Interview: Pippa Mann

I'm back with another interview with Pippa Mann! It seems like every year, I approach her with something new to discuss, and this year was no different. I'd like to thank Pippa, who always gives thorough and insightful answers, for her time, as between the Month of May and her new #GetInvolved campaign, is hectic to say the least. Here's our interview, enjoy! (her answers are labeled as PM):

1) The Indianapolis 500 is right around the corner! This is the time of year where everyone starts to get hyped for the Month of May and all the greatness that goes along with it. As a driver, how much do you look forward to the Month of May every year?

PM: I spend nearly the entire rest of the year working towards this one month, and this one race, and trying to make sure I am back in a car when it comes around, so yes, being out there, and being a part of this year's Indianapolis 500 means a massive amount to me. I have never forgotten the feelings in 2011 when we fought our way in, or the feelings in 2012 when there was not motor or race car with my name on it, and I had to watch the proceedings from the grandstands. Nothing makes you appreciate the event like sitting out for reasons beyond your control. There really is no other place like Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and there is no other race like the Indianapolis 500.

Pippa adorning pink in last year's Indianapolis 500 (Photo: Dan Boyd / Indycar Media)

2) You're back with Dale Coyne Racing for the third year running! What does it mean to you to have the familiarity and comfort of driving for a team you've driven for in the past two Indy 500s?

PM: For a part time driver, and ability to come back to a team where you know so many people, and where you feel at home, is a big bonus. I feel very fortunate to have worked with some great people, and to have worked with them on several occasions - even going back to my first Indy 500 with Conquest Racing. Darren Crouser, the current Dale Coyne Racing Team Manager was in charge of my program at Conquest in 2011, and he came on board with DCR for my first 500 with them in 2013 when we were looking for some support on the timing stand for race day. Several of the same mechanics who I met that first year at Conquest have also been with me at DCR over the three years, and this year, my crew chief is actually one of the guys who was part of Conquest in 2011 too! My engineer last year, Brandon Fry, engineered me in 2011, and now has a new full time sports car gig, so my engineer from 2013, Len Paskus is coming back on board to work with me again. The second engineer assigned to my program first worked on a team with me in Indy Lights, and my engineer my first year in Indy Lights is actually one of the second engineers for one of the full time DCR cars. I even have the same spotters I had last year coming into this year. Plus, this year, we even have both of the same two lead engineers who were there on the two full time cars in 2014. All of this just makes it so much easier for me to get comfortable, get up to speed, and get to work with the engineering group. We've all learned how to work together and how to effectively communicate to do a good job.

3) Anyone who follows you knows how much of an avid Tweeter you are! Through the first four rounds of the season, Dale Coyne and, in particular, his choice of drivers, has taken some criticism from fans everywhere. Is it hard to sit back and see people on social media have a go at drivers within the team, like Francesco Dracone, Rodolfo Gonzalez, and Rocky Moran Jr., and Dale Coyne himself?

PM: Motorsport is a tough business, and an expensive business. It's not easy to survive, and in the modern era, it's tougher than ever for most teams to keep returning to the grid. Over the past few years we have seen Conquest Racing, Dragon Racing and HVM Racing all cease to field cars. You can look at those teams, and probably find fault with all them, but we should remember that HVM and Keith Wiggins gave Simona de Silvestro her shot to be an IndyCar driver. Dragon kept Sebastian Bourdais in a car when it looked like he might not have a ride. And Conquest gave me my first shot in an IndyCar too.

You also need to consider that this is not a problem limited to IndyCar. When you look at the current state of F1, you see teams struggling to stay afloat there, and when you look at LeMans, you no longer see Peugeot in that field.

Dale Coyne has been an IndyCar owner, and has fielded cars in the series on a consistent basis since 1984. He has a habit, and reputation, of reaching into his own pocket every year to field one of his cars, on his dime, and pay that driver a salary. Justin Wilson was the most recent driver to drive for Dale in these circumstances, and when Justin and Dale part ways at the end of last year, it was amicable, with Justin wanting to pursue other options, Dale believed he had a plan in place, and had that plan come to fruition I think a lot of IndyCar fans would have been happy. Needless to say, that plan didn't come together, and then with the issue that happened with Carlos Huertas, it made things very difficult for everyone, but it did spring rise to Conor Daly getting to make his IndyCar road and street course debut at Long Beach.

I just want fans to remember that this is a hard working, good bunch of people, with a team owner who has dipped into his own pocket on many an occasion to field cars. These are people who have been loyal to me, stood behind me, and done their best for me from the first time I sat in one of their cars. I would not have gotten to return to IndyCar without these guys, I would not have gotten to race in 2013, 2014, or be in a car for this year's race. So I guess if you're not a fan of mine, I'm just giving you even more reason to be frustrated with Dale, and the team. But as a driver, I can't tell you much it means to have a team, and team owner who stands behind you in this way.

So yes. It's hard to see people whom support you, and whom you know are working their tails off come under fire. And it's hard to see people piling onto a team owner who has been nothing but good to me and many of today's IndyCar drivers. I understand the frustration, I really do, but I think it sometimes gets lost that these are good people, and they all work exceptionally hard to make this race team run. Including the team owner.

4) Talk about what your partnership with Susan G. Komen means to you and the experiences you've had since partnering with them.

PM: It's heard to believe that this started as an idea to turn my helmet pink, and auction it off for a cause... And how this grew into an entire pink racing program. It's a partnership I am very proud of, and Dale and I work hard to obtain the finances to keep the pink areas of the car pink. It doesn't make it easy on either of us, to effectively gift the title sponsorship of the car, but it's a cause we both strongly believe in, and as such it's something we both work hard to make happen.

At first my partnership with Susan G. Komen was the opportunity to take the stage that is the Indy 500, and do something different with it, and to try and make a difference, but I felt a little awkward being the girl in the paddock area clothed in pink. It felt odd looking in the mirror of my racecar on pit lane and seeing a pink helmet staring back at me. I have spent my entire life fighting the stereotype, and here I was "giving in". However then I started to meet the men and women who came to my garage every single day, to see the car and to share their stories with me. I always thought pink was a "girly" color, and "a bit soft", but I was wrong. I was so wrong. These men, women, and families taught me whole new meanings to the words, strength and courage, beyond what I could have ever imagined. I met fighters, I met survivors, I met co-survivors, and I met those still battling, or those with loved ones lost. The statistic of 1 in 8 women in the US being diagnosed with breast cancer is such a well known statistic, and one I use a lot, but when this many affected people are coming to your garage, every single day of the month, it has a massive impact on you. I left the 500 last year knowing it wasn't enough. I wanted to do more.

I recently attended a big Komen event in Palm Beach where we wheeled a pink Dale Coyne Racing show car into a ballroom, and put together an auction package around it to raise money. I have worked with Komen to bring pink merchandise with the Running Ribbon on it to my store, and that will be in stock before race day with a percentage from each purchase going back to Komen. I spoke at several events, I put together a team to walk in the Central Indiana Affiliate Race for the Cure, and raise money here at home. I sadly also attended the funeral of a lady whom I first met at our Pink Presser last May where she was one of the lead singers.

This year at the Indianapolis 500 we also have a Susan G. Komen suite, and we will be hosting a Metastatic Breast Cancer event in conjunction with Lilly in our suite on Fast Friday, as well as entertaining other guests and survivors throughout the month and on race day. We also launched the #GetInvolved campaign (<--- link to #GetInvolved page) as a much more interactive way to fund-raise for Komen, partnering with crowd-funding platform Indiegogo, and filling it with perks surrounding the pink car, and our pink on track program.

So far it's been an incredible experience, and I am proud to be able to wear the Komen marks and logos, and be associated with their mission.

Photo: Chris Jones / Indycar Media

5) Okay, time to pull out the crystal ball! What are your expectations for Pole Day/Qualifying and the race for the #63 Dale Coyne Racing car driven by Pippa Mann?!

PM: This is actually pretty hard to answer right now because I have yet to drive the 2015 Honda aero kit at all, and Sunday will be the first time that we as a team get to test them too! I think the goal is to aim at the top 15, with a hopeful thought of a top 10 potentially being on the table IF everything goes to plan on race day, and we get the car into a good handling window with the new aero kits. Last year, everyone who I was racing in the first few stints before we had the pit stop issue ended up finishing 12-17th, so pace wise, it was on the table. The engineers and I have also had conversations over the winter as to how we think we can improve our handling come race day this year. But this will be the first chance we get to test those hypothesis on the track! Fingers crossed we'll have a nice smooth qualifying, and a nice smooth race day. If we can accomplish that, hopefully we'll be looking at that top 15 to top 10 kind of area. It's always worth remembering though - you don't chose to run well at Indy. She chooses for you.

Thanks again to Pippa for the time for the interview! Stay tuned all-month to cheer on the #63 Dale Coyne Racing car driven by Pippa Mann!

-Matthew Hickey