Viper Teleconference

Gary Johnson (Road Racing Manager, SRT Motorsports)
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS HEADING INTO MID-OHIO THIS WEEKEND? “Well we’re just setting up our paddock area and I’ll tell you that we are all very excited about the new SRT Viper GTS-R getting on track. We’ve got a great driver lineup, a terrific constructor and terrific tires. Overall, we’re expecting a good showing here.”

Tommy Kendall (No. 93 Pennzoil Ultra SRT Viper GTS-R)
GIVE US A SENSE OF YOUR ANTICIPATION AS YOUR PREPARE FOR MID-OHIP THIS WEEKEND? “It’s a tremendous amount of excitement. It’s a big comeback. We’ve both been away for similar periods of time, both Viper and myself, myself a little bit longer. A lot of excitement just to be back at a historic track like Mid-Ohio but under no illusions about what I’ve gotten myself into. We’ve chosen a pretty stout, stacked pond, if you will, to jump into. When I stopped driving in 1997, I made a promise to myself that I would only do things that I liked and enjoyed with people I liked. On one hand that could be a recipe for not working very much. On the other hand, fortunately for me, it has worked out where just one kind of cool thing after another has kind of fallen into place, this being a return to what I love the most which is driving. I know that I am one of the most envied drivers in the world right now. This car is very popular. It’s drop-dead gorgeous. The pictures do not do it justice. I will have a big smile on my face when I pull out on the track for the first time.”

Johnson: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS WEEKEND? IS THE GOAL TO FINISH OR GET A TOP 10 OR TOP FIVE? WHERE DO YOU SET THE BAR HEADING INTO THE DEBUT RACE? “You know, we’ve done a lot of testing with the car and we’re definitely excited to be here. Our expectations are really to have a good weekend. We’re not really setting any specific goals because it is our first time out and we’ve got incredible competition. We’re just looking at having a good showing and hopefully complete the weekend.”

Kendall: CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THE EXPECTATIONS FOR THIS WEEKEND? IS THE GOAL TO FINISH OR GET A TOP 10 OR TOP FIVE? WHERE DO YOU SET THE BAR HEADING INTO THE DEBUT RACE? “There’s goals and there’s expectations. I mean any race driver I’ve ever known who shows up at the race track, the goal is to try and win the race. Expectations on the other hand, I think, is just to learn as much as we can. We’ve done some testing but there are many questions in our mind about where we stack up. We’re anxious to get out there. There’s no real good way to know exactly where you stand until you get out there. You know we want to get as many miles as we can and see where we stack up.”

Johnson: WHAT DOES THE SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE AFTER MID-OHIO FOR THIS PROGRAM? ARE YOU COMMITTED TO THE REST OF THE YEAR OR IS IT ON A RACE BY RACE BASIS? “We are going to be reviewing how the weekend went here and, based on that, will have an opportunity to make an announcement on future racing this year.”

WITH ROAD AMERICA COMING UP IN TWO WEEKS TIME, WOULD THAT BE A PRETTY QUICK DECISION ON WHETHER TO DO THAT RACE OR NOT? “Anything is really possible at this point. We’re leaving it open, just kind of based on what happens this weekend.”

Kendall: YOU DID SOME RACING EARLIER THIS YEAR IN THE VIPER CUP SERIES. WHAT’S THE COMPARISION BETWEEN THAT TYPE OF CAR AND THE ONE THAT YOU’RE RUNNING THIS WEEKEND? REGARDING TESTING, HOW MUCH HAVE YOU DONE? HOW MANY MILES AND WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR POSITIVE TAKEAWAYS FROM THE CAR AT THAT POINT? “The Viper Cup (Kendall competed as a celebrity driver in the event at Virginia Int’l Raceway) was actually in the works before the race deal happened, actually, surprisingly. That started last fall at the Nurburgring when we were there filming our test drive and the Viper guys were there trying to beat the production car record, which they ended up doing. So I met some folks there, Bernie Katz, and he said ‘Hey, would you like to do this’ and one thing led to another. The schedule didn’t work out last year but it did for this year. I actually locked in that race before the potential for this ride came up. I’m glad I chose VIR (Virginia International Raceway) because that’s a track I’ve never raced at and one we could be going to here in a couple of months.

“The car is quite a bit different. It’s much closer to production than the GTS-R and it’s also the prior generation and model. But it’s got more power because of not being restricted and so forth. It was on slicks; I’ve done very little running on slicks in the last decade, really, so it was good to knock some of the rust off.

“The only testing I’ve done was also at VIR a week or so after that. We had a couple-day test there. In terms of total miles, I didn’t get a ton of running. We had all four drivers there and we were trading off and we had little issues that seemed to strike on my watch. The positive takeaways are the car is just, every way you look at it, a work of art. The outside and if you’re a car geek, the construction that Riley has done is spectacular. It reconnected me with exactly how much work goes into something like this. It’s fun to be at an event, at a test with the crew guys and everybody getting to know each other but the amount of work to get to this point is monumental. The takeaway for me is the car is just a quantum leap forward to what I drove last time. The Trans Am cars were fairly low-tech. This is not low-tech. The only time I’ve seen steering wheels like that are on the Formula One broadcasts. I’ve heard a lot about Michelin tires and I liked what I felt. But yeah, in general, just trying to get comfortable in the car, start working up to speed and knowing what this car likes.”

SINCE YOU’VE BEEN OUT OF THE SEAT FOR A LONG TIME, WHAT WAS THE MOST
CHALLENING PART FINDING THE LIMIT OR GETTING YOU BACK UP TO SPEED? DID YOUR TEST DRIVE TV SHOW OR SOMETHING ELSE HELP YOU TO REACQUAINT YOURSELF WITH FINDING THE BALANCE IN THE CAR? “Well, that’s still ongoing. I think I’ve probably, all totaled, got about a hundred miles of testing in, so I’m still on a little bit of the steep part of the learning curve. It’s one of those things where the big parts of it come back pretty quickly but the high speed stuff, where the risk is bigger, you certainly want to sneak up on that stuff. You know my show, certainly there’s really not to be gained from that. But again you get to the 95 percent mark pretty quickly. It’s the last five percent and that’s where the data acquisition is really the biggest tool. I have to say that having a teammate like Marc Goossens who is one of the mature guys like me but who is also in a car almost every single weekend helps. He’s really tuned in to both the tires and this category of car. Looking at that and going back and forth with him so far has been a big help.”

THIS IS PRETTY MUCH REUNITING YOU WITH THE RILEYS WITH YOUR PAST SUCCESS IN IMSA? HOW DOES IT FEEL TO WORKING WITH BILL RILEY AGAIN? “It’s great. It’s the first time I’ve been to the facility in Charlotte and you know Bob (Riley) is upstairs there. He’s still heavily involved in terms of making suggestions. He was ever-present at the test and it reminds me, it was a long time ago, but it reminds me of how he operated back then. He likes to go out in the corners, watch the car and see how it operates in terms of frequencies, the oscelation and that kind of stuff. Bob is a guy that’s so quiet that would never toot his own horn. I think, looking back on the part of racing that I’ve been involved with, he’s ushered in some quantum leaps forward with the first Riley Trans-Am cars, the Roush proto fab cars and so forth. And then I drove the second generation of those in 1990 and brought me my first Trans-Am championship in the GTP car. I remembered when we showed up with that car everybody said that car won’t work, too high downforce. Well, looked what happened. It was competitive virtually everywhere and it really unleashed an arms race of how downforce works. He won’t toot his own horn so I’ll toot it a little bit for him. It’s cool to watch he and Bill work so closely together. There’s a tremendous amount of admiration of Bill towards Bob but Bill has really blossomed. He’s got the engineering side. He also has the operations, the team, and the construction. He really is a talented, broad, multi-talented person. It’s been cool to get plugged back into that 20 years later. You think it’d be a certain way. While I haven’t been doing anything they’ve been just stacking up wins, championships, et cetera, virtually everywhere they race. I’ve got to give the SRT guys a nod because if you look at the level of teams competing here, there aren’t too many people that can come in and campaign a car at that level and they found one in Riley Technologies. It’s fun to get back together. There is a lot of work to be done. The tone, even though it’s intense, even though the time schedule is compressed, the atmosphere is very pleasant. I’ve got to give Bill credit there because even when things would go wrong at the test, he would be formulating on the fly b, c and d in ways that inspires confidence. That kind of trickles down through the guys and team. If you got a guy at the top that’s prone to getting panicked and stressed, everybody acts that way. It’s interesting if you dig beneath the surface of race teams, they really are kind of the reflection of the personality of the head. What I saw at that test at VIR I think bodes well.”

HAS ANYTHING BEEN DECIDED IN TERMS IF YOU ARE GOING TO QUALIFY THE CAR? HAVE YOU DONE MUCH IN TERMS OF DRIVER-CHANGE PRACTICE? WHAT IS THAT GOING TO BE LIKE VERSUS A TRANS-AM RACE WITH NO DRIVER CHANGES AND NO PIT STOPS? “I’m sure Bill has some ideas. That’s one thing about even the driver pairings,
you know, in doing sort of an abbreviated season like this, Bill can tweak things. He’s not locked into anything at this point. I’m paired with Marc this weekend but I don’t think we know what the sequence is. As far as the driver change, we did practice that at VIR a good bit and being a big guy, getting in and out, I was a little worried about that. At this time I think we’re in reasonable shape on the driver changes. I got to say it’s been a long time since I was in the seat where I had to give consideration to anyone else so that takes a little getting used to, to not have everything exactly like you want it. Marc is not as big as me but also he’s not a small guy either. I think we’re both comfortable in the car already but the driver changes so far so good.”

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