SEBRING, Fla. – Last year at this time, Andy Lally was behind the wheel of the No. 71 Eco Fuel Saver Chevrolet for TRG Motorsports and preparing for his first assault on Bristol Motor Speedway as a Sprint Cup rookie. However, the combination of a lack of sponsorship and a team disintegration has forced Lally to move back from NASCAR to his first love: road racing.
Luckily, Lally landed on his feet and he’s already loving life in a different kind of fast lane. Already this year, he has claimed his fourth class victory at the Rolex 24 at Daytona with a masterful drive in the No. 44 Magnus Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, which he will drive for the full Rolex Sports Car Series season.
This weekend brings a new challenge for Lally as he embarks on the challenge of racing in Saturday’s Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring at Sebring International Raceway, a 3.7-mile road course on the site of a World War II-era Air Force base. The event serves as the opening round of both of the American Le Mans Series presented by Patron Tequila and the brand-new for 2012 World Endurance Championship.
This race, despite being only 12 hours in length, is considered to be the hardest of the three big endurance races (Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans) due to the punishing nature of the circuit.
During a break from practice on Tuesday (March 13), Lally talked with Frontstretch‘s Phil Allaway about his 2012 thus far and looked back on his rookie year in the Sprint Cup Series.
Phil Allaway, Frontstretch: Since it’s freshest on your mind, we’ll start off with Sebring. You’re racing with Flying Lizard Motorsports this weekend in a one-race deal. Can you talk about how this opportunity came together for you?
Andy Lally: I got a call from the Lizards late in 2011 as they were putting this year’s plans together and I was honored. The team has a great history of success and it was a great fit for me. I’m friendly with all the guys on the team and we have meshed well right from the start.
Allaway: The Lizards are debuting the new for 2012 Porsche 911 GT3-RSR. Can you talk about the differences between this 911 and the GT3 Cup car that you race for Magnus Racing in the Rolex Series?
Lally: The RSR is much wider and that gives the car better grip and stability. We also run a completely different tire and that in itself might be the biggest difference. We run a spec [Continental] Tire in the Rolex [Series] and an open tire competition in ALMS, so the manufacturers have very different goals for competition.
I’ve never driven an RSR before because the last bunch of years that I’ve come to Sebring have been mainly in prototypes, so this has been a little bit of a learning process to acclimate myself with this car.
Allaway: Since you’ve already been on track today down in Sebring, how is the car holding up so far? Are the times where you want them? Is the car handling well over the infamous bumps?
Lally: The wider track is certainly helping bump management and the car seems to be holding up well. We are working with a couple of little things to get the balance and drivability where we want it to get the most out of it.
Allaway: Also, since we’re a website that mainly covers NASCAR, can you describe the race weekend down in Sebring for our readers that may not be all that well-versed in ALMS and the new WEC (World Endurance Challenge)? It seems to be much longer than something like the Rolex 24 weekend.
Lally: The Sebring week is a bit of a cluster from the racer’s point of view, to be honest. We are here for far too long. I got in on Friday, eight days before the race. We have test days on track for six days before the actual race. From the fan’s point of view, they will roll in Wednesday night. It’s amazing to see the circus come to town, I love it. Some of the things you see here are similar to what you would see in the infield of Talladega, but carried even a bit further.
This is Spring Break, but only a few high school and college students are showing up, it’s spring break for adults … that don’t want to act like adults and it is an amazing sight! It’s great to walk around the infield and see the guys down in turn 10 and the rest of the campers, buses, tents and whatever else anyone has set up for a makeshift living area for a few days of partying followed up with a 12-hour race.
Allaway: Can you talk about how your new gig for 2012 with Magnus Racing came together?
Lally: I started talking to the Magnus guys in October of last year about plans for 2012. I knew that the deal I was currently with was not going to be around much longer and although I really love the stock car racing, I just knew that there was not going to be a quality ride available for me full time.
I had been friends with John Potter for a few years already and we had actually raced together a couple of years before and got along really well. This made the choice to head back to sports cars much easier.
I liked John, I liked the rest of the team and knew that 1) The chemistry would be right and 2) John was building a great team and he wanted to win. John has gotten so much faster in the last couple of years that I know we will have a shot. It has started off great so far!
Allaway: In the past, Magnus Racing has fielded an entry in the American Le Mans Series’ GTC-class that you have previously raced against while with TRG. Does Magnus Racing plan on running this entry in 2012 and if so, would you be in the driver’s seat for any events?
Lally: Yes, we plan on running a bunch of races in ALMS. Not sure how many, but I would imagine it will be about half. The same people will be working on this car that work on our Rolex car and I think we have a pretty good piece!
Allaway: Speaking of the Rolex 24, you, along with Rene Rast, Richard Lietz and John Potter won the GT class whilst fending off some tough competition. Can you talk about your weekend back in January and your thoughts about your fourth Rolex 24 class victory (and second in a row)?
Lally: It was one of my most memorable moments in racing. The GT class was the strongest it has ever been this year and we had so many great drivers and teams from around the world come to Daytona. Any year that you win the 24 Hours of Daytona is awesome, but to win on the 50th anniversary, in the most competitive year in the race’s history besting the largest class in the race’s history AND having it be the maiden victory for the team you are a part of is just plain incredible.
I was a small part of an amazing effort: great teammates, world-class mechanics and management. Daytona win No. 4 is something I will always cherish!
Allaway: How does the program in the No. 44 look for the rest of the season? Has the team done any testing since Daytona, and if so, where?
Lally: The program looks strong. John is committed to doing things right and I am very happy with our direction. We will do some testing just before Barber at the teams’ secret location to try and get a direction with some new things we are trying and I cant wait to unload in ‘Bama and see what we have. The Ferraris and Chevys will be VERY tough to beat there, but we will do our best.
Allaway: You came just a whisker short of getting a two-fer in Daytona when you and Nic Jonsson just missed a Street Tuner class victory in the CTSCC BMW Performance 200 (or as I called it in Daytona, the tandem-drafting special). Can you talk about how that program has come along over the past couple of years and how that effort looks for 2012?
Lally: I am one of the most fortunate drivers on the planet. I have been able to come back after taking a year off from sports car racing and hook up with three great teams. Kinetic Motorsports does a fantastic job. They have taken this Kia program and turned a huge challenge into a huge victory.
The Kia Forte that we are racing is the first professional racing program that Kia has ever taken part in and we had a big challenge of taking a car that was not designed to race and working with Kia to make it a race winner, and they were successful.
The cars are immaculate and the seriousness of Kinetic and Kia is evident in how they run their program. We just missed the win in Daytona at our season opener the day before the Rolex 24, but I’m looking forward to trying to win a bunch of races with them this year.
Allaway: At the Rolex 24, Grand-Am announced the new B-Spec underclass. Kinetic appeared to have a race-spec Rio on display in the CTSCC garage during the weekend. Firstly, is Kinetic planning on campaigning Kia Rios in the new B-Spec category? Secondly, since rules prevent you from actually racing the car, will you, Jonsson and the Pombos end up serving as mentors or driver coaches to the incoming Rio drivers?
Lally: Kia certainly wants to be present in the new B-spec series (Editor’s Note: The Kia Rio is one of five eligible models for the new class. The others are the Ford Fiesta, Honda Fit, Mazda 2 and the Mini Cooper.) Kinetic is working on a car, but I’m not exactly sure what role I will play in this area yet. I have driven it and it is pretty cool. I think the series will take off and I would like to lend a hand with our new young talent coming in and help them get pointed in the right direction.
Allaway: Switching to NASCAR now, how would you characterize your rookie season in the No. 71? Did it end up being tougher than you expected it to be?
Lally: It was almost exactly how I thought it would be, to be honest. I had a pretty good feel for where I thought we were as a team and I knew how awesome these drivers and teams were that we were going up against. I have a huge amount of respect for those drivers and a good understanding of the amount of R&D that goes into making a 3,600-pound car get through a corner. We were a tiny team on a budget and we had a steep hill to climb, especially since I was a rookie driver and we were a single-car team.
Our guys worked their tails off and put a lot of hours in. I honestly don’t know how they do it because it was such long hours and such hard work. I was eyes wide open going into this deal and knew that the deck was stacked against me, but to tell you the total truth, I had wanted to do this all of my life and when the chance came around, I had to take it. Even looking back on all the tough times we had last year, I am glad I did it because I would have looked back and regretted it the rest of my life had I not at least tried.
Allaway: You’ve mentioned on Twitter that you’ve been trying to flesh out some deals to try to race a limited NASCAR schedule this season. How has that been going?
Lally: I have a few nibbles here and there. I would love to find a good Cup team to do Watkins Glen with and a good Nationwide team to do the three road courses with. I think I can bring a lot to teams on the road courses and have a very good shot to run up front. I would love to get more oval races in as well for sure and will work towards that, but my focus right now is trying to get in touch with teams for Montreal, Road America and Watkins Glen.
Allaway: You’ve spent time racing in the Camping World Truck and Sprint Cup Series. You may have noticed the general lack of new blood coming into Sprint Cup over the past couple of years. What are your thoughts on the state of driver development in NASCAR? If any, what changes would you make in order to improve things?
Lally: It’s not that there are not good drivers out there, it’s just that there is much less money out there to spend on new drivers. It’s sad that things are like this now, but it’s cyclical and has been for years. There is a ton of talent in ARCA and the K&N [Pro Series], but with costs getting ridiculous in Nationwide and Camping World Trucks over the years and sponsorship getting tighter, this is the obvious result.
If I was directing a young kid with a budget right now, I would have him in ARCA for sure. It’s a fun series with similar cars for a fraction of the budget.
Allaway: Finally, even though we’re definitely getting back into the swing of things, how did you spend your offseason? Also, how is your Brazilian Jiu Jitsu training progressing?
Lally: My offseason was very short. With the stock car season ending in November and winter testing for Daytona starting in December, I only had a couple of weeks to chill out. My Jiu Jitsu has been so much fun and I really enjoy it.
Outside of racing, it takes up the most time in my life. If I am in the state of Georgia where I live, then I have been or will be going to the gym to get some training in that day. I’m completely addicted to it and although 95% of what I do is Jiu Jitsu and the other is MMA,
I have plans to expand into additional MMA programs as well with the goal of one day fighting. I have such great instructors where I train and a great attitude that it makes it easy to want to come back. I get an occasional competition in on an off weekend here or there but a cage fight is certainly on my bucket list.
Editor’s Note: We did ask Lally pointed questions about what ultimately happened to cause him to leave TRG Motorsports before the end of last season and whether he is still on speaking terms with TRG Motorsports owner Kevin Buckler, but he refused to comment.
Lally may eventually be looking for a good fight against another man, but this weekend, he, along with teammates Seth Neiman and Darren Law will be fighting against Sebring’s punishing track for 12 hours. As mentioned above, practice is already underway in Florida. Qualifying is scheduled for Friday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. and can be seen via internet streaming on ESPN3.
The race itself will also be streamed flag-to-flag on ESPN3 live, with coverage starting at 10:15 a.m. Saturday morning. John Hindhaugh and Jeremy West will provide commentary. Access to ESPN3 is free, but it is password-protected. Check with your cable and/or internet provider for availability. A two-hour highlighted edition of the race will air at 2:00 p.m. Sunday afternoon on ABC.
About the author
Phil Allaway has three primary roles at Frontstretch. He's the manager of the site's FREE e-mail newsletter that publishes Monday-Friday and occasionally on weekends. He keeps TV broadcasters honest with weekly editions of Couch Potato Tuesday and serves as the site's Sports Car racing editor.
Outside of Frontstretch, Phil is the press officer for Lebanon Valley Speedway in West Lebanon, N.Y. He covers all the action on the high-banked dirt track from regular DIRTcar Modified racing to occasional visits from touring series such as the Super DIRTcar Series.
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