The 2016 season is all about change for Scott Pruett, who joins two new teams, takes on an expanded role with a manufacturer and has a new driver rating. Yet the 55-year-old still boasts the same winning drive and desire as he enters the next chapter in his career.
This weekend, Pruett — the most successful driver in IMSA history — looks to re-write the record books again in becoming the first six-time overall winner of the Rolex 24, driving for defending IMSA Prototype champions Action Express Racing.
It’s part of an off-season transformation for the newly Silver-rated Pruett, who has left Chip Ganassi Racing after a 12-year-stint that delivered countless wins and championships.
“I think the motorsports world was a bit shocked at how things worked out,” Pruett told Sportscar365.
While having been tipped for Ganassi’s Ford GT program, and even making the trip to Le Mans during the car’s launch last June, Pruett instead joined the new F Performance Racing team, which will field the new Lexus RC F GT3 later this season.
With the factory supported Lexus GT Daytona program not yet ready for the track, the California native has been drafted into the Gary Nelson-led Action Express squad for the first two IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship races of the season.
For Pruett, who is currently tied with Hurley Haywood with five overall victories in the Florida endurance classic, there’s an added incentive this weekend, in what could be one of his final chances to fight for the outright win.
“A lot of people are asking me that and they’ve asked me that last year,” he said. “The way I approach this race is the same way I approach it all the time.
“If it works out, it works out. I’m happy to be here. It’s always an exciting time to kick off the motorsports globally.
“Everybody wants to come here and be racing from a driver’s standpoint, from a team’s standpoint. I’m excited to be with the 5 car with [Joao] Barbosa, [Christian] Fittipaldi and [Filipe] Albuquerque.”
His transition from the Ford EcoBoost-powered Riley DP to AXR’s Coyote-chassied Corvette DP has been rather seamless, other than getting re-acclimated with a normally aspirated engine.
“It’s different for sure,” Pruett said. “There’s a lot of it that’s the same and the there’s all those things that are different.
“I hadn’t been in a normally aspirated car for a couple of years, and all the development we had been doing with the turbo engine and then getting back in the normally aspirated car… and just the car’s difference in itself.”
While focused on the task at hand with Action Express — including Sebring, where he’ll be placed in the team’s No. 31 Corvette DP — Pruett is also looking ahead to the Lexus GTD program.
Testing with the new RC F GT3 is expected to begin next month, with the race debut slated for May or June.
“The big picture for me is the Lexus program,” Pruett said. “There’s great people, really top-drawer, long-term.
“They’re not looking at a two-year program; they’re looking at things ten years out. It’s a great program for me to be involved with and fortunately we’re able to come up with a really incredible team to go race for the win at the 24.”
Another change for 2016 comes in his driver rating, with Pruett now graded Silver by the FIA, due to his age.
It thus allows the five-time GRAND-AM Champion to be paired with a Gold or Platinum-rated professional driver in the Pro-Am-enforced GTD class.
“It is a bit strange for sure, without question,” he admitted. “It’s funny, when all that came out, the Internet just blew up with how crazy all this is.
“The reality of it is that the rules are the rules. I didn’t make them and there’s a lot of other rules I don’t agree with but I support them. I’m just exited to go racing.”
Pruett isn’t the only driver that’s been recently reclassified because of age, with 51-year-old Ozz Negri having scored overall pole at the Rolex 24 last year as a Silver, proving that veteran drivers can still get the job done in sports car racing.
“If you look at motorsports in general, IndyCar, Formula One… There is an expiration date and that date is typically sooner than drivers feel like they should be getting out,” Pruett said.
“The teams want the next young kid. Especially five years ago, we saw that rash going on in NASCAR and a lot of other series where the next kid, the next kid and disregarding the guys who have been here and have a lot of experience.
“Sports car racing is one of those places where, regardless at the end of the day, you have to be fast, you still have to win races and you still have to do that.
“With that being equal, I think people shouldn’t be focused on age, they should be focused on ability and the reality if this guy can go win races. That’s the bottom line.”
And that’s exactly his objective this weekend, as Pruett chases a bit of history, in arguably one of the best-prepared and strongest cars in the Prototype class.
“This is one of those races where you never know how it’s going to play out,” he said. “We saw last year that the littlest of things put us out of the race and we had a really strong car.
“So you have to make it to the checkered and hopefully we can keep our nose clean and have a fight to the finish.”