GRAND-AM Teleconference Transcript With Alex Gurney
January 25, 2011
An interview with
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's GRAND-AM teleconference. It's our first one of 2011, very excited to get things started in advance of this weekend's season-opening event for the Rolex Sports Car Series Presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16. It's the Rolex 24 at Daytona America's, premiere sports car event. It starts at 3:30 Saturday at the world center of racing, Daytona International Speedway, and ends at 3:30 on Sunday.
Today we are pleased to be joined by a two-time Daytona Series Prototype Champion and represents one of America's legendary racing families, and that is Alex Gurney, who co-drives the No. 99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing Chevrolet Riley with his co-driver Jon Fogarty. Alex and Jon, they have never won the Rolex 24, and they have got an excellent shot this weekend, and in part because they are joined by a pretty good co-driver, five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Champion, Jimmie Johnson.
Alex, just open up, your dad, Alex Gurney, he won the original version of this race, the Daytona Continental back in '62. So obviously pretty safe to say that the Rolex 24 would be pretty special to you to win it. And also, what are your chances this year with Jimmie joining the team, it's only three drivers, and what type of mutual respect is there between all you guys?
ALEX GURNEY: Thanks for having me on the call first of all. Well, yeah, obviously my dad winning the very first event, the first road race, I should say, I think Daytona has kind of carved out its own special place in history because it has -- this history as a road course event and an oval event.
So for my dad to have won the first one, you know, it's something that the family can always look back on with pride I think, and the way he did it at the end there with rolling across the line kind of made it stick out even more.
Yeah, we have been trying hard now since 2006 to win this race. Got a great team. We have now got lots of experience and we have learned all of the things that have been thrown at us, how to deal with them, and just our driver lineup this year, again with Jimmie Johnson, who has obviously just one championship after another, he's kind of grown with our team as well, so he feels very much at home with us and become a great friend of all of us on the team. He probably sent me five texts last night just talking about how he's preparing for the race and he had some advice for me, there, too. So, anyway, we are really looking forward to it. We think we have got our best chance yet to win it.
@: I had spoken earlier during the test to Michael Shank and Sylvain Tremblay, and they were both effusive in their desire to win the race. Tremblay says the only reason he comes back is to win. Can you talk about how much desire you and Jon and now Jimmie, and especially Bob have to win this race, and just how important it would be? Thank you.
ALEX GURNEY: Well, again, it's our marquis event. And I think by far the hardest race to win. It's so much longer than any other race we do. One of the things our team owner, Bob Stallings, is always pushing the mantra of our team and how we can work together, and I think the 24 Hour is the symbol of getting that done. We have not been able to do it yet. We have been close. Finished second in 2008, but we really want to win it. Most of all to make a statement that our team is capable of beating the best of them.
@: And a quick follow-up if I can, one thing that Michael Shank said was that the pressure he puts on himself to win this is unbearable, and he says he does it to himself; do you see Bob putting that kind of pressure on himself or does that translate to you guys?
ALEX GURNEY: I think he does, actually. Again, just goes back to what I said about the team; you know, he wants to prove that we are as good as the Ganassi or any other big team that shows up. You know, we have proven it with championships but we still haven't proven it here at the 24.
So that's the big carrot that's hanging out there that we want.
@: A question about what you guys go through as preparation. You mentioned you talked to Jimmie Johnson and I'm sure with Jon Fogarty, you guys look at the race and learn from what's happened in the past, and largely that win has been elusive because of bad luck. On a short course like Daytona, 3.5 miles, is there anyway you guys can prepare a pre-race strategy that can keep you out of those difficult situations early in the race, or is it just too competitive on a 3.56 mile track?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, I think there's lots of things you can do. I mean, so many variables, things that break down. The gear box is always something that's kind of just something you have to be watching all the time.
Going in and out of the pits puts a lot of pressure on it, and the way the gearing is set up to get around the track quick, you're kind of forced to run a pretty tall first gear. That's one of the areas that I think our team has done quite a bit of work, and especially this year, so that we don't run into a problem there, because we have often lost a gear or had some issue there.
But you know, yeah, it's going to be incredibly competitive. We saw at test, I think 14 cars within a second. So, I don't know, you're going to have to do more than just go fast. You have to be smart and stay out of trouble, and think about how your pit stops are going to line up and when you're going to do your brake changes and things of that nature.
We have got some great guys that have been planning it all out, and we do have a game plan for every step of the race. It's planned out quite a bit more than maybe it might seem.
@: That really was my follow-up to that. Is there a certain peace of mind that the team, Bob Stallings, and your sponsor, GAINSCO and all the drivers have, that you've done everything that you can and the only thing left to do is go out and run the event?
ALEX GURNEY: Oh, yeah, hopefully you've arrived at that point before the race starts. There's going to be a few more things to sort out in the qualifying and the night practice and things like that. But yeah, when race time comes, you should have everything dialed in to where you know how you're going to attack all of those situations.
@: With your three-driver rotation this year, what has that done in terms of changes to your, I guess, planned sleep cycle and recovery? It's not a massive change, because obviously you can stint people a little longer if necessary, but has that modification drastically altered each individual driver's, I guess, schedule for the race?
ALEX GURNEY: Not really, actually. Yes, we will have less sleep in between if any of us actually go to sleep, or less rest, I should say. But we are trying to plan that to where it won't be that big of an issue. You know, being comfortable in the car, I think makes the biggest difference as far as getting sore or cramping up, things like that. And we think we have done our homework there.
So I don't think it will be a big issue. I actually think in the end, it will be an advantage. Three drivers rotating in and out all the time, you know, you don't have much downtime, so you're pretty much warmed up when you get back in the car and you may be a little bit more aware of how the race is unfolding and track conditions and things like that if you spend less off-time.
And we think, you know, we think we are all fit and up to the job. So we're excited about it.
@: A lot has been made the last couple of days about how the new track surface is going to be good for racing in the 500. Is it going to have any effect at all, do you think, on the 24?
ALEX GURNEY: Probably a little bit. I mean, I think one of the issues suspension-wise you saw over the last several years with our cars, certain parts breaking, and I think a lot of that had to do with transitions coming off the oval and going back on. Pretty hard on it and the bottom of the car would hit and eventually things would break. And those transitions are smoothed out considerably. So probably a little less stress on the cars, and my guess is a few less breakages and probably you know more guys at the front by the end.
So I think it might make it a little more competitive for everybody.
@: For 12, 13 races a year, now all of the sudden you have Jimmie stuck in, and I know it's not his first year with you guys, but what about team chemistry? Is he accepted into the group now?
ALEX GURNEY: Oh, absolutely he is. He's a team player and just a very nice guy in the end. Surprisingly open and down-to-earth. From what you might -- from what it might seem from the outside, you know, a guy that's won so much and become such a star is just very down-to-earth.
So he gets the job done in the car. He takes very little time to get up to speed. Seems good in all conditions including the rain. So, great communicator, and been pretty obvious to us why he wins so much.
You know, we think he can do it in our team, as well.
@: Not just necessarily referring to Jimmie, but the other Cup drivers and also the IRL drivers who come in to race this one race, how are they viewed? Are they welcomed in or are they viewed as interlopers or just how are they viewed?
ALEX GURNEY: We actually love it. I think as a whole all, I think all of the drivers love it. If nothing else, we get to compare ourselves against great talent and internationally-recognized talent.
So that's a nice thing for us to be able to say that, you know, that we were there and we can stand up against those guys and join them in the race.
@: We have been talking about race preparations and the like, but I'm interested in knowing what you have to do mentally, physically and emotionally that is different from another race to prepare for the 24-hour event?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, you know, I kind of do a normal routine in the off-season to stay fit. I've been racing my simulator quite a bit at Daytona on the iRacing which is a lot of fun, I get a lot of fun out of that just trying to whittle down my lap times and play with the setup.
As far as this specific race, maybe you carbo-load a little bit more. That's what I was speaking with Jimmie Johnson about last night. He has a routine that his, I guess, nutritionist or trainer passed on to him and he was passing that on to me, kind of his best thoughts on a scenario of how to tackle the week before the race.
So he kind of gave me a detailed plan on what that would be leading up through Friday night. So that was interesting to hear from someone like that.
@: This has to do with the season ahead. What is it going to take for you or anybody else to unseat the Ganassi team?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, we hope we figure that out. Obviously making less mistakes than them is the most important thing for this race. We saw last year that Action Express, which was a new team, basically from the ground up, was able to do it.
I think that gives everybody in the field hope that if you play the race smart and your team is able to avoid all of the pitfalls, that anyone can win it.
@: 24-hour racing has its own unique set of challenges. Daytona in particular has a different unique set of challenges insomuch as it's in January. And the temperatures that you guys will race at Saturday night will be unlike you'll probably race at any other time during the year. The low is supposed to be around 40. Do you guys take a big swing at it for the nighttime, or do you try to set up a car that is going to be good for the whole race, or do you take a big swing at nine o'clock at night to go through the night and change it back when the sun comes up?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, what we have learned from the last couple of years, that you really do need to change it in the middle of the night, and we probably are planning on doing that again and changing it back in the morning.
There's just a few adjustments you can do to make that happen. We feel that's probably the best way to do it, trying to get a car that works well over the whole race is maybe not possible, given the big temperature change. I actually love the cold weather just because our car, I told our PR man, Adam Saal, yesterday, that our car has two temperatures, hot and insanely hot. If it cold outside, then it's just hot in the car.
No, I welcome those temps, and yes, we will probably change it in the middle of the night and change it back again in the morning.
@: Do you do anything as far as is the driver set to run that 2:00 AM to 3:00 AM to 4:00 AM to 5:00 AM stint, seems to us who do not typically stay up all night long, 11:00 to 2:00 is probably not so bad and 5:00 to 8:00 ain't so bad, but that 2:00 am to 5:00 AM, it's got to be killer for a driver. Do you have one guy that's been changing his sleep cycle so that he can hit that stint in the middle pretty fresh?
ALEX GURNEY: Actually, we don't. I think the team has confidence in all three of us, so it really depends how the yellows fall. We do have a driver rotation that we are going stick to. But it may turn out to be that any one of us end up in that stint, and then we'll adjust it late in the race.
But basically, we're fine with any three of us landing in the middle of that spot. I saw that promo thing where said Montoya definitely doesn't want to be in there from 2:00 to 5:00. That was kind of funny. But we are fine with it. Anywhere in there is okay. We have prepared for a long time so we can handle being up for one night.
@: A question from a Tweeter: If any team deserves a Rolex 24, it's the GAINSCO team and they simply ask, are you going to get it done this year?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, we appreciate the sentiment. Yeah, I hope so, absolutely.
@: Will the new pavement increase your tire wear? Do you believe that you'll still need to change tires every hour on the hour, and if you don't, will that effect the rotation at all?
ALEX GURNEY: Well, it's a little bit different this year. We can't base the tire wear on last year just because we have switched from a Pirelli to a Continental, and we are still learning them. We did at the test go past a full stint on the tires. They were holding up reasonably well.
So I'm going to guess, yeah, maybe a few times we probably will double stint. But you know, if the tires are there, I always prefer not to. I think a stint and a half or so, they are going to be pretty much gone. So we'll see. Yeah, I think it depends. Kyle Brannan, our engineer and the rest of the guys, will kind of make that determination based on the wear during the race.
So we'll see. Tires are holding up well, though.
@: A couple questions, first of all, the past couple of years you guys have had a four-driver lineup for the Rolex 24, this year it's gone to three, what kind of preparation does it take to have longer and more stints throughout the race?
ALEX GURNEY: Again, I think someone else had asked this question earlier, but it really doesn't change much for us. It's a little more work for the drivers. But you know, we have all had plenty of experience and basically it's as simple as that. We are going to be working a little bit harder and have a little less rest between stints.
But otherwise, you know, plug in the driver and go, is the deal. So I don't think that's going to make too much of a difference. I think it's a slight advantage.
@: Jordan Taylor came out in the Insideline last night and told us that with starting at 3:30, it makes it a little different to have two hours of sunlight, then run into the dark, and yet still have an extra eight or so hours of race time left. How do you feel about this?
ALEX GURNEY: I'm fine with it. I guess I didn't mind starting it a little earlier. I think we usually start at 1:30, maybe 12:30.
You know, I don't know how much of a difference it makes. It's maybe a little deceptive when you get to the morning thinking that you're close and you're really not close at all.
So maybe that's a little bit of a different feeling from awhile back. But in general, I don't think it makes much difference. We'll put on a great race one way or the other.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks to all of the media who participated, very nice turnout, as I said earlier, really appreciate that.
Alex Gurney, thank you and best of luck this weekend as you try to win that elusive Rolex 24 title for the first time.