Q: Does driving a potentially race-winning car increase the pressure for you in your first attempt at Daytona, or does it give you confidence knowing that Ganassi, more than any other team, are likely to provide everything a driver could ask for?
CK: I've said it before, and I'll probably say it for the rest of my life, because it's true – the pressure I put on myself to perform at the level I know I'm capable of is greater than any pressure the team could put on me. Having said that, seeing the care and the effort that the Ganassi crew – the mechanics, the tire guys, the gearbox guys, the team managers, the truck drivers, everybody – puts into preparing for this race, you do automatically gain confidence. I knew that this car wasn't going to surprise me, it wasn't going to do anything unexpected that could throw a rookie off the road. And I knew what to expect because I'd listened to the other drivers and knew what it was trying to tell me when it started telling me that. So I could just focus on learning the track, learning the rhythm of the car, learning the rhythm of passing much slower traffic from the other classes.
I know that I'll be able to be a little conservative at times in the race and balance the risk/reward equation, so that I don't have to desperately lunge past a GT car, for example. That's because I know that at the end of my stint, I will be handing over to a guy with the pace to compensate for any time losses made in traffic. It's far more important to not hand over a car with a broken fender, than it is to gain one second by pulling a risky lapping maneuver at one corner rather than wait two more corners to make a less-risky pass. We all know that if we can avoid having to go to the garage for repairs then, depending on the yellows or weather, we're going to be in the picture in those final two or three hours.
Q: One new experience for you, I assume, is having traffic that is 10 seconds per lap slower than you. The closing speeds aren't something you're used to…
CK: Right, and I was talking with Scott Dixon about this. I said to him, “I'm starting to be able to tell who's confident out there and who's not. Watching how the GT cars are being driven, you can see who are the professionals and who are the amateurs, just from those couple of seconds as you close on them to get ready to pass.” But then Scott said, “Yeah, but you've got to be really careful about making any assumptions. Early in a stint you'll catch a GT car and it will be the professional in the car and he'll do what you expect – he'll move low on the banking and let you pass on the high side. But then later in the stint, maybe you'll catch that same car again, but by then there's been a driver change and it's now the amateur driving, or someone with a completely different experience level. So every time you approach a backmarker, you have to think about what they could possibly do and leave yourself enough room to get out of the pass if the guy does the unexpected.”
Interesting huh? Like Scott says, “If you're in a prototype and you hit a GT car, it's your fault, no matter what, because your job is to avoid contact and just run laps to keep yourself in contention.”
Q: What did you think of the track itself?
CK: It's Daytona, so…it's huge, it's over the top, it's awesome. I remember back when I was still racing karts, I visited the the museum here, and then I went out and looked at the banking and the enormity of the track, and I remember thinking, “That's absurd!” But then getting out on it with the DP car, it just hit me again, that yeah, it's really big! But coming down from the banking and into the infield part of the course, it's fun. The bus stop chicane's a blast, because you can just fling the car through.
The thing is, though, there are no real straights. It's not like in an IndyCar or on an oval where you hit a main straight and can relax your hands, relax your eyes, tighten your belts, whatever. The Daytona 24-hour course doesn't give you that chance because you're physically holding the car around the oval part of the course.
Q: Yeah, that's the weird thing about using part of the oval course. Unlike IndyCar's oval races, or NASCAR's oval races, a DP car can't be set up to be driven on an oval because it's got to handle the road course part of the lap…
CK: Exactly! It's weird having to actively turn the steering wheel to go around the banking, unlike an IndyCar where it's already trying to turn itself into the banked turns so down the straight, your job is to hold it in line and prevent it from turning. They're completely opposite characteristics.
Q: How hard will it be to adapt to driving in the wet or driving at night…or both?
CK: Well, I haven't driven the car in the wet, but in the test we did drive at night. When Daytona turns on its floodlights, it doesn't feel like you're running at night, to be honest – it's not properly dark like you'd find at Sebring or Le Mans, and there were times when you honestly wouldn't know if your headlights were on or off, and Ganassi has its headlight program down pretty well. So it's just a question of certain shadows that you have to worry about, in case there's debris that you can't quite see; just like racing an IndyCar in one of our evening oval races.
As for the rain, it doesn't look like we're going to get rain, although the overnight dew or mist, being January, could make the track pretty slick. Who knows? It's something I'm looking forward to, and I'll be in the car for as long as they'll let me!
Q: And you've never had to share a car before, correct?
CK: Yeah, it will be my first time having to do a driver change and that sort of thing. I mean, before a season starts, I'm used to us spending two days getting my IndyCar's seat fitting just right. Yet here we are, sharing with three other drivers, all slightly compromised, not quite ideal but not uncomfortable, either. Thankfully, the DP cars are conducive to lots of different body sizes, and the four of us on our car are all similar heights, no belt changes necessary either – we just drop in, drive, climb out.
Q: But you've only driven the car in relatively pristine condition. It's going to be interesting for an open-wheel driver who's usual car is tailored specifically for him and who has a fresh set of everything pre-race. Now you're suddenly being dropped into a car that's already got nine or 19 hours of hard driving under its wheels, it's now maybe got a long brake pedal, perhaps a bit of a handling imbalance, maybe some steering vibration, too much toe out, etc etc. – and you're expected to just go out and gas it!
CK: Ha! Yeah, I know: there'll be a lot of adjustment and that includes acknowledging and compensating for the fact that the car hasn't come straight off the shop floor. It's about taking what you've got, putting it on your back and go and do the best you can. That's what I'll do. It will be a good challenge, let's put it that way….
The Rolex 24 At Daytona opens with practice and qualifying on Thursday. Friday features a one-hour final practice session ahead of Saturday's green flag which is set to drop on the 51st Rolex 24 at Daytona at 3:30 p.m. SPEED will carry live coverage of the race beginning at 3:00 p.m. ET.
For tickets to the Rolex 24, CLICK HERE.