IN THEIR OWN WORDS: PENSKE MOTORSPORTS Salinas, Calif. - So now the world has seen Porsche's new LMP2 on the race track. The debut of Penske Motorsports' No. 6 Porsche RS Spyder has been a good one so far, posting the fastest time in practice ...
IN THEIR OWN WORDS: PENSKE MOTORSPORTS
Salinas, Calif. - So now the world has seen Porsche's new LMP2 on the race track. The debut of Penske Motorsports' No. 6 Porsche RS Spyder has been a good one so far, posting the fastest time in practice Thursday. On Friday, drivers Sascha Maassen and Lucas Luhr, team manager Jeff Swartwout and Penske Motorsports President Tim Cindric met with members of the media to discuss the Penske-Porsche partnership, the car's development and expectations, among other topics. Here's what they had to say:
Question: What does adding an LMP2 car mean for Penske Racing?
Tim Cindric: For us, it was a great opportunity to put together the history and heritage of Penske and Porsche and also to get back into world-class sports car racing, which is something we haven't done in several years. Our strong points have always been the strong people we have, and being able to bring on Jeff and some other people and work with two world-class drivers like Sascha and Lucas has made this better than we would have thought. We're on a steep learning curve. We haven't been doing this for 10 years like a lot of other people. We spent the summer trying to learn the game.
Question: What are some of the toughest challenges you have faced?
Jeff Swartwout: The first thing I should mention is that without the safety net of the Penske organization, I don't now how we could have been at the level we are now. It's been more than inspiring to me. Without their help and cooperation from Porsche, it would not be possible. It's been an experience I'll treasure forever.
Question: For Sascha and Lucas, can you talk about the transition from a GT2 car to an LMP2?
Lucas Luhr: First of all, when I came to Porsche I had never driven a car with a roof before. I had been in Formula cars. Then I drove a couple of years in a car with a roof. Back driving back in an open car, I realize how slow the GTs are. It's a great experience. You see it at the race weekend and especially here with traffic. You have to focus on the front and know that many cars won't overtake us. It will help with us having driven the GT3 before. We know where we can overtake them.
Question: What are the team's expectations and focal points for the weekend? Are you working to prepare for next season?
Sascha Maassen: I'm doing one race now, that is for sure. I hope I can catch up. The focus is that we have a very nice organization and car. If I can score a win, it's very nice. But we have to focus on making the car ready for next year. It's just starting and we have a long way to go.
Question: When were you first made aware that you would be involved in a prototype program?
Sascha Maassen: They had promised that quite often to me. I was asked to say and not leave because something was happening. In the end, it did work out. I think it was at the end of last year that they let us know.
Question: It was well documented that the car had some problems in testing. What were those problems? Also, what is your approach to this race?
Lucas Luhr: The fact that we didn't race in Atlanta, we had not specifically one problem. There were a few little problems and we had the feeling we weren't ready to go to a race. We tested more and sorted everything else, and we have the feeling we are ready for the race. It's a real test under race conditions. If something goes wrong, people will say 'What's wrong, why did you come to the race?' We have been with the car since June, which isn't a long time. We have some things sorted out and think we are ready.
The main goal is to finish the race and learn. From my point of view, I have to learn and get in the situation with traffic. We all want to learn and get the best out of it for next season.
Question: What will the effects of this team be on Penske and Porsche?
Tim Cindric: As you look at it, there are a lot of efforts from a lot of people that are coming to fruition. It's meaningful to see their work coming to an end. From the Penske perspective, we're looking at how we get ourselves experienced. Then next year adding a second car to the program is another thing in itself. >From a technical standpoint, we're trying to work as much as we can. The relationship has grown throughout the past few months and it will continue during the next several months. With Penske and Porsche, people expect success. We certainly intend to be successful, but also understand we have to be realistic.
Question: You've been working with Porsche here and in Europe. Was Penske involved with testing?
Tim Cindric: From a technical standpoint, there are efforts to figure out how to work together. In late April to early May, we started to become familiar with their program. From that point on, we tried to make it a point to support them in Europe. When we tested at Atlanta, we had a role reversal from an operational standpoint. We take the lead in the North American events, and we're still trying to find our feet. There's some overlap.
Question: How many people involved with Penske will be assisting this weekend?
Tim Cindric: This weekend, we have about 20. Those people don't all have direct roles. Our approach is that we want to draw from different experiences. A lot of these people don't know what this racing is all about. We are taking essentially three, four or five key people and putting in several other people to learn. We will transfer the program to Mooresville in a couple of weeks with the NASCAR operation. We want to put in a program with the wheels running in the right direction and move on.
Question: What was the rationale in making the decision to race a P2 car rather than a P1?
Tim Cindric: We rely on the experience and knowledge that Porsche has relative to this series. They have a lot more knowledge how the ACO, IMSA and ALMS works to see what's best for the series. I had to really educate myself as to what a P2, P1 and GT car was. We had to trust them. If it's the right thing for them going forward, it's the right thing for us.
Question: You said the program would be moving to Mooresville. Why is that?
Tim Cindric: Our Indy car facility isn't really big enough to house the operation for an entire season. We're looking at this as a long-term vision. We have 225,000 square feet for NASCAR, and the rest is uncommitted. We have some technological tools there, and it was a strategic move on our part.
Question: If the team is focusing on long-term visions and looking ahead, does that mean it is your intent to race in 2007 with Porsche customers?
Tim Cindric: Our focus is entirely on 2006. We would like to go beyond 2006 in many ways. To get back in the realm of sports car competition, instead of doing a program from one year and saying we should have built a new building. Jeff has done a good job of planning and preparing for that situation. To get the right people, you have to think that way. If I come to someone like Jeff and say we'll have this program for a year and ask him to leave his family behind, he'll ask what's after that. It's a focus for 2006 and see how it plays out.
Question: How does Laguna play out with the new car?
Sascha Maassen: For us, we know this track very well. We never drove a prototype here, and it takes some time to get adapted. We need a little bit more time to learn and approach the corners quickly. For us, it's a good track with little straights. On a straight line, we aren't very quick. In the corners, we are very good.
My second race in the U.S. was here in 1999. I liked it from the beginning because I like not to have one straight, a turn and then other straight.
Question: There are rumors and speculations flying that this car could challenge for overall wins in the ALMS. Can you address that?
Sascha Maassen: It's a P2. We have less power, less weight and less tires. I think it can run quite good, but it would not be fair to compare us to a P1.
Question: Is it correct that there are there no plans for the car to be at Le Mans in 2006?
Tim Cindric: Based on all of our discussions, that is correct. There are no plans, and that's been the plan from the beginning. Beyond that, who knows? It's not something that we've really talked about other than winning the American Le Mans Series championship. It wasn't a question of why, not where we want to go. You never say never, but it hasn't really been a discussion.
Question: What are some of little things that you think may cause problems with the car?
Lucas Luhr: Since the car is new, we don't know the different setups. We are trying to make the best race car based from our experience with the tests and make it as good as we can here. We'll work on that and go from there. I never really had anything to compare it to another car. In GT2, I never really liked Laguna Seca so much. Coming out here with the prototype, it's one of my favorite tracks.
The final round of the 2005 American Le Mans Series is the Monterey Sports Car Championships on Saturday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. The race is scheduled for 3:15 p.m. PDT, with SPEED TV broadcasting the race from 1 to 5 p.m. EDT Sunday. Qualifying scheduled for 2:10 p.m. PDT. Friday.