Q and A with AJ Allmendinger during Rolex 24 testing Sprint Cup driver AJ Allmendinger is making his annual trek to Daytona International Speedway. The new Penske Racing NASCAR pilot will once again be driving for Michael Shank Racing in the Rolex 24 At Daytona to kick off the 2012 racing season and is looking to win his first Rolex watch.
You got the opportunity to do the initial shakedown with Michael Shank in December, how different did the car feel the second time out?
I think in December the temperatures were a lot cooler and there wasn't a lot of rubber on the racetrack. At that point we had a lot more downforce in the car so the car had a lot of grip, it was nice and cool and there was no rubber to slide around on. Everything we did felt amazing, it was easy to drive, which scared me because I knew when we came back here it wouldn't be that easy.
This test we've been all right. We went through a lot of different scenarios on the race car. I wouldn't say that we're quite where we want to be yet, but I think that this is a fast race car right now. Even though it's not perfect, it's still not hard to drive, and for a 24-hour race that's what you need with four drivers. We want to keep improving it and making it better, but I feel leaving this test that we've got a legitimate shot to win this race. It's that good of a race car.
And how different is it than the previous generation Riley?
It doesn't feel a ton different. That's the great thing about Michael Shank Racing, for the most part I've had well-handling race cars. It's always been a pleasure to drive these race cars. Overall the two cars are close, but this new car looks a lot better. It's just a sleek a race car, the fans are going to get into it, and I'm excited about that.
You were at the WKA (World Karting Association) event at Daytona last month, and now you're participating again in the Rolex 24. Why the short offseason?
I love racing. We don't get to do this for the rest of our lives, we need to get it all in. If I'm at home I'll just get myself in trouble. I like going to the racetrack; I like being busy. I get bored really easily. The Rolex 24 though, this is a race I really love and I'll do it every year I get an opportunity to do it. I'm just a big kid that gets to race cars for a living.
This Rolex 24, in particular, has a different feel to it doesn't it?
This is the most people we've had at this event in a while, if ever. You can see that the fans are into it. I think racing as a whole is coming back. It's such a prestigious race and you get so many different types of drivers, so many different famous drivers from all over the world. It's a lot of fun to be a part of.
I think over the years we've seen just how tight the racing is. Look at last year, we had a green-white-checkered with five cars on the lead lap going for the win. It's not your typical 24-hour race anymore where you just try to survive and if you don't break you're going to finish in the top-3. Now you have to go 98 percent the whole race and try to save that last two percent for the end of the race. That's what makes this race so much fun now. There are eight to 10 cars that have a legitimate shot at winning.
Then you have the GT field and there are 15-20 cars that can win that race. That's why you see many great drivers, because they want a chance to win, and fans want close racing. We're going to give them that.
How do you adjust your driving style between the Cup car and the Daytona Prototype?
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The first few laps it takes me a little bit to get used to, the braking and how hard you brake into the corner. The brakes are so much better on these race cars because they're lighter and the cars stop a lot quicker. I think you have to get enough courage up to get into the braking zone and know that you're going to get it stopped, get it turned and get the downshifts done. It takes a few laps, but it's what I've come from...it's like riding a bike. You get back out there, you get used to it, you get in the flow and it comes back to you, it just comes natural again. It's something that I love doing.
I love having the Rolex 24 and the Daytona Prototypes to get me warmed up before I get down to my real business. This is a race I always love. I always enjoy it. If I get the chance to come back every year - hopefully it's with Mike Shank - we're going to be back. I just love these race cars, the people, the racetrack, all that goes along with the prestige of this race.