With a nearly six-month offseason coming to a close, what are your feelings as we get ready to start GRC in 2017?
It seems like the year’s halfway over already and we haven’t actually been on the racetrack. There’s a lot of preparation and work that goes into getting things ready, making it seem like we’ve already been really busy. For a lot of people, once the racing starts is when their job ends. At this point, all the development on the German side is done and now it becomes more work on our side at Andretti to evolve the car throughout the season. During the offseason, I’ve had some one-off races here and there, and I’ve been working with other parts of the business, with TV and things like that, so that’s been keeping things cranking. I don’t know what exactly has filled the calendar but it definitely feels like we’ve been flat out and the first race hasn’t even started yet.
How has testing been with the new and improved Beetle GRC?
Testing has been great. Working with VW Motorsport and Andretti is a great opportunity to be with a team that is actually able to take advantage of the offseason. Racing at a grassroots level or racing with a European team, where each test involved a flight to Europe for two days and back, there was always a bigger hurdle to get testing done, so the fact that we’ve tested more than once already, and with another test between now and the first race is great. We get so much done every single time—not just finding weaknesses but also more strengths in some of the new designs of the Beetle. It’s what you have to do in order to keep up with the Joneses. All the other teams are doing it too, so it only makes for better racing.
Thinking back on last year, which was one of your most successful seasons in the sport…
…Except for the ones where I actually won the championship! I’m kidding, sort of. Finishing second wasn’t my best championship result, but I think I did my job as a driver better than in previous years. We put a record-breaking string of Heat wins together that I’m proud of and I also learned a lot about working in a team this size to race for success—lessons that will hopefully apply to other parts of my career.
That’s something you’ve proven time and again—even though you’re a veteran of rallycross, you’re still improving and learning new things.
Yeah, I’m a student of motorsport, and I’d even say it’s less about the driving—what it takes to drive fast doesn’t really change—but I’m a student of the human condition. There are many things that happen in the team environment that can affect your performance positively or negatively, so it’s important to remain a positive force for those with whom you work closest. I like the challenge of learning the new tracks and learning various new conditions that we face at each venue. Some things in the GRC series remain constant—we have used the same tires for a few years now; however, other things are changing every event and without having the mentality of a student, I’m not sure it would be possible to continually adapt to those changes.
What do you think the key areas to look for will be in 2017?
There are a few rule changes this year. One of the most important skills of the Rallycross car is accelerating as fast as possible to get into the first turn in the lead. In 2017 the electronic help a driver can have to get off the line perfectly is virtually gone. This means we will need to practice launches with a bit more focus. Also, the heat racing format is different. It is difficult to anticipate how this will affect the results but it looks like qualifying 1st has become more critical to your weekend’s results. Finally, with so many tracks at small ovals this season, it is more important then ever to get the Beetle GRC balanced through a long steady corner for maximum cornering speed. That’s a very different engineering task than creating a darty car that can get in and out of typical rallycross hairpins quickly.
Aside from the on-track action, what are you excited about in the upcoming season?
I think we’re kind of getting to a turning point with GRC where this series isn’t a fresh, out of the box, brand-new sport. It’s got some name recognition in the industry now, and it’s slowly starting to be a little bit more mainstream. I watched this happen with drifting when it started. Once the word got out there and “drifting” became a mainstream term that people recognized, it really changed the sport, and I think we’re at that turning point with rallycross in this country. This is possibly a really good year for GRC. Yes, we’re racing in new markets, so there will be an education process for fans at the track, but it doesn’t matter where you put rallycross cars—they’re going to put on a good TV show, and hopefully that translates into kicking this great sport up a notch in the mainstream market.
The first round of the 2017 Red Bull Global Rallycross championship from Memphis will air on NBC—Sunday, Arpil 30 at 1:00PM (ET).