Ken May’s Putnam Park Tales - lll
An Afternoon With The Daytona 24 DP Winners
(And An In-Depth Q&A With Multimatic’s Barry McSherry)

The concluding episode of Ken May’s account of his day at Putnam Park (April 24) with the Multimatic team (and their class winner at the Rolex 24), the Panoz Esperante and Intersport. Ken gets stuck into Multimatic’s Barry McSherry….sorry, Barry, not sure what you did to deserve this…..Ed.

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What a day it has been! I have been able to take over 200 photographs of sportscars that race in the top class of their respective series, I have been able to shake hands and converse with team members from IMSA’s Intersport team, I survived my first attempt at conducting a Q/A (with Clint Field)…………and finally, I survived climbing down a makeshift ladder from atop the roof of the scorers building!

Yet the best was still yet to come! My main reason for coming to this track, besides getting out of my day job and enjoying the beautiful weather and Indiana countryside, was to be able to ‘meet’ the Daytona 24 Hour Pole and Class winner – the Multimatic Ford Focus! My plan all along was to take pictures of the car not only on track, but in the paddock area…up close…..in detail…..and if I would be able to ask a few of the team members some questions, that would just be an added bonus.

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dailysportscar.comAs I walked back over to the Multimatic area, I saw Barry McSherry continuing to talk to Scott Maxwell, so I patiently waited for a chance to thank Barry one last time, and see if I can ask “a few” questions. As I wait, I fire off another 20 or so pictures of the team working on the car – conducting a brake change, working in the engine compartment and general “tweaking”. As I watch the team working, I cannot help think back to the many “discussions” that have taken place on several internet based forums of the “ugliness” of the DPs (especially the Focus) and the problems compiling a quality field of DPs. When the concept drawings for the DPs first came out, I was one of the many “die hard” sports fans who was extremely critical of not only the class, but the series (GARRA)….my tenor changed slightly after attending the Daytona 24. …..it would change even more within a few hours……….

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Barry concluded his conversation with Scott Maxwell and asked if this was a good time to talk: again, I am taken back at the friendliness from everyone, and fully anticipate Barry giving me a few minutes with him, and then calling over a team member to conduct the Q/A…….what transpired was a 30-45 minute conversation with “the man” of Multimatic’s Sportscar Program. Barry and I walked over to a fence rail and proceed to “sit on the fence”: I think to myself, how appropriate, as I am still on the fence about the Ford Focus But even in person, the car is…..different!

dailysportscar.comKM: Barry (in conversation with Clint, right), thanks for allowing me to talk with you……The Focus looks “almost” exactly like the car that won Daytona…..I did notice a few changes, but I will get to that in a few minutes….. What changes have taken place to the car since it first hit the track this year that a “casual” fan might not notice?
BM: We have done some work in the area of the suspension and have seen some positive results. Also worked on better airflow…….

KM: The season is really starting to ‘get into gear’ and by season’s end, do you see a lot more development with the car?
BM: Well, as you know, we had a ‘finished’ car, ready for racing much later than some other teams and we will continue to look for ways to improve the car, the set-up, and the speed.

KM: How much increase in speed (conservatively) do you see by year end?
BM: Conservatively? At least three seconds…..with testing and continued learnings, three seconds is a good number. You have to remember Ken, this car still does not have anything like a year under its belt in competitive racing (smiling).

KM: What have been some of the major hurdles you have had to overcome since your successful debut and subsequent win at Daytona?
BM: “Major Hurdle”?……(Long Pause)…..I really cannot think of any. GARRA has done such a wonderful job setting up the regulations and making these cars “easy” to run, I really cannot think of any major hurdles. Sure, there have been issues to solve, but nothing major………

KM: No “show stoppers”?….Meaning….that you might have to re-look at the entire blueprint?
BM: Smiling….NO, not even close!

KM: I asked several friends of mine what questions they would like me to ask and the main one seemed to be around heat in the cockpit……A huge fan of your team that goes by ‘Rod America’ on the GARRA fan forum said I’d better ask this question….. What about the issue of extreme heat in the cockpit?
BM: We have made some improvements in the airflow…….

KM: (Interrupting) I noticed your team taking tape off the greenhouse and vents present…..
BM: Yes, after the last summit, some regulations were changed and we are able to provide more airflow into and out of the cockpit…..this really has helped the issue of heat.

(KM: Thinking to myself “Reg changes?” Did I hear that correctly….better make sure I write that down in bold print and circle…..My understanding was that no changes were made in any regs during the last summit! Do I have a scoop on this? I better check and see if there is any mention of “Reg changes” when I get back home)

KM: So, the heat issue, which has been discussed often, is no longer an issue thanks to improved air movement (because of new regs.)?
BM: That is correct……..

dailysportscar.comKM: I asked both Clint and Rick during side some side conversations about the car and the comfort level of heat……
BM: What did they have to say?

KM: They both said the car was fun to drive, easy to drive, and heat was not an issue during the limited time in the car.

KM: Speaking of the regulations, this is also a “lively” topic on many internet forums, if you could “suggest” to GARRA one regulation, and only one, regulation, that you would like to be looked at for 2004…..what would that one be? (Anticipating a moment of silence as Barry would have to think of the many we fans talk about and narrow it down to one…I am surprised how easily and quickly he answers)
BM: HORSEPOWER…..We would like to see more HP! That really is it…..

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dailysportscar.comKM: Nothing else? How about the size of the greenhouse?
BM: I know many people have commented on the size of the greenhouse, but it is designed (regulated) that way for several reasons: first and foremost driver safety. GARRA wants to ensure safety is not compromised. Another thing about the greenhouse is for driver comfort…..compared to a GTP, obviously there is more room, but drivers come in different sizes and some (Barry pauses to come up with the “proper” and appropriate way to state the obvious thought)…..drivers need more than others (smiling)….

KM: Nicely stated Barry, how about that “bar”, smack in the middle of the windshield….isn’t that a safety issue? Doesn’t that interfere with the driver’s ability to see everything in front of him?
BM: Good question, but no, I do not believe so. After a few stints in the car, the bar is not a factor…..that’s a question you might want to ask some of the guys who have been in the car though……….

At this point, Barry receives a cell call and has to excuse himself……he comes back shortly and APOLOGISES to me for the interruption! I am truly amazed he felt the need to apologize to me and ask if maybe it would be better to hold off continuing and he proceeds to explain that would not be necessary and he will hold off any more calls coming in! Unbelievable.

KM: With the DP class being so new and up to this point, just “a few” manufacturers actually having cars race, is there any sharing of information between teams? Do you share “ideas” on improving the “show for the fans”?
BM: Excellent question, but no. We are all competitive and all of us want to win. As we discussed earlier, we came into the design process much later than others and we have a lot of catching up to do. We all want the class to succeed (and it will), but since all of our designs are “different”, whatever opportunity might arise to share info, we want to use to our advantage.

KM: Speaking of your design being “different”, the Focus has been labeled as “ugly” and in serious need of a face lift. Hell, I have even stated (several times in chat rooms), the best time the car would even be close to “OK” is after a spin and with the back facing forward! The TV and pictures though, do not do the car justice…..but still……..
BM: (Laughing) Yes, I have heard and read many peoples feelings on the look of the car…..but everyone has a right to their opinion. My opinion of your favorite IMSA car may be different from your’s…..(Smiling) At least you know what our car looks like.

KM: How would you describe the “main characterstic” of this car compared to other sportscars, not just DPs?
BM: Easier to drive….therefore, easier to learn.

KM: How has your morning test session been?
BM: Good…Actually, very good.

dailysportscar.comKM: Obviously, having quality drivers such as Clint and Rick testing next to you presents some interesting “possibilities” and was neat to see them given an opportunity to test the car……
BM: Yes, as many people as we can get to see and drive the car, the better it obviously is for us…….They both seemed to enjoy driving it.
KM: Yep, nothing but positive comments and the theme seems to be with your car that it is “Easy to drive and fun!”

KM (smiling): Beside Clint and Rick, is interest growing in purchasing this car?
BM (smiling):Yes, there is a swell of interest forming for a DP Ford Focus.

KM: Care to share a number?
BM: There are 10 – 12 prospective buyers that have communicated interest in purchasing the Focus….of course, showing an interest and actually purchasing the car are two different things.

KM: OK, so….has any ‘prospective buyer, who has shown any level of interest…tested the car today? (Pen ready for the answer !)
BM: Ken you have some tough questions…….(pause)

KM: Maybe I should not have asked that question, as we both know that two other drivers drove the Focus for the first time today……….
BM: Let’s just leave the question unanswered…shall we? (Smiling)

KM: OK, I brought my checkbook today, and although I do not have the correct licence or the firesuit given to me, let’s for fun say I want to buy that car…..who do I make the check out to and how much?
BM: (Loud laughter) Make the check out for exactly $435,000…….

KM: And besides getting a car that I cannot drive, what else comes with that price tag? (At this point of our enjoyable Q/A, Barry excuses himself again and I think “What did I say?”….Surely he cannot be upset that I want to write him a check that would not even cover .01% of the total cost of the car? I start to look around to see if I will be escorted off the track by security……when Barry returns with a program)

BM (Opening the program): Well let’s see, for that price, you will get: (from program Barry shows me)
· Multimatic’s comprehensive at-track engineering support
· Full access to ongoing factory development (wind tunnel, vehicle dynamics)
· At-track engine support from Robert Yates Racing
· At-track electronic/data support from EFI
· At-track gearbox support from EMCO

Oh, and of course, the winning car from this year’s Daytona 24! (Smiling)

KM (Laughing): Wow, looks like I’d better get some sponsorship deal lined up!
BM: Give me a call when you do! (Gives me the 20+ color page program to keep!)

KM: OK, seriously, let’s talk sponsorship……What types of deals are you looking for? Meaning, what products are you trying to associate with the Focus or the DP class? And, what types of sponsorship do you think is appropriate for GARRA?
BM: Anything around “High Tech”….As I am sure you are aware, sportscar racing in the US is known as a ‘wealthy gentleman’s’ sport. The sponsorship deals should be around that theme……

KM: Do you have some deals being worked on as we speak?
BM: Of course and I hope everything comes together….with the economy in the state it is in right now, it is just taking a little longer.

KM: How about the marketing of this class or of the Rolex series……I see where there is more emphasis with NASCAR….The parade lap at Talladega and in this weekend’s NASCAR race in California…..do you see this trend continuing?
BM: Yes, by all means. The more we can tie in to the success of NASCAR the better. In fact, we were scheduled to do the parade lap in California, but had to change our plans because of the sessions here at Putnam Park.

KM: NASCAR and ‘Hightech’….to me just don’t go together…..Cars which have no working headlights or windshield wipers, and have a hard time going right…….
BM: Obviously there are differences in cars, but NASCAR has the following that can benefit GARRA.

KM: OK, couple more questions…..With your past efforts working with Panoz and the LMP07, which by the way, was one of the loudest cars I can remember hearing, were there any learnings you can transfer from those efforts to the Focus?
BM: Two entirely different cars….the design, set-up, etc. so…not really.

KM: I will be at Barber Park in May and Mid-Ohio in June……you will be there….right?
BM: Hope so, all depends if everything can be worked out……..

KM: “Everything”? Meaning if you have sold the car(s) or obtain more sponsorship?
BM: Yes, our primary goal at Multimatic is to build and sell cars. We feel we build some of the best cars in the industry and our long range goal is not to build and race, but to rather build, sell, and support.

KM: Ya, you did though win Daytona !
BM (smiling): Yes we did! We are also very capable of racing and winning in our cars, but we would rather sell them.

KM: So, my check won’t work, let’s say that you have an offer this week to purchase three to four cars…..what is the lead time until all four can be seen on the track?
BM: Well, this one is for sale as is one more. The other two could be delivered later this season…….

KM: (shaking Barry’s hand) Barry, thank you for allowing me to take pictures of your team / car today and to also spend some time with you. I have a much better appreciation of what it takes to field a DP in GARRA and wish your team great success with the remainder of the season. I hope to run into your team at both Barber Park and Mid-Ohio!
BM: You’re welcome and I hope you had fun out here today…………

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With that, I head over to a spot in the grass to read the literature Barry gave me and notice within minutes, Barry is back on the phone and also talking to his team. Shortly thereafter, as I am reading the program, I notice out of the corner of my eye, Barry looking for someone (me?) and then starts to walk over to me…….A fear of “Hell, he wants to take my camera away,” comes over me and not knowing the “ins and outs” of this ‘reporting stuff’ try to think of something…

Barry then calls my name out, my heart skips a few beats, I stand up only to be given an autographed picture (Scott Maxwell) of the Focus colored fact sheet. “Thought you might enjoy this,” states Barry and shakes my hand one last time!

So, that’s it……what a day and an experience. I went to trackside to take more pictures, but since I forgot my hearing protection and being so damn close to the track, my ears were ringing like mad! Better call it a day and thank the track officials one more time…….

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I felt like I had already “gotten” in the way of both teams enough throughout the day, and I hoped my many times of thanking them would be remembered. I wanted to talk to Scott Maxwell, but he looked very busy again and Clint was back out in the Lola. Rick was in his car…resting….so I thought I’d better just get in the car and start to think of how I was going to write up my time at Putnam Park.

I can describe my time in one word: AWESOME….UNBELIEVABLE…..ENLIGHTENING….UNFORGETTABLE!

Ok, so my Ohio State University math skills have deteriorated over the years…but the day was full of many adjectives and none of them could have been used without the generosity of both teams and specifically Barry McSherry and Clint Field.

Has the day changed any of my feelings of the cars or series? Yes and No………
Yes, as both teams showed the level of professionalism and dedication it takes to be competitive in their respected series…..both teams obviously knew I was a fan of sportscar racing first and a very bad interviewer second, but made me feel I was “part of the action”….and both teams have a new spokesperson for their efforts!

No, because until the DPs are clearly heads above the rest of the GARRA field, I will feel they are unnecessarily handicapped. GARRA needs to let these cars loose……the greenhouse “look” is not that all bad….in person, but they need more speed!

Who was the winner today?

This fan of sportscar racing and everyone else who loves the racing! Lastly, thank you Malcolm and DSC for allowing this “casual fan” to share his day with other sportscar fans……Next stop for this reporter? BARBER PARK!
Ken May ("Back to my day job with also a much better appreciation of the work of professional reporters (and amateurs) and to their editors....I AM TIRED!”)

 

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