Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
March 31, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone and welcome to this special edition NASCAR GRAND-AM teleconference, joining us today are Scott Pruett and Memos Rojas, 2008 Daytona Prototype champions and winners of the recent GRAND-AM in Miami at Homestead Miami Speedway and the No. 01 TELMEX/Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Dinan-prepared BMW Riley.
They share the Daytona Prototype points lead entering our next event, the Porsche 250 on April 10 at Barber Motorsports Park.
You are off a strong start as you enter your fourth year co-driving with Scott. How important will the Porsche 250 be in terms of keeping up the momentum in looking at the 2010 championship?
MEMO ROJAS: Hello, everybody. Even though we have a strong lead at this moment, after the podium at Daytona and the win at Homestead, we learned last year that the way that the pole structure is in GRAND-AM and the way the competition -- how tough it is, you cannot -- you cannot give anything away.
Last year we ran the most consistent and unfortunately we lost the championship with three races to go. So right now we are feeling in an offensive mood. We want to go forward and we want to win races. It's too early in the season to, you know, to know what's going to happen. So we just need to get as many points and race as we can.
Q. Hello, Scott and Memo. My question for either of you to answer, this is the first year for this race, that it's going to be held in April. The last several years it's been in the middle of summer which has been extraordinarily hot here and the big issue was always the heat and how it would affect the drivers. How much better do you think it's going to be in April with much better weather, and also, are you at all concerned that the race will be somehow overshadowed by the Indy race, which is the same weekend?
MEMO ROJAS: Well, first of all, I really look forward to racing there now in the spring. It's good for us, because racing in the summer because the heat is so high that physically, it was really challenging. But also for the fans, I really -- I mean, I really think they could enjoy a much better spectacle in cooler temperatures.
So I really look forward for the fans being able to enjoy the race without any issues. We always have a great car there, even though it was the middle of summer, and we are really looking forward to it now that it's going to be much better weather.
And to answer your question, I really enjoy racing with IndyCar, first of all, because we share a team with Ganassi and the IndyCar team, so it's good to have all of the team at one track, because we all support each other.
And you know, it's a different series. I think it's better spectacle for the fans. You know, both series, you know, two types of road course racing, such as sports car racing and open-wheel racing, I think it's just going to make a better spectacle. So I really look forward to it.
Q. Talk about the development of the BMW engine not so much the overall development, but the fact that you guys are able to find victory circle in such a short amount of time; has the engine come along, at least in the back of your chassis and your working with Dinan to prepare it; have things come along on the development, are you ahead of the curve? How are things going there?
MEMO ROJAS: Actually I think we still have a bit of the development phase as far as chassis setup goes. The engine certainly changed how the car behaves, how the car balances, how we react in certain corners. So we have been working on that.
But I think the good thing is that the engine was already pretty well developed, even though, you know, I think it's the first time the engine has been on a tough team, the engine has been around for a few years; so Dinan has already a lot of experience and miles on this engine.
So I don't think the engine is so much development. But we just need to adapt as quickly as we can, and obviously Homestead proved that we are doing a pretty good job. We keep saying that there's been some improvement to do on that end and to the chassis, to the weight of the new engine.
Q. In my estimation, you actually had the fourth-fastest one-lap race time. This is not unusual to see, others actually put in faster race laps than you. It's interesting despite Chip Ganassi Racing not always recording the fastest lap, you guys still are in the hunt and in the race finishing first or second or certainly in the championship, as well. Why is it that you guys can consistently find yourselves up front, and winning championships, and not setting the fastest times every race?
MEMO ROJAS: Well, I think, you know, that has happened a few times, winning in previous years. I think it's more a matter of having a consistent pace, because you can set up your car to have a really quick lap on new tires, but not necessarily quick on the long stints, especially at Homestead where it's one of the tracks that has the worst tire degradation than any other track.
We really struggle to keep the tires in good shape for long stints, and in order to do that, you need to compensate your setup and make a reliable setup that will make those tires last long, although you may not necessarily be the fastest single lap.
I think that will answer your question; that we have a good car for a long stint, but maybe not for a quick lap on new tires.
Q. First, at Homestead, the incident with the six car, you said on the SPEED telecast that you wait to hold your judgment on what happened; first, have you had a chance to see it and second, what's your take on it?
MEMO ROJAS: Yes, actually, well, one of the things -- got out of the car, I got a chance to see it on TV after the race. Obviously that was the 6 car. I looked at it and the way -- the reason I turned in was because I was looking more for an opening on the inside of the 59 car. He went wide on the engine, and I kind of tried to out-brake him, but at the same time I turned in on the 6 car.
The reason I did that was because I was not aware that the 6 car was that much into the inside of my car. So I think it was one of those things where, you know, you're trying to run the cars side-by-side, and I thought the 6 car was a little bit further behind. I talked to the team after the race, I apologized to them, even though it went undeclared, I don't drive like that and that's not the way I want to perform on the track.
I've raced those guys for driving three years now and we've never had issues. So it was the thing to do, you go talk to them and have no bad blood between us. They are really good guys, and, you know, that's not the way I would have wanted it to end.
Q. The schedule for the Barber weekend is a little different with you guys basically finishing up at 11 o'clock Friday morning from practice and qualifying and all that, to not racing till 12:30 in the next day with a lot of IndyCar action in between. How is that going to affect how you guys attack things, and do you think that's going to change how the track is going to react to that kind of stuff?
MEMO ROJAS: Well, when we race on our own, we have a big gap of time between those schedules, and you know, it's one of those things where you just have to wait and see how the tire compounds affect the track, the chassis, the way the car is balanced, and there's really nothing to do about it but just wait.
The only thing that I can say about it is that it's the same for everybody, so as long as everybody is okay -- that's part of motor racing, those situations.
THE MODERATOR: Scott Pruett, two time Daytona Prototype champion, welcome to the call. You personally reached a personal milestone, Scott. Congratulations on turning 50, and how long do you plan to keep on racing?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, thanks for mentioning that right off the bat, J.J. just coming off our last win at Homestead, I think I have a couple of good races left in me and I'm just having fun. I just really enjoy the competition.
I enjoy racing in GRAND-AM. I know enjoy getting out there and racing hard with all of the competition, no matter what age or what team.
And just to mention on -- the other piece I wanted to mention earlier, I jumped in when memo was answering that last question, another thing interesting about Barber's is we are going back in April instead of later on in the year when it's incredibly hot. I think that in itself is going to be one of the biggest challenges for us is being there when there's probably more grip on the track and certainly cooler conditions.
Q. Would you give me an assessment of Barber Motorsports Park in comparison to degree of difficulty to other road courses in the fact that you come up that hill and turn four and it's totally blind and you're aiming for the scoring tower; how tough or easy is that racetrack?
SCOTT PRUETT: It's a very tough track. It's a very physical track. It's a very technical track. And not just that; going in turn one, you actually can't see turn one where you go down the hill there and there's a lot of blind areas and it keeps you incredibly busy as a driver because there's no real straightaway. Most parks turn all the time and you have an uphill and downhill and a drop. Physically, it's going to be one of, it not the most difficult tracks we race on all season.
And I'm just excited going there in a more reasonable time of year where excited to be there with the IndyCars, team cars, with Dixon and Franchitti. And hopefully we can put a good show. We always put a good show on there. Every year we go there, the prototypes put on a great show and we are looking to do the same thing on Saturday.
Q. If I may follow-up and use again one of the questions from the other gentlemen, with the IndyCars and their Red tires and Black tires and Continental tire series, how reactive is your spec tire to the rubber that these other guys are going to put down in the day and a quarter that you won't be on the track?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, that's going to be a really good question. You know what -- even with the new tire this season has been significantly better. The durability and the longevity of the tire is probably the best of what we've seen from them so far. But we haven't had a situation where we ran on Continental tires and it didn't seem to make much difference for us at all. Which he can check.
When you look at the IndyCar tires, they are bigger, certainly softer; they have multi-compound. I don't expect a problem. If anything, I see us picking up grip, so we have to be on top of that, because that will change the car, but for the most part I see it being a positive instead of a potential negative.
Q. To paraphrase the late, great Ronald Reagan, I promise not to make a big issue about your young age.
SCOTT PRUETT: I appreciate that.
Q. A couple questions for you, how do you attribute personally that you have been able to stay on top of your game in racing, even that little division into NASCAR and everything, you've always stayed on top of your game. What are some of the things that you have done or do you find a reason for that?
SCOTT PRUETT: First, quite frankly, with any athlete, first and foremost is attitude. I absolutely still love driving. I started when I was eight, I'm now going into my 42nd year of racing, which is incredible, but I still love it, and I think I love it even more as the years go by, than in previous.
The technical side of it, I still feel like a student of the sport and I'm still learning from every test, from every race, from every qualifying, you learn a bit and you learn more about the cars and how to set them up and what you're looking for.
I think that's such a high for me. I mean, I just love doing that. And so when I'm going to the gym every day and working out every day; or if I'm out in the vineyard working hard, you know, doing what I do, my first focus is getting in the race car and keep going out and competing.
So I think that's first. I think that's the biggest thing with anybody and what they do. You have to absolutely have that passion and that love, and then everything else falls into place.
Q. My experience as not a driver of Barber is that it's a beautiful facility and it's unique and it's great and so beautiful and everything, but what's really tricky about it and where are the places that you can get in trouble on a track like that?
SCOTT PRUETT: Everywhere. It would probably be easier to say, well, you can't get in trouble there, because when you get off in turn one, it's big. If you get off in turn two, it's going to be big. The kink -- it's not too bad but if you get off, it's going to be a big crash. The hairpin across is probably one of the more safer areas. Down in front of the museum, it's incredibly tricky. That kink on the back strait for us is a huge challenge. And then you go into that whole section, that left hill, downhill, right, uphill, right, downhill, coming back towards pit end, that ride is really tough, and if you have a problem there, it's a huge crash.
So I think it's better answered, as I said earlier, but saying that there are places on the track that I think it's more difficult to get in trouble where the rest of the track, you have to be on your game all the time.
Q. What I'm interested in knowing is that the span of time between Rolex and Homestead and now Homestead and Barber, what do you do with all of your time, and what do you do to keep mentally attuned to racing, whether using computer simulations or whatever.
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, I do a lot of work in my vineyard and we just got done bottling and we are actually introducing the first Pruett-labeled wine at Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival, the same weekend at Barber Motorsports race, which has been big.
Been heavily training, whether it's at my own home gym or whether it's at the club or any of the other things I do. And also, on a simulator, I continually work on the sim and you know, try and just keep sharp. I mean, it's always a challenge having this much time between races, and actually, it's less this year than last year. We had a bigger break last year, so I appreciate the fine-tuning of our schedule.
So it's crazy, every day goes by and I seem like I wake up and I'm going to sleep and my day is full of all kinds of stuff that I can't quite keep up with, as well as chasing kids around.
Par you know, I think it's all of those things together. But the simulator, and certainly the wine side of it has got me incredibly busy this time of year.
MEMO ROJAS: In my case, well, I spend a lot of time training. I probably work out from three to four hours a day, in the mornings and the afternoon. That's helped me a lot the last few years, and it's part of our job to stay physically fit.
And I'm not fond of simulators. I don't get the -- it's not the real thing. I like simulators for when you don't know a track. But now that you know the track, I actually enjoy spending more time training in my go-kart. I'm actually on a go-kart track now, so we are going to spend some time today running.
And when we have these gaps, I go back to México City and spend time with the family and in the summer I spend all of the time in Indy training and working out, and I'm obviously, you know, with my team trying to just improve. It seems like the day is never enough.
Q. You talked about your vineyard, can you give us a capsule of how many acres and cases of wine and grapes that you have?
SCOTT PRUETT: At the house I have two and a half acres of syrah, multi-clones. This is the first vintage that's going to be called Pruett. It's actually called Pruett Vineyard, and it's Pruettvineyard.com, as well, if you wanted to pick up a little more information. And this will be the first time that we feel that we have the quality fruit to come through and have an absolutely wonderful wine.
And through that process, I have gotten involved with probably the biggest food and wine event in the United States, which is called the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival, and that happens Saturday and Sunday, the same weekend as Barber. So after the race, I'll be flying back out to Monterey and participating in that and promoting our Pruett Vineyards syrah and Sunday.
Q. The issue with Impact Racing, with some of their safety equipment getting de certified through the lawsuit, I know you're one of the drivers in the GRAND-AM series who uses the equipment. Do you know if you're going to have to change equipment, and if you do, when that's going to have to happen?
SCOTT PRUETT: That's a very good question, and I don't know. The only thing that I use from Impact is the suit. So gloves are Oakley; helmet is Bell, shoes are adidas. So from my standpoint, I know the team is on it. Ganassi Racing is incredible and they are on it.
So I'm not sure how far it will see this go through but as a team we will certainly do whatever we need to do to keep the drivers safe. Whether it's on the IndyCar side or NASCAR side, on the IndyCar side are I believe on the same suit. It's up to the drivers for the rest of it. So I'll guarantee you that the powers that be will make and do whatever it takes to keep all of the drivers in the safety equipment they need to be in.
Q. This year seems to be a banner year for Penske; Ganassi got a win in NASCAR, and you guys got a win, and you're to the doing all that bad in IndyCar, also. The question I have is really from a fan who wants to know, are you guys doing anything differently, do you think that Penske is doing anything differently?
SCOTT PRUETT: I think that from our standpoint, you know, our biggest difference has been BMW, which has been a great change for us. Steve Dinan has been just incredible and given us good reliability and given us an engine that we feel has given us very good compatibility.
And you know, it's interesting, because racing wants teams to be this singulatory-type thing; and I was just telling Chip last year, literally you have a team owner who was in the running for three different championships, a NASCAR championship, Indy championship and our championship, which I thought was incredible.
So I think great teams continue to do what they do. When you look at Penske and his victories, and you look at Ganassi and I think those two, you have to say coming to mind, just kind of globally from North American racing. And then from there you look at Hendrick and what they achieved on the NASCAR side.
So, they just keep building on their success. They already have this incredible momentum going, and they just continue to fine tune it and get better at it.
Q. Memo, do you have an idea, also?
MEMO ROJAS: Yeah, I'm on the same page as Scott. I think on the GRAND-AM team, the only thing apart from the engine is we have a few personnel changes that it's always interesting adapting to new people. But the way the team works, I mean, we have the same car because the World Series has not changed the chassis for a long time. So we just try to maximize what we have got. You know, we have learned from little bits and pieces and tried improve the car. So I'm happy with it.
Q. I understand you're starting to convey possession of some your Rolex watches to other people; may I please have one?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, you have to be part of the family, so when my oldest daughter turned 21, she got one and quite a step, I have a 10-year-old and 12-year-old, and they will get one when they turn 21. It's a memorable piece from their old man and his racing. So I'm not sure if you quite fall into that position, but if I have any left over, I will send one your way.
Q. A serious question I've got is: When you get in a car, you seem to turn your quickest lap while you still have a relatively full tank of gas, why does that happen?
SCOTT PRUETT: I'm just anxious to go. Again, got to go, got to go. You know, it's funny, I don't usually -- I don't know -- I don't know why. I just feel like any moment that you can gain time, you gain time, whether you're trying to catch up to them or whether you're trying to hold your lead. You just can't give up any time at any point. So I just try and every time I get in a car, just try and make it happen.
Q. Are you aware that you do that so early in your stats?
SCOTT PRUETT: Not until you said it --
Q. The vast majority of drivers get their fastest lap when they are nearly empty, within a couple of laps or three laps or four laps from pulling into the pits, where you get yours within the first five to six laps, top. I find that rather fascinating that you run-up so quick, and then I just wondered if there was some strategic aspect, but nonetheless we'll follow-up on that at Barber.
SCOTT PRUETT: Any time.
Q. With the flipover of the order of the races with Barber coming earlier in April and Virginia International Raceway coming later in the year, does that change your strategy going into either race?
SCOTT PRUETT: I don't think so. Typically the first few races, you are just -- that's a time of the year where you're looking to see who your competition are, who the major players are, what new teams that are out there that have got into the series like we saw Penske join in last year; what teams really stepped up their game this year that we have to be aware of.
But usually those first, you know, four or five races -- but, quite frankly, the fact that we are going to Barber when it's not going to be somewhere between 95 degrees and 100% humidity, you just ran them into it the ground. You just had to gear up for that race knowing it was just this horrible set of conditions.
So I think that's my viewpoint. I'm looking at this being, wow, this is going to be great going to Barber where you are focused on not just survival of the heat, but going racing.
Q. With the change over of some of the manufacturers this year with Pontiac of course gone and the Chevy Camaros coming into in the GT series and other changes, is it too early to tell it will have any effect back on the track?
SCOTT PRUETT: You know, the Camaros seem to carry really good speed into the turns. So the differential between the GT and the Camaros, that's been a bit of a challenge I think on both sides.
But I think, you know, end of the day, you have to put on a great show, because if you're not putting on a great show, the fans don't want to watch. And I think that is paramount and I believe this, wholeheartedly that that is what the root of GRAND-AM is, we have to go out there and put on a great show whether it's DP's fighting against DPs or DPs cutting themselves into the field of GTs and, quite frankly, I have lost races because DPs have won and lost, I should say because GTs have got in our way depending on the situation.
But I tell what you from a spectator point of view, I get calls after that race: "Wow, that was a great race, it's so exciting, you guys cutting away and all of the passing." And that's what we need to do.
As long as we can keep doing that and have this freshness to it, so we have the Corvettes and Camaros, we made the change to BMW; I think all of that even in this market has been pretty tough financially for a lot of people. The economy has not been exactly what we have wanted to see but at the same time we are still seeing some pretty exciting things in GRAND-AM. So you know, I love it. I'd love to see it.
Q. Earlier you mentioned about the change in the schedule and the cool temperatures that we are going to have here, that you get a lot more grip during the race. How have you approached racing at Barber?
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, typically, you know -- memo, you've been to those race, sometimes it's so hot, it's just oppressive. In those conditions -- two things. One, you lose the efficiency of the engine, so you lose more power from that side and two, because the air is thinner, you don't have as much energy to generate more downforce.
And so both of those things together and cooler temperatures with the tire, I think all of those pieces, we are going to see higher speeds. And with that, potentially, there's differences with the car that we are going to have to address, where it's a spring shot combination type issue or whether it's a downforce issue, but overall, in cooler conditions, especially at Barber where you are so commanded on downforce and acceleration, I think we are definitely just going to see some higher speeds.
Q. Do you think it will be an improved passing situation?
SCOTT PRUETT: If you're passing at Barber, you have to take some pretty big chances and there's just some really thin ground where you can get it done, and I don't see that changing. I do see the higher speeds, though, and you never know. Potentially maybe you could pull off a move on a second line that we haven't experienced before because of the ability to get a little more grip.
Those are the kind of things that we are going to find out in coming weeks.
THE MODERATOR: We have a question from our Facebook page viewers: If you had a chance to drive in the vintage event at Watkins Glen International and given a chance to drive any car from any series, from any era, what car would it be and why?
MEMO ROJAS: I would drive a car Formula I car from the Indy, when they have the turbo engines when it picked up I think more than 1,000 horsepower. I think it would be blast to drive those cars with the horsepower they had in those days.
SCOTT PRUETT: Well, I forget the number, but it's the Mercedes Group C car from Europe that Schumacher won the championship, I got a chance to drive the car in Daytona and was just a tenth of a second off the overall track record just messing around. I think with serious effort, that thing had so much horsepower and so much grip, it was just an incredible car to drive. Getting something like that around Watkins Glen would be just the ride of a lifetime.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much for joining us.
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