Gil de Ferran
Gil de Ferran answers your questions!
- How does an "ordinary person like myself get stated in racing? -- Jeff Penman
- Well, Mr. Ordinary, in the same way all of us ordinary people did and still do.Joking aside, first I would test the waters. Go to a track day, rent a go kart, do a racing school, see if you really like it or not. Then you have to decide whether you would like to get involved in karts, single-seaters or sedans. Ovals or road courses. Decide what you can afford. Decide whether it is just a fun thing or you really want to try and turn this passion into a profession. All of these questions will influence what you do next.Since I am an open-wheel guy at heart and would like for everyone to at least experience such machines, I would recommend that you look for ways to try some small formula car or karts, depending on how old you are. Most people don't realize how much fun they are, how quick they are and how connected you feel to the road.Anyway, racing schools, local races, a lot of checking things out is a good way to begin your journey!
- Trade-offs are really the name of the game, I am afraid, unless you go back to the drawing board and find a different tradeoff which may end up giving you a better final result. In fact, the sort of experience you are having is exactly what drives development of a racing car. You find a shortcoming, redesign some parts and find the next hurdle, do the same again and again.Typically, more camber will give you more grip as the temperature distribution improves and the tire finds itself in a better "position" relative to the road in hard cornering. There are other effects which are a little too complex to go through here.At the end of the day it is a matter of trial and error to find out what is the optimum camber setting for your car, at a particular track, in a particular day for a particular distance! It is not unusual for one to run more camber in qualifying and then reduce camber for the race for the very reason you mention.Spending time looking at the tires, understanding how they are wearing, what the surface aspect looks like, tracking their temperature distribution and pressure rise will tell you a lot about your car and how it is handling.View SAFEisFAST.com video: Tire Management
- As I spent my whole life driving open-wheel cars -- as my dad would say, "real racing cars!" -- I will keep the answer more focused on that, otherwise we are into another book-like response.Firstly, you have to concentrate on the basics, such as: is the car well assembled; is the setup as determined by the setup sheet; are the tire pressures set correctly, etc.For example, if the cross-weight is not symmetrical or is incorrectly set, this can affect the handling and will get you totally lost.Secondly, it is nice when you have some history or proper engineering analysis of the car you are driving to ensure none of the setup parameters are way off. When this is the case, it may mask the effects what one would consider normal adjustments to setup. Only very experienced drivers would normally be able to pick out such anomalies, so knowing what you have beforehand is crucial. For example, if your damper forces are way off what they should be, you can change springs until the cows come home and it is likely many of the handling issues will persist to some degree.Assuming the first two counts are taken care of, you can start worrying about setup changes.You have to consider the type of car you are driving, i.e. is it a car with a great deal of aerodynamic downforce or not?In most high-downforce cars, the biggest thing you have to worry about is ensuring the underbody is in the correct position relative to the ground. The more extreme the car is regarding the amount of downforce, the more this is true. As the amount of downforce the car produces will significantly affect how the tires are working, you must ensure the car is well set up from an aerodynamic standpoint.Now to the tires...are they at the right pressure, temperature; have they not destroyed themselves already? What is the condition of the track and how is it affecting the tires? These are all questions you have to ask yourself before you touch anything. For example, you may find yourself in a very low grip track condition, the tires will never work properly and the car will feel horrendous. In this scenario, the worst you can do is to start significantly changing the setup as the track will continuously evolve and you will get lost.Finally, you are almost ready to play with the adjustments of your car -- apart from the fact that you must consider how your own driving inputs are affecting the car balance and determine how you want to drive and how the car needs to be for you to drive this way.Listen, you aspiring professional racers -- I cannot emphasize enough how important this is! Data normally only tells you what is happening and not what is not happening. Use your judgment and feel to decide what you need out of the car to match with how you think is the best way to approach a corner. For example, you may be turning in very gently to a medium speed corner and gently applying the power, and as a result your car is actually quite well balanced and all the data will reflect that. However, you may decide that turning in later and more aggressively, throwing the rear out a little and getting hard on the power, may end up being a quicker way to approach the corner in question, so in this situation, even though the car is actually well balanced, you must seek a setup which will give you slightly more understeer and traction.Sorry...adjustments...I forgot!Well, there could be yet another book on this one!Anyway, they are all fair game. Once you have covered the above, you may make any change you'd like in whatever order you want. It all depends what handling characteristics you are trying to affect and what level are these different parameters. Not only that, depending on the level of some of these parameters, they may have more or less effect. Complicated, huh?! Don't despair, make the change, feel the change, understand the change, remember the change...then do it again and again and again...slowly the picture will become clearer.As you probably gathered, every aspect is interlinked and everything affects everything! Develop your judgment, knowledge and feel to decide whether the issues you are experiencing are induced by a shortcoming of the car, your driving or the track. It is no good changing the car if the problem is with your driving!
-- Jennifer Suarez
- Interestingly, at the time I couldn't care less about the record! All I cared about was the extra point and being on the pole position for the upcoming race which was potentially going to give me my first Indycar championship. However, as the years have gone by, I have grown fonder of this accomplishment!What was the lap like?Hmmm....I have yet to experience anything like pedaling a car with over 1000 hp of Honda might! Wheel-spin at over 150 mph is hard to comprehend!Anyway, the car was really good and we ran similar speeds in practice. For qualifying, when the record was set, the car was, shall we say, super neutral! All I had to do was to blink my left eye and into the corner it would go. Any extra steering input would have spelled disaster. The tires were under so much stress that I actually opened the lap quicker than I closed it. Did it feel fast? Not really, I knew it was fast, but I was feeling good, the car was good and everything felt controlled and in some kind of slow motion, which is what it should feel like!
- Racing and driving is a very selfish pleasure and more incurable than the worse disease, so it does not surprise me that your passion has not died with age. I commend you for following your passion and doing something about it, whatever your age is. I have friends much older than you that have always been interested in racing and driving and are also following their passion even later in their life.Sponsorship is always a hard thing at any level. As I answered before, you have to engage as many people as you can and try to strike a chord with them. Sometimes the reason people sponsor cars is purely emotional, but mostly you have to provide some value for the money you are asking for. This can be anything, all the way from simply providing an entertainment venue and the right ambiance for the sponsor's clients to big TV exposure. Each sponsor will have different requirements.In the end, usually people take you seriously if you present yourself in a serious and professional manner, if you have a good track record and your passion is evident. Don't hide your passion; people that are passionate are contagious!View SAFEisFAST.com video: Sponsorship
- Of course I am! I even considered attaching two brooms to my cheeks...but it didn't look as good Dario's side burns.
- Whether you want to race in INDYCAR or F1, three things come to mind:1. Competition2. Win!3. MilesLet me explain further. The only way you will develop your talents is to face very tough competition at each level of your career. Facing difficult opponents forces you to think, develop and find new limits. It takes you out of your comfort zone; it will test you and your resolve. When you look back, you won't believe how far you've come.The win part is easy to explain. If you win at every level, many good things will happen -- the best teams will be after you, the best people will want to work with you, and it is likely that you will also end up with the best engines and equipment in general. It becomes an unstoppable virtuous cycle. Everything becomes easier and opportunities tend to come your way. Conversely, if you don't win or, shall we say, conquer each level of your career, why should you think that you are good enough to move up?Lastly, I would choose a series that gives you plenty of miles -- not necessarily only racing miles but also testing miles. Only in testing can you experiment and truly develop many of the skills you will need to become a top professional.
- Well, this is a question better asked to a full-time racing engineer, but I am going try and do my best here!Suspension geometry in general is a compromise between various requirements, including aerodynamics, kinematics, installation stiffness, etc... In fact, particularly in F1, many of the suspension solutions you see have everything to do with aerodynamic performance and little with what one would consider to be "normal" suspension geometry considerations, including roll center height.Nevertheless, changes in the kinematics and installation stiffness do affect the handling of the car. So, usually, the designer will try to keep the suspension design parameters within a certain range; however, particularly in high-downforce cars, he will give absolute priority to aerodynamics. The race engineer, on the other hand, will try to adjust many different suspension parameters within a small range – including, at times, roll center height -- in order to get the best handling.To be honest, it is quite complicated -- and probably the subject of another book! -- as the suspension in a racing car performs all the same functions it does in a road car, plus it has a significant role in controlling the aerodynamic platform of the car, which can overpower everything else!
-- John Overlander
- Like you heard me say before, I think it is a great idea you try some small-formula cars. I am not 100 percent familiar with what formulas exist these days and how much they cost, but if you have a limited budget I would not spend my money traveling around the country. I would make sure and figure out the maximum amount of miles I could get for my cash -- with the best possible equipment. Don't spread yourself too thin. Do fewer races, test more, prepare yourself well, learn one thing well – in short, try to improve your chances of success in the events you enter.
- Hummmm....the million dollar question!Meet people, try to engage your family and friends to help you and meet more people. If you present yourself well and professionally, many times someone or some business person may take a liking to you and to your quest and decide to add their support.These days there is a variety of “young driver” programs which can really take your career into warp speed as well.But in the end, if you really want to increase your chances, make sure you are successful in what you are doing. If you can dominate, better!
- Yes and no. Lots of people have jobs and study at the same time. It is hard, but possible. I was myself an engineering student and raced. In fact, earlier in my life my parents gave me no option: no grades, no racing...simple! I faced some tough choices. Brazilian universities require a very hard and lengthy admission exam, for which most people spend months preparing. In 1984, I abandoned the kart championship I was in with three races to go whilst leading to do just that.Anyway, it sometimes becomes difficult to manage time when you have commitments on both sides that cannot be rescheduled. The other problem is one of focus. To do a good job on anything, I believe you have to focus, and when the pressure is on it becomes hard to do a good job on all fronts.You must know yourself what is your tolerance, energy and ability. All I would say is, whatever you decide, make sure you excel and do yourself justice. Aim high in every respect.
- I started racing karts in Brazil, and from there I moved into Formula Ford still at home. Eventually I went to race in the UK until I was offered an opportunity to race in INDYCAR. The rest is recent history!Basically, in the beginning I had to manage my education responsibilities and racing at the same time. As I became older this became more and more difficult as school and eventually university took an enormous amount of time and focus and so did racing – not only because of racing and testing but also sponsorship hunting. What fell off the bottom was the usual fun that one has in their late teens and early 20s. OK, I can't claim I was living like a monk, but if there was a compromise to be had, that part of life was usually what suffered.In the end, I was doing what I loved and having fun...so it wasn't that bad after all, just very different routine from most of my school friends.I suppose in the early years what kept it all going was the fact that I was being relatively successful, and that success spurred me on to keep going. Nevertheless, when it came time to abandon the prospects of a normal life to pursue a racing career, it was not an easy decision!
- Wins are supposed to be like children -- you are not meant to have a favorite one!However... My most important single race win was obviously the Indy 500. It came on the back of a great deal of adversity as I was in hospital a month before and missed the race prior. Whenever you come from a big low, the highs feel that much higher.But I also draw a great deal of personal satisfaction in my championship wins over the years, whether in karts or INDYCAR. To win a championship meant a lot to me, as it ultimately means you prevailed over a great variety of circumstances and, on the average, the "luck" factor is ironed out.Other memorable wins include Rio in ’86, Sao Paulo ’87, Oulton Park ’89, Oulton Park ’90, Brands Hatch ’91, Silverstone ’93, Laguna ’95, Nazareth ’00, Rockingham ’01, Houston ’01, Pikes Peak ’02.Beyond this, I will never forget my firsts! My first girlfriend, my first win ever in karts, my first car win, my first win in the UK, my first win in INDYCAR and...my first and only win in the Indy 500!I will also not easily forget my lasts...Texas ’03 and Laguna 09
- Racing simulators are becoming more and more sophisticated. The improvements in computing capacity and development of new technologies have really turbocharged the evolution of these things over the past few years.Since I am over 40 and the only video games that were available when I was a teenager in Brazil were Atari Tennis and Donkey Kong, you can probably imagine that video games -- even driving ones -- are not really my forte! I consider myself a half-decent driver, but put me in a racing video game and I am completely rubbish! If I stop and think about why, it has to do with the fact that I hardly ever play and the general lack of feedback from all the controls. Don't get me wrong, it is incredible how the good and real the physical behavior of the cars are in these new games, but the feedback of the controls is usually what throws me off.In what seems almost like another planet, I have been exposed to this latest generation of professional simulators, with moving platforms and all the bells and whistles. Now, those things I can generally drive with a little more competence and actually feel some things that are very relevant and relate quite well to the real world. These contraptions are slowly becoming an important tool in the world of motorsports, as demonstrated by many of the F1 teams, but unfortunately they are beyond the reach of most “regular” race car drivers.What a simulator will always lack are magnitude of the G-forces you experience whilst driving. Nevertheless there are many techniques people are using to trick you into feeling similar effects!Anyway, it is a very interesting and relatively new development area in motorsports.
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!
-- Frederic Jacques
- Focus on the things you can change and on the job at hand.
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
- Generally, I believe it is good to get an good education regardless of whether you are a racing driver or not. Now, whether it is necessary to educate yourself as a mechanical engineer or something similar to ensure you have top drawer technical knowledge in order for you to be a successful driver is highly debatable.Invariably, some technical know-how is always beneficial, however I don't think it is vital that one holds a Ph.D in vehicle dynamics! You need got know enough to be able to talk to the engineers and understand some basic principles of how a car works; beyond that it is a matter of personal preference.Personally, I was always very interested in the technical side of motorsport and my curiosity drove me toward finding more and more about it. I enjoy it – well, in fact, I love it! But I know plenty of very successful drivers that did not share the same passion.
-- Scott Madans
- Well...in fact, I never had a professional coach per se! However, I had the great fortune to work with some people who knew a lot about driving, racing and life in general, starting with my dad! So, rather than specifically driver coaching, I had top-flight mentorship throughout my racing career. As a result I learned a lot about not only driving but also, more importantly, how to approach all aspects of being a driver.The closest person, I suppose, I could consider a driver coach was Jackie Stewart, with whom I discussed much about driving style and the psychological aspects of driving. We even did track days in Oulton Park!In the end, I came to believe that the best way to tackle my development as a driver was to analyze, talk, discuss, observe and do whatever you need to do to understand what is going on, sometimes with the help of others, before and after you drive – rarely during! I needed to understand the loop between action and reaction and feel things for myself, so that I could work on it.However, everyone is different and require different approaches. Find a routine that works best for you and stick to it!View SAFEisFAST Video: The Driver Coach
- I would agree with that. Qualifying for the Indy 500 was indeed the most difficult thing I have ever done in a racing car. Firstly, there are all the strategic uncertainties which add to the tension. Then, you face a car that is literally dancing on a knife edge all the time in qualifying trim and the margin for error is zero, not to mention the fact that the tiniest weather change will affect your car significantly.All in all, you are facing a situation where you a trying to get closer and closer to the edge without going beyond it, as doing so can end your race, championship, career or even worse.So...how did I deal with it? Try to forget the world exists and solely focus on steering the car around. Forget expectations, forget the crowd, media, family, friends, team, sponsors...forget it all. But I have to say, given the tension surrounding the occasion, it is much easier said than done!View SAFEisFAST Video: Oval Racing
-- Alexander Barfield
- To race successfully in INDYCAR a driver has to be very versatile. You have to master various racing disciplines – short ovals, superspeedways, permanent road courses and street circuits. It is very hard to do them all whilst coming up though the racing ladder, but the more of these disciplines you do the better off you will be.In fact, for that very reason, I consider the IndyCar championship one of the most worthy and highest attainments a driver can achieve. Having said all that, not only should you have to look for racing that will provide you this training, but you must also seek the highest level of competition you can find and be very successful at every level. Only this way your talents will develop and so will your reputation, which should eventually lead to the promised land!Karting and the lower forms of open-wheel racing – especially now with the Road to Indy, which offers some fantastic opportunities to progress – are the most common routes into the IndyCar Series, but other drivers have come from different backgrounds. In the end, I believe the broader the experience, the better off you are.View SAFEisFAST Video: The Ladder System
- To be honest, I never quite understood the terminology! I suppose trail-braking refers to the technique of carrying some brake pressure into the turn.Possibly the most important part of driving fast is braking – well, that is of course when you don't have to drive flat-out all the way around! How you brake depends on the type of corner you are approaching, what preceded the braking event, what type of car and tires you are driving, how it is handling, the conditions of your tires, brakes, etc, etc, etc...One has to remember that the brakes not only slow down your speed but also significantly affect the load distribution around the car and, therefore, the handling. So, it is a tool you can use to change the turn-in characteristics of your car, amongst other things.Concluding, a good driver MUST understand and feel how best to apply the brakes in different situations and during different phases of the braking zone. It is no good to have a single braking technique; one's repertoire must encompass various techniques that can be used as needed.View SAFEisFAST Video: Braking
-- Van Swenson
- Please keep in mind I am no trainer, but here are my thoughts on the matter. After karting, cars are relatively less physically demanding until you get to the Indy Lights kind of level. Nevertheless you should always be in good enough shape to drive an Indycar, regardless of what you are doing, as you never know when opportunity will come knocking on the door and, frankly, it may take years of hard work for you to achieve top physical condition.Although driving racing cars is physically very strenuous and a workout itself, it is not a good kind of exercise as the work you do is very unbalanced and uncomfortable. Therefore I always concentrated on a program which would compensate for the physical hazards originating from driving, as well as a program which would allow me to reach my driving potential. This included a great deal of cardio, improving my flexibility (which sucks!) and strength training, particularly core and muscle groups which are NOT utilized very much whilst driving. Particularly as you get older, one becomes very injury prone, so keeping your body in balance becomes increasingly important.As you correctly point out, one's mindset is probably even more important than the body! First of all you must develop the ability to concentrate for long periods of time. For me, long boring runs always helped in this regard as your mind tends to wander, which it should not do! Secondly, having a great deal of emotional control is key to a good performance. Emotions tend to get in the way of good decision-making, which in turn can badly affect your performance. But, further than good decision-making, understanding yourself and what kind of emotional mindset you need to be to get the best of yourself is also key. Then it becomes a matter of learning how to manage your emotions to ensure you are in the right mindset for the right occasion. For sure this is a case of "easier said than done," but your journey needs to start somewhere!Anyway, I could write a whole book on the subject, as "mind management," as my old mentor Jackie Stewart used to call it, is THE most important thing a racing driver needs to develop if he/she is to be successful. In the meantime, I suggest you take a look at Jim Leo’s Driver Workout Overview tutorial which was posted on this site last week.View SAFEisFAST Video: Driver Workout Overview