Grand-Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand-Am Road Racing
May 17, 2011
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to what, without doubt, is a very special edition of our GRAND-AM teleconference. We'll take a look back at this past Saturday's Bosch Engineering 250 at Virginia International Raceway, that was the fourth race of the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series season. Joining us are the co-drivers of the No. 88 Autohaus Motorsports Chevrolet Camaro. We have Jordan Taylor and Bill Lester, and they teamed to win the GT Class in Saturday's race. Highly significant result to say the least.
Bill Lester became the first African-American driver to win a GRAND-AM race in the 11-year history of the sanctioning body. In addition, the victory came in Danville, Virginia, and how about this, that is the hometown of the late Wendell Scott, the only African-American to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, also the first GRAND-AM victory both for Jordan and Autohaus.
Guys, thanks for joining us. Maybe we can start off just by hearing from each of you some thoughts about the victory from a competitive aspect and also the historical aspect. Jordan, maybe we'll start off with you and go to Bill for an opening comment or two, go ahead.
JORDAN TAYLOR: It was a pretty crazy race as you saw on TV. It was really treacherous conditions at the start when it started raining out of nowhere. Bill basically kept out of trouble when everyone else was spinning off the track. And brought it in the pits, I think, in second place when I got in. And we basically had perfect strategy switching from rains to wets at the perfect time, and that put us in the lead and had good track position.
So all I had to do was basically keep out of trouble and have a couple of good restarts with Oliver Gavin and Bill Auberlen behind me and just hold them off for the finish. Luckily, we were able to do that and get the first win of the season for Camaro and Autohaus.
HERB BRANHAM: Jordan, maybe a thought or two about being part of such a history making event as well?
JORDAN TAYLOR: Yeah, it was pretty huge. I've only really noticed how big it was today and yesterday when I saw the different newspapers and TV interviews and everything. I really can't believe what a big mark it made all across America, really. So it was really a big day.
HERB BRANHAM: Bill, maybe we can hear from you and then we'll go to the media.
BILL LESTER: Yeah, absolutely. Jordan did a great job of summarizing the event. It was exciting as heck for the two of house. Needless to say, going into it, we didn't have any thoughts about the historical aspects or implications. What we were doing and focused on was really getting a great result for Team Autohaus and just Chevrolet and the GTO, GTR brand.
We knew from the beginning of the year that we had a strong program, and it was just up to us to execute and everything came together this time flawlessly. Luck also played its role.
But just to start off the race, as Jordan indicated, it started raining about half an hour before the drop of the Green flag. We were in anticipation of rain, hoping it would hold off, but it didn't. And when it came, it came down in buckets.
Not only had I never been in a GT car in the rain, but I had never been on the new Continentals in the rain. So it was basically a roll of the dice in terms of what I was going to experience, because my expectations were just wide open.
At the drop of the green, essentially, I couldn't see beyond my nose. And it was just really by just luck and I guess some skill thrown in there somehow, that I was able to negotiate from our sixth place qualifying position, all the way up to second before handing over to Jordan.
But it was raining so heavily, that GRAND-AM had to throw the caution really quickly after the drop of the green because cars were spinning off left and right. I could barely see the head lights of the car in front of me. I'm aqua- planing in a straight line. So I can't tell you what my heart rate was, but it was pretty much coming up through my throat.
So it was good to hand over the car to Jordan. The objective throughout the race was for me to hand it over to him in flawless condition so he could fight for the win. Once I gave it to him, he did just that. He did a stellar job of holding off, as he mentioned, veterans, you know, Oliver Gavin, and Bill Auberlen who are seasoned accomplished road racers. He never put a wheel wrong and did a superb job, and he has a great future in this sport for years to come.
We're happy about what we accomplished, and almost as if winning was a drug. Once you get a taste of it, all you want is more.
Q. Bill, we talked on the air about how this is kind of full circle for you. You started, I believe, your racing in sports cars. Can you address how it feels to kind of complete that circle and get this great win a few days ago?
BILL LESTER: Very gratifying. As you mentioned, I started out in Sports Car Club of America Road Racing back in the mid '80s, in a very modest Mazda RX-3 with essentially a garage effort. I couldn't really afford to keep tires on the car.
To rise through the ranks of amateur racing into professional road racing, through IMSA, and through SCCA Trans-Am, SCCA World Challenge, GRAND-AM Cup, the 24 Hours of Daytona and numerous prestigious sports car races. Then to go into NASCAR and start out in Busch Grand National, which is now the Nationwide Series, as the first black driver to ever compete in that sport, then to make it all the way up to the Cup Series is far surpassing what I thought I would ever accomplish in motor sports.
Then to finally come full circle, like you said, to come back to my roots, come back to sports cars, it's really fun for me. I've always enjoyed road racing, and to be able to do that with such a good outfit as Autohaus Motorsports and such an accomplished driver at such a young age in Jordan Taylor and to get the first victory for Chevrolet Camaro is a gratifying and superb accomplishment for everybody involved. So I'm very pleased by what we were able to accomplish.
Q. You're a pretty young guy, Jordan. As that race developed, you spent a lot of time leading some of the world's best road racers. Did it ever go through your mind who was trying to get around you, especially the second place Camaro and how long you spent out in front of them, or did you just put your head down and do the job that was necessary?
JORDAN TAYLOR: Yeah, I was definitely thinking about it. I remember after the third to last restart, I saw Oliver Gavin come in, and he passed about four guys and it was the next car behind me. Then when I went to the next caution it was Gavin and Auberlen right there behind me ready for the restart, and my heart rate was definitely up higher than it was before.
But once the green flag drops, you forget about it. It's just another car behind you that you have to hold off. So once you're green flag racing, it's everyone's game for themselves.
Q. How has the transition been from Daytona Prototypes to GT? You've had some experience in DPs over the last few years, and this is your first full season in GTs?
BILL LESTER: It's been a steep learning curve to be honest with you. It's such a different driving experience. I'm used to a car that's very stiff, highly sprung, downforce as far as the rear wing and the shape of the contour of the front nose, you know, very nimble and going from that to a car that has a lot of pitch, a lot of roll. You hit the brakes and it dives the nose, you hit the accelerator, and it lifts the nose.
It's such a different -- it's more of a numb feeling, the precision that a prototype has. But by the same token, these cars are built to the limits of the rules.
GT is not supposed to be a staff in the Daytona Prototype, but to answer your question, I had to focus on slowing everything down. Just not expecting a GT car to respond like a DP. That's been one of the most difficult things for me because I've been driving prototypes off and on essentially for the last three years. So I have a lot of expectations going into certain tracks, and those expectations are quickly reset once I get behind the wheel of our Camaro.
But Jordan's been terrific in terms of providing a baseline for the car, and helping me with regard to getting grips of it. Because he's got more experience behind the wheel, and he knows what the feel of the car should be. So I tip my hat to him for being such a professional driver, and with the two of us and the success we've had, obviously this combination's working out.
Q. For the both of you, not with the win, it's propelled you back into the championship race. I think you're third in the standings. Does that cause a focus on trying to take the title maybe now only four races into the year?
JORDAN TAYLOR: Yeah, we weren't expecting to be right back in the championship already. I think we were back in ninth place coming into the weekend, but it's still so early on. I think we have six, seven, eight races left, anything can happen. We just need to keep focusing on winning up front. Of course this week's win was great and we'd love to repeat that, but it's not easy to win these GRAND-AM races.
But being on the podium every weekend would be great but to have consistent Top 5s, I think we can be in with a shot for the championship.
BILL LESTER: I'll just interject that before this weekend, to be honest with you, never even looked at the points. Now that we've won I've taken a look, and needless to say, I'm pretty excited about where we stand. That just gives us more fuel to add to the fire.
Q. Obviously the conditions were pretty atrocious. Were you expecting to go yellow pretty quick after that, and is it as hairy in the GT as it looked like it was in the DPs?
BILL LESTER: Yeah, I was hoping it was going to go yellow because all I saw was carnage in front of me. When the team came over the radio and told me that I had gotten all the way up to second place, I was pretty surprised. Because the only thing that I could frankly see was the 59 Brumos car's brake lights and whenever he hit the brakes, I keyed off of that. I couldn't see even in front of him.
I was surprised that we gained the position that we had. But I wasn't surprised, for the most part, that they threw that caution because we couldn't exit Oak Tree and go up the backstretch without doing tank slappers. I was turning left and right on a straight line trying to keep the car on the tracks.
So anytime you went around a corner as well, you'd find phantom puddles one time around that you didn't find the time before. And different corners on the track, every time you went around, had a different attitude.
So I think GRAND-AM did the right thing by doing that, and I'm just glad that I was able to bring it home without putting the wheel wrong because so many drivers did.
Q. Jordan, when you got in the car, the conditions were really changing and there was mud all over the track and everything. How challenging were the conditions for you?
JORDAN TAYLOR: Yeah, it definitely wasn't as bad as what Bill had. But the most difficult part was when it was time to go from rains to slicks, and then there was just one line, basically. I saw Rob Liddell just drop half a wheel off line. He spun in front of me. So any little loss of focus, and you just drop a wheel off that one line, you'd be pretty much off the road pretty quickly.
And that's what I think kind of set the tone of the race at the end. It was so difficult to pass. It was off line, and still wet, so that made it really hard to outbrake somebody.
Q. What year are you in at UCF, how did you meet Bill, and how did you guys sort of hit it off?
JORDAN TAYLOR: Right now I'm in my -- I just finished my second year at UCF for mechanical engineering. I'm taking the summer off, and I'll go back in the fall.
But I met Bill, I think, at the beginning of this year, probably January when we went to test for Autohaus, just a private test before the January test day. So it was right before the year started.
I thought we got along well. He was eager to learn how the GT car really worked, because it was all new to him. He was used to a Daytona and Prototype background and NASCAR. So it's definitely a big learning curve for him but he's learning every weekend and really getting better and I think getting the grips. As you saw, he qualified sixth this weekend, so every weekend is getting better.
Q. Can you talk about how you guys both have the engineering backgrounds and how that is kind of something you have in common?
BILL LESTER: I think that plays to our strengths, the fact that we have a common way of thinking, a logical, analytical approach to things. We're both problem solvers, and I think that plays well.
To add more towards how Jordan and I came together. Autohaus called and indicated that they had a seat open, and that they were interested as to whether or not I would be interested in being with them. I was very keen on becoming a part of that group because I knew that Chevrolet was going to be solidly behind this program, and that always helps to make a program successful.
I had been watching Jordan, you know, from 2010 and how well he's done. So I was excited to get behind the wheel and team with him. So as Jordan stated, when we got together, we found out that we hit it off well, and we were, I think, both very easy to work with and get along with each other great.
It's part of the whole Autohaus experience, which is a very relaxed environment, but we're all very driven by the same token. We all get along really well, the chemistry is terrific. We're really productive together and that's all the makings of a successful program. Like I said before, I knew from the beginning of the year that we had the makings to be successful. And it's great and gratifying to prove four races in that that's come together.
Q. With your team being based in California, how big was it that you guys came out of the IR pretty unscathed other than having a really dirty race car in your preparations for Lime Rock?
BILL LESTER: I'm not sure where you got the impression we were based in California. We're based in Florida.
Q. Oh, sorry about that.
BILL LESTER: That's okay. We're out of Delray Beach, Florida. No problem. We'll take a Mulligan on that one.
HERB BRANHAM: Bill and Jordan, appreciate your time today. It's been a great last few days to see this victory take place and see the way the fans and the media throughout the country have responded to this, so congratulations again. Best of luck. We'll head to Lime Rock next, and we'll see if you guys can do it again.
BILL LESTER: Fantastic. Thanks for having us, and we hope to think that we'll be back on again soon.
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