This Week in Ford Racing
January 24, 2006
Grand-Am Cup Series
Primo Goffi is the Program Manager for the Ford Racing FR500C Mustangs that compete in the Grand-Am Cup Series. Primo talks about the success of the program and about the upcoming Grand-Am Cup 200 at Daytona, a race that will feature 12 new FR500C Mustangs.
Primo Goffi -- Ford Racing FR500C Mustang Program Manager
HOW IS THE GRAND-AM CUP PROGRAM LOOKING FOR 2006? "The family is growing. We have 12 new FR500C Mustangs at Daytona along with a few new teams. We will not have the Ford factory effort this year with the Multimatic team. There will be a car campaigned by Multimatic for Sebastien and Patrick Bourdais, solely for the Daytona race. We have some new teams and new people and there will be a lot more Mustangs out there this year. We will continue to produce and sell cars. We are halfway through the number of cars that Multimatic will build. They'll build another 10-12 cars to reach our original plan of 25 cars."
HOW MANY new Ford teams WILL BE AT DAYTONA this year? "The teams are growing, much like the Blackforest organization. They had five FR500Cs at testing and they should have four or five in the race at Daytona. That team has also purchased a Crawford that is going to be Ford powered that they are running in the 24-hour race. We have another team, Findlay Motorsports, that ran a prototype last year. This year they have switched to Ford power. They are running two Ford-powered Crawfords in the prototype class and they have also purchased two Mustangs. We are pulling in some of the big guys. Last year Findlay ran two BMWs in Grand-Am Cup and they are converting over to Fords -- Ford power for the prototype class and Mustang for Cup. Hyper Sport is another team that is new; they ran last year in the BMWs. They purchased two Mustangs. What's interesting in that program is they have Patrick Dempsey, the actor from Grey's Anatomy, as one of the drivers. That should make things interesting. It will be his first time running at Daytona and the full year in Grand Am Cup. He is really getting into it and we are happy to have him on board. Mike Miller and Pete Halsmer are two new drivers with Stealth Racing based out of Lansing, Michigan. Those guys used to drive Trans-Am forever and ever. Mike drove with Pete in the mid-'80s with Jack Roush, so they are getting the band back together. They are campaigning a new car and ran very well in testing. So it's exciting. We are growing the family and growing the business."
Is that THE trend in Grand-Am, running both the Rolex Series and Grand-Am Cup with the same Manufacturer? "They want to switch to a winning product. Economics is really secondary. We make a good engine for the Prototype class and we make a good product with the Mustang. There are some synergies of having Ford power across the stable, but I don't think it's the primary driver."
Any overlap IN ENGINEERING between the FR500C and new Shelby Corbra that will be on dealers lots this year? "Not directly. Jay O'Connell was involved quite extensively in the suspension design of the FR500C and he is over in the engineering side at SVT now. There is a tremendous amount of information overlap from the two groups. One has fed the other. So it has worked out well."
How was testing this year for Daytona? "The track was quicker. But it's tough to tell; at race time you really find out who is holding what back. The Porsches will be strong, the new Pontiac GTO will be strong. Based on what we have seen, we think we will be competitive. Looking at times from last year, sure we are going to be quicker. The car has another year on it. It's been developed and sorted more. The track was quicker; it has been repaved. There are many variables, so lap times don't really tell the tale. We are expected to do good at Daytona because that is a track where our car will do well. The new regulations will prove critical at smaller circuits like Phoenix and VIR."
Tom Nastasi is one of the defending race winners of the Grand-Am Cup 200. He and co-driver Ian James won the 2005 Grand-Am Cup 200 with an untested car, taking delivery of the FR500C Mustang only four days before the event. Tom talks about his team's preparation for this year's race and the level of competition in the Grand-Am Cup Grand Sport Class.
Tom Nastasi -- No. 5 Blackforest Motorsports Mustang FR500C
You are the defending race winner at Daytona. How have you prepared to defend the title? "With the exception of having one car get a little damaged in testing, I feel very good about it. The lineup that we have with Ian (James) and I, David Empringham and Valarie Limoges, and Terry Borcheller and Forest Barber, my dream is to have an all Blackforest podium. This time I plan on having a repeat win. The cars are good. We tried the restrictors and they are hurting us, but we are just making it up with the handling. We really have a good handle on the cars now."
Last year you ran the cars pretty much out of the box after taking delivery of them four days before the race. "Yes, we'll have more time on the cars. Last year, right after VIR, we took a week off and then we tested all through October to December, a total of nine test days. We got Valarie up to speed. She is maybe right now a half a second off her co-driver (Empringham), myself and Ian. Being that Dave is the defending champion, I promised him that I would not put him with somebody that would put him at the back. Valarie has done a very good job. We are really working hard to get sponsorship in the next couple of years for Valarie, and the whole team for that matter."
With Porsche stepping up and the GTO entering competition, how do you see the playing field? "It's going to be a lot harder this year. I can tell that the Porsches are really strong this year. The 997 has a strong package. They have some really good driver combinations. On the smaller tracks its really going to be tough. I think at Daytona it will favor the GTO and us a little more than the Porsche. Daytona will probably be our easiest race of the year. It's going to be a battle this year. I think the whole series has stepped up -- the teams are really putting the time in on preparation. It's really going to be competitive this year and people are taking it a lot more serious than they ever have."
Some say today's Grand-Am Cup to what was going on IN the late '60s with Trans-Am. What do you think Grand-Am needs to do to grow its appeal? "It's great to have the manufacturers involved and as long as it's not blowing the cost out of proportion, I think it's good. Ford really stepped up last year, as they are again this year. I think Porsche got embarrassed last year. Now they have come in through one of the teams and are offering something that is making their cars better. There is one Porsche team that was not at the test that probably has one of the strongest two-car driver lineup. I think it will only get better and it will make the series grow more."
AT DAYTONA, BLACKFOREST RACING IS RUNNING CARS IN GRAND-AM CUP AND IN THE ROLEX 24. "That is something we did last year. We did not have too much luck in the 24. This year, it is our car. And it's something that came a little earlier, really. Next year was when we wanted to go into prototypes. But a good deal came along to grab this car so we did. We are not sure how many races we are going to use it in, but definitely in the 24. We have a good driver lineup. Myself and Ian (James), then Chris Gleason, who was Ian's teammate at BMW, and Henry Zogaib, who also drove last year in the 24. I think the plan is to run me and Henry for about nine of the races this year. But we aren't quite sure where we are going with that. We just got the car and we were able to do the 24-hour race, which I love doing anyway."
What's the TEAM strategy for this year IN THE GRAND-AM CUP RACE? "Last year Ian (James) started, and the race lasts two and a half hours, so the first entry is about an hour and fifteen minutes, unless the yellows change the strategy. I have a commitment that will keep me from practicing, so Ian may end up qualifying. I would like to start the race but it may be Ian. We may do it the same way we did last year. Valarie will be starting and Dave (Empringham) will be finishing. With Terry (Borcheller) and Forest (Barber), I am not sure. Forest will probably be starting and Terry will be going second."
Valerie Limoges has signed on to drive the Blackforest Motorsports, Grand-Am Cup Mustang for the 2006 season. Limoges is from Longuevil, Quebec, and has won championships in the Canadian F-100 series. The Grand-Am Cup 200 will be her first race in the Grand-Am Cup series. She discussed the team's testing program and her expectations at Daytona.
Valerie Limoges -- No. 4 Blackforest Motorsports Mustang FR500C
Your past experience has been in open-wheeled cars and a front-wheel drive Sport Compact. How does the Mustang feel? "The Mustang is very different because it is rear-wheel drive. But the car is very fast and I am getting use to it every time that I am going out on the track. The Daytona test went pretty good. I had a good lap time for my first time out there. I have a very good partner for the race, which is David Empringham. I think we should do well."
Talk about the first time you pulled into the infield at Daytona. "It is the biggest track that I have ever been to. It's very intimidating for the first time, but after the first couple of laps you feel better. Now I am very comfortable with the track."
How have you handled the winter testing program? "I tested at Sebring, Kershaw and at Savannah, Georgia. Savannah was the first track that we practiced at. We spent a couple of days there."
Are you prepared for the slower ST cars that you will encounter? "I think there will be over 70 cars out there. It's good with the track because in Grand Sport you can go higher on the banking and the slower cars will stay lower on the track. It's not too bad, but I am going to have to work hard not to crash a ST car. It's a long race so you do not have to risk it for one pass. Take your time, drive as fast as you can."
Have you practiced driver swaps in the pits? "Not yet. I am in Daytona right now. I am going to go by the shop and test that because it is going to be my first time. I will be the first driver, David is going to jump in after me but I will have to help him belt in and everything."
After Grand-Am Cup what are you looking to move up to, More Endurance Racing? "Yes, I like endurance racing. I would like to race in Daytona Prototype for sure in a couple of years."
I understand you have been working with Ian James as a driver coach. "Yes, when I have a question I can ask Ian. At Sebring and Savannah Ian gave me some instruction on the track. That helped me a lot. They were all new tracks for me, so it helps to have somebody tell me, 'Go there.' It helped me a lot."