RK Motors/AF Waltrip Racing press release
Michael Waltrip, Rob Kauffman and Rui Aguas Ready For 60th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring In The No. 61 RK Motors/AF Waltrip Racing Ferrari F458 Italia
Team expects to challenge for LMGTE Am victory in inaugural FIA World Endurance Championship event
SEBRING, Florida (March 14, 2012) – Michael Waltrip, Rob Kauffman and Rui Aguas will drive the No. 61 RK Motors/AF Waltrip Racing Ferrari F458 Italia in this weekend’s 60th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the debut event of the new FIA World Endurance Championship (WEC) as well as the season-opening race for the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) presented by Tequila Patron.
Waltrip and Kauffman will be making their 12 Hours of Sebring debuts while Aguas returns for the 60th running of the iconic American sports car race for the first time since 2007. The trio will drive the No. 61 RK Motors/AF Waltrip Racing Ferrari F458 Italia in the competitive LMGTE Am class as an entrant in the debuting WEC. Kauffman and Aguas, co-driving with Justin Bell, finished third in class from the pole in the similar GTE Am division in an AF Corse Ferrari F430 in 2011’s season-ending ALMS Petit Le Mans race last October and are looking for an even better top-three podium result in Saturday’s race.
“Sebring is historic and one of the great tracks,” Kauffman said. “We came here last year as spectators, it looked fantastic, so we are honored and excited to be here actually racing this year. It’s the first race of the World Endurance Championship, so we hope to get off to a good start for the season.”
It’s fun, but it is not fun if it is not fast.
In addition to being motorsports business partners, Kauffman and Waltrip have co-driven in several endurance races the last few seasons, including this past January’s Rolex 24 At Daytona, last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans and several runnings of the 24 Hours of Dubai. Although best known as a NASCAR star and two-time winner of the Daytona 500, Waltrip was always aware of sports car road racing but didn’t realize the true nature of this form of motorsports until he ran a few endurance events.
“I thought in endurance racing you pace yourself and you’re around at the end,” Waltrip said. “I quickly learned that it is an endurance race for the cars but the drivers qualify the whole time they are in the car. Rui Aguas, our pro, he runs laps on 90% every lap. Now he is a professional, he is not going to mess up, he is fast. That’s what you race against, people just racing their butts off for hours and the cars hold up. So, it is great that I learned this, but I wish I would have learned it a long time ago because I would watch them on TV and thought ‘that’s pretty fun looking.’ It’s fun, but it is not fun if it is not fast.”
Waltrip quickly adapted to the all-out aspects of sports car endurance racing and has developed a strong appreciation for the skills of his teammates and competitors.
“I am a race car driver, I have got to be fast, that’s how I was raised, and just to see and understand the commitment and the effort that guys like Rui, and the folks that do this for a living, make at driving these cars has just been amazing. I love what I have learned and I love that I have gotten to know what kind of talents these guys are.”
Aguas is a top professional driver from Portugal who was at the wheel of the No. 61 for the pole-winning performance last year at Petit. His previous attempt at Sebring in 2007 ended with an early retirement so he is looking forward to going the full distance this weekend with Waltrip and Kauffman.
“I am just relearning the circuit, it is still very bumpy but it is still nice, a very nice track, I love the atmosphere,” Aguas said. “I came here last year with Rob to watch and I am very glad we are here. I enjoy much more racing in America than in Europe, the atmosphere is better, lots of cars, lots of people, lots of fans, it is really nice to go out there and race with the big crowds.”
The proven Ferrari F430 that the team drove at Petit has been phased out in favor of the newer next generation Ferrari F458.
“It’s certainly a generation ahead,” Kauffman said. “For the Am category we have a 2011 car, so it is similar to what we ran in Le Mans last year. The major change is that it is paddle shift, which is better from a performance stand point, maybe a little less aggressive to drive than the old sequential shifters, but probably better in terms of speed.”
Sebring race week began with two days of testing on Monday and Tuesday but officially begins on Thursday with opening practice and the weekend’s only night practice sessions. Friday includes final practice and qualifying before Saturday’s 60th Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring that is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m. EDT. Race day begins with a final 25-minute warm up that morning at 8 a.m.
· Waltrip’s career experience in NASCAR’s annual pair of road race events, now held each year at Watkins Glen International and Infineon Raceway (formerly Sears Points) proved early on he was quick to pick up the road racing skill set. “I was a good road racer from the first day I did it,” Waltrip said. “I remember my first race was at Riverside, California back in 1986. That track is no longer around, but I took to it right away. I was able to have speed, I sat on the outside pole at Watkins Glen in one of my efforts, finished top five there and at Sears Point. I never won but I think I finished third once and fourth or fifth once or a couple of times. I was happy with the job I did on the road races and I enjoyed it much.”
· Last year’s Petit Le Mans race wasn’t Kauffman’s first podium in international sports car competition. He also made it to victory lane at Belgium’s Spa circuit in recent years. “We were third at Spa three years ago and third here was equally as difficult as Petit at Road Atlanta. There we had four guys and at Petit, like Sebring this week, we had three so it was just as tough.”