Perseverance – Alex Gurney

It’s not the victories, but how an individual handles challenges that builds a champion. With two Daytona Prototype titles to his credit, Alex Gurney remains focused on the big picture while working through a season of new car challenges.

Mecca of Speed: This season the Corvette has had a mix of mechanical race day issues. From a drivers perspective, what is the difference between race miles and testing miles?

Alex Gurney: It’s hard to say the miles are harder in a race. At Homestead rain got into the electronics through a little connector that was not covered up correctly, which could happen at any race.

At Detroit the door latch broke which could happen at anytime.

At Mid-Ohio we had a problem with the steering ECU, which has never happened before. That part is refurbished by specification every 5,000 miles and one that failed had only 2,400 miles on it.

It’s one of those years when things just seem to be off.

We are still in the process of learning the car. It’s fast and we feel we should have won the last three races. It’s a shame because the series gave the Fords and BMWs more RPMs and I don’t think that was necessary, especially for high-speed tracks like this place (Road America).

Mecca of Speed: Compared to the old chassis, where do you feel immediate improvements?

Alex Gurney: Aero. The car is making a lot more down force. Immediately you feel the new aerodynamic configuration of the front working with the under body. We have to figure out how to balance the car for each circuit.

We have a lot of different configurations that we can run on the front. That is an option we never had before, giving us more flexibility at each track. At Road America we run lower down force then at a track like Detroit. It can be a pretty big swing, so we have to be on top of the aerodynamics in every session.

Mecca of Speed: Are there any changes in the options for mechanical grip compared to the previous car?

Alex Gurney: It’s exactly the same mechanically as the previous car.

Mecca of Speed: You and John Fogarty both raced in the Toyota Atlantic series when it was packed with young talent. How did your time in that series prepare you for the future?

Alex Gurney: It was obviously tough with all the tests involved at that time in the series. As long as you were competitive you knew you were doing something right.

In 2001-2002 when I was in Europe racing British F3 I learned a lot. Those were stout fields where you had to be on top of every little thing. You had to demand a lot out of yourself, dig in and learn how to set up a car.

Mecca of Speed: You have two championships in Grand-Am Daytona Prototypes. In those seasons where mistakes must be minimal, how does the team deal with the pressure?

Alex Gurney: In our two championship seasons we were coming from behind so we had an all out approach. As the season progressed we didn’t have a chance to worry about points. It was about trying to win every race.

Daytona and Homestead have always been hard for us, so we tended to fall behind at the start and are strong the rest of the season.

Mecca of Speed: Growing up in a racing family was it predetermined you would go into the sport?

Alex Gurney: Not really, I would say it was almost the opposite. I showed an interest in the beginning but my folks would rather I did something else so I only did a little go karting in college.

I starting racing pretty late compared to others. It was something that evolved over time that I defiantly wanted to do. After having a pretty successful first season in cars I convinced my parents that this was the way for me to go.

Mecca of Speed: Do you ever get a chance to take the AAR Toyota GTP car out?

Alex Gurney: I wish. My Dad has a bunch of old cars and he keeps saying one day we are going to take one to Willow Springs. I’m hoping to get a chance to drive them sometime soon.

Last year I did drive a 1968 Eagle Formula One car at Laguna Seca during a historic event. That was pretty amazing.

I also did get a little time in a Toyota GTO car in the 80s, but I definitely want to drive the GTP car.

Mecca of Speed: How has this season been dealing with the larger GT field, particularly at some to the smaller circuits?

Alex Gurney: It’s been harder this year because the GT cars have been quicker, so the gap between DPs and GTs is smaller. Depending on the length of straightaway you many not have enough speed to get by the GTs. Working traffic this year has definitely been harder then in years past.

People who have been in this series for a few seasons generally look out for each other. It does take a while to get a feel for new drivers and their driving style. We definitely have an issue at a place like Daytona where there are a lot of extra drivers.

Mecca of Speed: Does Grand-Am address the issues of new drivers at the Daytona drivers meeting?

Alex Gurney: They do, it is thoroughly covered.

Mecca of Speed: At Le Mans this year the GT cars were using their directionals to signal the prototypes on which side to overtake on. Has Grand-Am ever considered that as an option?

Alex Gurney: That’s a good idea. I don’t know why you couldn’t have signals.

A lot of times you come up on someone and you don’t know which way they are going to go. If they puts on their blinker it sounds like that would be perfect.

Mecca of Speed: Is your Dad and All American Racers still building the Alligator?

Alex Gurney: He is, every day.

Mecca of Speed: Are they now built to order?

Alex Gurney: No, he did do a small production run 10 years ago that were all sold. It’s currently more of a serious hobby. He wants to build a motorcycle people will like. He has a bunch of different prototypes that have been built over the years with different engines and chassis. He is always working on new ideas. The next one is always the best one.

I get to ride them quite often. I’ve got a lot of seat time in all the different prototypes and I think they are amazing.

Mecca of Speed: As a fellow rider I find it interesting he didn’t go with the vogue of a big engine, he went for balance which you would think came from all his years in racing.

Alex Gurney: Yes, the low center of gravity is just awesome. They feel like you can run them hard and go fast without too much effort.

Mecca of Speed: You have spent time worked as a driver coach. From a coaching perspective, where is one area you believe street drivers should focus to improve?

Alex Gurney: That is a very good question. My Dad always tells me you have to anticipate what other people are going to do. I don’t think people leave enough gap to the people in front of them. But, it’s not only the front you have to think about, it’s also how are the people behind you going to react.

Between those two things you have to leave a lot more gap between yourself and the car in front of you.

Anytime you approach an intersection with lights, you have to assume the worst every time. Never let your guard down. If you do that every time, you will be more aware of your surroundings and ready to deal with most situations.

If people took this approach there would be fewer accidents.

Mecca of Speed: Can you describe the experience of driving the Delta Wing?

Alex Gurney: I was the very first person to drive it. One of the cool things was in the paddock including taking the very first turn. 50% of the people said the car was not going to turn. I drove down the paddock and turned the wheel back and forth a few times and it immediately felt like a normal car, no different.

I continued down the paddock, did a u-turn, came back and everything felt like a normal car.

The car does look different, but it is pretty efficient due to the overall design. The front tires are four only inches wide.

They say on a normal car the outside wheel does all the work and you are dragging the inside wheel. Taking that into consideration you can understand the idea of having only four-inch tires.

The weight distribution is the big thing. 70% of the weight bias is to the rear so that is what helps the car turn.

Mecca of Speed: Compared to the IndyCar prototype shown at the Chicago Auto Show the sports car version looks wider, was that to accommodate the location for the second seat?

Alex Gurney: The current version is quite a bit shorter then the prototype at Chicago and the nose is pulled back a bit.

It did amazing lap times at Le Mans when you factor in the very hard tires and only 300 horsepower.

Mecca of Speed: Thank you for the time.

Alex Gurney: No problem, thank you.

Content credit Alex Gurney and John Vatne. Photo credit John Vatne.

8/24/2012