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CHAMP CAR MEDIA CONFERENCE
December 6, 2005
ERIC MAUK: Welcome to today's Champ Car media teleconference. Where we are pleased to announce that a couple of the upcoming stars of the Bridgestone Presents The Champ Car World Series Powered by Ford have found some new and interesting ways to spend their off season and start their preparation for the 2006 Championship, as RuSPORT teammates A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson will be joining Michael Shank Racing's Grand American Rolex Sports Car Series Squad for the 2006 Rolex 24-hour race at Daytona.
And today we're joined by both Allmendinger and Wilson, as well as Michael Shank, coming to us live from The Infield At Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Gentleman, thank you for joining us today.
We'll start with Michael. A long-time competitor at the Atlantic series before moving over to the Grand American Rolex Sports Series.
Michael, bringing in a couple of guys like this to join Mark Patterson and Oswaldo Negri in the attack on one of your cars in the 24-hour race, tell us a little bit on how this all came together.
MICHAEL SHANK: Well, there's a lot of common things in our lives. I started open-wheel racing years ago, and that's where I come from, where both of these guys come from. My primary driver, Oswaldo Negri, has been close to A.J. for a long time from his Barber Dodge years, I believe, and always thought a lot of A.J. And when we decided to add two high-level drivers to our team, we decided to go for the open-wheel talent that's out there.
And I guess the bottom line is, I feel real lucky to have these two guys. They are the cream of the crop of the CART grid right now, I believe, and are on the big roll since their Mexico one, too. We're super excited to have someone with experience and also help with the car setup and stuff when it comes to the three-day test in January at Daytona.
ERIC MAUK: You guys are down there getting some test runs in this week. I understand the guys got in the car a little bit today. Tell us how you intend to get these guys up to speed and get them prepared for their first 24-hour Rolex?
MICHAEL SHANK: I don't have to do anything, to be honest with you. They are pretty damn aggressive guys right off the bat. Straight away, they are within probably a half a 10th of each other within five laps. We didn't give them a lot of laps today, but they'll get a full test program in Daytona at the three-day tests and gets lots of time and lots of new tires, which A.J. loves.
And they just did fantastic. They did exactly what we asked of them, got right up to speed. They're going to do exactly what we think they can do anyway. We're real excited about it.
ERIC MAUK: You're planning a second car for this series, as well?
MICHAEL SHANK: Yes, we're going to have a second car. All four drivers are assigned to that. We'll announce that at the three-day test. It's also very exciting. All Lexus powered, by the way.
ERIC MAUK: Very exciting announcement. We look forward to seeing you down there at Daytona. The event takes place January 26th through the 29th, with the race going from the 28th through the 29th.
As mentioned, the first 24 hour of Daytona for both drivers, although Justin Wilson does have 24 hours of La Mans experience, that coming back in 2004. Justin Wilson coming off a Champ Car World Series campaign where he earned his first two wins and finished a career-best third in the championship.
Justin, tell us how you got wrapped up in this and why you're excited about it.
JUSTIN WILSON: It started a couple of years ago when I did the Sebring 24 hours. I really enjoyed the sports car world and the experience. I've been looking to do more. Like you said, I've done La Mans, and Daytona was another race I really wanted to do. This opportunity came along and I couldn't turn it down.
We had our first experience today. It was good to see what the cars are like. They're good fun to drive, quite challenging, pretty warm inside, which everyone keeps talking about. It's good fun and I enjoyed it.
ERIC MAUK: You had experience in endurance racing, as we spoke about before. You did some stuff in the FIA GT a little while ago, back in your European days, although nothing of the 24-hour variety.
You've run 12 hours in the Sebring, as well as La Mans. Tell us about the difference in endurance racing mindset as opposed to what you do in the Champ Car World Series.
JUSTIN WILSON: It's a different mindset. These days, it's still attack all the time. It's not so much taking it easy. You've got to be pushing the whole race. In the back of your mind you're taking it easy on the equipment, try not to overstress anything too early, especially in these longer races. You mentioned, I did the three-hour race in the FIA GT. You can afford to use up the equipment a little bit earlier in that race. But the 24-hour races, you've got to be a little bit careful. I'm just looking forward to the experience. I've only done one 24-hour race, so I'm looking to do this and add to the experience.
ERIC MAUK: A.J., coming off his best Champ Car season, as well. He finished fifth in the season championship and won the first pole of his career last year.
A.J., first endurance racing experience, first experience in a Daytona Prototype. Tell us about what you expect out of this.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Justin sums it up fairly well. It's a lot of fun. It's a new experience for anything. More than anything I wanted to get in a car with fenders. So when P.T. runs into me, I don't bang wheels with him, we're just banging fenders now, I'm happy with that. I'm kidding. The press is going to start writing about that now.
Just for the press, we've made up and kissed. So we're all happy now.
JUSTIN WILSON: I actually saw that. Not a pretty sight.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I'm really thrilled. As Mike said, I've had a couple-year relationship with Oswaldo from my Barber Dodge days. He was a test driver there when I was racing the series and grew to really like Oz. I've watched him a lot in the past couple of years when he was in Grand Am. And I've watched the series and it's exciting racing and it's enjoyable to be around. And hopefully, we can get in the cars, and Mike Shank Racing has great equipment, and hopefully Justin and I can bring a level of driving that can help win the race.
ERIC MAUK: Is this something you look at -- you mentioned trying something new and experiencing new things as a race car driver, but do you look at this as preparation for 2006?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think any time you're in a race car, it's able to keep you sharp. I know Justin and I last year, we struggled with that. For five months we basically were not in a race car. To be able to get in a race car. And for me, more importantly, I'm fairly young as a driver and to have a chance to experience something new like this, it's going to be a fantastic place to go to and try.
It's something I've looked at, especially with Grand Am the last couple of years, you know, in my time off, and if I got the right opportunity, I would love to try and see what it was all about. I think we're going to have a great team there in Daytona. And my ultimate goal is to try to finish the race and not screw anything up.
ERIC MAUK: It should be interesting and we look forward to seeing you guys down there in January. We'll open things up to the media.
Q. A.J. and Justin, did you approach Michael or did he approach you? How did this come about that you guys hooked up?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think Mike would probably be the best one to answer that.
MICHAEL SHANK: I went after those two guys specifically, actually. They fit the mold of the kind of driver that I'm looking for. I think the open-wheel driver brings a hunger to the series. And both of these guys -- A.J. doesn't have a lot of endurance experience, obviously. Justin did, and I knew that. And all we had to do was maybe tune down A.J. just a touch and we get the natural aggression out of him which we'll need in the last two hours. But that's my main goal, I really believe in the open-wheel systems and what they can produce.
Q. A.J., is this -- and Justin, both of you, if the opportunity presents itself, where the schedule doesn't conflict, as it has been last year and now this new year, would you like to do something like La Mans? I know you've had experience in it, Justin. Is that something you guys would like to do?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think for sure, these type of races, it's exciting to me because, for instance, I'm really excited that I get to work with Justin now, in the same car, instead of teammates working together but still out there to try to beat each other and win for yourself and for your team. We get to work together and try to go for the same goal. So the 24 hour Daytona was on my list. And being teamed with Justin and him doing La Mans, he says that's one of the coolest, if not the coolest, races to do. So that's something I would love to do if the opportunity lent itself.
JUSTIN WILSON: I love this kind of racing. I think it adds something to the driver. You come here and you've got the endurance and you've got to learn patience and the tactics of how to go about and make the car quickest over 24 hours instead of an hour and a half. I think you learn something and grow as a driver by doing these kinds of races, and I really enjoy it.
Q. For Mike, there's about a foot in height difference between those guys.
MICHAEL SHANK: The funniest thing out there, all of our drivers are vary in size. Mark Patterson, who is a driver on the team also, he's six-three. You know how tall Justin is, and A.J. and Negri are kind of small. Amazingly enough, we have one seat insert and that's it, and that's covers all four of them. They've been really great about compromising. These two guys aren't used to having to do that. They came in here with a pretty open mind, and we have one, and I'm talking small, insert and they all fit great.
The important part there, during the 24, you always try to minimize your inserts. And we got it down exactly where it should be, so we're real pleased with that. When you look at it from the outside, you can't tell that one person is taller or not. It really worked out well, actually.
Q. Will it be difficult competing at Road America instead of Las Vegas?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think Road America instead of Las Vegas, I'm really happy to go back to Road America. I've obviously pretty much disliked the oval that I struggled on because they scare the hell out of me. I think going back to Road America, and that's one of the ultimate races that used to be on the Champ Car schedule, and probably one of the coolest tracks that's in the world, so for me it's exciting to go back to Road America. RuSPORT itself has been great on the road courses, as well, so I look forward to having a great setup and be quick there.
JUSTIN WILSON: I think you said it all, A.J. It's a cool drivers' circuit and everyone loves it.
Q. Question for both A.J. and Justin. If the schedule permits, will you run any other races this year in the Daytona Prototypes?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I would like to, as long as I don't make Mike Shank mad here and do something completely no right with the race care, maybe he'll bring us back. That would be something that would -- if the opportunity was there, I would for sure like to do. It's pretty much up to Mike first if he wants us back.
MICHAEL SHANK: We have a couple of races that can accommodate another driver. What we'll do is probably exactly what we did this afternoon, we'll do Rock, Paper, Scissors, and that will be the end of that.
Q. I guess that question will best be answered after the Daytona 24-hour.
You can always put Paul Tracy on the same team with you, A.J., and then you don't have to worry about running into him, because he would be out on the track when you wouldn't be?
MICHAEL SHANK: The truth is, you don't know how close that came today.
Q. Actually RuSPORT had a great year in 2005. I think both Justin and A.J., you're looking forward to an even better 2006, and A.J. looking for a race win?
JUSTIN WILSON: For sure. That's what it's all about. And we're getting more competitive. Hopefully we can be right up there challenging for race wins, not only on the road courses but also on the street, and that's what we're really working towards.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Justin needs to share his victories more. He has two now to my zero. He needs to evenly spread it around.
JUSTIN WILSON: Give it time.
Q. You can both share a victory at Daytona.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Sounds good to us.
Q. If I might ask one thing on the San Jose Grand Prix. They recently announced major changes. What do the two drivers thought about the -- if they've addressed the rail issue to their satisfaction?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: I think it's something that San Jose is really working hard on improving the track. During the race this year, they did everything that they could within their power to try to make the track better. They're improving the track a couple of sections out, and more importantly, trying to smooth out leading up to the train tracks.
That's really what was the problem, was the mere fact that we weren't going over them, but it was quite rough leading up to it, so we had a good, nice launching ramp as we hit the train tracks to really send us in the air. They're trying really hard to smooth it out and we won't know until we get there.
JUSTIN WILSON: I think A.J. said it all. He's the one that went down there and saw what they have done. You've got to have faith in what they're doing and just believe it's going to be better and smoother.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Justin, we really need to talk about this whole agreeing with me all the time. We can't get away from each other in lap time. We sit in the car, completely different car, half a tenth again. Now you're sharing thoughts. We order the same thing at every restaurant we go to. So we have really got to talk about this.
ERIC MAUK: We'll have T-shirts made for press conferences next year that say, "A.J. said it all."
Q. I just want to clarify one thing. It's a two-car effort with four drivers? Who goes where? I don't really understand that part.
MICHAEL SHANK: It's a two-car team. Michael Shank Racing is a two-car operation. The car that Justin and A.J. will be on will be the number 6-0 Flight Option Sponsored Lexus Powered car. I have a team car that will have four other drivers. So I have a total of eight drivers.
Q. Patterson, Negri, Wilson and A.J. is one team?
MICHAEL SHANK: Correct.
JUSTIN WILSON: Eight drivers, that's a headache.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: We have a lot of whining going on.
Q. A.J. what is the longest race you've ever run?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: It's a Champ Car race. What was the longest Champ Car race? Just over two hours or rated two hours. That's the longest race I've ever been in. It's a complete new experience. I think Mike said he was going to leave me out from right as it gets dark until it gets morning so the rest of the drivers can sleep. So I think I'll be in the car for nine hours straight. I'm just kidding.
But the Champ Car race is the longest I've been in, so I'm really excited about this opportunity, because for me it's something that's completely new.
Q. What are you going to prepare because it is completely new and your mindset has to be completely different?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: It has to be a bit different, but as Justin said earlier, if you watch a Grand Am race and you even watch the 24 hours of Daytona, you do have to bring yourself back a little bit and you're not pushing 100 percent of the car on edge. These guys are -- and Grand Am is so competitive, and the field of drivers is so deep that most of the time they're pushing 95 percent to get everything out of the car.
You know, your mind set is a little bit different. You're not going to abuse the car like obviously in a Champ Car race, but you're still going to be pushing hard most of the time and just set a good pace and run that for your stint. Whether that's an hour stint and they change you, or you do a double stint and it's around two hours, you still have the same mindset.
JUSTIN WILSON: I think the biggest thing to get used to is to deal with the lap traffic. Of course that's a major part in endurance racing, and trying to understand or learn what to expect, is going to be the key factor.
ERIC MAUK: Michael, as we talked about before, you had a team in the Atlantic series a couple of years ago and actually helped launch the career of Sam Hornish Jr., Alex Gurney and some other drivers on their way up. Now you've gone over to the sports car side. You've dealt with a number of personalities and a number of race car drivers over there.
Having been on both sides of the fence, what do you see as maybe the biggest hurdle, the toughest thing that these guys have to get acclimated to in running the prototypes?
MICHAEL SHANK: The single biggest thing is patience. They are the GT cars that run around here. Even when you think they give you the lane to take them, they don't actually give it to you sometimes, or they may be running their own race, which they are allowed to do, obviously.
The single biggest thing is just trying to pace that pass. And they'll hear about it from us time and time again. And Oswaldo and Negri, also, because everyone has been caught out by it, and it can't always be predicted.
Another thing that will be interesting, and Justin has had a little experience, is that at night you don't know who is behind you or in front you. So it can be interesting, and we'll utilize spotters for the whole 24 hours to help them through that transition.
It's managing traffic, I would say, by all means, and the car a bit, because the car goes away a bit as time passes and you just have to kind of deal with it.
Q. A little more question about what it's like to drive that Daytona Prototype. What kind of car in your past does it compare to? I know you only have had limited hours in it so far.
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: For me, it's something that -- it's close to a Barber Dodge car in the sense that a Barber Dodge car didn't have a lot of down force in it. The car was fairly heavy. It's probably only 500 or 600 pounds lighter than what the Daytona Prototype is. So it was a fun car to drive because it slides around a bit. It's got good power in it. You can let the car slide and you have the power to be able to pull out of that.
I'm looking forward to learning how to get more laps in and learning what the car really takes to be quick. Like I said, I only had about six or seven laps in it today. It's really close to being a Barber Dodge car. As big as the car looks, it doesn't roll around as much as you think as a sports car would. It's a fun car to drive. I look forward to getting a lot more time in it.
JUSTIN WILSON: For me, it's obviously different cars, but this one is unique and I've never experienced anything like it before. I really enjoyed doing my few laps earlier today and can't wait to get back in.
Q. As far as Champ Car goes, what's your view of the new chassis that's been announced for 2007?
JUSTIN WILSON: We're excited about the new chassis. It's got a lot of potential. It going to help the series, as well. Everyone is looking forward to the 2007 chassis coming out and getting started on developing it.
One of the key things, though, it's going to be very limited development as far as spending money. But from the driver's point of view, working on the setup, it's going to be a whole new challenge.
Q. My question is for both drivers. You've only recently been driving on Bridgestone Pretenzas. What's your feeling on the Hoosier tires that you're working with now? And do they have very different characteristics?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: You're giving me way too much stuff to think about. Now you're asking about the tire. For me, I really don't have a great feel for it yet. Today, for instance, I know Oswaldo has ran a lot of laps and he seems like from old tires to new tires, he can run two to three-tenths of each other, from brand new to old tires. It seems like they're good durability. And that's pretty much the sense I got just trying to learn the car. That's another thing, we'll go through Daytona for the test and we'll know more. It seems they can last a long time.
Q. That means they're consistent?
A.J. ALLMENDINGER: Yes.
ERIC MAUK: That will bring an end to the Champ Car media teleconference today. Thank you to Michael Shank and A.J. Allmendinger and Justin Wilson. Best of luck as you head down the road for your first appearance in the Rolex 24 Daytona. Again, that race takes place January 28th and 29th. Thanks so much for joining us and have a good day.
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