Grand-Am Road Racing Media Conference
Topics: Grand-Am Road Racing
January 16, 2013
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Today we have the pleasure of being joined by Michael Waltrip, the two‑time winner of the Daytona 500, made his Rolex 24 Daytona debut last year for January's historic 50th Anniversary event, and the AF‑Waltrip Ferrari 458 Italia.
Next weekend, Michael returns to the Rolex 24 with his co‑owner and co‑driver, Rob Kauffman. Clint Bowyer who finished second in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driving for Michael Waltrip Racing, and Portuguese Endurance veteran, Rui Aguas. Michael, welcome back to GRAND‑AM.
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Thank you very much. I'm looking forward to it. Last year was a lot of fun to get to race in that historic famed event. I always grew up admiring the guys that got to run in that race, and it was quite an honor to be part of it.
THE MODERATOR: What is the transition from a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series stock car to a Ferrari sports car?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: It's pretty dramatic as far as the way the cars perform. The Cup cars have so much horsepower. That's their main commodity is all the power that it has. They don't stop real well, and honestly they don't handle too well. And the Ferrari is the opposite.
It has a significant amount of power, but nothing like a Cup car. But when you go to hop on the brakes, that baby comes to a stop, and you can really whip it through the infield. So that's what's so fun about getting to drive the Ferrari.
It's diversely different than the discipline that I'm accustomed to racing, and it makes it a lot of fun.
Q. Put us there with the conversation when you convinced Clint to do it? Did it take a lot of convincing or what was that like? Why did you invite him to do, and what was that like when you approached the subject with him?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: We had an open seat, and we knew that Truex couldn't do it because he had some off‑season rib surgery, and he needed to rehab that. We had asked Clint if he was interested, and he said, I'm not sure. I don't really think so.
So I asked Denny if he wanted to do it, and Denny was like, heck, yeah, I'll do it. So I think the more Clint thought about it, the more he wanted to be a part of it. And he was like, no, I want to do it. I really want to try it.
So it was just him thinking about how cool it would be to be in Daytona, racing the road course, something that he had never done before, and driving the Ferrari for 24 Hours. It just was more than a dirt racer from Kansas could pass up.
He had a really good time testing the car. It's really, just like anything, when you go into someone else's world, driving the car is one thing, but being fast and competitive and understanding how fast the DPs are and the way that the Daytona Prototype's close on you in the corner, all of that is very challenging.
Someone asked me how did I think Clint would do, and my answer was he won a road race in NASCAR last year. And the best in the world run NASCAR, and he was able to win the race. So I knew he would do pretty good, and he did just that.
His times were fast. He took to it really quickly. So I know he's really looking forward to the chance to race in that great event. For me, that's been the most fun thing about getting to race the Ferrari all around the world is just to get to experience different venues and different parts of the world racing cars.
Like I said in my opening statement, getting to race Daytona in the Rolex was something I always wanted to be able to do, and I think Clint felt the same way.
Then I had to call Denny and tell him Clint took his seat. Denny understood though. He's kind of having a busy off‑season himself with the new baby coming, so he understood.
Q. Spoke to Ryan Hunter‑Reay yesterday. Two things really stood out in our conversation (Indiscernible). He said one of the cool things is racing against guys and just being told; okay, that's McMurray behind you or you're coming up on Pruett who is a great road racing champion or Anthony Davidson, or somebody just from a whole different world. Are there particular guys that you see that you go, I never have a chance to race against that guy. I'd like to go otherwise. I'd like to go side by side with him here? Are there guys like that?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: We experience that quite often, actually. Just having breakfast in Le Mans at the hotel before you head off the track, and there is Allan McNish siting there, and the guy that had so much success in road racing, you just are sort of in awe of what some of those guys have been able to do.
Tom Kristensen who sat right beside me one morning, he's won Le Mans like a hundred times, I think. But just to be able to rub shoulders with guys you've seen have success in road racing, and it's really cool to get to know them a little bit.
Brian Johnson from AC/DC was in the race, and I got to hang out and talk to him. So it's more about the experience in my eyes, getting to learn and drive a different car, and meet and compete against drivers from all over the world that you've always heard about.
Last year down there, Harley Haywood made some laps. When I was a kid, he was one of my favorite racers. So, yes, it's unique and it's fun, and you actually sort of get used to it, and you're able to battle side beside with them. It's really rewarding to be able to match skills.
Q. The other thing is with the disparity in cars and in driver talent level, it's a little bit like driving home on New Year's eve. Is it tricky every lap or do you get a break? Do you get sometimes where you settle in for a little while and get to race around with cars of similar speed with guys you can trust?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, if you're in the DP class and the GRAND‑AM class racing the Ferrari, the DPs are obviously really, really fast and catch you in a hurry.
You always have to be on your toes. You rarely get a free lap or a full lap without having one of those guys closing on you. So you really have to watch your mirrors.
At Daytona, we have spotters there like we do in NASCAR, and that makes a huge difference. Because when you're running through the countryside at Le Mans at 4 in the morning, there are no spotters. You're sort of on your own, and that makes it really challenging. So the spotters really help us at Daytona.
But there are widely different talents. Putting some guys in a Daytona Prototype doesn't mean he's necessarily well‑versed in the tricks and turns of the Daytona track. But keep all of those things in mind.
But what's most important, in my opinion, is to remember that you're there to take care of the car the best you can, and make it for 24 Hours and see if that gives you a shot to get a podium finish.
We were able, fortunately enough, back in 2011, we got a third place podium finish in the 24 Hours of Spa, so that was pretty cool to have success in NASCAR, win the Daytona 500, and be in Europe, standing there on the podium, getting champagne sprayed on you because you've got a top finish in a Ferrari. That was something that was probably my favorite moment so far in my road racing.
Q. Michael it sounds like you do this for the fun and the thrill, but what does your team maybe take away and Clint take away by the end of the experience? Obviously, the cars aren't the same, but seat time is seat time. Also your organizational thing. You've got team members there and they're working, especially the 24 Hours. What is your take away on that?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: For me, it's the experience. I think for Clint it's the same thing. But we're race car drivers, so we want to go as fast as we can, and we want to give all we have for our stints and turn it over to our co‑drivers, so that we can battle for a top finish.
If we're fortunate enough to not have any mistakes and the car stays together for 24 Hours, we feel like we can be up toward the front.
When it's all said and done and you did it because you wanted to experience the 24 Hours of Daytona, but like I said, despite the fact that I've been fortunate enough to race in Le Mans and Sebring and Dubai, literally all over the world, my favorite memory is finishing third in the competitive run we had in Spa, Belgium.
The experience is great, but as a race car driver, you just want to have a chance to contend, compete, and try to finish up front.
Q. Do you like the fact that the Rolex and the Daytona 500 are really about 30 days apart now?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, that's different for us this year, for sure, and in the history of the events. But it just means I'm going to leave Daytona and go somewhere else for a while before I come back to Daytona. It's really not that big of a deal.
I'm glad I'm racing in the Rolex this year. It helps me get my season kicked off. It gives me some racing to do here before the NASCAR season starts up.
Q. I know you guys ran a lot in the WC last year, and I just wanted to know what your plans were for your sports car program for 2013? Are we going to see more of the team at GRAND‑AM events?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, I think that we're still trying to figure out exactly what our 2013 schedule looks like. Bob Kauffman, my partner in Michael Waltrip Racing and really the driving force behind AF Corse is trying to formulate what 2013 looks like.
I know some conjunction races because Indy, and maybe the race at Watkins Glen could be a possibility. We've talked about possibly running Austin because it's on the Saturday before we head out to Phoenix for the Cup weekend.
But my main job is being a part of the Michael Waltrip Racing Sprint Cup team. So I have to sort of make my participation in the events hinge around the schedule that NASCAR ‑‑ that we have in NASCAR.
But Rob will probably run a couple more than me because he's a little more flexible with his schedule. But I think maybe we'll try to run a few but probably not all of them.
Q. What are the advantages as well as challenges of being a driver who is also an owner, especially in the Rolex race?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, in NASCAR, predominantly, I'm just an owner, I just run every now and then, and I enjoy those infrequent starts. Then in the sports car, in the Rolex, I don't really think of myself as an owner. That's more or less Rob's deal, and we partnered with AF Corse from Italy and they run the team. We just help them out with support and a little financial backing so they can make the trip over to America.
I never grew up thinking I'd ever be able to afford owning a Ferrari and I don't think of myself as a guy who owns one now.
Q. Considering the program as come the full cycle of a year, have you seen a big improvement with the overall program from Daytona last year to Daytona this year? Also I see two cars are entered for the Rolex 24. Do you know what the driver lineup will be for the second car, or will there be some of your drivers also in that car?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Well, we haven't gotten the second car driver lineup figured out yet. I know we're going to have a meeting on that Friday. We'll talk more about that. So I don't have any news on how that car will sell out.
But as far as the progress of the team, we have a new car or 2013 that we're going to race. I know that Rob got to drive it, and he was really impressed with the new car compared to the one that we ran last year.
Just mainly trying to figure out as drivers the rules between WEC and GRAND‑AM, and just trying to make sure that we understand what we're dealing with behind the wheel.
Like I said, we partner with AF Corse and their support, and the equipment they bring us is topnotch. So I really feel confident that a year later we're going to be in better shape to contend for a podium finish in Daytona.
Q. Do you have any plans for a WEC this year or Le Mans?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I think that Rob is content on focusing more on racing this America. He used to live in Europe, and he's since relocated back to the U.S. I think that with the NASCAR Sprint Cup team and all that we have going on there, there is plenty of racing in North America for us to get our fix on.
I think it's going to be more or less just us making GRAND‑AM starts throughout the season.
Q. You won the Daytona 500 two times. Have you had a cool moment where maybe one of these sports car guys wanted to come up and pick your brain and what was that like?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: Yeah, certainly. One of my favorite memories was sharing breakfast with Allan McNish and Tom Kristensen and those guys, and them just talking about how much they enjoy NASCAR and love what we do. The other thing is our co‑driver Rui Aguas, he just loves the NASCAR race cars. He is so talented. He is our A‑driver in the lineup. He can get a lot out of that Ferrari. He's always faster than everybody else in it.
Him respecting and appreciating and loving so much what we do on Sundays here in America, it just means a lot to you. Whether it's other drivers or the fans that I've been able to fortunately run across in my travels across the world racing the cars, and the way they love NASCAR and appreciating what we do over here, that means the world to me.
I think what's been fun for me to see Clint get to experience is him get to see how much people from all over the world and all types of different disciplines of racing really love NASCAR and what we do.
We were fortunate enough to get really a couple of laps in one of our Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas at Road Atlanta last year, and that was one of the coolest things ever. Just to see this grown man who has raced at Le Mans and has won races all over the world in a Ferrari and all different kinds of race cars, how much it meant for him to hop behind the wheel of a NASCAR Sprint Cup car, and how he thought it was the most awesome feeling he ever felt in the world.
People don't really understand or appreciate there are not any cars that race road racing or global racing or few cars in the world that have the straight up horsepower that a Cup car has.
For someone like Rui to get to feel that power and see what it's like trying to get that power distributed to those skinny tires we race on compared to what the Ferrari rides on was quite a moment for him.
Q. Any interest on your part or Rob's part or either of your parts about warming up to a DP in GRAND‑AM at any point, or the fascination was just the Ferrari and the GT cars?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: If we could get us a Toyota DP, that would be pretty cool. We'd probably be interested in racing a Toyota or Lexus DP. So, yeah, we're interested in it.
It would be fun to drive one of those things. They're so cool looking. Maybe Toyota or Lexus one day will want to have one that we can race, and that would be something we'd be interested in doing, for sure.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you very much. Michael, I sat next to Rob Kauffman at lunch on the Sunday at the test, and he was enthusiastic about how quickly Clint Bowyer came up to speed during his test. So how did Clint impress you with his first time ever in a sports car?
MICHAEL WALTRIP: I knew he would be fast. It's a fun car to drive. It does everything you ask it to do. He's used to dealing with quite the beast in a Cup car where you really have to finesse a Cup car, and the Cup car won't do everything that you could ask it to do. If you just try to mass the gas, it will spin around, or if you go into the corner too far, the thing won't stop.
With the GRAND‑AM car and Ferrari, you can really challenge it, and the car is up for the challenge. Serves really confident that Clint would not only be fast, but he'd also have fun getting up to speed in a hurry.
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