This week at the State of INDYCAR conference, Lotus-DRR driver Oriol Servia, National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand, and KV Racing Technology’s Tony Kanaan spoke with More Front Wing to discuss the development of the DW12 and look forward to the 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series season.
A transcript of their responses appears below. To hear the interview in its entirety, use this player or search for More Front Wing on iTunes.
On having his ride determined so early: “Everybody’s been telling me, man, you’ve been so unlucky, Newman/Haas closed. But it’s probably the year I have my deal done earlier, so it’s still good for me. I’m happy, especially because I landed in a very good place. I’m very happy with Robbie Buhl and Dennis Reinbold — I think they’re great owners. And the whole team, its people, some of them I’ve worked with in the past, like my engineer. I’m pretty confident. And the shop itself, it’s the best INDYCAR shop I’ve been to. So, it’s all looking pretty good, and I’m very excited.”
On how the many changes through his career will help him adapt: “That’s the thing — it’s not just driving. When you have a new car, you’ve got to find out first which are the weakest areas of the car and try to find a solution for them. And that’s where I think having experience can help you, and I do have some experience. I really am excited to start working, and I think we’re all looking forward to a new car, a new challenge, figuring out what works, what doesn’t. And then having the engine manufacturers involved on top of that is even more fun because you can start playing with fuel maps, boost management, and all kinds of things that make the racing even more complex and more things on your hands that you can do right or wrong.”
On working with Lotus and Judd: “It’s awesome. To start with, I like how the black and gold looks. I had my first interaction with the Judd people a couple of weeks ago in the first test, and I was very impressed. They are super knowledgeable. They’ve been working very hard at it. They are very conservative, which as a racer you don’t want — but at the same time you want to finish races, so I like that approach. They’re really trying to have an engine that is solid, and we’ll see. We will not know until St. Pete. There’s no doubt that they are behind on the development because they started six months later than everybody, so we’re playing catch-up right now. It’s going to be a question of how much catch up can they do by the time we start the season. But I’m very happy with all their work and progress so far.”
On how much of his rookie season will apply to 2012: “For me, I think a lot of it is just everything’s much more routine now. One of the biggest differences for me coming from Indy Lights to the INDYCAR was how everything works — having big sponsors, having a lot of commitments on race weekends, getting through the weekends, understanding the qualifying format, and really being able to maximize those different things. So, I think all of that stuff transfers over 100% to the new car because the car isn’t really part of that equation. I think as far as that piece of it goes, in testing so far this year we’ve seen that there’s definitely a little bit of a different driving style maybe that’s required to go fast. The turbo motors definitely create a little bit of a different thing that’s going on in the cockpit. And then because we’ve all got the engine manufacturers working a little bit more closely with us, there are a lot more things available to play with and change — throttle maps, stuff like that. So, I think in terms of the general driving style, a big part of that comes down to tires. Tires are basically going to be the same as they were. But for sure, there will be some very specific things that will be different from before.”
On what he’s looking forward to most this season: “For sure, you look forward to getting back to Indy. For me, it’ll be cool going everywhere, honestly, because it’ll be a whole different ball game. Everybody’s starting from scratch. Last year, I felt like there were a lot of us that came in for our first season that were just along for the ride with whatever your team had come up with in the past. But this year, it’s all up to us. We get to start over and start new. So, I’m looking forward to getting to St. Pete, and then after that Indy is definitely high up on the pecking order.”
On developing a rivalry with James Hinchcliffe: “I think for the rivalry really to grow, we’ve got to crash into each other a lot. (Laughter.) Obviously, the two of us, we came up together along similar paths, raced against each other at different levels on the way up, him being a young Canadian guy, myself being a young Californian guy. I think we have an opportunity to draw in some fans of our generation that maybe are interested in pop culture, younger stuff. So, I think a lot of that’s on me and him, to be honest, to do a good job on the racetrack and then do a good job promoting and getting into it with each other off the racetrack. I think what a lot of people want to see is that interaction between drivers, so whether we’re boxing it out because we’ve wrecked each other in qualifying or — which is the more actual truth currently — we’re buddies, we’ve got to do our part to make that into something that’s interesting for people.”
On reflecting on his rookie performance at Indianapolis: “The thing that always runs through my head with it is you sit there and go, s–t man, we were that close! But at the same time, we had a legit shot at it on our first go at this whole thing. So, that’s what I hang my hat on and the perspective that I take looking forward. I think in the end it gives me and it gives the team a lot of confidence in what we’re doing. For those guys to be able to stick the rookie in the car in the last year when everybody’s totally got this thing figured out with the old car and have a shot at it, I think that was quite a feat for them. Really, we just look at it as a positive thing moving forward.”
On how his past development experience will help him this season: “I don’t know. I think it should be an advantage, but I haven’t done it in nine years, so it’s a whole different ball game. The thing is, it’s like riding a bicycle — you never forget. So, as soon as we started to develop the new chassis and the new engine, it brought back all the memories that I had back nine years ago. So, I think a little bit it would be an advantage, especially that I’ve driven turbo engines before. Some of the drivers here haven’t. So, hopefully it is an advantage.”
On the learning process of driving the turbo engine differently: “To be honest, I think we haven’t seen all the power that anybody’s got because now the competition is back, so they’re not going to show everything right away. The turbo engine has a particular power band. Obviously, because you’ve got to keep engaging the turbo, [it’s different from] a normally aspirated engine. But driveability-wise, so far with the Chevys I’m extremely happy. But I think we won’t be able to judge until we get to St. Pete and the first race, and then you’re going to see everybody showing up with everything they’ve got. There is a debate about do we have enough power or do we not. It’s so early to say that I can’t make a statement right now.”
On how much the driver impacts the performance of the DW12: “I think it’s going to show off more just because it’s a new car. Everybody had had that car for so long that we knew exactly what to do. Everybody had figured out how to drive it. [The DW12 is] still an INDYCAR. It’s still the same characteristics. Power-wise it’s pretty similar, and there’s not much difference on the driving style. I think it’s more about figuring out how the car likes to work and discovering that than anything else. As a driver, the advantage will be the experience that we’ve got on how to make things happen quicker than the other guys.”
On whether drivers are adjusting the car to them or adjusting themselves to the car: “You’re adapting to the chassis right now. Before we adapt the car to us, we need to figure out what the car likes and what it doesn’t like. From then on, you try to make changes for yourself.”
On whether the car’s reported instability might improve the racing: “People have got to understand that it doesn’t make a difference on the road and street courses, actually. It only makes a difference on the ovals. We’ve still got a couple of tests on the ovals to figure out this new car. So, obviously, with the way it was before we made the improvements — which we’re going to test next week — it was more of a handful to drive, which in a way I don’t feel that bad about. I think if it’s too easy everybody can do it, and that’s when we go back to the pack racing that we had. If it’s difficult, you’re just going to have to work harder. I think on that aspect it’s actually an advantage. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right or that we like it, but the harder it is to drive — the more difficult it is — the more we’re going to have to work and harder we’re going to have to work to make it right. And that’s when you’re going to create disparity between cars and teams.”