An Interview with Jeff Gordon MODERATOR: Jeff, how is it going so far? JEFF GORDON: It's going really well. Yesterday was the first time I ever had a chance to be in the car here. After the Homestead test, I had a better idea what the...
An Interview with Jeff Gordon
MODERATOR: Jeff, how is it going so far?
JEFF GORDON: It's going really well. Yesterday was the first time I ever had a chance to be in the car here. After the Homestead test, I had a better idea what the car was capable of doing, but learning the track was definitely a challenge. We went through a lot of that yesterday. I felt like I was just starting to get the hang of everything right at the end of the day, which I ran about maybe six laps right there at the very end. I thought it went well. I haven't been in the car yet today. The team is going through some things with Max and Wayne, just really trying to dial in the car.
I felt pretty comfortable yesterday. I was happy. I felt like I was starting to get up to speed. I'm looking forward to running some more laps today and running at night.
MODERATOR: A big development since your last test with us at Homestead was that you got probably one of the fastest sports car drivers out there on the team with Jan Magnussen. Talk about another great addition to the SunTrust car.
JEFF GORDON: I was really happy to hear that. Doug Duchart, with Hendrick Motorsports, was with GM Racing for many years. I heard him talk about Jan for a number of years, how quick he was, what a good driver he is. When Wayne called me and told me that news, I was definitely very happy--not necessarily surprised--but happy to hear the news.
I think we've got a great lineup. Now I'm just trying to live up to my end of the deal (laughter). We've got three fast guys out there, a great race team. I feel like we really have the makings of what it takes to win this race. I just want to do my part to make sure that I contribute enough to get us a victory.
Q: Obviously, the chemistry between Max and Wayne is very good. How is the chemistry for the whole team coming along right now?
JEFF GORDON: I'm new to this team and this type of racing. >From what I can tell, it's excellent. Max is obviously very fast. He's been extremely helpful going over telemetry. Anything I've asked him, he's been right there. He's funny. He's hilarious, when you hear him in these meetings, debriefings and things. You can tell the chemistry between him and Wayne. They've welcomed me in and made me feel very comfortable.
I just had a chance to meet Jan. He seemed like a perfect mix for our group in just a short period of time we were there. Chemistry is great right now.
Q: I guess you found out something about the rigors of driving a Daytona Prototype at a road course in Homestead. My desk called and said you had a bandage on your hand. What did you experience there, how does it compare here?
JEFF GORDON: Yeah, I got blisters. No wrist injuries or anything like that. I haven't been to the golf course lately (laughter).
You know, in Homestead I definitely--number one is, you know, when you're in these cars, you're not used to these, I'm a lot more intense than I need to be. I'm not as relaxed as I need to be. Each time I get more laps in the car, I get more relaxed, so you can relax your hand a little bit.
In Homestead, I tore my hand up pretty good. This time I wanted to make sure I prevented any of that. I think really by the time we get back here for the race, I might not need to do much to my hand because I'll be a little more relaxed.
Q: Jimmie Johnson is familiar with this race. How much have you talked with him about running the 24 Hours?
JEFF GORDON: I've talked to him quite a bit. I think he played a role in my decision to come here and run this race. After he ran, he told me how much fun he had, how fun the cars were to drive. That definitely played a big role in my decision to be here. Even after Homestead, we talked a little bit about the cars, the race, rain, nighttime, different things like that.
I think I'm getting a lot from my teammates that I'm with here, especially Max. I've been tapping into him a lot. Prior to to all that, Jimmie was the only guy, maybe him and Casey Mears were the only guys I knew that had experience.
Q: Hendrick Motorsports tried to put together a deal here two years ago. That didn't work out. Could you give me some background on how it came together for you to be here this year. Did you try last year?
JEFF GORDON: I've been not necessarily trying but thinking about it for a number of years. I can remember this race being--back when I was running midgets and Sprint cars, racing at Volusia County--I remember this race being here, being interested in it.
The thing that's kept me from doing it is just scheduling. It's not a last-minute decision for me. I'm so busy through January. I told myself, I'm never going to do this race unless I have the proper amount of time to do the testing, get the laps that it takes.
A guy named Ron McMahon, who works for Riley, used to work for Lee Osborne, who built my Sprint cars years ago in Indiana. He and my stepfather stayed friends for a number of years. The conversations just came about. 'Hey, if Jeff is ever interested in doing the 24 Hours, we'll help him.'
I tell you, the biggest change for me was the new Grand-Am Series. These types of cars allow drivers from other series that don't have a lot of experience to be able to come in. The cars are technical, they're a lot different than what I run, but they're not so technical where I need a year of seat time.
It's an endurance race. I don't expect to come in here and be as fast as the guys that run this series all the time. I want to be a contributor to the team.
All those factors weigh in to be able to allow me to do this. But most of it's just time. I planned a year in advance of putting this race on the schedule, the testing on the schedule. Here I am.
Q: I wondered if you had to pinpoint one specific item as a driver that you had to adjust to the series, what item would you say is the biggest thing that you had to adapt to and get used to the series?
JEFF GORDON: Well, I wish it was that easy. There's never just one thing. It's always a combination.
Max Papis is also a guy who is friend of ours at Hendrick Motorsports. He has come around, hung out with us, even done some testing for us on the road courses. When I talked to him about these cars, he said to me, which I found out, so much of the speed comes in the braking zones. You really have to attack the braking zones, get in the corners deep.
That's true in our cars. But you just can't drive in there as deep as you can with these cars. It's so easy in our cars to overdrive the corner, where it's a lot more difficult to do that in these cars. They stop so good.
The biggest thing is just pushing the brake pedal that hard. I'm not used to putting that much pressure on the brake pedal. It's nice to have that braking force. But in our cars, if I put that much pressure on the pedal, it would lock up the tires.
Q: How much of the Rolex 24 is fun and how much is road course seat time for you?
JEFF GORDON: Well, all I know is I'm having a lot of fun right now. I know there's going to be a tremendous amount of cars out there on the track.
To me, just to do something different, I think it's well-known that I like the road courses in the NASCAR series. I think it's sort of a natural for me to come and do this because I do like road racing. These cars adapt so much--really, they're more suited for road racing than what our cars are.
Just the car alone, I'm having a lot of fun. I'm with the right team. I'm with a great team. That really makes a big difference because I like to be competitive. That part I'm having fun with.
I really don't know a lot of what to expect once the race starts other than what other guys have told me. But I think I'm going to have to go out there and experience that for myself. I'll have to let you know after my first stint how much fun I'm having. If it goes anything like what it's gone so far, I'm sure I'm going to be smiling.
Q: How challenging is it to adapt to this course and to have to do driver changes?
JEFF GORDON: Well, the driver changes are still a work in progress. Every time I get in the car, we do a driver change. I'm slowly working into that.
The nice thing is all four drivers are about the same size. I had to put one little insert behind my shoulders to fit into Max's insert. I think that Wayne puts an insert into his. They're so small, minimal, that driver changes, I think belts, all those things.
I tried to do my best to just come in here and not change things too much. I wanted to adapt to the driving style that Max and Wayne have, to the seat position, steering wheel position, pedal position, all those things, so we don't have to take that extra time. We found a solution in Homestead, so that worked out really well.
The track was definitely a challenge for me yesterday. I wasn't sure what this track would be like versus Homestead. I went to Homestead, felt like I got up to speed fairly quickly the first day, then started fine tuning.
Here yesterday I told the guys right away, I just came off vacation. I told them I'm not off vacation yet 'cause my mind is--my brain wasn't in road racing mode the first run out there. I was missing a few braking zones, things like that. By the end of the day, I really started to pick it up.
This track definitely had some challenges that I felt like were even more challenging than Homestead for me. Everybody's different, but for me I felt like this track definitely was more challenging. The chicane back there in the back straightaway, you're carrying a lot of speed in there. You have to really get through there well to make a good lap. It took me a little while to figure that out.