Grand Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand Am Road Racing
January 14, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to this week's NASCAR teleconference. We appreciate you joining us as we continue the buildup to both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Daytona 500. We are pleased today to have two guests, each from a different form of auto racing.
First, we're going to be joined by Alex Gurney, driver of the #99 GAINSCO Pontiac Riley. Alex drives Daytona prototypes for Bob Stallings Racing in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series. Alex, Jon Fogarty, Jimmy Vasser and three-time defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson are going to co-drive the 99 in this year's Rolex 24 on January 24th and 25th. Last year that foursome finished third in the Rolex. Alex and Jon were co-champions of the series back in 2007 in the Daytona prototype class.
Here's a little tidbit of historical interest: Alex's father Dan Gurney won the first running of the Rolex. That was back in '62. It was a three-hour event, and back then it was called the Daytona Continental, but Dan Gurney won that inaugural event.
A little bit later on today's call we're going to be joined by Elliott Sadler, driver of the #19 Best Buy Family Tools Dodge for Gillett Evernham Motorsports in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
First up we're going to welcome Alex Gurney. Much like the Daytona 500 is NASCAR's biggest event of the year and its first, the same situation sort of applies to the Rolex 24 in the Grand-Am Series. What's the excitement level for you and your team, which includes Jimmie Johnson, coming into Daytona?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, first off, thanks for having me on. I have to correct you real quick. We actually finished second last year. I think you mentioned we finished third. We finished second in the Rolex 24.
Anyway, we're very excited to get started again. It's been kind of a strange off-season for I think the motorsports world at large, so we're really excited to kick off the season and get back to racing and kind of forget about all that other stuff.
Grand-Am has a new relationship, I think, with NASCAR, so we're excited to see where that takes us, and hopefully there's quite a bit more involvement there, and hopefully it takes our series to a new level. But anyway, our specific team, GAINSCO Bob Stallings Racing, is coming off two really good seasons. We won the championship in '07 and finished second last year, so we're hoping to get back to the top step this coming year.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you for that opener, and we're ready to go to the media for questions for our first guest today, Alex Gurney.
Q. I've got a multi-parter for you. First off, for your GAINSCO Bob Stallings team, what's it going to take to unseat Ganassi Racing not only in the Rolex 24 but in the season-long deal? The second two parts concern NASCAR. What's impressed you the most about having Jimmie Johnson as your teammate? And then given your dad's history with NASCAR, have you ever considered making any forays into stock car racing yourself?
ALEX GURNEY: The first question was about the 24 and Ganassi, trying to beat them. Yeah, it's a tall order, for sure. We've done this race, what, three times now and had pretty poor results the first two years, 2006 and 2007. We were on the pole in 2007 but struggled throughout the race.
We took, I would say, a much more conservative approach in 2008, you know, really, really focusing on staying out of trouble, and we were able to do that up until very late in the race. We had a little gear box problem I think at the 22nd hour. But if it wasn't for that, I think we would have beaten Ganassi.
We're really going to bring in the same approach. We have the same drivers. Everybody knows the way to approach this race and how to take care of the car. Everybody knows each other. Everybody communicates well. So I think more of the same that we did in 2008, maybe a few more things that we've looked at reliability-wise on the car, we're in there with a chance for sure.
As far as Jimmie Johnson as a teammate, you know, we love having him there, obviously. He brings a lot to the team and a lot of spotlight on us, as well. But just a great guy. You know, the first day he showed up with the team he didn't have a big entourage or anything like that, came in very humble and just a nice guy, quality guy, and when he got in the car, you know, he's immediately fast and I would say very professional, very focused, has a pretty broad technical knowledge. It's always interesting to watch from my seat, just being in kind of the debrief room when he's talking to the engineer, or engineers, how he works, just very detailed feedback and just interesting just to see that focus. There's definitely a laser-like focus I would say.
The last question was about NASCAR?
Q. Given your dad's history in NASCAR, have you ever given any thought to making any forays into stock car racing yourself?
ALEX GURNEY: I have a little bit. I think I'm a road racer at heart, so I would love to drive in any NASCAR road racing event for sure. At the moment I see my future in Grand-Am, but I would love to add to that by doing some NASCAR road racing, definitely. I love the Glen, I love Infineon, Mexico City, races like that, where I think I could perform.
I've talked a little bit, very on the edges a little bit, about doing something like that, and my team owner, Bob Stallings, has actually made some inquiries on that level, also. There's a chance that something might come of that at some point.
Q. Alex, you mentioned before that you had some pretty good success with a conservative approach to this race. How difficult is it hour after hour for 24 hours to maintain a conservative approach?
ALEX GURNEY: I think it is. I mean, I think it goes against kind of a driver's kind of natural instinct to just go for it all the time. You don't want to -- you want to be fast. It's kind of a driver's thing. You want to put up lap times and be the fast guy. But that's definitely not the way to win this race. By the end of the 24 hours, even though it may not seem like it in the middle of the race, the winner or the top five are usually spread out by a few laps, sometimes quite a bit more than that.
You know, you just have to keep that in mind, keep the long view in mind, and know that that's what wins this particular race.
Q. It seemed like some of the drivers last year were not able to keep it under control for that long. The slower cars in the different classes, there's a lot of them in this race. How difficult is it to deal with those?
ALEX GURNEY: It is really difficult, and especially because a lot of the guys aren't doing full season -- aren't doing the full seasons in those cars. A lot of them have just flown in just for this one race or have managed to scrape together a budget to just come in and do just this one race. The experience levels of the different guys is kind of all over the map, so it's really tough. You don't really know who you're coming up on and if they see you. It's kind of a tricky game there, especially late at night, and just that type of experience, also, a lot of those guys don't have experience seeing what's going on at night and knowing the cars behind them and just picking their spots in traffic. It's a constant challenge, probably the biggest one for this race.
Q. An economics question. I'm kind of on thin ice here, and I apologize for putting you on the spot because this is not really your area, either. There's a pretty healthy interest for test days. From your seat how do you see the current economy affecting not only this event but the condition as we move forward?
ALEX GURNEY: You know what, I had expected an even smaller field than what we have. I think we have 20 entries, maybe 21, for the 24-hour as far as Daytona prototypes, and somewhere around 50 overall. I think that's still a pretty healthy field, and I was surprised at that. I had expected to lose a few more.
I think guys like Penske coming in is a big boost to the series, and I think says a little something about the series that someone like that wants to come here and compete and maybe that it does make sense economically.
I think Grand-Am has got some good things going for it. It's still in its infancy, I think, as far as its potential. The rest of the season I think we're probably going to see 16-, 17-car fields as far as the DPs, and high 30s, low 40s for the total field. I think that's enough to put on a really solid race at every event this year. I think they're in good shape compared to maybe every other series out there.
Q. NASCAR has done away with testing this year by and large, or attempted to, in the interest of some cost savings for team owners. Is there anything on the Grand-Am side that you're aware of that's being done in an effort to curb costs at all, even if it's a short-term fix?
ALEX GURNEY: Yes. I mean, essentially we have almost no testing, as well. I know the series has some series-sanctioned test days where they will maybe test the day after a race event, so that's one way of saving a little bit of money. If we race on a Sunday, they'll have a test day on a Monday so you don't have to bring people in for a separate test day and you don't have to bring your equipment, and you're pretty much there ready to go. That's one way they're getting some test days in without having to do it separate.
A lot of the parts obviously are specked out, and I know they're doing some more things along those lines. They did cut two events, so we have a 12-race schedule, team-race schedule, and that's another way that it's going to be a little easier to get by.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, Alex. Best of luck in the Rolex 24, and hopefully bring it home. But we really thank you for joining us to help us get the kickoff going for 2009.
ALEX GURNEY: All right, Herb. I appreciate it.
|Connect with The Crittenden Automotive Library|