Grand-Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand-Am Road Racing
June 25, 2013
THE MODERATOR: We have the pleasure of being joined by Ryan and Alex who will be competing in Sahlen's Six Hours of The Glen, and they will also be looking to help Starworks Motorsport defend its title in the North American Endurance Championship presented by VisitFlorida.com.
Alex, last year you were the driver champion in the inaugural NAEC, and in addition to defending that title you were also in a close battle for the Daytona Prototype Championship with only two points separating the Top‑6 drivers entering the race at Watkins Glen.
What are your thoughts returning to The Glen and battling for the NAEC and the DP Championships?
ALEX POPOW: Well, thanks, everyone for being here with us. I'm very excited to go back to The Glen. So far, I have been there three times and The Glen has good memories for me. It was my first podium and actually that's been the best racetrack for me, the track that I've been the fastest every time.
I've been getting good lap times, good feeling with the car. I qualified third last year, and actually I was running very strong. We had a problem with the car at some point but we were very, very strong in both races. Like the last one, the short one, we got one, two, for Starworks Motorsports, and I'm very excited to go back and show how strong we are getting as a team and try to fight again for the North American Endurance Championship and also for the Grand Am Championship.
THE MODERATOR: Ryan, it's already been a hectic week, traveling to France to compete in the 24 hours of Le Mans where you finished eighth. Now you're getting ready to head back to Watkins Glen where you won last August on the short course and finished third in the Six Hours on the long course. What are your thoughts looking back at Le Mans and returning to Watkins Glen?
RYAN DALZIEL: Good afternoon, thanks for having us on. It's been a hectic four weeks, actually, between Detroit, Mid‑Ohio, the Le Mans testing and the race a couple of days ago. But I got back home last night to Florida and been able to do a little laundry here, getting turned around to go to Watkins Glen.
As Alex said, Watkins has been very kind to both of us and to Starworks. Seems like we always have good cars there, whether it's the Six Hour or two‑hour race. Looking at both races last year, the Six Hour, for sure, Alex's car dominated, I think he had a taillight issue, something stupid like that, and he had a dominant victory.
We were fortunate to get the one, two, in the two‑hour race and again our cars were very strong there. We have done a lot of work over winter, and I definitely feel that right now we are much stronger in the package than we were 12 months ago.
This weekend, we are definitely looking ahead. We are not looking at just the North American Endurance Championship; I think right now we have our eyes on the overall championship. I think the team is getting stronger every race.
And again, like Alex said, this is really where Alex kind of came out and people started really taking a look at what he was doing. Had a third place qualifying there in the Six Hour last year, and for sure, we are going back there expecting great things, I think from our whole package.
On the Le Mans side, wasn't a glorious finish like we had for Starworks last year but it was great to go there. Just as a driver to go to Le Mans every year is special, and to be part of the 90th anniversary there.
Going into the race, a lot of excitement around the SRT Viper. Unfortunately with the death of one of the drivers, it kind of cast a little bit of a shadow over the race, and you know, I'm looking forward to kind of putting it behind me and moving on here.
Q. For both, I would just like to get you to comment more specifically on the challenges of Watkins Glen and the longer distance. Obviously you have the Rolex 24 to begin the season, but this is beyond that a very long race compared to what you normally do week‑in, week‑out. And also, how tight the championship battle is this year, what with the last several years kind of dominated by Ganassi; now it's all jumbled up at the top and just two points separating the top three teams.
RYAN DALZIEL: Yeah, I think looking at this time last year, I don't necessarily think that last year was dominated by Ganassi. We finished only a handful of points behind them. We led for a very good chunk. I think the last couple of years, things started to change a little bit and Ganassi dominating changed, and a lot of teams just had mistakes and it was a strange championship. I guess the Ganassi car us and broke away.
This year, it's tough. Lots of good cars, second year with the new body work and the new chassis, so I think people are obviously learning a fair amount.
The Six Hour is always a very tough race. It's like a six‑hour Sprint race, and I think between last year and this year, the tires have gotten so much better that I think there's going to be a different strategy with people going into this race; where last year, we were struggling a little bit with the tires in the Six Hour. And now we have a better tire with Continental, and I think you'll see maybe a lot of people trying to double‑stint tires and trying to make different strategy calls.
The mind‑set for us, physically, the Six Hours is very tough, and we were actually bringing in Sebastien Bourdais to help out the driving duties for us. Assuming Alex and I will still do the majority of the racing, but we have Sebastien there to give us a little bit of break in the middle. I think going into it we are definitely expecting great things and it's always good to go back to the Six Hours at The Glen.
ALEX POPOW: For me, like Ryan just said, the Six Hours, it's a very tough race, to keep focused on what you're doing‑‑ when you are in the back trying to go forward, it's easier because you're hungry and just want to try to get better. When you are in the front, the race goes a lot longer for you because you have to try to cover or keep focused on what you're doing, you know.
The Glen, it's a racetrack where you cannot make mistakes because a mistake there, it will hurt a lot, because not much spaces in a lot of places, and one mistake there can cost you the whole race. We just have to be focused.
The team is doing a great job. The team has improved a lot. Like Ryan said, Continental Tires has done a great job with the new composite tires they did. In 2011, the tires were not very good at The Glen especially and they improved and last year were better and this year are even better. I think we are going to have a good race.
And the team strategy, like he said, we are going to have Sebastien Bourdais backing us up and helping us a bit in the race. Last year we did a lot of driving, and it's going to be an interesting race I think. All of the teams are very equal right now.
Like you said, Ganassi is not dominating the championship because of a couple of runs that were not their mistake; it was just things that happened in racing. And you cannot take them out of contention, because until they are back‑‑ Ganassi is a strong team.
All of the teams right now in the top of the championship, they are also strong. Every team has the possibility to win, and actually, by the first three teams on the championship right now, Starworks is the only one that has not won a race, and that's what we are aiming for this weekend.
THE MODERATOR: You mentioned you are going to be driving with Sebastien Bourdais. The two of you won last year at Indianapolis. How do you two get along as co‑drivers and what does he bring to the Starworks team?
RYAN DALZIEL: Yeah, Sebastien a great person, a great driver. I learned a lot last year from team. He's a very good friend of all the team. He's very good friend of Ryan, of me. We are a very good team; even not just me and with Ryan. Like the three of us, we can help a lot on the setup of the car.
The good thing is that he drove last year in The Glen, also, in the tester car, No.8 car, and this year he's going to be in the No. 2 with‑‑ not going against Ryan. He's going to go against all the other ones, like last year, Sebastien and Ryan were the ones who closed the short race on The Glen and they finished first and second.
So I think that it's a good combination that we are going to have having Sebastien with us. I think that's one of the best teams out there right now.
Q. J.J. mentioned you guys are battling for both North American Endurance Championship and the series championship; so is there any one you are concentrating a little bit more on?
RYAN DALZIEL: Well, I think looking at the points of the North American right now, like Alex said, we need to win a race right now, and I think that to get ourselves back in the hunt for the North American Endurance Championship, we really need to win this weekend.
So I think there's nothing left for us than a victory this weekend. A lot of people say you can play the points game but in order for us to get the lead here in both championships, that's what we need to do. We are going in there with I think, for sure, a full tank of gas and we are going to give it everything we've got.
We definitely feel right now we are quick. The car has been really good at race trim. We struggled a little bit on some fuel consumption, but what's made us more difficult this year has been the short races, the Detroit and two‑hour stuff. That has hurt us a little bit on strategy, mainly because there is no strategy at that point. It's either one stop or two stops and we were two stops.
Looking ahead to this weekend, hopefully it doesn't get down to a fuel strategy race at the end, but we are definitely going for the win.
Q. Is there anything that you can do with your strategy to keep it from being a fuel strategy race?
RYAN DALZIEL: You know, not really. You've got to kind of see how the yellows fall. Looking back at the two hour race, the Chevys were able to save fuel and do it on one stop, and we were nowhere close to doing that. For us it was very much a go‑flat‑out‑and‑hope‑for‑the‑yellow, which we did, and it worked out until we came in fifth and we had to put a little bit more fuel in.
We know where our strengths are just now and that's kind of what we are playing with, and we are plugging away. But the longer races definitely help us.
I think having Sebastien in there, the car was really quick in Watkins Glen last year; definitely feel our crew and our team are better now than they were a year ago. Much like we said in Detroit, going into it, once we realized how good the car was, I think anything less than a victory at Watkins Glen is going to be a disappointment.
Q. The points are so close at the top of the DP standings, I know it's a crazy question, but is it wise to go after win versus just get points and stay close with so much of the season left?
RYAN DALZIEL: Well it's not like you to ask any awkward questions to me; I enjoy it when you call me.
No, I don't think it's‑‑ you know, there's always‑‑ you always weigh up risk over rewards. We are smart enough as a team, and as drivers, that Alex and I, are you going to risk some crazy, last‑lap dash for the lead? Of course you're not. But if we can be up front and obviously continue to push, then that's what we'll do.
But I don't think it's been seen from anybody on the 2 car this year, whether team or drivers or crew or pit stops or strategy, we've never done anything risky. We just stick to our plan and if a victory is there, you take it; and if a second place is there, you take a second place.
But my answer earlier was more related to what do we have to do in the points here to get where we need to be. And you know, we didn't win; we didn't win to take points out of the cars we were battling against; not so much in the driver championship. We just have to finish ahead of the cars ahead of us.
But in the North American Endurance Championship, to get in a position I think for Indy, to be able to actually win it again, I think we have to win this again.
Q. Is a win the only thing that's going to take the taste of Le Mans out of your mouth?
RYAN DALZIEL: It would sure help for sure. But not only that, not taking anything away from star works and what Alex has done for it this year; I think we deserve to win a couple of races this year, and we've just had things‑‑ I think if anybody was asked what team that should have won that hasn't, we are the team.
So I think we owe it to our guys and we owe it to Peter to definitely put a victory up for this year.
Q. Is the field‑‑ happy is the wrong word‑‑ but are you happy that the Ganassi freight train has at least been stopped for a few minutes, and some other people are getting a chance to run for the championship?
RYAN DALZIEL: I'm not. I would never be happy to see somebody's misfortune come from somebody else's stupidity, and that's what's happened to Ganassi. It's obviously two weeks in a row, they were hit by the same guy. And although I haven't seen what happened at Mid‑Ohio, that started the ball rolling. Once you're off the rails, you're off the rails.
So, no, I don't think it's fair for anybody to be up on them. They are a great team. For many years, we looked up to Ganassi as the benchmark, and hopefully as an organization Starworks is now one of the teams that are considered a benchmark. I don't think anybody should ever rule them out.
Like Alex said before, they are a great team with massive amounts of resources and experience, and you know, I think anybody to rule them out at this point in the season would be silly.
Q. Have you guys heard anything as far as like a time line on the new body work and the triple six for 2014?
RYAN DALZIEL: I don't know about Alex, but I would say that's more of a Peter Baron question. Not too much I know on that side.
ALEX POPOW: Me neither. I don't have much information about that.
THE MODERATOR: After Watkins Glen, we go to Indianapolis. Could you give a few thoughts as you get ready for us going back to that race at the historic venue, and also the championship of the NAEC?
ALEX POPOW: Going back to Indy for me is going to be like a sweet taste, after winning my first race and winning the North American Endurance Championship last year. It's going to be like ‑‑ going with a stronger team this year as a team, and with a better package with the car that we know we are running better.
Going to a track where we dominated, since this test, we knew we had a good car, and even in my qualifying, we qualified very good. And, well, our thoughts are very high toward the next two races; not just The Glen, but also for Indy like you said. We are going there to get some advantage.
We are going for a win here at The Glen and at Indy, too, because we know we can do it. I know everyone there is strong and every team is strong and have a lot more resources than us, but we as a team and as a family, we are working very hard to make it happen, so we are going for a win the next couple races.
RYAN DALZIEL: Indy last year was definitely a high point as a team and a little bit of a low point for me.
I'm actually really looking forward to going back there. I thought it was a great event, obviously we were running strong with both cars, and hopefully we can come out of Watkins Glen and know that we are going into that race still in contention for the North American Endurance Championship.
I think for us right now, all focus is on Watkins Glen and continuing to fight for the championship. I know that winning the North American Endurance Championship last year was great for the team, but we want that overall championship, and that's what we are pushing for right now.
Q. Taking you back to Le Mans, I know you don't want to talk about that much, but the accident to Allan Simonsen happened so early; tell me a little bit about the impact that it had on you as a driver throughout the 24 hours.
RYAN DALZIEL: Well, I didn't really know Allan personally. But as the accident happened, I was sitting next to Dominik Farnbacher, my Viper teammate, and became pretty clear that he was pretty upset. I didn't realize at the time he had been teammates for the past three seasons. We are best friends, and so you know, it was I think hard enough seeing a colleague, somebody who you race against and raced against them for many years; never went and had a beer together. You never want to see anybody get hurt, never mind lose their lives. The hardest thing for me was seeing what Dominik was going through for 24 hours.
You know, it was definitely rough in the first stint. Every time through Tetre Rouge ‑‑ I have to be honest, I never really got into my rhythm through Tetre Rouge for my first double stint. So it was a long race for everybody, and I think like I said, I think it's unfortunate.
It's one of those events that happened and this is a sport we all love, but you know, you've got to just kind of put it behind you and I think the way to look at things is if I want to go and I'm going to go, I'm going to go leading Le Mans driving the factory team, and that's what he did. I don't know if that makes it any better, but it was definitely a rough race.
Q. You mentioned that you did not know much about the Ford situation with the engine and the body work, but are you anxious for that to come? Do you feel like it should come sooner than later?
RYAN DALZIEL: You know, nothing is going to happen this year. I mean, I don't see‑‑ the package we have right now is what Ford have given us and it's what the rules allow. There's nothing we can do about. It next year is a new year and I'm excited about the future of sports car racing in America.
I don't know if it's as easy as what people think, throwing a turbo in and changing the nose on the car. I think there's going to be big changes, and to be honest, I think the reason there's no news come out from Ford on any body work or anything is because I don't think anybody knows what the package is going to be, and if they do, then it has not been passed on to us.
But I think next year is going to be a cool year. It's going to be a tough job ahead of Ed Bennett and Richard Buck and Scot Elkins, but I think they are going to get through it and I think next year will be the start of something special.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much, Ryan and Alex. Thanks for joining us today. We look forward to seeing you next weekend at Watkins Glen.
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