Numerous series champions will be piloting Ford powered cars in tomorrow's Rolex 24 at Daytona, and as part of the "Champions of the 21st Century" press conference, NASCAR drivers Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, along with Champ Car...
Numerous series champions will be piloting Ford powered cars in tomorrow's Rolex 24 at Daytona, and as part of the "Champions of the 21st Century" press conference, NASCAR drivers Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle, along with Champ Car driver Sebastien Bourdais spoke about the transition to the Prototype vehicles and their thoughts heading into the race.
KURT BUSCH -49-Crown Royal Ford Multimatic
TALK ABOUT WHAT DREW YOU TO PARTICIPATE IN THIS EVENT?
"This is a tremendous event and that's why the three of us from Roush Racing wanted to be involved. We had a great opportunity from Multimatic and Ford to put together a deal that's competitive, and the biggest thing for us is that we're going to have fun. Right now we're trying to look at the speed charts and see who can go faster, yet we know there is 24 hours of racing where we don't need to pressure ourselves to put down that lap time like we normally have to do in a Cup car. Now we have to get down into our team meeting and understand more about a 24-hour scenario. We're going to learn as we go. It's difficult to be able to absorb all of this at once, and so far our team has done a great job. Just hanging out with a fraternity of drivers of this caliber is really unique and it's something we can all say we had fun doing. The biggest lure that drew me to this event, and I can speak on behalf of Greg and Matt on this, is the fact that Roush Racing's heritage is here and they have so much history here that it's great to be part of it as well."
TALK ABOUT RUNNING A 24-HOUR ROAD COURSE EVENT.
"You do pick and choose your battles at a regular road course. We run at Sears Point and then we run Watkins Glen. There are different passing zones and there are different opportunities throughout the race to be more aggressive or to be less aggressive. With a pace of 24 hours I can only imagine how lackadaisical you have to be in the car and make sure you continue a consistent pace, but by no means pressure the car to 90 percent. You run around 80 to 85 percent and continue a nice pace. The Multimatic team was saying we need to shoot for 1:52s for most of the day, and that could change. I know during the nighttime, we notice that the speeds drop, but yet we have softer tires. We're a learn-as-we-go group right now."
WHAT WOULD IT MEAN FOR YOU TO WIN THIS RACE AND PUT THAT ON YOUR DRIVING RESUME?
"It's something that is intriguing to look at and have on your resume, but you have to attempt it many times before that can happen and before you're in a position to win. It's just a great chance to branch out and do something different. For us from the NEXTEL Cup side, we don't have that same intensity running these road course cars as we do when we come back for the 500 or running our oval races. You can back off the intensity just a fuzz and still run competitively and have fun here, but the more that I run this race I'm sure the more that I will up the intensity to try to pick up a victory."
WILL YOU CONSIDER ATTEMPTING THIS RACE IN THE FUTURE?
"Definitely. This is a great opportunity. It's fun road racing and I wish we did it more on the Cup side, and then, of course, to jump in and drive somebody's else equipment is another aspect of it. We're still trying to achieve something that is very historic and very prestigious and it's very valued by many drivers."
IS IT DIFFICULT ADAPTING TO THESE CARS, AND DO YOU HAVE PUT YOUR EGO ASIDE WHEN IT COMES TO GETTING ACCLIMATED TO A DIFFERENT TYPE OF RACE CAR?
"I'm a rookie. I'm a rookie at the Rolex 24 and that's something I haven't had in a few years is being a rookie or going to a new race track. Road racing is something that I love and enjoy and you hope that you're running the right line or you hope that you don't spin out, but you use the knowledge from what you've gained in your other rookie experiences to know what not to do the next time around."
DID YOUR CUP SPONSOR VOICE ANY CONCERN ABOUT YOU RUNNING THIS RACE?
"Crown Royal is the one that helped to tie this whole deal together and they're an associate sponsor of my cup program. Sharpie is game for anything that I want to do as far as racing, and the persons that I have to ask are Geoff Smith and Jack Roush."
WERE THERE ANY CONCERNS ABOUT YOUR SAFETY?
"There is that question and it comes from your team owner and your family, and it comes from within yourself. As a racer you just want to go race, and you look back at different historic events in racing and it makes you think about how long it took for these safety things that we have these days to come into place. But now, one of those freak accidents happens like that, and you hope it's not somebody you know and you hope that everything's OK when something does like that. That could have happened to anybody and you have to view it as if it wasn't Dale Earnhardt, Jr. It could have been anybody in that car, and so you have to be as precautious as you can and make sure you don't put yourself in that position."
WHAT IS YOUR COMFORT LEVEL BEHIND THE WHEEL OF THE FORD MULTIMATIC?
"I can run a lap time by myself. I don't know what it's going to take out on the track with the other 60 competitors. I know that I've only seen maybe 50 percent of the cars out there on the track. There's going to be twice as many cars on the track during the race and you have to avoid everybody, so it's a matter or getting adjusted properly. I think once I get in the car, maybe twice during the race, that will give me a 95-percent comfort level."
HOW CONCERNED ARE YOU WITH PASSING OTHER CARS, ESPECIALLY THE SLOWER GT CARS?
"There's a general idea of what you have to do on a road course to pass people, but then you have these GT cars that are five or six seconds slower than you. In the big picture of things, if you have to wait on a guy through a corner and throw away two seconds, it's not going to hurt you. That's the mentality that I have, just to go out on the oval and pass the guys on the oval when we need to. I know that I'm not the best Prototype racer, so you'll have to give up position to a Prototype every now and again, and it's much easier to do that in the daytime than it is at night."
MATT KENSETH -49-Crown Royal Ford Multimatic
WHAT IS THE LONGEST RACE YOU'VE RUN PREVIOUS TO THIS EVENT?
"Anybody who run a 500-mile race at Pocono, it feels like that one takes a week, so it can't feel much longer than that. I guess the 600 at Charlotte. It's always four and a half hours or something, and that's been it. This has been really fun. I'm really honored to be racing with all of these guys and the rest of the guys in the field. It's a different group of drivers. I'm racing against a lot of them that I haven't raced against, and it's kind of fun because you come in here and feel like a rookie. I've never driven these cars and I never knew where the infield road course was before, so it's been trying to learn a new track, trying to learn a new car and a different style of racing. So far it's been a lot of fun and the car drives really good like a race car should drive compared to our cars at a road course. It's been a lot of fun and I expect to learn a lot and hopefully have a good time."
HOW IS THE ATMOSPHERE HERE COMPARED TO THE NASCAR RACE?
"Everybody at NASCAR is doing a good job of making the NEXTEL Cup Series and even the Busch Series as popular as it is over in this part of the country and having full grandstands, which is a great thing and you should never take it for granted, for sure. This is my first time around one of these races. This is my first time being down here and being part of it or watching it, but I think it's a different style of racing. Even when we go to the road courses, it's kind of a different style of racing there. When NASCAR goes road racing there's a different crowd of people. I think it's just something different and I think it's going to be really fun to be a part of like Greg said. I noticed the garage is a lot different with all of the golf carts and stuff in there. It's pretty crazy just in the garage are, and even crazier than it is on the track. That's the biggest difference that I've noticed so far."
WHAT IS YOUR COMFORT LEVEL BEHIND THE WHEEL OF THE FORD MULTIMATIC?
"I'm pretty comfortable with everything. The more you drive it the more comfortable you are. After we run the whole race I'll probably be more comfortable than what I am right now, but I'm more comfortable in the car than I was two weeks ago."
ARE YOU CONCERNED AT ALL ABOUT THE PROSPECTS OF DRIVING IN THE RAIN?
"I'm hoping it does rain because I've never raced in the rain before I want to experience a little bit of everything, but they tell me that it's not that much to drive in the rain.
GREG BIFFLE -49-Crown Royal Ford Multimatic
HOW MUCH HAS SCOTT MAXWELL HELPED YOU TO GET ACCLIMATED TO THESE CARS?
"I'm surprised he still talks to us. We've asked him so many questions. I've learned probably more from him than driving the car. When you jus think about, I come up with more questions time and time again about pitting and I've never raced in the rain. I've practiced one time at Watkins Glen in the truck series when it rained, but that's about it. I'm not sure what to expect in the rain and all of the other things. I'm excited about it. Every time I get in the car I go faster and this morning's session was the fastest that I've been and was in a fair amount of traffic. I feel like I'm getting to where I need to be. It's going to be fun. I've never raced a 24-hour race and I just can't wait for the green flag tomorrow and have a chance to get in the car and race with some of the champions that are sitting up here today. It's pretty exciting for me."
WHAT DO YOU EXPECT IN THE RACE TOMORROW?
"I don't know what to expect. I've been out there just a limited amount of time and watched and it looks like real competitive racing similar to what we do. The cars aren't a few inches apart all the time, which at times isn't fun to do. The racing looks good and I don't know really what to expect. This is a while new deal for me, and I've never done the 24-hour thing before. I think it'd be fun for fans to be able to see different parts if it."
WHAT IS YOUR COMFORT LEVEL BEHIND THE WHEEL OF THE FORD MULTIMATIC?
"I'm extremely comfortable in the car now. I wasn't even that comfortable in it yesterday, but today I feel way better with lap times, and the car seems like it has decent grip and a lot of power. Yesterday it felt like it didn't have any power. I feel it's a lot better. I 'm just going to have fun. I don't care how fast I go. If I'm a second off or a half of a second, that's not my main concern. Just keeping it on the race track is the main thing. It's a 24-hour race and you can break the gearbox or a bunch of other stuff, so I'm going out there to protect the equipment. I want to stay on the race track and not make any mistakes."
SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS -79-Newman Racing Ford Crawford
COMPARE THE PROTOTYPE TO YOUR CHAMP CAR.
"My (Champ Car) engineer called me yesterday to see how things were going and I told him we're having the same problems we have with my Champ Car. There's too much understeer; there's too much oversteer and it's tough to fix it so you just try to as fast as you can. It's just a different car than what I'm used to. I've driven some sports cars and I just wish the tires were a little bit bigger because it gives you more mechanical grip and is more fun to drive, but that's the way it is. The competition here this weekend is very high and there are several prototypes that are very close to one another and nobody can really say with certainty who's going to win. I think it's going to be a very tight race and we'll see what happens in the end."
WHY DO YOU THINK PAUL (NEWMAN) IS STILL OUT HERE RACING ALL OF YOU YOUNG GUYS?
"Because he loves it. For sure that's the only reason why he's doing it."
HOW HAS HE DONE?
"We took a major step backwards with a fire in the car in January and that has really delayed us in trying to prepare for this race. When we got here this week the car really wasn't ready and we haven't had much time testing it and it's been very difficult for all of us. All in all I think he's done three laps in the car since we got here and trying to race under those circumstances is never really easy and I'm sure he's feeling a little tense and uncomfortable. But I'm sure that after getting in the car and doing a couple of stints he's going to be okay. I think that as long as the car is good and we can continue to improve the setup that I'm sure he's going to be reasonably happy. The real target is to have fun and I think we'll accomplish that."
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT A GUY WHO'S RACING IN HIS EIGHTIES? I MEAN YOU'RE A YOUNG GUY; DO YOU SEE YOURSELF RACING IN SIXTY YEARS?
"Well I just hope that I still have the patience and still be in good enough shape to continue racing. Everybody has passions in their life and Paul is no different. He loves his wife and he loves racing. He discovered the second one later in life and he keeps on doing it and as long as he's healthy enough to do it he'll do it."
HAD HE GONE INTO RACING WHEN HE WAS IN HIS TWENTIES INSTEAD OF MOVIES HE MIGHT HAVE BEEN ONE OF THE BEST DRIVERS AROUND IN HIS DAY.
"I think he probably would've been a professional for sure. There's no doubt he has the intensity, he's a guy who knows what he wants, he's focused and when he does things he does them right."