to. Montréal I hadn't been to since 2000. Never been to Barber. Have yet to be to New Jersey. Some of the tracks either I've never been there before or haven't been there in quite a long time it just takes a little bit of a adapting and acclimating yourself to the new environment.
Q. We seem to be seeing guys in NASCAR driving sports cars, moving, moonlighting a bit. Are we getting back into a cool era where guys are going to move around and try different things and see who is very good as an all-around driver?
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, I think you'll see it a little bit. But you'll never see it to the levels that it used to because motor racing has become so commercial and driven by the commercial dollar, we've all become specialists to some degree in whatever discipline that we're driving in. We don't get to adventure out very often. It's unfortunate what happened over the weekend. It was nice for Carl Edwards and Marcos Ambrose to run at Montréal, that was cool. They happened to already be there, worked a deal out, were able to do that. As a general rule, they can't usually adventure out unless the Grand-Am cars are running with them. That just happened to be a special fit. Those guys normally run, whether it's trucks, Nationwide, on the same weekend as they run their NEXTEL Cup cars. I think that's where that is at.
I think that's what makes the 24 Hours so special is that allows so many guys from so many different disciplines all around the world to show up there and we run the 24 Hours. You have 80 some plus champions running there, and that's what is really cool. We get to kick our year off together out there and everybody gets rolling for everybody. It's a nice little break, something that's a little different, and everybody gets to show up, hang out, have a really good time. Obviously, everybody is competitive and wants to win. I don't see too many guys moving around and doing a bunch of stuff just because of the way the contracts are and the sponsorship is and all the different manufacturers involved in everything.
Q. Is it your goal to get back into IndyCars?
BUDDY RICE: I've had contact with some people they've been inquiring on what I'm doing. I'll just have to wait and see. There's a lot of things happening. I mean, I'm not ruling anything out. Everything is completely wide open. We'll just have to wait and see.
Q. How would you describe to fans the feel drivers have to have in a prototype car as opposed to oval racing?
BUDDY RICE: I think the feeling is the same. You just have a lot more going on. Obviously when you run ovals, you don't really use the brakes very much. NASCAR is a different side of things. IndyCar guys, pretty much everything is flat out all the way around, not much of an issue. Use the brakes to get in the pits, in your pit stall, that's it. The movement is very quick and sharp. You have to be on top of your toes because you're running the car on the edge all the time on the ovals.
But the road course, obviously you have a lot more acceleration and deceleration, you're shifting gears, and the car is transferring weight left to right, front to back. There's a lot going on. The sensation and everything is the same.
Every driver is a little bit different and they're all looking for a little bit different feel to maximize their potential. I think if you haven't done that very much, obviously it takes a little bit longer for you to adapt. But all the top guys in all the top levels are very good at adapting very quickly to any situation or circumstance with different types of cars. That's why I think you see guys are able to bounce around and still show quite well.
Q. Motorsports tends to be physical and mental. Who knows which is more. What does mental toughness mean to you?
BUDDY RICE: Well, I think you're going to run through a lot of adversity no matter what all the time both in and out of the car. You have to be able to be mentally strong and know where you're at and how to handle all those. I think that's why you see guys that are veteran guys knowing how to handle situations a little bit better. When things aren't going exactly right, they still find a way to prevail and come out with either a good showing or still winning, how to make the proper adjustments. That's what really just experience will give you.
There's a lot of the kids coming up are extremely quick and very raw. They're way fast. Sometimes when they get put into positions, they make the wrong decision. That's part of learning. We've all had to go through that. So I think you see some of the veteran guys that understand that a little bit better, are a little bit more mentally strong, know how to get through those adverse conditions.
Q. Being in Daytona, we've seen NASCAR testing down here for years almost to the point where you have to hogtie a driver to get him to participate. There's a genuine excitement in your voice about this test session.
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, definitely. I'm looking forward to getting back to Indy. I like it. It's going to be awesome. It's great to be taking part in really, with the exception of the F1 cars, to be taking part in the first group to go run on the Moto GP circuit and the F1 circuit outside of Formula One or the bikes. I think it's exciting. I think it would be really cool if they ended up having a race there.
Obviously Indianapolis holds a special place in my heart because of what's happened there in the past. It's extremely exciting.
Q. The Spirit of Daytona team, how has your experience been with them so far?
BUDDY RICE: I think it's gone quite well. I think Troy is putting together a great program. I know he's definitely working on the future and we're developing with Coyote chassis with the Porsche V8 power. It's getting better and better. I think the more testing, the more they run, the more we're all learning.
I think, you know, obviously with my past experiences in both open-wheel cars and sports cars and stuff, that helps. I think everybody's growing together for trying to make the future better there.
I think what they've been able to do in developing the old-style chassis with the same powerplant to this new chassis with the powerplant that they're running right now, it's a lot of work and they got a lot going on. They're getting better. They're making plans to get better and stronger for next year.
Q. Are you going to be around with them next year?
BUDDY RICE: Yeah, you know, just like the question before. My door is open. Everything is wide open. We'll have to wait and see what happens and what is the best fit for me and really what it's going to boil down to, what is going to give me the best opportunity to win races, whether it's Indianapolis 500 or the 24 Hours of Daytona or whatever. I want to win the big races and have shots at winning races and championships. That's what I'll have to sit down and evaluate as those get presented. We'll see what happens, whatever works out best. I'm extremely happy to be running with the Spirit of Daytona. I like what they do. I like the direction they're going. We'll just see what happens.
Q. Which car are you running right now, the 9 or the 90?
BUDDY RICE: We're running the 90 car. There's no anticipation of running the 09 car for right now. It will sit. We'll keep running the 90 car to keep developing it.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Thanks, Buddy, for joining us. Best of luck in the tests on Thursday. I'd like to thank the members of the media for taking the time to join us. We appreciate your coverage.
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