Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
May 11, 2011
J.J. O'MALLEY: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Grand-Am teleconference as we get ready for the Bosch Engineering 250 at Virginia International Raceway. Today we visit with a driver who has competed in every Daytona Prototype race, David Donohue, driver of the No. 5 Action Express Porsche/Riley.
Action Express is off to a great start with both of the team's cars tied for second. Could you talk a little bit about the season to date and how you plan to carry that momentum into Saturday's race at VIR.
DAVID DONOHUE: Well, I think we're definitely excited this year. About midway through last year, the same organization, if you will, or group of people, was Brumos and Action Express. Beginning of this year Action Express sort of absorbed that other car into their own realm, if you will, while Brumos pursued the GT car out of their shop in Jacksonville.
What's happening now is really the product of the efforts that started around the second race at Watkins Glen last year for us.
We're delighted to see both cars really tied for second, showing a lot of improvement in racing and being the only ones really to be up there with the 01 car.
Having said that, we also have lacked the consistency. We finished second, fifth and ninth and we're second in points. That means everybody else has been less consistent than us.
We're hoping to finish up this last big break in the beginning of the schedule, if you will, and carry on some momentum and knock the 01 car off that top podium step and start winning some races on our own.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you, David. We'll open the floor for questions.
Q. David, you made a comment that kind of got my curiosity up. I was wondering, in between the first three races of the season we have some long breaks. Then you mentioned some inconsistencies in your finishing. Did those long breaks kind of break momentum? And once you get on an every-other-week schedule, how does that help the team perform better?
DAVID DONOHUE: It's easy to answer as far as our inconsistencies. At Daytona we had a rear suspension problem and the rear sway bar causing me to spin and then a drive brake issue on a fueling part of the car which caused a pit fire. So our finish position there wasn't up high because we had mechanical problems.
We were running really well at Barber and were sitting very pretty for a podium position, luckily third. I don't know if we could have gotten second, but possibly second as well, since the 90 car had fallen out. But we cut a tire when a bunch of cars got together in front of Darren. One of the GT cars took evasive action and hit him in the rear tire.
Taking a lot pit stops in our races is the kiss of death for a good finish because there's no time and everyone is competitive enough that you're not going to make up the time.
Our finishes have been inconsistent, but our performances have not been.
As far as the momentum of the schedule, the races are kind of coming at us quicker. I think that helps, to be honest with you. We're all taking these big breaks. You kind of lose touch a little bit. You lose that personal momentum of dealing with the team and the car, learning how to progress with everything.
Hopefully we'll kind of get into a routine and just enjoy what we all call racing and a regular season of racing and see each other every other weekend, every third weekend, whatever it is.
We're just looking forward to it. We race to race on the racetrack and run around, not sit at home and anticipate the next race.
Q. The difference between the car this year from last, is it handling and chassis or is it engine and speed?
DAVID DONOHUE: That's tough to say. Certainly the engine's quite a bit different. It's much heavier. The weight's in a different location. The way it delivers power for us is different. This is the V8 versus the six-cylinder Porsche there. Of course, the economy as well. We have new tires from Continental. Everyone is adjusting to those.
We've gone through so many changes within our own organization with the addition of Ian Watt as chief engineer and Elton Sawyer as shop manager or managing director really of the operations at the shop. We've made a lot of behind-the-scenes improvements.
You notice guys roll off the truck fast usually run fast up front during the race and at the end of the race. We got to get to that point where we roll off the truck and run fast straight away, then more wins and podiums come after that. All that work is done at the shop. It's not done on a race weekend.
Of course, you can salvage a bad start by developing your car throughout the race weekend, but usually it's the hard work at the shop that gets you on that top step.
Q. I'm curious about your thoughts with regard to two really very typical stock car guys, Gary Nelson and now Elton Sawyer. What is it like to work with two stock car guys?
DAVID DONOHUE: It's no different. I mean, they're guys with the same goals that we all have, and that's to consistently run up front. It's funny because my first go-around in stock cars back in the early '90s, Gary had just been hired into that chief tech role. The big joke was 80 or 90% of the cheating stops because they throw the biggest cheater into their own realm (laughter). Around the same time Elton was racing as well. I actually raced against Elton.
I was really delighted when he came onboard and got to meet him for the first time, as well as Ian Watt. Those two entities, of course with Gary there as well, we've never had that kind of leadership in the shop. All our engineers in the past have been sort of fly-in engineers, for lack of a better expression. They're not in the shop every single day. Now we've got a core group of muckity-mucks, if you will, that are in the shop all the time. The guys know exactly what's expected of them because they're being told exactly what's expected of them. They're working harder and complaining less and our results show it.
Our pit stops are great. When we want to do driver-change practices, we get all the support in the world. It's not like, Oh, man, we got to clear this out, clear that out, do X, Y and Z. The motivation and morale in the shop has never been better and at the same time they're working harder than they've ever worked before.
I'm not sure what that tells you. I know they're NASCAR guys, but I don't see them as NASCAR guys. I see them as being really effective at their jobs right now and bringing this team to where it needed to go in order to compete against the GAINSCOs, SunTrusts, the 01 car, so forth. It was a necessary step.
Q. You talk about being at VIR in 2003. Back then it was an October race. You were in the thick of a battle. When you look at the evolution of the cars, what comes to your mind over that almost 10 years?
DAVID DONOHUE: This is the ninth season. It's weird how things kind of ebb and flow, to be honest with you. For sure once Riley came in and Crawford came in with the new cars, then later with Dallara with their new car, the ante has really been upped compared to the old (indiscernible) car, which was the original, really the car that carried the banner for Daytona Prototype.
You've heard me say that or reflect on this a couple times before. When we started this thing, everyone thought we were nuts. I didn't start it. But when we were competing, everyone thought we were crazy at the time. There were so many so-called fresh ideas that flopped or never came to fruition, it was amazing to see the growth in the early years.
Now there are a lot of Daytona Prototypes out there. What we need to do is get them all on the track and racing. We've also met with a really difficult economy. I think racing tends to lag the economy a little bit.
I'd like to see 30 cars again on the track like we almost saw 30 cars at the 24 Hour one year. Man, you get some real racing. No matter where you are in the pack, it's just like NASCAR. No matter where you are in the pack, you're racing for that position. So many other road-racing series, you really race the track or the clock, you're not necessarily racing another car.
The rules structure in this series just allows a lot more wheel-to-wheel race craft sort of events to happen. That's really its strength I think in the long run.
Q. I recently ruminated about the door banging, alluded to it. I can remember Phoenix in 2003, 2004 being especially crazy. I can also remember you smiling like crazy after that race even though your doors flew open at one point.
DAVID DONOHUE: I remember looking at the car, we finished second at Phoenix, I think it was '03 or '04, and there Jim France was looking at the car. I was like, Uh-oh. He looks up and he's smiling. I go, Hey, Jim, how is it going? I can't remember what he said. There's 9 or 11 donuts on this car. That looks like there's some hard racing going on (laughter). That was about it.
To be honest, it got really bad for a while. We got a reputation, probably '05, when we had those heat races, Didier Theys and I had gotten together at the final the at Daytona. I told everybody I wanted to take him out of the race. He hit me so many times. To do the stuff he was doing, the reason we hit so many times and not just once, I kept changing my mind on the way to the side of his car. Eventually we got hooked together. I don't know if my car sat on his floor or something like that. We got stuck together and couldn't pull apart for a little bit.
Then the opening round following that, Papis and Magnusson got together really hard. There was just carnage left and right. The straw that broke the camel's back is when Oswaldo got together with Christian at Phoenix.
Q. And was suspended as a result.
DAVID DONOHUE: We got piled up in it. Most of the field got involved in that one. That was the last heat race we ever had.
You know, a lot of things changed right then. I swore to Mark at that point that I would never hit somebody on purpose from there on out. I witnessed that, because Darren was driving. I said, That was just ridiculous. It's just wrong that all these people and owners that are really supplying our livelihoods have to pay the price for our stupidity on the racetrack and our egos. We should be able to race clean. It should be up to Mark to divy out the consequences because race drivers are hard-headed. We all have egos out the wazoo. We all want to one up each other. I'm going to hit you back harder. Well, I'm going to hit you. It's up to Mark to make it end.
It took a little while. I think most of the drivers now have enormous respect for each other. There's a lot less of that just blatant hitting. Oswaldo is a perfect example. I hated that guy on the racetrack for a long time. These last four or five years, whatever, you can go door-to-door with him without touching, centimeters apart.
Q. The aftermath of Phoenix was a profound moment for Oswaldo. He realized what he did wrong.
DAVID DONOHUE: And me. I admit it. I've gotten together with guys since then, but they're a hundred percent by accident, innocent. It's a mentality that you have when you're sitting behind the wheel. That changes things. You never have to defend your action. You can always have a mistake. That's just part of racing. But I never have to lie about hitting somebody anymore.
Q. David, given your take on the whole door-to-door thing, here Grand-Am comes out with this bounty. I know what it is. Local tracks do it. I was talking to Scott Pruett about it. He says it's okay. On the other hand I was reading some of the comments about it. There are a couple of guys out there who felt like somebody might take advantage of it and purposefully T-bone Memo Rojas or Scott Pruett. How do you see that?
DAVID DONOHUE: T-bone would be a bit extreme. I don't know how you would get in that position to deliberately T-bone somebody. I think you dramatically underestimate the cost of a nose (laughter).
I looked at it and just kind of smirked. I talked to J.J. a little bit before. It's not like we haven't been trying to dethrone those guys. For them it's very flattering. If we were winning every race and they put a bounty on someone just beating us...
But knowing the competitors, I can tell you, I don't think there's any regular competitor that's gonna go out there and have that proverbial target on the 01 car. It's just a way of getting publicity. I think a bigger point would be with that bounty, if there's a new winner, it's an $83,000 payday.
J.J. O'MALLEY: You had some spirited conversation about some heated races. VIR has had some heated finales in the last couple years, you being involved in one of them. What are your thoughts going into this weekend's Bosch Engineering 250?
DAVID DONOHUE: Hopefully I don't do that again. What J.J. is referring to is when I got into the back of Scott Pruett on a restart, then Max Angelelli got into the fray and got into the side of my car and hit the 01 car. Both of the them got severely damaged enough where they barely finished or didn't finish, and I went on to a podium. On the podium, I called it a 'dirty podium.' It wasn't something I did on purpose. I was on Scottie. He jumped on the brakes hard. I locked up. It is what it was.
That's not something that we ever wish for. It's unfortunate that if something like that happens it could be completely innocent and everyone is going to target the bounty as motivation.
I really don't think the GAINSCO guys or the SunTrust guys or us or any of the regulars are going to deliberately try to remove the 01 car for the sake of the bounty. We're all competitors. Winning wheel-to-wheel is a lot more rewarding than just removing somebody from the field. That's a dirty win. To be honest, you can do that any race. You don't need a $25,000 bounty to do it.
From Action Express, we're looking for a 1-2, knock them down to third. It would be nice to close that points gap a little bit.
J.J. O'MALLEY: We've had a long break between Homestead and Barber, then Barber and VIR. After that race we start clicking with back-to-backs, Lime Rock, the Glen, then heading out to Elkhart Lake, get the season rolling. What are your thoughts on the rest of the year?
DAVID DONOHUE: We're looking forward to the regular momentum of the season, again, closing that points gap that the 01 car has done by winning the first three races of the season. We hate to see a runaway championship again. Hopefully it will become a lot more mixed up throughout the rest of the season. They certainly upped the ante for everyone else in the series and raised the bar that we've all got to raise our own performance levels and expectations to meet.
I'm confident that our guys are doing it. The changes that we've experienced at Action Express have been nothing short of revolutionary. We've got a good game plan moving forward. VIR has been relatively good to us over the past couple years, not too far from my home. Hopefully it will be a beautiful May day like I have here at home now, 70 degrees and sunny.
Q. When I look at you, I think of the consummate professional racer. That's because you have a helluva good history and you got great genes. When you go to a track like VIR, it's a familiar track to you. Do you have a particular turn that you find either most enjoyable when you look going through it or is there one section which you find to be highly challenging and you wish to improve through that?
DAVID DONOHUE: At VIR it's hard to find a driver that doesn't enjoy the S's, especially attempting to do them flat. You're top gear, 160 miles an hour at the top of the hill. My least favorite is not necessarily the Oak Tree, but that right-hander approaching the Oak Tree. For us it gets really narrow there. If you bump the curb wrong or have a slight little lockup, go off the outside, you go off the tire wall. There's just no room to recover. It's almost the best immediately followed by the worst at VIR.
VIR is nice because it has good history. It's one of the more traditional racetracks we go to as far as utilizing the natural topography. Again, it's a rebuilt track from the days when my dad raced, the early days of Brumos. A lot of memories there.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you, David, for joining us today. Best of luck in Saturday's Bosch Engineering 250 and the remainder of the Rolex Series season. I'd like to thank the members of the media for joining us today. We appreciate your coverage.
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