with Co-Driver Emil Assentato and No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD Ferrari 458 Italia Grand Am
2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Series GT Champ Looking To Keep Opening-Quarter Momentum through Four-Race Stretch in June
Jeff Segal brings the GT class points lead and a two-race win streak to Detroit this weekend where he will join co-driver Emil Assentato and the No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD Ferrari 458 Italia Grand Am team in the GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series debut on the temporary road course on Belle Isle.
Following practice and qualifying on Friday, the weekend’s featured two-hour sprint race can be seen live on SPEED, this Saturday, June 2, at 5 p.m. EDT/2 p.m. PDT.
While Segal and Assentato have been championship-winning teammates for the last five years, the AIM Autosport Team FXDD Ferrari 458 Italia program is new for the 2012 season. Segal and his teammates finished eighth in the season-opening Rolex 24 at Daytona, second one race later at Barber Motorsports Park and then scored back-to-back victories at Homestead-Miami Speedway in late April and earlier this month at New Jersey Motorsports Park (NJMP).
“Looking back, the first quarter of the season has clearly got to be seen as a huge success for us,” Segal said. “To achieve these results with such a new effort has been hugely gratifying, and while we entered the season with plenty of confidence, I will say that I didn't expect things to come together this quickly!”
The next challenge will be to match the opening-quarter success in a tough stretch of four races in June that begins in Detroit this weekend. The series moves to Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course next weekend before another pair of back-to-back event weekends to end the month at Road America and Watkins Glen.
“Good or bad, we've now set the bar really high for ourselves, and now we will be looking to race to that level of expectation in the next string of races,” Segal said. “With four races packed into five weeks it will be hard work for the team, and I'm happy that we can at least arrive at Detroit riding the momentum and energy of two straight wins and the points lead.”
Segal is a native of Philadelphia, which is just 45 minutes away from NJMP, and now lives in Miami, not far from Homestead-Miami Speedway. Both races represented home-track victories for Segal but he is not feeling that way heading to Motown.
“Definitely not a home race for me,” Segal said. “If anything, I feel like we're marching into hostile territory with a nice big target on our back this weekend! I'm sure there is no event that the domestic brands want to win more than Detroit, so I'm sure that they'll arrive with their best foot forward which makes our job even more difficult. Our job is to come spoil their party, and we'll do our best. I'm sure it will be an entertaining race, given the shorter two-hour format and the tight confines of the circuit layout.”
Another challenge is the unfamiliarity of the Belle Isle track itself which is new to Segal and the majority of his GRAND-AM Rolex Series competitors.
“Belle Isle is a totally new experience for me, and that definitely makes things a bit more tense heading into the weekend,” Segal said. “Since the track is a temporary track, there's obviously no chance to go testing and there isn't much out there in the way of existing videos or notes to study. I've done what I can with the materials available, and I've also tried a few simulations of the track on the computer, but a simulation is always going to have a hard time capturing the nuance of a street course. I'll show up for the weekend early, try to walk the track before practice, and hope that I'm a fast learner when practice begins!”
Detroit is also the first GRAND-AM Rolex Series “short weekend” of the season after the year’s opening races featured three and in some cases four full days of on-track practice, qualifying and racing. Sharing the weekend card with the IndyCar Series has made the Rolex Series race a tight two-day event.
“The shorter weekends are absolutely more challenging for us, especially given that we're running this car which is so new to GRAND-AM,” Segal said. “Without the benefit of the test days we now face a lot more pressure to arrive at the track with a pretty good setup and make small refinements through the practice sessions, and that is going to challenge our engineering staff. Fortunately, we've learned a lot about our car in the last four races, so I'm feeling more confident in our understanding of the car and its needs with each event.”
AIM Autosport Team FXDD went through a full schedule of maintenance and preparation on the Ferrari 458 in the two weeks since the New Jersey victory.
“We've had to do a lot of maintenance to the car, mostly to prepare for the next marathon of races where we won't have much downtime between events,” Segal said. “A lot of components have been replaced, a lot of pieces rebuilt, and a lot of inspection and reassembly done to make sure that the car is totally ready for four grueling races. The last race of the month at Watkins Glen is also a six-hour event, so we really need to make sure we're totally reliable.”
Segal and Assentato, the 2010 GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series GT champions, lead the 2012 driver championship standings by eight points, 125 - 117, over the nearest competitor. The No. 69 AIM Autosport Team FXDD Ferrari 458 Italia Grand Am leads the team championship standings with the same points total and margin heading to Detroit.