Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
August 24, 2010
J.J. O'MALLEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this special edition NASCAR Grand-Am teleconference as we get ready for Saturday's Montréal 200. Today we will showcase Canadian participation in the Rolex Series with Montréal native Sylvain Tremblay, joined by Toronto's AIM Autosports principal Ian Willis, and driver Mark Wilkins.
Sylvain, you are enjoying success this season in a number of different areas. You're running a very close second in the driver championship, SpeedSource is 1-2 in the team standings, and the eight Mazda RX-8s prepared in your Mazda shop are helping lead the Rolex manufacturer's championship.
How do you separate your different roles when you return to your native Montréal for this weekend's race?
SYLVAIN TREMBLAY: That's a great question. Obviously, depth has been the key to our success. We have such great people here at SpeedSource and great support from Mazda and Castrol that allows me, team owner, driver, engineer, program manager to do all the jobs required to lead a successful program.
When we envisioned what we were going to do with the Rolex program roughly four and a half, five years ago with the X-8, this level of success is what we had on the radar, which we didn't think would come in this size and scope and as soon as it has.
It's a great position to be in. Speaks volumes about the efforts by everyone here to be 1-2 in the championship and the fact that all the customer cars are running competitively is just a testament to the effort that Mazda puts forth in this championship. Mazda supports grass-roots motorsports, road racing, and it's a great manufacturer to work for.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Mark Wilkins, how big was winning the 2008 Montréal 200 to your career and do you think you and co-driver Burt Frisselle can recapture that magic this weekend?
MARK WILKINS: Winning the race in 2008 was certainly great for my career and for Brian's career. But it was more so great for AIM Autosport as a team to win our first major event in Grand-Am at that race and the fashion in which we did. It was definitely a nail-biter at the end and I know we were all very surprised about that result. It was a great result for the team. We worked very hard to get to that point.
I think Burt and I certainly have been competitive all year this year. We've had some great finishes. We've been close. We've been really knocking on the door trying to get to that top step of the podium. We would like to knock the 01 car off the top step and get that first victory for us this season. It would be great to do that once again in Montréal.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you, Mark.
Ian Willis, you've grown up racing in Canada. I know you told me your father helped found the motorsports circuit. You've enjoyed success in different forms of racing at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve prior to winning the Montréal 200.
As owner of the lone Canadian-based team in the Daytona Prototype ranks, how important is this weekend's Montréal 200?
IAN WILLIS: Well, it's our home race. It's very fortunate we get to race in Canada at Montréal which is a very historic track in Canadian motorsport, named after Gilles Villeneuve. We as a team have enjoyed different success in many different classes of racing.
To win there in '08, our first win in the Rolex Series, only our second year in the championship, you couldn't have written it better in Hollywood, especially with it being a nail-biter at the end as Mark said. That has kind of set the stage for us to repeat that performance.
Last year's race - wet, dry, wet - was kind of a lottery. This year, as Mark said, we've been very competitive. I think we're going to do well at Montréal. We always run well there. Mark and Burt are driving well. For us to repeat victory at home certainly would be the highlight of this season.
You know, there's just added excitement for us. We're in front of a lot of sponsors, a lot of friends, a lot of family. Some people think of that as pressure. We think of that as excitement. It helps drive us to better results.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you very much.
We will now open it up for questions.
Q. Mazda this year has been spectacular. If there's one thing from an engineering perspective and driver's seat perspective that you could point to from that Mazda RX-8, what is it for you guys that really seems to be the icing on the cake for that effort this year?
SYLVAIN TREMBLAY: I can answer the question with one word: sharing. That's been the motto of all the Mazda teams this year both from an engineering and driving standpoint. We're one of the few professional programs that share all the driver data. All of the programs had access to the data from all the cars and all the drivers also. All three cars, the 68, 69 and 70, we interchange extremely well. We share data.
But also from an engineering standpoint when teams try different things, we have immediate feedback of what works and what doesn't work.
As a whole, one word has made the difference for us in the 2010 championship, and that's 'sharing.'
Q. Ian, it's come up today questions of whether Montréal is deserving and the Canadian fans would thrive or accept a Sprint Cup race on that circuit. As a Canadian team owner, what is your take on a Sprint Cup event coming to Montréal? From an owner's perspective, racing with NASCAR, what does that mean to your organization? Does it allow you to expose your racing to more sponsorship possibilities?
IAN WILLIS: Yeah, I can answer that question in the affirmative for both. Canada in general, Montréal and the province of Québec in particular, are very passionate about their motorsports. I think since NASCAR started coming to Montréal we've enjoyed tremendous spectator following. The Grand-Am Series being part of that event adds to our caché when we're dealing with sponsors.
Certainly as a Canadian team we certainly have extra benefit of being at that event. But I think all teams throughout North America, when we race with NASCAR, we race with a lot more eyeballs on us. That makes it better for us. It also gives the fans something different to look at, something we think is an exciting show and an exciting format that we run. I think everyone benefits.
Q. Sylvain, you look back a number of years when you were racing in SECA to where the program has come, where do you see your Mazda program going when you look three or four or five years down the road?
SYLVAIN TREMBLAY: Basically the same vision that started when we were doing club cars. We wanted to bring basically the next level up to the level that we're doing. So as we look at our current GT program, we have aspirations to do more. But the level of quality, the level of craftsmanship, the level of commitment to winning is unparalleled from the people in this building and also our partners.
If I look ahead, I want to be racing Mazda's next sports car at an international level. We want to bring some more Rolex 24 victories to the brand. They have 22. We're responsible for two of them. Also, one of my boys, if they take both of my Rolex watches, I won't have any for me, so we also have to do some more digging to get some more watches.
Q. Sylvain, Montréal is actually one of the tracks that Mazda has not won at yet. How can you change that this weekend?
SYLVAIN TREMBLAY: I think last year we had a little bit of bad luck. I got contact early. Jeff obviously has run well there. We finished second on fuel mileage two years ago when the 57 car won. So we've been competitive, we just have not put it all together. That's the biggest difference.
This year we've seen with three very competitive cars, one of our three cars is going to put it together. We're looking forward to going there.
Obviously the latest adjustments by Grand-Am for the Mazda have not helped our cause, but I think the balance of the car, tire wear, if there's a lot of long green runs, our cars will be looking good. On restarts it's a little harder. We know what it takes as far as braking there. We've made great leaps and bounds as far as the ability and the stability of the car under braking. So we're looking forward to going to Montréal and testing all the improvements we made to the car.
Q. Any difference in racing your teammates for the championship as a driver?
SYLVAIN TREMBLAY: I wish there was. Those are the hardest guys to pass. They have the same equipment as us. If you're going to be racing somebody, obviously racing another SpeedSource car is the most difficult for the same reason. The same strengths they have is the ones that we have. The same weaknesses that we have are the same ones that have. When we're racing a different brand, they might not do well and vice versa.
Definitely racing another SpeedSource car is one of the toughest things we do this year.
Q. Ian, as a team owner, there's been a lot of talk about proposed changes to the Daytona Prototypes for 2012. What is your feeling on changing of the car?
IAN WILLIS: That's a very good question, also a very difficult question to answer because any of the things that have been discussed are still in the evolution stage, I guess.
I think the format we have is very good. One of the reasons we are in this series is that the Daytona Prototype format of car design and equality is such that a small team like us can compete against the big names like Penske, Ganassi and win. I don't think they're going to mess with that.
I think the only thing we're going to see is the evolution we get every sorted of five years? '08 we had bodywork upgrade. In 2012 it sounds like it's going to be something similar, maybe try and make the cars look a little sexier. That's some of the things that have been discussed. I don't think anything has been finalized as of yet.
Q. Mark or Ian, do you have plans for next year?
MARK WILKINS: I hope so. Yeah, I guess I'll start and let Ian finish it off. But our goal is always to continue to run in the Daytona Prototype class and continue to push.
I think as a team overall collectively we want to win one of these championships. I think that's the goal that we've set out since we started. I know that's a tough road. But we've had victories, we've had strong results. We've been getting closer and closer.
So I think that, you know, next year the goal would be to continue on and to try to go for that championship.
IAN WILLIS: Yeah, to follow on from Mark, we're working very hard on next year's program. Obviously this year we missed the 24 due to budget constraints. Brought a couple of new sponsors into the series this year. Hope they'll grow with us and we can introduce some more for next year and have a complete season.
Even though it's a very cost-effective championship to run, it's still expensive in a tough economy. We're working hard. We've got a very good product to sell. We fully expect to do the full season next year and achieve the goal, as Mark said, of chasing the championship.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Our season finale is going to be September 11th at Miller Motorsports Park and we're going to be running a new course this year, a different configuration, the 3.048-mile outer course, which is half a mile shorter than the 24-turn circuit we've used there.
Mark Wilkins and then Sylvain Tremblay, how does the change in course change the way you approach Miller Motorsports Park?
MARK WILKINS: It's a new circuit for everybody, I suppose. We're all going to have to learn the differences between the two tracks. It will be like going to any other new facility really. In the limited time we get on the race weekends, we have to try to figure it out faster than everybody else.
I think from a fan perspective, it will be better. It will be a bit of a better show obviously with the nature of that track to have the visibility and the sight lines better for the fans. A little bit of a shorter lap will kind of keep everybody a little bit more involved. I think from that perspective it's very good.
Personally, I'm just looking forward to trying out a different configuration and working to try to get our car to be the best. We have been able to get the car working really well this year so I'm excited to get to Miller to be able to explore the limits of a new facility.
SYLVAIN TREMBLAY: For us I think definitely it's a more flowing layout, it flows better, and it will suit the Mazdas better than the point-and-shoot of the inner part of the facility. Miller is world class. One thing that was difficult for us is a lot of heavy braking and then lots of torque to come off the corner. So this outer circuit is definitely more flowing. I think it will suit the Mazdas more.
The passing zones are more defined. I think you'll have less DP-to-GT contact. People will be more patient because there will be some more defined passing zones instead of the other ones where the average speed or minimum speeds at the corners were close from DP to GT. Now there will be bigger differentials, less hassle from one class to another.
We're looking forward to ending the championship there.
Q. Mark, what is the most difficult part of Montréal, the racetrack itself?
MARK WILKINS: The most difficult part? You know, the corner 3-4 complex has always been a very tricky part of that track. I say that because it's a lot like a street circuit in that section. The surface tends to be pretty slick, especially early in the weekend. There's really no margin for error.
At the exit of the curve, you have to use the whole road, the wall is right there. That's a very tricky part to slow the speed and retain a good minimum speed through that section and ultimately to get back on the power on a rather slick section of the track with really no margin for error. So I'd have to say that section, for sure.
Q. Sylvain, as a former DP owner, they've proposed some new changes in 2012 to the engines that could possibly favor Mazda. Any thoughts of going back to DP racing?
SYLVAIN TREMBLAY: Really it's up to the will of the manufacturer and our sponsors. Right now our big focus is GT. The current Mazda RX-8 is a great product, in the marketplace for a couple more years. Who knows what's going to happen from then on. Had a good experience in DP. The resources have changed quite a bit from when we ran the program. Now a top-level GT program is more money than the DP programs we ran back then.
The sport continues to evolve. Competitors are competitors. Great teams like AIM, Ganassi have really raised the bar. For us we try to raise the bar in GT.
As far as where we're going to be in a couple years, you have to ask Mazda that.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you, Ian, Mark and Sylvain for joining us. Best of luck in Saturday's Montréal 200 and in the September 11th Rolex Series season finale at Salt Lake City. I'd also like to thank the members of the media for taking the time to join us. We appreciate your coverage.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|