Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
January 20, 2010
J.J. O'MALLEY: Good afternoon. Welcome to this week's edition of the NASCAR Grand-Am teleconference. Joining us today are drivers AJ Allmendinger and Michael Valiante will be competing for Michael Shank Racing in the Rolex 24 at Daytona.
This marks the fifth consecutive year that AJ has raced with Michael Shank Racing. He finished 2nd overall in the 2006 Rolex 24 and qualified 2nd for the 2008 event.
He will again be driving the No. 6 Michael Shank Racing Ford Riley with Brian Frisselle, Mark Patterson and Michael Valiante.
AJ, has racing in the Rolex 24 helped the transition from open wheel racing to NASCAR stock cars?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I mean, I wouldn't say it's really helped NASCAR per se, but just getting in the Grand-Am car, especially 24 hours of Daytona there at the Rolex, it's just a great way to kick off the year.
And especially being at Daytona, it kind of leads into the Daytona 500. And it's really one of those things that for me as a driver I look at there's four or five races, if you could only have those five races on your resume as winning, Daytona 500, the Indy 500, and F1 it's Monaco. And in sports car racing, it's Lamond, Daytona.
Those races, if you could have it on your resume as a victory, that's what you want to do. And for me to be able to kick off the season at Daytona, it kind of rolls into the Daytona 500. And more than anything for me it's just a fun race to be a part of.
I love working with Michael Shank Racing, and we've been very close every year. It's bound to happen and hopefully it's this year.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you very much, AJ. We're hoping to get Michael Valiante shortly. But let's start with questions.
Q. Compare for us the difference or the similarities between running the DP car at Daytona, and running a Cup car at like Sonoma or Watkins Glen. That's the first part. The second part is, try to give us a sense of the grind of 24 hours at Daytona as compared also to, you know, a hot 500-mile race in a Cup car?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Your first part of the question, you know, there's not a lot of similarities. The Cup car is kind of its own beast when it comes to running on a road course. They're big and heavy, and they have a lot of roll in the chassis. And braking-wise, because the cars are so heavy and have so much horsepower, the brake zones are a lot longer. And with the H pattern on a Cup car, it's quite different from a Daytona prototype. A prototype sequential gear box, it's a lot more nimble and quick.
The brake zones itself are a lot shorter. That's something that even every year just jumping back and forth into those cars and getting used to the Daytona prototype again is something that probably the biggest thing I have to get used to is just how short the brake zones are and just how quick the cars are.
And in its own way both cars are really tough to run. Cup car, it's really tough to be spot on every lap just because it's really easy to lock up brakes and you can really kind of downshift the car and get the rear to chatter and lock up. And it really makes it easy to spin. So it's tough there.
But in a Daytona prototype, because they're so quick, your reaction time has got to be so fast, especially at Daytona, because the speeds, especially around the ovals going into the bus stop, are so quick.
So both cars are a lot of fun to drive, but they're quite different to drive. And, you know, your second question, really, it's with the 24-hour, you kind of pace yourself.
And the first year I didn't do very well of it. I was so excited to be there. We were running really well. And I never really slept the whole time I was there. And that was something that I really paid the price for at the end of the race.
And that was a difficult situation. When you're not in the race car, you gotta just really gotta relax and just focus on trying to sleep or just staying off your feet and just resting and just have all your energy so when you do get in the car you can be focused for that hour and a half, two hours, get back out and let the energy die back down.
And I think that's probably the toughest thing is when you're in a Cup car and you run, say, five or 600 miles, you're still always focused. Yeah, it's hot in there, and it's hard to stay focused but you're always driving and you're always having to stay focused, think about the race car, think about not making a mistake.
When you're in the 24-hour, you gotta kind of have that light switch. When you get in that race car, you're about to get in it, you've got to flip the light switch on and really be focused jumping in the car and doing your job. But when you get out of it you have to really shut everything off and just relax and stay off your feet.
So over a 24-hour period, it's tough switching that light switch on and off throughout the time and just being focused. But still having that energy after 24 hours, when it's your time to get in the car, you're still spot on from when you were getting in the car the first time.
Q. With this being such a multi-national and multi-discipline event, who do you look forward to seeing or who is the coolest guy that you met or driver that you've met in your time at Rolex that you went, when you're done, wow, that's pretty great?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I mean, the first year, this was my last year in Champ Car, was Jeff Gordon when I showed up there because I never really got to speak to Jeff. I think it was 2007, it was as I was moving into Cup, you know, Jeff was always my hero growing up.
And to actually be able to sit down and talk to him and speak to him, for me, it was a really cool thing. But you know I really can't pick out one guy. For me, I'm a huge race fan.
I'm probably a bigger race fan than a race driver. And it's just cool especially with how big the 24 hours are getting and with NASCAR being a part of it, it seems like there's so many good cars now that you get a lot of drivers from different types of racing that show up and try to go out there and win the race because they know they have a chance in a good car.
So whether it's a guy like Lucas Lure or a lot of those guys. Allen McNish from Sports Car over in Europe. Or something that's really cool. Last year I got to meet Scott Russell from AMA Superbike. And I love watching motorcycle racing, whether it's Supercross or Super Bike, things like that. So getting to meet Scott Russell to talk to him about those things, what it was like in his career, was really cool to me, too.
J.J. O'MALLEY: I'd like to introduce Michael Valiante. Michael began racing full time in the Grand-Am Rolex Series in 2006. He joined Michael Shank Racing in 2009 where he scored four top 4 finishes.
Michael, the No. 6 Ford Riley was at or near the top of the speed charts throughout the recent Daytona testing, just as it was all last year when a freak component failure sidelines both the Shank Fords in the Rolex 24. What are your thoughts looking forward to this year's Rolex 24?
MICHAEL VALIANTE: Michael Shank Racing, they put together a great program and the car's consistently up front, especially last year. My teammate John Pugh and I, every event we were at the top of the time charts.
So for the 24 Hours, it's been really the same thing, the car's always quick there. And we have a great lineup this year as we did last year. We have AJ back again, and new additions with Brian Frisselle and Mark Patterson.
So I definitely think that we've got the driver lineup to win this year, and it's just making sure that all the little mechanical gremlins have gotten taken care of.
Q. My first question is for you, Michael. You've got your new teammate in Brian. You both have been lucky to drive both the Dalara and the Riley. What are the differences between the two?
MICHAEL VALIANTE: I'd say the Dalara is more like a Formula car. You can't get it sideways. It's definitely quick when it's working well. But there's not as broad or you could say a sweet spot with the Dalara as there is the Riley.
I think ultimately when they're both working well they're just as quick as one another. But I'd say the Riley is a little bit more forgiving. But it does seem, with the new tire that's come out this year, it has favored the Dalara, where the Dalara used to be really hard on tires. The new tire's a bit more durable and definitely will help make the Dalara stronger this year and more of a threat.
Q. Do you think that experience that you have with both those cars, the two different cars, do you think that's going to help you two as you team this year?
MICHAEL VALIANTE: I think so. Great question, because anytime you get to drive two different cars, you know their weaknesses and their strengths. So definitely we know where the Dalara is strong and we always try to make, improve the Riley in those areas.
So I think it's definitely an advantage.
Q. I had a question for each of the guys. AJ, I don't want an exact percentage, but in the last month you've raced a car, tested your sports car, tested a stock car. When you're doing these different disciplines, particularly this time of the year, how much is knocking off the rust? How much was getting in racing trim? How much was real, real serious? And then for Michael, you have raced with guys from disciplines, particularly at the Rolex 24. When you get together with guys like that, is it all business? Do you talk careers? Do you talk progressions? What is it like from your perspective?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Basically for me, you know, I mean, it's a combination of a lot of things. I love to race cars. And getting the chance to race whatever I get the chance to is just fun for me.
And that's something that, it's the reason I do it foremost is just because I enjoy being in a race car. I love competing and going out there and just learning every time I'm in something, whether it's a go-kart or Grand-Am car or Cup car. So I just really enjoy going out there and competing racing against other people.
Definitely I'd rather be in a race car, in a go-kart than just sitting around at home. And it's tough in the offseason, especially now with Cup not testing a lot and taking a way a lot of the racetracks, we don't to get into a Cup car.
I basically try to use whatever I can, whether it's a go-kart, getting a chance to test the Grand-Am car before the Rolex to go out there and knock off the rust. When it's time to focus on Daytona for the Cup car, we get a couple of tests and get back in there.
MICHAEL VALIANTE: In answer to your question, I'd say, yeah, definitely it's interesting hearing all the different drivers talk about their form of motorsports. And that's the great thing about 24, whether AJ is talking about NASCAR, has also Champ Car experience. There's a lot of sports car drivers from Europe or Formula One drivers. So the great thing is it's such a diverse series which brings different drivers from each discipline together.
So when we get together, I can tell you it's not that serious, especially the last test. I mean, everyone's quite excited to do it. And there's a lot of joking going on. But definitely once the 24-hour weekend starts, everyone is a competitor and they want to go out there and win those races.
So we still try to have a good time, but we're definitely out there to try and win the 24 hours.
Q. AJ, you mentioned that sometimes if you're tired you can't get -- you're not behind the wheel, you're not up to strength mentally. What tells you that you've lost your concentration? Where does your mind go? And how do you get it back in focus?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, I think just you know your body, and you know what makes you strong. You know when you feel strong mentally and physically. You know what is at your peak performance. And you know, like I said, in 2006, you know, I just really just was so excited about being there and having my first Rolex and being a part of the 24 hour when I run well, I didn't give myself that chance to relax a little bit and get off your feet.
Obviously 24 hours sounds like a long time, which it is. Ultimately, it's more like a 36-hour event between when you wake up and go to the driver's meeting and you go for drive rows and everything like that, it's just a long day. So you've just got to keep yourself hydrated.
And I've learned kind of what I need to do and what certain things I need to drink at what time and when I need to eat and stay off my feet.
So it's like anything, like any athlete. You just know your body. And when you get tired, you just gotta kind of make sure you rest and eat the right things that help you kind of get that energy back and get focused.
Q. What about the mental aspect, AJ? When you are out there, you're an hour into a stint at three in the morning, and you see galloping pollywogs on the banks at Daytona, what gets your mind back in focus and say: Look, this is serious business, AJ Allmendinger, get back to what you're doing here?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: At times, and more honestly in a 24-hour event like that, it's more, as we were talking, a mental game than a physical game.
I feel like, especially each year -- and I've worked really hard in the offseason to keep getting stronger -- so physically I've never really been that tired driving the race car. And as we talked about, mentally you just know that, especially in the 24-hour, and when you get in the early morning hours, there's not as many cars on the racetrack because a lot of cars have mechanical -- some of the GT cars have gone off.
And the track just gets real dirty and it's hard to see. So it's honestly you just gotta fight with your mind. You gotta tell yourself: Stay focused. Because one little mistake at a 24-hour event, you're off the racetrack, which seems harmless and you catch a pebble through the radiator. You catch a divot. A lot of divots that get laid in on the exit of the racetracks where guys are dropping wheels and that can snap a suspension piece.
So you just gotta tell yourself, you've got to stay focused and be on your mental and on your A game physically and mentally, because one little mistake and it costs the whole race team. And you don't want to be the guy that does that.
As Michael was saying, our cars, they're going to be fast, both Michael Shank Racing cars are going to be fast. We especially think the 6 car is going to be fast. It was last year, and the tests have shown this year we should be again. So you have to stay in your A game.
Q. Is there a for instance at one time when you did something specific that that's better and you got with the program?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: No. Just when it comes to the race, like everything else, you just learn how to prepare better. Like '06 was tough. I was a little bit better in '07. Got better in '08. And '09 I felt really good.
And this year I feel stronger than ever. So it comes with anything. You just gain knowledge and you gain experience and you learn what things you need to do and what not, the things you don't do. So it just gets better each year.
Q. AJ, first for you. This 2006, '7, '8, '9, this will make the fourth year that you've run with Shank; is that right?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Fifth year.
Q. All right. After last year, the car broke. The year before the car broke. What keeps you coming back for this abuse from Shank? After all, you guys haven't finished well the last couple of years, right?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Right. But it's easy to keep coming back because we're leading when the car breaks. It's one of those things that if we were running really bad and the car kept breaking, then we might need to talk.
But Michael, Mike Shank, he puts together such a great team. He doesn't have a lot of funding when it comes to that, and the effort that him and his small group of guys put in every year, it's always the same group of guys. A, it's a lot of fun to be around the race team. That's probably the main reason why I haven't looked at any other car to go to. And, B, just that he keeps putting together fast cars and fast lineups, and it's just a great team to be a part of.
And last year the car was so fast and we had such a good lineup. And I think this year we've even put together a better lineup. And it just makes it easier to keep coming back. We know we have the potential to win. We've just got to go out there and have a little bit of luck on our side and just be smart.
And I won't ever tell Valiante this to his face, and he should probably stop listening to this, but I'll argue with anybody that he's the fastest guy in one of these Daytona prototypes. So when you keep getting paired up with Michael and those types of guys, it makes it easy to come back.
Q. Michael has shown that a few times before. We know that for a fact. How did you hook up with Shank, AJ?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It actually worked out, when I was in Champ Car at RuSport in 2006 Jeremy Dale, a couple of guys from RuSport, they kind of knew Mike and at that point my teammate Justin Wilson and I were looking at running the race. And just worked out that they put the deal together that we'd both run together in Michael's car. And that first year we finished second. We missed winning the race by a lap. And it just, honestly, I love being around Michael.
He just makes it so much fun to be a part of that race team. He's probably one of the coolest owners I've ever worked for in my life. And he's a real racer. And that's why I like being around. It makes it enjoyable coming back to the racetrack and being able to race for the race team.
Q. On the time thing, I used my fingers, when you're a fifth grade graduate, you gotta use every now and then I used my fingers and sure enough this is your fifth year running with them because in 2006 you guys provided the only Lexus 1-2 finish in Daytona history, by the way. Michael, you and Brian Frisselle, who is also on this team, you alluded back during test days, a media conference session there in the media center, that you and he would like to probably compare some notes with regard to past employer. Do you care to share any of those notes with us that you might have already compared?
MICHAEL VALIANTE: Well, obviously what you're referring to is driving for SunTrust. But really, honestly, it was a great experience driving for them. No real regrets. It's no secret that Max Angelelli is difficult to get along with. But still it's a great opportunity. And to this day I still thank Wayne Taylor for being able to be part of the organization. They've got a great group of people and a great program, as you can see from so many races that they won.
And when I joined SunTrust, I knew it was really a two-year program. Because when I joined them they just came out with the Dalara. And it was a development year, but still the car was quick right away. But we had some teething issues and the whole transporter fire which set us back.
So looking back, like I said, there are no regrets. And I still thank them to this day. And, like I said, it's no secret, Max and I just butted head on a couple of things and it was time to go our separate ways.
Q. Now, usually in a car, especially in the Daytona prototype, the gentleman driver or sports driver, in this case, specifically, the Mark Patterson driver, is that the team's weakest link? If it isn't, why?
MICHAEL VALIANTE: Well, you know, I don't think Mark's the weakest link at all. I mean, especially for a gentleman driver, he's been phenomenally quick. And the pace that you run at Daytona is normally always, it can vary. It can be up to two to three to four seconds slower than what you'll qualify at.
And Mark's been really quick at the test days, too quick, quicker than we would want him to run in the race, because it's a 24-hour race it's really about saving the car.
So I think a good point that AJ said is that we've got a great lineup. AJ did a great job last year. He was leading when the car broke. It's just one of those races where even though last year we never had a mechanical issue with Michael Shank Racing at every race, the 24 hours, it's just one of those things where six hours, seven hours, even 20 hours in, something creeps up because the cars are just taking so much abuse.
So often it doesn't matter how well you're prepared. It's just one of those things where something can go wrong. You can be hit by a GT car or something can just fail that's out of your control. So I don't think we could have positioned ourselves any better this year to win, and I wouldn't really pick any other drivers to be teamed up with.
Q. AJ, every year we read about a lot of NASCAR drivers that come in and do the Rolex 24. For someone like yourself who I'd say for the majority of your career is known as a top open wheel talent, you've been in NASCAR for the past few years. But when you come to play at the 24, how do you think of yourself? Do you think of yourself as one of those NASCAR folks coming in, or you still kind of stuck in that open wheel sports car mindset?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: When I come back I get in that open wheel mindset. I wish we ran more road courses on the Cup car. They're a lot of fun on the road courses to drive. But still I'll never lie to anybody: I miss Champ Car racing. Driving those types of cars were like nothing any other person could experience except the ones that got in there.
So they were a lot of fun to driver all the time. And the Grand-Am cars, although not like a Champ Car in that sense, they're just a lot of fun to drive. So it allows me to get back to my road racing background.
And I always kind of joke around. And it's kind of halfway true the fact that when I come back I always got the little nervousness that maybe I've lost a little something on the road courses or that it's kind of slipping away because I spend a lot of time on the oval. It's fun to get back in the car on test days and try to compare myself to a guy like Michael there and see if I can run the lap times that he runs, because he's one of the best guys in the series and one of the best road racers I've ever raced against, honestly, since we raced against each other in Atlantic.
It's a lot of fun. My full-time job is a Cup driver and I really do enjoy that and do have a lot of fun at the Cup races and learn how to drive those things on the ovals. But when I get back at Rolex, I'm a road course driver.
Q. What does it take for you to adjust, not to the driving, but I guess to the technical and engineering side in Grand-Am? We know that NASCAR, especially with the Car of Tomorrow, is a radically different beast in the engineering disciplines, what you use to tune and set up a car in Sprint Cup is unlike anything you come across in open wheel or sports cars. After doing that primarily for the past few years, does it take any time for you to readjust mentally to talking and communicating with the engineers at Michael Shank Racing about how to get the Riley tuned to what you need after working in a different engineering discipline?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: A little bit. But not really. It really comes down to the fact that just getting back in and being able to look at data and focus on whether it's data of set up or data of a lap at the racetrack. It's always fun to look at. That's something that I kind of miss having to have in the Sprint Cup Series especially at the races. We do have it a little bit in testing but at the races you don't have that data to look at.
And just relearning what the disk does and just everything that goes with a Grand-Am car, which was similar to a Champ Car. It doesn't take a long time, especially with working with a guy like Michael there, because Michael is really technical inside the race car.
So I can talk to him and when we both drive the race car itself, you know I can listen to him and he's really good at setting up the car. He does a lot of the setup work. A lot of the ideas himself. So I can listen to him and that helps me relearn everything for the whole year that I've been out of the Grand-Am car that things that maybe have changed or gotten more technical and then just advance further.
It's something that I can listen to him and kind of relearn those ideas and understand what's going on with the race car and then by the end of it I can kind of throw my ideas out there and see what they are, and it's just a different thing. But it's like riding a bike. Once you get back on it, you relearn it really quick and it all comes back to you.
Q. AJ, I'm sorry I missed the first five minutes, if you answered this already. But did you have the test at New Smyrna? Was it your first time there, and what was your impression of the racetrack and how did the whole test session go? And for Michael, again, I've watched you from afar, being involved in NASCAR, but as far as the progression from Atlantic and wherever it goes from there, where do you feel like you are in your career now and again listening to AJ and your teammates, obviously you've got a lot of respect, where do you see your career going long range, please?
MICHAEL VALIANTE: Coming from Atlantic, the natural progression was always Champ Car. But as I'd say even AJ was coming at the same time, coming up at the same time, where he was fortunate to get hooked up with Carl Russo moving the Atlantic program to Champ Car. And still it wasn't easy. And I'm with him going from Barber Dodge to Atlantic, there was a bit of a period before he was hooked up with RuSport where he wasn't sure where he was going to go. For me coming from karting and racing in Europe and my focus always was to get to Champ Car or possibly to do something in Europe.
But at the time, when I was looking to race in North America, the Players program was still there. So it made more sense to try and go after the Players program since they were supporting all the drivers.
So really after Atlantic, Champ Car was quite shaky. So I had an opportunity with Steve Cameron and Cameron Motorsports who ran the Atlantic program that I raced with. They invited me to do a race and it went well. From that point on I got lots of offers to race in the series.
And I've been happy doing it ever since. And I think especially in the current economy, any driver who can be paid professionally to race cars is fortunate.
And for me, you know, I found a home in Grand-Am and I enjoy the series. I enjoy racing the cars. And really, other than NASCAR, you know, it's hard to find racing that's so close, road racing that's so close.
I mean, IRL their over-the-road races are great. But anytime you get cars that are so highly dependent on aerodynamics, you just can't race that close on road courses.
That being said, I love Formula One, but it's just a different form of racing. What I love about Grand-Am is you can get in these cars and, for the fans, you can go back to any race over the course of last year and you'll see they're all -- there's always battles. There's always racing, and they always have world-class drivers in the series.
So as long as I can provide the speed and the results for teams, hopefully I'll continue to be hired and be part of the series.
AJ ALLMENDINGER: And I think with adding to that, Michael was one of those guys, as we were both coming up, you know, unfortunately open wheel racing, although you needed the talent, it was a lot about luck, too.
And he was just unfortunate, with one of those guys -- that he could have jumped in any Champ Car at that point and went up there and ran up front and won races.
And as Michael said, I was fortunate to get hooked up with a guy that was willing to take his team all the way through Champ Car. And, honestly, it's probably one of the few opportunities I would have had just because there wasn't really any opportunities out there in Champ Car at that point.
So that was a difficult situation for everybody there. But on your question there about New Smyrna. New Smyrna was good to get back in the car. I had been there, I guess you could call it, one time before in 2008 when Red Bull took me out of the car. I went there with Mike Skinner and, honestly, just kind of watched them test the car for two days.
I'd get in about half an hour each day at the end of the day and sit in the seat and try to run some laps but really didn't have a lot of time around that place. So going back there was the first real opportunity I had to see New Smyrna and run a lot of laps. And, you know, I felt like we learned some things, and we could take some things from the test and apply it to the race car at some of the other racetracks.
But, honestly, it was just a chance for me to get back in the Cup car. I've been go-karting and running the Grand-Am car all winter, and just needed to get back in the Cup car before I got to Daytona and it was a good chance for everybody on the Best Buy, on the 43 team there to get a chance to work with each other. Added a couple of key components. A chance for me to get back to work with my crew chief and everybody on the team to get acquainted with each other and get a chance to work before we got to Daytona. So all in all it was a great test.
Q. Who were those key road guys you added?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: We've just added -- honestly, it wasn't anything adding from other teams. It was just kind of mix and matching with the guys that I already had kind of when I was at the 44 team. Both teams, really, before we, when we kind of mixed the teams up in the middle of the season three-quarters of the season through. Couple of those guys that were on my team to start the season that kind of went to Reid's team and a couple of the guys from the 19 crew that kind of switched over to my car.
So it was really mostly still in-house guys that I'd pretty much worked with but just taking the best of everything and putting it together for the season.
Q. AJ, we've talked around this quite a bit. You're part of a long line of drivers who came up ready to step into a long career in open wheel. And open wheel has fallen apart. Is American racing strong even without the strength of an open wheel program here for drivers and for spectators alike?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, that's a tough question, because I think NASCAR racing itself is strong. And there's definitely things that NASCAR needs to do to kind of keep strengthening NASCAR itself.
Obviously, there's been a couple of seasons the last a couple of where maybe race attendance and TV production and viewership is kind of down a little bit, but it's still really strong, especially with this economy.
Still be putting 43 cars in the Sprint Cup Series on the racetrack each weekend and still having great racing. I think last year there was probably some of the best racing. Although it didn't seem like it was at times, there was passes for the lead and more overall passes in general in the series than there have been in a long time.
So NASCAR racing is still strong. Lot of great sponsors out there. I'm fortunate to be paired up with sponsors like Best Buy and Valvoline and PBK and Wicks Filters. There's a lot of sponsors out there in NASCAR racing, and I think that's fairly strong. Although, they do need to do things to strengthen what's going on. I think you're going to see that with adding the spoiler back to the car and just making the racing better overall with rules. So that's going to be a good thing.
But to really answer your question, I do believe there needs to be a strong Sports Car Series. There needs to be a strong open wheel series in the U.S. to stay racing in the general and the U.S. is strong.
I mean, I miss open wheel racing, whether I'm in it or ever going to be in it again, I'm thrilled to be a part of NASCAR and be a part of that. But there still needs to be a great open wheel series. There still needs to be a great Sports Car Series.
And I think Grand-Am in general has the potential to do that. We just need to, whether it's get Grand-Am more with the NASCAR races so the series gets more in the light and shows people how great the racing is, because Grand-Am is such a great series, and I wish I could do more races in Grand-Am just because it's such a great series and more fun to be a part of.
As Michael said, the racing itself is great to be a part of. It's great to watch on TV. I watch all the races on TV even when I'm at the Sprint Cup races. So there's potential there and being paired up with NASCAR is a good thing but we need more sponsors in that series. Maybe a sponsor that doesn't have the money to be in NASCAR, it needs to go to Grand-Am, because there's a lot of things that the series can do for a sponsor and get it out there in the TV limelight, get it out there in the media. The races are fun to go to.
And open wheel-wise we need that series around for U.S. There's a lot of race car drivers that are jobless because the series aren't that strong. And unfortunately it doesn't look like right now that it's getting any stronger. So I don't have the answer of how to fix it. But we need to have a strong open wheel series, a strong Sports Car Series and keep making NASCAR itself stronger.
Q. If you could get the same size check driving open wheel or sports cars, would that be more to your liking than what you're doing now?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I'm obviously having a ton of fun in NASCAR. It's so tough. You're racing against some of the best drivers throughout the world and especially the best drivers that run on ovals and stock cars.
So I do enjoy it, and I think when you run up front in a Sprint Cup race, and hopefully this year we can, being in the 43 and being a part of Ford racing and the Ford racing family, we can go out there and get that victory. That's something that to win a Sprint Cup Series race will be the biggest thing in my career because I know how hard it's been to get to that point, how hard it is every weekend to run up front and just everything that you have to do during the weekend to finish up front and have a chance to win a race.
So in that sense I am having a lot of fun. But it's always fun to go back to a sports car. And I think Michael would agree with me, the only problem is you have to get out of the race car and give it to another driver. As a race car driver we all have problems with that.
So it's a fun series to be a part of. But I'm happy where I'm at right now. It's fun to be able to go do a Grand-Am race as a secondary thing and enjoy it.
Q. Are the slowest corners more hazardous or the high speed banks more hazardous when mixed in with the GT cars, AJ?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: I don't know. It's pretty hazardous no matter where you are on the racetrack. You just gotta pick and make the moves at the right place and that's what makes the 24-hour such a fun race but so difficult, because you can never let your guard down.
And, I mean, there's times when GT cars kind of moving around on the banking and that makes it tough because the speeds are so much higher and you gotta react a lot quicker on the banking.
But any corner, really, if you put your nose in they don't see you they can chop it off and it's just one little thing that can take you out of having a chance to win the race. So I don't know, Michael. What's your opinion? I think any corner's tough, especially at Daytona.
MICHAEL VALIANTE: It's tough with the GT cars especially since a lot of the guys or not a lot but if a few people who went to the race not having driven the cars that much. So the oval usually it's a bit easier because at least at the driver's meeting they normally tell everyone that the GT cars stay at a lower side of the banking and the prototypes pass on the higher side.
When it gets difficult is sometimes on the slower corners when you're trying to brake them and sometimes they'll make a sudden move especially at night because they didn't see you. So it's easier to avoid them on the slower corners, but on the faster corners, definitely, the chance of something going wrong, if it in fact does, it's usually a pretty big incident.
Q. Back in the day 24-hour races were really endurance races where you set a pace and stuck to it. Nowadays, it's a 24-hour sprint race. How close to ten-tenths or 100 percent do you need to run to have a chance at winning the Rolex 24?
MICHAEL VALIANTE: Well, the thing is you really don't want to set the pace. So it's one of those things with the harder you push the car, you know, the less it's going to last. And often sometimes you can beat people that are chasing you, which seems to have happened every year, that if the leader is going quick, everyone is trying to follow and go quickly as well.
So as a driver, you have to discipline yourself especially if it's in the first hour and make sure you're not running faster than you need to and you're not wearing the car out, which is really the most important thing, because really for the race starts that last half hour for the win, the last hour for the win.
So you're trying to get yourself in a good position, whichever driver ends up in that last hour, give them a car that is in a position to win and where they can push ten-tenths if it comes to that, where, for example, last year there was four cars fighting for the victory in the last hour, and I'm sure they were pushing ten tens to win.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you very much.
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