Fast Five with Pippa Mann #2

Once is flattering. Twice? I can't even describe how lucky I am! The reason I am lucky is because for the second time, I had the privilege of interviewing IZOD Indycar Driver Pippa Mann! Pippa has been making headlines in 2013, finding a way back into Indycar after an 18 month absence from the sport. She has joined Dale Coyne Racing on a part-time basis, running on some of the ovals for the team's second car. An incident at Indianapolis saw her not finish. A blown engine (which was just one of those racing deals) at Texas only a handful of laps into the race ruined that weekend. But Pippa got a chance to redeem herself at Pocono with a solid 15th place finish. Her next race is at the season finale at Fontana on October 19th. I also had he privilege to talk with her extensively at Iowa! I documented that in my Race Day Diary, click here to view that! Here's our interview, enjoy (Pippa's answers labeled as PM)!

1) You've notched a couple races under your belt this season. Indianapolis was the first chance you've had to race the DW12. Overall, what are your likes and dislikes of the car? Anything you'd like to see changed/modified?   

PM: Overall I really like the new DW12 chassis. At first being able to see so much of the front wheels (normally in an open wheel car on an oval you can barely just see the tops of them) felt a little odd, as did sitting on a bunch of padding as opposed to directly onto the chassis floor, but I quickly got used to both of those traits and forgot about them. In clean air you can actually get the car handling fairly similarly to it's predecessor, however the rear definitely moves around more behind you all the time. Getting used to that sensation and trusting that the car can go to a bigger yaw angle and come back before it spins were definitely two things that took a little longer to get used to. The new car is also very different to drive in traffic. The tow is huge compared to the old Indycar, but it's extremely tough to work out how to follow closely enough through the corners. The understeer from the dirty air of a car in front kicks in earlier, and it's much more critical than it used to feel in the old car. That makes it much easier to push up into the wall when following someone and do just enough suspension damage to end your day - that's why we saw so many close brushes with the wall, and several people, myself included, who bent toe links or wish bones in the race. So if there's anything I would like to change, it would be to enable the car to run just a tiny bit closer to the other cars on a track like Indy, where we never really had pack racing in the old cars. Also, and I think this has been echoed by the guys who were up front all day, while all the lead changes at Indy are great for the crowd and the fans, I would like to see it where the best car or cars can just get away a little from those behind them, rather than having no chance to do so right now. That's because while it's tough to follow through the corners with the DW12, the tow once you get onto the straight is just massive. So in an ideal world I would exchange just a little smidge of one, for a little smidge of the other. I'd like to be able to get a little closer through the corners, but know that if I had the best car out there I could get rewarded a little more.    

2) From your point of view, how have things gone with yourself and Dale Coyne Racing so far?  

PM: Overall I think it's gone pretty well. It was so great to finally be back in an Indycar during the month of May, after 18 months out, and the Dale Coyne Racing guys made me feel at home, and welcome as part of the team from the get-go. Justin and Ana were great drivers to be teamed up with for my return to the cockpit, and I was able to learn a huge amount from both of them. As the month went on, Ana and I actually discovered we wanted very similar things from our cars, so that enabled our engineers to also work together extremely easily. In the race, the Cyclops Gear car was a rocket-ship, I just wish I’d had more experience under my belt, and hadn't made that rookie mistake on race day. Overall, however, Dale and the team were pleased with the way I jumped in, got straight back up to speed, and was able to contribute throughout the month itself. My sponsor, Cyclops Gear, was also pleased with the level of interest that getting involved with the program generated.  The activation through social media and on my website produced increased sales and hits on their site, and those factors combined led to me getting another run at Texas, and then again at Pocono just a couple of weeks ago. Every time, as with Indy, the guys at Dale Coyne Racing have made me feel at home and completely welcome, and it was a great feeling to be able to reward Cyclops Gear and the team for all their hard work with a top 15 finish at a really tough track like Pocono. Now I have the opportunity to run Fontana as well!      

Birdseye view of Pippa's cockpit from Pocono (Photo used from Pippa's website

3) What are your goals and expectations for your next race at Fontana?  

PM: Well I've never been to Fontana either, but ideally I would like a similar nice quiet clean weekend to Pocono, and I'm aiming for another top 15 finish. It's going to be important there to learn the track, to learn the seams, to work out what I need from the race car so that I have the opportunity to go after a good result on race day. Also, with Fontana being the final race of the year, making sure we keep the #18 car in the top 20 in Leaders Circle points for 2014 is very important. I need to try and do everything in my control to help the guys achieve that goal every time I get into the car.  

4) We have only seen you on ovals because you haven't had a chance to test on a road course with the DW12. Any chance we might see you at Sebring or Sonoma this offseason?  

PM: Oh, I hope so! I love the ovals, and I know I kind of took to them like a duck to water in Indy Lights and that has led to the opportunities I have had in Indycar, but I would absolutely love to get the chance to go and run an Indycar at Sebring or Sonoma, in preparation for being able to run on different types of tracks next year. I miss racing on road and street courses, it's what I grew up doing. But at the same time I'm very aware that I have not had the opportunity to be full-time in a racing car since 2010, and I have only gotten to drive a completely different type of open wheel car (an Auto GP car at Sonoma) on a road course for one race weekend in the past three years! So I'm aware that there would be some rust that needs to be knocked off me, and learning how an Indycar road or street course weekend flows from a drivers perspective could take some learning again too. All that being said, it's definitely an opportunity I want pretty badly, and one I'm chasing after!  

5) You have built a partnership with Cyclops Gear and Alain Mounir. What does it mean to have sponsors and people who support you. And have you gotten any feedback from them as far as their satisfaction with their involvement in Indycar?  

PM: Working with Cyclops Gear and Alain this year has been a great experience. Alain knows enough about racing that he was able to forgive my rookie mistake at Indy, and he was able to see the same potential the team saw with my performance throughout the month and with my pace, and the way I was picking people off and passing them in the race itself. Having a team and sponsor that are working together to give me these opportunities to keep getting back in a race car is a pretty amazing feeling. In terms of feedback from Cyclops Gear, we doubled their sales throughout the month of May, and they had female athletes from all sorts of differing disciplines applying to be a part of their Team Cyclops Gear program. However there is only so much benefit a sponsor can get from one off races, you lose a lot of the ability to market and activate in the real world, and social media marketing can only go so far. For 2014, their ideal plan is to market and activate around a pre-planned and announced racing schedule. That would obviously be pretty much my ideal situation too! So right now, I'm focusing on Fontana, and continuing to promote them through the channels available to me, and working away on anything I can do my end to try and make this ideal version of 2014 a reality.  Fingers crossed!

That Cyclops Cyclone looks pretty slick! (Photo used from Pippa's website

Thanks to Pippa and her PR Hannah for all the help and for those of you who took the time to read!

-Matthew Hickey