Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Q&A: Interview with Mike Skeen - Audi driver in Pirelli World Challenge

By Tarek Ramchani

Team CRP Racing and their driver Mike Skeen have been regular competitors in the demanding Pirelli World Challenge since many years.

A big change this season with the team joining the Audi Sport customer racing family. It didn't took too long for CRP Racing and Mike Skeen to win with the R8 LMS ultra. He won two races and he is second overall in the drivers' championship points standing behind series leader Johnny O'Connel.

We were pleased to have an interview with Mike Skeen. A very interesting Q/A about his debut with the Audi brand in Pirelli World Challenge and his thoughts about the series and more.

Since the Grand of Long Beach your team CRP has made the switch to the Audi R8 LMS ultra, tell us more about that.

We knew coming to the 2014 season that the allowance of full GT3 cars would make that a requirement to be competitive in the series--essentially making the grandfathered World Challenge cars uncompetitive without a full factory effort like Cadillac. We had hoped to make the switch before St. Petersburg, but talks with all the manufacturer customer racing programs took a bit longer and we finally had a program together just in time for Long Beach.

Audi Sport customer racing North America is supporting a great number of cars in Pirelli World Challenge now; how does their interaction with the different customer team work?

The Audi Sport Customer Racing support program is really what made us choose to race an R8. The car is obviously a very formidable piece of equipment, but there are many great GT3 cars. The customer service and engineering support and involvement from the Audi program is really second to none in World Challenge. There is always a trailer at the races with a few staff members from technicians to engineers and an extensive spares package that allows us to have a smaller investment in such parts.

At Road America you dominated the entire weekend with the Audi R8 LMS ultra; what were the keys to success there?

The test day at Road America was really the first opportunity we had with the Hawk Performance Audi to get some significant testing time. Up to that point, most of the events were shorter schedules and we had very limited running. This was also a circuit that we knew would suit the GT3 cars because of the higher downforce levels being well-paired with the smoother surface as compared to the street circuits.

In the last two years the Pirelli World Challenge GT field has become very impressive, how demanding is the competition?

Yes, the competition is at a very high level now in the Pirelli World Challenge GT class. Qualifying sessions usually see many drivers with an opportunity at the pole and generally about ten cars are within a second of each other. There are many internationally-successful drivers, factory pilots, and some of the best that America has to offer. I am very excited to be a part of it and fighting for the championship lead.

Do you agree that the welcoming of full specification FIA GT3 race cars by the Pirelli World Challenge and SCCA has boosted the series?

No question the introduction of full specification FIA GT3 cars has brought a new energy to the series. The fans are very enthusiastic about the cars everywhere we go and the field sizes have grown tremendously. The shorter, sprint race format is very exciting, and the competition has never been closer.

Your Audi R8 LMS ultra is one of the American Grand-Am/TUSC versions that has been upgraded to the R8 LMS ultra specification. Are there any significant differences, other than the three window bars and the open window doors, between your car and the cars at GMG Racing which started off as the European R8 LMS / R8 LMS ultra specification models?

Our car has been updated to Ultra spec is nearly every way. We now have the door windows and of course the GT3-spec aero treatment. I believe a few of the GMG cars are also older cars that have been updated, but for all intents and purposes, the cars are currently the same.

Some rumours and speculation are circulating regarding endurance events in Pirelli World Challenge; what do you think about that?

I do not think the endurance events are something that Pirelli World Challenge needs to pursue. The excitement of the sprint racing format is what has really drawn me and many of the fans to the series. There are plenty of alternatives if endurance racing is what you're looking for (as a participant or fan). Now it looks like IMSA will be allowing the GT3 spec in 2016 anyways, so there's really no reason to go head-to-head with that series.

Separate races for GT and GTS classes in Pirelli World Challenge, good or bad idea?

I think we are at a point again where this should be considered. Although the mixed class racing can be very exciting and I enjoy the extra challenge, many of the street courses we go to are simply too crowded. In these cases, we end up getting a lot of full course cautions that really hurt our short races. I think we will see a mixed schedule in the next couple years with some separate races at these events.

What do you think about the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship and could we see you there in an Audi?

The IMSA organization has some great racing and I enjoy being a part of it when I can. Although I prefer the sprint races to the endurance events, you can't argue with the level of competition in every class at an IMSA event. I hope to make an appearance or two in TUDOR before the end of the year and will look forward to opportunities there in 2015.

Do you follow European based sportscar racing (FIA World Endurance Championship and Blancpain Endurance Series)?

Yes, absolutely. I have a lot of those races stacked up on the DVR at home and don't get enough time to view them! I love watching the in-car videos when I can find them and would really like to do some races there in the next few years. There are many European and international racetracks on my bucket list, so I need to get on it!

Which is your favourite race track?

Aside from the Nurburgring, my favorite track is probably Virginia International Raceway. I consider it my home track, and I think it has an excellent combination of high-speed and technical corners. It has recently had some major upgrades to the facility as well. It's unfortunate Pirelli World Challenge doesn't currently visit, but perhaps soon. My favorite track in the series currently is probably Mid-Ohio.

Photo credit: Pirelli World Challenge