An Interview With: David Donohue And Jeff Segal
THE MODERATOR: Today we visit with two drivers who call New Jersey Motorsports Park their home track: David Donohue and Jeff Segal.
David, your team has been knocking on the door all season. What are your thoughts on returning to the park with a new team, Action Express?
DAVID DONOHUE: Looking forward to it, but not the temperatures. Will be a really hot day. We struggled in New Jersey the past few years. As an organization, the Action Express team has really had its roots from the original Romos (ph), the Daytona prototype team, so we are no strangers to each other. We are looking to rebound over a couple of fifth place finishes over the last several races.
THE MODERATOR: Jeff, last year SpeedSource swept all three podium positions and that helped you get closer to winning the Rolex Series GT title, and you've been on the podium two in of the last three races to move up to fourth in what has been a very competitive GT battle. Talk about Sunday's race.
JEFF SEGAL: Yeah, I think like what David said, it's going to be an extremely tough race. I think the weather conditions are going to make it challenging before the green flag even drops, and from there, the battles have been pretty epic.
There has not been one dominant manufacturer, so it's definitely a guessing game as to who is going to win a race, but the Mazda camp is still looking for our first win. We did well at New Jersey last year. Some of that was down to our car strength and our team and speed was our strength at that track.
But some of it was also fortune by other brands who were really strong on that weekend. We capitalized on that and it was great to have all three cars on the podium this year. This year I think it's going to be tougher. Our team is well placed and we have some good momentum, but I think, you know, any time you're finishing in the Top 5, it's an accomplishment. So for us to try to continue this run of recent success is going to be very, very difficult.
Q. For both of you, if you would talk about New Jersey Motorsports Park as a racing venue, the racetrack, do you look forward to going there?
DAVID DONOHUE: I do. I live close by, so it's not exactly a commute to me every day, but every day at the track anyway but it is close enough that I have friends and family and friends I know that come out to that race. So they actually get to see what I do.
The track itself is uniquely challenging. It's really hard on the left front. It requires some skill and tire management and car management, you can really push too hard there and pay the price later in a run. There's a lot of discipline involved in running a race there, as opposed to, say, for example, running a qualifying lap or something like that.
So it has its own unique challenges and it's a challenge to pass on, as well. There are some Turn 2 is a blind, uphill apex so there's a lot of really unique things, and of course, everyone remembers when Scott Pruett had an accident on the front straight. The first session we ever hit with these cars, so that's all been strange but nevertheless, that last corner is a hair raiser. It's one of those that you suck it up and go through flat, and whether you think you're going to make it out the other side or not, everyone else is doing it, so that's what you've got to do. There's some unique elements to it and a lot of reasons why I like going there.
JEFF SEGAL: Yeah, I've enjoyed a unique connection with New Jersey Motorsports Park really from their formative years. Really one of the first organizations on the track was an exclusive super car track they called Super Car Lite that I was involved in. So we were one of the first groups on the Thunderbolt track. And the next time wise there was at the GRAND AM race.
And since that time, due to the proximity to home, I do a lot of private instruction there, and I'm actually working on the track side support service based out of the racetrack. So I have a lot of connection to the racetrack and I think it's a great place that shows a lot of promise. The people behind the organization are really enthusiastic for making it a race facility, and so far the work that they have done has been pretty impressive over the last few years.
I think that the fans that show up there are more and more knowledgeable and enthusiastic every year, which is fantastic, and for me being my home race, it's nice to see familiar faces and bring some friends and family out and let them see what we do up close.
So I think the venue is really good. It's good for GRAND AM to be there. In the past probably the most notable thing that we faced about the race that can has been the weather. The first year when the track was newly constructed it was very difficult because of all the dust. And then the next year, there was a lot of rain. And then finally, it's been heat and I think that will be the factor.
Doesn't feature a lot of elevation changes, a couple of blinds corners but the elevation changes are dramatic. I think its compelling characteristic is it's very tight and you're constantly working. There's not a lot of breathing room. It's similar to Lime Rock in that sense where it's very difficult to pass, you don't have a lot of opportunity to let your guard down. So especially for the GT cars where we have to got to watch our mirrors for the faster prototypes coming through, it makes for a busy time. Ultimately, our challenge is just better for the spectators, more exciting racing so looking forward to a good weekend.
Q. Both drivers talk about specifically to their car, the Porsche with David and the Mazda with Jeff, if you can talk about how your specific cars are suited to this racetrack at two and a quarter miles.
DAVID DONOHUE: I guess I'll lead off. Daytona prototypes in general across the board, you have a handful of manufacturers, and you have different engines. So the track itself, I would call it sort of on the higher downforce side track.
We don't have an extremely high top speed. It's only maybe 170 or so but the minimum speed is also quite high, so as Jeff alluded to, it's really a rolling track where you maintain a sort of similar average speed around the track and you're working all the time.
My Daytona prototype is a Riley chassis and we also have Dallara and Coyote. I see the Coyote doing quite well here. The same with the Dallara. They make a really good amount of downforce. The Action Express Riley still has a generation one body work, as opposed to generation two that came out in 2008. So we are at a little bit of a disadvantage on the downforce side.
On the engine side we are running a Porsche V8 and there is also a Porsche six cylinder and most of the Fords or all of the Fords and Chevys and BMW are all eight cylinders, as well, V8s. Not sure how that's going to play out to be honest with you.
It's one of these tracks like we say, it's momentum so like we say, not sure if it's going to be a power torque track and depends on conditions and how to deal with the extreme heat.
I'd also like to add back to the previous question and something that Jeff alluded to with the fans at New Jersey. I have to make most that I was really impressed a couple of years ago when it rained, we were under a long caution because the track had puddled up and how many fans were still out there in the rain.
So we are really shooting for a good fan turnout at some point where we can accommodate them both on the weather and the competition. There's a lot more diversity in the types of cars that you see.
JEFF SEGAL: This season obviously has been really a very close, tight battle for GT ranks. You see different teams featured at different tracks, different manufacturers. I think GRAND AM is doing a good job with parity amongst manufacturers which creates close racing which is good for everybody.
Certain cars in the class have certain strengths but I think probably the Porsches are typically very good in terms of their top speed. So the more they are able to stretch an advantage, and also having a rear engine car, typically put down power very, very well out of a slow speed corner with that quick traction. Conversely the Camaros are a much bigger car, a heavier car and Camaro's strength is on a higher downforce track like New Jersey. They seem to operate better as a two front (ph) base car, they seem to do really well on tracks that demand a lot of mechanical grip. And New Jersey is one of those tracks, as well being a low grip surface you are looking for everything.
So I think the strengths of the Camaro chassis is particularly over the curb, which are a pretty big factor and New Jersey will be something big for them. And then you've got the BMWs which I think are also a car that has a really good, slippery, aerodynamic shape and V8 engine and they are a top speed car, as well.
The Mazda is a car that its strengths is that it's a compromise of everything. We don't have the best stop speed or best handling or most downforce, is really the biggest part of that, but our car is pretty good in all areas. Traditionally our strength was our ability to make the tires last and some of that stems from your car being lighter than most of the other GT cars because we have less power.
I think that this year the way the rules have evolved with smaller fuel tanks, the stints on the tires are ultimately shorter so our advantage has been cut significantly with that. The other cars don't have to worry so much about managing their tires.
So that was one of our strengths where we start off kind of slow and come on strong at the end, and the other cars are now strong their whole stint, so we have had to go back to the drawing board.
That said the Mazdas have been showing more strength recently. We have not gotten a win yet. I think our car is still facing a little bit of difficulty with the Porsche and to be honest, I didn't expect to be the Porsche perform as strongly as it did at Laguna Seca.
So I don't know really what to expect. I know our organization and the Mazda group as a whole were hungry to end the year well. I want to make sure we have something to show for this season, and I think a win is what everybody is looking for. So New Jersey is going to be difficult but it's certainly not out of the question. We'll be trying our best and hoping to repeat last year.
Q. The program started off -- has that been frustrating for you, the performance of last year and challenging for the championship?
JEFF SEGAL: I would be lying if I said that it wasn't frustrating. I think that we have done a really good job of putting our heads down and putting those frustrations behind us and channeling it into something constructive to make the cars better and to find advantages wherever we can if speed is not our strong suit.
The most frustrating was definitely the beginning of the year where we showed up to Daytona and found ourselves really off the back, and unfortunately that's the biggest race of the year. That's the one that everyone wants to win is the Rolex 24. After our success last year, we agreed that the 24 Hour was our big focus. That was the race that we wanted to win.
Now obviously the championship is still incredibly important but the 24 Hour is one that we really wanted. And to show up there and qualify 18th this year when we were on the pole last year was really, it was a slap in the face. But I think we rebounded well and we tried a lot of different things to try and make the car work better on the new Continental tires. Some things worked and other things haven't.
Unfortunately, we were working on making the tire last longer and our efforts have coincided with GRAND AM making the fuel tank smaller, so the long run at Laguna Seca, we had a really good (indiscernible, dog barking) sixth place and right there with all of the other professional drivers. We are just trying to hang on to that momentum for the rest of the year.
Q. What do you think the knew illumination of the 45 minute rule will have on the race this week end?
DAVID DONOHUE: Jeff why don't you lead that one.
JEFF SEGAL: I think the elimination of the 45 minute rule will definitely be interesting. My position as a driver is we have a really talented engineering staff would calls a great strategy of our car. That's been great the last few years. I let them do the heavy lifting with that and ultimately I yield to whatever they think is best.
... we had a real disadvantage when we were running that engine.
In terms of how it will impact the race, I'm not sure it will have a huge bearing on there. I know that the last few races we have been struggling because the Mazda has a lot less range on a fuel tank that some of the other cars and GT and that's been a real issue. I think GRAND AM has been eliminating the 45 minute rule has been attempt to go fix some of that issue maybe be altering some of the fuel strategy at the beginning of the race to make it less of a fuel mileage race at the end of the race and less of a problem. Not sure how that will work.
It's not my job to know how that works. Hopeful it will work out well but I don't expect it will be a huge change for the racing.
DAVID DONOHUE: It's a real toss up how that's going to pan out when that 45 minute rule came in, in BP, anyway, there was pretty big diversity in the fuel mileage in the engine; Ford being one of the strongest, they seemed to go forever. Seemed like they had fuel in the role cage or something, just never had to stop. Whereas the six cylinder Porsche was sucking fuel like crazy; we had a real disadvantage when we were running that engine.
Now most of the cars, we still have one six cylinder Porsche back in the field. But most of the cars are similarly laid out, V8, nearly five liter, so you would think that they were quite similar on fuel economy but some still have advantages over the others.
So we don't know how that plays and I know with the 9 car, it's particularly interesting because they have three drivers in that car and even the short races. Each driver is going to have a full stunt. We are changing the races from what would be a two stop and a splash and changing the strategy as far as when you're going to change drivers, because of the amount of time you're going to be stopped for fuel or for tires; that's really how those calls are made when the driver changes happen.
And now I think it's changing where if you can do it on two stops, that's what you do. What happens there's a yellow in the middle one of those stints? Well, if you don't pit and you go a lap down, you don't pit because they are waiting for the window to open to only stop twice. So it will be more challenging for a guys that go a lap down to get their lap back, because really the way the pit stops rule work, you can get a lap back if all of the leaders pit, and you can cycle around to the back of the grid and all of the leaders are right behind and you can pit later and basically pull up behind them and be on the same lap and be ready to go and fight for it again.
So really, who knows. There's another big change, as well, for the GTs anyway, Continental is coming out a new tire mold or new shape of the tread and this is the hope to make it so there are less they last longer. This is on front tire only. There are quite a few changes. We'll see how the races are going to pan out, in the long run, anyway.
Q. Jeff, there's been a lot of talk about the GT cars coming in, but there has not been a lot of talk about Mazda. Have you guys talked 2012 yet?
JEFF SEGAL: We have started talking 2012 but right now everybody's focus is that 2011 ends successfully for our car and our team and manufacturer. You know there have been discussions about next year. I think it's still a little bit to know exactly what's going on, I think a clearer picture will be revealed, not just for us internally, but also all of the fans and people that follow the series. I expect to see Mazda, certainly, have a stronger GRAND AM presence, and they have been a good partner to our program and loyal to GRAND AM and I don't think that will change.
What the program looks like going forward, what cars are involved, what drivers are involved, I don't know, I wish I had more answers for myself and for everybody else, but I don't expect it will be too much longer right now. Still very much focused on the task at hand.
Q. David, for 2012, do you guys with going to Indy, that's going to be special to you since your dad raced there, what's kind of your view of going to Indy?
... the guys in New Jersey have done a good job of creating a good place for racing ...
DAVID DONOHUE: Well, I don't think I'm unique in that it's special to me. I think every driver in the series is pretty pumped about going to Indy. It's an iconic place. I'm sure Jeff gets it all the time, all of the road racers get it.
"You race cars?" "Yeah."
"You race NASCAR?"
"Well, we race sports cars."
"Really? Well where do you do that?"
"Well, Indy." Well, they all know where that is.
It's a worldwide legendary track. Everyone knowing what Indy is above and beyond any only track in the world. So going there, you keep hearing the same words because they are so true. It's just iconic. It's going to be fantastic. And I think my guess is, we would get a really large field there like we do at Daytona because people are just going to want to run at Indy and when you're there. I went for the press conference and I understood I really understood what was happening. I knew we were going to race there but when I stood on that straightaway, it was something else. It was an experience I had not felt in a really, really long time. Just looking down that straightaway and being on pavement, that place is electrifying. Really looking forward to it. Our plans are moving forward for 2012, a lot of GTs are getting new body work. Really looking forward to it. GRAND AM is really getting a lot of forward momentum.
Q. New Jersey Motorsports Park has had some financial issues this year; but can you talk about the importance of continuing to have this race on the schedule?
DAVID DONOHUE: Jeff, you want to lead off?
JEFF SEGAL: Yeah, sure thing. Like you said, it's no secret that New Jersey has had some financial difficulties and in the past, I think some of that has to do with the changing times and launching an ambitious project as they did just as the economy started to suffer.
That said, the guys in New Jersey have done a good job of creating a good place for racing in the New Jersey and Philadelphia area which I think that's important. There's an enthusiastic following of people that are sports cars fans. There's a really strong following in the Ferrari Club, the Porsche Club, the BMW Club in the region, and so the makings are there for a really supportive group when you have a big professional race like the GRAND AM Rolex Series.
I know the track has real ambitious plans for the future. Every year we have gone there, the facility has gotten better. The execution of the event has gotten better and the area has been more and more receptive to our event, and so I think the competitors are starting to appreciate what we see in the improvements there.
Personally, like I said, I have a lot of connection to that track with work that I do outside of the racing series. And I'm aware of the new group that is coming in and working with New Jersey for the future, and I can tell you I think that the future is pretty promising there. They have got big plans and they certainly have the brains to pull it off. I think we are only going to see better things come from that track. It's a great event and it will become even better in the future so I'm looking forward to seeing it many years in the future.
DAVID DONOHUE: I agree with everything Jeff said. That track was built under the premise that they would be able to sell a lot of real estate at the time the track was completed, which was when the economy really took a dump, especially in the real estate sector.
So their business model had a business flaw that was tough to see at the time they commenced the project. So there's nothing great about a bankruptcy ever, so surely that's not something that anyone wanted to see. But they are emerging from it pretty strong I hope, and they are making a lot of strides, especially locally. I know Friday is a dollar day for Cumberland County residents, so anybody who can show a Cumberland County ID that they live there gets everything for a dollar, not just admission but drinks and food and all kinds of stuff. They are really trying to cater to the local population.
I know from the area driving by, I live in the area, I drive down to Cape May all the time and there's new hotels coming up that you would not normally see on that corridor of Route 55 and they are really doing a lot to try to bring more to the area.
And you've got to remember, people who participate at the racetrack, not just during the Rolex weekend, but in general, it's dollars coming from outside that county. So it's t can only be good hopefully in the long run, and hopefully the management and the business model turns out to be much more successful in the years to come than it's been in the years past.
Q. In the fourth year now that the park has been open, do you feel like you're getting any kind of home track advantage and having a leg up on other guys?
DAVID DONOHUE: I don't think I do. The quality of drivers in our series, these guys seem to get it sorted out by the first time they cross pit lane. So I really don't feel like I have much of an advantage at all.
I think Jeff spends more time there than I do. So we come out of the box and we are hitting the same hurdles. And again, this weekend again in particular for the Daytona prototype we are seeing a new front tire and pit stop strategy because of the regulation. So there are a lot of unknowns, if you will. Our only my only real advantage is that I know where to go get dinner and where the local Starbuck's is and stuff like. That but always look forward to going back there.
JEFF SEGAL: For my part, unfortunately for the two of us, I don't think there really is such a thing as a home track advantage anymore. The level of driving is so high, and everybody is so intent on gaining every advantage they can, that all the drivers are on it immediately; and if they have not been there before, you can rest assured that they have studied enough data and video and walked the track and figured out what they need to do to be fast.
It's difficult to get an advantage and the only way we could get an advantage as hometown guys could be in the event that we are able to test there with our team. If you're able to engineer your car better and spend time at the track and figure out some of the nuances at the track and what's required in the set up, potentially you could get a little bit of an advantage but that's not the case for us.
GRAND AM really controlled the testing pretty tightly to make sure that nobody gets an advantage for exactly that reason. So they want it to be fair. They don't want it to escalate into a spending war so all of the teams go in there with an equal level of blindness and we all have not much time to figure it out. So I think we'll be okay. But I think so will everybody else.
DAVID DONOHUE: Just to add to that, the real litmus test are the locals that come out to compete in the Rolex Series and the uphill battle they face because it is much more intense in a Rolex Series, even practice session, let alone a race than it is on a club day at the track.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you Jeff and David for joining us and providing us with some outstanding material today. Best of luck in Sunday's race.