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GRAND-AM ROAD RACING MEDIA CONFERENCE
June 26, 2012
THE MODERATOR: We like to call our conferences special but this truly is as we get ready for Sunday's Rolex Series Race, the Sahlen's Six Hours at Watkins Glen, the first ever of the North American Endurance Championship, a three‑part series that encompasses the Rolex 24 Daytona this week at Watkins Glen and then the July 27 historic debut for GRAND‑AM at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Today we are joined by Ryan Dalziel. He drives the No. 8 Starworks Motorsport BMW/Riley in the Rolex Series Daytona prototype class, and we are also joined by Starworks owner, Peter Baron.
This team along with co‑driver, Enzo Potolicchio, emerged with one of the truly outstanding seasons in sports car racing history. He started the year with a second place finish in the Rolex 24, and they are currently second in the DP points and in the Endurance Championship points. Then they went on to win their class in 12 hours at the 12 Hours of Sebring, and then their class at the 24‑hour Le Mans as they are competing in the World Endurance Championship points.
Unbelievable; and for them to come down now to Watkins Glen and Indianapolis with an opportunity to follow up these wins at Sebring and Le Mans with a win in Indianapolis and a possible title in the Endurance Championship, it would just be an unreal capper to what has been a great season.
Let me start off with you, and congratulations on all you've done this year. Give us opening thoughts on going to The Glen this weekend; it's an historic road course and you obviously trying to stay up there in the Endurance Championship points.
RYAN DALZIEL: Absolutely. It really has been an unbelievable season for us. I don't think it's maybe a surprise to us. We feel over the past couple of years we have put together a really strong team, and we definitely going into this season, partnering up with Enzo and myself and the great people at Starworks, they expect great things and to be in the hunt for the championship.
This year, we would have loved to have won Daytona. We came just a few seconds shy of winning it, but no, we are very excited about Watkins Glen and for sure really excited about Indianapolis. I think that's going to be a huge turning point in how people perceive GRAND‑AM.
We feel that what we are doing in the WEC has been very special and brings awareness to a little competition in GRAND‑AM. We don't dominate in GRAND‑AM by any means. We consider ourselves a frontrunner but I think the performances we have put on in the WC have opened people's eyes and the world to just how difficult GRAND‑AM is.
THE MODERATOR: We'll lean over to Starworks Motorsport owner, Peter Baron. He's one of our most visible owners in the garage and sometimes one of the most colorful but the bottom line is he's one of the most competitive and without a doubt this year, one of our most successful.
Congratulations on a great season thus far, going into the Glen, going into Indy after that, what's the feeling for your team? Can you guys win again?
PETER BARON: Boy, for sure, we are definitely trying to get a win here in GRAND‑AM. And, you know, like what Ryan was talking about with all of the success we have had in the WEC, and we are leading that championship against some really talented teams but it just shows how hard and competitive that GRAND‑AM is with the Daytona prototype class.
When you look at it from a team ownership side, and where is the hardest, most competitive place that a person like myself can participate in, I mean, there's nothing like Daytona prototype racing. We thought we had a shot at Road America. I think the two‑hour Sprint format taught us‑‑ we had a good car. It was a lot better on a longer run when the tires started to get old, and we think if that maybe was a longer race that that would have played into our car better.
You know, that's the thing we are really excited about with the Six Hours coming up here, and when you look at the Six Hours and the North American Endurance Championship, and just the whole history behind the Six Hours at The Glen, everybody wants Daytona but also everybody wants to win the Six Hours here.
Other than just loving racing, I'm a true fan of racing and the whole heritage behind sports car racing. I go back to my childhood, and I remember I think it was 1970 there was the Technicolor purple and green Porsche 917 that won the Six Hours and that's one of my favorite cars. There's the historic cars that are immortalized by winning the six hours in the Glen.
We have not been on the podium yet for the Glen, and we had an engineering change this year that I think has paid off huge dividends for us, and Watkins Glen is a special track that has definitely different handling characteristics and makes the car do different things than versus a Daytona track.
But we have worked a lot on trying to make our car work for Watkins Glen here. We really hope to get a win here at the Glen to really just put an exclamation mark in our season and also to go to Indianapolis where if someone came up to me and said, you know, having wins where we've had this year and also to try to get a win at Indianapolis, they don't believe that anybody in sports car or even automotive racing history has had wins at Indy, Sebring and Le Mans in a year.
So absolutely we are going to try everything we can and the kitchen sink to win that one and try to put down historic fame in our world here.
Q. Congratulations on your success this year. I do have a question on the cars. There's an awful lot of talk about the Riley and Corvette and the differences. You guys did really well at Elkhart. Watkins Glen is a similar track. Are you expecting the same thing, how well the Riley did at Elkhart Lake, at Watkins Glen?
RYAN DALZIEL: Yeah, good question, and obviously there's a lot of talk and a lot of complaining on both sides of the manufacturer world here. But we feel that we are not quite there yet. It's amazing, you look at the championship, and you know, you see Rileys first, second and fourth with their car, and obviously with the clean sweep on the podium at Road America, you definitely start to think that things have swung into the Riley favor.
But when you actually look into it, we had the fifth fastest lap of the race and Ganassi had the fourth‑fastest lap of the race and Shank had the sixth or seventh fastest lap of the race.
So definitely we were expecting Road America to be the best track to us other than Daytona at this point. But it's clear there's still a little bit of work to be done. But you know, it's more mistakes that have been made on the other part that are making the Rileys look like they are doing a lot better than they are.
One thing I said at Road America at the press conference is a huge amount of credit has to go to GRAND‑AM for what's been the first that they have ever come across a situation with the brand new cars, and it's really the only time that balanced (ph) performances have been made, and you can't discount that Corvette did a great job with that car and put a lot of R&D into it. But still a little bit of help to be had.
I don't think we are quite going to quite have the same performance we did at Watkins Glen as we did at Road America, but I think the Riley mechanically is an extremely strong car, and I think that's why we are still in the championship hunt, and so are Ganassi; we have built strong cars. We are sticking with it.
I think GRAND‑AM have done a great job of continually being on top of it, and you know, they continue to look at the race stats. The results do lie, but the speed of the races doesn't lie and I think that's one thing that for sure GRAND‑AM and also the teams look at. Corvette were the top five by a chunk at Road America; I think realistically, if the 10 car had not spun on a yellow and the 99 car had not had their mechanicals, I think that we would have probably found ourselves fourth or fifth at the end. And Ganassi would have been third or fourth depending on I think the way that the pit strategy would have worked out.
But it's a continually changing battle just now, and I think that we are getting closer to be still contenders at all times.
Q. You talked in your intro about how you're showing how GRAND‑AM teams, the quality of them in the WEC. What is it about what you've done with the prototypes that has transferred over and helped you do so well in the WEC?
RYAN DALZIEL: That's a question for Peter. He's the smart one. I just turn the wheel.
PETER BARON: I think when you look at it and who has been in racing Daytona prototypes over the years, of course you have Ganassi, and you have the likes of Penske that have come in and thought it was going to be cherry‑picking and win a bunch of races. They never won a race. I think they had a couple second places and that was it.
It's incredibly tough. You have a lot of familiarity with the chassis here, and Ganassi has had their Rileys since 2004, the same car, working over and over. They have the resources of what they bring to IndyCar racing and NASCAR world; their famous highway or old turnpike tunnel in Pennsylvania and you just look at what they bring to it. As the level of competition rises and everybody‑‑ we are not going to sit here and let them run away with it.
So you'll be working all weekend. The whole nature of 24‑hour racing here, it's pretty hard core. If you look at it where the old days of 24‑hour racing where you could go with an endurance pace, maybe a couple seconds off and try and try and save the car; again, with the evolution of the Daytona prototype, these guys run Sprint‑type qualifying laps for a full 24 hours, and if you have any further mechanical, you're done.
And you look at the systems and reliability and how hoses are run and how electronics are done in the car, you have to build everything for no‑fail solutions on the car. And bringing that over to the 12 and 24 hours with the L&P 2 car, you're seeing that start to take place where there were I think 20 cars over in France participating in L&P 2. You know, we had maybe two small little hiccups, but just maybe ten extra seconds for two pit stops, nothing dramatic. That is now evolving to a game where you cannot afford to have any mess‑ups in the pits.
That's evolved from Grand Am racing is to do everything you can to make sure so that you don't have failure in how you look at the car; an item wear or might chafe or how do we beef up this or how do we change out the splitter quicker. I think that's the biggest thing with GRAND‑AM.
Q. Talk about the chemistry between yourself and Enzo; is there anything you can carry over from other races as drivers?
RYAN DALZIEL: Yeah, I think that everybody knows that Starworks has a very unique chemistry. From the outside you know, and on the inside firsthand it's a special place to be and we have a lot of fun there.
I think over the past year and a half now that I've worked with Enzo and we with together on and off the track, and you gradually get to know somebody. We are at a point now where we already kind of know what each other wants. And it helps a lot during the practice sessions and knowing that I can direct the car in a way that Enzo is going to enjoy driving it and we can get the most out of Enzo.
It's weird that he's kind of a true man driver on the heels of a pro driver, and that's really been a big benefit for us. And we can also use Enzo a lot as far as when we do have our true man session, he knows what direction I'm going to like the car.
So I think definitely in Road America, actually it was probably the first place where either one of us could have skipped the event almost. I think we were both directing the car the right way and I think that's only going to make us stronger as we go along here.
We definitely know each other. We are friends on and off the track, and I think that that's a huge part of any race team and it is definitely a huge part of any teammate.
Q. I believe you guys are adding Michael Valiante, a third driver for the Glen; is that right?
RYAN DALZIEL: That is not correct. We are actually adding Sebastien Bourdais as our third driver. That was a little bit of a misprint over the weekend.
Q. So adding Bourdais to the lineup, that must add a new complexion to the challenge this weekend.
RYAN DALZIEL: Yeah, for us, we wanted somebody that not only had DP experience but we wanted Watkins Glen experience. We were actually very close to doing something with Michael, but it just didn't materialize in the end. You know, he had some other opportunities. You know, as teamsthat are ‑‑ essentially our team right now, we are not really keen on sharing too much of our information with other teams. So that was a little bit of a stumbling block.
But Bourdais is somebody obviously we've had on our radar for a long time. We contacted him and obviously we worked along in WC, driving the D1 car. I know him from back Champ Car days and looking forward to having him in the car. We are going to Watkins Glen not to make up numbers but we are going there to win, and we think that Bourdais is going to be a really excellent choice for us.
Q. Can you share some comments about having Sebastien on the team?
PETER BARON: I think it just says about how determined we are to try to get a result here at the Glen. We went through our list of what did we want to do, who did we want to bring.
You know, originally, one of our plans was to bring Sarrazin over, who is the third in the six‑hour races with the WEC program. But he had a biking accident just before the Le Mans race. It turned out he has a couple of fractured vertebrae and he painfully went through a stint in the 24‑hour and then the doctors pulled him out and said he needed to take a month off. So we lost him for there.
But we were already working on our plans for the Daytona 24‑hour coming up and trying to put together optimal lineups. We had Bourdais on our radar screen and thought, let's do this; let's go get Bourdais.
We think the guy is incredibly fast and he knows these cars a bit, knows the track. And for us, it was the best person we could think to put in the car to work on bringing forth our 24 program as well as helping us try and win this race here.
Q. That will he man win, does that change your approach? Has it increased your confidence going into the subsequent races and this weekend's race?
RYAN DALZIEL: I'll tackle that one. Naturally, the goal with the Le Mans victory, the goal is to try to win the WEC championship, for sure, we wanted to win Le Mans, but yet you have to be realistic going into the 24‑hour. But since we came out of it, it's a double‑points race for that event. And one of our main rivals had a DNF; you have to do 70 percent of the race to score points.
So we find ourselves with not an amazing lead but a little bit of a comfortable lead where I think that takes a lot of the pressure off where now we just have to go off and execute. We don't need to win all of the races, but we believe we can win a lot of those races.
But I think it takes the pressure off there. You know, I think coming over to the U.S. side here with the North American Championship, we are in second place in that one, and the whole pressure now, it's like, okay, we are looking at the WEC championship, and for sure we have got to try and capitalize on how the Watkins Glen Six Hours is going to pan out with the race bonuses at the three‑hour mark and then the conclusion at six hours.
So now it looks like a whole dream season here and now we are pushing ourselves to push as much to do as much as we can at the Six Hours and again at the Indy race, as well.
Q. How has it affected your confidence? You must be flying at the moment.
RYAN DALZIEL: Well, thanks to a lot of good press in the Scottish Sun.
It was a nice win at Road America. It was really great to have guys like Pruett and Chip Ganassi congratulating us. I think it definitely maybe gives you a little bit of an extra bounce in your step. It's amazing how quickly you can get your feet back on the ground and I think we definitely got to Road America and we had a good couple of first sessions.
But you know, we also kept working and I think if anything, it's made us more determined to really win in GRAND‑AM. It's amazing having the success in WEC, but what we wouldn't give to go back to Daytona and do things a little different and be on the top step instead of the second step, and same with New Jersey.
Again, this weekend we are kind of the runner‑ups right now and we don't like being runners‑up. Watkins Glen has been a very bittersweet track to us over the years and you know, there's only a couple of tracks now that Peter and I have not had success on, and that's one of the monkeys we want to get off our back. We think that we have been good in the two‑hour race there, but we have got to have a good result there. We know the team can do it and we definitely been very reliable. I think the 8 car now has had reliability issues ‑‑ going back to Daytona of 2011, I think probably the last time the car had any kind of hiccup. We know we are good as far as reliability and we know we have a great driver right now. We just have to go there and execute.
Q. We heard from Peter what he thinks about the Corvette issues in GRAND‑AM and you're committed to Ford. Let's hear your feel about that and is Ford talking about coming on board to help you?
PETER BARON: Well, naturally we are all kind of skeptical when the 10‑3 plan came out. When you saw the Corvette hit the track and its resemblance to the 3 car and the performance of a prototype, you thought, wow, that's pretty spot on there.
Now GRAND‑AM, before they just used to have to worry about equalizing the motors, but now the whole aero part of it, as well. Like Ryan was mentioning, where you know Pratt Miller put a ton of resources and effort with GM behind them into designing the Corvette, which is‑‑ I mean, it's a nice aero piece for sure. Now I think Ford is perhaps starting to see the benefits of it and I know GRAND‑AM is working hard with Ford to get them to come in.
I think one of the differences is, there's a little bit of a difference in mind‑set at the helm of each company where Ford is maybe a bit more reserved and not so ambitious to put a lot of money into right away.
But I think you'll see them coming out shortly with what I would say, maybe a re‑designed nose. They have plans I think to come out eventually with a full kit. They are looking at what could they do to help out their Ford teams.
But for sure, we are a little bit behind right now. Everybody knows that. I think when you look at where the motors left off last year, we are down 200 RPM versus where the 2011 season wound up and BMW is 100 RPM above it. If they thought it was equal back then, we are for sure trying to play catch up. I think everybody was a bit concerned with how the Riley was going to be at Daytona and run away with it. For sure it was a good car there, but now the downforce piece, and trying to equalize that; it's a hard piece of work there.
I know Ed Bennett has taken over the reigns now running GRAND‑AM on a day‑to‑day basis and that's his main priority is to get everything equalized here.
The first step, I think he made a decent motor change with his support group and now they are trying to figure out where Road America was expected to be a bit of a Riley track and like Ryan was mentioning, the fourth and fifth fastest laps were Rileys and not Corvettes. They probably think they are going to need a little bit more help here hopefully.
But with that, the thing you have to work with your partners and everybody long term. Ford, the motor is incredible. It had a great run with speed and success at Daytona. We don't want to be hopping around motor to motor. That's one of the beauties about the chassis, is it's really easy to put different motors into it, but that's not how you build long‑term success.
We are happy with Ford and want to stay with them and just hoping that by the end of this when we get to some of the higher downforce tracks like Laguna and Lime Rock that they have an answer for the downforce. For sure Corvettes are making a lot more downforce than we are; but how they regulate that and equalize it, hopefully that's something Ed hopefully is going to come up with here shortly after the Watkins Glen races.
Q. Let me understand, GRAND‑AM gave 100 RPM to BMW. Is there any talk of giving you any more RPM to get more power out of your engine?
PETER BARON: I'd love to but I think the motor gets a little bit‑‑ after 7,300, 7,400, you start to burn a lot more gas where the power starts to drop off.
Right now our consumption for the Ford, we have to pit about a lap and a half earlier at Road America which is a little over a four‑mile circuit. So over a tank we could extrapolate but the GM and BMW cars were getting about six more miles per tank, which at Watkins Glen will basically turnout almost two laps there and in strategy that can make a big difference.
The last thing we want to do is start burning more gas and hopefully they can maybe pull back some of the other cars and figure out another way to do it.
Q. You are to be commended for moving from a National Championship to an international championship when everyone else is kind of taking their time and maybe pulling back. Did you think twice before doing that, and how has it worked out for you?
PETER BARON: Well, let's see, I think one of my strengths as a team owner, manager, has always been trying to stretch dollars and with limited resources, trying to figure out where do we put it; do we take dollars and spend them here or there.
I'm fairly confident that we have the most modest budget in the Daytona prototype by far, but I think what happened was in the off‑season, we ran with our Venezuelans, Enzo and Alex last year, and they felt confident how we were spending and what they were doing. They sensed we are really working hard to make the program better and not take advantage of sponsors or sponsor dollars and give everybody the best value that we can. I think that worked well with their sponsors.
Obviously Alex and Enzo are backed a lot by Venezuela and Venezuelan companies, and with our successes starting last year, they were able to go with a bigger proposal to them this year to look at it internationally. That was nice‑‑ on the world circuit, some of the companies liked seeing that a bit more.
It was fairly easy for them to get that through, and just based on our dollars are not that crazy with what we are working with. There's a lot more expensive ways to go but I think when you look at how do we spend it versus what do the sponsors get and the value, that it was a pretty good proposition for them.
Q. Just wondering how nice it is to be in the discussion of winning races and championships in GRAND‑AM because for a while it seemed one team would get hooked up and be hooked up for the year and now it's much more chaotic, which is great for the viewing audience but how nice is it just to be in the conversation?
RYAN DALZIEL: It's been a really good season for GRAND‑AM. I think that the new cars, although maybe there was some skepticism at the time about bringing in a new chassis or new body work, I think it was the smartest thing they did. The GRAND‑AM cars, they were starting to look dated. They had to become current and I think that it really did, much like Formula1 has done this year, has just thrown a curveball to everybody. And the multiple different winners; it's amazing, Ganassi, we're five, six races in, and they only got their first victory.
I think it's been a great season. It's definitely made things more difficult for everybody and we believe in our engineering staff and with the support from Riley and Ford, I think we are definitely expecting to continue to be contenders. It's been a while since we won at Mid‑Ohio last year and we are definitely itching to win in GRAND‑AM.
Q. You talked about the competition in GRAND‑AM. Did it give you solid footing to have you go into the WEC and have success right away?
PETER BARON: Absolutely, working with GRAND‑AM, it was find of funny, people look at it and I believe there's 11 cars in for the Six Hours at Watkins Glen, if you look at it historically, we've had larger numbers as far as deals and GT stuff, but when you look at who has fallen by the wayside, there's a lot of smaller teams or teams that maybe were not competitive.
Historically you look back and it's always been Ganassi, Gainsco, Sun Trust, and those were the three guys you were out thereafter. The competition is still there. They have the big budgets, and we are a part of them now with being one of the major teams there.
And you know, having to compete against these guys, I think even when you look at IndyCar racing, it's basically two teams there. You look at historically with Ganassi and how their resources are with the wind tunnel and how they do on ovals and the amount of 500s, without a doubt they are one of the best teams in motorsports period and that's who we are competing against. Having to compete against the best is what is so attractive about the GRAND‑AM race. It makes us a better team.
And you know, the experiences that we do with it, when we look at the WEC, there might be faster cars or quicker cars over a lap, but everything from our decision to go with the chassis that we chose over there was based upon the decisions with the reliability and solid packages was something we could tune and work with and have a partner.
There's no doubt having experience over there I think helps us out and brought us right to the front. We looked at what some of the teams are doing and some of the packages, and it's interesting. It's a cost cap series over there, so you have the tires, motors, car parts and chassis are all limited by costs. It's not like you can get out‑spent on that but you just kind of wonder why some of the people made some of the decisions and what they are doing with it.
You know, I think we are‑‑ I don't want to say one of the smarter teams doing it but maybe we are one of the better experienced teams as far as endurance racing and how to win championships and 24‑hour races.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you to Ryan and Peter, awesome call today, great participation from the media. Best of luck as you try to make some history, not only for your team here as we move through the rest of the season, but really all of sports car racing. We wish you all the best in those efforts.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports