Now about 2/3 of the way into your first season how would you characterize the transition from Indy Lights to the Izod Indycar Series?
Certainly the level of competition increases exponentially. When you’re in a junior category you’re maybe racing against 1 or 2 other guys who have a chance at the championship. There may be a bunch of good drivers, but in any year most of them are inexperienced and only a small group are really racing to win the championship.
You get up here and you realize that every one of those top guys each year is here, and they’re all proven winners.
The other side of it is the off-track stuff, dealing with sponsors and media. You get a taste of it in the lower ranks but nothing really prepares you for how big that jump is. There’s much more of a feeling that this is a global sporting series. It’s a very time consuming thing and you have to be careful balancing the on-track with the off-track, it can get so hectic. . The driving the car part has probably been the easiest transition for me because that’s what I’m used to.
Along with the increased demands on your time, are there greater opportunities for you commercially in this environment?
I think it’s really opened a lot of opportunities. If you try to talk to somebody about sponsoring an Indy Lights driver it’s a very tough sell because there’s much less exposure. When you’re at the next level there’s so much more you have to offer, so for us now being on the big show and having a reasonable season it’s made conversations with companies’ a lot easier. It’s important to really embrace the added media attention and try to get as much value as you can from it from a sponsor’s point of view.
Have there been any mentors, people helping you make the adjustment or have you been on your own in that regard?
I’ve had to learn a lot on my own, there’s no doubt, but having an experienced guy like Oriol here has been a tremendous asset for both the on and off-track elements. He’s not only a tremendous racing driver he’s also a good friend and has been for a number of years. The other guy who’s sort of helped me is Dario ( Franchitti ). He was at my second ever test at Sebring because he was testing there as well and from that day he took a bit of an interest. We have a sponsor in common, so we do some things together and are getting to know each other quite well. He says, if I think it’s busy now, you should have seen it “ back in the day “. It’s nice to get those kinds of reality checks every now and then.
In terms of the actual racing, with the blend of oval tracks and road courses, have you found a preference for either type?
People often ask me that and I have to say that I prefer whatever track I’m driving to on Thursday. They’re so different but I enjoy them both. I come from a road racing background and was a little bit wary of oval racing at first but by my second year of Indy Light’s I thoroughly enjoyed them. In the transition to Indycar I wasn’t sure what to expect because the guys here have so much experience, so it’s been nice to see that we seem to stack up about the same, whether it’s on road courses or ovals. We don’t have specific goals, but I think the best approach is to see how we do against other rookie drivers and that’s been going pretty well.
Your website Hinchtown, is a bit unique. Do you have an interactive relationship with your online followers?
I don’t have any chat sessions or anything quite like that, but a lot of the time, to our fans, we’re just a helmet inside a racecar. Unless you finish in the top three, your kind of faceless and a lot of personalities can get lost. I think it’s important to connect with fans, so online it lets us stand out and get noticed.
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