Daytona 24: Scott Pruett - Lexus interview

Lexus driver Scott Pruett talks Rolex 24 MODERATOR: Talking with Scott Pruett, a six-time Rolex 24 at Daytona winner and the driver of the Telmex/Target Lexus-Riley, as we head into Saturday's Rolex 24 at Daytona. Pruett is a multiple class...

Lexus driver Scott Pruett talks Rolex 24

MODERATOR: Talking with Scott Pruett, a six-time Rolex 24 at Daytona winner and the driver of the Telmex/Target Lexus-Riley, as we head into Saturday's Rolex 24 at Daytona. Pruett is a multiple class winner at Daytona and won the overall Rolex 24 victory in 1994, as well as being the all-time leader in Daytona Prototype victories with 12. Scott, you've been to a lot of Rolex 24's, but I'm guessing that everyone is special to you?

Scott Pruett: Everyone is exciting. Everyone is a chance to win a Rolex watch and that's kind of the jewel at the end of all of this work and there's only a few people that get one of those Rolex's that say 'winner of the Rolex 24 at Daytona,' that's the biggest thing.

The second thing is that when you can do it as a team, as a team of drivers, mechanics, along with a team owner like Chip Ganassi, it's huge. This is the toughest 24 hour race in the world -- without question. So if you can win this thing, it's awesome. So the fact that Lexus and Ganassi won this race last year, it should bode well for good success again this year.

MODERATOR: You've won here before and you've won a lot of races in other places. Is a win here in the 24 hours different than winning elsewhere in a three-hour race?

Scott Pruett: Absolutely because it's 24 hours. It's twice-around-the clock, it's a grind. It's a driver digging down deep and a team digging down deep. It's a driver jumping back into the car at 2 in the morning. It could be raining, it could be foggy -- the conditions could be absolutely horrible, but you're going out there driving. So when you get to the end of it, it's just a huge sigh of relief - and if you win, it's just a tremendous high. It gets you through a night with very little sleep and the feeling of doing it and the accomplishment that goes along with it, is just tremendous.

MODERATOR: Talk about the driver line-up that the Ganassi/Lexus team has put together for the Rolex 24.

Scott Pruett: We have a great line-up. Salvador Duran is a young, very talented Mexican driver and, obviously, Juan Pablo Montoya, who brings just an unbelievable list of accomplishments, as well. Between those two and myself, we have a great chance.

The only issue, if any, is that they haven't run this race before. So Scott Dixon, Dan Wheldon and myself are trying to get all of our teammates who haven't been here before up to speed on what to expect. What to worry about, what not to worry about...when to get excited, when not to get excited. What we need to do as a team, what we need to do as individual drivers. I'm hoping to bring all the experience that I've had and try to give as much of that in a very short period of time to my teammates.

MODERATOR: One of the most difficult things that you seem to face at Daytona is the closing speeds that occur between the different classes. Talk about how you address that problem.

Scott Pruett: When you look at the fastest Daytona Prototypes compared to the slowest GT, you're talking about 15 seconds per lap. So when you come up on these guys, you really come up on them quickly. So you really have to be heads up. The big key is not trying to get every tenth of a second out of your lap time, it's going as fast as you can while not getting yourself into trouble. The worst thing that can happen in this race is bumping into another car -- making a bad mistake on an iffy call on a pass. If you bump or hit, that's something you're maybe going to have to live with for the next 12 hours. It's difficult from that standpoint, of not trying to make something happen all the time. Sometimes you have to say, I'm going to lose two seconds on this lap by not taking a chance, but knowing that I'm not going rip a corner off the car. And that's sometimes difficult to get through your mind when you're coming up on cars that are going 10 or 15 seconds a lap slower than you are and knowing that you have to be patience. The problems don't come when you're coming up on the guys who are five seconds slower than you, but with the cars that are 10 to 15 seconds slower than you are, with a driver who's focused more on what he's doing than what you're doing.

MODERATOR: You first came here in IMSA GTU and GTO competition in the mid-80s, how has the strategy of the race evolved since that time?

Scott Pruett: The biggest thing that has changed is how many cars there are not only good, but durable as well. Over the years as you came here, you knew that there would be a lot of good cars, but you also knew that some of them weren't going to make it past six hours or 10 hours or 12 cars. Nowadays with the cars that we come here with and the level of competition we have, there are a lot of cars that can easily go 24 hours. The engines are very durable. Lexus has just done a great job with their program with TRD. The cars are durable. Ganassi has done a good of prepping their cars, and Riley has done the same in designing them. X-trac with the transmission - everything is more than capable that it can easily go 24 hours without a problem. So when you get 20-25 prototypes that all can easily go 24 hours, well that changes your strategy a bit. Where maybe we used to say, we know that guy is going fast, but that car won't last 24 hours, well that's not the case anymore.

MODERATOR: So the old adage that the racing doesn't begin until the sun comes up is no longer true?

Scott Pruett: I don't think it is. I think the racing begins at the green flag. It's going to be hard racing. Maybe I'll be wrong in looking at it. But having driven these cars as long as I have, and having raced in this race as many times as I have -- from coming here in times when you just sit back and cruise and other times pushing it 100 percent simply because that's what the team wanted you to do - I see a hard, difficult race.

MODERATOR: We know the Ganassi/Lexus team has a strong line-up, but as you look over the field, you see six Indy 500 champions, NASCAR champions and sports car champions. Have you ever seen a field this strong for the Rolex 24?

Scott Pruett: No never, without question. With all the strong cars here, they attract so many good drivers. If you have 30 prototoypes with three or four drivers apiece, you're looking at 100 to 120 drivers with a lot of top drivers that want to come and be a part of this event. With so many great cars, there are a lot of drivers that can come and feel they have a chance to win this race. That's a big thing for a driver coming here. When I was racing Indy cars, I'd come in for the event, but I'd only come if I thought I had a chance to win. So the most exciting part is that you have all these drivers coming, not just because they want to be here, but because they feel they have a chance to win.

MODERATOR: A 30-car IROC field that goes 24 hours?

Scott Pruett: (Laughing) Well, maybe not quite that. But you can draw some parallels. Grand-Am has done a good job in trying to keep all of the cars very similar. Qualifying is going to be very tight. It's all going to come down to the drivers, team preparation and engine reliability, that's what's going to separate the men from the boys. I think what Ganassi has done and what Lexus has done, we're as good as anybody.

-credit: lexus/toyota

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya