Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
April 29, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Thank you and good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us, and welcome to today's NASCAR Grand Am teleconference as we look ahead to the third race of the 2009 Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series season, the Verizon Wireless 250 set for Sunday at New Jersey Motorsports Park in Millville, New Jersey.
We are pleased today, very pleased, to be joined by Romain Dumas and Timo Bernard of Penske Racing. They are the co-drivers of the No. 12 Verizon Wireless Porsche Riley. And this is the first season for this great team in the Grand Am Rolex Sports Car Series, but they are one of most successful combinations in recent sports car series history. They have won the past two American LeMans Series Championships for Penske Racing and Porsche.
Romain is a native of France. Currently living in Switzerland, and has been a Porsche factory driver since '03 after racing open-wheel from '95 to '02.
A native and resident in Germany, Timo is a two-time winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona, took GT honors in 2002 and overall victory in 2003, both times in a THG Porsche.
Romain and Timo finished sixth in this year's Rolex 24 At Daytona and 7th this past weekend at Virginia International Raceway. They are going to be seeing New Jersey's layout for the first time this weekend.
Romain, maybe we can get an opening comment from you to start. Last year was your first visit to VIR, and now the Jersey course is going to be new to you. What are the biggest challenges to go road racing at circuits for the very first time?
ROMAIN DUMAS: For sure, when we are in America -- we are in America since 2003, but for us, it's very nice to have a new track like, this because I mean, it's all the time a new challenge. We have a new track, and Timo had a chance in the winter to test on VIR, and me, for the first time, and I have to say I was very impressed by this track. It's not an easy track, because with all of this elevation on the S curves, the faster S's, we have a most difficult race.
It took me, I have to say, between ten and 15 laps, you know, to be up to speed, because I was very surprised. But it's a very nice track. You know, we did three in the middle, but in the corner, it's not good. You feel it even more when you are coming from Europe for sure. It's a nice break.
THE MODERATOR: Timo, how has the level of competition increased in the Rolex series? We hear about it so much that it's gotten so much better. From your perspective, how has the level of competition increased since you won the Daytona event back in '03?
TIMO BERNHARD: For me, the whole Grand Am Series, Daytona has always been a real high-competition race every year, but now this will be for me also a new circuit and to do the whole Grand Am series. So for me like last weekend at VIR, it was a short race, Grand Am race, and I have to say the level is really, really high. I don't see that the field is shrinking or is even getting easier or whatever.
So I think the competition, the level is so high that at least ten cars can win every race. It makes it even more difficult for us drivers to get the laps out of the car, and also for strategy, because it's a very important thing in every race, to get the strategy right.
Q. For either of you, what was the reasoning behind the switch to Grand Am from LeMans?
ROMAIN DUMAS: Can you repeat, please?
Q. Why did you guys leave LeMans for Grand Am?
ROMAIN DUMAS: I mean, honestly, this was not our choice to be honest. We drove -- I drove in the LeMans series since I think 2002 full-time, and like I said, I've always done the 24 Hours of Daytona as a single-event race because it's such a big event, that there's always a team open and you want to have the opportunity to do the big race.
But then at the end, yeah, I mean, when the Team Penske Racing decided to change from the LeMans Series to the Grand Am Series, for sure, I wanted to be a part of that, and for sure Timo as well, so in the end we were very happy that we could compete in the Grand Am series, but together with Penske racing again. Because if you drive with this team, you are sure -- it doesn't matter which championship you take, but you are sure to have the best material, the best equipment out there.
Q. You guys got some concessions after Daytona with the RPMs and the gear box. Which one, if you had to pick one of them, which one would you give back?
ROMAIN DUMAS: I think it's a great question. You know, as we saw last weekend, I mean, it's easy to see from our side, in Daytona if you look at the race, the qualifying for sure the Porsche in general was very quick on the race in Daytona in our car. We had a quick lap time. But if you look on the last race last weekend on the race, we were a little bit far in performance where we finished fourth, so what we can expect of that, I don't know.
I don't know if we can expect to do other things here or if it is better to have more. For sure, you know, as a driver you all the time want to fight to try to win.
So for me, I just need to have a car, a better car as I can expect, or a car where I can win races. So at the end, it's not about more rev or less rev, it's just to have the best car we can have, and also for the championship, I can't understand, you know -- we have to be fair, and you have to be fair on both ways and I hope that we have found soon a good compromise.
Q. You both started racing in Daytona on a limited basis in 2005 with the Rolex 24 and you went to Watkins Glen, too, that year; what has changed since then in the Daytona prototype?
ROMAIN DUMAS: It changed, for sure, a lot when we drove the first time in DP. The car was a fast car, it was a few years ago, and now the level of performance has increase a lot. The drivers already did good this time in Daytona, but now I can see the performance of the track. The grip increase a lot, really a lot, and that was a big step.
When we went on the car last winter, we have a very, very surprise compared to -- we have a chance also to do -- inaudible -- a few years ago in Daytona, but this year again was a bigger step. Just an example on the past, at Daytona to take it flat was impossible, a few years ago, you could do it one time or two times but now this year, it was all the race, we race flat. So it shows you better performance in the grip of the car now.
Q. Not sure if you guys would know the answer to this yet or not, but with the companion races you have coming up with NASCAR and Daytona and Watkins Glen, have you heard anything about having a second DP for the NASCAR guys on Penske Racing?
ROMAIN DUMAS: No, so far, I think we -- I don't have really the answer, but we have the chance to be, like Timo said, you know, on our team, like a team that we know for a lot of years, we have a lot of chance to be part of this team.
So I think so far we tried to achieve our goal and for sure win the races, and have a good result already this year on the championship. But I don't see so far the team changing or another car or something like that. I have no idea but I never heard something like that so far.
Q. Romain, you're still one of the two who go flat-foot through the kink; Haywood said he wouldn't even do that. Timo, you drove with Bergmeister in winning the 2002 Rolex 24 Class Championship, and then among Kevin Buckler and Michael Schrom, and you also won the 2003 overall with that same group of people. Now you have gone back a number of years with Jörg, have you asked him his thoughts with regard to the Daytona prototype before you came over here and started doing the DP, or what were his thoughts if you did?
TIMO BERNHARD: I mean, with Jörg, I spent a lot of years, first of all, fighting against each other in Carrera Cup over in Germany; in 2001, we had a hard championship in the at end. I won, I had the most points, and had the most amount of victories. And then 2002 we became partners and we had to share the car and we were one team from that point on.
Then after that, we shared, I have to say, three wonderful years together in the pairing and won a lot of races, both Daytona victories in 2002 and 2003 like you described. Yeah, we won a lot of races.
I have a lot of -- he deserves I would say a lot of credit for winning the 2006 series overall, because now I can see that there are a lot of races, the points are very close and a lot of competition and in the end we have to get points for every race and be very consistent over the season.
I never expect to get back together with Jörg because right now we drive together for five years now and we have so much success and also inside the Penske team, I think there was never a thought of changing the winning team because in the last few years, you see we won close championships and we won a lot of races last season overall, and I always wanted to stay together with Romain and with the Penske crew. The good thing is that we have exactly the same crew on our car and the last three years, it's exactly the same as the No. 10 crew for the last few years. Like people always say, never change a winning team.
Q. You guys are in New York City now; what's it like for you to be in New York City?
TIMO BERNHARD: For myself, I mean, I am from Europe, and I'm from Germany and from a really small town. I live in a town of 1,000 people, 1,000 citizens.
So if you have a chance to go over to the U.S. and to go to one of the biggest cities in the world, to go to New York City, I mean, you take the chance and you do a little bit of sightseeing. I have to say it's not our first time. It probably our sixth, seventh time to be in New York, but you always see something new.
And for us, it's like every year we do this kind of trip because we can go shopping and you can see some stuff and you can just see like a really big city and see what's going on here. Yeah, like I said, I come coming from a small town in Germany, you really enjoy being here.
Q. One quick question. Being in the series this year, no longer having a full, customized manufacturer program that you enjoyed in 2008 and prior, how has that shifted the emphasis for your development and also the team's development of the car? By that, I mean instead of having manufacture developing lots of new parts and pieces for you to test and develop and have an edge compared to your competitors, now you are using something that all of your competitors have access to. Does that mean you and the team are doing a lot more simulation, a lot more work back in the digital domain to find an improvement, since mechanical parts and pieces are not things you're allowed to use to make the cars better?
TIMO BERNHARD: For sure, this is a new situation for us. I remember last year, last part of the season, we had a close fight together against Acura and they were developing for every race. And I mean, at the end, we also had to do testing and developing especially for the last couple of races and we really couldn't get the last piece out of the other Spider; and being able to win against Acura, it was tough work but it was really good competition.
Now I have to say the competition level is also very, very high, but you are not -- it's a little bit of a different situation, because you're not allowed to change major things on the car. So everything you can change is very minor, so at the end it really comes down to a little bit of strategy in the race. The strategy really is more important because the cars, yeah, are very close. And the lap times, it really comes down to track positions from one hand, and then being able to be on the right spot in the race.
And then you need to be up on the time stand to make the right call, and I think there we have really the best equipment that we can have with both Team Cedric and Roger Penske joining us for the races.
Like I said last weekend, I think -- was really right to be up on the podium. But for sure, throughout the season, you can't put a new wheel or new suspension or new aero package; you have to really search for the small details and get your setup right, get your damper package right, and these are the things you have to concentrate on. A little bit different but not less difficult, I have to say.
Q. One more follow-up question on the same theme. With what you're doing now with your Daytona prototype, the type of testing that you do has to be much more refinement-oriented than true development-oriented. Do you find that your many years in experience in the Porsche Supercup, where everybody has more or less the same car, yet it comes down to you as the driver and engineer to make a small refinement to have a better package; do you find that you're drawing back on your Supercup experience having to make your Porsche Daytona prototype a little bit faster by making very small changes?
TIMO BERNHARD: I have to say yes and no. Because in the Supercup, for sure, you have the same car that everybody else, the small details make a difference. On the other hand, you don't have the pit stops or the strategy or whatever. It's a different race; you go flat-out from lap one to the checkered flag.
Here, you have -- I mean, from technical aspect, it's true, you really have to do more fine-tuning, and you have to be really one team with your engineer and your copilot, because I mean, they are so minor things you can change throughout the weekend that you have to agree on -- you have to be on the same page and really be a team on that.
But I think here, in the race, or let me say the other way. I think the qualifying position is not so important this series, because like with the rule that you have to change drivers in the first 45 minutes, it comes really down to the strategy. I believe if you start producing 15 in the qualifying, which we don't know for New Jersey, we hope we start in the first row, but I think if you start 15th in that race, if you have a quick car, you can still be able to win the race.
It's much more down to the strategy and then really fighting for the position in that series. But I think it's great racing. If you see we are most of the times, the first five or six cars, we are always together, and since we are all about the same speed, you really can be, like in the Supercup racing, last moment and out-braking your competitor. That's great.
Q. Just wanted to know, I know it's early in the season, but how has the economy affected your team so far even, and have you noticed ways that you're operating differently than in the past?
ROMAIN DUMAS: Well, I think for sure it's very difficult, the series is not the same anymore. We know that. We are lucky that we have Daytona prototypes for sure, a lot less compared to last year when we started in P2, so already it's a good step. For sure we have a chance to have, like Timo said, like everybody knows, one of the best team in America, so I think we cannot complain.
The No. 12 car is in good shape and we don't -- we are doing all well and I'm sure there's a guy who will, I don't know if they are looking for that, but other drivers, we don't have to think about that. We are here to race, and I'm sure we are not far or we have the best package and with the best car.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks to the media for participating and thank you Romain and Timo, best of luck this weekend at New Jersey and for the balance of the Rolex Sports Car Series season.
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