Virginia International Raceway
Reigning Champions Jeff Segal and Co-Driver Emil Assentato Ready to Renew Title Defense in No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT at VIR’s Bosch Engineering 250
Although we're a long way from thinking about another championship, I would say a repeat is certainly within reach.
DANVILLE, Virginia – In last year’s Bosch Engineering 250 at Virginia International Raceway (VIR), Jeff Segal and teammate Emil Assentato left with a second-place finish and a points lead they would ride all the way to the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT-class Championship. The goal this weekend for the reigning champs and the No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT team in their return to VIR is to improve one race position from last year and continue to move into the thick of this season’s ultra-competitive GT championship battle after a pair of strong results in the last two events.
Round 4 of this year’s 12-race GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series schedule, Saturday’s featured Bosch Engineering 250 timed 2-3/4-hour sprint race is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. local time and can be seen in same-day, “virtual-live” coverage, Saturday, May 14, at 5 p.m. ET/2 p.m. PT on SPEED.
Segal and Assentato finished second in March’s Grand Prix of Miami and backed it up with a fourth-place finish one race ago at Barber Motorsports Park, two races in which they scored back-to-back victories last year. The pair of solid results at Miami and Barber helped make up for a disappointing season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona where the No. 69 was classified well down in the finishing order after being taken out in an early race accident. Although the FXDD/SpeedSource squad remains 10th in the team standings with 64 points, they are just 20 points behind the GT class leaders in what is still a wide-open championship battle.
“Although we're a long way from thinking about another championship, I would say a repeat is certainly within reach,” Segal said. “We've laid a decent foundation – not great, but decent – and now we'll work hard over the next few races to stay the course and hope that others falter a bit. Last year we had an incredible amount of momentum with two wins in a row, and there's no doubt this year has been more difficult.”
The 2011 GRAND-AM GT rules do not favor the Mazda RX-8 GT and all teams in the series are literally trying to come to grips with the Rolex Series-standard Continental tires that are new for this season. Another twist on the race strategy and technical front that teams will deal with for the first time this weekend is the introduction of smaller fuel tanks, or “cells,” that will likely require teams to make an extra pit stop.
“We're still on a steep learning curve with the Continental tires, and our car doesn't have the outright pace that it did early last year,” Segal said. “We know that even with a car that isn't the fastest, we should be able to place in the top five every weekend if we execute well, so that has to be the goal. We'll run consistent races, take whatever opportunities are available to us, and hope that it’s enough to keep us in the hunt until the landscape of GT allows us to race with the leaders again.”
Great execution by everybody on the team is what produced the strong Miami and Barber results and the runner-up showing last year at VIR. Assentato started the race 14th but his solid opening stint, Segal’s strong closing run to the checkered flag and great strategy calls from the pits moved the No. 69 to the lead and the eventual second-place finish.
“I've always found it pretty easy to go quickly at VIR, so naturally that makes me like it right off the bat,” Segal said. “Having said that, VIR seems to be a track where we're always poised to do well, but something gets in the way. Last year would be the exception to that, where we took what could have been a miserable afternoon and turned it into a podium finish. So all in all, VIR is a mixed bag, a track I'm neutral about.”
Segal also has mixed feelings about some of the recent rule changes but is taking a wait-and-see approach this weekend.
“I've always found it pretty easy to go quickly at VIR, so naturally that makes me like it right off the bat.
“I think that the new fuel cell and tire limit rules will definitely change the complexion of the race weekend, but I'm not sure what the effect will be on our effort,” Segal said. “My fear is that we could see something similar to Formula 1 where teams have to curtail their practice and qualifying track time in favor of saving tires for the races, and if that is the case, I think that it would be a big shame for the competitors and all the fans that come to see us on track throughout the race weekend. I'm a bit perplexed as to why the rule is needed. There is no shortage of excellent door-to-door racing in the GT class, so there isn't a real need to have the strategy dictate yet another wrinkle, but it’s the same for everyone, so right now I'll reserve judgment.”
A plus for the No. 69 team is that Assentato is a current participant in and the only two-time winner of the Bob Akin Award, which is annually presented to the top sportsman or gentleman driver in the GT category. All Akin participants are permitted one additional set of race tires each weekend, a definite benefit considering the quick-to-wear Continentals.
Another positive for Segal and Assentato is the No. 69 team itself. As they did last year at VIR, and in the last two months at Miami and Barber, the FXDD/SpeedSource team always seems to be at its best in the heat of the battle and when the going gets tough.
“Fortunately, the 69 Mazda has had notoriously good strategy over the last few years,” Segal said. “So I'm hoping that if there's any nuance or wrinkle to be exploited by the extra stops, our guys will figure it out first.”
-source: jeff segal racing