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Porsche Driver To Take on V-8 Guys

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 7 2009
One of the cars Andy Lally will be in this weekend will be the No. 71 TRG Sprint Cup car. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

One of the cars Andy Lally will be in this weekend will be the No. 71 TRG Sprint Cup car. (Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jonathan Ingram | Senior Writer

Andy Lally has it all backwards.

When a road racing driver moves to the Sprint Cup, it’s usually from a car with a big V-8 in the front. Before they became the Sprint Cup’s favorite road course ringers, Ron Fellows and Boris Said raced Camaros and Mustangs in the Trans-Am Series. Marcos Ambrose, who won last year’s Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen International, stepped in from Australia’s V-8 Supercars.

This weekend at the Glen, Lally will start out in a rear-engine Porsche 911 of TRG Motorsports powered by a relatively small flat six engine before switching to the team’s 5.7-liter Chevy V-8 to attempt to make the Sprint Cup field.

One small step for road racing, one gigantic career leap for Lally.

“This is without a doubt, hands down the biggest motor sport day I’ve ever looked forward to in my life,” said Lally, a native of Long Island who began his full-time professional road racing career in 2001.

On Friday, Lally’s schedule includes qualifying for the Sprint Cup event and then racing the Porsche in the evening’s 200-mile Rolex Grand-Am Series event, where it will start 11th in class.

A highly-focused driver who has won three championships in the Grand-Am Rolex Series and has two GT class victories in the 24-hour race at Daytona, Lally is known for his consistency as well as speed.

Coming into Watkins Glen, because of the success by drivers like Fellows and Said he knows the expectations are high for full-time road racers, which only adds to the pressure.

“If it was Sonoma, which is more technical, I’d probably have more of an advantage going in there,” said Lally. “Although I’m from New York and I’ve been to Watkins Glen for the past 15 years, these (Sprint Cup) guys have been coming to the Glen for a long time. And with the exception of a handful of rookies and relative new guys to the field, they’ve got a ton of laps here.”

TRG Motorsports owner Kevin Buckler chose to put Lally in the No. 71 Chevy, the team’s regular entry which collects owner points. That’s a vote of confidence for Lally. He is guaranteed to start if qualifying is rained out and will drive the team’s original road racing car acquired from Ganassi Earnhardt Racing earlier this year. Regular entrant David Gilliland will start in the No. 70 Chevy, which was purchased hastily after Gilliland banged into the car of John Andretti on the pit road at Infineon Raceway in June.

Lally feels he may have an edge aboard a COT chassis versus all the NASCAR veterans. “The difference between the COT and the old style car isn’t massive,” he said. “But it will be enough that maybe that will kind of level out the playing field here.”

Among the 11 drivers listed for the eight positions available to the go-or-go-home teams are two of Lally’s role models, Fellows and Said.

“I think guys like Boris and Ron, those are guys I’ve looked up to that have multi-tasks, that are great sports car drivers and at the same time great stock car drivers,” said Lally. “That’s my goal in life. I want to race every single thing I can.”

Although he could not find a route into Saturday’s Nationwide Series race, it wasn’t for lack of trying, said Lally. In 2007, he finished tenth in the Nationwide race at the Glen in a TRG Ford. “There were 18 Cup guys in that event and we finished 10th and I was ahead of the other road course ringers that day,” he said. “There was one other (Nationwide) regular that was ahead of us and after that the rest of the top 10 was all Cup guys.”

Other road racers often get their chance by building relationships in the Cup garage as coaches to regular drivers on road courses. Lally has long established himself with TRG, but one of his responsibilities is helping Gilliland on the road circuits. He tested with Gilliland at Virginia International Raceway and the New Jersey Motorsports Park. Like the Glen, where he has two GT victories, those are circuits where Lally has posted victories in the Grand-Am series.

“David gave me what he felt the new guy should know stepping into a Cup car for the first time,” said Lally of the test day. “I drove with him around the track and pointed out different areas of where the danger zones are going to be or what might not be really obvious to the eye as far as lines and what to do and how it goes on there.”

Lally is not known as a banger, but is not shy about contact, either. He’s alert to the problems of those trying to make the Chase for the Championship, although it remains to be seen how he responds if the Cup regulars try to push him around.

“For me, side-by-side, door-banging racing is where it’s at and that’s what I love about the NASCAR stuff,” he said. “That’s why I’ve been itching and trying for so long to get a foot in the door.”

This opportunity with Buckler and TRG was a long time coming for Lally, who won the 2006 Rolex GT Championship in a factory-backed Pontiac GTO.R driving for Buckler. The following year, the duo made the leap into NASCAR’s Truck Series. When sponsorship became an issue, after seven races in 2008 Lally shifted back into a full-time focus on Buckler’s GT entries in the Grand-Am while the Truck team continued on a “bring sponsor” basis.

Since then, longtime road racing team owner/driver Buckler has proven to be an adept NASCAR team owner, at times managing entries in both the Truck and Cup series this year in addition to the Grand-Am. Coming into the Glen, TRG Motorsports was 37th in Sprint Cup owner points. Making its first two-car entry in the Cup, the team has recently landed sponsorship for Gilliland from TaxSlayer and will have the car owner’s wine label, Adobe Road, on Lally’s Chevy.

The driver, who grew up playing stick-and-ball sports makes no excuses for his pursuit of a road racing career after his soccer coach introduced him to SCCA club events. “There’s not a bent bone in me that says, ‘Man I wish I went Late Model racing at 17 instead of SCCA racing.’ I love what I do.”

Lally appreciates he is one of the few in road racing who’ve been able to establish a full-time professional career, often while co-driving with paying customers. Fewer still are those who get a chance to demonstrate their road racing skills in a Sprint Cup car. Since 2005, the only “ringers” to have started other than Said, Fellows and Ambrose could be counted on one hand: Anthony Lazzaro, Max Papis, P.J. Jones, Scott Pruett and Jorge Goeters.

With Gilliland established at TRG Motorsports, it’s not likely Lally will suddenly find himself on NASCAR ovals. And Lally, who regards the Glen as his home track, knows the fickle weather conditions in the Finger Lakes region — from cloud cover to sudden drops in temperature — can come into play. That hardly changes his perspective qualifying.

“This would be a dream come true,” said Lally, who was 11 years old when the Sprint Cup first returned the Glen circuit to its schedule in 1986. “Something I’ve wanted to do ever since I was a little kid.”

– Jonathan Ingram can be reached at jingram@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, August 7 2009
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