Grand-Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand-Am Road Racing
March 12, 2013
NATE SIEBENS: Thank you, and good afternoon, everyone. Today we have the pleasure of being joined by two defending champions of the Mobil One 12 hours at Sebring fueled by Fresh from Florida. Joey Hand returns to Sebring this week as the two‑time defending GT champion. He will co‑drive the No.56 BMW Team RLL BMW Z4 GTE with Dirk Mueller and John Edwards in the GT class on Saturday.
Allan McNish is a four‑time overall winner in the 12 Hours of Sebring, including a victory last year. He's also a three‑time ALMS P1 champion and a two‑time winner at the 24 Hours of Le Mans. He will share the No.2 Audi Sport Team Joest Audi R18 E‑tron Quattro with Tom Kristensen and Lucas diGrassi on Saturday.
Let's start by getting an opening statement from Joey. Joey, your team will debut the brand new BMW Z4 this weekend here at Sebring. How have preparations been coming along so far with the new car and what are you and the team going to do to try to get a three‑peat in the GT class?
JOEY HAND: Well, hello, everybody. Yeah, preparations are going pretty good. It's still pretty last‑minute for us. I mean, the boys are still building spare parts and things like that as you'd expect with a new program. But for us it's‑‑ I would say it's been a little easier than 2009 when we started with the M3. We have the same team, same drivers pretty much, and so it's not as steep of a learning curve. So we just have a new race car this time and a new tire supplier.
As far as the car goes, I mean, I sit in it, it's like a BMW when you get inside, it's a little tighter to get through the door, but it still feels like a BMW to drive, and the initial driving of it is pretty comfortable.
I think the biggest thing for us is going to be getting the tires, the suspension, the car figured out. There's a lot of variables there compared to what we had with the M3 where we were pretty figured out in our fourth year of running it last year.
There's definitely new stuff, but I'm pretty happy with the initial feel, how the car drives. For me it's also a cool‑looking car. Everybody is pretty excited, a lot of work ahead of us. Obviously there's things that could go‑‑ it's a new car so we're hoping that we've got things pretty sorted and we can go the distance. I think as we all know the 12 Hours at Sebring the first thing is to go the distance.
NATE SIEBENS: Allan, you're one of the most decorated drivers in history here at Sebring, which will host its 61st 12‑hour race on Saturday. What is it that makes racing at Sebring so special and what do you need to do to be successful here?
ALLAN McNISH: I think it's funny because I was coming into the paddock today with Oliver Jarvis, who's one of my teammates for this race in the sister car, and Ollie has never been to this race before, and we both kind of agreed that it was such a relaxed atmosphere, such a nice atmosphere, and with all the fans already waiting outside ready to get in, to set up positions, that's quite a unique situation. And I think that gives it a flavor, it gives it a party atmosphere, a flavor, as well as a hard race aspect.
From the point of view of driving, it's going to be tough even if you've got the speed to make the grade to try and get ahead, and obviously you want to be because then you can be in a controlling situation, but I don't think that's going to be the case this year as it hasn't been for quite a few years now. You've got to have a car that's quick and reliable, consistent over the bumps and something that you can definitely predict, and we've been quite fortunate at Audi over a decade now to have been given those factors. This year is going to be a tough one for sure, but I think we've got a pretty good car underneath us right now.
Q. Joey, as far as your good success in the Rolex 24, could you kind of explain to fans that this is really probably more than just half of a Rolex 24, even if it's 12 hours? Could you kind of explain the situation with the race, the uniqueness maybe of Sebring?
JOEY HAND: Yeah, yeah, it is only half of a 12‑hour race, obviously, but the difference a lot of people talk about, 24 hours at Daytona is more about the length, and the track is not super hard on the cars compared to what we have at Sebring. I think Sebring a lot of people say it's even tougher than the 24‑hour race a lot of times for the cars and even for the drivers.
I think the big thing here is you have a track that's very, very bumpy, and that's the biggest thing about Sebring is you have to make the car go through the bumps in Turn 17, Turn 1, and even in Turn 13. It's just constantly working the suspension and really beating the car up. I think that's the biggest thing.
Also Sebring is very much more like 24 Hours at LeMans as far as the lighting goes. There's a few spots that have some artificial lighting, some lights, but pretty much like in the back section it's really, really dark, and so from our standpoint in the GT car, you always have the passing of the LMP1, P2, even PC cars, and then you're doing battle in your own class and then you're passing GTC cars.
GT car you've got to have eyes in the back of your head, you're watching your mirrors, every time you turn in you're looking for McNish to dive bomb you down the inside. So you're always doing something like that.
Just kidding about McNish, by the way.
But yeah, you're just always on your toes. You've got to be mentally very strong and you've got to be physically strong in this car. This car, Turn 1, we're hustling through there, for us, and you're jumping off the ground, coming back down. It's definitely a very, very tough race, and so we're prepared to try and make the car go the distance. That's a lot of what we deal with. And going fast the whole race, not totally what we're up for. We'll try to make that last couple hours.
Q. Allan, obviously you bring a lot of winning experience to Sebring with the LeMans and Sebring victories. Could you talk a little bit to the fans about what that is like for you to bring that winning past to this brand new race?
ALLAN McNISH: I think this place for me is tougher physically and mentally than LeMans. LeMans has got the big long straights where you can relax the car with a wide open throttle, and as Joey said, most circuits are very smooth, and this one certainly isn't. So you've got to use your experience and use your experience in the traffic is something, as well, Joey was talking about.
For us in LMP1, we are basically overtaking. So if you think of rush hour traffic and driving flat out, that's what it effectively is like for us for 12 hours, and you've got to try and understand and know who's in the cars ahead of you. It's very clear when we come up against the pro guys. You know, they're very much aware of what's going on around and about. But that's not always the case.
You've got to try and understand that, and also with the car, as well, you've got to set the car up so that it's not necessarily perfect, but it's adaptable, it's drivable, it's consistent, it's one that you can go off line and come back on to line without making it too nervous, and all that type of experience of these big races, to remind you that they count the winners at the finish, I think is really where we've got strength and depth at Audi because we've got a lot of race victories, not just necessarily at this one but in big races around and about the world just within the team.
If you look at Joest themselves as a team, they're hugely successful and historic in so many races in North America and Europe and the rest of the world, and that really does help you when you get down to hour 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. Hopefully it will help us a lot this year, that's for sure.
Q. Joey, I'm just wondering specifically what the difference is in the new BMW and the older one just in terms of on‑track feel. Does it feel substantially different? Does it light power down different? Does it handle different? What basically is the difference from behind‑the‑wheel driving that car and driving the M3?
JOEY HAND: Well, I mean, the first thing is you're on different tires, and like I always say, the tires is the first thing to hit the road. So that's been a big change for us. It's been‑‑ for me I've never driven a Michelin, so it was new to me, and you definitely‑‑ when you're a race car driver, you really depend on the tire, obviously, and you start to learn when that tire is loaded, unloaded, when it's about to come unloaded, all these certain things, and so far when I've driven with the Michelin it's been a really good tire for the feel from a driver standpoint.
Having said that, there's‑‑ the car is obviously different, the suspension is different, it's a totally different type of suspension, the wheel base is shorter, the car is a bit wider and lower, so there's so many differences from the M3 to the Z4 that it definitely feels like it's a different car. But you sit a little bit further back, things like that.
I think the cool thing about it is what BMW has done is they've made the car feel like a BMW again, so you get it and drive it and it feels different at first, but you end up driving it the same way, and one of the keys to a BMW has always been, the cars I've driven for them, is the cars get from the entry to the middle on the brakes really well, and it really is good for my driving style, and this car does the same thing.
I think, again, I can't right now decipher exactly what the difference is, but the things that are slightly different is the car does seem to put traction down pretty good. You sit a little further back so when you hit some bumps the sensation is slightly different than the M3, so like in 17 the car can be hooked up and you hit a big bump and it steps out and you just get a different sensation of how the car is going to slide or step loose.
So I mean, there's little stuff like that. But I mean, overall to be honest with you, we haven't done a lot of time in the car, and for me, the past few weeks ago here in Sebring was my first time ever in a Z4 race car. Some of their guys have driven a GT3 car, but for me I haven't turned a ton of laps in it. We're all learning together what the car wants, what it feels like, what directions we need to go, and today we're actually getting rained on a bit so we're not driving too much. But I think we've definitely got some stuff to learn.
For me the cool thing is the initial feel has been pretty solid for me. I jump in, I don't have to try real hard to figure it out. You know, I can get it around the track. I think it's more about‑‑ for us it's going to be making the car and the suspension in the car work the best they can together, and that's where we're going to find the speed, really.
Q. The racing in Europe last year, was it just more seat time in a good car in a fast series, or did you really bring back anything different than what the racing in the U.S. does? Is it just a different style, a different type of camaraderie, or is it basically just the same thing in Europe? Did you come back a different driver I guess is the question I'm asking.
JOEY HAND: Well, I wouldn't say I came back a different driver. For sure I've taught kids driving go‑karts for a long time and race cars, and I always tell them you've got to be prepared ‑‑ no matter good you thin you are, you have to be prepared to learn every day, and for me I've loved my time here at Rahal Letterman because of what I learn every week and every day with these guys from engineering to driving the car to just perspective on racing, whatever.
For me when I went to Europe, racing is racing, but when you go out and race, that part of it is always the same. You're maximizing what you have, the tires, the car, the situation, you're doing battle. So the racing part of it, a lot of people watched it and thought, oh, it looks like tough racing. Well, it's tough racing, but I had a pretty darned tough race here last year at the end of the race, too, a good throw‑down battle.
The racing is racing, but what I did learn over there was basically what I teach kids to be honest, and that was that you have to be prepared to learn every day at every level, and I learned a lot over there just about different ideas, quickly some of the stuff was how critical over there pit stops are. You have to learn quickly.
Over here our idea is to obviously want the pit stops to be quick, but we're more focused on the 12‑hour race. So when you're doing your second or third pit stop here at Sebring you're not going to really see us pushing, pushing, pushing to the pit speed limiter with a chance of getting a penalty. We're not going to push into the pit box and slide through or something like that. You're going to take it a little bit easy.
Over there every time you do a pit stop it is very, very critical. The stop is 2.7 seconds or 3 seconds and there's a chance to lose hundredths or tenths, and those tenths can be the difference of coming back on track in third or fourth or fifth or whatever.
There's a lot of things I learned over there and stuff that I can bring back to here as far as just the mentality of how I go about the weekend. But I definitely‑‑ I'm not a different driver, I'm just probably one that‑‑ when you go over there it's definitely a humbling experience, you have to learn again. I've been driving for 22 years driving some sort of racing vehicle, and I just had to learn a lot.
For me I think it was really good. I got to learn a lot. It gave me kind of a different look on how to do some of the same things, and it was a whole lot of new stuff. So I'm excited to go back over and do that DTM stuff, also. But really happy I'm back over here at Rahal because as I said, I've had a great four years here, love these guys, love my engineers and my teammates, and I think I still learn over here, also.
Q. You mentioned the unique atmosphere. Do you plan on venturing out into the crowd at all this weekend? Will you have time to personally thank some of your friends out in Turn 10 hopefully?
ALLAN McNISH: Hopefully not during the race, but yeah, the atmosphere here is special anyway. I realized that the first time I came in 2000, and every race since then you've got the same people, like you mentioned Turn 10 and their club. That was quite an eye‑opener for me, that there was that pilgrimage back to Sebring, and people have got that sort of love of this place.
And then you get sucked into it, as a driver you get sucked into it, there's no question. You've got to go out there and experience it.
For all of us at Audi sport, when we knew that this was the last hurrah, if you like, from the ALM P1 point of view and there was a big desire from Dr.Ullrich and everybody else to be part of that, and it's partly to say thank you and it's partly to be part of it. I've got to be honest from a selfish point of view; I wanted to be here. I wanted to be here in this particular year to be part of the celebration of what I think has been a superb era of sports car racing and especially at this event.
I am pretty sure that there's going to be a lot of fan interaction all the way through. I'm sure the autograph queues are going to be longer than ever, and I'm looking forward to that as much as I am actually looking forward to the race.
We put on a show, but the fans make this place and make the race.
Q. Joey, Sebring had a has long history of kind of changing series over the years. Does that make this year's race any more important that it's the last of the ALMS era?
JOEY HAND: Well, I mean, for me it's another race that I want to win. I want to win every year, but I think it's going to carry on. So for me it's‑‑ there's going to be a little bit. It's like winning the 50th or the 60th or whatever. I think there's going to be‑‑ there's a little bit of something to it.
But for me I'm always looking to win every race, and this race‑‑ Allan said it a couple times, this place is definitely a special one, and when I first started racing endurance racing, I came from open wheel and didn't totally understand all of it. I watched it when I was younger on TV, but didn't really get it until I got here.
You know, when you come to Sebring, I won it in I think 2011 the first time in GT and won it again last year, and it's just‑‑ you recognize that that race, kind of like Daytona on your résumé, it's bigger than a lot of the other races. It's one of the big ones. So you always want to win it.
And for me, I don't really‑‑ I'm not going to really care what name it has to it, I'm going to want to win it. If it's the 12 Hours at Sebring, I'm going to want to win it every chance I get.
Q. Allan, you've raced both sets of prototypes that are part of the future, but both two totally different levels of technology. What's it like going from DP to your Audi that's so high tech?
ALLAN McNISH: The debriefs are significantly longer, I can tell you that, because there's so many different parts to it, whether it be the hybrid engineer, whether it's the traction and control engineer or suspension or whatever it may be, it's a significantly more technical car.
When you come down to the driving aspect of it, for sure as a driver you always want more downforce, you want more grip and you want more power and you want a better balance in the car. That's what we're always pushing to strive for because we know that is faster and it gives us more chance for success.
But I have to say the races at Daytona in the DP, that's the only place where I've actually driven a DP car. They have been a lot of fun. It's good wheel‑to‑wheel driving, hard driving, hard racing, and I think because we don't necessarily have the technology that the current ALMS cars in the LMP category have, then it does allow a different style of racing. I wouldn't say it's better, I wouldn't say it's worse, but it's definitely a different style of racing.
But I think from a pure enjoyment of driving, I have to be honest with you, I do like driving the Audi, no question about it. But when you get into the DP and you're going wheel to wheel into Turn 1 with one of the Ganassi cars after two or three hours and you know it's going to be like that for the next 21 hours of the Daytona 24, that's a lot of fun, as well.
Q. Joey, I've been reading a lot of previews on the DTM season. You've paid some dues and now there's higher expectations of you in the series. I assume you carry some of those same expectations a little further this year than last year?
JOEY HAND: Yeah. I haven't seen any of that stuff, but for sure my expectations were high last year. We struggled in the summertime with some different issues, started out strong and kind of turned some heads and then kind of struggled in the summer and then finished really strong.
Fortunately for me we were able to finish strong, and I wasn't a grumpy guy during Christmas at home, or not as grumpy I should say.
But yeah, for me DTM was such an experience, a new experience. I didn't know any of the tracks‑‑ well, I knew one or two from testing there. But it was just a very, very different thing. The type of car, more downforce, the type of pit stops, I didn't even know where the drivers' meetings were. I was lucky enough to have a nice teammate Martin Tomczyk that showed me around where I needed to go.
I was always just trying to find my way, and as I say to my friends and family, just winging it, as I do. It gets you there and it gets you in the mix, but it's tough to‑‑ it's tough to learn those tracks that these guys have 11 years on, or lived there and driven there when they were kids or whatever.
I think it definitely was I would say tougher than I expected on that front, but also the way I finished, it gave me a lot of hope for this year, and now I go back and I have a ton more confidence about the tracks and showing up and being able to get to the pace really quick.
My expectations are to be a threat. It's what I've done all the way through my career, whether people thought I could or thought I couldn't. I've always been somehow in the mix. I think the last race at Hockenheimring showed that I can mix it up with the best in DTM, and that's the way I'd like to start the season honestly, and thankfully we start at Hockenheimring, which is probably the place I know best in Europe.
The thing about DTM is you need to qualify well. That's what I learned is pretty big is you've got to get in the mix, you've got to be at least in the top 10, and you can race in the top 5. If you're in the top 5 you can win.
That's going to be my goal, qualify in the top 10 all the time and that will give you a chance to be in the top 5 a handful of times and then you can race these guys.
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