GRAND-AM Road Racing 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona
January 30, 2011
CHIP GANASSI RACING WITH FELIX SABATES
An interview with:
THE MODERATOR: No. 01 Chip Ganassi BMW Riley entry, Joey Hand, Scott Pruett, Pruett, Memo Rojas and Graham Rahal. Scott and Memo are the defending Daytona prototype series champs, fourth Rolex 24 win for Scott, second for Memo, fourth Rolex 24 victory for Chip Ganassi Racing. 30 years ago, 1981, Graham Rahal's father, Bobby won this event. And then finally, this kind of completes what has come to be called the Chip Slam, Indianapolis 500. Daytona 500, Brickyard 400 and now victory in a Rolex 24 At Daytona. In addition to our drivers we have Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates.
Q: Joey, what a great run at the end of that race for you, people who follow this sport real closely know who you are. The casual race fan probably doesn't know Joey Hand. Today was a huge day for you. What you thinking right now?
JOEY HAND: I think it's great to be Joey Hand today. It's awesome. What happened in that last stint was we got that penalty call, and just like I was telling the guys, I was at ramming speed. I was a little bit ticked off at the call, and so I just tried to put my head down and get as much back. I knew if I got a lot of it back that I could get -- that Scott was getting in next, I knew he would definitely seal the deal.
I just wanted to make sure we were in the hunt and able to have something for it. But for me, I have worked on Chip Ganassi and Mike Hull for probably 15 years since I was a kid chasing around Laguna Seca. I don't know if he remembers, but I change chased a lot of people around Laguna Seca, because that's my home track.
For me it was king of a goal to drive for this team, one of my racing goals. And so not only did I get to drive for them, but I got to win with them and so especially this one, The Chip slam thing, winning all four of these things in a calendar year is quite a big deal. And I'm just happy to be a part of it.
Q: Graham, you and I probably talk about sports cars as much as we do IndyCars. Tell me about winning your first major sports car race that happens to be the Rolex 24?
GRAHAM RAHAL: It feels pretty sweet. I didn't get too drive too, too much but these guys did a hell of a job. And to be my first race with Ganassi and kicking this year off and a year that I'm really looking forward it and getting the IndyCar schedule kicking off in only a month or two, there's no better way to win.
It feels so sweet to do it here. And we are also now looking at these watches thinking, these are things you just dream of. You know, looking at Dad's for many years and imagining some day I might have one. Well, I didn't think it would come this soon.
It feels tremendous and these guys did a great job. I mean, all of them throughout the night and Joey and Scott there at the end, the stints they put in to catch up after the penalty, it feels really good, and obviously I've got to thank Chip for making this all happen. We have been talking about it for a long time, but to finally be here, it feels really sweet.
Q: Scott, we had a conversation on Friday, one young driver on your team seems to be cut from a similar cloth from you; can you talk about what it was like going into battle with him for 24 Hours?
SCOTT PRUETT: It's fun because we are both in the Sacramento area. He's from the south Sac; that's where all of the bad people come from (Laughter) and I'm from north of there, the nice area.
But it was exciting having Joey involved, part of this program, and I just can't say enough. All of these guys just have done a terrific job. Graham being a part of the program, terrific job. And it takes a team. And the team starts with my boss off to my right here and putting the right group of people together, the mechanics, there's so much effort and energy that goes into this car before it comes here to run.
I mean, the 01 car has finished every lap for the last five years and I think that in itself is a true testament of what the Ganassi organization does and the preparation and getting going and putting this car on the track, and that's a lot which all of you guys don't see. They literally go back to work in October and just bust their butts to get this car turned around for the 24. It was an exciting event, proud to be a part of the team and all of the achievements that the Ganassis and the organization had.
Q: Chip, what went into selecting Graham and Joey to run with your two primary drivers in the series?
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I think first of all, the selection of Graham was pretty easy because he was on the team already. We had just done a deal we and Charlie Kimball to be on our IndyCar team and Charlie -- we would have liked to have had Charlie here, too. But he had never been in this race and we thought to give Scott and Memo the right opportunity.
We wanted to pair them with guys that had experience and experience being in this race and we had a relationship with Joey beginning last season, he did some testing for us. So it was just a good opportunity for him. It's kind of unlike us to have two guys from California in the car.
SCOTT PRUETT: Best drivers from California.
CHIP GANASSI: So, yeah, it was -- and like Joey said, we had been talking for a long time, so it kind of worked out well. He has a lot of experience with BMW and so that kind of made it a nice fit.
Q: And for Joey, I know you've known Scott for a long time, and I've watched your career since you were a little guy, as you know, and I've written a lot of things about you. Just the thrill of teaming with a guy like Scott and to run that car out front with a chance to win?
JOEY HAND: I've been lucky in my career to be paired with the right guys, like the best. And it started with Boris and Bill (ph) and I got to learn a lot of stuff from those guys when I first went to BMW.
So being paired with Scott is just the same thing. I just wanted to learn as much as I could from him. I think the biggest thing I learned from him is the intensity, on and off the track, he's very into what's going on and he's always pushing the crew to make sure everything is right or make sure that the car is balanced exactly the way we want it to be balanced.
I did watch him race cars when I was young. I was racing go-karts, he was racing IndyCars and Trans Am and all sorts of stuff. I watched him a lot, just like I was talking about Chip, when I was chasing Chip around; Montoya was driving IndyCars for him. For me it's crazy to be with kind of0, when I was young, a young kid wanting to be a race car driver, wanting to get paid to drive race cars for a living, I was wanting to do what Scott Pruett was doing and I was wanting to be on Chip Ganassi's team, and today I got to do it all.
Q: Scott, talk about what you felt like or what your mind-set was when you got back in the car that final time after taking over from Joey.
SCOTT PRUETT: Before I got in the car, we were talking about different options. I told him the car was better with new tires, and we were talking about if we were at the back of the queue making a stop and taking advantage of what we could do and how we could do it. We knew we had a strong car. Obviously all of us were a little disappointed with that call but you can't think about it. You've just got to keep focused on trying to get to victory lane.
The thing that all of these drivers did up here was keep the car absolutely immaculate. If you look at that car, there may be I'm sure a little scratch especially where Joey caught that tire on the way out -- (Laughter)?
JOEY HAND: I don't know what you're talking about.
SCOTT PRUETT: But that is what it takes to win and be in contention for this race because our car at the end, it's not beat up, it not tore up, it's not banged up. It's still a strong piece. That, and the power we got from BMW and the reliability, we ran fast the whole time.
The majority of the race, we ran good, hard paces but we never had to drive over the curbs and beat the car up and really take a toll on the car and that really put us in a strong position where even at the start where we had to do that cluster change and then we did that camera change, we were able to come right back pretty quickly and get a lap back because the car was working so well, what we asked of it.
I guess answering your question, we were looking at options. We knew we had a strong car and we were looking at options of how we could take advantage how we could in the next two hours.
Q: Can you talk about the Slam?
CHIP GANASSI: I'm telling you, I don't drive the cars, I don't change the tires, I don't work on the engines. There are lots of people, lots of great competitors that it takes to make up a team, and I'm just the guy that gets to stand up here and talk about it.
Felix and I, it's the guys that do all of the work. Quite frankly I went to sleep last night from about 2 to 7 this morning, so I missed all the fog and I -- you know, in terms of the races and what-have-you, it's just -- I think Mike Hull says it best when he says, we just try to focus on the next race.
And that's what we'll do now is just focus on the next race.
Q: Felix, what was your mind-set before the last restart? What were you thinking?
FELIX SABATES: I thought it was a shame that they don't have co-winners because I would have loved to have seen both cars finish first. But one had to finish first and the other had to finish second and that's all I could think of. And with 20 minutes to go Chip hollering at me from the other side of the box, "We still have 20 minutes to go."
I wasn't talking about racing, I was talking about something else, because I was laughing; I can't talk on the microphone what I was talking about. (Laughter).
I just wish -- these guys work very hard. The Indy guys that helped with the 02 car deserve a tremendous amount of credit because they just do this once a year and maybe one of these days, they will have co-winners.
Q: Chip, we don't see Felix with your team at every race, but he does make a point of coming here, and over the last six years, you guys have four wins and three runner-up places. So is he like the team lucky charm?
CHIP GANASSI: Felix and I have a special relationship. I think everybody knows that and you know, I mean, he's the charm. He's not the lucky charm; he's not the unlucky charm. He's the charm.
Q: Scott, is this somewhat of a vindication of the last two seasons when the last two victories here got away?
SCOTT PRUETT: Yeah, it's funny, I was listening to the interviews of our team car, 02, and the guys who finished third, and there's a lot of coulda, shoulda, wouldas. I was right there in the last two years, should of, man, gosh, we could have, boy, we should have been in victory. I lived it. And then when I lived it for the last -- and Chip, as well, we lived it for the last couple of years, so it's nice to be back in victory lane.
At the end of the day, it's exciting for our team having a one, two finish. I think that's how you one-up what you do here. I think that's absolutely amazing, and I'm proud of our whole organization.
The 02 car is great, having a team car in this race. You get to bounce things off each other in practice and in testing and really try and make the most out of that opportunity to put two cars up front.
And I think, you know, at least from my point of view, a one, two finish is just an incredible way to start our season.
Q: Chip, is the competition within your organization between your team, in this case, No. 01 and No. 02, is that part of the reason for your success as a team owner?
CHIP GANASSI: I don't know. It's open-book on our teams. The guys, whether it's among the team members or the drivers, they are pretty much conversing throughout the event here, and you know, I would say it's open-book and everybody knows what everybody is pitting and what they are doing and why.
And you know, when it comes down to the end of it like that, I think everybody understands and they say, well, everybody knows they have a shot to win the thing. And they also know there are no team orders -- well, there is one team order. The one team order is just don't hit each other. But even that happens every once in awhile.
Again, I'll tell you, you're just really fortunate to be in any sport or any business or any endeavor with a group of people that Felix and I are as lucky to have working for us, driving for us, and being a part of the team. It's a great thing to be a part of a group of people that want to be a team, and they want to excel and they want to do well. That's a great thing to be a part of in life.
You know, whether it's in GRAND-AM or NASCAR, Indy cars, whatever it's in. And it's just a great thing to be a part of.
And I think they all work together, I can tell you that, for sure.
Q: Going into your last stint, were you pretty confident you were going to be able to pull this thing out? What was the plan on it, and secondly, your take on how competitive this race was, you've been in a few of these, seems to us like one of the more competitive.
SCOTT PRUETT: We were very optimistic. Do you ever know you're going to win? No.
But at the same time, our car was in terrific shape. It was fast. We had to -- Timmy and I were talking about what other opportunities there were, if the yellow came out, if we ran clean. Just going through kind of how to take advantage and make up as much time as possible.
Joey did a great job making up some time and when I got in the car we were able to work it back within striking distance and then a yellow came back and then taking advantage of being at the back of the queue and coming back in and topping up and putting a new set of tires on.
As far as the competition, I think everybody says, you come here and you see the competition gets better and better, and it does. You see the quality of drivers, the quality of teams, what the achievements are. And everyone wants to be a part of this race, it's the start of the season.
And even as I was listening, I think Patrick Long and the Flying Lizard guys, obviously they qualified up front and had a strong race. They said, we don't want to be home watching it. We want to be here racing it. And I think that's the whole name of the game here, with everybody who is coming to participate.
A lot of guys come over from Europe, a number of NASCAR guys come and get involved, IndyCar guys, guys coming over from all different forms of motorsports -- this is the kickoff for everything. All of motorsports kicks off here for the season. And I think that will continue to get bigger and brighter and if you look at the crowds today, this is the most press people I've seen in this room in a long time and that's exciting. I think it says a lot about where GRAND-AM is going.
Q: You said last Monday that you would be satisfied if you had the same season this year as you had last year. How can a guy who is as competitive as you are ever be satisfied and especially now since the bar has been raised that a guy has, you know, four majors in a year.
CHIP GANASSI: Yeah, I think in the context we were talking about that was I think the context for that answer that I gave was, well, do you want to make the Chase -- and I said, look, obviously we want to do better, and then that's what brings us back every year.
And you know, yes, we had a great year in 2010 and arguably it will be very difficult to repeat that. I don't think there will be any surprise to say that. So in that context, yes, I would be very satisfied in the context of, yes, our Cup team didn't make the Chase but I would still be happy if I had the same year that I had in 2010.
Obviously we can't have that now that we have done it as well as we did here today, so who knows what will happen.
Q: For Scott, as the race wound down, some concern about your tires, and does that create any anxiety about the last lap shootout?
SCOTT PRUETT: No. Yes. No. I think there's a lot more anxiety in the pits than in the race car. You know, because we had the lead that we did, we were able to just run smart. That's what we do. We try and make -- and not over-use equipment, we try and not beat things up, and because -- if we had somebody right on our tail, we would be driving ten-tenths. Because we had a little bit of a lead, we were driving nine-tenths -- ten-tenths, nine-tenths, I'm a little tired.
So all in all, I thought -- and the last-lap shootout, our car was very fast coming off, going from a yellow to green. If you would have saw, we were up front, whatever it is, our setup or whatever the case might be, we were able to stretch out very fast. And not just this race, but a lot of races.
And so I wasn't concerned at all. Actually, I was incredibly pleased that the GRAND-AM was able to address the problem, get it taken care of as quickly as they did and finish this race under green. I hate finishing races under yellows. I think it's just horrible for the fans.
Q: Scott, on that last restart, knowing what was -- could you tell what was right behind you did you know the traffic situation line you? Were you fully confident of getting that big of a jump? I think you just addressed that partially a second ago. And when you are on a last lap like that and you jump out and you've got that big of a lead, basically you just can't screw up, and is there any extra -- do you slow up a little bit when you get to a chicane or get to a certain turn or fly through it a little bit differently?
SCOTT PRUETT: I guess the caveat to that is we had two more laps so when we came around, I was actually prepared to take one more lap, and so I was very concerned with making sure that I was in a comfortable position on that first lap coming to the green. During that whole lap, all I was doing was pushing as hard as I could.
Yeah, you don't want to screw up, but -- I don't want to be that guy, but you want to go really hard. And again, I didn't think I was coming into the checkered. I thought I was coming to the flag. I thought there was going to be one more lap involved there. So for me -- we came around, checkered flag, wow, that was a surprise. We were fully prepared to go run hard for another lap.
Q: Memo, you and I have talked several times early in your career with Scott about your learning from him and having that opportunity. Now you are winning championships with him and he was complimented you several times to me, from you've learned. Have you got -- are you able to help some of the younger Mexican drivers now learn what you've learned and pass on your knowledge to maybe grow in the sport?
MEMO ROJAS: Sure, just like Joey mentioned, like how he got to share the car with the great drivers through the BMW program. I got the same deal with Scott the last four years. You know, Scott is one of America's best drivers and it's been an honor and a pleasure working with him and learning from him.
You know, he certainly has made me a better driver, just learning from him, seeing how he approaches things, not only on the track, but off the track, as well. And certainly, I'm a different driver nowadays than a few years ago, so yeah, there's a lot of talent back home.
Actually, our main sponsor has a driver program back home and they just had their first Formula 1 driver driving for Sauber and is a buddy of mine and I watched him grow and develop himself as a driver. And obviously, you know, I'm one of the veterans from that program, and it's just been getting better.
And seeing people like myself and others, we know how tough it is to become a professional race car driver. I think we can give those guys -- we just do it. I'm really proud of my country and how they have overcome a lot of issues we have down there, and obviously, there's a lot of need of good people to do good things down there.
I think we all as citizens from our country, we need to put our little piece to make it better, and if I can do that in my sport and bring back hope and win race wins to my country, I'm happy to do so and help my fellow countrymen drivers.
Q: Chip, you going to put Montoya to work in the carbon repair shop or dock his next check for the noses he tore up?
CHIP GANASSI: I thought Jamie said it best. He said Juan had an exciting evening. He and Scott -- I should say Dario and McMurray were all asking for decals, if they do this next year, they want to put decals on the back of the car so other drivers know who is driving. (Laughter).
You know I have a lot of -- I have a lot of time for all of the guys that drive our cars. Unfortunately from time to time you have those things happen, but it's all in the spirit of trying to win.
Q: Last year you all had a record season and you dominated the sport, you come out even faster this year. Do you see any hint of this? Is there anyway anybody could actually beat you when you guys are on your game?
CHIP GANASSI: The answer to that is this could all end -- could be on its way to being over and we wouldn't even know it. You have to approach every race and you have to start -- a win here does not reward you at the next race. That's the great thing about our sport is you go in, each race, each year and it's zero-based gain.
You start from scratch at the next race again and when the next race is over, you start from scratch at the one after that, and when the season is over like we did in 2010, you start from scratch and start over again and you start counting from zero.
So nothing is a given and the only thing this earns us today is, yes, we had a great day today, and tomorrow, we'll be on to the next race and our competitors, all we are doing is making their fire burn more to beat us.
THE MODERATOR: All right, there they are, everyone, our Rolex 24 At Daytona Champions.