Hmm....quite difficult at first, for many reasons.
Firstly, it took me a while to really understand and get used to how neutral the car had to be for it to be fast. As a road racer, you get used to driving a somewhat understeering car, particularly when it is a high horsepower car, because you need the traction. On an oval, understeer is a killer in terms of speed – it’s safe but generally slow. "Loose is fast," as the saying goes, but you try holding your foot down going into Turn One at Indy with the steering pointing straight! Let's just say that for a road racer this wasn't very natural.
Then, I had no teammate for the first three years of my INDYCAR career, so it was a lonely journey with a lot of trial and errors. I had no references; there were many things to figure out and not many ways to compare things. When I thought I had it, the balance would deteriorate, I would put myself at the wrong place in the wrong time, etc, etc, etc... It was like going to school with no teacher!
Finally, there was the whole asymmetric set-up thing! OK, who in their right mind would set up a car with over 100lbs of cross-weight on purpose?! Or so I thought.... Anyway, understanding how to set up a car on an oval, what changes do what, what is important and what isn't, what I actually needed for different situations – everything took me a while and a lot of brain-frying!
It is fine to make long-term plans and have big life goals, but if you don't execute well your immediate challenge, it is likely that nothing further will matter! All those beautiful career plans you have will come to nothing if you don't do well in your next race, the next one and the next one.... There are no guarantees in life, but it is amazing how opportunities seem to go toward those who are doing well.
To say one should focus on the things you can control might seem obvious, but it is easier said than done and can have strong psychological effects on your mind-set. This is true on many different levels. For example, the weather is uncertain and one can get very anxious about what to do and how the weather will affect a race; but anxiety will affect negatively your performance. So, as you can’t change the weather, what is the point of getting anxious? Prepare yourself and be ready for different scenarios.
On another level, let's say you are racing in front of an important potential sponsor. A good result can really help things out, so therefore you become anxious. Well, why? You don't directly control what others think or the consequences of your performance, but you can control your performance, so focus on your performance!
Do you recommend keeping your hands at the 9:15 position on the steering wheel or
moving them freely around?- Vaggelees Zachos
Good question! Although I don't recommend moving your hands around, I have seen people doing it...well, I have done it myself when crossing arms didn't give me enough lock. Typically it happened just before my neck stretched an inch due to a sudden deceleration!
Joking aside, your hand position depends on how firmly you need to grip the wheel for it not to jump from your hands and what part of your hand is most sensitive. Many drivers use the 9:15 position and wrap their thumbs around the spoke, this a very good ergonomic compromise. Personally, I preferred a slightly more elevated position, like 10:10 and sunk my index finger and thumb into the wheel itself. The reason I drove this way is because I had better feel and precision on the tip of my index finger.
What is your favorite aspect of racing?- Luis Pirela
Easy...Qualifying! Qualifying is a competition in itself and I considered qualifying almost as rewarding as the race itself. In fact, I never understood why qualifying never paid any money or points!
Why do I love it? It is completely pure. It is all about speed and nothing else, pushing yourself to incredible limits. There are no worries about tire, brake or fuel management, no race strategy or anyone else to interfere in the result, just you, the track and the car trying to find new limits!
In my last race, as I was struggling to pass another car, I was passed by two other cars. In the future, should I concentrate on executing my pass sooner or do a better job of defending my position?
A race is a mind and a strategy game as well as a speed game. Therefore in some instances you need to be able to recognize what kind of situation you are dealing with. For example, by constantly attacking the guy ahead, has he become able to read your mind and, further, are you slowing each other up to the point that you will come under attack from behind? Being aggressive does not mean you blindly should attack your opponent in every corner.
Here are some rules of thumb and things to think about:
1. No such thing as "trying" to pass someone; you either do or you don't! If you are "trying," it either means that you are seeing opportunities that are not there or you are making your moves easily readable and therefore defendable. Opportunism and unpredictability are key.
2. Are you slowing you and your opponent to the point that you lose contact with the guy in front of him and come under attack from the people behind? You must think about the race as a whole, not only a single maneuver.
3. Are you under pressure to pass him or is he under pressure to defend you? It is essentially the same thing, but psychologically there is a world of difference between the two. You must retain the psychological advantage over your opponent; he is already beaten, you are just reminding him of this simple reality! Very zen-like, I know....
4. By executing a maneuver at a certain corner, do you become vulnerable again on the next straight? Think strategically about a pass, not only on pure bravado (guilty as charged!).
Anyway, in general, I always worried more about how to get to the guy ahead and overcome him, rather than looking back, as invariably the very thought of looking back makes you more tense, tentative, usually slower and prone to mistakes. Pressure from behind is only felt if you allow yourself the luxury!
Forward is the only way!
How did you feel about being asked to join the ICONIC Committee and how did you go about deciding the general specifications for current generation of Indy cars, and are you pleased with how this has evolved?
It was absolutely a great honor. To be chosen by my peers for such an important task was very flattering and an enormous responsibility.
There were simple mandates...reduce costs and create a framework attractive to manufacturers. However, we had to also use this change as an opportunity to emphasize some of INDYCAR’s key brand attributes. In my mind INDYCAR is the original extreme sport and this characteristic had to be remembered at all times.
Every decision stemmed from these mandates.
To make an attractive rules framework for the manufacturer, we had to ensure the technical specifications and development avenues were relevant to manufacturers. As originally intended, the manufacturers would have also had the opportunity to brand cars with different bodywork. As a result their expertise could be demonstrated on the areas of aerodynamics, vehicle dynamics and power train.
To reduce costs to both teams and manufacturers, we decided to standardize parts which were irrelevant to manufacturers and the fans to take advantage of increased production. It’s technique widely used in the automotive industry – you will find many "invisible" components of your road car to be a standard item across many of the same manufacturer's range. This way, not only the individual parts can cost less whilst at the same time being of higher performance, but also engineering and development costs are slashed on a per part basis.
In addition, there is always the need to improve safety at every available opportunity, which a clean-sheet design would have afforded. A new design would have also given the opportunity to improve durability and maintenance, as well as reducing the costs of changing the car from oval to road course configuration.
Am I pleased with the way things are going?
I am still convinced we made many good decisions and the framework we created was the right one.
As a wanna be designer, I would have executed the project slightly differently, but then again which red-blooded passionate racing guy wouldn't say the same?! We are a breed full of different opinions!
Should an aspiring race car driver get a college education? If so, what degree course would you choose?- Anonymous