An Interview with Roger Edmondson, Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor, Max Papis and Terry Borcheller ADAM SAAL: Last year, we announced--soon after the New Year holiday--our Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Test Days entry list, and we are going to...
An Interview with Roger Edmondson, Max Angelelli, Wayne Taylor, Max Papis and Terry Borcheller
ADAM SAAL: Last year, we announced--soon after the New Year holiday--our Rolex Sports Car Series Daytona Test Days entry list, and we are going to do the same thing today in the company of our Daytona Drototype champions. We have an incredible entry list that we are distributing as we speak. But to go ahead and officially pop the cork on our entry list as we start what's going to be an incredible season in 2006 for the Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Special Reserve, I'd like to hand it over to Mr. Roger Edmondson, President of Grand American Road Racing.
ROGER EDMONDSON: Thank you. I'd like to join Adam in wishing everybody a Happy New Year. Opening day is always extremely exciting for me and I think it is for everybody in our sport. It's been an unusually short off season with us ending the year last year in Mexico City at the time of the year we did, but nonetheless, we're ready to go for 2006.
I think one of the big questions in everybody's mind was whether or not we would see continued growth in the Rolex Series, because our growth in 2004 and 2005 was unprecedented in all areas, and today I'm proud to tell you that the early returns are in and they show a clear winner.
I think it's become the vogue for sanctioning bodies to blow their own horn and talk about their numbers, TV numbers, spectator numbers and all of those other numbers. I think the true health of any series is the endorsement given to us by sponsors, teams and drivers, and by that measure, Grand American is clearly setting the pace.
Last year for the Rolex 24 At Daytona, we had 62 cars running. Typically, the Rolex 24 has a larger entry than for testing. This year, our entry list for the Daytona Test Days comprises 33 Daytona Prototypes and 42 GT cars for a total of 75 entries, which shows the type of growth that we've come to expect but should never take for granted in this, the greatest road racing series on the planet.
ADAM SAAL: Thank you very much, Roger. That's 13 more cars taking part in the Test Days than took part in the Rolex 24 At Daytona last year. Again, the numbers going in the right direction.
It is a pleasure to have our championship drivers with us today, including 2003 Daytona Prototype champion, Terry Borcheller, who will be back in the No. 77 Kodak Feeds The Need/Doran Racing Ford Doran. We are also pleased to have Max Papis with us, who announced just hours ago his return behind the wheel of the CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley, the car he drove to the 2004 Daytona Prototype championship with Scott Pruett. Unfortunately, Pruett is on a plane right now flying from California to Daytona Beach, and he could not be with us today.
And certainly last but not least, our reigning champions, Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli, who are both with us. They will be back to defend their title in the No. 10 SunTrust Pontiac Riley. Terry, talk about the increased competition you see and how you think your chances are in the No. 77 Kodak car.
TERRY BORCHELLER: As far as the competition goes, it's just getting better every year. Last year was amazing, and this year I would expect would be the same and quite a bit more exciting with all of the new cars and teams. As far as our chances go, it's always good to be tied in with the manufacturer. I'm pretty positive about the year and I'm excited to drive for (team owner) Kevin (Doran). Having the chassis and the manufacturer's championships, it's important for him to do well. I'm banking that the car is going to be good. We've got a lot of changes coming. They are not going to be there for the Rolex 24, but they are going to be there shortly thereafter, and I'm expecting that the car is going to be really good.
ADAM SAAL: You'll be driving, and Harrison Brix and Forest Barber will likely get behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, but a new teammate and addition to our series is Michel Jourdain, one of the top three Mexican drivers, and I think we've got all three (top Mexican drivers) in our series this year. Adrian Fernandez announced just a couple of hours ago that he will have a full time team and Michel is racing with you as well. Talk about Michel Jourdain; have you seen or met him at this point?
TERRY BORCHELLER: I did. I met Michel and Harrison for the first time last December at Homestead during test days. We all got along really well. They both did a great job in the car for the first time ever being in a Daytona Prototype and particularly the Doran. I thought they drove very well and Kevin is looking to me to kind of guide the team in regards to trying to win the Rolex 24 because Michel has never done that race before. But I think it's going to be a great combination, and from the way the test days went, I think it should be really good.
ADAM SAAL: You make an excellent point there, Terry. Not only are all the guests here all Daytona Prototype champions, they are all Rolex 24 At Daytona champions as well, and in some cases, two-time champions. So everybody here knows how to do it and you will definitely be a strong leadership element for that team.
Now we'd like to move on to our 2004 co champion, Max Papis. Just a couple of hours ago he announced he's going to be back in the saddle with CompUSA Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sebates, back with the championship-winning team. How do you feel about this and tell us how it came about?
MAX PAPIS: First of all, I'm extremely pleased to be over here again. Daytona has been always been my favorite home track. To be back with such a great organization like Chip Ganassi Racing and sharing the car again with Scott Pruett, we had lot of success together, it's just a great honor. Usually when someone like Chip Ganassi calls you, it's because he has a lot of faith and he believes in your ability. I'm just honored to be back. We have one goal, and that's making history and trying to win the Rolex 24 At Daytona, so I'm going to be giving my best.
ADAM SAAL: You always do, along with each one of your colleagues on the call. You raced a Pontiac Riley last year after a season with Lexus. Admittedly, it looked like the Lexus might have been a tick slower than the Pontiac. Any improvements that you know of from the Lexus engine in the off season?
MAX PAPIS: I just joined the Ganassi organization, so I'm going to be heading into the Daytona track and talk to the engineers. At the moment, I know that I'm extremely excited to be able to be back in the Ganassi organization. It's definitely one of, if not the best, organizations in North America. So I think that just being there, to me, it means a lot. So I'm going to be focusing on everything else later on.
ADAM SAAL: The third driver for the No. 01 Lexus is the regular season co pilot with Pruett, Luis Diaz, who again falls in the strong group of Mexican drivers to participate in the Rolex Sports Car Series, and it's good to have Luis back as well.
We're going to move from one Max to another. Max Angelelli, you and your best friend Wayne Taylor probably had the shortest celebration time for a championship in the history of motorsports. You barely had time to enjoy it, and now you're here back on track. Is it good to be back racing so soon?
MAX ANGELELLI: Yeah, it's always good. I'm not the kind of guy for sitting or hanging around on the holidays, so I'm pretty happy. Last year was a very long season, but the celebration is over as you said and we are back racing.
ADAM SAAL: There are more cars, more top drivers and the list is star studded as usual. How hard will it be to pick up a second-straight Rolex 24 At Daytona title?
MAX ANGELELLI: Definitely harder than last year. The lineup is extremely strong this year, much more than last year. Last year was already sort of unbelievable, but I'm pleased to race with all of these important, famous and winning drivers. So it's good for everybody.
ADAM SAAL: On the entry list of course we have Wayne Taylor and Max Angelelli leading the No. 10 car, but they are joined by their equally fast teammate and co winner last year, Emmanuel Collard from France, and they have also entered Australian open wheel racing standout Ryan Briscoe, from Australia. Ryan raced last year with the CompUSA Chip Ganassi team, and he's back in the saddle with time with his friend, Max Angelelli. Before we move on to Wayne, talk about your relationship with Ryan.
MAX ANGELELLI: I've known Ryan a long time, when he was racing in Italy in the Renault Series and since then through all of the steps in Europe. In Formula 1, he was the third driver for the team, and then I helped bring him over here to the United States, and together with Wayne, we're looking after him. When we see him at the Rolex 24 this year, we thought the feeling that we need the best drivers available in the market, and we confirmed Emmanuel, who we always believed was the best sports car driver in the world, which has been proven, and we needed one more. Ryan was the best person to call.
ADAM SAAL: Good to have him here and back in action and he's part of, again, a great group of drivers that are going to be testing and racing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona at the end of this month.
Wayne, congratulations, you put this team together when you came out of retirement, and you began the season by winning the Rolex 24 At Daytona and you ended it as a co champion with your best friend and co driver, Max Angelelli. Did it even feel like you had an off season?
WAYNE TAYLOR: No. Certainly it was definitely the shortest off-season that I can ever remember. And during the course of last year, Max was saying to me quite a few times that we were so focused on the championship and winning that we never really stopped between races to enjoy any of our victories. And I thought, well, that would happen at the end of the year, but it really hasn't. It's in the record books and that's all that counts. We have to come back to defend it.
And I'm also very happy to have signed a long term agreement with SunTrust Banks. I have Max on board with me for the season, and Emmanuel Collard. We got back and basically after we looked at the lineup of drivers, and the amount of cars that are going to be on the track, I've always gone for a three driver lineup for the Rolex 24. However, this year, I have been a little concerned if let's say anything happened to Max, Emmanuel or I during the race, it's very easy for somebody to get sick, and you can't put the guy in the car. So because of the level of competition we thought we needed to hire somebody else that was really fast and that we could work well with. And of course, Ryan was the natural choice.
ADAM SAAL: Again, a welcome addition to the team and we're going to have a lot of action packed traffic and racing out there, so it's perhaps a wise move that could pay off. You're obviously back with the Pontiac Riley, and your car is housed at the Riley Technology shop in Indianapolis. Is this a new chassis, will this be your third new Riley chassis in three years?
WAYNE TAYLOR: Yes, this will be this is a brand new car. We've retired the car that won the championship, and it's being designated as a promotional vehicle for SunTrust Banks to be used for opening new branches and marketing opportunities.
So we shipped down this new car in Savannah yesterday. It's basically the same car, same configuration. Obviously the difference between last year and this year, we've been given a 75 pound weight addition. It's pretty much the same, and so now we'll run it tomorrow and see where we shape out compared to all of the other newcomers.
ADAM SAAL: I'm sure Wayne is going to be keeping an eye on Ford and keeping an eye on Lexus, and we've got some other strong powerplants out there with a rejuvenated Porsche engine that showed very good times testing at Homestead, and we might even see an Infiniti entered here as well. Now, let's open up for questioning.
Q: Roger, you've always been candid with me in the past, but Roger Edmondson, your brand is obviously growing, more than 70 cars in the race this year, a phenomenal number compared to six or whatever it was a couple of years ago. But where do you place this brand in relation to all of the forms of entertainment, not just other racing series in the United States?
ROGER EDMONDSON: Quite clearly we are pioneering a product as far as the overall entertainment scene in the United States goes. All sports have got a big head start on us. NASCAR has certainly helped bring motorsports to the attention of the American public in a way that's been unprecedented.
We see everything, all the indications are pointing up, everything is moving up in terms of television, households, ratings, spectators at the events, sponsor interests and promoter interests. And fortunately, because of the entry list we announced today, it's clear to see that participant interest is up, too.
We feel that we've got a product that is going to come into its own, maybe not in 2006, maybe not in 2007, maybe not until 2008 or 2009, but it's clear to me that this form of motorsports has got a great future in this country. It's an undervalued stock right now, and it's a good time for people to get aboard because it's still a ground floor opportunity.
Q: Last year you tried split races at smaller tracks with the GT and the Daytona Prototype cars, is that something that might be in the works for more than Phoenix this year or more smaller races this year?
ROGER EDMONDSON: Actually, we came to the conclusion that after seeing that, while it sounded great in concept, it wasn't pleasing to me or to many others in our sport.
I think the passing for position has been one of the hallmarks of the Rolex Series for the last two or three years. But I also think that the concept of a faster class running with a slower speed class has been an integral part of what defined sports car racing, or road racing, as we've come to expect it. We did feel a sense of loss when we ran the Phoenix race. There was something missing from all participants, something missing for the fans. So our goal now is to continue to attract teams, but to find ways to make sure that we continue to deliver that same excitement that road racing has held in the past.
Having gone down to two classes, we've certainly simplified things in terms of the spectators and declaring championships, instead of 25, or some ludicrous number. The dirty little secret in sports car racing for years has been the fact that they have to have multiple classes to create a credible field. Fortunately, at this stage of our development, we are not in that mode, but we are going to continue in the multi class format.
Q: What's the threshold for success that you see? Is it for cars or fans or how close are you getting to this threshold to show that we've moved to the next level?
ROGER EDMONDSON: Well, I think that almost every time we come out of the box with an event it seems like we have moved the mark a little bit higher. But I have to tell you that I've made the comparison before that this is not like building a house where you get the toilet and the microwave oven and the refrigerator in place and you get a certificate of occupancy and consider yourself done. This is always going to be a work in progress, but all of the indicators I see show strong growth.
Q: What are those indicators? Give me some idea what those indicators of.
ROGER EDMONDSON: For example, I think it's important that we have promoters who want to promote our events. A lot of people don't understand how this business works, but it does require a third party who is willing to take the financial risk, pay the prize money, do the advertising, rent the facility and pay all of the bills. This time for 2006, we actually have more promoters than we have events to give, so that's a very positive indicator.
Another one is that we have sponsors putting their names on cars that are not necessarily companies that are owned by the guy who is writing the check to put the car on the track. And frankly for us to become a truly well accepted and well established professional series, we've got to have teams that are sponsored by legitimate sponsors, we've got to have drivers that are able to make a real living in this sport, within Grand American, and that is certainly one of the goals that I want to see us strive towards.
Continued in part 2