Grand-Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand-Am Road Racing
November 28, 2012
THE MODERATOR: This is J.J. O'Malley with GRAND‑AM. Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining our call today. We've had some exciting news this week. AIM Autosport with Ferrari announced it will be fielding a second car for 2013, the Ferrari 458 Italia GRAND‑AM for defending GT champ Jeff Segal and Max Papis. In a few moments we'll meet the new driver for the No.69 AIM Autosport Team FX DD Ferrari, who will join Emil Assentato, who won three races with Jeff Segal this season to claim their second GT crown.
But first let's welcome the new driver of the No. 61 R. Ferri Motorsports AIM Autosport with Ferrari entry. He is a Formula 1 veteran, winner in IndyCars, competitor in NASCAR, 2004 DP champion with Scott Pruett for Chip Ganassi Racing, winner of the 2002 Rolex 24 at Daytona, and he was second in 1998 Rolex 24 when the world met Mad Max Papis.
Max, great to have you back in GRAND‑AM, especially in a Ferrari. What are your expectations for the 2013 season?
MAX PAPIS: First of all, thanks for everyone for being here online. It's a great opportunity to be back in the GRAND‑AM Series. Obviously I always love what GRAND‑AM has been‑‑ has done for the sport in the last 10 years. I was actually present at one of the first DP races back in 2000, 2002, so my relationship with sports car racing goes way, way beyond this announcement.
But I'm really excited because I feel that I'm reunited with Ferrari. Ferrari is the mark that gave me the chance to come to America in 1996. I had tremendous success with them, and as soon as I got an opportunity to rejoin them, I got a phone call and I talked to Mr.Marco Mattiacci, the president of Ferrari USA, and he told me about the plan that he had in mind, what he wanted me to do with Mr.Remo Ferri, and when he explained to me that Remo Ferri was actually involved and was the owner of the team, great memories came back.
If you guys don't know, Remo was the owner of the MOMO Ferrari that I drove in 1996. Obviously the team was owned by Gianpiero Moretti, the owner of MOMO; but the car itself was owned by Mr. Remo Ferri. So I think it's a great opportunity with a lot of stories, and the excitement is just amazing because we are building towards what the 2014 racing season will be, where obviously we're going to have a great sports car championship. We're going to have the best sports car championship in the world, and we're going to get ready for that in the 2013 season and preparing our tools for the '14 one.
THE MODERATOR: Now a little news today. We're going to meet Emil Assentato's co‑driver of the No.69 Ferrari. He's a former Rolex 24 GT winner, he's an eight‑time Rolex Series winner. His resume is sprinkled with races in all three of NASCAR's top national series along with IndyCar. Anthony Lazzaro, welcome back to the Rolex Series.
ANTHONY LAZZARO: Great to be back.
THE MODERATOR: You've raced with AIM Autosport at Daytona and Watkins Glen this past year, and you co‑drove with Emil at additional races in the past. What's your thoughts on joining the championship team for the full season in 2013?
ANTHONY LAZZARO: For me personally it's a wonderful opportunity. I mean, I'm stepping into the car and the team with the co‑driver who won the championship in 2012 and also in 2010, as well. Emil is no stranger to winning races and championships. My history with AIM is I've done a couple of races with them as far as their team is concerned, but I've also done some testing with them in Daytona prototypes going farther back, Andrew Bordin and I were teammates in Formula Atlantic with Cal Wells' team, and Max was there, as well, driving the IndyCar.
So there's a lot of history there, and just really looking forward to a good time this year.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you, Anthony. We were hoping to be joined by a special guest calling in from Spain, but he's had phone problems, and maybe Jeff Segal will be able to join us later in the call. Right now we're going to turn to the media for questions.
Q. Great to have you back in the series. I was just wondering, when did this whole deal come together with AIM? When did you guys start talking?
MAX PAPIS: Things came together very quickly. The phone call came from Mr.Remo Ferri about three weeks ago. Remo is going to be the team owner in partnership with AIM, with Andrew Bordin, so things came along pretty quick.
As I said to you, Remo Ferri and Mr.Marco Mattiacci, the president of Ferrari USA, they gave me a call asking me if I had an interest in joining the operation, and they felt that my name and my personality would fit really well towards what they wanted to do, and we got things sorted out pretty quickly. When you work with people that you trust and you love and you know them for many years, it's not difficult to make things happen, and I know Remo for over 15 years, and Andrew Bordin, as well. It was pretty easy thing to do because it was done between people that love the sport, so it was not complicated.
Q. Max, I know you grew up in the DPs and a little bit on the GT side, but what's the transition and have you tested the Ferrari and your comments on making the transition to the GT class and doing it on a full‑time basis.
MAX PAPIS: You know, I'm looking forward, first of all, to‑‑ I haven't sat in the car yet. I started it during the presentation over there in Toronto, and it actually sounds like a Ferrari, so it's like I can just tell you that. It's pretty awesome. And I'm looking forward to it. I don't see there's going to be much of any problem.
Obviously I actually had an opportunity‑‑ I already drove the Daytona 24‑hour in the Ferrari, but if I'm not mistaken, I'm pretty terrible with the years, but it should be about 2002, 2003 or 2006‑‑ I'm not really sure exactly. But I drove a Ferrari with Augusto Farfus in Daytona 24‑hour. We had a lot of success. Unfortunately I think we had an issue‑‑ I don't know if we finished the race or not. Sorry for my memory because I guess I hit the wall too many times, so my long‑term memory is kind of gone.
But I'm looking forward. The things that I enjoy the most would be looking at the history of what the GRAND‑AM Series has been doing, they built a really strong and very deep field in the GT series. I believe that the GT series is going to be the future of sports car racing. I had great success in the past when I joined Corvette Racing driving obviously a GT‑1 car that was a little different than this one, but I really loved the fact that all the cars look different, there is a lot of personality between cars. When you are on the grid, you can definitely see the extravagance of the design of the cars, and me as a car fanatic, as a car guy, I love that, and I'm really looking forward to seeing what our Ferrari is going to be‑‑ when it's going to be in top form and when we have to go and work it because obviously we're going to go race against Porsche, Audi, Mazdas, Ford, and there's going to be tracks where we're going to have a tough time, we're going to have tracks where we're going to have a little bit of an advantage.
So I'm really looking forward to explore, and the things that I'm looking forward to the most is putting the base for what 2014 is going to be. Remo Ferri has great ideas together with Ferrari. They really want to build a hub for Ferrari in the east side of North America with the Remo Ferri Group. Remo has a tremendous history with Ferrari, like he goes back to being a mechanic and he knows everyone in the industry. So there is a lot more than just sitting in the car and driving a GT car. We have a whole program and a whole project going that we're going to slowly develop like in the next couple of years.
Q. Anthony, you're stepping into the championship‑winning car from 2012. Any kind of additional pressure with that?
ANTHONY LAZZARO: You know what, the pressure is always what you put on yourself. I'd rather be stepping in a championship winning car than a car that hasn't won at all. So for me personally I relish the opportunity. There's a good foundation there. I'm excited about having two cars. Max is a friend of mine, Jeff Segal I've known for a long time, as well. We have two cars to develop now, so I think the development phase of it is going to be much better than what Jeff and Emil had this past season in that we have two cars and a lot of good drivers in which to work with to develop it.
The pressure to perform is always there. You place it on yourself, and I don't see why we can't pick up where they left off. Most of what I do in my life revolves around Ferrari, be it with Ferrari North America as an instructor with the school; also I spent a large part of my sports car career driving with Ferrari. So for me it's just dealing with people that I really care about and a car that I'm very passionate about. My last name is Lazzaro. Granted, I wasn't born in Italy like Max, but my grandparents are from Sicily, so there's always been a passion there.
Q. Max, Ferrari at Daytona, 24 Hours, can you just talk about that?
MAX PAPIS: Yeah, you just said it all. 1996 I came to Daytona, totally unknown, a kid who had a dream of making it happen in America. For me being back with Ferrari after so many years in a very sought‑after program with all the support of everyone at Ferrari USA and back in Italy, I should just tell you how many emails‑‑ I talked to my friends, to Stefano Domenicali while he was over there in Brazil and they were all excited about me being there, being back with Ferrari, and I am expecting something spectacular out of the year and out of myself, as well.
I'm not going to put any expectation on there. I always say that under‑promise, over‑deliver, and that's what I do, but I'm looking forward to being reunited with a car that means a lot more than the name. To me the relationship I have with Ferrari, with Ferrari itself and with Daytona especially, it goes way beyond racing.
When I told my kids that daddy was going to be driving a Ferrari, they were so excited about it, and it would be a way for me to be back full‑time in a series that I really believe in it tremendously, and let's put it like this: I know that the car is beautiful and it's shiny and everything, but if it would have to be used up a little bit, I'm planning to use all the things I've learned in the last five, six years in NASCAR to rub people up if that's what's going to be the case.
I'm definitely planning to come in with a lot of will to succeed, and just I'm going to tell myself to go out there and make it happen. The 1996 drive will be pretty much embedded in my soul every time I'm going to sit in the car.
Q. Is this a perfect match for you, Max, being Italian and driving an Italian car?
MAX PAPIS: It's a perfect match for my attitude towards the sport. As you well know, I'm a very‑‑ I'm a guy who likes to attack and who likes to make things happen, and I believe that Ferrari has the same mentality. So for me, being back in a car that really meant a lot more than just racing really rebuilt my life and my career is going to give me a lot of motivation, and I'm looking forward to writing a lot of stories, new stories, new chapters in my life that I will be able to share with my kids.
I'm definitely coming in with lots of fire. That's what I can tell you.
Q. When you're in a car that you really enjoy driving, don't you drive that car better? I mean, does that make sense?
MAX PAPIS: I wouldn't say that you drive it better, because obviously you drive always at the limit of your abilities, but there is a lot more than just sitting in the car and driving. There is the time you spend with the team, how much dedication you spend to develop the car, how much time you dedicate to develop the team, and when you are passionate about something like I am for Ferrari, everything comes easier, and you know that if you want to make something magic happen, if you make it happen with a Ferrari, definitely people are going to write about it; let's put it like this.
Q. Max, the rivalry of Porsche versus Ferrari has been one of the strongest in all of auto racing over the years. Do you sense that rivalry is still strong and still thriving?
MAX PAPIS: I believe it's massive. I mean, one of the things what I've been observing from the outside, definitely Porsche and Ferrari, they were looking at each other during every single practice in Daytona, every single time I went to the track. I think it's going to be even more next year because it's going to be the preparation of what the future of sports car racing will be in 2014, and that's why‑‑ that's why you see a lot of enthusiasm around the GT series. It's not by chance that I'm out there. It's not by chance that I'm actually going to drive a GT car and I'm joining them in 2013.
Q. Do you want to beat the Porsches a little more badly than you do the other marks?
MAX PAPIS: My feeling is that no mercy. It doesn't matter who you are. I bring my friends from home; my friends are the people within my team, and the rest, we're out there to‑‑ I'm not out there to make any friends, and obviously if‑‑ I think the rivalry between the Porsche and Ferrari, it's felt a lot more within the industry and within the‑‑ if you talk to Mr.Marco Mattiacci, obviously that's the only thing he talks about. If you talk to me, it's more exploring my limits and winning and making something happen and writing my name on the history and winning trophies and stuff like that. And if along the way you need to push and shove around a Porsche or a Mazda or someone else, I can definitely tell you that Ferrari are very much keen of racing against top manufacturers in the world, and Porsche is definitely one of them.
So we're looking forward to seeing the true potential in Daytona.
THE MODERATOR: Max and Anthony both, a lot of attention now being focused on the Rolex 24. Our next event is at the brand new circuit of the Americas in Austin. We're also going to be visiting Kansas Speedway for the first time, then Road Atlanta for the first time, and then at Road America we're going to be having a joint event where we're running separate races with the American LeMans Series in anticipation of the merger in 2014. What are your thoughts on the new tracks and the remainder of the season in 2014? Anthony first.
ANTHONY LAZZARO: I was just at the circuit of America just a few weeks ago for the F1 race, the Ferrari Challenge, which is also sanctioned by GRAND‑AM, was one of the sport races there. I should be going there in the next couple weeks, as well, just to get on the track myself. So yeah, it's very exciting to be going to the newest, most advanced tracks certainly in this country but one in the world. But that has a lot of excitement.
What I love is the big excitement level of sports car racing in general because of the merger, and like Max said, in 2014 there's going to be the most competitive sports car series in the world in my opinion. I like the way the two series are working together this year with their schedules and the tracks that they're going to. Road Atlanta for me is home, so it's always got a special place for me, and to drive a Ferrari at Road Atlanta, the very first Ferrari I ever raced was in 1988 and it was a 333 at Petit Le Mans, so it always has a special place for me there.
Kansas, I've raced NASCAR there but certainly never on the new road course that they've built or the new configuration, the new paving, so forth. A lot of good stuff is happening in 2013, and as it's been said before, it's all in preparation of what's going to really happen the year after.
MAX PAPIS: Yeah, I'm going to equal what Anthony just said. First of all, listening about that we're going to go back to Road Atlanta, that's the place where I won my first‑ever race with Ferrari. Maybe not many people know, but it's the first time where actually we did some donuts with the car and I got reprimanded by Kevin Doran big time, and it cost me a little bit of money on that side.
But besides that, what I'm really excited about is that I spent‑‑ I spent the last few years, and I'm still going to spend a lot of my time in the NASCAR world this year, and I'm excited about being able to cross the two worlds and kind of bring attention towards sports car racing, and I hope that together with me, I'm looking forward to maybe bringing some of my NASCAR friends along the way just to race in the GRAND‑AM Series.
I love it. I think that the fact that we're going to go racing in tracks where NASCAR actually races, like Road America, an obviously amazing track like the Texas track. It just creates an extra excitement.
I just can tell you this: Since I joined this new program, we have received over 2,000 messages on our Twitter and Facebook about the excitement not only of having me in the series but the excitement in general about what the France family is doing.
What I'm looking forward to a lot would be to have sports car back to what it was when I came in 1996, where it was the battle between the giants, the battle between the best people in the world, the best cars in the world, and I think that we are taking the measures to make something happen and going to some of these tracks is going to enhance even more that because we are going to Kansas City, to tracks that are very NASCAR based and very traditional tracks for sports cars, and mixing it up is going to create new flavor. I love that, and I'm super, super excited about it.
Q. You and Max have some very similar backgrounds in sports cars and open wheel and NASCAR. With this merger that's coming on board, there's going to be fewer jobs available to drivers once it happens. Comment on the thing that pops into my mind, that this is something where you're positioning yourself a little early and getting ready for‑‑ you'll be in place when the merger happens and the jobs disappear.
ANTHONY LAZZARO: I can tell you as far as less jobs, less driving jobs, the best drivers are going to be in the best cars with the best teams, and that's what you want. If that means fewer opportunities for others, then that's just the way it is. But it's the way it should be, as well.
I think the series‑‑ I'll speak about Daytona last year, over this past year in 2012. The 24‑hour grid this past year at Daytona in GT was one of the most competitive fields I've ever seen. I mean, it was unbelievable the amount of talent that was there.
Well, you're going to have that type of depth every weekend at every race in 2014. I applaud all of those involved in bringing it together. It was long overdue, and like I said before, you're going to have the most competitive sports car racing series in the world, and I'm excited to be part of it.
MAX PAPIS: Yeah, I personally, I don't look at racing as a job. In a way, yes, it is a job; you get paid. But we're not talking about‑‑ we are not politically campaigning about, yeah, we're going to get salary coming in or not. Racing is a passion, and racing is a lifestyle. It's a performance business.
I really believe that with 2014 there will be more opportunity than less. I think that nowadays there are people looking at the situation, seeing what's going to happen, and I really believe that there will be more racing opportunities, not less, because there is going to be such an enthusiasm towards what sports car racing is.
I can tell you in 1996 we had 85 cars on the grid in Daytona, and that was the first race coming from F1 where we had 20 cars, and it was like, oh, my God, it was like a shock to see that. So I'm looking forward to seeing those 80 cars back.
And I really believe that with the merger, and I'm sure the way they're going to structure it, there will be positions for pro drivers, there will be positions for amateur drivers, good amateur drivers, people that belong in a race car, and I just think that you're going to see a lot‑‑ I think you're going to see more opportunities that are going to be more competitive cars and it definitely will attract good drivers, good teams to be involved.
So I'm really looking forward to seeing that. I'm sure my prediction will not be that far, so let's wait and see in 2013 when we have the same conversation.
Q. I noticed in some of what Max said he's bringing some NASCAR attitude and a bump‑and‑grind type attitude into sports car racing. Do you think from your experience in NASCAR that that is an attitude that will work in sports car racing where the cars may be a little less formidable than a stock car?
MAX PAPIS: Go ahead, Mr. Anthony. What I did, I already asked Ferrari to build a special reinforced front bumper for my own car.
ANTHONY LAZZARO: Of course you did, and I appreciate you doing that.
No, if you've followed GRAND‑AM over the last few years, you're already seeing a little bit of that now. So I think what Max alluded to earlier, you do whatever it takes to win, and if you're in a position to win, certainly you're going to take no prisoners. I drive people the way they drive me. Everybody is different, every driver is different, but I drive people the way they drive me, so if they drive me dirty, I'll drive them dirty. If they drive me clean, I'll drive them clean. At the end you've got to do what you've got to do.
Q. Is that a good attitude for sports cars? It's something that is there once in a while but it's not the norm like it is in stock car racing. Is that something good that's needed in sports car racing?
MAX PAPIS: I can tell you from my standpoint, how I see it is that obviously I'm a very respectful person towards everyone, but racing is racing hard, that means whatever it takes within respect of the rules and within respect of the series.
But I think that this extra excitement when the performance gets really close, when everyone is running a more similar time is going to come down to making someone mad for sure, and I think that's good for the sport. I don't really like this we are all friends, let's go‑‑ yeah, we are all friends when we get out of the track and we can go have a beer together, but when I'm on the track I have a job to do, and I'm ready to do it.
So again, respect for everyone, but‑‑
Q. Well, again, let me play devil's advocate here a little bit. That was a very aggressive race at Indianapolis this year. There was a lot of rain but there was still a lot of aggression and guys getting knocked around the track. There was a lot of talk about that afterwards. Do you still think that there is a place for that in sports car racing? And I'm not trying to say it's good or bad, I'm just saying that when that happened there was a lot of criticism this year.
MAX PAPIS: I agree with you on the fact that some of the moves were stupid. But if you need to rub someone up to pass them‑‑ how I put it is like this: You can put up a show, like Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose did in Watkins Glen, or you can just punt people out. What I'm looking forward to is that kind of a show at Watkins Glen, with those two guys rubbing on each other, passing, doing whatever it takes, and less of a show of someone coming right behind you and boot you out of the way. That's not racing for me. But the other kind of racing, it is.
Q. Do you feel the same way, Anthony?
ANTHONY LAZZARO: Absolutely. Marcos Ambrose at Watkins Glen was a perfect example, and Keselowski. I can also tell you this: The last race of Homestead at NASCAR, do you think people tuned in to see what was going to happen with Gordon and Bowyer? You bet you they did. Having a little controversy is good for the sport. Bringing more attention to sports car racing with those type of situations I think is good for sports car racing, and I can tell you with GRAND‑AM's involvement, obviously their NASCAR connection, they'll make the most of it.
THE MODERATOR: Best of luck with your Ferraris in 2014, and the first 24‑hour at Daytona is less than two months away.
MAX PAPIS: We're looking forward to it. I've known Anthony for many years, and there is a reason why thing happen, and there is a reason why people are together in certain ways. Our team is going to be an amazing journey all year long, so I'm looking forward to the journey on the track and off the track.
ANTHONY LAZZARO: Absolutely. Thank you, Max.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you to the media for joining us today, as well. Transcripts of today's sessions will be available today along with the audio files.
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