Continued from part 1 Q: AJ, you mentioned that sometimes if you're tired you can't get -- you're not behind the wheel, you're not up to strength mentally. What tells you that you've lost your concentration? Where does your mind go? And how ...
Continued from part 1
Q: AJ, you mentioned that sometimes if you're tired you can't get -- you're not behind the wheel, you're not up to strength mentally. What tells you that you've lost your concentration? Where does your mind go? And how do you get it back in focus?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Well, I mean, I think just you know your body, and you know what makes you strong. You know when you feel strong mentally and physically. You know what is at your peak performance. And you know, like I said, in 2006, you know, I just really just was so excited about being there and having my first Rolex and being a part of the 24 hour when I run well, I didn't give myself that chance to relax a little bit and get off your feet.
Obviously 24 hours sounds like a long time, which it is. Ultimately, it's more like a 36-hour event between when you wake up and go to the driver's meeting and you go for drive rows and everything like that, it's just a long day. So you've just got to keep yourself hydrated.
And I've learned kind of what I need to do and what certain things I need to drink at what time and when I need to eat and stay off my feet.
So it's like anything, like any athlete. You just know your body. And when you get tired, you just gotta kind of make sure you rest and eat the right things that help you kind of get that energy back and get focused.
Q: What about the mental aspect, AJ? When you are out there, you're an hour into a stint at three in the morning, and you see galloping pollywogs on the banks at Daytona, what gets your mind back in focus and say: Look, this is serious business, AJ ALLMENDINGER, get back to what you're doing here?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: At times, and more honestly in a 24-hour event like that, it's more, as we were talking, a mental game than a physical game.
I feel like, especially each year -- and I've worked really hard in the offseason to keep getting stronger -- so physically I've never really been that tired driving the race car. And as we talked about, mentally you just know that, especially in the 24-hour, and when you get in the early morning hours, there's not as many cars on the racetrack because a lot of cars have mechanical -- some of the GT cars have gone off.
And the track just gets real dirty and it's hard to see. So it's honestly you just gotta fight with your mind. You gotta tell yourself: Stay focused. Because one little mistake at a 24-hour event, you're off the racetrack, which seems harmless and you catch a pebble through the radiator. You catch a divot. A lot of divots that get laid in on the exit of the racetracks where guys are dropping wheels and that can snap a suspension piece.
So you just gotta tell yourself, you've got to stay focused and be on your mental and on your A game physically and mentally, because one little mistake and it costs the whole race team. And you don't want to be the guy that does that.
As Michael was saying, our cars, they're going to be fast, both Michael Shank Racing cars are going to be fast. We especially think the 6 car is going to be fast. It was last year, and the tests have shown this year we should be again. So you have to stay in your A game.
Q: Is there a for instance at one time when you did something specific that that's better and you got with the program?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: No. Just when it comes to the race, like everything else, you just learn how to prepare better. Like '06 was tough. I was a little bit better in '07. Got better in '08. And '09 I felt really good.
And this year I feel stronger than ever. So it comes with anything. You just gain knowledge and you gain experience and you learn what things you need to do and what not, the things you don't do. So it just gets better each year.
Q: AJ, first for you. This 2006, '7, '8, '9, this will make the fourth year that you've run with Shank; is that right?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Fifth year.
Q: All right. After last year, the car broke. The year before the car broke. What keeps you coming back for this abuse from Shank? After all, you guys haven't finished well the last couple of years, right?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: Right. But it's easy to keep coming back because we're leading when the car breaks. It's one of those things that if we were running really bad and the car kept breaking, then we might need to talk.
But Michael, Mike Shank, he puts together such a great team. He doesn't have a lot of funding when it comes to that, and the effort that him and his small group of guys put in every year, it's always the same group of guys. A, it's a lot of fun to be around the race team. That's probably the main reason why I haven't looked at any other car to go to. And, B, just that he keeps putting together fast cars and fast lineups, and it's just a great team to be a part of.
And last year the car was so fast and we had such a good lineup. And I think this year we've even put together a better lineup. And it just makes it easier to keep coming back. We know we have the potential to win. We've just got to go out there and have a little bit of luck on our side and just be smart.
And I won't ever tell Valiante this to his face, and he should probably stop listening to this, but I'll argue with anybody that he's the fastest guy in one of these Daytona prototypes. So when you keep getting paired up with Michael and those types of guys, it makes it easy to come back.
Q: Michael has shown that a few times before. We know that for a fact. How did you hook up with Shank, AJ?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: It actually worked out, when I was in Champ Car at RuSport in 2006 Jeremy Dale, a couple of guys from RuSport, they kind of knew Mike and at that point my teammate Justin Wilson and I were looking at running the race. And just worked out that they put the deal together that we'd both run together in Michael's car. And that first year we finished second. We missed winning the race by a lap. And it just, honestly, I love being around Michael.
He just makes it so much fun to be a part of that race team. He's probably one of the coolest owners I've ever worked for in my life. And he's a real racer. And that's why I like being around. It makes it enjoyable coming back to the racetrack and being able to race for the race team.
Q: On the time thing, I used my fingers, when you're a fifth grade graduate, you gotta use every now and then I used my fingers and sure enough this is your fifth year running with them because in 2006 you guys provided the only Lexus 1-2 finish in Daytona history, by the way. Michael, you and Brian Frisselle, who is also on this team, you alluded back during test days, a media conference session there in the media center, that you and he would like to probably compare some notes with regard to past employer. Do you care to share any of those notes with us that you might have already compared?
MICHAEL VALIANTE: Well, obviously what you're referring to is driving for SunTrust. But really, honestly, it was a great experience driving for them. No real regrets. It's no secret that Max Angelelli is difficult to get along with. But still it's a great opportunity. And to this day I still thank Wayne Taylor for being able to be part of the organization. They've got a great group of people and a great program, as you can see from so many races that they won.
And when I joined SunTrust, I knew it was really a two-year program. Because when I joined them they just came out with the Dalara. And it was a development year, but still the car was quick right away. But we had some teething issues and the whole transporter fire which set us back.
So looking back, like I said, there are no regrets. And I still thank them to this day. And, like I said, it's no secret, Max and I just butted head on a couple of things and it was time to go our separate ways.
Q: Now, usually in a car, especially in the Daytona prototype, the gentleman driver or sports driver, in this case, specifically, the Mark Patterson driver, is that the team's weakest link? If it isn't, why?
MICHAEL VALIANTE: Well, you know, I don't think Mark's the weakest link at all. I mean, especially for a gentleman driver, he's been phenomenally quick. And the pace that you run at Daytona is normally always, it can vary. It can be up to two to three to four seconds slower than what you'll qualify at.
And Mark's been really quick at the test days, too quick, quicker than we would want him to run in the race, because it's a 24-hour race it's really about saving the car.
So I think a good point that AJ said is that we've got a great lineup. AJ did a great job last year. He was leading when the car broke. It's just one of those races where even though last year we never had a mechanical issue with Michael Shank Racing at every race, the 24 hours, it's just one of those things where six hours, seven hours, even 20 hours in, something creeps up because the cars are just taking so much abuse.
So often it doesn't matter how well you're prepared. It's just one of those things where something can go wrong. You can be hit by a GT car or something can just fail that's out of your control. So I don't think we could have positioned ourselves any better this year to win, and I wouldn't really pick any other drivers to be teamed up with.
Q: AJ, every year we read about a lot of NASCAR drivers that come in and do the Rolex 24. For someone like yourself who I'd say for the majority of your career is known as a top open wheel talent, you've been in NASCAR for the past few years. But when you come to play at the 24, how do you think of yourself? Do you think of yourself as one of those NASCAR folks coming in, or you still kind of stuck in that open wheel sports car mindset?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: When I come back I get in that open wheel mindset. I wish we ran more road courses on the Cup car. They're a lot of fun on the road courses to drive. But still I'll never lie to anybody: I miss Champ Car racing. Driving those types of cars were like nothing any other person could experience except the ones that got in there.
So they were a lot of fun to driver all the time. And the Grand-Am cars, although not like a Champ Car in that sense, they're just a lot of fun to drive. So it allows me to get back to my road racing background.
And I always kind of joke around. And it's kind of halfway true the fact that when I come back I always got the little nervousness that maybe I've lost a little something on the road courses or that it's kind of slipping away because I spend a lot of time on the oval. It's fun to get back in the car on test days and try to compare myself to a guy like Michael there and see if I can run the lap times that he runs, because he's one of the best guys in the series and one of the best road racers I've ever raced against, honestly, since we raced against each other in Atlantic.
It's a lot of fun. My full-time job is a Cup driver and I really do enjoy that and do have a lot of fun at the Cup races and learn how to drive those things on the ovals. But when I get back at Rolex, I'm a road course driver.
Q: What does it take for you to adjust, not to the driving, but I guess to the technical and engineering side in Grand-Am? We know that NASCAR, especially with the Car of Tomorrow, is a radically different beast in the engineering disciplines, what you use to tune and set up a car in Sprint Cup is unlike anything you come across in open wheel or sports cars. After doing that primarily for the past few years, does it take any time for you to readjust mentally to talking and communicating with the engineers at Michael Shank Racing about how to get the Riley tuned to what you need after working in a different engineering discipline?
AJ ALLMENDINGER: A little bit. But not really. It really comes down to the fact that just getting back in and being able to look at data and focus on whether it's data of set up or data of a lap at the racetrack. It's always fun to look at. That's something that I kind of miss having to have in the Sprint Cup Series especially at the races. We do have it a little bit in testing but at the races you don't have that data to look at.
And just relearning what the disk does and just everything that goes with a Grand-Am car, which was similar to a Champ Car. It doesn't take a long time, especially with working with a guy like Michael there, because Michael is really technical inside the race car.
So I can talk to him and when we both drive the race car itself, you know I can listen to him and he's really good at setting up the car. He does a lot of the setup work. A lot of the ideas himself. So I can listen to him and that helps me relearn everything for the whole year that I've been out of the Grand-Am car that things that maybe have changed or gotten more technical and then just advance further.
It's something that I can listen to him and kind of relearn those ideas and understand what's going on with the race car and then by the end of it I can kind of throw my ideas out there and see what they are, and it's just a different thing. But it's like riding a bike. Once you get back on it, you relearn it really quick and it all comes back to you.
Continued in part 3