Michael Shank Racing Daytona Test press conference

An Interview with Paul Tracy, A.J. Allmendinger, Ian James, Henri Zogaib and Mike Shank MODERATOR: We're now joined by Michael Shank Racing, drivers Henri Zogaib and Ian James. We're going to add to that with two other drivers that you see ...

An Interview with Paul Tracy, A.J. Allmendinger, Ian James, Henri Zogaib and Mike Shank

MODERATOR: We're now joined by Michael Shank Racing, drivers Henri Zogaib and Ian James. We're going to add to that with two other drivers that you see joining us up there.

We want to get started with Henri, who is going to run all season with Ian James. Henri, you're from right here in Daytona Beach. This is kind of a dream come true for you. Talk about the genesis, when you first had the idea to do this, how it feels to be living the dream.

HENRI ZOGAIB: It really is a dream come true. I feel exceptionally good. I came here in '03 to watch my buddy JC France run with Brumos. I just sort of got hooked on the sport. You know, I went out to Formula Dodge and followed my credentials accordingly. I found that the talent is truly there. I felt very good about it. I slowly worked my way up to be able to get here today, to work with Mike Shank.

I think the package is phenomenal. Our initiative has some great potential. We're working with Mr. Jim Humphrey as well to help us out with some sponsors. There are a lot of great things in the pipeline we hope to introduce shortly. My sponsor, also the garage, has been instrumental to help me get here.

For the most part, I really am excited for a very good season. I think '07 will be very competitive. I'm truly honored to have Ian, A.J. and Paul on board. There's definitely a lot to learn there. For the most part, I feel very positive about it.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Henri.

Mike Shank, talk about how you first met Henri, how the team formed up, how you got the latest two additions after Ian was signed?

MIKE SHANK: I got these two from a short straw. That's basically how it happened (laughter).

You know, Henri and I talked to each other for probably two years about doing things on and off as he was kind of coming up the ladder. Ian James came back to me with him about that potential at Miller last year. Over the course of the next month or so, September/October, the three of us were able to put a program together that made sense for all of us. We went forward. Henri purchased the No. 6 Mears car, what has always been the Mears entry. We're going forward with it.

These two, Paul and A.J., obviously A.J. finished second for us last year and did a great job in the 60 car. It was only natural. Paul helped me several times in some pretty tight financial times for me last year. I'm loyal to that. Plus I think they're the two best choices I could have possibly found.

MODERATOR: Ian, you're based here in Florida and have come up to Daytona and run before. Talk about the prospects. I believe this is your first full-time Daytona Prototype season.

IAN JAMES: I've been around the Rolex Series since its inception, but primarily in the GT class. Luckily I've been victorious in the Cup Series and Rolex GT. This is the last one I want to cross off.

Henri has given me all the equipment, the resources behind the team to make that happen. I don't think there's a team out there with better equipment. Like he's already said, we've got a great driver lineup for the 24. We want to hit the season running. It's always going to be a little bit hard with the Pro-Am combination. In the past, Krohn Racing, for example, have proven it can be victorious. We're going to try to be a feature as often as we can through the season.

The encouraging thing is, this is hopefully not just a one-year program, and Henri's goal here is to be around for the next five years. I think we'll build on it next year and definitely in '08 we'll go into it with a good chance for running for the championship. In '07, we're going to do the best we can, try and feature all the time. Hopefully we're going to win Henri the Trueman Award and go from there.

MODERATOR: Paul, as Mike mentioned, you led here last year, led in the early going in the No. 6 car. Mechanical problems knocked you out before sundown. Clearly the team has what it takes, definitely a car that can take to you the finish. As they always say, to finish first, you've first got to finish. How does the traffic even in testing compare to what you've seen here before?

PAUL TRACY: I think it's just great. I think any time that you've got a full field of cars; it's going to make the race even tougher. This year there's been a host of rule changes that everybody has had to deal with no traction control. I think that's probably one of the biggest factors. I think that's going to put the car a lot more into the drivers' hands and separate in terms of the competitiveness of the field. Traction control makes it easier for guys who are a little less experienced. Without that now, it's going to be tougher. More mistakes, a lot more opportunity to capitalize on that, which I think is going to be a lot of fun.

MODERATOR: A.J., you've been associated with Paul through go-karts, you were teammates last year at Forsythe Racing in Champ Cars. This is the first time you have ever co-driven in a car together. How do you feel about that heading in?

A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I'm excited about it. Last year with Mike, he gave me a great opportunity to come give a shot at the 24 Hours. When you get as close as we did, you definitely want to come. Thanks to Mike, definitely to Henri for choosing me and allowing me this opportunity. You know, I think Paul and I obviously last year at Forsythe worked well. My success was a large part due to him and everything that he put into that program.

To kind of come back as a group, I'm looking forward to it. Obviously there's a lot of luck that kind of plays into this race. You have to be around at the end to win the thing. I think it's a great lineup. Mike puts out just great equipment and just overall a great program that allows us the chance to go out there and have a chance to win.

MODERATOR: Juan Pablo Montoya said he's going to live here the next few months. A.J., you have a busy schedule as well. How much are you going to be here today on up through the Daytona 500?

A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I'll be here a lot. I think I get to go home for maybe a day after the test here, but I come right back for the first week of testing. I think I'm just going to kind of hang and check it out, see what it's all about 'cause we're the second week of testing with Team Red Bull. From there on, I basically come back right after testing and be here for the 24 Hours and then just getting ready for Daytona. It's going to be a hectic schedule, something that for me it's a lot larger schedule than I've ever been a part of.

I'm thrilled about it. I can't wait to do it. I think with Team Red Bull, all the effort they put in to start up the team, all the hard work that's been put in, we can come to the 500 and legitimately have a chance to contend and run up front.

Q: Paul and A.J., if you had to pinpoint one item that you had to get used to on the car, one item that you needed to adjust to, what would you say the biggest item was for both the car and the series?

A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think for me it's probably coming back with no traction control. For the first time in my life, I actually ran with traction control last year in these cars. I never experienced traction control. That was something that was far different for me that I've ever experienced in a race car. To come back and kind of have that set in your mind of what the car feels like, have it gone, now takes some getting used to.

Ultimately the car is not for me a lot different. It's not a lot of change from last year. I think you can jump right back in it, kind of get right back up to speed, be as quick as we were last year.

PAUL TRACY: For me, not really a lot. I've driven these cars with some frequency, probably more so than A.J. This will be my third time doing the 24 Hours. I've done some other races, and done other tests at other tracks.

It really doesn't take very long for me to get back up to speed in the car. Obviously since the last time I drove, the Lexus powerplant is different. It's a 5-liter now versus a 4.6, and has a five-speed box versus a six-speed box. All the shift points have kind of changed around the track, which is a little bit to get used to. There's really nothing, no major obstacles to get used to.

Q: All five of you, the word "chemistry" is thrown about during endurance races. How do you feel the team chemistry is right now? How would you feel being considered the favorites because of all the chemistry going around right now?

MIKE SHANK: That's a good question. I think team chemistry is really good right now. I think we have a lot of confidence. This is our fourth year as a team coming here. We finished fourth the first year. We blew an engine up the second year. We finished second here last year. Every year we learn something. Every year we're going to prepare ourselves better.

The reason we got beat last year is Ganassi beat us slightly in the garage, not on the track. We're going to fix that this year. We're here to win for sure. We've got lineups in both cars that are capable of doing that.

A lot of my guys have been with me for between eight and 15 years now. It's more the same: everybody is here to go pretty much.

Q: Focus is really an important part of driving, even owning. Is there a special thing you have to go through to be able to focus in a race of this nature?

A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think for me it's not really focus because once you get in the race car, you're kind of always back in that zone. I think for me doing it for the first time last year, it was just the longevity, just getting out of the car, having your body go through the emotions, being tired, kind of get picked up emotionally to get back in the race car. For me as soon as you sit in the race car, leave the pits, you're back in kind of your work space, your work office, you're going back to work.

I think it comes down to the drivers probably have it the easiest on trying to focus. It's the crew guys that really work hard. They kind of have to be alert at any moment, at any point in the race. If we have a mechanical or if we have an accident, they have to go and fix the cars as quick as possible. As Mike said, a lot of the time this race is kind of won in the garage, who can fix the problem the quickest, get back out there.

IAN JAMES: I probably have more endurance races than most of these guys. A lot of the focus, although this race is so competitive now, the pace is run at such a high level, when you're going flat out all the time, it's easier to drive when you're pushing, pushing, pushing. When you have to back off a little bit, leave a little in reserve, sometimes that's a little bit harder. You have to be very aware what's happening with the car. If you can recognize something maybe going wrong before it actually happens, that can save you a lot of time fixing it. So you've got to be really aware of around you what the car is. Also at this race the big key is just to stay out of trouble. It's so many cars on a relatively small track. You can totally be minding your own business and get hit by somebody else or be caught up in somebody else's incident. That's where a lot of the focus is as a driver, is to make sure those incidents don't happen. Even if they're not you're fault, try and avoid them somehow.

Q: A.J., have you gotten into the nerve-wracking stage of knowing you're going to have to qualify for the Daytona 500? Does doing this test, the 24 Hours, maybe help the time pass easier?

A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Nerve-wracking stage? No, I really haven't thought bit actually. It hasn't been on my mind at all except when I'm up at 6 a.m. because I can't sleep every night. I'm hitting Red Bulls like they're going out of style. Other than that, I've been calm (laughter).

No, I mean, it's definitely been on my mind. It's been on my mind probably since I signed my contract. I won't lie: the moment that clock struck midnight and it started January 1, I kind of knew it was here.

Going back to seeing what's going on at the shop, seeing how hard the team is working, especially how hard Toyota is working, to go out there and not just be a part of the field, but to be competitive, trying to run up front right away, that kind of gives me a lot of confidence, kind of lets me ease my mind.

Definitely being here and to be in a race car and kind of have a different state of mind, knowing that we still want to go out there and win a race. But it's kind of a one-off for me, then I can just kind of relax and have fun. That's what I did last year, the same thing, just sit back, relax, be in a race car, do what you love to do, drive it, it eases your mind. I think next week is probably for me when it really starts being intense and really nerve-wracking.

Q: When you say the race was decided in the garage last year, could you provide some details about that?

MIKE SHANK: From our standpoint, literally if you look in a garage stall after the race is started, you'll noticed the well-prepared teams have built pieces sitting in a nice corral inside the garage ready for the car to come in at any moment. From our standpoint, it's always been kind of a little bit of a budget because that kind of thing takes money because you have to buy spares.

We're finally are getting our kits in place now to where we can have all that type of thing. Instead of having to run and get a part, we have a part there prepped, set up already and we can throw it back on. I think Ganassi did a deal last year where they caused a yellow and the yellow they caused they actually got the car in and fixed and got back out before the green came out. That's the kind of thing that's going to win the race. Honestly, that's where the race will be won.

We never had to take the 60 car behind the wall the whole race, but we did have some issues on the pit lane. I think you can remember a little bit, A.J., a little bit of steering problems a rear tow link that came loose on Justin (Wilson), provided some pretty death-defying moves for a while.

But anyway, those types of things, we probably weren't quite as good. I think the speed really wasn't the issue, especially the 22nd hour, 23rd hour. Certainly that's a function of it. From my standpoint, I'm prepping my team to be ready for that better this year. It really will make a difference.

-credit: garra

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About this article
Series Grand-Am
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Michael Shank Racing