By: Tanner Watkins
May 14, 2019 | 9:00 AM
As practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 opens today, Pippa Mann will embark on another journey through the month of May. The 35-year-old driver is just one of the 36 drivers fighting for a spot in the 33-car field, but she is racing for more than just a chance at erasing the pain of 2018’s bumped attempt.
For 2019, Mann has partnered with Driven2SaveLives, a program designed to elevate the conversation of organ and tissue donation. Previously the campaign sponsored Stefan Wilson, and the D2SL car was leading last year’s “500” with just a few laps remaining before Wilson had to pit for fuel.
As with Wilson, who lost his brother Justin after an IndyCar accident at Pocono Raceway in 2015, Mann has ties to the organ donation cause that make running the Driven2SaveLives brand on her car all the more important.
Mann was close friends with sprint car racing legend Bryan Clauson, who was also a former Indianapolis 500 starter. The partnership between Mann and her 2019 Indianapolis team, Clauson-Marshall Racing, began only after Pippa missed qualifying for the race last year – almost in a bit of destiny.
The weight of this year’s attempt, running a car owned by the family that bears her friend’s name, is impressionable on Mann.
“To me, obviously, this connection is personal,” said Mann earlier this week. “Me driving this car started last year in the suite when I should have been in a race car on race day here at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It started with a conversation with Tim Clauson where he asked me, if they put this together and I worked with them to do this, would I come and drive that car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway if we could make this happen.”
Standing in a closed Clauson-Marshall garage stall with her No. 39 Driven2SaveLives Chevrolet looking on, Mann begins to recognize the importance of each decal on the car.
The primary logo supports Driven2SaveLives, with an important “Honoring Bryan Clauson” message at the bottom of the insignia. Mann notes how the mirrors are adorned with “BC39” decals in honor of Clauson. There are “Forever 41 Cajun” logos delicately placed for the recently-passed sprint car driver Jason Johnson, and even decals for the Elise Foundation which honors a young girl who passed away early in life but became a hero by being an organ donor.
Mann brings the attention back to the conversation of organ donation, and explains how the most difficult moment in a family’s life can still provide a bright light of hope for another family in need.
“It’s very difficult as human beings to think about and discuss your own mortality. It scares us. But the way I like to think of this is making that decision means in your last moments on this earth, you get to do something really good for someone else,” says Mann.
“At a time that is normally the worst possible time for families who are losing a loved one, we hope that the last thing your loved one is doing on this earth is going on to become a hero. To save other lives and heal people through tissue donation too.
“I think that’s the important message and that’s the thing we sort of want people to understand about this: Nobody is taking away from the loss and the sadness, but from that loss, there can be hope.”
While Mann is carrying the torch for Driven2SaveLives and their initiatives at this Indianapolis 500, she is also the only woman attempting to qualify for the race this year. A female driver has made the field in every Indy 500 since the year 2000, and now the streak hinges on Mann’s success this month.
For Pippa, recognizing the importance of her presence as a woman in this year’s race is a double-edged sword.
“I’m a driver with an entry to this year’s Indianapolis 500. My gender doesn’t affect how I drive the racing car, what I do behind the wheel, or how my team are going to work with me,” Mann begins. “However, admittedly in motorsport women are still in the minority and therefore I try to look at this as though it’s a driver of a nationality that is very aware of racing in the Indianapolis 500.
“From that standpoint, I do wear a pink helmet and I am a female athlete. I am happy to have little girls look up to me and I hope I can set the kind of example for them that my parents are happy to have them looking up to me.
“It’s sort of a double-edged thing,” admits Mann. “I would rather they were more of us here because I feel with just one of me, we are showing again that we are still underrepresented in motorsport. But at the same time I’m very thankful to be here as a racer and to have this opportunity to be back in a racing car.”
Since being on track at IMS last May, Mann has been staying sharp despite not racing in other NTT IndyCar Series events. The veteran driver embarked on a few karting and sports car ventures, including a 25-hour race at Thunderhill. Furthermore, Mann has taken the last six weeks off from her daily job – being a performance driving coach – to train and prepare effectively for the month of May.
While Pippa has been preparing, her Clauson-Marshall team has been working just as hard to make sure they are ready to go when the lights go green for practice today. Mann insists that this team, this year, is different for more than one reason.
“We’re not trying to turn a car (from road course to speedway trim) from the Grand Prix of Indianapolis this year,” says Mann, visibly beaming as she looks at the crew working on her car.
“She’s here. She’s ready. She’s in the garage area. They’re putting the bodywork on her. We have a great group of guys working on the car – we have nearly a full complement of crew starting right from the beginning of the month. Also, I’m really looking forward to getting my first taste of Chevy power out here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.”
At the end of the day, Mann knows she must be one of the 33-fastest drivers in the field of 36 entries to make the biggest impact. Last year she showed well in the face of adversity, vowing to come back with all of her might in 2019. She is here, the Clauson family is here, and the No. 39 team is optimistic that this month will be good – real good.
“We’re feeling good,” says Mann cautiously. “We’re feeling good about the car preparation – she’s had a lot of love over the past few weeks getting built, and I’m feeling good about my preparation. We’re hopeful and we believe that we have reason to be hopeful – we don’t think it’s pie in the sky thinking.”
Header image by Dana Garrett/INDYCAR
Open-Wheels coverage of the 2019 month of May at Indianapolis is presented by Driven 2 Save Lives. Driven 2 Save Lives, an entity of the Indiana Donor Network, is a program that utilizes motorsports as a platform to encourage race fans to become organ donors. Currently, there are 114,000 individuals that are waiting for a life-saving organ transplant. Register as an organ, tissue, and eye donor at Driven2SaveLives.org/register and follow Driven2SaveLives on Facebook and Twitter.