Grand American Road Racing Association Media Conference
Topics: Grand American Road Racing Association, Rolex 24 at Daytona, Target Chip Ganassi Racing
Juan Pablo Montoya
January 5, 2007
ADAM SAAL: We want to thank Chip and his drivers for being cooperative in joining us. In case anybody isn't aware, they are the defending winners of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, where last year Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon, who are with us today, joined Casey Mears, who has moved on, in winning the race. That followed a year after they won the championship with Scott Pruett and Max Papis in the Rolex Sports Car Series, Daytona Prototype category. They've been the standard bearers in this series, along with the SunTrust team for several years. We'll see what happens, what their plans are for the 2007 Rolex 24 At Daytona and the season in total.
Chip, welcome. Appreciate it.
CHIP GANASSI: I want to welcome everybody. We're excited to be back here for another year. Obviously last year we had a good race. We want to improve upon that a bit. We had one car fall out in the middle of the night. We're certainly back obviously with our partners in Lexus, Telmex, and of course here for the 24 we're going to have Target with us also. We wanted to come back with a team that represents -- to represent those partners well and represent our company well.
Last year had we split Scott Pruett and Luis Diaz, we had them in the same car, had we split those two drivers last year, I think we would have won the drivers championship as well. We didn't do that. That was a little bit of a mistake, I guess.
So for this year, for the entire season, we'll have Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas on my right, he was the guy late coming in. But for the race, obviously for this race, we have Scott and Memo split in two different cars, hoping that will pay dividends at the end of the season.
We've also brought in Salvador Durán over here on my left, he won GP driver, to augment Scott's car. Obviously, Memo will be with Dixon and Wheldon. This other little-known driver to my left, Juan Pablo Montoya, is going to help us with the race also. We're very excited to have him. He has various experience in different racing. I don't know if you guys have heard of him (laughter).
With that, I really want Mike Hall to talk. I'm sorry there's not a seat up here for him. I would like Mike to come up and talk a little bit about how we put the teams together for the season and for this race. We're looking forward to the 24 Hour. I hope you are, too.
ADAM SAAL: Mike, we'll hand a microphone to you. Mike Hall.
MIKE HALL: Chip pretty much outlined everything we're doing. We wanted to come back here and have two cars that could run to the end of the race. Hopefully we're going to be able to do that. We want two strong drivers, two strong driver lineups.
Chip Ganassi Racing has always been about partnership. This partnership is a partnership it's hard to say Telmex and Target simultaneously. I'm not quite sure how we do that. But our cars are partnered up equally with Target/Telmex, Telmex/Target, with Felix Sabates. We have Target drivers, we have representation from NASCAR with Juan now, we have representation from a future Formula One guy in Salvador Durán, representation from all different persuasions of racing in Scott Pruett, and a young rising star in Memo Rojas. That's what Chip Ganassi Racing has always been about, putting people together that have one common denominator, that's wanting to win a race.
I hope at the end a Target/Telmex, Telmex/Target car wins the race. That's why we came. I think you want to speak to the stars, so I'll turn it back over to these guys.
ADAM SAAL: The drivers of the No. 01 Telmex/Target/Lexus-Riley will be Scott Pruett, Juan Pablo Montoya, and Salvador Durán. Drivers of the No. 02 Target/Telmex car, which is the defending race-winning car, will be Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon, Memo Rojas.
Scott, because you've been holding this team down since its creation, we'll go to you for a quick question. Talk about the lineup. You probably want to reverse the finishing order, at least get to the finish this year in the 01 car.
SCOTT PRUETT: Needless to say, I'm excited to be back. The whole Telmex team, this is exciting to have this group of drivers involved with Lexus again. They've been working very hard. What we saw last year were two cars, they were capable of winning this race. One went on to win this race. Hopefully we can do the same thing this year with the 1-2 finish.
The determination, the focus that Chip has throughout his whole organization is just immense. With that, you know, comes wins and championships, all that kind of stuff.
It was a great season we had last year, but not quite -- just one step short of winning everything. We won the manufacturers championship for Lexus, which was exciting. We won the team championship. Unfortunately finished second in the drivers championship. That's what Chip had mentioned, we're splitting the drivers this year to get as many points as we can. If we would have done that last year, we would have had the drivers championship and wrapped up all the championships we could have.
That's the exciting part of being part of this organization, is the fact that we don't stand still; we continue to move forward, trying to do the best we can for the team, whatever that is.
My drivers with Juan Pablo and Salvador, both guys are very -- a lot of fun to work with. I think we're going to have a terrific time in the 24 Hours, being one of those cars that's going to be there all 24 hours.
The difference I see with this race is going into it the durability of these cars, the durability of these engines. I know TRD has put a lot of time, effort and energy into our program with the five-liter. You can run these cars hard for 24 hours. I think this is going to be the first time in a lot of years we've seen where you can push that car at a very hard pace for 24 hours. That's going to be a little -- in my opinion, that's going to be a little bit of a change from what we've seen over the years.
ADAM SAAL: Dan, in the early morning hours, as we approached dawn last year, the 02 car, the 01 car, then the Ruby Tuesday Porsche Crawford, looked like it was going to be a three-horse race with those cars. The Porsche Crawford was quick. Who do you look for, in addition to your teammates, to be the guys to look out for this year?
DAN WHELDON: I think that's the exciting thing about this race. You really can't count on any two or three cars in particular. The one thing that I find unbelievable about this race is the pure pace of it. I think some people, particularly fans watching it, you would expect in a 24-hour race some laps to be maybe 90, 95% to look after the equipment. But it's really not that kind of race. When you're up against the SunTrust guys, the Ruby Tuesday car, you do have to be flat out.
I think that's where this team is very well-prepared. Certainly the partners that we have in Lexus, TRD, Telmex and Target, they give us the ability to be able to run the equipment flat out at all times.
I don't want to pick out any couple of cars in particular. I'm sure you're going to hate me for doing that. I know we just got to keep doing our job with both the 01 and 02 cars. If we do that, run reliably, I'm sure we'll be up for challenging for victory again.
ADAM SAAL: Scott, this puts you on a road course that you love. Do you mind the early start to the season?
SCOTT DIXON: Certainly the test seems to screw up everybody's new year. Apart from that, it's good.
It's good to be back in the car. We've had a long time off. I think for us, for myself actually, it wasn't too along with having a test just before Christmas. Good to be back in the car, especially on a road course, get some laps in. Even this morning the traffic was hectic as always, a lot of fun.
For a race to start off the year, for myself, it couldn't be any better. You get to catch up with a lot of people that you've raced with over the years. The competition is like nothing else. As Dan touched on, I think with trying to pick a certain few cars that you're racing against, even last year we thought we were out of it, but to come through the night, the team worked extremely hard to pull us through for the win. It's just one of those races you never are out of it till the finish.
I'm happy to be back. Very happy to be back in the car, getting some laps in.
ADAM SAAL: Also welcome back to Juan Pablo Montoya. This announcement today kind of officially makes what we've been speculating in the press for a couple months. Good to have you here. Talk about your experience at Daytona International Speedway. How many laps on either the oval or road course have you had?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Before this, nothing. I came here about two years ago. My brother was racing go-karts. There is a go-kart track in the infield. It's the only time I've been here.
It was pretty exciting to be out here. It's great. I didn't even know where the road course went. It was nice. Took a ride in the car this morning. It was nice we're using both banks. It's pretty good, actually helps me a little bit when I come back in the Cup car. It's quite bumpy. You kind of find where the bumps are. I think that's going to help me out a little bit.
The car is a lot of fun to drive. As everybody said, I think we got a winning package. But a lot of people do as well. We need to work hard and keep the car in one piece to bring it to the end. I think if we do a good job, there is definitely a decent chance of winning.
ADAM SAAL: Memo Rojas will be the season-long teammate for Scott Pruett as they look for another championship. Memo, welcome to the series. Big following down in Mexico. How much pride running with Telmex colors do you bring to the series and for your home country in Mexico?
MEMO ROJAS: Well, first of all, I'm very excited for this opportunity. Like I said, I'm very, very excited first to have the opportunity to race the Daytona 24 with this driver lineup. Second, like you say, I'm very proud of being selected to drive with Ganassi Racing with Telmex and Lexus for the full season with Scott. Obviously looking forward for the Mexico City race. Very excited about it.
ADAM SAAL: We also would like to welcome Salvador Durán. A1 GP experience, also British Formula 3 experience. How much sports car racing experience have you had?
SALVADOR DURÁN: None since yesterday (laughter). It's a very nice car. I want to thank the opportunity to Ganassi and Telmex. To come here and drive for one of the best teams in America, I think the best team, it's a big, big chance with drivers like Scott and Juan Pablo. I mean, it's like a dream come true. I want to do it the best possible and try to do a good job like they always do.
Talking about the car, it's awesome, the car. It's a lot of fun. It's difficult to drive. Is nothing easy. Using the banks first time for me in ovals, I love it. I just like it a lot. Like I say, I'm working hard. I don't want to leave anyone down so that they trust me and I didn't do it well. I want to do it my best. I'm working hard to do it.
ADAM SAAL: Good to have all you here whether you're returning or whether it's your first one.
Questions, please, from the house.
Q. Juan Pablo, Long Beach, Indianapolis, Monaco, Monza, you obviously have impressive credentials. What does it mean to race here at Daytona? You'll be here for the Rolex, Busch race, Cup race. What would it mean to win here?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think it would be great. It's nice to know coming here with a car that you know you can win and won last year, a team that won. It makes it really exciting. Yes, I won big races and everything. But Daytona, especially in America, is a big deal. It would probably be a very nice win if you could win it before the 500, come here with the 500 with the 24 Hour win, would be pretty cool.
It's going to be -- you can't really say you're going to win it before you even start it, but so far everything looks pretty good.
I don't know. It's exciting. The place is outrageous. I'll probably be living here, this is going to be my home for the next two months. My motorhome will be here in a week. I got three days of Cup testing, three days of Busch testing, the race, the other race, practice. It's non-stop here.
Q. Juan, is this a nice break from what I'm assuming has been an intense stock car testing schedule. Can you update us on how your stock car tests have been going?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's good. In December we did a road course test in Road Atlanta. That was a lot of fun. It was hard. I think we were pretty competitive, but it's hard to be consistently quick. It's a lot of work, the car. It moves a lot more than anything that I've driven before. Then we went to Lakeland. I thought it went pretty well. We ran pretty close together with Stremme. We were both pretty close lap times. I was pretty comfortable with that.
I think at this point with those cars, it doesn't matter so much the lap time, it's how you can make the car more competitive. At the end of the day, once we get two mile and under racetracks, where everybody is going to have the Car of Tomorrow, it's whoever did the best job in testing, is the team that is going to be ahead. We need to focus on that, make sure when we get there, we got the best package.
Q. Chip, you got quite an array of drivers sitting there. How do you pick them? What qualities do you look for when you choose a driver for your team?
CHIP GANASSI: That's a good question. I think at this level, at the level of drivers that we have on all the teams, all the drivers are competitive. They're all race winners, championship winners, what have you.
I think probably what I look for most, I think these guys will probably laugh at me, but is you look at what's in their heart. They all have the talent. They can all go fast. To me it's more what kind of person they are, what's in their heart.
Q. Juan, talk about your experience so far in the car, what it's been like to get used to.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It's a lot of fun to drive. It's really hard, you know, in the first two laps how far you are off the pace. You're passing three, four, five cars per lap. There's traffic that you lose a 10th, some you won, but some you lose two seconds. A fast lap is a 44, 45. You're doing 48. It's like, what am I doing wrong? Suddenly you have a clear lap, you run a 46, you kind of get an idea where you are.
Up to a certain point, 90% of the limit of the car is very easy to drive, it's very predictable. From there on you need to work it a bit harder. They're fun. They're very easy in power. Brakes are really good. I was very impressed with the braking of the car.
Q. Scott, you're familiar with what it takes to win here. You've been involved with the Grand-Am all these years. When you have such a deep entry and each year you get better cars, better driving teams, during your stints in the car, what is that going to mean this year? Will you have to do anything different or better in order to win?
SCOTT PRUETT: I think it's doing the same thing we always do. I mean, at least everything within our team, all of us train hard. All these drivers up here do a lot of training continual, not just leading up to a race, but it's continual year-round, watching all those things that you do to make yourself as good as you can whenever you're in the race car.
Part and parcel of that is, you know, having a team, which we've had, that gives you the equipment where you can run hard. You can run the car hard, make those laps after lap after lap after lap that are going to be pretty quick. With this level of drivers in the 02 or the 01 car, all the guys can run a very strong pace. You're not going to know -- a lot of times you might come here, at least I've been here in the past, you came here with four drivers, one of those drivers you knew was going to give up some amount of time on the track because he's one of those guys that either was paying some of the bills or was a sponsor, whatever the case might have been. Now you don't have that. It's very much a situation where you have three top guys in the car running at 95% every stint, getting out of the car, then having the experience and understanding when you're out, you got to hydrate, get some sleep, eat the right food, doing all those things while you're out of the car because you're going to be back in in two to three hours.
I'm looking forward to it. This is what it's all about. You're no better with than your competition. With the depth we've seen, especially with the Prototypes, it has been tremendous. The driver lineup, the caliber of drivers, the caliber of teams, when you come away here with a victory, each year it gets tougher and each year it means that much more.
Q. Scott and Dan, what is the single biggest adjustment if you had to pinpoint one that you've had to make to adapt to the series and this car?
SCOTT DIXON: I think most of it is actually getting used to the car to start with. For us, it's the traffic. Throughout the race, even through the night, it's quite a big toll to try to remember which cars you can dive under and which you can't. I think that's the biggest thing, I have to take time to get used to when I'm here, even in testing, is to get used to how you got to pass these cars, to remember to give them room actually because in the IndyCar Series or other categories I've raced with before, you know most of the people. In these cars, it can be any one person at any different time. That's probably the biggest for me.
DAN WHELDON: I think the biggest thing for me is not having him on the outside of me for the whole race like he was at Chicago. Like Scott said, I think the traffic is the main thing, being patient, especially in the evening. I think some of the guys that you can be down the inside, especially in the GT cars, you think they know you're there, but sometimes they don't. That's certainly an adjustment. Just making sure you hand the car over to your teammate without trying to damage it too much. I have a tendency to be a little hard on the gearbox, which I'm going to try to temper for this year.
Q. Juan Pablo, when was the last time you drove a sports car and where?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Back home. There's a six-hour race there. It was an Allspice race I think '92 here in Sebring. I raced in Sebring in '92. (Indiscernible) in '96 or '97, I think it was '97 the last time I drove that. That's it. Raced a little bit back home.
You know, there's nothing to compare against this. This is an awesome car to drive. They're quick. They handle well. You know, you can play with them. In a way it's easy because it helps you pass people. It's not like a one-line race car that you're just hanging out the whole time. You can play around, move in, out. It just helps a lot.
Q. (No microphone.)
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: In a way, you're going to be glad it's over and you're into business. All this testing before the 500, yes, it's good. But when you run the Cup here by yourself, two days of running by yourself, you don't -- sometimes you do a little bit of handling here and there, but it's minimum.
The key thing there is what is the car going to do once you get into traffic. The key thing is, do you have a good car in traffic? We have a new nose, we haven't even tried it yet. That should be pretty good.
Q. (No microphone.)
DAN WHELDON: I think it makes you more determined to come back and get another Rolex for your other wrist.
I think what you can draw from last year is the experience. We have that at least -- we know what we did last year to win the race. The competition is going to be determined to beat us. We've got to up our game. I think that's obviously what we're going to try to do, is maximize everything we have. Like I say, if we do that, I think we'll have a good chance.
SCOTT DIXON: I think every year helps. The more you can run here, the better off you are, just knowing the process of how the race is run, driver changes, all those silly little things that sometimes you might forget.
I don't know, this race is so hard to win. There's so many different obstacles that you have to overcome throughout. Even practice, then the race. So much of it is outside your hands with the team, how the car is reliable. There's not one thing that I think helps, apart from coming in and doing the process each year.
ADAM SAAL: Thank you, gentlemen.
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