Grand-Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand-Am Road Racing
May 7, 2012
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Appreciate everybody's participation today as we have this special teleconference for the GRAND‑AM Rolex Series as we head into this weekend's race at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
We're going to have today two special guests, Scott Pruett and Jeff Segal. They're respective co‑leaders in the Rolex Series GP and GT classes.
Scott is a four‑time GP champion. He and Memo Rojas, his co‑driver, are defending winners at New Jersey for Chip Ganassi Racing.
Scott, we'll let you start us off with an opening comment. Talk a little bit about the season thus far. Back in the points lead, haven't won a race, though. What's been going on?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, first of all, great to be here, as always. Nice to get the season off and rolling.
For us, the Ganassi organization, came off a little disappointing at Daytona. Had a little mechanical issue. We rebounded from that as well as we could to finish as strong as we could. Then on to Barber where we were able to pull off a third, and a second at a rain‑drenched Miami.
It's an interesting season. Most certainly coming off our last race in Homestead‑Miami, you know, I need to applaud GRAND‑AM for what they did with the conditions. We had a terrific car. I think it would have been a great fight if we would have gone green.
Unfortunately, with the conditions as they were, it was very, very difficult. I know it was a tough call. At the end of the day, especially with a fairly quick turnaround for everybody to get to New Jersey, I think it was the right call.
Fortunately for us it all played out so far so good. We would like to be in the winner's circle. Hopefully that could potentially happen this weekend. In the meantime, I know the guys are working hard fixing our windshield wiper, I know that for a fact, because unfortunately it broke during the race at Miami (laughter).
We're excited. Off and running. A lot of excitement going on around the whole series.
HERB BRANHAM: Scott, thank you. Windshield wipers obviously got a workout in those tough conditions.
We'll swing over to Jeff Segal. Jeff took the lead in the GT champion points by winning at Miami with a new team, AIM Autosport FXDD, historic first victory for the new Ferrari 458 Italia built especially for the Rolex Series.
Jeff, you're going close to your hometown area, Philadelphia. What is it like to go back to another home race? Miami was also since you went to UM down there. But going back with a win under your belt in that new Ferrari.
JEFF SEGAL: It's been really great. The whole experience since we got started with this new Ferrari has been really just incredibly gratifying to be a part of. We started from scratch in the beginning of November. Just to see everything come together as quickly as it has and as well as it has in such a short time span has just been incredible.
Winning at Homestead was absolutely phenomenal. It was really important for our team, really important to prove that we're capable of running at the front in such a difficult class, and also really important as a way of showing our thanks for the support that we've received from Ferrari.
There are a lot of people in Italy that have worked hard to make this project a reality. To get them a race win in only our third race is very important to have them continue to push and show interest in this program. It's great.
Then obviously winning at Miami, which I consider a home race, was icing on the cake. Now moving to New Jersey, which is my other home race, is even better.
Really looking forward to this weekend, looking to build off the momentum. Certainly a lot of races left in the season, a lot of things can happen. I'd certainly rather be leading the points than chasing. So we're happy where we are right now.
HERB BRANHAM: Jeff, thank you.
We'll go to questions for Scott Pruett and Jeff Segal from the media.
Q. Jeff, you were up there a couple of weeks ago. According to GRAND‑AM, you can't do Thunderbolt, you had to do half of one, half of the other. That's the reason why I'm asking you this question. Exactly what did you do and how can you take that information and plug it into what you're doing this weekend?
JEFF SEGAL: Yeah, certainly, it's a great question.
We in I think the last month or so did some testing up at New Jersey. We did one day at Thunderbolt with my co‑driver Emil Assento driving, then one day at the neighboring Lightning circuit with me driving.
Obviously the rules and the test ban prohibit any drivers who aren't either in the Truman (phonetic) or the Aiken (phonetic) program where we race prior to a race there. In order to test at Thunderbolt and gather a little bit of data there, Emil did all of the driving there, then we were able to move to a racetrack that we don't actively race on to do a little bit of car development.
Anytime you get to go testing, it's certainly helpful to gather that data in advance of race. But for us I think it's especially helpful because we don't have any book of prior knowledge for setup for this car. We're totally new. Every track we go to is absolutely unknown, from the small things like the aero balance, small tweaks to the suspension setup, to the much bigger things like gear ratios, whether or not we're going to have any mechanical problems on a particular track, we really don't know. Every mile we turn is really helpful for us and to that end pretty critical.
The first time the car ran in the United States was at Daytona. Fortunately we had a little bit of a head start in that Ferrari had a test with GRAND‑AM in July of last year, so we had a baseline to start at Daytona. When we went Barber, that was the first time a Ferrari GRAND‑AM had run on a proper road course in North America in GRAND‑AM trim. We went in there really quite blind and it showed in the practice sessions but we rebounded nicely from that.
Going to New Jersey, it's a little bit of a different track. Fortunate we went testing there. One thing I learned from the last few years at the New Jersey races, there's always something that catches you by surprise, whether it's rain or heat. The race never seems to be straightforward there.
You can test all you want, but I don't think you can ever be fully prepared for this race.
Q. Speaking of catching one by surprise, a few years ago in our first race at New Jersey, Scott, all of us were caught by surprise. I was on the way to the track and my cell phone started ringing like crazy. It turned out you had wrecked there, quite nearly disastrously. When you go back to New Jersey every year, do you think about that incident? How do you attack that mentally?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, the good thing is the fact that I don't remember it (laughter). That incident, the crash, I just remember small bits and pieces. Over the last couple years, I think the last two years we've won that race. We approach it just as another racetrack. It does have its challenges. We were hit with an incredible heat last year, which all the drivers had to overcome. Actually last couple years it's been brutally hot.
Looking at the weather forecast now it looks to be in the mid 70s which should be almost perfect, with some rain on Saturday, Sunday, certainly more on Thursday.
For us the biggest thing has been learning about the new bodywork. We've been a bit behind on that. We have a lot of things with the team going on. BMW is continuing to develop an M3 derivative engine, trying to get that up and going for introduction sometime this season.
We're going to go there and hopefully just continue what we've been doing and it would be nice to get up to the top of the podium if we can. If not, we'll just keep trying to be there week in, week out.
Q. Jeff, could you briefly fill us in on why you're racing Ferraris this year.
JEFF SEGAL: Well, the reason why I'm racing a Ferrari this year is because that opportunity presented itself. I don't think that there's any racecar driver, anybody involved in this industry, whether openly or secretly, doesn't want to drive a Ferrari at some point in their career.
For me, when the opportunity presented itself to be a part of this new program, it was something I jumped at very quickly.
We've had a lot of success with other factories, Emil and I, as a driver pairing over the last few years. Won the championship in 2010. Have five prior race wins together. We were confident in our ability to get the job done together, but we thought it was time to look for a new opportunity, a new car.
The timing worked out perfectly with Ferrari coming back to the Rolex Series. Personally I have a lot of connection to the Ferrari brand, both in the Ferrari Challenge, where I got my first race when I was 17, and the Ferrari driving experience in Canada over the last few years.
It made a lot of sense. Selfishly, personally, it's a fantastic car to drive, a fantastic organization to be involved with. I couldn't be happier about it.
Q. Scott, you've done all kinds of racing. If someone said to you, I'm a big oval racing fan, what's so great about road racing, what are some of the challenges? Why should fans come out to see these? What would you say?
SCOTT PRUETT: The excitement of it all and the challenge for the driver. You think about when you're on an oval, you're just working on your line. This is coming from a guy who has done ovals in IndyCar, road courses in IndyCar, ovals in NASCAR, road courses in NASCAR.
When you drive an oval, you virtually never shift, you do a little bit of braking. You kind of work on that line at each end, how to get the car through.
When you're on a road course, there's up‑shifting, there's down‑shifting, there's braking, a lot of precision going on from inside the cockpit. With that, when you look at what GRAND‑AM does with the series, having the prototypes which I drive, then the GT cars like Jeff drives, we are in a situation where we have to be on our toes all the time.
For the fans, you're going to see a lot of passing. You're going to see us pass two or three cars a lap. I've been in situations where I've lost the win because of traffic and I've been in situations where I've come out on top because of traffic.
Regardless, there's just excitement all the time. I haven't seen a fan, anybody come away from one of our races, whether they attend it or see it on TV, Wow, I can't believe we haven't been to more of these races because there's so much excitement all the time.
Q. Jeff, you touched on this a little bit, but your family sells Ferraris a little more than an hour from this track. You're doing some impressive things with the Ferraris this season. Can you talk about how special that is.
JEFF SEGAL: Yeah, I guess an important correction would be that in the last month, my family actually is no longer involved with that dealership. Doesn't hinder my involvement with the brand. I guess important to throw it out there.
But I've been linked with the Ferrari brand since I was a kid. My first win in a car was in the Ferrari Challenge Series. It's a bit like family. Ferrari is a company with a huge international standing and a huge brand awareness. Everyone around the world knows who and what Ferrari is. As a company, it's quite small. It's really a family feel.
To be involved with that is fantastic. To see some of the resources they're putting into this program for the Rolex Series is really, really impressive.
I think some people may be a bit surprised that we've had the level of success that we've had as quickly as we have with this new car, the new 458 for the Rolex Series. The truth is Ferrari is a company that has racing at the very core of its DNA. They know a thing or two about building good racecars. If they showed up and weren't successful right off the bat, that would have been more surprising.
Q. Scott, we talked a couple years ago about how you said you never thought you'd be racing past 40. How much longer will you be driving?
SCOTT PRUETT: That's a pretty common question (laughter).
You know, we had just another incredible season last year with winning Daytona and the championship. I'm still absolutely loving what I do. We're still going out there and being one of the cars to beat week in and week out. As long as I keep doing it, I'm going to keep doing it.
There will be a point in time. At this point, I'm loving every moment of it. The good Lord has blessed me with this incredible career. I'm just going to keep riding this wave as long as we can have success.
Q. Scott, I want to follow up on a comment that you made earlier. When people talk stockcar driving, oval track racing, they say they can see the car everywhere. Road racing is like going to a football game and only seeing the teams between the 40s. How do you answer that question? How does Scott Pruett answer that question?
SCOTT PRUETT: It really depends on the track. There are some tracks you go to, Cleveland would be a perfect example, Laguna Seca, where you see the majority of the track from any one location. A lot of places we go to, even Homestead‑Miami, you would see the whole track from being up on the stands. Daytona you see pretty much the whole track.
For the majority of the races we do, for a fan, you're going to see the majority of the racetrack without question. There's only a few tracks, and one of those is one that's coming up before too long, which is Detroit, where unfortunately it's a little difficult to get around.
But there's so much excitement wrapped around it, just the party atmosphere, very much like Long Beach. I attended that this year. Inducted into their Hall of Fame down there. Stayed for the weekend and hung out with all our Ganassi IndyCar guys.
You forget that it's been going on for 30 years, and it's such an event, such an incredible thing to go to, much like the Indy 500, the Daytona 24 Hours, the Daytona 500, where just being there, like the Kentucky Derby, these places are such an incredible place to be for that event, you get a little bit of awe from that in the GRAND‑AM Series. Some of these are just iconic. Some are coming on. This year we'll be going to Indianapolis, which is iconic in itself, one of those racetracks that are just legendary, all the way around.
I would have to take it track by track. I think you could totally discount the fact that fans would say, We can only see a little bit of racing. When you go to Indy this year, you're going to see 90% of the track.
Q. Scott, I want to ask you something that I'm putting together for the future. You mentioned Long Beach, your Hall of Fame induction there. There's a lot of things that have happened in your career that you have to be really proud of, things you look back and say, That's cool. What are the things that Scott Pruett is most proud of?
SCOTT PRUETT: Wow. Like I said, there's a lot. I mean, I think the biggest thing is when I was a little kid racing go‑karts, never, ever considering, even having the thought, that I could make it to a race like the Indianapolis 500, the Daytona 500, the Brickyard, the Rolex 24. Those things never even seemed like an opportunity.
Now, looking back, I've done those. I've won a lot of races and done a lot of things, just have had this incredible career which I as a young kid never would have even considered that.
Q. When you look back on these Hall of Fame inductions, I imagine that causes you to say, That's cool, that's something you're very proud of.
SCOTT PRUETT: It is. Especially when I was at Long Beach, you look at the other names you're with, Mario Andretti, Al Jr., Dan Gurney, Parnelli Jones, iconic names. Just humbled being a part of that. It's just incredible.
Q. Jeff, the Ferrari dealership, does that mean you got to drive a Ferrari to your senior high prom?
JEFF SEGAL: Actually, yeah, the first Ferrari that I ever drove was a 360 challenge car, which is a race‑only car, and the car I drove in the Ferrari Challenge Series when I was 17. I got plenty of the benefits in getting to drive the cars on the racetrack, but I had to wait quite a bit longer to drive one on the street.
Q. Jeff, what are you proud of? You're just getting your career really rolling, championships and so forth. What are you really proud of as you look at it now?
JEFF SEGAL: Well, I think obviously I'd like to think that my greatest achievements are still ahead of me. I still feel like I'm fairly new to the racing game. I've done it for a couple years now, but I still feel like I have a whole lot that I want to do and a whole lot that I want to achieve.
That said, winning a Rolex Series championship and a Continental Tire Sports Car championship, being so new to this form of racing, those are really big achievements. I look at some of the people that I've been fortunate enough to race with and against, some of the people that we've placed in front of in these races and championships, I'm pretty stunned by it.
These are people that I've been watching on TV, going to the races, enjoying being there as a fan or spectator. I didn't think I'd ever get to race them, much less beat them.
It's just been an incredible opportunity. We've had some success with Ferrari, which has ticked another box on my to‑do list, but obviously that's just one race win and there's a bigger picture this season, which is a championship. Obviously, beyond this season, plenty more. There's a lot of races I still want to do, a lot of cars I still want to drive. I'd like to think there's a whole lot more in front of me.
Q. Are you going to stick your chest out a little further if you get a championship with Ferrari to go along with your championship in a Mazda?
JEFF SEGAL: I don't think it's about sticking your chest out a little bit further. Almost every racecar driver by definition is confident. If you're not confident, you can't get the job done. I think most drivers, if not every driver, thinks in the right equipment they're the best guy out there.
I'm not na. I know there's still a lot I have to learn. Every race I'm still learning, refining my craft, learning about car setup, strategy, how to really get the most out of the opportunities that are presented to you.
I think it's a feather in the cap, but I don't think it's going to change anything in terms of my driving or demeanor. It's something I'm very focused on. It's something I put a lot of time and energy into, is being successful at the racetrack. To that end, it would be great to have more success, and it would be special to do it with Ferrari, but I don't think it would change anything.
Q. I don't know if this is the venue to this ask this question, but the success you had on the racetrack, has it permeated the rest of your life, so when you're training on the bike, everything you do that makes you Jeff Segal, has that made it easier in those other parts of your life?
JEFF SEGAL: I think I'm still shaping what I am and what I hope to be. If you asked me a couple years ago what am I going to do with my life, I would have said, This racing thing is great, but at some point I'm going to have to grow up and get a real job.
With the success I've had in the last few years, I don't see the urge to stop racing anytime soon. It's snowballing, growing. The opportunities are coming up. I think I'd be foolish not to jump at them.
To that end I'm gaining a comfort level as a racecar driver, and doing that as an occupation, but also doing that for a large part of my life. Obviously now I'm not in school anymore, so I'm focused entirely on the racing thing.
But, yeah, I mean, every little bit of success that you get helps make you a little bit more confident, you have less to prove to other people, and you end up doing your job a little bit better.
Q. How is your Italian coming?
JEFF SEGAL: The Italian is still not great. I muddled through a couple of phone calls and emails that were thrown at me after Homestead. That's a challenge I look forward to if it's going to be congratulatory.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to the media today for participation. Much appreciated. Thanks to our special guests, Scott Pruett, Jeff Segal, our current points leaders in the two Rolex Series classes. Guys, best of luck this weekend at New Jersey Motorsports Park and the rest of the year.
JEFF SEGAL: Thank you.
SCOTT PRUETT: Thank you.
HERB BRANHAM: On behalf of NASCAR and GRAND‑AM, to the media, we truly appreciate the coverage.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|