Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
April 15, 2009
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us. Welcome to today's teleconference as we look ahead to the next event in this year's Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series Presented By Crown Royal Cask No. 16. The next race is April 25 at Virginia International Raceway.
We are pleased to be joined today by Memo Rojas, defending co-champion of the 2008 Daytona Prototype and also the current co-leader in the Rolex Series Daytona Prototype points for 2009. Last year Memo and Scott Pruett won six races in the 01 TELMEX Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Lexus Riley, and one of those wins was at Virginia International Raceway, the next race on the schedule.
They are joined by Juan Pablo Montoya, second in the season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona, and had a two-point lead in the standings because of the penalty that was assessed to the winning team of the Rolex 24 for a post-race infraction.
Memo, last year's race at VIR, kind of an up-and-down weekend, you got the pole and then you had to start last because of your own post-qualifying penalty early race incident. But somehow you and Scott battled back to win that event. How important was it to get through that and have a strong start and go on to winning last year's championship, and likewise; how important is it to go to Virginia so get a strong start this season?
MEMO ROJAS: Hello to everybody. First of all, Virginia, I have to say it's one of my favorite tracks. It is a true driver track, full of challenging corners, elevation changes.
So I really, really enjoy driving there. As you mentioned, we got the pole last year there, so I know we have a good car there, and we are able to have a good set up where we know we can be quick. Unfortunately we were disqualified from the pole last year for a penalty in the technical inspection.
Nevertheless, we knew we had a car to win. We started from the pit lane, actually, because the team did not want to risk an accident in the start, so we ended up winning. It was really one of the best races we had all season, especially because we start from dead last and we battle ourselves all the way to the front. Thanks to an awesome drive by Scott and myself, and also a great strategy by the team.
Hopefully we can defend our win in that race, as we did last year, and we really look forward to it.
Q. A couple of years have transpired, 2007, 2008, since you joined the Rolex series. Your predecessor, Luis Diaz, went on to race elsewhere. He came very close, along with Scott Pruett at capturing the championship, but you were the first Mexican to capture a major international racing series championship since Pedro Rodriguez. Has Luis congratulated you or extended his thoughts to you about that championship last year?
MEMO ROJAS: Yeah, indeed, Luis and I are really good friends. We actually started racing together in go-karts at a very young age.
So we are really good friends. Every time he has a good result in whatever he's racing, we sometimes e-mail each other. There was a time in our careers where we used to share hotel rooms when he was racing Atlantics and I was racing Barber Dodge Pro Series. We spent a lot of time together.
So I always wish him well, as I know he does the same for me. Well, I'm really glad I was the first one to get it in the end, but yeah, I mean, you know how racing is. You always want to beat the guy next door.
But yeah, he did congratulate me.
Q. Now, Ricardo was Pedro's brother and he and Hermos Rodriguez shared a lot of the glory back in México years ago; how has it been since you won the championship? It was better than 40 years, four decades since a championship of the stature that you won came to México. How has it been for you since you won your championship?
MEMO ROJAS: It's been great. The last few months have been awesome for me. Coming back home with the championship, with the title in our hands, was really, really -- I was received with a very warm welcome by México's racing fans.
As you may know, México's race fans are very, very warm. They are really passionate about it, and bringing them a championship was really important, as far as how people took it, how the media and the press, you know, treated us, we were the main news for a few weeks afterwards. And, you know, just going down the streets in Mexico City, people know about. It it's really great for me to be able to give something to my people, and also to break such a long time without a championship.
So it's been great for me.
Q. Obviously you guys rode in a different car this year since Scott had his accident in New Jersey, how does that affect you GOING into the VIR as far as setup-wise goes?
MEMO ROJAS: Well, it's a different car but it's the same chassis, same manufacturer. So race cars are built -- same chassis' are built exactly the same. So suspension, aerodynamics, it's basically the same car we ran last year. It just a different chassis.
So all of the setups that we ran last year should be the same as the ones we use for this year. Obviously there's always small bits of difference between chassis, but it shouldn't hurt us that much. We ran with this car in Daytona and we were pretty competitive.
So we are confident it won't really make a difference.
Q. Obviously the series is going to México this year. How does that affect you guys?
MEMO ROJAS: Well, I think it's a bummer personally, because as we were talking on the previous question, people were very passionate and very happy about the championship we got last year, and they were really expecting us to be here as the champion and race in my home country.
Nevertheless, I understand it's a difficult situation for everybody, for the economy, for racing teams, and there has to be some compromises.
You know, I think there's two races that we are not going this year, I believe, and you know, I mean, as long as we keep racing, and Grand Am is healthy and the team is able to go through this difficult moment or difficult year, I'm pretty sure we should be coming back in the near future I would think.
Q. I'm curious, four races into the season last year, we were at VIR and the subject had been broached about Mexico City and sorry we are not there because it is a great place for racing and will be back there next year I'm certain; but there's a big difference in what I saw in your ability as a driver from 2007 to the first four races in 2008, and you and I discussed that at length before. But I remember that in 2006, you didn't have a job driving automobiles. So what is it like to have gone -- although you raced previously, as many drivers do, they face sponsorship issues, and that's where you were at one point. And all of a sudden you came and went to race with a top-flight organization like TELMEX Chip Ganassi Racing and what has that done for you personally for you to be able to pursue your career now?
MEMO ROJAS: Well, I have to admit that it was one of the toughest challenges in my career. First of all, because like you said, I had no seat for 2005 and 2006. I had a few testings with teams over in Europe, but unfortunately nothing was able to -- none of those tests turned into an actual race seat.
So I had no seat for almost two years and when I got the opportunity with Chip Ganassi Racing, it was one of those things that I mean, that you don't think it's going to happen, after two years of not it driving it, and obviously a Top-10 in my first race at the 24-Hour at Daytona with Scott Dixon and Dan Wheldon as teammates; the pressure was really, really high. I have to admit that I couldn't live for many days before the race.
Once we got going through the suspect, it was a really difficult situation, because we started leading the championship, and I was a rookie, a rookie that had not been driving for a few years. So you have to learn. You have to learn without making mistakes, and you have to be competitive at the same time.
So the pressure was really, really high. I have to be very cautious, because we didn't -- sometimes you learn by making mistakes, you know. Sometimes you crash, you make mistakes in races, etc. I couldn't afford myself to do that, so I had to be a little bit more cautious than I think I would have been than if I had been racing by myself. But when your teammate, Scott Pruett is leading the championship, you're both in the same boat. So I could not afford myself to gamble his chances for a championship by myself for my learning experience, you know.
So that's basically what happened in 2007, and after that learning curve was achieved, I mean, I was on it. I knew what I could do and people knew what I could do and 2008 was a different story and I'm sure 2009 will be a much different story again. So I know that the drivers, the tracks, the car very well now, and you know, I think I am ready to be at the top of my game now.
Q. Carlos Junior, who runs TELMEX, he's kind of almost a rock star in a manner of speaking. What's it like to hang out with Carlos?
MEMO ROJAS: Well, he's a great guy, awesome guy. He's a very, very good person. I mean, everybody that surrounds him, his friends, his coworkers, they speak really highly of him, and as a person, he's done a lot for our country. He's done a lot for our sport, and especially for Mexican motorsports, creating the first true driver development program in México. We have now drivers all over the world in Europe, in Asia, in the United States competing at top levels.
So he has been great about that. He's a very humble person for who he is and I'm really, really glad and happy to be part of his team and having to know him well; I'm very proud of that.
Q. What is it like to race with Scott Pruett, and what have you learned from him over the last couple of years? Obviously he's a veteran and he's been through the wars and everything. What is the biggest thing you've learned from him over the last couple of years?
MEMO ROJAS: Well, I have to tell you that first of all, I have to say that when I met Scott, I already admired him as a driver. He's one of the drivers you grow up watching, wanting to be like him, from everything he's done. And all of a sudden, you become his teammate and you show the same car, and initially, it was like, wow, I can't believe this is happening.
Afterwards, we became friends, and I changed from admiring him as a driver to admiring him as a person. He's a great, great person. I learned so much from him. There comes a point where you don't really learn how to drive. You already know, once you get to a top level, everybody knows how to drive a race car.
But what you really learn from people like him is how he approaches situations. For example, how he approaches a championship, as a championship contender, how he manages the last few races of the season, how he doesn't let pressure get on his shoulders and just take it race by race, whereas a rookie, sometimes it's easy to let pressure, you know, have an effect on you.
And how he approaches the qualifying, you know, all of those kind of things you learn from him, and how he balances his life, his personal life with motor racing, which is, you know, a very difficult profession because of so much traveling, the way motorsports is on families, it's very difficult because he spends so much time away. How he deals with it.
He has a great family and he's a really, really good person. I really learn so much from him, from how he blends his life with his motorsports lifestyle.
Q. Obviously you have a great situation there with Chip and everything. A lot of the guys, a lot of drivers have been filtering over to NASCAR lately. Have you ever had thoughts at all about driving a stock car?
MEMO ROJAS: Well, honestly, yes, yes. I think if the right opportunity approached and, you know, and would be in the right situation at the right time, yeah, I would consider it as an option.
To be honest, I'm more of a road cars guy. I really enjoy driving open-wheel cars or sports cars. My background is from open-wheel cars. That's what I bring most of my life. I guess that's where I would really like to be mainly like to be, IndyCars or sports cars.
But NASCAR is such a big sport now, I mean, you know, you have some of the best drivers in the world driving NASCAR, and that's what you want to do. As a driver, you always want to challenge yourself and be with the best and if the right opportunity came at the right time, yeah, I would definitely consider it.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much for joining us today, good to talk to you, best of luck at Virginia and for the balance of the season.
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