Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
March 11, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. We have a special teleconference this afternoon. It's in advance of the Grand-Am Fan Appreciation Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend, Friday through Sunday. That weekend will feature the second event of the KONI Sports Car Challenge season.
Our teleconference guest today is Andy Lally. He's going to co-drive the No. 41 TRG Motorsports Porsche 997 in Sunday's two-and-a-half-hour grand sport division race at Homestead.
Andy started the season in a big way. He co-drove a Porsche GT3 to victory in the GT class in the Rolex 24 At Daytona International Speedway. Andy is a 20-time winner and three-time champion in Rolex Series competition. He also has some NASCAR experience we want to mention. He's made 14 starts in NASCAR National Series competition, 12 in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, and two in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. His best NASCAR national series result is a 10th--place finish at Watkins Glen Internationals Nationwide Series road race back in 2007.
Andy, first off, thank you for your time today. We truly appreciate it. Great start for you this year at Daytona. What is the outlook going into the KONI event this weekend?
ANDY LALLY: I like Homestead. Out of all the road course/oval events we do, where we run an oval and then run into an infield road course, Homestead is probably one of the more challenging and fun events. It's always great to get down there. Especially this time of year when the frost is just starting to go away here most of the places in the country, it's always nice to be down in Miami.
The racing is always good. And TRG, the team I'm driving for, is always excellent at preparing a really solid racecar for us. We've had success there in the past, so I'm looking forward to going down there again.
HERB BRANHAM: There's not a whole lot of racers nowadays like yourself that really have done as much crossover as you have in racing between sports cars, NASCAR, back and forth. What is it like, what are the adjustments like, to be able to do that?
ANDY LALLY: Well, there are a lot of adjustments. There's so many differences in these different cars.
But I'm extremely fortunate to have been given opportunities in many different series, between Nationwide and Camping World, ARCA and KONI, Rolex, even being able to go overseas to race a bit. It's an absolute blast.
Some of these cars are so different that it's actually good sometimes when they're that different because there's zero association between the two, other than sitting down and having a steering wheel in your hand. So it helps you relearn and really kind of separate those things.
It actually gets trickier when the application and the thought process and the line is smaller, because trying to get to each edge and remembering all the little differences is harder the closer they are together.
But it's still a blast. For me normally it takes about a lap and a half and I'm right back in the groove of whatever I happen to be sitting in that day.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks for that opener. We're ready to go to the media for questions for today's guest, Andy Lally.
Q. When you do fan events such as this weekend, how much do you find fans people who appreciate your sports car achievements versus how many who say, We'd like to see you in more NASCAR races?
ANDY LALLY: I would say I get quite a mixed result. To be completely honest, I've had the range of emotions go from extremely positive to extremely negative. The nicest thing is when I find crossover fans that like both sides.
There were a lot of fans -- the first sports car race that I went back to like after we made our Nationwide debut, got a top 10 up -- ran well in Montréal, got a top 10 at Watkins Glen in '07, they were thrilled that a road racer and a sports car racer was making an impact and doing well on the NASCAR side.
For me personally, I was a NASCAR fan first as a young kid. None of my family was in auto racing or anything like that. It's what I saw on TV. It's what my early heroes were. My opportunities as a young man came in road racing. That evolved into more and more opportunities.
It's hard to cross over. When I was able to do so with Kevin, convince him that this is what we needed to do, it was a blast and really cool.
I think for the most part 99% of the fans think it's kind of neat to have somebody that they know in the sports car ranks trying to break into the NASCAR stuff.
Conversely, I also see a lot of the NASCAR fans that like the road racing side, maybe Watkins Glen, Sonoma, Montréal, Mexico City are highlighted on their year, and it's helped draw them into the Rolex Series, KONI Series, and other road racing series they get to see on TV.
For the most part it's positive. I had a few little instances of people dropping me a line that were calling me a sellout and whatnot. Those are people that don't know me and don't have a clue about what my dreams and desires have been all my life.
It's a blast anytime I can be fortunate enough to belt myself into a safe racecar and have some fun.
Q. Can you talk us through some of the challenges when you race at places like Daytona and Homestead that are part high-speed oval and part road courses, some of the things you have to go through as a driver to adapt to those kinds of tracks.
ANDY LALLY: Sure. Daytona itself as an event can be separated from almost all of them. You've got so many different elements there, so many different mindsets. Just like the Daytona 500, our Daytona 24 is one of many races that counts for the same amount of points on the season, but carries so much more prestige and gives the teams a little bit more momentum if they come out of that first race of the season with a good start.
I believe the 24 Hours is grueling physically and mentally because you're driving for so long and there's so much on the line that mistakes are magnified. There's so much more pressure on you to do well that I think that sets Daytona apart.
As far as Homestead goes, with it being a road course and oval at the same time, it's actually a really neat mix because we are flat out through that oval. We're hanging it out, and it's just flat out. When the tires are worn out and we get a hot, greasy track, we're doing a little lifter there and definitely skating the cars all the way up to the wall on the track exit. We're going from our fastest point, which will be 160 miles an hour or so, down into a hairpin just seven seconds later.
You have extreme mile-an-hour changes and braking zones into tight, precise corners, and a few seconds later you're out on the high banks, sweeping through the corners two- and three-wide. It makes it really neat.
One of the other challenges and one of the things that separates the Rolex Series and the KONI series from the NASCAR stuff, and this came into play in 2006, I had a great race with a handful of really good friends out there for the lead, is if it starts raining, we keep going. When you're on slicks and you're barreling into the oval turn, NASCAR three and four, which is what we use before we dip into the road course section there, it is absolutely hairy when you haven't made your pit stop for your rain tires. Even when you have rain tires, you're approaching NASCAR three and four within three or four miles an hour of what you'd normally do it. Now comes the big lift, now comes searching for the grip. The line completely changes and your whole mindset has to change to adapt to the new driving style that you're going to need for the rain.
When it's all the way wet or all the way dry, it's actually easier than when you're in that in between stage when it's just starting to drizzle. Every single time you go through there, it's a little more slick or a little more dry, depending on if the sun's coming out or if the rain is just starting or ending. It makes for an absolutely wild hairball race.
Q. What about this weekend, having a chance to interact with the fans? Cool deal, fan appreciation weekend. How exciting is that for you as a driver to be able to mingle with the fans?
ANDY LALLY: I'm thrilled with it because I think it's such an example of forward thinking on Grand-Am's part and Homestead's part. A chance to give back to the community, the people that might not be able to - especially in this economy - come in and afford these tickets. They're going to come out now, maybe give KONI a first look. I think we're going to open this up to a lot of new fans. I think it's going to be an appreciation for a lot of the -- a thank you for a lot of the fans that have been supporting the series over the years.
I think our turnout is going to be great. It will be great to see the garages filled with new faces, new questions, people that are going to experience the KONI Challenge Series for the first time. I'm thrilled about it. I think they should do it the whole year.
Q. The Porsches are somewhat down on power in GS. What do you feel you would need and how can you compensate for that at Homestead with the long on-throttle time?
ANDY LALLY: It's going to be tricky here for us. The long periods of on-throttle are going to be tough because the Mustangs and the Camaros certainly have a horsepower advantage on us. I believe that the trickiest portion of that whole deal is not so much that we're on the throttle for such a long period of time, but the fact is we're coming out of the hairpin. We're crawling when we come onto the back straight. It's a bottom-of-second-gear kind of deal.
The Mustangs, Camaros, even the BMWs at that point really out-torque us. So it's a drag race. Everybody is going to put power down approximately the same. We should gain a little bit in power down with the rear engine. But once the legs take over on the big motors, it's going to be very difficult.
To tell you the truth, I'm hoping that the track gets real greasy or a little bit wet, because I think that will put a little bit more of the advantage back in our court.
The Porsche that I'm racing this weekend for TRG Racing is going to be very strong under braking and very good mid corner. But we're gonna have to be 100% efficient through those corners to even have a chance to go at these guys and stay ahead of them once we get to the oval section.
What do I think we need? I can politic here and say we need a little less weight, a little more power, something to balance out the class a little bit here.
But, you know, it is what it is. I've said my piece to our Grand-Am officials to try to get them to go that way. We'll see what happens. Grand-Am has a relatively open-minded view of this. I think they're fairly open-minded and certainly competent enough to take a look at what's going on and balance the series properly.
Q. Is there anything you can learn from racing your GS car this weekend to apply to your GT car?
ANDY LALLY: We'll learn a handful of things. A little bit about what the track's gonna do at that point in the day. Every year it's a little bit different. We'll pick up a little bit of pit strategy. Just a handful of things.
Being at a track and going back to it a month later, it's so fresh in your mind that it will help some of the driving things. In the beginning of the conference call I spoke about it's tricky when you have two classes that are actually really close. The Rolex GT and the KONI Challenge Series are actually pretty close. You're doing very, very similar things here.
In some ways that's good and in some ways that's bad. But I think having the track fresh in our mind, having an approximate idea of what our strategy will be like, tire wear, whatnot, will certainly play a factor in what our decisions will be when we go back for the Rolex race in April.
Q. In continuing the NASCAR comparison, the NASCAR team, always talking about bringing certain cars with certain setups to certain tracks. Do you find that you have to do the same thing or does your car pretty much work anywhere?
ANDY LALLY: Since we run all of our races on road courses, the aerodynamics are set up for turning both right and left all the time, we'll bring the same style chassis to all of our races.
In fact, in most cases, in the KONI Challenge Series and in the Rolex Series, you'll run the entire season with just one car. Our backup, unlike in the NASCAR stuff where each team will bring a backup every single weekend, have specific chassis like in the Truck Series and the Nationwide Series, where you'll have a short-track chassis, intermediate chassis, a downforce chassis, which also could be an intermediate chassis, then a straight chassis for the road courses, a superspeedway chassis, we don't have that. Our body parts are spec, similar to what a COT is now. The chassis don't just get lifed out as much as they would with the COT or the truck stuff. They're also not as track-specific. All of our suspension and whatnot is changeable within those cars so that we can adapt to every different track that we go to and run the same piece.
It makes it very cost-effective. It just shows the versatility of those cars.
Q. Do you find racing specifically at Homestead is different since they changed the track a few years ago?
ANDY LALLY: Do you mean with the old banking?
ANDY LALLY: The infield road course section is exactly the same as it has been for years there. The banking, actually it's more fun, to tell you the truth now, with the progressive banking. 18, 90, 20 degrees, is that what it is? It's a lot more fun. I always have more fun on the high banks. It lets us roll in there a lot faster. Also gives you more grooves to race.
I think you'll see a lot of times, especially on restarts, when these cars are all knotted up, we'll be three- and four-wide up on that banking coming through there.
It makes it a lot of fun. I don't think the racing has changed too much. The line has changed a little bit through there, but it hasn't sacrificed anything on what we do setup-wise, except for, to be very specific, a little bit more right front spring just because of the increased loads with the banking there. Other than that, it will run pretty much the same exact setup.
Q. Kevin had a lot of success in sports cars. You've been a part of a lot of that. With what you've experienced with Kevin and his group, what puts them in a position to succeed in NASCAR, but also ARCA where they've had some success?
ANDY LALLY: Drive. Just like any other team owner. What makes Jack Roush, Richard Childress, the Rick Hendricks of the racing world out there successful is the fact that they are there to win. It's excellent working for a guy like Kevin, who is working just as hard as I'm working out there, and wants it just as bad.
When you want it that bad, you're gonna work hard for it. My guys, my team, myself, Kevin included, certainly work really hard to be the best that we can anytime we go anywhere.
Obviously, in our move over to NASCAR, whether it be the Camping World Truck Series or the Nationwide Series or ARCA or Sprint Cup, budget comes into play. That's huge. I think Kevin's doing a great job with David in the 71 car right now on a shoestring budget. We ran a real small budget last year when I started the deal with the trucks.
But there was a ton of heart and drive in the guys that were behind the scenes making this thing happen. And the guy that's steering the ship, Kevin, has been relentless. That's really one of his mottos.
We're trying to grow into the NASCAR outfit and trying to make that transition, it takes a lot of cubic dollars, but at the same time, especially in this time with the economy the way it is, teams are finding ways to do it for less. We're certainly one of those guys.
My ARCA experience last year was wonderful. We got a pole in the only race I did on the road courses. We were strong there. I'm looking forward very much to be able to have a shot to do some truck races, Nationwide races. Really what my big goal this is year is to be able to join a team for the Sprint Cup races at Watkins Glen or Sonoma.
Q. What impresses you the most about what Kevin's Sprint Cup operation has achieved? Dave had kind of been thrown aside and now comes back with TRG. What impresses you the most about what they've accomplished to this point?
ANDY LALLY: Well, that they found a way. Really that's probably the most impressive thing right now is that there's the same drive and passion we have on the sports car side rolling over into the Cup side. That is that we're just not giving up. There's an opportunity here. The chances might be slim, but David, who's doing an excellent job, if he can qualify here at Bristol in a week or so, we can have a good chance of locking ourselves into the top 35 for a while, and that would be huge.
We're just hoping that success opens up doors and increases sponsorship levels and might be able to help the whole program all the way down from Nationwide to Truck and on down.
Every time one of the TRG Motorsports programs are successful, it helps. Our Daytona victory opened up some doors even with this COT stuff. Just pedaling, keep pedaling harder and rowing the boat. That's the deal. Never stop. Be relentless. Keep on going. That's the most impressive thing, that these guys are pushing as hard as they are.
Q. Is there any crossover in Kevin's programs? He's doing Grand-Am, Trucks, Cup. How much is there among the groups?
ANDY LALLY: Currently right now there's very little, except for the fact our Charlotte location is becoming a little bit of a double duty. Last year specifically it was just our Truck stuff, just our ARCA stuff. Now it's kind of being used as an East Coast hub. TRG Motorsports is also expanding to a New Jersey facility that's getting ready to break ground, as well. Charlotte is kind of becoming the center focus. The Rolex stuff is staying there through our East Coast swing and will remain there for a little while till we head to the West Coast. Our truck stuff is being prepared there, our COT and ARCA cars are living there, as well.
I think just growing into where we need to be and should be, we're figuring out that's going to be Charlotte.
Q. What do you think about Homestead, about it becoming 'the championship track'? You finished the season there at Homestead. They've got a lot going on there with the NASCAR stuff. This is also a big weekend.
ANDY LALLY: Yeah, let me correct myself here. I said we were going back there in a month. I mixed that up with VIR. We go there at the end of the year. I go back in two weeks, we're testing there.
I think it's kind of neat. I think it's a positive move on Grand-Am's part, now being a part of NASCAR, that they include themselves in kind of the run to the championship weekend there for the other NASCAR series, as well.
I'm fine with it. I don't care where we end the season. We're very fortunate in the Rolex Series to have excellent tracks to race on all year long. We go all over the country and experience some of the top road-racing facilities and oval facilities in the country. I think it's pretty neat.
If NASCAR and Grand-Am can gain from moving the season finale to Miami, I'm all for it.
HERB BRANHAM: We appreciate Andy's time today. Thank you. Best of luck this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
ANDY LALLY: All my pleasure, guys. Thanks very much for joining us here.
HERB BRANHAM: To all the media who called in today, we appreciate the coverage greatly. Thank you.
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