Jeff Segal Returns With Emil Assentato In 2011 To Defend GT Championship
MIAMI December 1, 2010: Reigning GT class co-champions Jeff Segal and teammate Emil Assentato will defend their title in next year’s GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series presented by Crown Royal Cask No. 16 where the 2010 GT champs will campaign the No. 69 FXDD/SpeedSource Mazda RX-8 GT for the fourth consecutive year. The announcement of Segal’s return was made on the opening day of a GRAND-AM Rolex Series two-day test at Homestead-Miami Speedway where the 25-year-old Miami resident and his teammates are already hard at work preparing for the 2011 racing season.
“This will be my fourth full season driving the No. 69 Mazda with Emil and my fifth season racing with SpeedSource,” Segal said. “I think last year's championship was the result of really maximizing the tools we all had available, and a lot of that stems from the continuity we had as a team. We hit the ground running last year, and it paved the way for some fantastic results.”
Anchored by drivers Segal and Assentato, the No. 69 SpeedSource team will mount its title defense with basically the same group that reached the GT championship this year.
“This season, we have some personnel changes deeper within the organization, but the core group is still there,” Segal said. “Emil and I know the car very well and the continuity on the team allows us to focus on refining the details and trying to iron out any of the minor errors that inevitably turn into costly issues throughout the season. I'm expecting the same speed and consistency we've shown before, and ultimately aiming for the same result as 2010!”
After a challenging season-opening Rolex 24 At Daytona that produced only a 16th-place result after mechanical trouble while running on the lead lap in the 18th hour, Segal and the No. 69 team made their 2010 championship intentions known with back-to-back victories in the next two races at Homestead and Barber Motorsports Park. The No. 69 team then took the points lead in Round 4 with a second-place finish at Virginia International Raceway. It would be a championship lead they would never lose despite some stiff challenges from the competition that emerged after some in-season rules changes.
“Racing in a production-based category like the Rolex Series GT class is always tricky when you look at the performance balancing aspect,” Segal said. “We've got such a big variety of cars competing side-by-side and GRAND-AM has an incredibly difficult job balancing the performance of all of these different models to keep the playing field level. Inevitably, some cars will be better suited to certain tracks, and from time to time a particular model or brand will find themselves with an advantage until the rules are corrected for the other makes. I think our Mazda has a great variety of strengths, but I don't think we excel in any particular category.”
The final 2010 championship tally for Segal and his No. 69 teammates included the two victories, five top-three showings and no finish lower than fourth from Round 2 at Homestead through the 11th race of the year at Montreal. Segal and Assentato sealed the title with a sixth-place finish in the season-ending race at Miller Motorsports Park in Utah last September. Segal enters the 2011 season with five career Rolex Series GT wins, all with Assentato, and at least one victory a season since the lead drivers were joined by Nick Longhi for the No. 69’s first win in the 2008 Sahlen’s Six Hours of The Glen.
An advantage for Segal this year may be the now championship-proven effort and performance from the SpeedSource organization. Last year’s title race actually came down to a battle between Segal and Assentato in the No. 69 and its sister No. 70 SpeedSource Mazda of team principal Sylvain Tremblay to cap the best GRAND-AM Rolex Series season on record for SpeedSource and Mazda.”
“The SpeedSource team has a great handle on what it takes to run these cars at the front of the GT field, and we know we can look forward to a fast, reliable, solid Mazda RX-8 GT when we get to the track,” Segal said. “Our straight-line speed and peak power probably aren't what they need to be for outright speed at a track like Daytona, and our handling has suffered as a result of some of our weight penalties in 2010. Ultimately, I think our organization makes up for these shortcomings by focusing on reliability, consistency over a race distance, and by maximizing performance on pit stops, driver changes, out laps, and other variables under our control to build an advantage over our competition.”
As a Miami-area resident, Segal also has the benefit of being able to maintain almost daily and on-site contact with the team based in Sunrise, Fla.
“Being based in South Florida is perfect for my situation with SpeedSource,” Segal said. “I'm very close to the SpeedSource shop, and I spend quite a bit of time there with the team in the off season and in between races. For me, I've learned a tremendous amount from this team over the last few years. Each time I go to the shop I'm exposed to so much that continues to develop me as a driver.”
Segal’s next step in his ongoing development as a driver begins today when he returns for the first time as a champion to his “home” track at Homestead-Miami, where last year’s run to the 2010 GT title began. Two full days of testing on the Homestead-Miami road course on Wednesday and Thursday will bring GRAND-AM’s 2010 on-track activity to a close. The 2011 season will begin with traditional Daytona Test Days in early January before the 49th Annual Rolex 24 At Daytona, January 27 – 30.