Defending GT Race Winner Jeff Segal Ready for Repeat with Teammate Emil Assentato in the No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT Saturday at Barber Motorsports Park
BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (April 6, 2011) – Reigning GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT-class Champion Jeff Segal, and his teammate Emil Assentato, will defend their 2010 Barber Motorsports Park victory in Saturday’s Porsche 250 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series race when they bring their No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT back to the scenic Alabama road course. The green flag for the 2:45-minute timed-sprint is scheduled to drop at 3 p.m. local time this Saturday, April 9, and the race can be seen the following day, Sunday April 10, on SPEED at Noon ET/9 a.m. PT.
Segal and Assentato co-drove to not only the Barber victory last year but also the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Series GT Championship. The duo took a championship points lead they would maintain for the rest of the season one race after the Barber victory, and Segal hopes this year’s Porsche 250 can be used as a similar launch pad for success in 2011’s nine remaining races.
“Our victory at Barber last year was critical because it convinced everyone on the team that we were for real, that we could be a factor in the GT championship,” Segal said. “This year, nobody on our team needs that convincing. We all know what we need to do to defend our championship, and everyone is focused on doing their job to the best of their ability, making no mistakes.”
The No. 69 FXDD team and drivers also raced like the champions they are in last month’s Grand Prix of Miami where a hard-earned second-place finished helped erase the memory of an early exit from January’s season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona. While top-three podium finishes have become commonplace for Segal the last few seasons, the competitive balance in the GT class has shifted so much this year that even cracking the top five at any race will be a solid achievement.
“Anytime you finish on the podium is special, and even more so when you look at the competition that we face each weekend in the Rolex Series GT class,” Segal said. “We all knew that under the current rules structure, Miami wasn't the strongest track for our Mazda RX-8. With that said, our strategy from the onset was to stay out of trouble, race against ourselves and the race track only, and try to bank some valuable points to rebound from the challenges we faced in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. I think we were all hopeful that this strategy could yield us a top-five finish, but the entire team was ecstatic with a podium. Our car was really consistent over the race, and in the run to the checkered flag we showed some really encouraging pace.”
While the No. 69 was taken out in an accident early in the Rolex 24, the strong Miami finish will hopefully be a sign of things to come this season for Segal and his teammates.
“I think this type of result continues to speak volumes about our pit crew, race strategy and team philosophy on the 69 Mazda,” Segal said. “Even with a car that isn't the fastest, we're always going to be in the hunt for a good finish. We'll keep doing that for the rest of the year, and hopefully we can push forward in the standings by year end.”
We all know what we need to do to defend our championship.
Another twist to the Rolex Series this year is the introduction of Continental racing tires. Segal and his teammates have worked hard to develop an understanding of the new series-standard tires, even to the point of using some different strategies that might bring the No. 69 Mazda a little bit closer to some of the quicker competition.
“We were basically running for our lives from the Porsche and Camaro in Miami to try and hang on to a podium result, and we managed to build enough of a gap in traffic to finish second at the flag,” Segal said. “Since we've started testing on the Continental tires, we have been aware that this new landscape might present new opportunities for us with respect to setup, consistency and race strategy. I would liken the races this year to races in the rain. Everything is a bit chaotic, you really have a tremendous opportunity to make up ground with good race craft and strategy, and it isn't all about car speed. With the question marks in everyone’s mind about tire strategy, and setting the car up for longevity more than speed, I think this really plays to our strong suit.”
This season’s competitive challenges aside, Barber Motorsports Park has always been a tough track to conquer in the best of circumstances.
“Barber is definitely a really challenging track, it is incredibly easy to overdrive the car and lose time there,” Segal said. “The track surface is really hard on the tires, so as a driver you are faced with the choice between pushing really hard for a few laps and killing the tires, or being smoother, more patient, and having the tires last for a full stint. There are a few really tricky braking zones, a lot of elevation and camber changes that can catch you off guard, and then there is the fact that the track doesn't have any long straights, so you never get a change to relax, even for a moment.”
A win at Barber would put Segal, Assentato and the No. 69 team right back in the thick of the Rolex Series GT Championships. After being classified a distant 27th in the final finishing order at Daytona, the Miami runner-up showing boosted Segal and the No. 69 to 10th in the GT team standings with 36 points, just 22 markers behind the class leaders.
“We return to Barber with a clean slate in that the balance of competition in GT is so different from what we found last year, but we all know how important a win would be to boosting our championship aspirations,” Segal said. “Strategically, I don't think anything changes from last year, but the pressure is really on to find a good consistent setup for the car in the limited practice time. If we can make the car work well on the Continental tires, then we can start to think about defending our win.”
-source: jeff segal PR