Rinus VeeKay: “We are ready for the 500”

Rinus VeeKay image courtesy of IndyCar

The first time I took notice of this young Dutchman, he was leading the F3 Asian Winter Series competing with the likes of Williams test driver Dan Ticktum and F3 heavy-hitters David Schumacher and Ye Yifea. I didn’t know much about him at the time, but I was mightily impressed with his performances ultimately dominating the championship twenty nine points ahead of his nearest rival.

Now, he is starting fourth in the Indianapolis 500, the highest placed rookie.

It has been a whirlwind twelve months for Rinus VeeKay to say the least, a name he adopted after coming to compete in the US, his real name: Rinus Van Kalmthout. Since his incredible performance in the Indy Lights series he has been catapulted into motorsport stardom with the Ed Carpenter Racing team for the NTT IndyCar series for the 2020 season.

For the Netherlands, it is a seismic moment. The first Dutch driver in top tier American Open wheel racing since Robert Doornbos in 2009. Doornbos and only four other Dutchman have ever raced in IndyCar including two time Indy 500 winner Arie Luyundyk Sr, his son Arie Luyundyk Jr, Cornelius Euser and Jan Lammers.

Having waited so long for another star in the IndyCar series, they were treated to a miraculous sight last Sunday, seeing Rinus blasting through turn one of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway clocking in at just over 240mph. One of the fastest unofficial speeds ever recorded at the Indy 500.

The previous day he knocked many big names out of the ‘Fast Nine’ shootout, including the likes of Will Power, Josef Newgarden, Helio Castroneves and Fernando Alonso to name but a few. This is no mean feat. However, rather than let the pressure get to him, he put in a fantastic four-lap average (230.704mph) during the ‘Fast Nine’ to start on the fourth row alongside Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchliffe.

I was fortunate to sit down with Rinus on Wednesday 19th August, four days before he is due to take the starting grid in ‘The Greatest Spectacle in the World’. The aim: to get an insight into the nineteen-year-old Dutchman, to reflect on his fantastic performance so far.

Adam (Q):

Hi Rinus! How are you feeling? Are you OK?

Rinus VeeKay (R):

Yeah, I’m feeling great. It’s been a crazy few days, but I’m very happy with the result and it’s been a crazy weekend, but it’s also been the best weekend.

 Q:

So Rinus, first of all, congratulations on such a magnificent performance at your first Indy 500. Through to the ‘Fast Nine’, starting fourth, the highest placed rookie. That is the highest starting position for a Dutchman in 21 years since the 1999 Indy 500, which was your mentor, Arie Luyendyk, who started on pole that day.

That must be something you are immensely proud of. How do you reflect on such a fantastic debut performance?

R:

Yeah, I’m really proud of it. Of course, I did not really expect it. Of course, I knew we had a good car, but the Hondas were looking strong and I was really happy to make the ‘Fast Nine’. But then, yeah, having such a good qualifying run; that almost front row was possible was amazing.

Q:

Absolutely and you’re the only Chevrolet powered car through to the ‘Fast Nine’, which is incredible as well. Many have commented on the lack of speed by Chevy and that you guys were running a low downforce set up in order to negate the power of the Hondas. However, you hit 240 miles an hour going through into turn one.

My question has two parts here. One, what was it like running at such an incredible speed? Have you experienced anything like that ever in your career?

And secondly, would you be running a similar low downforce set up during the race? And what can you expect to get out of the race with that?

R:

Well, it was amazing touching 240 miles per hour, that’s kind of a dream come true. It’s amazing speed, of course, I had a bit of a tailwind. It was cool, turning in to turn one staying flat to 240 miles an hour. Never experienced that before, but this definitely is my land speed record.

For the race, you need more downforce to run in traffic in the race, and the tyres will not last if we keep it on that low downforce. So yeah, we will go for more downforce on a kind of race trim that everyone will be on. And yeah, we have a really strong race car. I know that. And we are ready for the 500.

Q:

Fantastic. You seem to have had quite a lot of success at the Motor Speedway. You came third here at the Freedom 100 in Indy Lights and you seem to done well at the road course in both Indy lights and IndyCar. What is there about the Motor Speedway you find so special?

R:

It’s super special, it’s like the racing mecca. The feeling driving here, if you just drive through the gates, it’s just like heaven.

It’s amazing and I really enjoy driving here. Of course, you need a bit of luck to be successful, but I love the speedway and of course, also the IMS road course has been amazing this year with my highest IndyCar finish so far.

Q:

Some of our readers may be hearing about you for the first time, but they will be eager to learn a little bit about your amazing journey into IndyCar. So, you know, I’ve got a list here of some of your accolades.

  • Second in US F2000 National Championship (2017),
  • Second in the BOSS GP series (2017),
  • Third in  the MRF Challenge Formula (2017),
  • First in the Pro Mazda Championship (2018),
  • First in the F3 Asian Winter Series (2019),
  • Second  in the Indy Lights Series (2019).

Some may be wanting to know why you chose to go round the US motorsport route rather than the European circuit and follow people such as Max Verstappen going to Formula One.

What was it that drew you to America? And I have heard that there are some perceptions that it’s more down to talent in the US. Is that a fair assumption?

R:

Yes, that’s quite fair to say. The Road to Indy is known for their scholarship program and I won the 2018 Pro Mazda Championship and because of that I had the funding to go to Indy Lights. Then it just all happened from there on. So actually that win in 2018, made possible, by The Road to Indy, just made it possible for me to drive in my car eventually.

it’s been tough to go this way. It’s not always been easy but it’s been a great few years and to make it to IndyCar in this rapid way is great.

 Q:

One question I had from one of our contributors was about your time in the BOSS GP Open series. He wanted to ask. It’s one of the more lesser known categories, one could say, but it hosts so many historical sports cars. It sounds like such an amazing series to be a part of. Did you learn anything in particular in your time in that series? And what benefits did you find in doing it?

R:

Yeah, my goal to do that was, I was 16 years old, when I did that. I did a few races there I didn’t do the full season. But to get experience at that young age with, well, I had 680 horsepower. Wow. That’s something very educational. And it’s something important to master when you’re younger. And I think that’s really helped me getting used to high power, high breaks, high downforce when I was only 16 years old.

Q:

Fantastic. Do the likes of people like Max Verstappen, Robin Frinjs in Formula E, Nick de Vries who is F2 Champion, and of course yourself. Does that give you hope that motorsport in the Netherlands is on the rise? It seems like Dutch motorsport is in a really good place right now.

R:

Yeah, it really is. We have some great drivers. Robin Frinjs who is a great driver in DTM and Formula E. Nyck De Vries who is a great driver in Formula E. Max Verstappen of course and then on the other side of the ocean, it’s me in IndyCar. It’s great to have so many drivers in the top categories of open wheel racing, and it’s just great to be part of it.

Q:


It’s like you said, you don’t get many Dutchmen in IndyCar. What is it like trying to get the attention of motorsport fans from the Netherlands to watch you in IndyCar? Do you think that you have a lot of attention right now from the Netherlands?

R:

Yeah, the attention is really getting better and better. Of course, it’s been a little tough because everyone was super ‘Formula One minded’. Now they’ve seen my qualifying performance and of course now with the internet, Twitter, everything, it rolls like a snowball. Everyone starts to get really excited. I think most of the country is going to watch the 500 next weekend, so it’s going to be really cool. I think especially the attention towards IndyCar is really on the rise now.

Q:

It certainly has been with my family we’ve been sat around the whole sofa watching it for the past few weeks. So you’ve provided some fantastic entertainment, especially during lockdown.

In the lower categories, you had a competitive rivalry with the likes of fellow rookie Oliver Askew. You two alongside Alex Palou and Dalton and Pato will be going for the Rookie of the Year title on Sunday. Do those sorts of things motivate you as a driver? And will competing well against the likes of Oliver be an extra bit of motivation for you come the race on Sunday?

R:

I’ve had a long rivalry with Oliver. He’s a great driver and he’s always been a benchmark whenever you go to the track. We have a lot of quick drivers in IndyCar now so Oliver is a quick rookie but also Alex, Patricio, Dalton Kellet, they are super quick here. We’ve got some really strong rookies this year and it feels good to be kind of the best rookie and so that gives me a huge amount of confidence.

Q:

How would you rate your IndyCar season so far? You’ve had a few unfortunate accidents here and there but on the whole your performances have been really positive and certainly the qualifying here at Indy 500 surely should give you confidence for the rest of the full IndyCar season. So how would you reflect on the season so far and your hopes for the future? 

R:

Yeah it’s been a weird season. Of course with COVID to start off with and then my first race at Texas was very immature, very rookie, but I really learned from that. It was one of my biggest lessons in my career. And then from then on, as a driver I made huge steps.

Of course after that we had Indy IMS Road Course where I had my first top five finish. That was great with a great strategy. And then at Road America we struggled a little, I also had some engine issues in the race so that was unfortunate. And in Iowa we were on our way possibly to a victory in race 1 until, well you know what happened with Colton. That was very unfortunate. In race 2 we had some pit lane issues so it’s not been the luckiest year. But, well let’s hope we can make a turnaround from here.

 Q:

For all your prospective fans out there as I am sure after this weekend you will have many. What can we expect from you come this Sunday?

R:

I’m gonna just give it my all. I know we have a great race car. Of course a lot of the race is about strategy, so that will be important, a lot of thinking. But I think we can make the people at home, make then sit at the top of their seats and enjoy the race. I really want to make sure that this year, when there are no fans, they still really enjoy it.

Q:

And that’s another good point that there will be no fans this year at the 500. Does that feel a little bit strange do you think that’s going to be weird come Sunday?

R:

It feels a little strange yeah. You are so used to having so many fans here at Indy. The fans make the event what it is and you miss that. You can feel that the atmosphere is not like that. Of course, it’s still the 500, you still have the speed and the sensation but yeah the fans are a gift when they are here.

Q:

I mean I’m sure that even though they are not going to be there there’s going to be thousands more at home tuning in watching at home live so don’t worry there’s going to be lots of people supporting you back at home.

I think that’s pretty much all we have time for that’s the fifteen minutes. So thank you so much Rinus it’s been a real pleasure talking to you. Thank you for giving up some of your time to speak to us. We wish you so much luck for the race on Sunday and we really hope you have a good turnout and a good result come this Sunday?.

R:

Thank you very much. I’ll make sure everyone will enjoy the race, and me too and hopefully drink the bottle of milk at the end!

 

 

Interview with Reece Lycett at Autosport International Show 2020

Warren Nel

When did you get interested in racing?

Reece Lycett

I was about seven or eight, and we were at the park and my dad said to me do you want to go a do some go-karting at Stourbridge Raceway and I remember thinking what’s that? He took me over there, and it was only little electric karts at the time, but I found it great fun. Now I always wanted to go for the quicker karts that were racing down below, that was my dream just to race one of them one day.

Warren

Now you spent eight years karting starting in 2013 with the F6 Championship victory which was really impressive. Was that your first season of racing?

Reece

My first season of actually MSA racing started with F6, which was Honda cadet racing and we won the clubman championship award in the first year and that was as a novice and I was pretty proud of myself, and that was quite an achievement at that age, especially in my first year of racing.

Warren

How old would you have been at point?

Reece

About eleven or twelve, around about that age.

Warren

Then you progressed and did some development with a kart in 2015?

Reece

Yes, we joined a race team called One Motorsport. We started developing the One Kart, I became a factory driver. That went on to win a championship in America in Senior X30. It was quite a well-developed kart, and many hours were put into it. It was frustrating at times because we were trying out new things, different axles and we wanted to be at the front, but to get to the front we needed the right setup and make sure that we nailed the kart and all the different tubes and axles. That in itself took a long time, but we got there in the end and it ended up being quite a good kart. We were finishing top ten pretty much every race, which was pretty incredible considering it was only just under a year old, with twenty entrants most races. That was my first season in mini-max as well.

Warren

That must have been pretty interesting, developing a kart?

Reece

I’d already previously been given a kart to test called a Cobra kart and that via cadet chassis. I had a test in that and that was quick, but I had to feed back information as to what they need to do to improve and what was good about it and this was pretty much the same thing. I had to come back after every session say what was wrong, what needed to be fixed and what I thought was good about it. Other things, aesthetic things, sounds crazy, but what colour would like it painted, what appeals to the people racing around you, and spent the season doing that which was quite good.

Warren

Now you took a step up to the HKRC championship in 2016. What kind of kart were you racing that year and also in 2017?

Reece

In 2016 we joined the Junior X30 championship at Hunts Kart Racing Club, which was predominantly the best place to go for track karting. The grids were up to 50 to 60 people, potentially more on weekends and we went out there. The team I was racing with also raced Radicals and they did track days as well. I had a good experience behind me, they taught me everything I needed to know, it was good experience racing with some of the top people in the world, managing to catch them and overtake them was a lot of fun, and then at the end of the season we were nominated for Junior Sportsman of the Year, which was over every class in the club.

Warren

I see that you had an invitation to an F4 simulation with JHR Developments. They’re quite big in the F4 championship. How did that invitation come about?

Reece

I went away and was looking at some options, and one of my mates was also looking as well. JHR came back and they said they were really interested in me, and asked me to come down for a simulation to find out what I could do. I went down, and they told me what I needed to do, taught me how to be a faster driver, got some coaching by Carter Williams, their driver. At the end of the day, they said that they were really impressed with my driving, and that not a lot of people could jump in the car and drive like you have just done there.

Warren

You then stepped up to these F1000 Formula Jedi type cars which I gather have a motorcycle engine in them.

Reece

Yes, they have Yamaha or Suzuki and they top line at 14,000 revs per minute.

Warren

Right, so going from karting into something that has wings, and with the technical aspect increasing, just tell us how you made that step. How did you find that?

Reece

The step for me was quite difficult. I had to commit to lots of training and testing. Tests meant that I had to travel to Bruntingthorpe, but I didn’t have my licence yet. It was only available one week before the first race, when I was turning sixteen. When I learnt that I was going to F1000, I saw a championship advertised, and I thought that looks like a good championship, looks cheap I can get into it. Looked like a good step up. I spent loads and loads of hours practising on Project Cars, on the simulator everyday making sure that I nailed every lap, learning the car. We tested the car at Bruntingthorpe a couple of times, just getting a feel for the car and got to know the team a bit. Now the F1000 is very different to the go-kart, you turn it in and it’s got no grip, but if you oversteer this car, the back end kicks out and it just goes into the gravel pit, which I unfortunately learnt at Donnington Park.

Warren

Okay, you did a few rounds at the end of 2018, didn’t you, including a podium on your debut, which must have been quite special. Tell us about that race.

Reece

Yes, that was a very nerve-racking race obviously. Came from a test session, which was a weird test day, we’d had a bit of rain and a bit of dry, and we were switching between the two and they were horrible conditions to learn the track in, bearing in mind that I’d never raced at Croft, only gone round in the simulator, and I remember thinking, look don’t put it in the wall. Now, when the race started, I just remember feeling really nervous on the grid. I spun up a little bit, went around the track, and ended up making some brilliant moves. Then had a bit of a fight with Elliot Mitchell on the track, and managed to do him after a couple of sequences of about four corners, that was a very exhilarating time, and then just we were coming round to the final lap, I didn’t realise where I was as there was a safety car and the front two had scampered off. I came around and crossed the line and I remember thinking what’s going on here? I pulled in and saw my dad going third, and I went, what!? It was brilliant! It was an exciting time.

Warren

Let’s take a look at the results from your races. Looks like the same weekend with three races per weekend you took fourth place and then the following year at Croft and Brands Hatch took a couple more fourth places. Then then it looks like you didn’t complete the season, and that must have been frustrating, but just go back to those races where you scored those fourth positions and take us through the build up of those events.

Reece

Well, I’d never raced at Brands Hatch before, only really had the test, and had the mix of the wet and dry again which isn’t ideal for learning a track. On the first day, we had the qualifying in the morning, it was wet and we managed to put it in second, I think only a tenth off first place and that was respectable. First race, unfortunately we couldn’t really go and keep the up with the leaders, as we had old tyres, but we managed to keep a respectable fourth place and we were catching third place.

Warren

Now, how many laps are there in these races?

Reece

The races are fifteen minutes, but obviously it depends which track you go to. If you go to say, Brands Hatch, about twenty laps, whereas if you go to somewhere like Donnington Park, it’s more likely to be fifteen laps.

Warren

Finally, could you tell us why you didn’t complete the season?

Reece

It had been a productive weekend at Cadwell Park once again learning the track as I’d never raced there, and been quick all weekend. I’d qualified second on the grid, we were really proud of ourselves, considering we’ve never been there and the race came. We got done by someone in third place at the start, he was the championship leader, but did keep with them throughout the lap, right on their tail and then just as we came down the straight, I heard a bit of a noise, then lost power and then my engine blew up.

 

Warren

Ah, what a shame, after so much promise as well. Now can you tell us what’s happening this year?

Reece

We’re not entirely sure this year, we have a couple of ideas, but nothing is really set in stone. Don’t think we’re going back to F1000, but we have a couple of drives. We’re looking at either Formula Ford, but we don’t know a team yet, or one that’s way up in the clouds, maybe Formula Four.

Well, since I spoke to Reece at the show on the final day, there has been an announcement.

Thanks to Reece coming and having a chat. The young man certainly has been grabbed with the bug with racing. Take a look at his website and give him a follow – @ReeceLycett on Twitter.

https://www.reecelycettracing.com/

W Series: Exclusive interview with Sabré Cook

Earlier in the year, Sabré Cook spoke to us for International Women’s Day as she prepared for both the upcoming W Series evaluations and her Infiniti Engineering Academy placement with the Renault Sport F1 Team. Since then she has taken three points finishes across the season, as well as third place at the non-championship round at Assen.

With W Series now over for 2019, we caught up with Sabré to hear her reflections on the inaugural championship and her plans for the future.

Sabré Cook on the podium at Assen (W Series Media)

James Matthews: First of all, congratulations on taking your third points finish of the season at Brands Hatch. How would you rate your season overall, and what has been your personal highlight?

Sabré Cook: Thank you! Overall the season has been a great experience and I’ve learned an immense amount. I definitely made mistakes along the way but I’m a better driver now because I learned from them. The highlights would probably be my 7th place and third-fastest lap at Norisring, and my reverse grid podium at Assen.

JM: Your P12 in the championship has guaranteed you a place on the 2020 W Series grid. Have you decided yet to return next year, and if so what will be your goals for your sophomore season?

SC: I will definitely be returning next year. I’ll continue to focus on improving my skills along with applying what I’ve learned this year. A top five result in the championship next year would be a satisfying result for me.

JM: What impact has being part of the W Series had on your career, both in terms of your development as a driver and your presence in the media?

SC: The W Series has given me the opportunity to work consistently on my performance as a driver more than I’ve ever been able to in the past. I feel like I’m making steady progress and it feels great. The media coverage and excitement over the series has certainly helped grow my media presence.

Sabré Cook at Misano (W Series Media)

JM: Catherine Bond-Muir told the media after Brands Hatch that W Series will be expanding to the US for 2021. Is there any US track in particular you’d like to see the series race on?

SC: I cannot confirm that the W Series will be going to the US for 2021, but I’d certainly welcome the addition to the race calendar. There’s so many great tracks in the US but I’d particularly love to see them go to Road America or WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

JM: Having spent most of your career so far racing in America, what were the biggest challenges you found racing in a predominantly European series?

SC: I’ve raced in European races before in karting, so from that I knew the high level of talent and aggression to expect. The challenges mostly came from trying to learn new tracks with limited track time, and getting used to some of the different rules and operating procedures.

JM: You told our Emily Inganni earlier this year that you have been balancing W Series with an engineering placement with the Renault F1 team. Have you been able to draw on the experience gained in that placement to improve your driving skills?

SC: My time at Renault F1 teaches me so much each day on how to be a better engineer. While that doesn’t always directly relate to my driving development it does give me a greater overall perspective as a driver and helps me see the design intent behind engineering decisions. But having access to feedback that [Daniel] Riccardo and [Nico] Hulkenberg give to their engineers on the RS19 each race, does directly show me how the top drivers communicate their feeling of the car.

Sabré Cook preparing for qualifying at Zolder (W Series Media)

JM: From your unique perspective as an engineer and a driver, what have been the most enjoyable and most challenging aspects of driving the W Series Tatuus-Alfa Romeo car?

SC: Driving a turbo engine is always fun and a new experience for me. It was a challenge but also enjoyable to figure out how to drive the oversteer balance of the car confidently. It was challenging from an engineering perspective not to be able to make any major changes to the car’s set up because I’d love to see, learn, and feel for myself what some of the larger changes would do to the balance of the car on each individual track. But I was there to drive, not engineer, and limiting us to a standard set up window is definitely the best layout for the series.

JM: W Series has been praised this year for the level of close racing throughout its field. Which driver have you most enjoyed battling with?

SC: I’ve enjoyed batting with each of the drivers, and really appreciate the opportunity to learn from the more experienced ones.

JM: What are your thoughts on how W Series has developed in its inaugural season?

SC: I think the W Series Team should be extremely proud of how amazing the champion has been in just the first season. I’ve never seen a series be so successful and have such a positive reaction and impact as much as the W Series has. I hope it continues to grow and affect so many people in a positive way.

Sabré Cook at the Norisring (W Series Media)

Jamie Chadwick: W Series Champion 2019 – An Exclusive PitCrew Interview

It has only been a few days since 21-year-old Jamie Chadwick claimed the first ever W Series title, but the notion of being champion is still very surreal for her.

Jamie started karting at 11 years old before competing in the Ginetta Junior Championship in 2013. She then moved into the British GT Championship in 2015 and won the GT4 class, before moving to single-seaters in 2017 racing in BRDC British Formula 3.

2019 has been an incredibly successful year for the young Brit who has won the MRF Challenge, the 24h Nurburgring race and now the W Series title. It seems that nothing can stop her.

After finishing fourth at Brands Hatch and securing enough points to win the championship title, we talked to Jamie about her W Series journey and how much she has achieved this season.

W Series Media

Kirsty Campbell: We’ve reached the finale in the first season of W Series. It’s been thoroughly enjoyable watching you drive this year. How are you feeling about becoming champion?
Jamie Chadwick: Honestly, it’s all a bit overwhelming at the moment. Not sunk in at all. I’m sure it will do soon! But at the moment, I’m just elated, really, really happy. A lot of hard work has gone into this year, so to have it all come together and be crowned as champion is an awesome feeling.

KC: You’ve managed to score three pole positions, five podiums and two wins. You must be proud of what you’ve managed to achieve this season. How has your team and family’s support helped you through the highs and the lows?
JC: It’s been awesome. As the year goes, it’s been a fantastic year. Obviously the championship is the highlight, but the whole build up and the actual season has been incredible. I’ve been really lucky, I’ve had a lot of support this year, a lot of people around me working very hard to help me progress and make the dream a reality. It’s been an incredible year. As the year’s gone on I’ve been lucky to have the introduction of support from Williams, which has made a big difference, and also Aston Martin. I’ve been very, very lucky, so it’s nice to have that rewarded and share it all with them.

KC: What has been the most challenging aspect of your W Series experience, and in contrast, what as been your favourite moment this season?
JC: I’d say the most challenging race was definitely that last Brands Hatch race. The most challenging aspect overall is probably the fact that it’s not like a normal racing environment where you have your own team, your own independence—you’re sharing everything, you’re travelling together, you’re swapping cars each weekend, nothing’s off limits to anyone else. You’re teammates but racing against each other effectively, so I would say that’s definitely made it quite tough. I’d say the highlight was either the Hockenheim pole or the Brands Hatch pole, and I say that because both situations I felt like that was when the pressure was really on, so to deliver pole position both of those times was a big highlight.

KC: You’ve been neck and neck with Beitske Visser all season. Would you say that this rivalry has helped push your driving skills to the limit?
JC: Yeah, 100%. For sure, when you’re working in that close proximity you find yourself pushing each other along quite a lot and definitely she’s pushed me this year to make sure I’m maximising every race, every result. I think the other drivers as well, some of them that came on strong at the end of the year, also kept us honest. But Beitske for the whole year has been the one that’s been pushing me hard, so it’s been a tough year to maintain the lead over her, and fortunately I managed to do it.

W Series Media

KC: Do you feel that W Series is the way forward for female racers in this industry? Do you think it is the right stepping stone for women who want to progress into the more established classes?
JC: Yeah, definitely. What W Series is doing is offering a platform for drivers to progress, a platform that a lot of us wouldn’t have otherwise had. So I think that now we’re seeing 20 female racing drivers, racing in Formula 3 cars at a high level, it’s giving them a much greater opportunity to feed into the higher levels of motorsport later on. For me this provided the perfect platform, the perfect stepping stone, so it hopefully do the same for others.

KC: 2019 has been quite a year for you with winning the MRF Challenge and the 24h Nürburgring win, and of course, winning the W Series title. The dream for you, as stated in a Guardian article earlier this month, is to race in Formula One. How did you feel when you got the call about becoming the developmental driver for Williams? Do you see yourself racing in Formula One in the near future?
JC: Absolutely. It was a huge moment getting that call. I think every driver wants to be into Formula One, so to get that first step on the ladder and the first association as a development driver really is a dream come true. You just have to look at some of the drivers that have come through their young driver programme to know it’s a great place to be for any young driver, and for me I feel very much the same. It’s the first step into what will hopefully be a much bigger step in the future.

KC: Which drivers in Formula One (past or present) have influenced you the most in your racing career?
JC: Good question. I’d say maybe from the past—although not so long ago—Alonso’s definitely influenced me. More because I like the way he wants to go and race in a lot of different things. You know, last year he was racing in Le Mans, Daytona, quite a lot of different championships. The fact that he’s open to doing all sorts of different racing is something that inspires me. And present, I’m not too sure. Definitely Hamilton, the way that he’s driving is incredible at the moment.

KC: What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into motor racing?
JC: I would say, just get involved. Don’t let anything stop you. It’s a great sport, I’ve loved every minute of it even though I fell into it by accident. It’s a fantastic sport. I’d say work hard, learn from everyone and anything that you can, go get involved!

KC. Do you think you will be returning to the series next year or do you have other plans?
JC: I’m not 100% too sure yet in terms of next year. But I think it’s a great series, it’s a great opportunity. For sure if I can do another season with them, potentially collect some superlicence points next year and get another season of experience, hopefully that will set me on on my way and in good stead for a few years to come.

Interview conducted by James Matthews.

Exclusive Interview with Tom Chilton

Tom doesn’t need much introduction. He made his debut in the BTCC aged 17, driving a Vauxhall Astra for Barwell Motorsport. He would take his first victory at Silverstone in 2004. He has taken 15 victories to date in the BTCC.

He very kindly agreed to answer some questions for us.

Warren Nel

Now two podiums at the start of the year at Brands Hatch, including a win that was taken away from you was a good start even excepting the penalty for the clash with Matt Neal. Then 4th being the best result in race two at Donington Park was quite a good start. Sum up your thoughts for me at this stage, as you were fourth in the overall championship and also first in the Independents Championship.

Tom Chilton at the wheel of his Motorbase Focus during race three, Brands Hatch. Photo credit, Warren Nel

Tom Chilton

We got off to a great start to the year. After Race two at Donington Park, we were leading both the British championships which is nothing to be sniffed at. Our problem was when we hit the hard tyre in race 3, we cannot get the hard tyre to work at all. 

W.N

Thruxton was a nightmare of a weekend, and I see that you have suggested to Mark Blundell that he should step out of the championship following the clash, you had with him during qualifying. Could you describe what actually happened, and how that effected the rest of your race weekend?

Tom’s car on the grid at Thruxton in May. Photo credit, Motorbase/Jakob Ebrey

T.C

Nightmares are better than how Thruxton went. It’s frustrating when anybody holds you up in qualifying, especially someone with so much experience like Mark. Having said that, Team Shredded Wheat racing with Gallagher was amazing and fixed the car so quickly. 

W.N

Thinking about car setup, do you think there are certain tracks that the Focus goes better at, and what influence do the different tyres have in making the car stable? Also, when success ballast is added to the car, do you change anything in the setup to compensate?

The BTCC always offers spectacular racing. Photo credit, Motorbase/Jakob Ebrey

T.C

The Focus has always been better at the tight twisty circuits due to its shorter wheel base and hatchback shape not needing to worry about drag for straight lines as much. Last year, I got a double podium at Oulton Park which is a real chassis circuit. You have to always change the car between circuits, tyres and success ballast. Which is one of the reasons why the BTCC rewards such experienced teams and drivers. It’s very hard to get it perfect every time. 

Tom celebrates his win last time out at Croft! Photo credit, Motorbase/Jakob Ebrey

W.N

It looks like Josh Cook and Rory Butcher are the drivers that you will be battling with for the rest of the season for the Independents Crown. When you look at the standings, can you see any other drivers like Jake Hill, Sam Tordoff and Adam Morgan joining the battle for this championship?

Tom celebrates with the champers! Photo credit, Motorbase/Jakob Ebrey

T.C

This championship is one of the most competitive championships in the world. You can’t count anyone out. All of our lap times are so close it still can be anyone’s. For me I just need to focus on myself and keep clicking those gears. Points make prizes and I love prizes!

 

Many thanks to Motorbase/Jakob Ebrey for the photos and for Romy Chandler for arranging the interview.

Mackenzie: “We just need to keep the momentum going”

Tarran Mackenzie (McAMS Yamaha) enjoyed a return to the podium in Saturday’s race one at Donington Park, for the third round of the 2019 British Superbike Championship, and established a championship lead going into the second BSB race of the weekend on Sunday. Alex Whitworth spoke to him on Sunday morning after the warm up session for the Superbike riders about the 2019 season so far for the #95, his step from rookie to championship contender and his adaptation to a 1000cc motorcycle.

Tarran Mackenzie. Image courtesy of Impact Images Photography/McAMS Yamaha

AW: Tarran, you returned to the podium yesterday after missing it both times in Oulton Park. Are you happy with how the race went?

TM: “Yeah, really good. Struggled a lot at Oulton Park so to come back here at my home track and get second, after leading it for a long time as well, was good. So I’m happy.”

AW: Even on the short back straight here, the Ducati has an advantage, they were coming past you a lot. That must be frustrating?

TM: “Yeah, it’s quite demoralising really, because […] you can try your best [for a lap in front] and then they pass you back down the back straight, it’s quite annoying, really. It is the way it is, though, and they are beatable, so I need to try to be a bit smoother in the first part of the lap.”

AW: You had a strong rookie year, finishing tenth in the championship, and taking some podiums towards the end of the season. You’re in your second year, now, and fighting for the championship, so what has changed for you to make that step?

TM: “Probably just a bit more experience, really, because last year I was, as you say, just a rookie. These bikes are quite hard to ride, so just getting used to it, really. [I’m with] the same team, same bike, everything is the same, so just a bit of continuity, and it’s all coming together nicely.”

AW: So, you’re leading the championship. Is 2019, then, going better than expected, or are you about where you thought you would be?

TM: “[It’s going] Better than I thought, really. I wanted to just try and be in the top six each race and, apart from Oulton [Park] race one, I’ve pretty much done that. So, to be leading the championship now, with a bit of a gap to second is good as well, so, going a lot better than expected. We just need to keep the momentum going.”

AW: You took your first win in Silverstone. Was it important to get that out of the way early?

TM: “Yeah, I wanted to win a race, that was the big goal, really, so to do that […] in the second race, that’s sort of the monkey off my back, really, so we just need to keep going for the rest of the year now, and try to stay on the podium.”

Tarran Mackenzie during the 2019 Donington Park BSB event. Image courtesy of Impact Images Photography/McAMS Yamaha

AW: You’re one of the smaller riders, so was that a particular problem when you came to Superbike?

TM: “Yeah, being vertically challenged- like at Oulton Park, when it’s hard work to rider, it’s hard – if you’re a bigger rider it makes it easier. So, yeah, it does get tough at times, but it sort of plays into my advantage at some tracks.”

AW: The Yamaha is known for being a ‘corner speed’ bike, and with you coming from some years on 600s and before that on 125/Moto3, does the R1 suit you well?

TM: “Yeah, definitely, yeah. From Moto2, as well, it was a very similar style. A lot of people have to change their riding style for a Superbike, whereas I didn’t really have to do that, which was nice for me. Some tracks it works well, some tracks it doesn’t – [Donington] is one of them [where it works well], so try to use that as an advantage. Tracks like Brands [Hatch, up next on the calendar], Silverstone, Donington, Assen, just try to use it as an advantage.”

Mackenzie finished fifth in BSB race two at Donington on Sunday, and fourth in the second race. In comparison, Scott Redding (Be Wiser Ducati) won both races, in addition to his win in Saturday’s race, to take him to the top of the championship. Tommy Bridewell also found the podium in both of Sunday’s races, which took him ahead of Mackenzie in the championship by one point, meaning the #95 is now third in the championship and seven points off the top, with a five-podium point deficit to Redding.

Vicky Piria: W Series presents drivers with “fair and meritocratic” opportunity

25-year-old Italian racer Vicky Piria is one of eighteen women who recently made the final line-up of the historic W-Series, the first ever all-female racing championship.

Testing at the Lausitzring circuit in eastern Germany concluded on 16th April, with the drivers having gotten their first chance to put the Tatuus T-318 Formula 3 car used in the series through its paces.

Fresh from that test, Vicky was kind enough to speak to us about her career and her hopes for the upcoming season.

Her interest in motorsport was sparked as a young girl, introduced to it through her father.

“I became interested in motorsport in a completely casual way,” Vicky said. “I was always a bit of a tomboy and I loved horse-riding. My dad one day bought a go-kart for my brother – I was very curious and competitive so decided to give it a try… Then it all started.”

Back in 2012, she became the first female driver to compete in GP3 when she raced for the Trident team.

“I believe there are a lot more female drivers today, which is a good thing. When I was racing at the time it was all new so people found it difficult at times to see me as a normal driver. But, with more female examples now, it will become more ‘normal’.”

Fast-forward to 2019 and, as mentioned, Vicky will be competing in W Series. She believes that her participation in the series has re-opened doors that she thought closed to her a while ago.

Credit: Colin McMaster/LAT Images/W Series

“Before the W Series opportunity came along, I was not expecting at all to get back into a single-seater – I was simply hopping in some GT rides and continuing my career in those.

“W Series gave me the opportunity to continue what I started at a younger age: single-seater racing. At the moment I am focusing on the now. I want to do my absolute best this season and see day-by-day what the future will bring.”

Selection for the championship comprised of two sections narrowing the pool of drivers down first from 60 to 28, and then from 28 to the final 18.

“They were both difficult, tiring and the pressure was definitely on,” Vicky said, “but it was also a good opportunity to learn new things. In Melk we were driving often on snow and ice, not quite typical for me. Making it through was my main goal – I knew I could do it and it was very important for me.”

The final 18 drivers recently got their first chance to test the series’ Formula 3-spec car, and Vicky was upbeat about how it felt to drive.

“The car is very cool, as is any single-seater. It is very different to the F3 car I drove back in 2013. It is heavier, bigger, and it requires a different driving style just like its Hankook tyres.

“I am still adapting, but after the first test in Lausitzring we definitely made a step ahead. I must say, it looks amazing!”

Credit: Colin McMaster/LAT Images/W Series

Vicky set herself the target of top-five finishes, but admitted that concrete predictions are somewhat difficult to pin down at the moment.

“There will be a lot of attention on this championship and there are only six races, so it will be a very tough competition – all of us will absolutely go with it. It is very difficult to make expectations as it is all a totally new thing.”

When asked whether it was fair to say there was a lot of camaraderie between the drivers, Vicky said, “It is true – I think that as we are all put constantly in the same identical situation and in a fair and meritocratic system, we all feel in the same boat.

“There is a lot of mutual support and we push each other a lot. But, still, we need to do the first race – maybe things will change?

Finally, Vicky had some advice to give to other women looking for a career in motorsport.

“The series is getting people talking, a lot. This gives much more awareness about female drivers and is a big opportunity for the youngest to look up to.

“The advice I want to give is to work hard but to absolutely not forget to enjoy it along the way – happy drivers are faster drivers. Regarding being a female: it is normal – act like it is normal.”

Esmee Hawkey Interview – Pit Crew Exclusive

2019 is already shaping up to be a promising year for Esmee Hawkey. The 21 year old successfully made it through the W Series’ tough qualifying rounds to earn one of 18 spots on the grid, and she has also made a strong start to her second season in Porsche Carrera Cup GB.

Hawkey fought back from 14th on the grid to finish sixth in the opening race of the Porsche Carrera Cup GB season this weekend, finishing second in class. While the second race proved tougher, with Hawkey finishing in ninth place, she showed good pace all weekend, running first in class in both FP1 and FP2.

Before the weekend began, Hawkey took the time to tell us about her aims for the busy season ahead of her, as well as giving us an insight into what went on behind the scenes in the W Series qualifying rounds.

Photo credit: Warren S Nel

Alison Finlay: Congratulations for making it to the W Series grid – how tough did you find the qualifying rounds and the level of competition?

Esmee Hawkey: The qualifying rounds were extremely tough. We were out in Almeria for a week, so mentally, it was extremely draining. To be in with the chance of having a free drive in an F3 car is a lot of pressure and you have to perform well. We were being tested on absolutely everything, from when we were in the car driving, to sitting down going through data with the engineers, so you had to have 100% full focus at all times! Aside from that it was great to go from driving Porsche Caymans and Ford Fiestas, being selected as 1 of 28 girls in Melk, and then getting 4 days to drive the all new Tatuus F3 car in Spain. The competition has been really high so it was important to have a positive mindset and not let any of that effect you. It was important to concentrate on solely you and what you were doing and how you could improve and progress every day.

AF: What are your aims for the season ahead in both W Series and Porsche Carrera Cup GB?

EH: I will be pushing for the best possible results. It will be my second year in the Porsche Carrera Cup GB championship in the ProAm category. After a successful year with a few podiums last year, we will be looking to build on that this year and hopefully have some race wins, podiums and ultimately be in with a fighting chance to win the ProAm championship. In regards to W Series the competition is tough, with some of the girls having raced in F3 championships before, therefore having more experience than me. Nonetheless, I will be taking in as much information as possible so that I speed up my rate of progression and I would really like to be finishing in the top 6 for the first year of W Series.

AF: You’ve been racing Porsches for a few years now – can you tell us more about the series and how these cars are to drive?

EH: The cars are amazing. One of my sponsors are Porsche Centre South London, so not only do I get to drive the GT3 Cup Car on track but I also get to drive around in Porsche road cars when I’m not racing which is definitely a nice perk! The GT3 cup car is a great race car but quite a tricky car to drive – it’s very important to drive them with the right braking technique otherwise you can lose a lot of time, and not only that, but you need to always be chasing the throttle but not in a way that you cause the car to understeer.

AF: How was driving the W Series F3 car for the first time?

EH: The car was amazing and I absolutely loved driving it. It’s very different in comparison to the Porsche GT3 Cup Car as there was no power steering and I had to get used to the aerodynamics and downforce of the F3 car. I quickly got to grips with it and it was amazing how much speed you could take through the corners. Such an adrenaline rush!

AF: Does taking part in the W Series and having the opportunity to race a formula car change your ambitions beyond the 2019 season?

EH: My plans have always been to race in GT cars, but not because I didn’t want to race in formula cars – it was mainly the fact our budget could only stretch to racing in GT cars. So my long term goal was to rise up the Porsche pyramid and race in the Le Mans 24hr. Now that W Series has come about and is fully funding 18 girls to race around Europe in F3 cars with a prize pot of $1.5 million dollars at the end of the year, who knows what the future holds for us.

AF: We hear a lot about drivers struggling for funding to help them onto the junior ladder. Could you tell us why funding is so vital for young racing drivers?

EH: Unfortunately funding plays a big part in motorsport, and it’s why we sometimes don’t get to see some really talented drivers make it all the way, or indeed start their journey. I’ve been very fortunate, of course, and now have some great sponsors such as Porsche Centre South London, Landmark Underwriting and others. Motor racing costs money, it’s as simple as that, so we make sure we really work hard with our sponsors and partners to create value and make sure we’re attracting new sponsors along the journey.

AF: When do you think we will see the next woman racing in Formula 1, and what role do you think W Series will play in making this a reality?

EH: I definitely think W Series has created a platform to give 18 women this year the best opportunity to rise up from F3 into either F2, Formula E or even F1, so I really hope that in the next couple of years we will see a woman racing in Formula 1. It all comes down to opportunity and W Series is definitely the start of that journey.

AF: How did you first get involved in motorsport? Did you always want to be a driver, or did you consider other roles within the industry?

EH: I got into motorsport through my dad. As a young girl I remember going to watch him race at the Monaco Kart Cup and at the time I was doing Ballet and Tap dancing and I asked him if I could get into racing. To my surprise, for my 8th Birthday I got given a kart and that’s where it all started! I’ve wanted to succeed as a professional racing driver ever since.

AF: Finally, what advice would you give for young women hoping to pursue a career in motorsport, either as drivers or in any other capacity?

EH: I think it’s important that we get more women into motorsport whether it be as a driver, mechanic, engineer or on the media side, so my advice to any young women hoping to pursue a career in motorsport would be go for it, as there are so many opportunities that come up and it can be such a rewarding job.

Interview with Tom Ingram

I got the chance to speak to Tom, driver for Speedworks Motorsport in the British Touring Car Championship at this years Autosport International Show at the NEC.

Tom Ingram, Speedworks Motorsport driver. Photo credit James Matthews

I asked him to sum up his 2018 season.

Well, kind of a really positive one, we can’t really look back at it with a lot of regrets, we’d have liked to have come away with the championship obviously, but given the situations that kind of happened throughout the year, I don’t think we really stood a chance with the failures that we had, so you know it was an incredible year, the best year we’ve had in the championship. Getting the independents championship back again was brilliant, the team title was superb again but it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to miss out on the overall title, of course it was, but off the back of such a strong year it’s great to now go into 2019 with the new project.

 

Thinking of the new project, can you tell us how that came about?

We’ve kind of working with Toyota for a number of years, and this is the first time that we’ve been really able to get to the point to get a deal together and get it over the line. We  knew we’d be running the new Corolla, back Silverstone time – It was quite early on we kind of knew really, and really the timing was correct, with the new Corolla coming out, it’s got such a good heritage in not only motorsport, rally and various other formula’s as well. But really, it’s right sort of time, with the road version being launched in the UK and the right time to bring it back into the motorsport scene and try and revive the Team Toyota GB name at the same time. It’s a really exciting time and the car is in build at present, we’ve finished the fabrication on her, so she’s up in build at the moment and we should have a finished car kind of by the start of February time and we’ll start testing by the middle to end of February and we’ve got a good testing schedule in the winter, so that we can hit the ground running and aim for some wins at Brands Indy by the time we get there.

 

Now, thinking of that, what is your schedule with testing?

Well, we’ve got three days in testing in Spain and then the majority of the testing will be done in the UK. Really for us, we just need mileage, we just need to keep going and going and find out what big areas we need to work on, because we know we’re going from a long wheelbase to a short wheelbase car and that comes with its own challenges. We’ve got to understand what that is going to do to the balance of the car, but that should only make it better. Now when you start to look at the numbers and the stats on the Corolla it will be a fantastic car, we’ve just got to understand it first, because with the difference in wheelbase, the lower centre of gravity and all the other parameters that we’ve got in it looks like a bit of learning, it will be a stunning car.

Tom won his second consecutive BTCC Independents Championship last season. Photo credit Warren Nel

Thinking of Brands Hatch, you’ve going with the goal in the new car to win there?

Yes, of course. The plan is very much to hit the ground running at Brands Hatch Indy, kind of start where we left the 2018 season and be in a position to look to win the championship, of course we’d like to, but realistically we’ve got to look more at the following season as our go to year, but of course whenever you enter a season, you enter to win, not finish second. Our goal is very much to win it, but we’ve got a bit of a mountain to climb to get there.

 

What do you think makes you such a good overtaker, as you won the forever forward award last year? What is it about your style of driving that lends itself to that?

I’ve never been what I’d class as a dirty driver, I’d never cause a collision to make a move, I’m not hard driver, but of course if there is half a chance slipping your nose down, I’ll run you wide. I’m not going to be running into the back of people and running them wide and then two corners later get it given back to you, so you gain a bit of respect when you’re a clean driver. Now the car was superb last year, one of the genuine reasons was that the car was fantastic, when we took weight out of the car the thing would come alive, so that is part of it, when you’ve got a very good car under you, its very easy to get past people, a little bit tactfulness, we’ve always done it very smart, you don’t have to be dirty driver, its always been done cleanly, which lends you respect if people understand that you’re going to getting past at some point rather than sitting behind them all race.

 

Finally, just thinking back to the testing, which UK tracks will you be at?

We’re going to be all over the place, a real mix of circuits from slow to fast, high to low grip, but ultimately, we’re at the mercy of the great British weather. We’re also at the mercy of the Spanish weather, as we’re off to Spain which also wasn’t great last year. Really, we’re mindful of trying to get as much mileage in, because we need time in the seat, we need the wheels turning everyday of the week if we can, but we’ll see if we can.

 

The track in Spain, which one is that you’re going to?

We’re going out to Calafat, there’s a number of us going there, Motorbase are going there I believe that Ciceley are going there, a fair few going out there so at least we’ll have a bit of a benchmark to look at.

 

Well, a big thank you for Tom’s time. We’ll be watching with interest when the car hits the track.

 

Header photo credit, Warren Nel

Autosport International WRC Launch Day-Part Two

Continuing my recap of WRC Super Saturday, I then spoke to Toyota WRC driver Ott Tanak and team boss Tommi Makinen.

I asked Ott Tanak to rate his first year at Toyota.

We had a strong year, but at the start of the year it wasn’t easy, I didn’t know what to expect and there was a bit unknown, I believe everything went well, went better than expected, but in the we lost the championship, but still we can say it was a strong year and definitely got a good relationship in the team and we improved and developed over the season pretty well. For the future it’s definitely looking good and I believe this year, going into the season already for the second time with the same car same team same people it feels more relaxed.

I then spoke to Tommi Makinen

I asked him for his thoughts on the 2018 season and in particular how satisfying it was for the team to win the manufacturers title in the second season back.

Well, it was not looking so good in the middle of the season, but then the absolutely constant R & D brought improvements and then Ott Tanak at the same time learned the car and he was clearly fast. Now it is looking good, with reliability looking good, but there are some areas we need to improve the backup ideas, but then how it fits in with the regulations, how you do something with software, but we’ll keep working and developing.

I asked him what is it that makes the Finnish and Japanese work so well together?

I don’t know what it is, they are different cultures, but also the closest distance to the European, but I don’t know from my own career was just going with them. There was Mitsubishi and some others at the beginning of my career, there was Ford and Citroen as well. There was no target to go with the Japanese and I remember in 2001 I wanted to go somewhere and there were two possibilities, either Citroen or Subaru and I made a very careful analyst of which one would be better and followed that which is when I went to Subaru and continued with Japanese and that was the moment when it turns because when it decided the direction and I just did two years with Subaru and they wanted to continue somehow, and the co-operation and we started our racing team in 2004, started building and learning from that time.

Just thinking to this season, how was it that you came to be in touch with Kris, how did that come together?

Kris and I spoke together in 2016 and at the time he decided to continue with Citroen, which I totally understood, as we were completely new and now. Now Esapekka decided he wanted to change to Citroen and wanted something new, so after that we had to start with the different possibilities. I could see Kris there.

I asked if it was Kris that came to him, or was it an ongoing chat all the way through?

We have known each other for a long time and it was easy to go for him.

 

Now then, here’s a reminder of the full calendar.

Monte Carlo Rally January 24-27

Rally Sweden February 14-17

Rally Mexico March 7-10

Tour de Corse March 28-31

Rally Argentina April 25-28

Rally Chile May 9-12

Rally Portugal May 30-June 2

Rally Italy June 13-16

Rally Finland August 1-4

Rally Germany August 22-25

Rally Turkey September 12-15

Rally GB October 3-6

Rally Spain October 24-27

Rally Australia November 14-17

The calendar has grown, with the addition of Chile, which will be run after Argentina as a double header. The summer break follows Rally Italy, with Rally Finland six weeks afterwards at the start of August.

WRC launch day, Autosport International Show 2019. Photo credit, Warren Nel

We are set then for a very interesting season! Can Seb Ogier win the title again this year, or will Thierry and Ott come through to dethrone the Frenchman? Can Andreas Mikkelsen show improved form, given his terrible season, or might we see Hayden get a recall to the team to replace the Norwegian?

How will the new driver, co-driver partnerships go with Teemu, Marko, Elfyn, Scott and Kris, Seb? It all starts this week!

Look out for my Rallye Monte-Carlo preview coming this week! It’s time to get this championship going!