Scott Pruett is one of the most successful road racers currently active in North America. His reputation of racing hard and clean has garnered him the respect of his peers regardless of the series.
At the 2007 MAMA (Midwest Automotive Media Association) Spring Collection at Road America, I had the opportunity to ride with Scott Pruett in the new Lexus IS F and discuss the characteristics of Lexus’s first high performance luxury sedan and his season so far in the Grand Am series.
Mecca of Speed: Give us a view from the driver’s seat of the new Lexus IS F.
Scott Pruett: You have some interesting options, realizing this is Lexus’s first entry into the high performance luxury sport market.
When you get in, if you want to drive it regulary, you put the gearshift into auto shift and it’s like driving an everyday automatic.
If you move the gearshift over and put the car into sport mode, it activates one of two things. You can either sequential shift it or paddle shift, I like to paddle shift myself.
The car is very robust, it has big brakes and an eight-speed automatic transmission. When you have it in sport mode it won’t shift until you tell it to shift. If you don’t shift it will hang on the rev limiter.
The IS F has a five-liter normally aspirated 416 horsepower V8.
Mecca of Speed: We often hear about race technology being translated into streetcars. What technology from the Lexus Grand Am racing program was applied to the development of the IS F?
Scott Pruett: The biggest influence is the engine development. In Grand Am we run a five-liter V8 and this car has a five-liter V8.
This engine has a little more technology then our race engine because it has variable valve timming, which is not allowed by rule in the Grand Am series.
For Lexus as a company, this car is a big step forward to enter the performance luxury sport market. They knew they had to develop a car that is capable of going up against the competition, and I think they had done a terrific job.
Some of its primary competitors are the BMW M3 and the Mercedes-Benz C63 AMG. The C63 AMG has more horsepower, but it’s also a bit heavier.
Mecca of Speed: What are the key characteristics of this car that will translate to the biggest benefit for the average driver on the street?
Scott Pruett: Braking, braking to me is number one. I’ve driven for almost every manufacture and within about a lap, especially if you came to a track like this, (Road America) the brakes are going to overheat, which is going to force you to start backpedaling.
The second characteristic is the vehicle dynamics system, called VDIM (Vehicle Dynamics Integrated Management). I like to drive the car with VDIM on. It will control the car almost seamlessly, which is a great beniffit for a potential buyer. This car has capabilities that surpass the skills of a lot of guys on the street, so VDIM is going to keep a lot of people from getting into trouble.
I also joke that that guys who are enthusiasts can tell their wife, “it’s a four door so we can put the kids in the back and go for a fun ride.”
Another strength of VDIM is if it starts to rain, it will keep the car under control with the changing conditions. The car will show this more on a skid pad then on a race track. When you are on a skid pad and try and get the car sideways, it’s literally almost imposible to get the car out from underneath you. That is going to translate into fewer accidents on the street. That is important when you look at a high performance rear wheel drive car.
You will see a light on the dash when VDIM is active. If the VDIM system was not on, the car would be much more prone to over steer when you exit hard out of a corner.
As you can hear, the car sounds great, Lexus has put a lot of work into the sound of this car. When you spend $60,000 on a high performance car, you want it to sound good and as you can hear, they really did their homework tuning this car.
The car also has an auto lift function so when you downshift, you press the paddle and the car does everything else.
Exiting hard corners, the VDIM will help control the car a little bit because you have enough roll in the car that it will actually spin one tire.
The challenge with a lot of these cars is you want to get high performance on the track, but you also want a car that is suitable for everyday driving. I think what Lexus has achieved with this car is a nice blend, especially when you take this car out on the road. It’s quite capable without beating up the driver during daily driving.
Mecca of Speed: Will this car take a full day of hard laps?
Scott Pruett: We spend a full day at Laguna Seca doing hot lap ride along and the car never missed a beat. We did have to change tires but the car itself never missed a beat.
It’s a very capable car.
Mecca of Speed: You had a great fight going in the last Grand Am race at VIR.
Scott Pruett: We hade a great fight, especially with the GT cars inbetween the Grand Am cars.
I love the series because you have to drive the cars; they are not pasted to the ground. I really enjoy the series; it’s a lot of fun.
Mecca of Speed: You currently drive for Ganassi Racing in Grand Am, but the organization races in three major series. From your perspective, what gives Ganassis Racing the ability to be successful in multiple series?
Scott Pruett: Any successful team is based on the group of people you have. I think within that organization, we have been able to hire the right people for the right positions – from drivers, mechanics and engineers to all the other various positions at Ganassis Racing. The people are trusted to do their respective jobs within the team.
Chip is great at coordinating his staff and letting the people he hires do their job and subsequently has a lot of success.
Mecca of Speed: Have you had any interest in returning to open wheel racing on a limited basis for Chip Ganassis, similar to your roll with the NASCAR team at road coarse events?
Scott Pruett: My last open wheel race was in 1999. At that race, I gave Toyota their first poll in CART. After that, I walked away. I’ve had numerous opportunities to go back and just do the Indy 500, but I have no interest.
I love doing what I’m doing now. I love the sports car prototype program and doing a few Nationwide races. I typically do one Cup race at Watkins Glen, which makes for a nice balance.
With my family at home and doing those races along with my Grand Am commitment, some promotional work for Lexus, along with a T.V. program I do, and a little vinery at the house that I’m getting exstablished, it’s all good. I’m having a great time.
And I’m still winning races.
Mecca of Speed: When a driver reaches the Daytona Prototype level in Grand Am, the rookie designation is only a reflection of a driver’s time in a series, not his overall level of experience. Memo Rojas joined the Ganassis organization as a rookie, have you been working with Memo in a mentor type roll in the Grand Am series?
Scott Pruett: We work together all the time. Memo has been great to work with; he has come along way since last year. We spend a lot of time together talking about the races, about qualifying, training programs and philosophy.
We talk about how to stay focused during a race along with anything that I can help him with to be more efficient and faster. He has been wide open to the ideas and knowledge that the team and I share with him.
He understands that I have been in this business a long time and I’m still one of the top guys to beat. He is continually asking me what can I do, how can I do this or that, and I want to teach him. One, he is my teammate, and second, he is a great guy, so we spend a lot of time together continually look at all areas to fine tune his skills.
Mecca of Speed: You are currently leading the points standings. Who do you see as your primary competition and what are their strengths?
Scott Pruett: The 99 car, they are the guys that won the championship last year. They are looking to be some of our toughest competition.
The factory Riley car with Marc Goossens has been running strong. They are second in the championship right now.
The 10 car (Sun Trust Racing) typically is strong, I think you will see them win some races, but they are to far out of the championship to be a contender.
Then there is a group of other guys like Mark Patterson, and Oswaldo Negri who won a race last year and they continue to run strong.
The new comers, like the BMW team with Ryan Dalzel, were on my tail at the last race. They had a very strong run.
Grand Am has changed the format a little bit. It tends to be less of a detriment having a gentleman driver because of bunching up the group and so on. These gentlemen drivers go out and do a great job and then put their professional full-time driver in. They have been able to run up front.
The series looked at trying to make having a gentleman driver in the car not a sacrifice, but to make the best set of circumstances across the board.
Mecca of Speed: How did you get the nickname Scooter?
Scott Pruett: (laughs) It’s funny, I’m not quite sure where that came from. Scooter has been one that has hung around for a lot of years. In my IndyCar days, I had the nickname Monkey Man.
Whatever team you get involved with, now within the Grand Am team, they call me Scotty Bobby. It seems to change from team to team and series to series. It’s all fun. I don’t look for the name, it seems like they develop over time. Once it’s there, it sticks with you whether you like it or not.
Mecca of Speed: Early in your career you had a distinct yellow helmet with a horizontal stripe. Over time it has evolved, do you have a design philosophy that has guided your helmet design?
Scott Pruett: The base of the design came in the mid 1990s when Firestone was getting back into IndyCar racing. That design was theirs part and parcel. They wanted to do a blend with the Firestone red, white, and blue, but also carry some Japanese branding with a rising sun, which was on the chin.
After my time with Firestone, Troy Lee and I fine-tuned the design. I will race in a lot of different color helmets as I will typically change the colors for a sponsor, but it’s always the same design.
The same design, but different colors from year to year to freshen it up.
Mecca of Speed: You and your wife have published a few children’s books, my son has two of your books.
Scott Pruett: That’s great, we just finished our fourth book, “Racing Through The Alphabet.” It has just been released in Target stores, or you can get it at www.scottpruett.com. following the links on the website for World Weaver Books.
Mecca of Speed: Thank you for your time and all the best this season.
Scott Pruett: Thank you.
Content credit Scott Pruett and John Vatne. Photo credit John Vatne.