Laguna Seca GTS/GTO/GTU post-race interviews

Laguna Seca Exxon Supreme Series post-race press conference: Emcee: ...1-2-3 Nissan sweep, repeating the form in qualifying. Eric, first of all, welcome to the United States. Nice to have you racing here at Laguna. We understand that you've...

Laguna Seca Exxon Supreme Series post-race press conference:

Emcee: ...1-2-3 Nissan sweep, repeating the form in qualifying. Eric, first of all, welcome to the United States. Nice to have you racing here at Laguna. We understand that you've been enjoying the track quite a bit. Feels good to be part of a 1-2-3 finish for Nissan as well.

Eric van de Poele: Yeah, not many teams can do the three first positions, and I'm really pleased for that. We did good work this week to keep the right setup for the race, and the car was really perfect for the race. I'm so pleased for the team, and especially for Johnny [O'Connell, the winner], who has his birthday today. And I think for Steve [Millen, second place] it's a good operation too for the championship.

Emcee: And certainly for Nissan. I mean, your managing to bring the third car home in the top three knocked the competitors out of one more spot in the manufacturers' points. So job well done, as well.

Eric van de Poele: Thank you.

Emcee: All right. Congratulations, Eric. Second place, Steve Millen. And, Steve, obviously points chase a great concern here on a driver's level as well as the manufacturer's level. You didn't get the win, but you got a good solid second, and it's been an interesting weekend.

Steve Millen: It has. You know, I've struggled this weekend with getting a setup on the car, and, actually kind of in desperation, we decided to go with the soft compound of tires compared to the other two drivers, who went with a more durable tire. It was a heck of a risk, because Laguna Seca is the hardest track that we have on the tour on tires. So we went with the soft tires and we were hoping that the weather might change -- that it might get cold and [?] -- but it didn't. So it was as good as I could do. But I'm very proud of being with the team. I'm very happy with the effort. We've made a 10-point gain in the manufacturers' championship, which was the goal when we came here. The goal was to have Nissan finish first, second and third. That's an easy thing to say, but to actually orchestrate it and pull it off is a pretty amazing feat. So my hat's off to the whole team, and especially to Yokohama, who provided a fantastic tire for us on this really tough track. I'm just so pleased for Nissan.

Emcee: Everybody's talked about it being a gripless track, and yet tough on tires. Is that due to excessive wheelspin, because there's no grip?

Steve Millen: It's because it's quite an abrasive track. It has a lot of grip, but it actually wears the tires out. When you wear the tires out, you actually finish up with not a lot of rubber that you're running on, and it's very easy to get that rubber too hot. Then it's like driving on oil. Probably about 15 minutes into the race, I was really struggling. From there on it was just hanging on and doing the best we could. But I'm happy with second this time. I'm not usually happy with second, but this time it's OK.

Emcee: In the middle of a great team effort, that's always a plus. Johnny, I indicated in the post-qualifying interview that your plan was to go out as hard as you could -- as hard as your tires would let you -- and see what happened. Seemed to work pretty well. Congratulations.

Johnny O'Connell: Well, thank you. You know, my Yokohamas worked fantastic. Really, the pass I made on Steve was a planned pass. I think we saw pretty early on that, with him being on the softer tires, he wasn't able to run as hard into the corners and still have tire left. So I gotta thank him for letting me go off like that. My car had been running very very well all weekend. I don't know what it is about this place, but I've always had good luck here. My car was beautiful the whole race. Toward the end, we started to slip and slide a little bit, but for the most part it was very uneventful.

Emcee: All right. And, obviously, the points chase, we've been talking the manufacturers' is critical, but this is a good win for >you<. This is something that I know you really wanted. It's a special weekend in a lot of ways, but the win doesn't hurt.

Johnny O'Connell: You know, I tell you what: This has for me been like the world's worst weekend, just because I was real sick on Thursday -- I mean >real< sick -- and then, you know, my wife's going to have a baby. I mean, my hairline -- I can see it, when I look in the mirror, just going farther and farther back. For us to end up like this is really nice. It says more for the strength of Nissan and Cunningham Racing than it does for our ability. I think all three of us are pretty darn equal drivers, and it really comes down to how the team plays things out, and today it worked in my favor, which is nice, because it's my birthday.

Emcee: That's right, and congratulations on that as well. [...] Joe Pezza, GTO No. 17, you and your team owner -- teammate, however you want to put it this weekend -- Tommy had a great battle out there. You ended up with the upper hand late in the going, but I know it made you feel particularly well that Brian [DeVries, whose car didn't arrive until Sunday morning] made the race, was able to get in there and put up a good fight. You still managed to come out on top. Congratulations.

Joe Pezza: Well, thank you. Yeah, it was good for Brian to be here. I mean, it's no fun to win a championship because his car doesn't show up at the race track, so it was good to have him out there.

Emcee: How did everything go for you? I mean, obviously, you and Tommy had a great fight going out there, and you were able to run with him. He's a pretty seasoned professional and a great driver, and that must feel good.

Joe Pezza: Yeah, anywhere at anytime, I feel, that I could run near Tommy. It's good, because Tommy is a seasoned veteran, and he built that car, so he knows how to drive it.

Emcee: You did lose a little track time earlier with the oil pump problem. Obviously, again, being able to rely on Tommy's input and your ability behind the wheel, you were able to come up with a good setup.

Joe Pezza: Yeah, we snapped that oil pump shaft and, luckily, we did it in pit lane and didn't hurt the motor. We were able to take the oil pump off the other engine. Ben Lazano was here, and they looked at the motor and it was fine. We got lucky, and Tommy put it back together again.

Emcee: You gave it a good ride. Congratulations. Jim Pace, obviously GTU was fairly intense as well out there for a while. You had a couple of awfully quick drivers that were hounding in and in front of you and alongside you. But when it came down to it you were there. Nice job.

Jim Pace: Well, thanks, Greg. It was a super super race for us. Again, I have to give a big thumbs-up to my crew because they were up all night. We put an engine in yesterday -- and I know you heard this, but I can't say enough, because we put an engine in yesterday and it had a little vibration to it, and I said, "If it were mine, I wouldn't run it." So right then they decided that they were going to spend the night changing the engine. So they were here all night, pulled it out -- which they had just put in an hour before -- so they were up all night putting in another engine. I went out this morning in the warmup and it was great, and the car ran. That kind of loyalty and that kind of dedication that the team is showing, you can't buy that. That has to come from within. The crew is showing that they have that. It's the Leitzinger team, and you know that they're made of championship stuff. I can't say enough about the crew. The tires were very consistent for us all the way through; Yokohama gave us a great tire. I think my fastest laps were right at the end, so we just went out and let the two Mazdas sort of punch each other a couple times, and, as it worked out, traffic played into my hands and I never had to really push the car too hard. It was very consistent all the way through, and fast laps at the end, so another P1 for Nissan. Closes up on Porsche for the manufacturers', also, so that's good.

Emcee: Always critical. As I understand it, a lot of what was going on with the engine last night was they were almost piecing together parts of two engines to make one good one. That's some dedication.

Jim Pace: Exactly. We're running a two-car team. They swapped. They pulled my motor out the day before, which was a plan, and we put it in, and, as soon as I left pit lane, I said, "It's got a vibration. Something's not right. I'm not sure what it is, but something's not right. We're not going to win the championship with this motor." At the same time, they had a problem with the team car. So literally we needed two engines, and had three pieces of engines, but we didn't have any... So, literally, they were taking parts out and making this swap and that swap, and it all came together. It's almost like magic, but it's actually hard work and dedication. I just can't give the crew enough credit for this one. Big bonus in store for the crew!

----

I'll have the World Sports Car post-race interview tomorrow; I'm getting tired right now.

-- Ron O'Dell `Keeper' keeper@cats.ucsc.edu keeper@armory.com keeper@ucscb.ucsc.edu

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About this article
Series IMSA Others
Drivers Johnny O'Connell , Eric van de Poele , Jim Pace , Steve Millen