Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
June 17, 2009
J.J. O'MALLEY: Good afternoon, everyone, and thanks for joining us on this week's NASCAR Grand-Am teleconference. Joining us today are two past Rolex Series champions who are looking to make history this weekend: Alex Gurney and Jon Fogarty. They're the leading Daytona Prototype's winners this year co-driving the 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Pontiac Riley.
This weekend, they're looking for their third consecutive victory in the EMCO Gears Classic at Mid-Ohio, which would make them the first Rolex Series team to win the same event in the same class in three consecutive years.
Alex and Jon have 10 victories in the red 99. Alex has been driving the car since 2005, when he won the pole and led the most laps as the highlight of his rookie season at Mid-Ohio. They were leading the Daytona Prototype entering the recent race at Watkins Glen where they finished 16th and are now tied for third six points back.
Alex, how important is it to return to Mid-Ohio, a track where you've enjoyed great success to get your championship drive back on track?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, you know, we love going to a track that we've done well at in the past. And we're coming off a real brutal weekend at Watkins Glen where we went in with the points lead and came out with a D and F.
So we're really excited to get back on track. And we've always done well at Mid-Ohio. And both Jon and I love the track and have a lot of experience there. And just one of the best road courses in the country.
So we're very excited and hopefully we can get back on top of the points.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you, Alex.
Jon, after winning only one race, which was Mid-Ohio last year, you and Alex will be at the Rolex Series with two victories this season. What's been the big difference with the team and the competition this season?
JON FOGARTY: A number of things. I think our results in the last year's season were a little bit skewed. We had the opportunity to win a lot more races than one but we had a lot of bad luck, but it's no secret that last year that the Pontiac motors were definitely at a disadvantage, and the series has been working, you know, towards motor parity in the offseason, and we've gotten back a little bit on the competition this year.
So I think we're a little bit closer in the motor department. And our attitude towards each race is the same, and it's the same as last year.
We always go out to win. And there's always the luck factor that you can't account for. So I'm going to attribute a big bulk of last year's lack of wins to just bad luck.
This year we've been running strong, and the reality is both of our victories this year were -- we were not necessarily in a position to win, but both Alex and I were both able to take advantage of slower cars and make passes for the lead and get ourselves on the top step of the podium.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you very much, Jon.
Q. For both drivers: In the last two weeks, since the Sixth Hour Race, what have you done to either analyze what transpired at the Glen and what has your team been doing to turn itself around?
JON FOGARTY: You know, we got ourselves into a little bit of a bind at the start of the race with something coming loose in our right front suspension. And honestly I can't tell you exactly what the cause of that was, but I'm sure our crew chief and our team has gone through and gone back and looked at everything and tried to find what the root cause of that was -- and I'm confident that they'll get it figured out.
The incident that happened on track is just kind of one of those racing things. Donohue made a mistake. And unfortunately put himself into the gravel trap. And what really ended our race was the corner workers destroying our car when they tried to extricate it from the gravel.
So they tore the floor off the bottom of the car and the floor is bonded and riveted structural element to the car. So that required us to miss the test day, post-event. And the guys had to haul our car back to Texas and basically take the whole thing apart and put it back together.
So they've been really busy. And you know I think our performance really was quite good. We were able to come back from those laps down and get back on the lead lap, and we were fighting for podium position.
So from a performance standpoint, we're pretty pleased with the weekend, the result not so much.
ALEX GURNEY: You want me to add to that? Well, yeah, I would echo a little bit of what Jon said. We were on the front row in qualifying. And we had a strategy for the race and everything was going okay until that point. So I think it was a camber shim that came loose from the right front and ended up cutting the rear tire.
That's the way I understood it. So somehow that went loose on us. But, yeah, like Jon said, our guys are on it and I'm sure that something like that won't happen again.
You know, Mid-Ohio has a different track than Watkins Glen. Watkins Glen has a really long uphill, basically a straightaway. And Mid-Ohio doesn't have that. Much more of a handling track, I would say, and something that I think will suit our car quite well. But we think we're in good position.
Q. Alex, I'll ask Jon one, too, if I can. Alex, what is it about Mid-Ohio that just stands out to you or why did you like this track so much? And I just keep remembering your drive through the rain last year to that victory, it was kind of a stirring event. But I'm wondering what is it about the track that appeals to you most? And I'm going to ask both of you guys what's your favorite corner. Go ahead.
ALEX GURNEY: It's hard to put my finger on it as far as what we like so much about it. But we've been coming there for a long time. I think I raced there in I think 1997 was my first time in a Skip Barber Formula Dodge and one a couple of races there. I know Jon has been super successful there. And also won I think at least a couple of races there in the wet also.
So both of us have a lot of experience to draw on and we like to really break down each corner and talk about it in depth, and I think we've both learned a lot from each other. And so that goes a long way. Also our car has been extremely good from the first time we rolled off in 2005, it seems like it's just one of those tracks that really clicks with our team.
So all those things really add up to good weekends for us. So we're really excited to get back there.
Q. Give me an example. Give me like a lot of times golfers have a favorite hole on a certain course; do you have a favorite corner at that track where you feel you can sort of quote/unquote hit the sweet spot more often than not?
ALEX GURNEY: Turn 1 I think is always the best corner. It's super fast. We drove the Atlanta car quite a bit there and the Daytona prototype. They require a different technique. Obviously the Daytona prototype, the heavier car, is moving around a lot more. So you're kind of working the car quite a bit more.
But it's just very fast and kind of a pucker corner, if that makes sense. Every time you approach it, you're trying to get the most out of it and you really have to be very committed to the corner.
Q. I was asking, I used that word pucker but didn't think I would be able to use that on a teleconference. Jon, you, too, what corner of this track do you really like? Why does it suit your sensibility, so to speak?
JON FOGARTY: One of the great things about Mid-Ohio is it does have a good mix of corners. Turn 1 is definitely fast and separated by two straightaways. You have time to think about it before you get there. And you have time to either beat yourself up or savor it once you get out of the corner and back section you have a bunch of linked sections and you're just busy the whole time.
But getting Turn 1 right is satisfying. It's just a fast corner. You just know when you get a good run out of there. And the car turns well through there and it's a long enough corner where the balance is shifting.
And I definitely, probably the most satisfying for sure. But the whole section from -- I think it's actually called Turn 7 on the track map. But basically off the straightaway and through the hills there, with all the elevation changes, it's right/left, right/left, right/left, it's fun and it's technical, too.
It's real interesting, like Alex said, we were able to go back and look at the telemetry and our data and comparing how we're doing that stuff. And I think that's another one of the fun things about Mid-Ohio, there's definitely a little bit -- there's the technique track and there's a few different techniques that work.
So it's got a bit of everything. But I'm going to say Turn 1 is probably the most satisfying when you get it right.
Q. If you weren't so busy driving the car, if you were just riding, would it be almost like riding a roller coaster especially in that part in the back, the Ss and stuff, where you're talking about would you liken it to that a little bit?
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, it would be a pretty fast roller coaster. It would be like that, you lose your stomach and I'd say it's fun in the race car. But there's definitely consequences back there if it goes wrong. It's not so much like that in the roller coaster.
Q. You don't put your hands in the air.
ALEX GURNEY: I was going to say our boss keeps threatening to put in a passenger seat in our car. And I hope he does that at some point. Maybe we can give you a ride.
Q. One of the things allowance for you, the success you guys have had here especially the last two years and stuff, does it fire you up more going to a place where you've had success like? Understand what I'm saying? When you're rolling up here do you get kind of a good feeling despite the fact you even like the place, but the fact that you've had great success?
ALEX GURNEY: Absolutely. I'm sure every driver feels kind of a kinship with certain tracks and this is definitely one of those.
So you just have a good feeling coming in and we know we've won there in the dry and the wet so there's no real concern there. And I think it's the perfect place to go there, to go after coming off a bad weekend.
Q. Looking back at 2007, you guys made that look so easy. Can you remember two years ago and kind of refresh our memories about that race because you dominated that from qualifying to the checkered flag?
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, we talk about that race pretty often and in hindsight maybe making it look so easy wasn't such a good plan. But the car was just fantastic. Qualifying was actually pretty tight.
We had Fittipaldi was quite close. And he was able to hang in there for the first part of the race. But after we did our pit stops and we got such a great crew, I think we probably gained, I can't remember, I think it was like 12 seconds on those guys in our pit stop alone. So it's pretty straightforward race. Not a lot of yellows.
Q. No yellows, as a matter of fact.
JON FOGARTY: Exactly, no yellows as I recall. And pretty simple fuel strategy. So it allowed us to basically get out there and run hard for the full two hours and 45 minutes. And pretty unusual in Grand-Am. I think that's why you saw the big margin of victory.
ALEX GURNEY: I was going to add to that. As far as outright pace, we honestly weren't much quicker than anybody. It seemed like we just did nothing wrong the whole day and maybe our outlaps and the beginning part of the stint was just much faster than the other guys. The ultimate lap time we did I don't think we even got fastest lap on that day.
But we just had everything right and the car would come in, it seems, so much faster than the other guys. So it was really just a pleasure to drive and we pushed hard the whole way. But in the end it looked like we had a pretty big margin over the rest of the guys. It was a fun day.
Q. Compare that to then the next year, last year, when it was anything but a yellow-free day with all the deluge right after the start and the cars spinning all over the place and really was a wild evening for you guys. How difficult -- as easy as it was the year before, how difficult was it the next year, then?
ALEX GURNEY: Yeah, it's a totally different experience. When it's really wet like that, in the dry I should say it's a physical, much more physical exercise. In the wet, it's really a mental deal, mental anguish I like to say. A tiny mistake means you're sliding away off the track.
So you have to -- there's no margin left in the wet. And we saw guys sliding off left and right. And off in the gravel trap and just things happening all the time. Guys running into each other. So that was a really fun way to end it to come out on top and to battle through it all and manage to keep the car on track.
Q. How about from your perspective, Jon, because I believe you were the one that was out there?
JON FOGARTY: When it started coming down, yeah. I was coming down the back straightaway and that's kind of where it started coming down first, and I literally, there were cars everywhere. Like cars off on your right. Cars off on your left. Cars straight ahead. And I really backed it up. And I came in there going geez these guys are a bunch of fools.
And I was going what I thought was like at a snail's pace and I almost did the exact same thing. I basically like lost it about halfway down the back straightaway and just gathered it up right at the edge of the racetrack before I went off.
So it was treacherous. It was so much rain that we had water coming up over the front of our splitter, and it was wild. I ended up spinning under yellow. I ended up running into somebody, coming up over the rise in the back section of the track and really had not a great day from my perspective.
But I did manage to sneak it into the pit lane before it went yellow, which helped us out a lot from a track position-wise. So it was super difficult. I was having a really hard time. I'm usually pretty comfortable in the wet. But that was beyond wet.
Q. Knowing what you guys did two years ago and almost ideal perfect conditions when the car set up just right and you guys were on your A game and then last year, also being able to win overcoming all that mother nature threw at you, how much confidence does that give you guys coming into this year knowing that any kind of condition you guys are pretty well schooled for Mid-Ohio, then?
ALEX GURNEY: Yeah. Obviously gives us a lot of confidence. Anytime you can win, that does it for you. Coming off of Watkins Glen, the Ganassi car, the '01, had a pretty big gap to everybody else qualifying in the race a little bit, too. So that concerns us a little bit.
We're trying to do a few things that hopefully push us forward a little bit more. But that's probably our number one focus. We think they're going to be the guys in the end fighting it out for the championship. So we need to keep our eyes on them and just keep pushing this thing forward.
JON FOGARTY: I mean, it's nice coming to a track where you've had success. As Alex said we have history at Mid-Ohio that goes back beyond the Daytona prototypes and Grand-Am. So it's nice coming to a place you're familiar with, but again the competition in Grand-Am is tough and they're never standing still and they're always pushing forward, too.
So you're never not worried about it, that's for sure. You know there's going to be a fight. But you kind of feel like you might have an upper hand.
Q. Tell me, guys, tell me about I guess the emergence of the new chassis in the series. They've been there for a while, but seems like between Krohn becoming a stronger threat with his Lola chassis and Dalara and such, seems like Riley is being giving the hardest runs for its money in a long time. What's the difference that you see between your Riley on track, when you're either chasing down or trying to pass the Lola or the Dalara?
JON FOGARTY: That's a good question. Both the Lola and the Dalara did make motor change, I believe, in the offseason. And that's helped those guys out a little bit. But there's definitely the Dalara seems to just turn very well. I think that car -- they don't have a problem with the understeer that I can see. If anything, it's quite the opposite.
So on certain tracks that really helps them. They're pretty dominant at Sears point last year and they're definitely quick at the Glen.
So they've got that going for them. And then for the Lola I think the thing makes a lot of down force and brake zones, faster corners, that kind of thing tends to stick pretty well.
So I still think the Riley has a much better sweet spot and is adaptable to more circuits. But it's a great thing, I think, that there's different chassises that are now viable for winning.
Q. I spent some week last week with your HPR man, Adam Saal. He was taking care of some guy named Patrick Dempsey. Feeling like he's two-timing you, loving you when you're acing but two-timing when you're not; what's that about?
ALEX GURNEY: No, Adam does a great job. And he's on Facebook all the time, so we got some Lamar updates when he was out there.
JON FOGARTY: Alex and I are just angling for some cameos for Racing in the Rain when it comes out.
Q. The ups and downs of racing like falling out of the points lead, is there a best way you think for you guys to switch emotional gears and is there any way that you can work on that and move on?
ALEX GURNEY: I don't know. I don't find it that difficult. The driver can only do so much. We try to work as well as we can with the team. Just stay focused on going fast and getting the most out of the car and getting the most out of each other, Jon and I. It's not that hard. Our team is fully behind us, and that's always a great feeling. There's no ill feelings in the team. You see some of that sometimes with other teams and Jon and I always feel fully supported and that's a great thing. And we can go into every weekend with a lot of confidence and just get down to business. If we come off a bad weekend or a good weekend it doesn't seem to matter. We're just always trying to stay focused on winning. Maybe the pressure's ratcheted up a little bit because there's only seven races left. Seven or six. Seven races left, I think. The championship is starting to tighten up.
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, I mean, like you said, the ups and downs in racing and the highs and lows are extreme. I think drivers just inherently tend to have a fairly -- they're pretty good at dampening those things. We just focus like Alex said on getting the car to go fast and not worry too much about that. Pretty amazing how quickly things can change. But I didn't expect this championship to be a cake-walk by any means. Yes, we were leading the championship but the competition was right there all along. Things will average out over the course of the season and we just hope to average out better than than everybody else.
Q. One thing we know about looking a bit ahead to Daytona, one thing we know for sure it's going to be hot and humid in July in Daytona. Do you guys do anything special to prepare for that, or is it just part of the routine?
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, there's nothing you can do. It's like literally it would be tough to replicate the conditions of a Daytona prototype cockpit. Even if you could, you'd have to be a serious masochist to subject yourself to that. Just hydrate. It's going to be a one-day event this year. It's going to be a tough day. You're not going to have the -- it won't build over the weekend. So just sack up for that one day and get through it and get the job done.
ALEX GURNEY: We've done a lot of work with our car over the years to keep it cool. And definitely made a lot of in-roads on that last year especially. We feel good about it. We should be a lot cooler than Kyle Busch and Scott Speed.
Q. You guys are running a new car as of a few races ago. What's the difference between it and the old car?
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, we're running an old car. It's a chassis that has run before. It was our '98 car from last year that I think Christiano da Matta and Jimmy Vasser at Laguna Seca. Does not have a lot of miles on it. And we've done a lot of little detail changes that my engineer would kill me if I told you what we did to it. But just a lot of things, a lot of ideas that they've had that over the years that they've wanted to do.
And they've had time to do those things separately of our 99 car. And first time we got it on track it was definitely an improvement.
So we're very happy about that switch. And pretty much all the things that they had planned for the car seem to have borne fruit.
Q. Also we talked about the thunderstorm in the first hour last year. With the forecast calling for chance of storms and stuff again this weekend, can you use any of the experience from that, from last year this year?
ALEX GURNEY: Oh, absolutely, yeah. I mean the driving-wise, we learned a lot about the different lines. When it's super wet and when it's drying, you know where we have to position the car driving-wise.
And setup-wise we learned some things too. We changed some things in the middle of the race. And so we kind of know or we have a good idea of what it's going to be like from the different levels of rain and the different lines you should take around the racetrack.
Q. What was worst, last year's storm or racing in just horrible conditions in New Jersey this year?
ALEX GURNEY: I think jersey was probably worst. Maybe Mid-Ohio was slippery, but Jersey was just more rain, more standing water, I think.
JON FOGARTY: I had a much more difficult time at Mid-Ohio. It definitely was more slick. The surface, for whatever reason, at New Jersey, it's newer. It still had some grip when it was wet. But at the same time we did have visibility problems at New Jersey.
So each one had their own demons. But New Jersey it was a more steady rain, whereas it was just a deluge and really sudden at Mid-Ohio. So difficult either way.
Q. There was a lot of wind last year at Mid-Ohio. With the cut-backs in GM have you guys had any effect from any of those?
ALEX GURNEY: Not yet. Although I think that's a developing story there. So we'll have to wait and see. Everything's fine right now and we have good motors and I think everything will be okay this year. We'll just have to wait and see how things unfold there.
Q. What track that we don't race at now would you guys like to race at in the prototype?
JON FOGARTY: There's two. But I think Road America would be heck of a place to go.
ALEX GURNEY: I think el kart like could be a great race for Daytona prototypes. There will be plenty of drafting and passing chances and just a great track. Long and a little bit of everything. Very fast corners and kind of picturesque, I think.
Q. 2007, you guys came into Mid-Ohio on a semi roll at the very least. 2008, you guys came into Mid-Ohio wondering what the heck. And now it's been kind of an interesting season, because you've been so far on a kind of semi roll, and now all of a sudden you're coming into Mid-Ohio kind of in the what the heck. Aren't you?
JON FOGARTY: We've had a bit of a roller coaster, really, this year. It's a little bit frustrating, because, again, the Ganassi guys are sneaking under the radar. They've been finishing on pole just about every race. They're the ones that I would say are on a roll.
But we've definitely been in position to win. We've had some things go awry. So I think performance-wise we probably feel more confident than last year. But, again, it doesn't almost matter. Because the competition is so tough; they're right there.
Yeah, we know where we're at. And we just need to get those things like what happened to us last weekend at the Glen out of the way.
Q. As we look ahead to Daytona, as if you didn't have enough to contemplate already making a 10th of a second better to get a step higher on the podium, what kind of a wrinkle does Ganassi's second car bring? And, in general, considering you've had a NASCAR guy as a teammate a couple times, what do they bring to the table as race car drivers?
ALEX GURNEY: I can answer that. Well, first off, I think it's great what they're doing. I like it that those guys are going to be in the race, Kyle and Scott Speed. I think they'll bring some attention and hopefully will put on a great show on that Saturday.
Championship-wise, yeah, it could be difficult if they managed to squeak in there. They'll obviously be fast, I think. That car was very good at the 24 hours, and I think they've made a pretty large step forward since then.
So I expect them to be very quick. I don't know if they've had a chance to test at all. It will take some adjustment to drive the car. But we know from when Jimmie Johnson has run with us, he's just a class act all around and super fast and super focused.
You know, if those guys are anything like Jimmie, then we'll have a hard time. We love having Jimmie there. Obviously that will be great if we can get him back again for next year, for the 24th.
Q. Brief follow-up for both of you. Knowing what you've had to go through, and as you said earlier, knowing the adjustments you've made to help your car cool better, what are these guys faced with having to run the Rolex Series race and that evening come back and do a 400-mile stock car race, in your opinion?
JON FOGARTY: It's going to be brutal. It's going to be tough. I know the Ganassi guys obviously have their cooling system figured out pretty well, but it's really all relative. It's still hotter than you know what inside that thing.
Those guys are going to have to be careful. They'll have to make sure they don't develop any cramps and stay hydrated. That's going to be tough.
ALEX GURNEY: I agree with Jon. I think it was 2005. I had both my helmet air and -- we didn't run a cool suit system. I was in really deep trouble by the end of the race. So if they do run into trouble it will be very difficult. And I know those guys are fed and they do very long races. So maybe they.won't have a problem. But it is definitely hot in there.
JON FOGARTY: I know that Jimmie was hurting after he ran in the 91 car in '07. I remember talking to him about that. He said that he suffered a lot. And it basically said he didn't want to have to do that again. So you've got that to look forward to.
Q. I'm curious, what in your estimation is that or define that larger sweet spot in the Riley as compared to pick a car?
ALEX GURNEY: I've seen both the Lola and the Dalara look very fast on a given weekend. But it seems like it's more up and down. So having not driven those cars, it's hard to say. But it seems like there's always a Riley up there. And maybe that's not the case for the other two.
So maybe they're still learning their cars. I don't think the difference is massive. But maybe that's, give a compliment to Grand-Am for getting the rules right to where the cars are actually very close. So it's hard to say without driving those cars. But there seems to be a Riley up front. And every once in a while the other two will look very good and sometimes not.
J.J. O'MALLEY: Thank you, Alex and Jon.
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