Birmingham pre-event teleconference - April 5, 2011
An interview with Jon Fogarty and Alex Gurney
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon. Welcome to today's Grand-Am Road Racing Teleconference. We're in advance of this weekend's great sports car racing at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, a fantastic facility, where we're going to have two events on Saturday: The Barber 200, for the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, and the Porsche 250, for the Rolex Sports Car Series.
And the 250 is a third event and the Rolex Series schedule. And today we're pleased to be joined by two-time Rolex Series Daytona Prototype Pro Champions: Alex Gurney, and his co-driver of the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley Jon Fogarty. They've won twice at Barber, '07 and '09, the same years they went on to capture the DP Series championship.
Thanks for joining us. As I said, you've won at Barber before. You've won the championship before. But this weekend you come back into Barber tenth in points, obviously needing to get a little move going up in the standings. Maybe we can start off, before we go to media, hearing from both of you, just an overview on what's the outlook for doing just that mounting a little comeback. Let's start with you, Alex, then hear from Jon.
ALEX GURNEY: Thanks for having us on the call. Yeah, we're very excited to get back to racing. Feels like a long break since Homestead. Yeah, we definitely have not had the ideal setup of the season. Luckily, there's still lots of racing left. And Barber is the perfect place to go for us. We've had a lot of success there, and we always feel very welcome. George Barber really rolls out the red carpet for us. And just a beautiful place to go racing.
And, you know, we think it's a spot where we can win and really get our championship hopes back in line.
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, I mean, I'll copy pretty much everything Alex said there. You know, the beginning of the season, the races are so far spread out, it seems to be difficult time to find any sort of rhythm.
But hopefully as the season progresses and gets underway and the races come more often, we can just get back on track and it will be great to start that at Barber.
Obviously, we're out to win. We've had success at Barber before at the track. It's wonderful to go to. It's an awesome facility, and a proper road course, and always has a good turnout for spectators, and just a place we enjoy going to. But aside from all that, we just need to put our heads down and focus on maximum points and win the thing. So we hope we can do that.
Q: Good afternoon, guys. Looking through the testing schedule I saw the past couple of days your car was taken down to Concord, North Carolina for the 2012 DP testing. Were any of you guys present for that? And when do you think we'll start to see more of this testing?
JON FOGARTY: No, we were not present for that. And I'm not sure exactly what the Series had going on during that. So they keep us out of that. When our team decides to go testing, to work on race-oriented things, that's when they involve the
George Barber really rolls out the red carpet for us. And just a beautiful place to go racing.
Q: Because it's just sitting in the wind tunnel. I kind of figured you guys would have that input saying, you know, well, this would work and this wouldn't work, so later on down the road maybe they'll give you that input?
JON FOGARTY: Maybe. What goes on in the wind tunnel, it's information not necessarily always relevant to what the driver likes. But having more information is a good thing. So, yeah, it takes time to develop whatever you pull out of the wind tunnel. If we get time, the opportunity during a race weekend, to test what we might have found there, we'll go for it.
But the schedule is so compact, it's a long process. And you really need to be able to go out and validate what you did on a coast-down type of situation. So it will be sometime, I think, before any sort of benefit comes from the wind tunnel test.
Q: Turn 4, as I remember it, at Barber, where you're coming uphill, you can't see anything, and I guess you just kind of aim for the scoring pylon to kind of know where the track goes, how difficult is that turn, that approach, if you will, versus other similar difficult turns at other courses on the circuit?
ALEX GURNEY: I would say it's not terribly difficult, actually. It is awkward to not be able to see over the rise. And the car, at least in the past, has tended to go loose right at that spot. So you have to kind of prepare with the steering just before you go over that crest.
And sometimes you see guys going off to the left. Maybe they were preparing for that in the steering. But in general it's not too bad. I would say some of the other rises, I think, over by turn 13 is quite a bit more difficult and you're very much on the limit and often going off the road there. So I would say that other rise is much more adventurous than the turn 4 one.
Q: In general, as far as difficulty, the racetrack itself versus the other circuits that you guys run on each season, where does Barber rank, forgetting the beauty -- I'm not concerned with that element -- just as far as the actual competitive nature, where does this rank in degree of difficulty?
JON FOGARTY: It's definitely a challenging track. I mean, it has corner elevation changes. Getting a lap out of Barber is very difficult. But at the same time it's rewarding, but it's also very critical. It's not a track that lends itself to overtaking. So you really need to be able to extract that lap time and hopefully start upfront and stay up front.
So a difficult track to get a good lap time out of, but also a difficult track to race. You really need to be at the top of the scoreboard the entire weekend if you want to have a victory there.
ALEX GURNEY: I was also going to say also very physical track. The straights are pretty short, so you're shifting all the time. So there's very little rest anywhere. So you really are working it the whole time.
And where, at some of the other tracks, Homestead, Daytona that we just did, really long straightaways to get your bearings and look at the gauges and do things like that, whereas, with Barber, there's really no time at all to do that. Just constantly on the whole time.
Q: It seems like in recent years at least your fortunes in the series have been kind of linked to what happens in how you do at Barber. And you won in '07 and '09 at Barber and you won the championships those years. And last year you had trouble early, and it ended up being your worst finish of the year and probably ended up costing you the title. Given that, do you go into Barber with any extra trepidation or anticipation that if you do well here might propel you for the rest of the season?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, I mean, we certainly like the odds there. '07, '09. '11, we'll take it at this point.
So, yeah, as a team I think there's maybe a little bit more optimism just thinking along those lines. But in general, I think we're happy with the speed of the car. And most of all this weekend we just need to get our heads around how to save the tires for a long distance. And that's what we've been focusing on. And I think if we're able to do that, then, yeah, we can win this race for sure.
Q: Jon, do you look at it that way?
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, I mean, it's -- you know, it's a track we certainly enjoy going to, and we've had good results.
I think in '08 we were in a good position to win but again we had a mechanical issue with our clutch. So we've always had good pace here. Alex had mentioned the tires, and several of our competitors had the opportunity to test at Barber on the Continentals, the end of last season. So I'm a little concerned that we're stepping into this weekend a few steps behind those guys.
But, like I said, we have a good idea of what it takes to get around the track quickly. And we're just going to have to come up with a setup that's going to give us good longevity out of the tires. I think if we can do that, we're in a good position to win.
Q: Can you review a little bit about what happened to you in the race last year?
JON FOGARTY: Yeah. Pretty straightforward. I mean, we qualified -- Alex probably remembers exactly where -- even though I was in the car. We were running third. Rick Taylor was leading. And I was trying to hang with the 01 car. And early in the race, coming out of turn 5, I believe it is, straightaway down towards the museum, the motor let go. That's about it. Huge explosion. End of story. I'm not sure what let go in the motor. But definitely hurt us in the points, and unfortunately it separated Alex and myself in the points because the failure happened before Alex had an opportunity to get in and score any points.
Just a bad situation overall. But at the same time it kind of propelled us into our current situation with ECR Motors and that's been a wonderful relationship. So not all negative came out of that.
Q: We've obviously seen the domination by Ganassi over the last year, it seems. What do you think it would take to beat them? And are you guys at all frustrated by domination by a particular car, or are you just looking to get out and try and win?
ALEX GURNEY: We were certainly frustrated last year. And we think there have been some rule changes since then that have kind of leveled it a little bit. But Ganassi does a great job every time out. And they're really tough to beat on strategy and the entire race prep.
So they set the bar high, and when we beat them, we've really accomplished something. So it's great to have them out there.
But we think this year, the speed is there in the car. And we just need to execute. And we think -- we definitely think we can do that at Barber. We think we're going to be really strong there and we've got our fingers crossed. We'll just try and execute.
We're just going to have to come up with a setup that's going to give us good longevity out of the tires
JON FOGARTY: I was going to say, yeah, I believe the speed is in the car as well. And we, like Alex said, need to execute and the GAINSCO team is certainly capable of that, as we've proved in the past.
The frustration comes from not winning. Seeing the 01 car win all the time, not that in itself is very frustrating, that's kind of just the nature of racing.
So we're just going to go out and focus on winning, not necessarily beating the 01 car.
Q: Expanding on the topic of tires. Is this weekend going to be playing strategy a little different? We notice that Starworks conserved tires during practice at Homestead and that sort of benefited them in the race. Obviously they had some issue in the race preventing them from getting into the finish. But it seems like maybe tire conservation and practice and qualifying maybe could be a key to success come race day.
ALEX GURNEY: Yes, absolutely. I think on the entire schedule, probably Homestead and Barber are the two tracks that eat up the tires more than any other.
So it's going to be a similar situation as Homestead. Maybe not quite as bad. But that's going to be the key for the weekend, I think. And we've been, after the wake-up call at Homestead, we definitely have been thinking about it quite a bit.
And we have a plan and definitely -- I don't know, if you want to be there in it with a chance at the end, you've got to have some tires. So we're ready for that.
Q: The Miami track, between the heat down there, although not summertime heat, it was a lot, you were talking a little bit about tires. I'm curious, do you feel that breaking in a set of tires, putting a few laps on those tires, is as good as new; or ideally at the end of the race do you want a brand new set of tires for a short run on the car? I'm just trying to get a feel for what may develop towards the end of the race, last set of pit stops.
ALEX GURNEY: It's different with the, if you compare the Pirellis to the Continentals, and we're still struggling with that scenario. We've done quite a bit of testing at least throughout a race weekend on that scenario, whether you scrub them a little bit or you don't.
And so far I'm not a huge fan of it. And I'm not sure it helps the longevity of the tires. But I don't know it's something that we're kind of constantly monitoring.
But you would think it would make them harder a bit and maybe help the longevity, but so far we haven't seen that. Maybe Homestead was an outlier on that one.
Q: One other follow-up. Do you guys think there's one characteristic of your GAINSCO/Chevy in this race that may give you a little bit of an edge, something that you feel your car does well at Barber Motorsports Park?
ALEX GURNEY: The drivers, of course. (Chuckling).
JON FOGARTY: It's obviously a track -- it's a handling track. Every track is a horsepower track, but if any track favors handling, it's Barber. And also the driver needs to be able to extract those capabilities out of the car.
But compared to what we've had in the past, you know, some of the differences, our motor for this year, we have individual throttle body that allows for a lot more drivability coming off the corner, the power of delivery follows what your foot's doing very well compared to what we've had there in the past.
So I'm excited to have that going on as we head into this weekend.
Q: My first question is, there's a lot of racing that's going to happen on the track this weekend between you guys, the Continental Tire Sports Challenge race that's right before you, and all the IndyCar and Indy Lights stuff, how is that going to affect your race on Sunday as far as like all the rubber on the track and all that?
JON FOGARTY: Yeah, it's anybody's guess how the Continental rubber is going to react with the IndyCar guys. We really don't know. It's definitely going to be a variable and it's going to change things, I believe. So we'll see.
Q: My other question is, a lot of stuff -- for you guys, Barber last year, between your new engine build that you referenced and GM's increased involvement, how much better of a position are you guys in this year than you were at this point last year?
JON FOGARTY: From a motor perspective, we're in a -- it's a different league. Just simply, you know, the rules didn't allow us to be competitive last year. I think we're in it now. And the car's showing good pace.
The motor feels strong. So I'm very positive in that regards, in that perspective. Points-wise, again, it's not a good situation, but I think we have a package that is going to allow us to win races, and that's going to be our focus.
Q: For many years the Grand-Am race was pretty much the show here at Barber. And then last year for the first time you all were paired with the IndyCar Series and kind of had to take kind of a second fiddle position to that, at least in terms of the publicity and so forth here locally. And I'm wondering how -- the trade-off for that, of course, is you get to race in front of a much bigger crowd than you normally used to have. Do you like being paired up with the IndyCar Series? Is the bigger crowd that much more of an advantage, or what are your thoughts on that?
ALEX GURNEY: I think it's a good thing. I think definitely the bigger crowd allows more people to see what we're all about. I think actually at the end of the weekend most people will say, will still say that the Grand-Am was the show.
I think we're going to put on a great race, and I think the formula for our cars is going to allow passing, and the way the tires fall off, I think you're going to see a lot of bumping and banging and change of position.
And I think that's fun to watch. I'm not sure if that's going to be the case at IndyCar, although, I'll certainly be watching. So that's my thought on it.
I think actually at the end of the weekend most people will say, will still say that the Grand-Am was the show.
JON FOGARTY: I agree with Alex. I think it's going to -- it's great for the fans to be able to come and see two great series races and brings a lot of people to the track. But at the same time if those people would watch both races think they're going to -- our race is going to be a little bit more fun to watch. And race fans, you want to see passing. And like Alex said, our formula provides that.
Q: Another question I have, this can go to either driver: With the long break, not only between Daytona and Homestead but now between Homestead and Barber, how does that help prepare and make the car better for Barber where you guys have won twice and hope to win a third this season?
JON FOGARTY: Unfortunately, we didn't have the opportunity to get behind the wheel between either of those events.
The 24 is such -- is so taxing on the entire team and the car that they really have to work hard to get the car back together for the next race at Homestead even though there's a good break. And there's less of that between Homestead and here. So the guys have been able to spend more time and be a little bit more meticulous and get the car prepped and kind of ready for the rest of the season.
I think that it's unfortunate to not to be able to go testing, basically, and that's something we'd really benefit from, but that's the way it is. And it's kind of the same for everybody.
Q: With that, then, do you guys refine more on pit stops and driver changes to get those precious tenths of a second down?
JON FOGARTY: Yes, those are the things we can practice. Alex and I aren't in the shop. So doing the driver changes is difficult, something we do during the race weekend. And we've gotten it down pretty well. And we always practice that.
And the crew guys, hopefully they're hitting the gym and they're fit and they're ready to throw tires at the car.