Following the dramatic victory in the 70th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on March 19, driver Earl Bamber and first-year race engineer Danielle Shepherd (No. 02 Cadillac Accessories Cadillac DPi-V.R) met with the media March 22. Bamber co-drove to the overall win with Alex Lynn and Neel Jani
EARL BAMBER (No. 2 Cadillac Accessories Cadillac DPi-V.R):
NOW THAT YOU’VE HAD A COUPLE DAYS TO THINK ABOUT IT, TELL US HOW IT WENT DOWN.
“It definitely was an eventful race. I think we rolled off the truck and knew that the 01 and the 02 were strong; we had a really good test there. It was really productive. As a team, we felt like we had really good speed at Daytona, but we obviously didn’t get to show our full potential. We were really looking forward to try to show what we had a Sebring. We started off P4 on the day, and I think all of us on the 02 side – maybe Danielle can agree – we’re still learning. Even though I’ve done IMSA for quite some time, the GTLM and the DPi style of racing is quite different. The strategy is different, and I think we’re learning on our side of the garage each time we go out and race the rhythm of the race. Danielle did a great job and got us some track position. I remember after my first stint I said to her if you can get us in the lead or near the front we’ll drive away, and she managed to do that in my second stint where I managed to create quite a good gap. Alex (Lynn) managed to hold that gap, and I managed to give it away all again with a drive-thru at the end there and I managed to spin myself again after I got back in the lead. I think it gave Chip (Ganassi) and Danielle and everyone three more heart attacks than what they need to win this one. Without such a good car from Chip Ganassi Racing and Cadillac that we came in with, it wouldn’t have been as easy to recover from those two mistakes. I have to say hats off to them for giving us such a great car, and now it gives us really good momentum and confidence going into the sprint-style of races that we can do it, we have quick enough cars, we have crew going forward. For me, personally, just to get the win at Sebring was huge. It was one I wanted to check off the box and it’s not that often that you get those opportunities with such a good car. You have to get the most from it and capitalize on winning the race Saturday night.”
YOU WERE EXHAUSTED, YOU GOT THE WIN AND STILL IN THAT MOMENT YOU MADE SURE TO SHOUT OUT DANIELLE. WHY WAS THAT IMPORTANT TO YOU?
“For us inside the car, we’re an important part but I’m a big believer in that if you don’t have the best people behind you, the bets engineers, the best team, then you also can’t win the race. You need both to go hand in hand. I really believe that we’ve got one of the best in the paddock with Danielle on the timing stand. I remember our first test together was Atlanta in October last year and it was the time when they were sort of deciding the crew to put Alex together with us and they also had Danielle on the timing stand, and I remember them asking at the time, ‘What do you think?’ And I said, ‘We have to have her.’ She was awesome at the test and we had such a strong car performance-wise. I was a big believer just from that first day. We had just started working together and I annoyed her all hours of the day with random phone calls and questions, and I think she is one of the best in the paddock and she has a bright future. And I think that’s making my job and certainly Alex’s job in the car easier because we’re given very good race cars of the truck.”
WHAT KIND OF LEADER IS SHE? DOES SHE PUSH YOU HARD OR ARE YOUR TRYING TO GET ANYTHING PAST HER?
“She definitely likes to push the limits and I like that she’s not afraid of making some bold moves sometimes as well. That’s what is important in racing is to test the extremes, and she doesn’t leave any stone unturned before going to the race to make sure she gives us the best car, and I think that’s what makes her strong. We had a great car in practice and then in final night practice she was still tweaking away at it, trying to make it even faster than what we had. That’s the mentality. She wants to continuously improve, and that’s what I like about her character on that. And she does keep us on the straight and narrow.”
WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND WHEN YOU COLLIDED AND THEN HAD A BIT OF A CRASH?
“To be honest, I came out of the pits and I knew the gap was about 25 seconds and I was actually quite calm and smooth and I heard the spotter call out the LMP3 and it had just pulled out in front of me. Most LMP3s had been braking super early and I just went to the inside casually and it just happened to brake very, very late. I knew that I would be called for the penalty and it was my mistake, my fault. So, I knew what was coming and I already knew that we would roughly come out in line or 3 or 4 seconds behind. I definitely knew we had the stronger pace, so I just kept a calm head and tried to catch back up. I had to manage the fuel there as well to make sure we didn’t burn too much in catching back up, but we did have a one-lap advantage over the 5 (car) at that moment in time. Then I got back (Richard) Westbrook and I came on the radio and said, ‘Let’s go win this thing,’ and two corners later I had contact with a Ferrari, which I couldn’t believe myself. Then got going again quickly and were lucky we didn’t flat-spot the tires. Then I thought if I don’t bring this home Chip is probably going to fire me come Monday while having such a strong car. Got back up to Westy quite quick and got by when he got muddled in some messy traffic through (Turns) 15 and 16 and just passed him on the backstraight. To be honest, he is one of fairest guys you could race in the whole IMSA paddock. I’ve raced him for many years in GTLM, and if there’s one person that you can have a very hard and fair fight with, it’s someone like Westy. He is a proper racer and gives you the room. It was easy to recover with such a good car. If we didn’t have such a strong car we probably wouldn’t have won that, so that’s why I say the people from the timing stand had done such a great job for us. It was pretty nerve-racking.”
WHAT ARE THE TEAM DYNAMICS BETWEEN YOU, ALEX AND NEEL ON A RACE WEEKEND?
“I’ve known Neel for many years from the LMP1 program, and I had no doubt as soon as we were told that he was going to jump in the car – which I think was only Monday; it was a late call – I knew that he would be quick immediately in the Cadillac. Our car is well-fitted and as soon as he drove he said, ‘Wow, this thing is east to drive,’ and he got the handle of it very quickly. Alex had already won Sebring, so he definitely knows what he’s doing. The entire lineup that Chip Ganassi Racing has chosen I think is really strong because it brings together different drivers from different forms of motorsport. Alex came from Formula E, I come from the Porsche GT LMP1 program, and you have Sebastien from INDYCAR and Renger from sports car background. So, I think the combination of all four drivers definitely forms a very strong package of knowledge and experience of those categories, and I think that’s what also is helping at the moment with the strong cars because you can’t forget that. The 01 was strong if you look at the night practice. They deserve a break at the next one.”
WITH YOUR EXPERIENCE IN THREE DIFFERENT CARS HELP YOUR INPUT INTO THE CADILLAC LMDH FOR NEXT YEAR?
“I certainly hope so. I think there’s a lot of experience from the 919 project, but equally they are very different cars with the hybrid system and stuff like that. And definitely with the GT there’s a lot of things that have come into play with the tools you can provide the drivers and the team and the way the strategy comes across. But I don’t think it’s just solely from me but the other three drivers. Alex has brought some really good ideas from Formula E. It’s going to be a lot of hard work. When people have asked what it’s like to go out and win a big race like Le Mans or Daytona, for me it’s not doing just that individual race. If you just turned up at Le Mans or Daytona and won the race, it’s not as special as doing the entire project in journey with everybody starting from day zero, having to develop and build that car and then take it to the racetrack and make sure it performs. There’s hours and hours of work and something to be proud of that you build the best race car on the track. I think everyone’s looking forward to that journey. Chip Ganassi Racing did a great job with the Ford GT program. I had to race against them for many years and they did an excellent job. I’m really looking forward to that next phase that’s kicking off really soon.”
LOOKING AHEAD TO THE SPRINT RACES, DO YOU FEEL CADILLAC’S STRENGTHS WILL BE WHAT WE’VE SEEN IN RECENT YEAR OR CAN YOU SPRING SOME SURPRISES?
“My experience is pretty limited in following the cars, but definitely from what I’ve seen from Daytona and Sebring that the Cadillac is good on mechanical grip and we’ve seen that Long Beach has been a Cadillac circuit with mechanical grip. Once we get into midseason, roll into Mid-Ohio, Road America and certainly Watkins Glen, I think (Acura) is going to be strong. We looked very good on the bumps at Sebring, I think that was one of our strengths. So, I’m curious to see how the Acuras roll out at Long Beach. It’s going to be such a tough season. If you look at the qualifying at Sebring, it shows the level of the category and the level of the teams at the moment. It’s going to be those small gains that are going to win or lose. I don’t think that you’re going to see one car one second faster. It’s going to be pit calls, strategies, the guys in the lane. It’s going to be a real team effort that’s going to win this championship this year. I think that at any given time, all six of the main cars can win a race or be on pole or be on the podium. It’s not like you can roll up to the weekend and the 02 is going to blitz the circuit this weekend. For me, I’ve noticed that track position is so critical. It’s so difficult to pass. We can pass, don’t get me wrong, we can pass when we do a good pick in traffic and we can make the gains in traffic. The racing style is absolutely awesome, but there is big strategy if they get us up front and we have a strong car it’s hard to get past us. Being that close, you’re not going to drive through the entire field.”
WHEN YOU WIN THE OVERALL, DOES THAT MAKE YOU HUNGRIER? WHAT’S IT LIKE FROM WINNING THE CLASS TO WINNING THE OVERALL AT A PLACE LIKE SEBRING?
“As any driver, you always want to hunt the overall wins. I’ve been really lucky now to get a lot of the big overalls and there’s not too many to tick off. For me, though, that Sebring race rates right up there with Le Mans. Some people might say how can you say that, but it was such a hard, grueling race. You saw a lot of drivers getting out completely exhausted with the heat and temperature. Just the racing style in IMSA I really enjoy. With Danielle and everyone at Chip Ganassi Racing I really do rate it right up there. I’m really looking forward to the rest of the season. Daytona eludes me. Definitely want to try to get the overall there one day. I think we had a really good shot this year and hopefully we have a good chance next year as well. The rest of the season everyone in the organization is really excited. It’s the second big win of the program; they had one last year in Detroit and you could feel the momentum build. Now, getting one of the big ones at Sebring, it’s really good timing for everyone here heading into the sprint season. I think Danielle is really pumped to get into this sprint style of racing as well. It’s probably what she’s more used to with the INDYCAR stuff as well, so I think she’s going to bring some really good strategy ideas to Long Beach.”
IS DPI AS COMPETITVE AS GTLM WAS A FEW YEARS AGO?
“I think it’s just as competitive. Certainly for us, because we’re quote late to the game, the car is in its sixth year but people like Action Express and Wayne Taylor Racing have been here from the beginning. For a long, long time they know this category inside and out, so with us coming as sort of the new people and learning it is quite difficult to catch up with them. Those teams are world-class teams at some of the highest level in sports car racing. You look at Meyer Shank as well in INDYCAR. It is a really nice challenge to go race against them. You see some familiar faces like Westy – I thought I got rid of him moving to prototypes – but he’s still there. Like I said, he’s a formidable competitor and a really hard racer but fair racer, and I think the style of the category is we have short stints so sprint most of the time. We’re not fuel saving, which was a big thing of GTLM. Everybody sort of held position and fuel saved the whole time. In the prototype, you can make enough difference in traffic that you can sprint and you don’t get the penalty of fuel. You’ve got the traffic in the mix, so you can make a difference in that to improve. And I would say it’s even more dependent on the crew because the tire change is slightly longer because it’s more difficult with the car and the potential to have a short fuel stop is difficult and you lose track position, so the team element is even more critical than GTLM. I think the whole thing is a little bit of a step up. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like in 2023 with like 18 of the cars on the grid and that style of racing. It’s going to be pretty hectic. I really love the style of racing of the DPi cars; I loved it the first time I jumped in at Road America. It puts a smile on your face every time you drive it. And I think the style of tracks in America are great. I’m not a big fan of big runoffs, and with these cars if you take a risk you gain in lap time. If you talk to all the drivers and they say I haven’t put a lap together and I have to take a deep breath and take a risk if I want to get pole rather than just trying to keep the car between two white lines. So, I think it’s a combination of everything. The circuit boss at Sebring came up and said congratulations. I said if you could do one thing, please don’t change this track because it’s phenomenal to race at. Never change the bumps.”
DANIELLE SHEPHERD (No. 02 Cadillac Accessories Cadillac DPi-V.R race engineer):
AS EARL TALKED ABOUT HIS EXPERIENCES FROM THE COCKPIT, ESPECIALLY THOSE CLOSING 90 MINUTES, WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND?
“Like Ear said, we knew track position was big for this race. We started off with a drive-thru with Alex, so that put us in a bit of a deficit and we were waiting for our opportunity to regain some track position. We were able to do that on one of the pit exchanges and we were trying different things throughout the race to figure out what techniques would work the best to get us in good position at the end. We got Alex in toward the end and were doing our best to maintain and just not give anything up at that point. And Earl gets in the car and gives us three heart attacks. Luckily, the car was good and he was able to recover from the mistakes.”
THERE’S A WOMEN IN MOTORSPORTS PROGRAM THAT THE TEAM HAS LAUNCHED. CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT?
“Chip Ganassi Racing is partnering with PNC (Bank) to host positions for females interested in any range of motorsports. It will be great to have women here that I can show the ropes to and get them interested in motorsports, and it’s great that they are focusing on that for this internship.”
HOW DID IT FEEL IN YOUR SECOND RACE TO CLOSE THE DEAL?
“That’s obviously why we’re here and what we hope for. It shows the strength of the entire Chip Ganassi Racing team, the whole Indianapolis building and specifically the Cadillac cars themselves. It shows the strength of the program that we have and where we can take it going forward. It’s obviously why we’re here and what we hope to accomplish.”
IN BEING CONSIDERED FOR A LEAD ROLE, WHAT DID YOU THINK AND WHAT WAS YOUR DECISION-MAKING?
“It’s always bene my goal to be the lead engineer, so the opportunity came and I told them I was interested in doing it and I think they thought I was hopefully the right person for the job. It was good.”
WHAT, IF ANYTHING DID CHIP HAVE TO SAY TO YOU AFTER THE RACE?
“He was just happy. He was happy we could bring it home.”
WHAT WAS THE DIFFERENCE IN SETUP BETWEEN YOUR CAR AND THE OTHERS THAT GAVE YOU THE STRENGTH TO RUNN IN BOTH THE HOT AND COOL CONDITIONS?
“Obviously, the 01 car was strong there last year even though they weren’t able to capitalize last year with the collision at the end of the race, so we had a strong baseline to start with. While we were focusing on the night, we were trying not to compromise the daytime hot running. I think it was just a balance and I was adjusting things as we went through the race, adjusting tire pressures and everything and making sure we were trying to keep in the range and keep the car balance the way we were. So, it was slight adjustments from my side along with a good baseline car that we started with and just keep it in the window the whole day. It stayed pretty warm the whole time. The track did cool off at the end, so we tried to set ourselves up that we were ready to go. With the way Sebring is, you try to maintain during the day to try to capitalize at night. That was our philosophy as well just because we’re racing for the win when it’s slightly cooler conditions, even though it wasn’t cold by any means.”
DID THE NEW SETTINGS FOR CAMBER AND PRESSURE ON THE TIRES HAVE A BIG AFFECT ON YOU? WOOULD YOU RATHER HAVE GONE LOWER PRESSURES AND BIGGER CAMBER SETTINGS?
“There are limitations, obviously, and we have to respect them and they are enforcing them and we are trying our best to abide by the rules. Given the opportunity, I always like more grip.”
INDYCAR IS VERY MUCH A SPEC SERIES. DO YOU FIND A LOT MORE POSSIBILITIES FOR YOU TO BE THE ENGINEER YOU WANT TO BE BY WORKING ON AN IMSA CAR OR FIND IT MORE RESTRICTIVE WORKING ON A CAR IN ITS SIXTH YEAR OF DEVELOPMENT?
“INDYCAR is a spec series, but with the homologation rules and everything in IMSA, that’s kind of the new part of it for me and it is quite restrictive, so I feel it’s more working with the strategy and with the drivers and that side of it where the gains come instead of car development. It’s a six-year-old car, so it’s been run a long time and quite a bit of the development has already been done. The homologation has been set and nothing is being adjusted this year. It’s kind of in its box and it’s working with strategy and other things like that where the engineering side comes into it for this year at least.”
ARE THERE CERTAIN THINGS THAT CADILLAC IS ALLOWED TO PASS ON TO OTHER CADILLAC TEAMS?
“We’re not really at a development stage where we’re sharing information. It’s kind of already set at this point, so it’s more individual preference of how the car is run. There’s not really development being done and shared; we’re kind of past that phase of this car.”
WHEN WILL YOU START TO LOOK AT THE LMDH CAR AND WILL IT BE HARD TO BALANCE YOUR PRIORITIES IN TERMS OF WINNING THE CHAMPIONSHIP AND WORKING ON THE LMDH PROJECT?
“We’ve already been working with Dallara and Cadillac on the LMDh program, so we’re in the midst of a weekly discussion with them on development. It’s part of our job to manage both programs. We’re not looking to compromise the DPi program at all with development for next year, but we also want to get the car as well-prepared for next year as we can.”
I UNDERSTAND YOU’RE A JIMMY VASSER FAN AND YOUR PIT WAS NEXT TO HIS AT SEBRING. WHAT WAS THAT LIKE?
“I worked at KV (Racing), so I’ve worked with Jimmy when I was in INDYCAR. He was the team owner when I was there. I was always a fan of his on TV and it was great to work with him when I was in INDYCAR. He’s still a friend; I still talk to him.”
DID HE SAY ANYTHING TO YOU AFTER THE BIG WIN?
“I don’t think I actually saw him after the win because by the time we got back from cleanup he was not there, so I didn’t get to see him then. But I did wish him luck before the race.”
DOES IT SEEM LIKE IT’S COME FULL CIRCLE?
“It’s interesting and weird emotionally because it’s like the thing you achieve for, the thing you’ve worked so hard for is kind of there. You can always strive for more, but it is exciting.”
WERE THERE ANY CHALLENGES YOU WEREN’T EXPECTING AS THE EVENING WORE ON AS TRACK CONDITIONS CHANGED THAT YOU HAD TO ADAPT TO?
“I think we spent the evening practice trying to get the car dialed in and ready, so I think we were pretty confident going in and knew we had a solid car for the evening so it was kind of surviving during the day to make sure we got to the evening where we had put most of our effort into tuning the car. There wasn’t really anything that was a big surprise. Luckily, most of the parts stayed on the car so we didn’t any changing to do.”
WHILE EARL WAS HAVING HIS LATE-RACE DRAMATICS, WHAT’S GOING ON IN YOUR MIND AND WHAT INFORMATION WERE YOU RELAYING TO EARL TO KEEP THINGS ON THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW?
“Obviously, it wasn’t ideal, but it happened. It’s just looking at the gaps, making sure after the first drive-thru where we knew where we were going to come out and making sure he had the information of after the drive-thru where is he in position, who’s behind him, giving him the information he needs to keep going forward and recover the lap. It’s just recovering from there and making sure we capitalize from there.”
ANY CHANCE OF YOU PIVOTING BACK TO INDYCAR FOR THE MONTH OF MAY?
“I don’t know yet. Nobody has asked me yet. I don’t know what the plan is yet. We’re going to focus on Long Beach and then we’ll go from there. I’ll do whatever they ask me to do.”