Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Fast Five with Pippa Mann

Here is another establishment in the driver interview segment called Fast Five! Once again, I am very lucky! This time I get to interview Indycar driver Pippa Mann! Pippa, from London, England, came to America in 2009 to race in the Firestone Indy Lights series. That year, Mann drove for IZOD Indycar Team Panther Racing in Lights, where she finished 14th in the championship standings, including three top tens. In 2010, she drove for Sam Schmidt Motorsports, where she became the first female driver to win a pole at IMS for any form of racing for the Firestone Freedom 100, and later on that season went on to win a race at Kentucky. A great moment happened in 2011 where she qualified for the Indianapolis 500 for Conquest Racing. Her teammate, Sebastian Saavedra, was bumped from the field, showing that it wasn't the best of situations for her but she made it work. I actually had the privilege of meeting Pippa at Indianapolis last year! It was such an honor!  I hope to hear some news on her future in Indycar. Here is the interview, enjoy (Pippa's answers listed as PM):


1) Racing in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 had to be a high point in your racing career. Looking back at it, what can you take away from it and how was the experience? 

PM: The answer to this is actually more interesting that you might think. At the time, we as a team were so elated to make the race that year - to actually get a car in the field, but at the same time none of us would have taken the risk if we didn't think it was possible. I had momentum working in my favour, coming off a strong season of Indy Lights, coming off a strong run at Indy in the race and a strong month of May overall. If you’d have told me then, that I would not only not get to drive full time in 2012, but that I wouldn't get to drive the Indy 500, nor even sit in an Indycar all year long, there is no way I would have believed you. In fact, I would probably have written you off as someone to block and ignore as a hater, rather than someone who was predicting the future. Watching from the sidelines in 2012 was extremely difficult to cope with, I found it excruciating. I don't think I really believed it was actually going to happen until I was there watching it happen. Words literally fail me in terms of finding an accurate description of how it made me feel. Agony could be a good term, but it seems a little melo-dramatic. Then again given the way I was feeling, melodrama probably suits more than I care to admit. At the same time, being unable to put the money together in time, being unable to jump in a car at late notice to qualify one, and finding myself on the other side of that momentum wave really made me stop and take stock. There will always be days when I am frustrated, when I find it difficult, but I have to remind myself that to have done what I have done, I am already lucky. I have to remind myself that feeling sorry for myself, sitting at home on my couch will get me nowhere, and to take every new opportunity that comes with both hands. Looking back at the experience of 2011, we had a great group of guys and team that I was lucky to be a part of for my first time in an Indycar during the month of May, and I am unbelievably grateful that Eric took the chance on me and gave me that opportunity. If I make it back this year, I will make it back with the perspective that no one is entitled to be a part of the month of May, and the Indy 500, and incredibly thankful that I have gotten the opportunity to be there again.

Pippa qualifying for the 2011 Indy 500 (Photo from PippaMann.com)

2) Unfortunately last year you did not get a chance to race in the Indy 500 or any other Indycar race. What's the word on your chances of racing at Indy or other races this year? 

PM: I'm working hard on the funding side, and I'm hopeful, but you never know with these things and the deal is never done until it is done. I have learnt that the hard way more than once, so I'm trying to keep my feet firmly on the ground, and my perspective realistic about my chances. However I'll go back to that first sentence, right now I am definitely hopeful, and I have realistic reasons to be hopeful. Let's leave it at that, and I want to ask all your readers to please cross their fingers for me right now!


3) How difficult is it finding sponsors in the current economic climate? 

PM: It has been incredibly tough. As someone who never broke into Indycar full time, I am not a "big name" driver who is easy to sell. My personal record at Indy makes it easier than it might be for some, but the fact that I did end up sitting out last year, and that I am still currently working on this year with nothing yet set in stone, just proves how incredibly tough it is. I have some great people working with me, and helping me, and I have been working every angle within my power to try and make this happen, including hundreds and hundreds of cold calls and emails. You just have to keep pushing, and keep reminding yourself that if you get enough together, and get to get back in the car, that it will all be worth it!

(L-R) James Hinchcliffe, Michelle Murray, and Pippa Mann attend the 2012 Stars & Strikes Celebrity Bowling Bash at Western Bowl on February 2, 2012 in Indianapolis, Indiana.
James Hinchcliffe, Michelle Murray, and Pippa Mann at the 2012 Stars
 and Strikes Celebrity Bowling Event. Pippa is always giving  back
to the community and fans everywhere (Photo: Mike Coppola)

4) Would you entertain offers to race in other racing formulas or do something like Sebastian Saavedra did and move back down to Lights to gain some track time? 

PM: Sebastian was actually my team mate in 2011, and I raced against him in 2009 and 2010. In 2009 he was with the AFS team in Indy Lights, and he had a great season. Then 2010 was tougher for him, and 2011 with Conquest in Indycar was a hard year. He was still very young, and he had an opportunity that not many drivers get - to return to AFS, the team where he had had a great run in 2009, and a guaranteed car for that year's Indy 500. He would be working with the same engineers and mechanics as he had done before, and I believe that Gary Peterson also stepped in to help him to make it happen. However for most of us, we don't have the opportunity to step back to the same team - my team I ran with at SSM in 2010 has been broken up, my mechanics and my engineer are elsewhere. Going back to work with an engineer or team who you don't know is a much bigger risk. Then there's the financial side. If I was able to raise the funding to run in Indy Lights again, it would be incredibly close to the budget to run the 500... And of course I think it's fairly clear which way I would lean in that scenario. Trying to do both the way Sebastian did would require me to find double the funding, and to find it sooner in the season than May, so while it's a great question, and something that I was asked consistently last year due to Sebastian's success, it's not something that would work for me given the circumstances. I had a great time in Indy Lights. I got three poles, including the one at Indy, became the second female race winner in the category and finished top five in the championship despite missing a race, but that ship has sailed. My focus is completely on the month of May right now, and then following that, well, I'll get into whatever I can to keep racing and get more track time! I had a huge amount of fun jumping into the Auto GP car last year, and I would love to jump into a sports car for a few races given the opportunity!


5) Time for some humor! The set question for the Fast Five series is: have you ever done anything strange, obscure, or something that might be considered quirky (sneeze, cough, race with one eye, etc) whilst driving a race car? 

PM: Haha! I genuinely don't know how to answer this! I know I've had grit in my eye at times that has somehow got up underneath the helmet on ovals, and just had to wait until my eye waters enough for it to come out. Not funny in terms of humour, but maybe an interesting tidbit you might not know about me... In 2010 I actually broke my hand in Toronto in testing, and had a fully displaced fracture, but the insurance rules were a little different then, and racing drivers can be fairly determined. I brought home an eight place finish that weekend, flew back to Indianapolis, got my hand x-rayed, learned it was broken, then booked myself in for surgery after the next race weekend, so I would only miss one race recovering from the surgery and not two. I then went to the old Edmonton track, one of the most physical of the year, and drove the whole weekend there too before red-eyeing all the way back to Indianapolis to have the surgery! I still missed Mid Ohio, but I was back for Sonoma just a couple of weeks later! So apparently, if I have to, I can drive an Indy Lights car on a road course one handed!


Thanks to Pippa and her PR Hannah for all of their help! Be sure to check out Pippa Mann's website  and click here to find her on Twitter! Pippa is definitely one of the drivers who takes time to tweet back to those who tweets to her, so don't be shy!

-Matthew Hickey 

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