CHAMP CAR TELECONFERENCE TRANSCRIPT WITH JUSTIN WILSON, A.J. ALLMENDINGER AND MICHAEL SHANK
ERIC MAUK: Welcome to today's Champ Car media teleconference. Where we are pleased to announce that a couple of the upcoming stars of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford have found some new and interesting ways to spend their off season and start their preparation for the 2006 Championship, as RuSPORT teammates A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson will be joining Michael Shank Racing's Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Squad for the 2006 Rolex 24-hour race at Daytona.
And today we're joined by both Allmendinger and Wilson, as well as Michael Shank, coming to us live from the infield At Homestead-Miami Speedway. Gentleman, thank you for joining us today.
We'll start with Michael. A long-time competitor at the Atlantic series before moving over to the Grand American Rolex Sports Series. Michael, bringing in a couple of guys like this to join Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri in the attack on one of your cars in the 24-hour race, tell us a little bit on how this all came together.
MICHAEL SHANK: Well, there's a lot of common things in our lives. I started open-wheel racing years ago, and that's where I come from, where both of these guys come from. My primary driver, Oswaldo Negri, has been close to A.J. for a long time from his Barber Dodge years, I believe, and always thought a lot of A.J. And when we decided to add two high-level drivers to our team, we decided to go for the open-wheel talent that's out there.
And I guess the bottom line is, I feel real lucky to have these two guys. They are the cream of the crop of the CART grid right now, I believe, and are on the big roll since their Mexico one, too. We're super excited to have someone with experience and also help with the car setup and stuff when it comes to the three-day test in January at Daytona.
ERIC MAUK: You guys are down there getting some test runs in this week. I understand the guys got in the car a little bit today. Tell us how you intend to get these guys up to speed and get them prepared for their first 24-hour Rolex?
MICHAEL SHANK: I don't have to do anything, to be honest with you. They are pretty damn aggressive guys right off the bat. Straight away, they are within probably a half a 10th of each other within five laps. We didn't give them a lot of laps today, but they'll get a full test program in Daytona at the three-day tests and gets lots of time and lots of new tires, which A.J. loves. And they just did fantastic. They did exactly what we asked of them, got right up to speed. They're going to do exactly what we think they can do anyway. We're real excited about it.
ERIC MAUK: You're planning a second car for this series, as well?
MICHAEL SHANK: Yes, we're going to have a second car. All four drivers are assigned to that. We'll announce that at the three-day test. It's also very exciting. All Lexus powered, by the way.
ERIC MAUK: Very exciting announcement. We look forward to seeing you down there at Daytona. The event takes place January 26th through the 29th, with the race going from the 28th through the 29th. As mentioned, the first 24 hour of Daytona for both drivers, although Justin Wilson does have 24 hours of La Mans experience, that coming back in 2004. Justin Wilson coming off a Champ Car World Series campaign where he earned his first two wins and finished a career-best third in the championship. Justin, tell us how you got wrapped up in this and why you're excited about it.
JUSTIN WILSON: It started a couple of years ago when I did the Sebring 24 hours. I really enjoyed the sports car world and the experience. I've been looking to do more. Like you said, I've done La Mans, and Daytona was another race I really wanted to do. This opportunity came along and I couldn't turn it down.
We had our first experience today. It was good to see what the cars are like. They're good fun to drive, quite challenging, pretty warm inside, which everyone keeps talking about. It's good fun and I enjoyed it.
ERIC MAUK: You had experience in endurance racing, as we spoke about before. You did some stuff in the FIA GT a little while ago, back in your European days, although nothing of the 24-hour variety. You've run 12 hours in the Sebring, as well as Le Mans. Tell us about the difference in endurance racing mindset as opposed to what you do in the Champ Car World Series.
JUSTIN WILSON: It's a different mindset. These days, it's still attack all the time. It's not so much taking it easy. You've got to be pushing the whole race. In the back of your mind you're taking it easy on the equipment, try not to overstress anything too early, especially in these longer races. You mentioned, I did the three-hour race in the FIA GT. You can afford to use up the equipment a little bit earlier in that race. But the 24-hour races, you've got to be a little bit careful. I'm just looking forward to the experience. I've only done one 24-hour race, so I'm looking to do this and add to the experience.
ERIC MAUK: A.J., coming off his best Champ Car season, as well. He finished fifth in the season championship and won the first pole of his career last year. A.J., first endurance racing experience, first experience in a Daytona Prototype. Tell us about what you expect out of this.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Justin sums it up fairly well. It's a lot of fun. It's a new experience for anything. More than anything I wanted to get in a car with fenders. So when P.T. runs into me, I don't bang wheels with him, we're just banging fenders now, I'm happy with that. I'm kidding. The press is going to start writing about that now. Just for the press, we've made up and kissed. So we're all happy now.
JUSTIN WILSON: I actually saw that. Not a pretty sight.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I'm really thrilled. As Mike said, I've had a couple-year relationship with Oswaldo from my Barber Dodge days. He was a test driver there when I was racing the series and grew to really like Oz. I've watched him a lot in the past couple of years when he was in Grand Am. And I've watched the series and it's exciting racing and it's enjoyable to be around. And hopefully, we can get in the cars, and Mike Shank Racing has great equipment, and hopefully Justin and I can bring a level of driving that can help win the race.
ERIC MAUK: Is this something you look at -- you mentioned trying something new and experiencing new things as a race car driver, but do you look at this as preparation for 2006?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think any time you're in a race car, it's able to keep you sharp. I know Justin and I last year, we struggled with that. For five months we basically were not in a race car. To be able to get in a race car. And for me, more importantly, I'm fairly young as a driver and to have a chance to experience something new like this, it's going to be a fantastic place to go to and try.
It's something I've looked at, especially with Grand Am the last couple of years, you know, in my time off, and if I got the right opportunity, I would love to try and see what it was all about. I think we're going to have a great team there in Daytona. And my ultimate goal is to try to finish the race and not screw anything up.
ERIC MAUK: It should be interesting and we look forward to seeing you guys down there in January. We'll open things up to the media.
Q: A.J. and Justin, did you approach Michael or did he approach you? How did this come about that you guys hooked up?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think Mike would probably be the best one to answer that.
MICHAEL SHANK: I went after those two guys specifically, actually. They fit the mold of the kind of driver that I'm looking for. I think the open-wheel driver brings a hunger to the series. And both of these guys -- A.J. doesn't have a lot of endurance experience, obviously. Justin did, and I knew that. And all we had to do was maybe tune down A.J. just a touch and we get the natural aggression out of him which we'll need in the last two hours. But that's my main goal, I really believe in the open-wheel systems and what they can produce.
Q: A.J., is this -- and Justin, both of you, if the opportunity presents itself, where the schedule doesn't conflict, as it has been last year and now this new year, would you like to do something like La Mans? I know you've had experience in it, Justin. Is that something you guys would like to do?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think for sure, these type of races, it's exciting to me because, for instance, I'm really excited that I get to work with Justin now, in the same car, instead of teammates working together but still out there to try to beat each other and win for yourself and for your team. We get to work together and try to go for the same goal. So the 24 hour Daytona was on my list. And being teamed with Justin and him doing La Mans, he says that's one of the coolest, if not the coolest, races to do. So that's something I would love to do if the opportunity lent itself.
JUSTIN WILSON: I love this kind of racing. I think it adds something to the driver. You come here and you've got the endurance and you've got to learn patience and the tactics of how to go about and make the car quickest over 24 hours instead of an hour and a half. I think you learn something and grow as a driver by doing these kinds of races, and I really enjoy it.
Q: For Mike, there's about a foot in height difference between those guys.
MICHAEL SHANK: The funniest thing out there, all of our drivers are vary in size. Mark Patterson, who is a driver on the team also, he's six-three. You know how tall Justin is, and A.J. and Negri are kind of small. Amazingly enough, we have one seat insert and that's it, and that's covers all four of them. They've been really great about compromising. These two guys aren't used to having to do that. They came in here with a pretty open mind, and we have one, and I'm talking small, insert and they all fit great.
The important part there, during the 24, you always try to minimize your inserts. And we got it down exactly where it should be, so we're real pleased with that. When you look at it from the outside, you can't tell that one person is taller or not. It really worked out well, actually.
Q: Will it be difficult competing at Road America instead of Las Vegas?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think Road America instead of Las Vegas, I'm really happy to go back to Road America. I've obviously pretty much disliked the oval that I struggled on because they scare the hell out of me. I think going back to Road America, and that's one of the ultimate races that used to be on the Champ Car schedule, and probably one of the coolest tracks that's in the world, so for me it's exciting to go back to Road America. RuSPORT itself has been great on the road courses, as well, so I look forward to having a great setup and be quick there.
JUSTIN WILSON: I think you said it all, A.J. It's a cool drivers' circuit and everyone loves it.
Continued in part 2