PIT PASS INDY– SEASON 3, EPISODE 4 -- Rolex 24 at Daytona IMSA Sports Car Race Preview
January 24, 2022
Pit Pass Indy Host Bruce Martin takes a deep dive into this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona Sports Car Race.
Over 10 drivers will compete in the Rolex 24. That’s nearly one-third of the starting lineup of 33 drivers that competes in the Indianapolis 500.Because the Rolex 24 is such an important race, we are going to switch gears on this episode of Pit Pass Indy as we talk to IMSA President John Doonan on the tremendous storylines in IMSA this season.
Our second guest is Honda Performance Large Project Leader Mark Crawford, who works on the Acura IMSA Sports Car project. An Acura will start on the pole when Saturday’s race begins after Meyer Shank Racing was the fastest in pole qualifications on Sunday, January 22.
Show host Bruce Martin has interviews with Doonan and Crawford on this special edition of Pit Pass Indy.
For more INDYCAR coverage, follow Bruce Martin at Twitter at @BruceMartin_500
"Penske" means performance ... and winning
For good reason. Since 1966, Team Penske has won 43 national championships, 17 IndyCar alone. Its 18 Indy 500 victories are a record. And last year, Penske was the first team in history to win both the IndyCar and NASCAR Cup Series championships in the same season. Those are results that are tough to top.
Welcome to Pit Pass Indy, a production of Evergreen Podcasts. I'm your host Bruce Martin, a journalist who regularly covers the NTT IndyCar Series.
Our goal at Pit Pass Indy is to give racing fans an insider's view of the exciting world of the NTT IndyCar Series in a fast-paced podcast featuring interviews with the biggest names in the sport.
I bring nearly 40 years of experience covering IndyCar and NASCAR. Working for such media brands is nbcsports.com, si.com, ESPN Sports Ticker, Sports Illustrated, Autoweek and Speed Sport.
So, let's drop the green flag on this episode of Pit Pass Indy.
Before we get to today's podcast, we have a special message. All of us at Pit Pass Indy are deeply honored and proud to receive The Best Podcast of 2022 by the National Motorsports Press Association during its annual convention in Concord, North Carolina on January 22nd.
The episode entitled Mario Andretti and the “American Dream” won first place in the podcast category from an independent panel of judges. The episode was released on June 21st, 2022, and is available for download on all major podcast platforms. The team here at Evergreen Podcasts is deeply honored, proud, and humbled to receive this award.
There will be more awards given out Sunday afternoon at Daytona International Speedway, the cherished Rolex Daytona chronographs that go to the winning teams in each class of this weekend's Rolex 24 Daytona.
The famed international sports car race, kicks off the major racing season and features some of the top racing drivers from around the world as they endure the challenges of the 24-hour race.
It's twice around the clock for these teams and drivers, which will include a large contingent of drivers from the NTT IndyCar Series. Over 10 drivers from IndyCar will compete in the Rolex 24. That's nearly 1/3 of the starting lineup of 33 drivers that competes in the Indianapolis 500.
Because the Rolex 24 is such an important race, we're going to switch gears on this episode of Pit Pass Indy as we talk to IMSA president, John Doonan on the tremendous storylines in IMSA this season.
Our second guest is Honda Performance, large project leader, Mark Crawford, who works on the Acura IMSA sports car project. And Acura will start on the poll when Saturday's race begins after Meyer Shank Racing was the fastest in poll qualifications on Sunday, January 22nd.
With so much to cover, our first guest is IMSA president, John Doonan, who joined me for this exclusive Pit Pass Indy interview.
Joining us now, on Pit Pass Indy, it's a real honor to have the president of IMSA, John Doonan join us. John, big race coming up here at the end of the month, the Rolex 24 at Daytona, which in a lot of ways has become an international all-star race. The greatest race drivers in the world, all coming to compete in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in one of the great endurance races in the world.
If you could talk about just how the growth of this event has become so important on the international motorsports calendar.
Well, you're right. The countdown clock in the lobby when we walked in today said 12 days. So, the entire staff here is counting the days, all the race teams and all the partners are counting the days. So, they're going to roll in here, park for both the roar before the 24 and the Rolex 24.
But if you rewind the clock 61 years ago, Bill France Sr. had a vision of this event, and that was to really bring the best of the best together. And we talked, you and I earlier, about exactly that. You're going to see the best racing drivers from many different disciplines in the race. Obviously, the best sports car drivers in the world, but you have drivers coming from IndyCar and from NASCAR. Of course, Austin Cindric, the Daytona 500 winner from 2022 is going to be running with us.
So, you're going to see the best talent behind the wheel. You're going to see the world's leading auto manufacturers. We're so proud in IMSA to have 18 of them. The WeatherTech SportsCarChampionship, Michelin Pilot Challenge are full of the best automakers in the world, so we're proud of that.
And then you look at the race teams, you go down the list of Chip Ganassi Racing, Meyer Shank Racing, Indy 500 winners in last year's IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship champions. Penske, Ganassi again, Andretti now partnered with Wayne Taylor, Rahal Letterman Lanigan, Action Express race winners and champions.
So, you add it all up, when it comes down to it, you got the best of the best. And that's what the history of the Rolex 24 has been like over the last 61 years. And we're certainly hoping to write that next chapter here in the next 10 days.
And if you walk through the paddock at the Rolex 24, it's also the season kickoff for a lot of business people from other series to get together to get involved in racing. You'll see a lot of the top people from all forms of racing at Daytona.
And how valuable is that to get everybody there? It's kind of this schools back in session type feel, not only just for the IMSA WeatherTech series, but for auto racing around the globe.
Yeah, you have that pegged perfectly. We are so honored to be the launchpad for the motorsport season around the world. You're exactly right, all different sanctioning body leaders, certainly representatives and senior leadership and board members from automakers around the world. Drivers and teams of course, kicking off their season in IMSA.
But it is definitely the launchpad for motorsport globally. We're proud of that. We want to continue to be that. In this event as you look back again over the last six decades, it's been that. And this year's going to be no exception. It's really going to be special.
And when you look at some of the IndyCar drivers that have competed in the Rolex 24, you got to start with a guy like Scott Dixon who's achieved some pretty impressive statistics there.
And when you look at Scott Dixon, the sports car driver and his accomplishments in the Rolex 24, it really does show him to be one of the top racing drivers in the world. What can you tell our listeners about what Scott Dixon has really meant to the success that he's had in that event?
Well, you're right. And Scott, of course, the consummate gentleman off track, the fiercest of all competitors on track. And when you put together an all-star team, if you will, for an event like the Rolex 24. And Chip Ganassi Racing has got drivers from a lot of different disciplines. But when it comes to this event, they've pulled together their own little all-star team.
And Dixie has definitely stood on the top step of the podium here at Daytona proudly. I know in talking with him, he's extremely proud of his success at this event, which couples, of course, with IndyCar Championships and Indy 500 wins and things like that.
So, Scott's someone that is probably one of the poster children for doing that crossover. And like you probably, and many of your listeners, I grew up at a time where drivers crossed over many disciplines.
You had a guy like AJ Foyt, who 40 years ago won the Rolex 24 in that Swap Shop Porsche 935. But also, of course, his IndyCar career, his stock car career and his stock car victories.
And Scott, to me, is another example of a driver that has crossed over and just carried over the success that he had in his primary discipline of open wheel racing. But then took it to the top step here at the Rolex 24, and frankly, several other IMSA races throughout the years.
When you got the entry list and saw that there were 11 IndyCar Series drivers that were going to compete in the Rolex 24, what type of feeling did you get? It, obviously, had to be a very positive feeling that in many ways, you've got a 1/3 of the starting lineup of Indianapolis 500 driving on your track in January.
Yeah. Over the years and Mr. France, Jim France that is, has talked about this, and we've got several event posters from throughout the time that this event has been going, and it's highlighted the star power that this particular event to kick off the season, the Rolex 24, gives to motorsport.
And to have that many drivers that are full-time in either the IndyCar Series or Indy 500, obviously, it gives what is already a very, very significant event in the world of motorsport, definitely in IMSA's playbook and for sports car racing in general.
And you add that additional star power and that additional talent. And so many of those drivers are aligned with specific manufacturers in one or both of the series that they compete in full-time.
And so, it's a really nice portfolio of talent. And these drivers represent the brands that they're driving for so well, whether it's Acura here versus Honda elsewhere, or Cadillac versus Chevrolet. It's really special.
And then you add in some new faces like a Romain Grosjean who's running in Lamborghini, has got a really bright future in sports car racing, as well as what he's already done in open wheel racing.
It's hard to pinpoint one specific, but I can tell you growing up in the Midwest and knowing the significance of the Indy 500 to have that many drivers involved in this event and several of them throughout the season, it really is an added boost to an already super 2023 season.
Now, of course, the Rolex 24 at Daytona is the crown jewel of the IMSA schedule, and you lead IMSA as its president. And as you said at the beginning of the interview, 18 different manufacturers. You compare that with other forms of racing in the United States, I believe NASCAR has three manufacturers, IndyCar has two. How has IMSA become so popular with the automotive industry to be able to attract 18 different manufacturers?
Well, the core values of IMSA are pretty simple. We want to remain cost effective. We all know racing is an expensive sport, but we 100%, and this is a vision from the very beginning, that Bill France Sr. had, John Bishop certainly aligned with, and to this day, Jim France does. And that is we want to be an automotive industry marketing tool.
And we (congrats to our entire staff) have built very deep relationships with all of the automakers that choose to race with us. We have asked them directly about their objectives. We want to help them meet and exceed those objectives. We want to listen to them.
If we're going to be a marketing tool in their toolbox, we need to understand where they're headed with their power trains and how it relates to what they're doing in their road cars. We want to understand where they're headed with alternative fuels and with different propulsion, whether that's hybrid, which we're launching this year, further electrification, and as I said, alternative fuel.
So, we do want to have a listening ear. We want to continue to be the stage where these automakers choose to compete, and we're so proud to have that many have chosen to invest with us and compete at the highest levels of sports car racing in the world.
And they're friends of ours too. These are people we consider partners, but dear friends. And anytime you have that kind of a relationship, it bodes well for everybody involved.
So, in 2023, you have 11 races with six events featuring all five WeatherTech Championship classes, including the new division GTP. And if you could explain to our listeners how exciting it is to have this new class that will feature some of the top racing teams in the world.
Well, if you rewind the IMSA history book a little bit. GTP or Grand Touring Prototype was a category that started in 1981, and it was a critical part of IMSA for about 12 years after that. And many folks consider that the golden era of IMSA racing, where you had manufacturers bringing prototype race cars that they have designed themselves that look their brand or tell a brand story.
So, as we came with the next version of prototypes for the top category, we decided to reignite that name, GPT. The GT aspect of it is because there's freedom in the design. The designers that still design road cars that you see on the street every day, this same group of designers at Acura, BMW, Cadillac, Porsche, and next year, Lamborghini will be joining us. They were given almost a open pallet on the easel to design their ultimate expression of their brand.
So, when you see the Acura GTP car, when you see the BMW, Cadillac, Porsche, you can see their brand in the design. Whether it's in the way the nose looks and the headlights, or the styling along the side of the car, or the tail, or the rear wing, that they represent an Acura, they represent a Cadillac or vice versa, a Porsche and a BMW.
And if you pull the road car version of those brands up next to these prototype race cars, you can see it. Not just stickers, you can see it in the design.
And in talking to the designers at a lot of these events where these cars were unveiled, you can see the glimmer in their eye. The young men and the young women at these design studios were given sort of the ultimate homework assignment, and they've embraced it. They're proud of it.
And as the cars roll off the grid for the Rolex 24 next Saturday, I think you're going to see those folks grinning ear to ear about what they achieved and ultimately be proud that it's a representative of their particular automaker.
Do you believe that IMSA provides the most direct technology transfer from racetrack to the automotive passenger car of any racing series in 2023?
Well, I think if there was somebody measuring that as a report card, I'd say we definitely achieved an A. And I think we probably do, (given the mixture of automakers) set the trend across all motorsport. When the fans come to the speedway here, whether they're watching on NBC or Peacock or USA Network, they can see the storylines of these manufacturers.
So, that for sure, probably puts us on the top step of the podium in that regard. I also think in collaboration with the automakers, we're bringing less tire usage. We're bringing a new renewable fuel for the top category. We're bringing hybrid technology to the GTP cars.
So, in addition to being a marketing tool, specifically for the brands themselves, we've got a sustainability story to tell that is industry leading as well. We have a partnership with the EPA and the Department of Energy and the Society of Automotive Engineers.
The only sanctioning body certainly in North America to have that kind of relationship with governmental bodies, that validates what we're trying to do from a sustainability standpoint.
So, when you couple all those things together, I think you're exactly right, IMSA is and wants to continue to be the leader in showing relevance from road car to racetrack, but also vice versa. We want this to be the laboratory that develops future technologies, future components for the future road car.
And because the future is moving more toward electric vehicles, do you believe that the charging issue that a lot of people have with an electric car is, it's very limited in terms of how many miles you can get per charge, or actually, I guess how many hours you can run it between charges. That that is a number one component that the racing world will probably tackle that will end up benefiting the automotive industry?
Well, we have continued to study that as an opportunity. Once again as I said, we definitely want to have a pulse on our auto manufacturer partners about what is ultimately going to be the most valuable to them in terms of a storytelling platform.
Clearly, when we discuss the concept of adding a hybrid electric motor to these GTP cars, we had many manufacturers at the table. And they spoke as a market, and they said that this is exactly the bridge that they felt they needed to tell their story on the road car side.
So, when you have Acura, BMW, Cadillac, Porsche, Lamborghini make commitments to the top category because of the set of technical regulations that we developed with our partners at the ACO and the FIA, that's a statement. They made a statement that they believe that this is the right place for them to compete.
Now, going further, as you point out, is full electrification the answer? Time will tell. But we also need to remember that whether it's the tens of thousands, of hundreds of thousands of fans that are going to see IMSA races this year on site, or the millions that are going to watch on television throughout the year, we still want to make sure that it's an entertaining platform.
When the race cars in the GTP category leave their pit box, many of them leave on electric power, and then about halfway down pit lane, those internal combustion engines fire up and bam, and the sounds come, and the smells come, and the sight come, and the engines are firing, and the fans enjoy that.
So, I think it's a balancing act to be candid, and we need to continue to listen both to those who invest, the automakers, and to our fans who are so important to us. And I think the ultimate beneficiaries of this new platform.
We'll be right back to Pit Pass Indy after this short break.
Welcome back to Pit Pass Indy. And now, here's the rest of my interview with IMSA president, John Doonan for Pit Pass Indy.
From a business standpoint, I'm going to name off some venues to you, starting with Daytona, then going the Sebring, then going to the streets in Long Beach, then Road America, then Watkins Glen, Road Atlanta, and beginning this year, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
You're the only series in the world that competes at every one of those venues in a season. How valuable is that for businesses to get on board with IMSA when they're going to run at the most iconic racing facilities in North America, if not the world?
Well, it's exactly right. You hit all the facts, and I think we are proud to compete in 16 of the top 20 markets in North America. Once again, we want to be showing the IMSA product, which is the prototypes and GT cars, the variety of series that we have, the single make championships in those markets, because it benefits both the automakers, our partners at Michelin, our partners at WeatherTech, our partners at VP Racing Fuel.
So, if you're checking boxes, that's one box to be in those top markets. You see a variety of different circuit layouts in what you just mentioned. Daytona certainly being unique in the fact that it's a Roval, if you will, using certainly a majority of the Daytona International Speedway oval.
But then a critical element of the road course, you go to the streets of Long Beach or the streets of Detroit, where our Michelin Pilot Challenge will race this year, that brings variety. You bring some of the slower speed road racing circuits like Lime Rock, just outside of New York. And then a very high-speed set of circuits like Road America or Watkins Glen or Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.
You're giving our audience a huge variety of different venues. So, from a execution standpoint, we love being at the variety of venues. From a business standpoint, we try to visit the markets that our current partners and hopefully future partners want to activate in with their brand or with their customers.
And so, it presents an exciting opportunity for us throughout the year to visit such a variety of different places.
And how important is it to IMSA to return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway facility, where I believe around 2012 they had competed at before. But now, under the leadership of Roger Penske, who owns the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, IMSA is going to get a chance to return on its own standalone weekend, September 15th through the 17th?
Yeah, when you talk about iconic places and iconic races you can't have a conversation like that without including the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what Mr. Penske and his staff, Doug Boles, Mark Miles have done there in terms of the time that he's owned it.
Remarkable what they've done for fan experience. For the very first time, speaking of the fans, they're going to allow infield camping with motor homes, which is such a big part of us throughout the season with so many of the venues allowing families to come in and park literally trackside and have the show right in front of them. So, I'm certain they're going to pack the place.
I'm from the Midwest, so I love Midwestern fall weather. And I hope we have and are blessed with some beautiful weather at that time. We're going to run a Michelin Pilot Challenge race from daylight into darkness, which is exciting, and to kind of get a read on what we might do with a longer length WeatherTech SportsCar Championship event for 2024 and beyond.
So, there's a lot of excitement around that. The teams have been excited about going back there, and I think we're going to put on a tremendous show. And then it's going to be live on NBC on that Sunday, so can't go wrong with that.
And speaking of Penske, they will compete beginning this year as Porsche Penske Motorsports. How important is it for those iconic combinations to come together in sports car racing?
Well, I think Penske and Porsche been synonymous back to the early ‘70s, certainly when they ran in endurance races with early 911 RSRs. But you go on to what they did in the Can-Am series in the ‘70s with Porsche. And then of course, when the RS Spider launched in 2005, it was once again Penske and Porsche.
So, to have them back together — I've been with both of those organizations, the folks at Porsche, the folks of Penske, separately and together, and I know they're thrilled to be back together in the top category racing for overall wins.
And the same could be said for Chip Ganassi and his organization, Bobby Rahal and the Letterman Lanigan group to come back with BMW in the top category. So, you talk about the drivers from IndyCar, but now, you got so many of these IndyCar teams between Andretti, Rahal, Ganassi, Penske, Meyer Shank, they're all seeing the value in sports car racing as well.
Now, when you walk into a business company that's interested in maybe getting involved in racing, it seems like you've been very successful in getting a lot of business in IMSA. And how receptive have a lot of businesses been to getting involved with IMSA when they see some of the bold initiatives that you have planned?
Well, I appreciate you asking that. I think you hit on another very important element of how we try to operate. And as you look at the auto industry, we already talked about the manufacturers, then you talk about automotive related products companies like WeatherTech, Michelin in particular, now Bosch, with the electric motor that they've produced for the hybrid system. They 100% see a business proposition to be in front of a very fertile ground, if you will, target rich group of automakers.
At the same time, we've now opened up with the hybrid system and with the advancements in technology of the race cars, both prototype and GT. Now, you're into a technology sector and a data analysis sector.
Which opens up the doors in potential business proposition for companies that are in those sectors to come to the racetrack, entertain current customers, maybe bring prospective customers. But also use the races, which are so time driven and real time data acquisition, to make decisions.
There's a correlation in that case to showcasing their software, maybe their hardware and the technology that we have that's rolling around the racetrack. Couple that with sustainability, which all companies are looking at being more efficient in how they operate.
And so, you have a set of parameters, if you will, that make it a worthwhile business investment to come and be part of. It can race from daylight into darkness. You can have dinner overlooking the racetrack at night with a bunch of business colleagues.
We have several companies that choose to come into town early, have business meetings with clients, and then use the racetrack as a celebration of their partnership. So, we hope to continue to grow IMSA and provide opportunities for both automakers and related brands, and even further into the technology sector and diversity and sustainability that will continue to make us a worthwhile investment.
Now, what is a Rolex 24 like for the president of IMSA? I'm sure it's really not a Rolex 24, it's more like a Rolex 48 in terms of time that you're awake throughout the event. When does your day begin and when do you finally get to go to sleep?
Well, that's it. I love that question because over the years, have had the opportunity in my previous life from the manufacturer's side to compete in the event, and you're exactly right, I'd like to roll into the track very early on race morning. And some would say, “What are you thinking? You're going to be up for 48 hours.” Which is the right number.
But I like to come in before the race starts. I like to spend time in the garage area by myself right when it opens. Most of the teams come a little bit later because they have to execute the race.
But for me, growing up at the racetrack, that was a special time, sort of a calm before the storm, and you get a read and you see the fans waking up in the infield and cooking breakfast and things like that, getting ready for the twice around the clock side of the race.
We obviously, have a lot of guests in town. We have a breakfast with all the manufacturer and partner leadership. We have, as you pointed out, members from the ACO and the FIA that will be with us.
Obviously, the driver meeting is a special moment, as well as our race directors give their final instructions for what is expected when the race starts and then through the night.
I do stay up all night with my staff. I've always been a believer in we're a team and they have to stay up all night. They have to be on their game to execute the race, to make decisions, and also, to tell stories through the night. So, it's a huge team effort and right on through to the finish and victory lane.
And then you're exactly right, sometime long about 7:00, eight o'clock on Sunday night after the race, I do try to find my bed and catch up. But there's a lot of adrenaline that drives all of us, a lot of passion that drives all of us.
And no matter what manufacturer is represented, no matter what race team is represented, when everybody pulls in here to Daytona, we're speaking a common language of love for the sport and passion for the sport. And that makes anybody have a little extra energy to stick it out to 48 hours.
Is it more of a mental challenge or a physical challenge?
Definitely, your body plays tricks on you after you've been up all night, your body's telling you it's hungry, but it's just looking for sleep. So, I think definitely you start feeling it both physically and mentally.
But what I always appreciate and appreciated when I was competing, the crew members that have to execute at least one pit stop per hour, so call it 24 pit stops. They have to be on their A game for every one of those pit stops.
They need to make sure that the fuel tank gets filled all the way. They need to make sure every tire has proper tire pressure in it, that it's tight when it goes on. They got to make sure the windshield is clean. They make sure that the driver has proper refreshments in the cockpit, in terms of their water bottles and things like that.
So, I've always respected and appreciated the crews out of anyone. The drivers, of course, get an opportunity to go take a nap and maybe get a massage or get a meal, but the crew members, they have to be on their game for 24 hours.
So, I think the mental side of it is probably one of the things that's most taxing. And then that carries over to a tired body.
One of the most surreal feelings that anybody can get in any auto race in the world, I would say with between the hours of 2:00 AM and 6:00 AM on Sunday morning when it's just a surreal feeling to hear the cars in the background at that hour of the day.
And how you can't experience that anywhere except an endurance race, whether it be the Rolex 24 Daytona or the 24 hours of Le man. Just how do you begin to describe to our listeners what that time period is like in a race?
Yeah, surreal is excellent word. I actually also, to some extent, call it a calming moment. The sun is coming up, people have been pushing hard throughout the night. They've made it to daylight, they've made it to morning.
Now, the mindset certainly of the strategists and the engineers on the pit box and definitely the drivers is, “Wow. Now, we're going to go racing.” They've been racing all night. They've been racing since the green flag, but now, they're going to go racing, in quotes. Strategic decisions on when to pit, when to take fuel, when to take tires, whether they want track position, is the car still feeling happy or has it been damaged during the night and are they nursing it?
There's so many factors that play in there, but I've always found that time of sunrise to be somewhat calming. We've made it, we have quite a bit yet to go, but we've made it. And I know just from being in that slot when I was a participant and a competitor, it's a little bit of a relief moment knowing full well that there's still quite a bit of racing to do.
And I would say the most popular concession at the Rolex 24 has got to be the coffee. A lot of races, the most popular concession may be food, or it may be beer, but I would definitely think the coffee concession at the Rolex 24 is probably quite busy.
It is, and I think if you roll the clock back to last year, I think it was certainly also for warmth. We were quite cold during the night, I think 32 degrees overnight last year or right around that. So, people were looking for some hot cocoa, tea or coffee. But you're a hundred percent right, both for the teams and the fans.
And that's another thing that impresses me so much is the number of fans that might sit up and call it turn one of the road course for the start, maybe go get a meal in the infield during the day, a nice dinner, see the fireworks.
And then you'll see them walking the garage area at night. You'll see them going and sitting at a corner at night. So, whether it's the coffee concessions or just sheer passion, people are looking to not miss a single minute of the 24 hour.
IMSA president, John Doonan, it is certainly one of the most iconic events of the season in all of international motor sports. Good luck in this year's Rolex 24 at Daytona, and the rest of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season. And thank you for joining us today on Pit Pass Indy.
Thanks for having me. And hope everybody can tune in on NBC next Saturday to watch us kick off the ‘23 season, both for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, but for all of motorsports globally.
And Acura will start on the poll for this weekend's Rolex 24 sports car race at Daytona. One of the leaders behind the Acura sports car effort is Honda Performance Development, large project leader, Mark Crawford, who joins us for this exclusive interview for Pit Pass Indy.
With the Rolex 24 coming up on Saturday, joining us now, on Pit Pass Indy is Mark Crawford, the large project leader for Honda Performance Development.
Mark, one of your Acuras is starting on the poll for the 24-hour race that starts Saturday. That's got to be a big thrill for everybody involved with your project, especially with the new car this year.
It's a huge thrill. That's a good way to put it. It's a validation of everything that so many people at HPD and even American Honda headquarters down in Torrance with the Acura Group. There's been so many hands within the company on this car, and everyone's put their heart and soul into it and they love it, and it's really rewarding to get that poll.
And also, the Rolex 24 is turned into an international all-star race. It's where drivers from various disciplines of racing throughout the world all come together to run in one of the world's great endurance races.
That also includes a couple of drivers in your lineup who are Indy 500 winners, including four-time Indianapolis, 500 winner, Helio Castroneves, who will also his teammate is Simon Pagenaud. They both race at Meyer Shank Racing.
And what's it like bringing these guys into some of the endurance races and working with them and maybe getting a different kind of feedback?
Anymore, it's pretty smooth. Helio, he's got a lot of lot of experience with us on the sports car side. So, as far as working within the Acura and Honda system, he's quite experienced. So, he knows how we speak over on the IndyCar side. He knows how we speak in the sports car side.
And Simon also, he's spent a long time with us on both programs. It's really good to have those guys come across because it gives them kind of more options than their language and how they express things to us.
Sometimes maybe if they're having a bit of difficulty making a point about what the car's doing, they can kind of go and speak the IndyCar language a little bit, and that might get some people thinking. So, it gives them a few more tools in the toolbox for communicating what they're feeling and really getting the point clear to our trackside support.
How much added star power is involved with, say the Rolex 24, when you get all these different drivers from different forms of discipline and from all over the world.
Yeah, the star power is something. I think the appeal of the event definitely helps with drawing top level talent. Really some of the guys that we see come over here to do this event, you're kind of surprised to see them roll into the US and roll into Daytona just to do one race. It's really a mark of the appeal for this race and what a banner event it is for IMSA and the sports car series.
So, we're thrilled to have these top-notch drivers all coming from every corner of the world, not only to race here in Daytona with us or against us, but to actually sometimes seek out an Acura seat. They want to drive our car, and that's quite an endorsement for us.
Now, someone in your position, in your role, I imagine it's not just the Rolex 24, it's going to be the Rolex 48 for you. I imagine you get there pretty early on Saturday morning and probably don't leave till late Sunday night.
So, how many straight hours will you be on the clock, on duty doing what you do, keeping track of everything with the Acura program and the Rolex 24?
It's easily, I think if you maximized your sleep, you'd be up for 36 hours straight. When I've done it before, oh, I think the one time I paid attention to my wake-up time and my final go to bedtime, I think I was up for 44 hours straight. It's a lot of work.
And some of that is you do get a chance to sit down and relax for a little bit, but not a whole lot. It's amazing how much effort goes into just making sure that everyone's ready to go before the race. That takes quite a bit of time.
And then after the race, just keeping an eye on the cars through tech and making sure that any issues are documented and can be followed up right away back at home base. It takes quite a bit of time, but there's so much adrenaline and so much energy at this event. It's amazing how little you feel it.
So, because you are the large project manager for Honda Performance Development and Acura, your specialty is the IMSA car, and this is a very important season for IMSA with the rollout of the new cars.
If you could explain to our listeners what is different about the new car compared to the former classification that competed for the last time last year?
It's a really short list of what is similar between the two. The two cars, they might look quite similar. You might think that they're quite close because they race on the same tracks and so far Daytona for a fresh rollout, we're putting in similar lap times.
But really everything with these cars, everything that sits on the tires, including the tires themselves, is brand new. The inventory for the old DPi cars is completely safe because we use almost none of it on this car.
So, the Acura in particular, it's got a brand-new chassis from ORCA. It's a completely new design. It's got a brand-new engine from HPD that we put together ourselves. The control system, the software, we put that together ourselves at HPD. Those things all come out of HPD by our engineers back at the home base.
And geez, I can't think of anything that's really too similar carrier over. Everything in this car is just completely different from what we used in DPi. Now, you put it together, it looks very similar. It looks like there ought to be some things that would carry over, but shockingly, nothing does. There's almost nothing you can take off the DPi and put on the LMDh car.
What will the fans notice the most?
I think that the fans, to look at the cars, they'll see some new styling. The styling is all new on this car, and there's some cleaner lines and there's I think a really nice step forward in the visual appeal of the Acura. The DPi car was a really good looking car and our designers at Acura Studio in Torrance, they really took a big step up on this car because they made it look even better than the DPi.
So, I think that the fans will take that away when they see the Acura on track. I think that maybe they might notice a few different exhaust notes. We still have a twin-turbo V6, but this is a higher revving twin-turbo V6.
Some of the control systems that are integrated into the car for just vehicle control and also with managing the hybrid unit and the power that goes down, can lead to some audible uniqueness to the sound of the car.
So, I think it's going to be a familiar experience for the fans, but there is going to be several things that they'll enjoy picking out about this new car.
How about the competition level of the new car? Are there advantages, are there gains that you have with this classification that you didn't have with the old DPi?
Oh, absolutely. There's a lot of opportunity for development with this car, so it really carries a lot of accurate signature and a lot of HPD technology and know-how in it.
So, the opportunity for development that's presented by IMSA with this formula is really second to none. There's a lot of racing series anymore that are really kind of freezing the technology and freezing the state of development.
But what IMSA's given us here is really a clean sheet and a really special opportunity to develop a car that's got our own just visual appeal and signature to it. That is a joy to see. But then to put our technology into it to develop our own unique engine, our own unique controls, and bring that Acura experience all the way up to Pinnacle Motorsports, that's a huge opportunity. And it's something that I think everybody on the program is really enjoyed being part of.
Is that one of the reasons why so many manufacturers are involved with IMSA? I believe that there are 18 different manufacturers involved in IMSA throughout all the classifications.
Yeah, there are. And the opportunity for manufacturers to bring their brand into a series like IMSA and to carry their brand identity and not have it diluted and have it compete in a balanced very fair format, I think that's a huge appeal to everybody that's involved in the series.
And you're right, there's so many different name plates. I'd struggle to start naming them all going from GTP, which of course, I'm most familiar with, all the way down through GTD. We have our Acura NSX and GTD.
There's a lot of names, a lot of brands, a lot of uniqueness through the ranks in this series. And it's a lot to take in. So, thank goodness it's a 24-hour race. You need at least that much to see it all.
And it used to be back in the day in various forms of racing that it was a great way to have technology transfer. What you learn on the racetrack going over to the production side. Is IMSA a closer link now of technology transfer than maybe some other racing series?
Yeah, they're bringing it up. So, one of the big new technological features to this car is the electrification. So, we have the high voltage battery pack that's really kind of the fuel source or the energy source for our MGU, the electric motor inside of the gearbox that really runs parallel with the combustion engine.
So, this is very similar conceptually to the hybrids that are going out on the street. You can go to your Honda or Acura dealer and you can buy a new hybrid car and enjoy it. So, we've got a very similar conceptual powertrain in this car.
But we're really chasing the performance of it. We really want to use this in a unique way that adds to the experience and the performance of the car, as well as the efficiency of the car.
So, we take a clean sheet approach to how we operate this unit, how we synchronize it with the internal combustion engine. And when we've proven this and developed it and demonstrated it on track, we absolutely share all that with anyone on the production side that wants to see it.
It's an open book. We're all Honda and Acura associates, and we can openly share amongst ourselvesand we will. So, there's definitely that opportunity there because there's things done on the production side that the racers don't always think of that might be useful and vice versa.
And we really hope that we're producing some technology or some solutions that can eventually find their way into the road car vehicle and that the fans and customers can put their hands on and experience for themselves.
And does it amaze you after 24 hours of racing that the last couple of Rolex 24 at Daytona's have become absolute fights to the finish to win the race? And when you think of just how many laps are run during that 24-hour time period to have those type of finishes, does that absolutely amaze you?
It is amazing. A lot goes into that. It's not just the closeness of the racing, but it's the durability of the cars and then the number of cars that are fighting it out at the end of the race. You mentioned the last few races, not only are the finishes close, but look at the number of cars that are still on the lead lap after 24 hours. It's mind boggling.
There's just absolutely no time to relax in these 24 hours. It's a race the entire way. And no slip ups are allowed. I'm afraid if you go a lap down, there's a good chance you're going to get it back, that's manageable. Of course, if it's towards the end of the race, I don't think that's going to happen.
So, there's opportunities like this to manage the pace and to get laps back and stuff like this. But I think anymore if you had an issue and you had to go back to the garage and you lost five laps or 10 laps, your race for the win is over. Maybe you can still get on the podium, but even that's going to be a challenge.
When you're dealing with engineering problems and with a lot of data, and you've been up for 20, 22, 24 hours, at what point in your role does fatigue start to affect decision making?
It can. We're careful that our guys get breaks. They can relax for a few minutes. They can go get a bite to eat and catch their breath.
Amazingly, I think everybody on our team, at least speaking for the Acura Group, there's so much energy and enthusiasm for this event. People will take a break, but they don't really want to. They want to stay connected to what's going on with the cars out on track and stay in touch with the activity so that they're not left behind.
It's stunning, like I said earlier, where the energy comes from for this event. There's a lot of energy and it almost I think people are just fueled by the race itself. It's an incredible event and you don't want to miss it.
And you've got two really star packed teams for Acura. You have Meyer Shank Racing, and you also have now a conglomeration of Andretti Autosport with Wayne Taylor Racing. And to be able to work with two major teams like that, how important is that?
It's really important. These are teams with a long pedigree in racing and a good resume of accomplishments and it's a privilege to work with them. It's really stunning and satisfying that they want to work with us on this and that they believe that having an Acura on the grid is one of the things that they need to have to go compete for the win.
So, it's really a blessing to have those guys relying on us for a major piece of their competitiveness. And we're motivated to not let them down. I think we kind of drive each other. They want to do well for Acura, and we want to do well for them. And any history that's created for each other's organization, we'll share it and we'll make sure that we do our part.
And also, how impressive is it that you look over at Michael Shank’s operation and they went from the NSX project, stepped up to the top level, and now, they're champions. And they're starting on the poll for the Rolex 24 and have a pretty good shot at winning the Rolex 24. How impressive has that transition been for that team?
It's really impressive. I think that team for a long time really punched above its weight. And Mike's done a great job of really committing himself to putting together a top-notch team. And they're a real joy to work with. They're diligent, they're smart, and they really pay attention to everything that they do.
And they've been involved with HPD for quite a while now, and contributed to a number of our programs in a very positive way. So, we really like our relationship with Mike Shank, and we work together well. And I think he's really knocking it out here in GTP so far. He's picking up right where he left off last year with the DPi.
Mark Crawford, large project manager for Honda Performance Development. Good luck in this weekend's Rolex 24 at Daytona, and good luck the rest of the 2023 IMSA season. And thank you for joining us today on Pit Pass Indy.
Well, thank you.
And that puts a checkered flag on this edition of Pit Pass Indy. We want to thank our guests, IMSA president, John Doonan and Honda Performance Development large project leader, Mark Crawford, for joining us on today's podcast.
Along with loyal listeners like you, our guests help make Pit Pass Indy your path to victory lane for all things IndyCar. And because of our guest and listeners, Pit Pass Indy is proud to be the winner of The Best Podcast by the National Motorsports Press Association.
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This has been a production of Evergreen Podcasts. A special thanks to our production team. Executive producers are Brigid Coyne and Gerardo Orlando. Recordings and edits were done by me, Bruce Martin and final mixing was done by Dave Douglas. Learn more at evergreenpodcasts.com.
Until next time, be sure to keep it out of the wall.