Pippa Mann determined as ever to make her mark on IndyCar

Pippa Mann speaks on at the women in racing conference at the INDYCAR booth at the Performance Racing Industry show on Friday December 12. Photo Credit: Jessica Jenkins

Pippa Mann speaks at the women in racing conference at the INDYCAR booth at the Performance Racing Industry show on Friday December 12. Photo Credit: Jessica Jenkins

By Zach Tasker
For Verizon IndyCar Series driver Pippa Mann, the offseason is always an extremely busy time. Like many racing drivers that don’t currently have full-time deals in place, now is the time to make magic happen for next season. The popular British born driver was at the Performance Racing Industry show in downtown Indianapolis over the weekend to speak on the women in racing panel discussion being held at the INDYCAR booth. Accompanying Mann on stage were team owner Sarah Fisher, assistant engineer at Target Chip Ganassi Racing Kate Gundlach, along with gearbox technician Anna Chatten. “We were up there to talk about some of our stories. Some of the things that have inspired us and how our experiences have been as females in racing including IndyCar in particular and in the U.S. in general.”

As for the aforementioned plans for next season, Mann is determined to have another crack at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It seems fitting that two of the sport’s most likable and hardworking underdogs team up with each other. “It is still a work in progress but my plans for 2015 haven’t changed since the moment I stepped out of the car at the Indy 500 last year. We told everyone our goal was to bring the pink car back.  That is still the goal that is being worked towards every day, we are getting closer and closer I think. This Komen program would not have happened without Dale Coyne Racing. Without Dale, this would have not happened in year one. Without that tangible entity that it is effectively a car with my name on it waiting for me to pull together the business transactions of this deal, I don’t know that they would have been on board. It means so much to have a team owner that stands behind and offers you that much support and I will never have enough gratitude for what Dale has done for me; it’s pretty incredible. ”

The 2010 Freedom 100 pole winner has an amazing wave of grassroots support from fans. This encouragement is visible at any race track where fans will clamor to get a picture and autograph from her. That may seem surprising at first considering Mann hasn’t raced a full season since 2010 in Indy Lights, until you realize that she engages her fans as good if not better than anyone else in the paddock. She was leading the voting for this year’s IndyCar most popular driver award until the last minute when all of Juan Pablo Montoya’s supporters flocked to the online voting polls. “I got my butt completely handed to me by Mister Juan Pablo Montoya who has many more fans than I do but I try to have an active and strong presence on social media. It is important to me to stay in contact with my fans. One of the big things for me personally is ok, so a lot of the time my partners and I are only on track one race a year at the Indianapolis 500. Yes, it is the biggest race of the year. However, if I stopped working with and promoting my partners and I fell off the radar at the end of May my partners are not getting the full value for money, I can offer them. So to me it is extremely important to not only stay connected to the fan base but also to stay connected to my partners to help the fan base to stay connected to my partners throughout the entire year. I mean I’m up here on the stage, and I am still wearing my pink fleece with my Honda, Dale Coyne and Susan G. Komen logos on it. It’s not only supporting my partners who are my partners from this year it’s stating our intent. We intend to be back, we intend to do this, and it’s just been fantastic to have the continuity of the support. It means the companies that partner with me see returns for the investment that they give me and then it makes it easier for them to partner with me again. ”

As someone who jumped off the European single-seater ladder to move to the United States in 2009 to race in Indy Lights, Mann gave an interesting and unique insight into one of the big stories this offseason. The influx of European drivers looking to change career paths and move to the states has many fans talking “Formula 1 always has been incredibly difficult to break in. In recent years in my humble opinion as someone who hasn’t been in European racing in a long time it’s actually much more difficult to break into now. Now it seems that even fewer people break into Formula 1 on talent alone, and the marketing and commercial element has become so important. For the smaller Formula 1 teams, it is almost the most important element. So then you get guys who have managed to find backing but now they are in cars where maybe they are never going to be able to show us whether they are good or not. Is that really a good spend of their resources and that backing that they have? Then you look at the U.S., and you look at an IndyCar budget and an IndyCar budget with a top team in this series probably comes in at around $8 million. An IndyCar budget with a small team comes in at about probably $3 million. An Indy 500 varies from around a million to half a million U.S. dollars. It depends on what engine plan you do, how well your team is willing to work with you and if you are willing to give up your entire check every year as I usually do to run.”

The Dale Coyne Racing driver believes the culture in Europe regarding oval races holds some people back. “So all of a sudden you are looking at these really attainable numbers to be driving these very cool, very fast very powerful cars. One of the reasons IndyCars are very cool is that they don’t have power steering, so they are beasts of cars. Formula 1 cars are nimble and delicate, and they are pointy, darty little things. An IndyCar is a beast, and it is a challenge and then you look at the oval racing challenge and for a lot of guys in Europe for a very long time it’s off-putting. They don’t know whether they are scared by it or whether it is too easy that they don’t want to do it. It’s this strange juxtaposition between these two things that are almost completely opposite. But it offers this opportunity to give such great exposure to your partners. Even with a small team on the good days you are going to be running right up front when you get the car right and competing with the guys that are on double your budget. You can’t do that in Formula 1, you certainly can’t do that on a regular basis in Formula 1. So it’s this incredible opportunity. I think with the whole Mazda Road to Indy ladder we have some great talent coming out of Indy Lights that are looking to run some IndyCar races or even full seasons next year. “

Mann believes the influx of top level European drivers who have expressed interest in IndyCar this winter such as Davide Valsechhi and Jean Eric-Vergne would be great overall for the health of the sport. “I think that is fantastic. I think having some influx of talent from Europe whether its one or two guys is always going to be healthy for the sport. It keeps not only us; it keeps Europe honest about how good our series is. These guys come over here, and they think they are going to walk in and start winning races then they are like woah this is harder than I thought it was going to be. I love seeing that the GP3 drivers in particular are looking at Lights as a great next career choice. I think that is fantastic because I still stand with the opinion that it is very difficult to jump in an IndyCar and to understand oval racing straight off the bat. It’s very hard. If you speak to a guy like Will Power, our current champion, nobody would ever doubt the fact that that guy is an incredible driver. He spent a long time to try to work out how to do the oval thing. My teammate at Dale Coyne Racing for two years, Justin Wilson, one of the most talented drivers in IndyCar, it took him a couple of years to work it out. Simon Pagenaud, just gone to Penske Racing he was getting beat by his rookie teammate Mikhail Aleshin on the ovals sometimes, who just took to it like a duck to water. But that’s a juxtaposition right there between someone who it just clicked for, he was an anomaly, not the rule and even the very good guys it takes them a while. Here is another great example, incredibly popular friend of mine, Simona (De Silvestro). She came up through different feeder series which didn’t run ovals, and she wasn’t in great cars, and she didn’t have teammates, and it made it so hard for her. Then she kept having bad luck, and it kept compounding on those tracks. It’s difficult, and people don’t realize how difficult it is. I think seeing those guys looking at Indy Lights and learning that type of racing before you get to IndyCar is an incredibly smart career move for the guys that do want to race in IndyCar in the future. At the same time, I’m all for a guy coming out of GP2 and trying their hand at IndyCar. I have no issues with that. I think it’s great for the health of the series. ”

One thing that is undeniable is Mann’s passion and love for the sport of open wheel racing. Whether it be when she is the driver analyst on the IMS Radio Network during race weekends or meeting up with fans through twitter at the track, she epitomizes the spirit of a determined and gritty racer. A racer who just won’t give up no matter how many obstacles have been thrown her way. One of the biggest obstacles being having to face the uncertainty of not having a guaranteed ride.
The 2015 month of May at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will be here before we know it. If all goes to plan Pippa Mann will try to improve on her career best Indianapolis 500 finish of 20th in 2011, and there will once again be a Susan G. Komen pink liveried car on the grid.

Tony Tellez

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