Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
July 14, 2010
J.J. O'MALLEY: Good afternoon, and welcome to this special edition NASCAR Grand-Am teleconference as we get ready for Sunday's NJMP 250 Presented by Crown Royal at New Jersey Motorsports Park.
I would like to welcome Michael Shank Racing to the call. Car owner Mike Shank is joined by drivers Ozz Negri and John Pew.
Ozz, the team has back-to-back podiums coming into this race. You've won at New Jersey before. Can your podium streak continue this weekend?
OZZ NEGRI: Well, we certainly hope for. We've been working hard. You know, we sense we are on a really good zone. Everything we've been doing, it's been working in our favor. I think keeping the same recipe and John doing the good job that he's doing, and the team just has been fabulous with strategy and preparation of our Crown Royal Ford/Riley. I think we can be there again.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you very much.
John, welcome to the call. You and Ozz seem to be coming on very strong as a driving combination. It's your first year together. How is the chemistry developing between the two of you?
JOHN PEW: It's been fantastic. I'm really lucky to have Ozz as a co-driver. He's a wealth of knowledge and a great coach. Also fortunate that we live close by in Florida so we get to see each other a lot on the weekends and during the week at the go-kart track where he helps me out a lot.
Chemistry, it's really good. I mean, he knows what I'm thinking before I even think it on the racetrack and lets me know on the radio. I just hear his voice in my head sometimes.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Mike, your team had a major setback at Watkins Glen when you had a fire destroying one of your cars very late in the running of the six-hour race. Since then you've rebounded strong with the two podium finishes for the Ford/Riley in addition to the competitive runs for the new Ford/Dallara. What are the dilemmas running two different chassis at the races?
MICHAEL SHANK: Well, it's not any ideal situation in any team. We built this team about having two of the same of everything so we could do two instant comparison. It helps the engineers; it helps the drivers. From that aspect it's not good.
From the aspect of comparing the two best cars in the series, it's more than perfect. There's good and bad in all this. Now we have comparative data that we can say the Dallara is good here and here, the Riley is good here, or one is better all the time. Now we'll get to see that in real-time and make decisions on maybe what we'll do for next year.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you, Mike.
At this time we'll open it up for questions.
Q. John and Ozz, can you talk about the dynamic of gentlemen drivers in the series.
OZZ NEGRI: Well, it's been working for me, I can tell you that. Since I started racing in the series, I had Mark Patterson and now John. I think we've been very successful.
It kind of limits our race strategy a little bit, but sometimes, you know, when the yellow flags fall at the right place, the right time, it's back to like zero for everybody. So we become like equal in terms as the other pro cars.
Me and John, we've been working a lot. We've been working together very heavily at the go-kart track and also on our Rolex race weekends.
John, I think his learning curve, it's really steep. He improved a lot in areas that I really needed him to do that. It's been working perfectly. Two podiums on the last few races. We got three podiums this year. You know, hopefully we can keep running very strong and very competitively to the end of the year.
J.J. O'MALLEY: John, would you mind following up, as well.
JOHN PEW: ProAm drivers have always been a part of sports car racing. I'm glad to be a part of it. With Grand-Am, they make a good home for ProAm drivers, too. It's very, very humbling and an awesome experience to drive with and against some of the best drivers in the world.
I think the way that the strategy works out sometimes with yellow flags and whatnot, it really gives us a chance. Having a guy like Ozz and a team like Michael Shank together, I'm really, really blessed to be working with both those guys.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Michael, how is the challenge getting the chemistry right for a ProAm driver?
MICHAEL SHANK: There is a slight challenge to it. But I am really lucky. John and Ozz met way long ago when they ran Formula Mazda together. Actually John introduced Mike Patterson to Ozz, who Ozz drove with for four and a half to five seasons.
There was kind of instant chemistry there. So when Mark decided to go to Europe this year, John told me immediately, he said, Listen, I want Ozz as my partner. There was no issue there at all. It was instant.
Ozz, I got to tell you, Ozz is probably the best driver. I've seen a lot of driver coaches in my 20 years of doing this. Ozz is the most intense person you've ever met and requires a ton of your time to make sure that you understand completely. And he uses input from all the data systems we have on the car and in-car video.
Literally John and he could be stuck at the trailer till midnight every night if John doesn't finally throw his hands and says he has to go to bed.
So what I think is beautiful about this arrangement is that if a guy wants to get better in our series, Ozz is the right guy to do it, that's for sure.
Q. This season has been dominated by the Ganassi team, different chassis, different motor combination. What do you concentrate on to try to close that gap? I know two podiums in a row is getting there. What do you work on most? Coaching, engine? What do you go through to try to beat those guys?
MICHAEL SHANK: You know, obviously we have to look at every part. Their program right now is just hitting on every single cylinder. Not only is their motor a superior motor in the series right now, but also the car is the best-handling car in the series at most of the tracks.
So for us, Ford do a great job for us. We're working on that curve as hard as we can to make sure we get maximum out of the motor. We work constantly to make our chassis better. We work a lot on strategy.
We've come out of the pits several times in front of the 01 and at least we have a fighting chance at that point. If you watched the Daytona race we just had, Ozz restarted P3 on one of the last yellows and got to P1. Here come the two BMWs like freight trains. There's just nothing that we can do about it.
Grand-Am have put a weight penalty on the BMW. There's been a lot of controversy about that. I've been in the series for seven years now. Typically every year you have a motor that stands out. It's the cycle of life in Grand-Am. It's apparent. Anybody that thinks they don't have an advantage is just fooling themselves right now.
But that's okay. That's the way our world works. When we got our motors in 2008, I think we had a slight advantage. It's just the cycle of life here, you know.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Ozz, you won the first race at New Jersey Motorsports Park in 2008. What did you think of the circuit then and how it developed last year and coming back to it this weekend?
OZZ NEGRI: You know, I love that kind of thing where you got some speed sweepers, a lot of switchbacks, and the track is really technical. Last year we didn't have such a good race. We got caught in an accident in the beginning of the race. It was raining like a lot. So even though after when we came back on track, on a wet track, we were pretty competitive.
So I'm really looking forward to this race again. I know that it is difficult. The competition is really hard. I keep saying there's like 13 cars that can win the race. We just need to, just like Shank said, keep working every single area possible trying to improve, trying to be there up front at the end of the race.
I think we have the capability of doing it. I think our car, it is competitive. I think in David and Jeff, both engineers, they have great race strategy. You know, me and John, I think we've never been as motivated as we are. I'm really looking forward to the weekend.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Next race is Watkins Glen. Your thoughts getting ready for that race after doing the six hours on the long course back at the beginning of June?
OZZ NEGRI: Watkins Glen, it's for sure one of my favorite tracks here in the States because of the high-speed corners. We always done well there. It's going to be great to be racing the same weekend at the NASCAR race where we can show to the fans what Grand-Am is about, how competitive we are and what a great show we can put on.
Q. You now have the two chassis in your stable now. You're kind of two races into that between Mid-Ohio and Daytona. How is that going since you aren't able to share as much information now?
MICHAEL SHANK: I think it's still going fairly well considering. Thankfully Ozz and John and their car have operated pretty seamlessly through this whole process of the other car thrashing so much. They are doing a great job maintaining where they're at in the championship. We've had lots of meetings in regard to keep that focus the same, not change too much.
Again, it's a little bit tough because we have to create new systems that we want on the Dallara and that type of thing, which we're in the process of doing. But the Dallara is a very, very good car. That car led 30 laps in the last two races. The potential of that car, obviously we see the 10 car do pretty well every weekend, but I see great potential in the Dallara. We'll see where this goes.
I can't tell you what's going to happen for 2011, but this is a great experiment, I can tell you that.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you, Ozz, John and Mike for joining us. Best of luck in Sunday's New Jersey Motorsports Park race and the remainder of the Rolex Series season.
I'd like to thank the members of the media for taking the time to join us today. We appreciate your coverage.
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