Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
August 3, 2010
J.J. O'MALLEY: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this the special edition NASCAR Grand-Am teleconference as we get ready for Saturday's Crown Royal 200 at Watkins Glen International. I'd like to welcome GAINSCO Bob Stallings Racing's Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney, the reigning and two-time Daytona Prototype champions and winners of our most recent race at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
Alex Gurney, after a string of bad luck in nearly every race this year, the Red Dragon unloaded strong right off the truck at New Jersey, won the pole, then won for the first time this season, with a little bit of luck thrown in at the end. How important was getting that first career victory No. 13 and what are your thoughts heading to Watkins Glen?
ALEX GURNEY: Getting the victory was a big deal for us. It feels like it's been a long time coming. We last won last September I think it was. So it felt like an eternity for everyone on the team. We've been trying so hard.
We've had a lot of little things come up this year. We've all made our share of mistakes. It was nice to be able to put a whole race together without any hiccups. We had the pace, and great to finally get one.
I think we're hoping we can add to that tally here the next three races.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Jon, last year you ended up the season with five consecutive poles as the team wrapped up its second championship in three years. Based on the showing at New Jersey, do you think the GAINSCO team can dominate at Watkins Glen and the two other races remaining this season?
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, I think 'domination' is far and few between these days in Grand-Am. We haven't truly dominated anything since our 2007 season. But I do think we have a car winning races, dominating not so much, but winning, yes. So, yeah, we're going to shoot for poles and wins, the tracks we like. We're just going to go for it.
But as always the competition is super tough. The 01 car seems to be on a tear. We'll have our work cut out for us, but that's fine.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thanks a lot, Jon.
At this time we'll take questions.
Q. Would you say you favor the long course or the short course? Since the short course is in play this weekend, what's the biggest challenge of getting your car for you to work that racetrack?
ALEX GURNEY: It's hard to say. I like both the tracks. They're definitely very different. Maybe the long course suits our car a little more, but it's debatable. The long course you probably rely a little more on aerodynamics and also being able to make it work in some of those slow corners.
You know, the short course is just really high top speed and you're kind of holding it for a long time, so you got to make the car work in a straight line.
You know, the challenge for us at the short course the last few years has been traffic. Traffic has been a real difficult problem. If you get hung up in any of these corners, you got a long straightaway following it. You really have to negotiate the traffic in the right way and be able to get runs on people and not let them get runs on you.
Anyway, it's a shorter race than all the others for the year, only two hours. No one will be letting up. Should be a lot of fun, I would think.
JON FOGARTY: Even though we're at Watkins Glen, the tracks are extremely different. There's things that I like about the short course. You just have more opportunities to make a difference inside the car. You know, I think being able to work with your engineer, like Alex said, to make the cars work in the slow corners, brake zones as well, fast corners, just opens things up.
On the other hand, the short course is super fast, which obviously is fun as a driver. But when you have a fast course and your momentum gets broken, things like that, it's really easy to get shuffled back or shuffled forward.
Unfortunately we haven't done much shuffling forward the last couple years there. I think we have a better idea more now and in that situation we can work on a car that allows us to be up front.
I enjoy both. I'm glad we get to go there twice.
Q. It seems the Sprint race at the Glen always produces surprising new winners and a heck of a lot of chaos. Why does that Sprint race produce so many different kind of results than what you would get at other Sprint races throughout the season?
JON FOGARTY: It's a very different race, being shorter for one thing, so strategy, your standard Sprint race strategy, 2:45 strategy, goes out the window. You can try a few different things there.
Like I was saying, you mix in the GT traffic, a lot of shuffling goes on. You can come from nowhere basically if you have a car that's ripping down the straight, a pack of cars in front of you gets blocked, you have an opportunity to move to the front.
Makes it fun to watch for the fans. It can be great when you're in the car and you're on the upside of that. But on the downside, it can be extremely frustrating.
Just a different beast.
ALEX GURNEY: Yeah, to add to that. The two-hour race does mix things up quite a bit for our strategy. With our normal races being 2:45, you pretty much have two very clearly defined pit stops that take a certain amount of time. For a short race like this, two hours, you can pretty much make it or barely make it from the 45-minute stop to the end.
So you'll end up getting a bunch of different strategies or I should say more than you would at a normal event. I think that tends to mix it up also.
So gambling I think on strategy could pay off here.
Q. Without sand pits, those cause so many cautions, especially in the Grand-Am races, without those, how wide open is that thing going to be?
ALEX GURNEY: It's definitely going to be wide open. I guess if you have a yellow, it's probably a big one. Hopefully none of those. I think the last corner, they changed that a little bit. Moved out the tires or at least the barrier a little bit closer to the race surface. That is something that tends to grab people a little bit. Other than that, yeah, not having the traps might cut down on yellows.
Q. Getting that win recently that came with the new engine, I know there's a NASCAR connection there with the Earnhardt-Childress group, what have you noticed with the new engine? How is it working out for you guys?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, yeah, it's definitely been I think a little step up. They've just been making incremental gains. They've just been really good to work with, listening to our comments a lot, just trying very hard. They have major resources there. They build many or most of the NASCAR motors, so they've got a huge amount of experience to draw on.
I think we're in good shape with them onboard. So, yeah, they've just been making gains on power kind of where we have been asking for it. So I think it's been showing up in the results.
JON FOGARTY: I mean, to echo Alex, the resources they have, the experience they have building these Pushrod V8s, the Chevrolet LS block motors, man, do they have a lot of experience with it, so they know about them. They knew about the motors even before they got ahold of one of our spec ones.
They've done a tremendous job jumping onboard mid-season and getting up to speed and just they're there for us when we need something. You know, generally if they don't have an answer, they get to it pretty quick.
Q. On a weekend like this, where I think Grand-Am has its profile race where they're part of a stock car extravaganza with the Nationwide and Cup at the Glen, does it mean any more from the team's perspective that you have that NASCAR connection? Maybe that sort of furthers what Grand-Am is trying to do in trying to raise its profile, that they have even more of a NASCAR connection because of your team when they're racing with the NASCAR series?
JON FOGARTY: It does for sure. I mean, we've had a lot of people ask us about the switch to ECR even before we had done it. People were excited about the concept, just thought it was really neat.
So we have attention just from having the affiliation obviously then again with Jimmie Johnson, but also at an event like this it's great for GAINSCO Auto Insurance and our sponsors. It's a great weekend for us, an opportunity to gain more fans, get a bunch of eyeballs on us. So it's a good thing for us.
ALEX GURNEY: I was going to say, I hope it raises the profile a little bit. Jimmie Johnson winning out at Infineon, it was nice of him to mention us in the post-race comments. He talked about getting a lot out of driving with our team, getting experience in the car.
I'm guessing a lot of other drivers are taking a harder look at it, looking at these races, seeing if they can fit it into their schedule.
Q. About the short race being just two hours, is there more pressure on the drivers or on the team in preparing and going into this race to include qualifying?
JON FOGARTY: I mean, man, we always put a lot of pressure on ourselves, even in a 2:45 race. But I think starting up front certainly is probably more important in a shorter event like this. It is always important. But you've seen it time and time again: the usual suspects in a longer race always end up front right about half an hour to go. With a compacted event, maybe that opportunity won't be there.
So, yeah, definitely want to have a good starting spot and nail the pit stops or pit stop. I'd say, yeah, there's probably a little bit more pressure.
Q. What is your mindset like with just a few races left to go? Obviously this year has been very challenging for you. As we saw at the last run at New Jersey, you guys are certainly on your game. Are you still thinking championship or are you thinking win each race, close out the year on a good note, really try and get back to dominating in 2011?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, I mean, if you look at the points situation, first it's probably out of reach unless Ganassi doesn't show up. So second is definitely realistic. We're nine points back of the SunTrust team. I think that would be a good way to kind of recover from a hard first half of the season or so.
So, yeah, we're going to try to win these races and try to at least get into the second spot. That wouldn't be too bad a showing, I think.
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, I mean, for me it's just winning each and every race. Whatever happens with the other guys happens. You certainly position yourself optimally if you win the last three.
You know, we're focusing on this year. But 2011 is not far away. We got to be thinking, you know, just have a good end of the year and, like you said, end on a positive note, and that will help going into 2011 on a lot of fronts.
Q. Jon, in New Jersey you had your first pole of the year. After winning so many poles in the past, how satisfying was that to get in the front row again?
JON FOGARTY: That was big. You know, there's been a lot of seconds, thirds, fourths. Just to be able to go out there and have a car that's capable, it's satisfying to get the pole, but satisfying to know that we've got a car that's got great pace.
Just was an upbeat moment for the entire team, I think. But hopefully we can get a couple more. You can never have enough, that's for sure.
Q. A lot has been talked about the engines. How difficult is it being the only Chevy out there; not having anybody helping with the development?
ALEX GURNEY: That is an issue. We'd like to see more Chevrolets out there. I think maybe the rules have pushed GM products out of the window the last couple years. That's an indisputable fact, I think, just looking at the car count as far as GM cars.
So, yeah, that has hurt us a little bit. But, you know, they're coming along real nicely. I think there's still room for improvement in how Grand-Am assesses the different motors and comes to conclusions about them.
So hopefully there's more to come there.
Q. How frustrating does the first part of that season go for you guys? You've had some bad luck. Talk about how you deal with that frustration from week to week and try to build on those situations to get to that first win.
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, I mean, you try to put each event behind you. Honestly, whether it's a mistake or just a performance issue, you got to focus at the task at hand.
But after enough time, you start to think you got a target on your back, skeletons in the closet, something along those lines. It's good to shake it off and get a victory.
But the whole team, everyone on the GAINSCO team, has a pretty positive outlook, including team owner Bob Stallings. You can sense his frustration at times, but at the same time that's what happens when you got a bunch of guys with desire to win, and that desire never goes away.
Just keep the fire burning, keep looking forward to a better event, a better finishing position. If that's the attitude, it should come. I think we've seen this year that it has. I'm hoping the rest of the year is just more of the same.
Q. If you were to just take a blink and not really follow the season, you'd look at the standings, look at what Ganassi has done this year and think they've been the class of the field. Is it your thought they're the class of the field, they're that much ahead of the rest of the folks, or they're that little bit better and they happen to be getting it done week to week?
ALEX GURNEY: No, I think they have been the class of the field. I think that's fair to say for a lot of reasons. But, yeah, they seem to have done most of the things right. They've had luck fall on their side, as well. I think this last race was probably the first time they've been kind of unlucky.
So, yeah, I think they've been a pretty good chunk ahead. If you look at some of the qualifyings during the year, they had a pretty large gap a lot of the time. I haven't seen anyone else do that. So I think they've been pretty far ahead.
I know that the rules have changed again. They've taken the weight off of the BMWs. We're hoping they don't wipe the floor with everyone this weekend.
JON FOGARTY: I'm going to just add to that.
I mean, they tend not to make mistakes. That's just Chip Ganassi Racing. But even there's been incidents, at Mid-Ohio it's pretty glaring, they didn't nail the strategy, they ended back in the pack along with the 10 car. With the pace they had, they were able to drive to the front and win the race, and the 10 car didn't make progress. With the package they have, they're able to get over mistakes pretty easy.
The margins are so slim, a couple 10ths is all you need to really wipe the floor with everybody. It's just tight racing. If you get any advantage, it shows up big-time.
Q. With driver changes in NASCAR, at Grand-Am it doesn't seem to be that same type of situation. Do you feel your road course skills gives you job security or is it something else?
JON FOGARTY: That's funny (laughter).
ALEX GURNEY: We're both laughing. Job security in road racing would be nice (laughter).
But you're right, the drivers don't seem to move around as much in our type of racing, at least the top teams. It seems like it's been pretty stable over the last few years.
I'm not sure what that is. I think we've won a couple championships, as far as our team, and Jon and I have a great relationship, also with the team. Everything seems to work where we're at.
I think, you know, Bob Stallings has certainly done everything he can to keep our team together. Hopefully many more years of the same.
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, that's what I would hope for, too. I think maybe to a certain extent in NASCAR you see like chemistry between a guy like Jimmie Johnson and Chad. If you want to beat them, you have to keep stirring the pot, adding different chemicals. They try to shift a driver to work with one crew chief and maybe they'll get that magic if they keep moving things around.
In our series, you got to have the drivers get along with one another, then you have to have each individual driver work well with the engineer and the crew chief. Maybe the chemistry is actually slightly more complex and people, if they think they have potential or a winning combination, they're afraid to mess with that.
Little different dynamic I think with two drivers in the car.
Q. With more asphalt, less gravel traps, if there are fewer breaks, cautions, would you prefer to run full stints with no breaks or do you look forward to the breaks to catch your breath, especially in the summertime when it's so hot inside the racecars?
JON FOGARTY: That's a good question. I prefer to run uninterrupted, get out there and get in a rhythm. We've done a good job of keeping our job bearable so we can deal with it. We saw at the last races some people couldn't. I prefer uninterrupted stints.
ALEX GURNEY: Yeah, I'm with Jon on that. As far as this race, you know, we don't really need a break. It's only two hours, our shortest one of the year. It's also at 6 p.m. I would imagine it would be a little bit cooler than normal. We don't have to hold back at all really, so looking forward to that.
Q. Roughly the same time frame for the race, but a different day. This is where our imaginations run wild. How much of race fans will you be? Will you be able to watch the Nationwide race? If you do, will you watch it on television or be outside somewhere? How is that whole dynamic going to work?
JON FOGARTY: Our only on-track time on Saturday is the race. We'll probably be inside trying to stay cool, probably not going to be out on the fence. Yeah, it's great being able to be there on Saturday. I think we should have a great crowd.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you, Jon and Alex, for joining us. Best of luck in Saturday's Crown Royal 200 at Watkins Glen and in the remainder of the Rolex Series season. I'd also like to thank the media for taking the time to join us. We appreciate your coverage.
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