MODERATOR: We're joined by Mike Shank, owner and president of Michael Shank Racing, as well as Sam Hornish Jr., who needs no introduction. He's won races here in Homestead, is the Indy 500 reigning champion, and a three-time champion in the...
MODERATOR: We're joined by Mike Shank, owner and president of Michael Shank Racing, as well as Sam Hornish Jr., who needs no introduction. He's won races here in Homestead, is the Indy 500 reigning champion, and a three-time champion in the IndyCar Series.
Sam is one of the many "name" drivers who will be racing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona. He's no stranger to that race, but this will be his first experience in a Daytona Prototype, in the No. 60 Lexus Riley that really was in the hunt the entire race last year and finished second. They're looking to improve one position.
Mike, we met Helio Castroneves, Sam's teammate in IndyCars, who joined us at Daytona where he tested. Talk a little bit about how this happened, how two IndyCar drivers came to join your team.
MIKE SHANK: It's something that (Penske Racing President) Tim Cindric and I had worked on for two years. Sam and I have a lot of history, which has been written about a little bit. He drove for me in 1999 in the Toyota Atlantic series when he was coming up the ladder. We always stayed in touch since then, gone out for dinner, that type of thing.
As it happens, Oswaldo Negri, my primary driver in the No. 60, is also good friends with Helio. For two years we tried to make this happen, but things didn't quite work out. Fortunately this year it did. Sam signed up, which I'm extremely grateful for.
I'm looking forward to it. The team is doing a heck of the job. Helio came out of the box, at the Daytona test and went exceptionally well. Sam today on his fourth lap was good as most of the field. We're going to give him about an hour and a half, two hours in the car at the end of the day today.
MODERATOR: Sam, this is your first time behind the wheel of a Daytona Prototype. Talk about the traffic, and how it's kind of a different experience in total.
SAM HORNISH JR.: It is kind of totally different. If I hadn't had the little bit of Busch practice, I wouldn't have had nearly as much confidence not seeing my front wheels, being inside of a car, definitely with the heat. There are obviously some things that are quite a bit different.
One of the good things about coming here, doing my first test in the car is I've been on this track with the IndyCar before and had a good feeling of what to expect out of it. The car handles actually exceptionally well. I was pleasantly surprised to get in there. People have said it's not going to brake very good, it's not going to turn very good.
I've had a lot of fun driving it so far. Hopefully things will go well and I'll keep it out of the sand trap, all that good stuff.
MODERATOR: You've raced in the Rolex 24 at least once before, in 1999, and one of your co-drivers was Mike Shank. Talk about that. Is he quick?
SAM HORNISH JR.: We drove most of the night. That was a lesson that helped me out a long time down the road and in the rest of my racing, which was, some days it's not going to be there. Just go out there and try to get as much time as you can. Through no fault of Mike's or my own, it was a problem with the car that forced us to drive around for 16 hours on seven cylinders. We knew we couldn't win, but we just went out there and drove around.
I had a lot of fun. At that time that was the biggest car I'd ever driven on the biggest track. It was the first time I'd been at Daytona. I think it was a good experience. We're hopefully going back with a little bit different mindset at this time.
MODERATOR: In that same year, you first got on the map with Mike when you won in Chicago in the Atlantic race. It was a great win there, and that was when we realized that this was a team and driver we need to keep an eye on. That was back in 1999. How important is it to maintain the Ohio connection you guys have had, and the familiarity of racing with the same group of guys?
SAM HORNISH JR.: I had a great experience with Mike through the end of '98, through 1999. Obviously, this team started to blossom as far as doing the Daytona Prototype. That was definitely something that was in my mind, how do we at some point in time get together to be able to go and do this, to run at Daytona, and especially in the last couple years where I knew that would be something I'd want to do, and had the ability to do it but how you get there?
There are so many things that you want to do, and sometimes things just don't work out, but this was a great opportunity that Mike presented to us to come out here and race. Especially with Helio, he usually beats up on me a little bit on the road courses, but hopefully it'll give me the opportunity to run a little bit longer with him as well. Definitely with Oswaldo and Mark doing this all the time and helping me, it's going to provide me with the opportunity to learn quickly. One of the best things is, all of these extra-curricular things I've been doing right now, like driving these cars and the Busch Series is definitely going to help me be a better driver. I'm happy to have the opportunity.
MODERATOR: The Rolex 24 is the last weekend in January in 2007, and kicks off the international racing calendar. There will be drivers from all walks of the sport coming to race. Sam's got some experience on the track, he finished fifth in the IROC race on the Daytona road course in June. What's next? Will you be there for the test session in early January, or is there anything else happening in December? Any additional testing?
SAM HORNISH JR.: For me, this is the first of three weeks of the year will be running about every kind of car that I run. Obviously, I'm going to try to be there for the test in Daytona. That's my plan anyhow.
MIKE SHANK: This series has really helped our business overall. We just finished and completed, and you'll be able to see pictures of our new shop we just built in Columbus, Ohio, east of Columbus, a new 20,000 square foot shop. We're super proud of it. It's as nice as anything in the world, but it might be a little smaller maybe. We plan on just rebuilding the cars and going to the three-day with the cars here.
MODERATOR: Questions for Mike or Sam.
Q: Sam, where does this fit in? You've accomplished so much from IndyCar championships and the Indy 500. Where does winning a Rolex 24 At Daytona rank on your list right now?
SAM HORNISH JR.: It's right up there. I mean, I wouldn't be here doing this if I didn't think it was something that was going to be difficult, first of all. It's going to be a challenge for me, and it's also something that's very prestigious to be able to add your name to that list of champions.
I'm definitely going into it thinking that it's like winning the Indianapolis 500, it's like winning the Daytona 500. There are so many things that are involved, that being able to go in there and even be competitive let alone win it. You have to have so many things go right for you.
I think it's an awesome challenge for us. Hopefully it will be one that we're excited about at the end of it.
Q: What does it say about the state of the series that you've got everyone from Jeff Gordon to Jimmie Johnson to Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves, all competing in the 24 Hours?
SAM HORNISH JR.: Definitely, if you look at NASCAR championships, Daytona 500s, IndyCar championships, Indy 500s, you look at the depth there, the amount of champions, whatever way you look at it, it's pretty unbelievable.
I'm glad to see that there's that many people out there because when you go and win something, you want to beat the best people. You don't want everybody to try to take it away from you and say, 'If this guy would have been there, you wouldn't have won.'
I think it's great that they have that many talented drivers in it. I think it's really going to be a great show for everybody.
Q: What are your Busch plans for next year?
SAM HORNISH JR.: We're not going to run every off weekend, but we're going to run a lot of them. It's going to be a pretty full schedule for me running the full IndyCar Series. That adds basically a month of being at Indianapolis. There's probably 21 to 22 weekends there. Then however many we run in the Busch Series, could be anywhere from 6 to 10. It's going to be a full year.
Q: Probably 6 to 10?
SAM HORNISH JR.: There's a lot going on. In my opinion, I need as much road course experience as I can get. If Mike can get me in the car a little bit more, that will probably help out the IndyCar program.
I feel like I've got a lot on my plate next year. I think it's something that is going to be exciting to go through. The first two Busch races didn't turn out quite like we expected them to. We wanted to go, we wanted to learn as much as we could. We didn't expect to win either. We just wanted to go and get some laps.
We'll go back and we'll keep trying with that. We've had some things that look like we're going to do. We're going to have some kind of a good come out of it at the end of the whole thing. We're just going to keep working at it.
MODERATOR: Additional questions?
Q: Mike, have you finalized anything with the No. 6 driver plans?
MIKE SHANK: We have. We're going to announce that at the three-day test at Daytona in January. I think between the two driver lineups, we're not playing, we're here to win this race. If we don't win it, we're going to go down swinging hard. There will be no conservative to it. We're going to go out and run hard. These guys are going to be instructed not to hold back at all. This race has come to that. Back in the day, you used to be able to cruise around at 70 or 80 percent. Those days are gone, long gone. We're here to win.
The two drivers, Helio and Sam, I put in for a reason. The two additional drivers that we'll announce for the No. 6 car at the three-day, they're here for a reason. They're here to do well.
MODERATOR: The test Mike referenced again is at Daytona. It's the first couple days of the year. It's the fourth, fifth and sixth of January.