After a successful 2010 Firestone Indy Lights campaign that saw her net three Poles, two podiums, two additional Top 5 finishes, and a win at Kentucky, Pippa Mann is coming to the Centennial Indianapolis 500. She'll be there as the first British woman to attempt to qualify for the race, doing so in the #36 Conquest Racing machine. Before that gets started, she took a few minutes to answer a bit-of-Q&A for the INDYCAR Nation faithful:
Pippa, first off, congratulations on the ride for Indy! It seems like this has been rumored for a long time--I'll bet it seemed even longer to you. How did the deal finally get done?
PM: This has been such a long time coming, that at times I thought it would never happen! The big thing which has held the deal up had been the funding. Since the Texas test, both Eric and I have been working extremely hard to try and pull this together and get me into an IndyCar. Conquest Racing does a great job with the resources they have, and Eric wanted me to come on board because he felt that I would be a good bet to put his second car in the show.
We finally got enough funding together to get the ball rolling after St Pete, and since then it has been about staffing. Neither Eric nor I wanted to do this unless we could try and do it properly.
However, everything finally fell into place, and we were able to agree on a contract to get me in the car!
Earlier this year, you tested in Texas for Conquest Racing. How involved have been with Conquest since then?
PM: I think you can tell from the above answer that I have been pretty involved with the team since then. I put a lot of stock on how the atmosphere is within the team, and how well all the personalities work together. They have a great environment over there, and I enjoyed working with them from the moment we turned up for the test in Texas.
Can you give the fans an idea what the car livery or those sidepods might look like?
PM: We haven't really gotten that far yet! We literally signed this deal at the beginning of the week, so that's not really something we're focused on. We're also still hoping to get some more sponsorship from some of the companies we are talking to, and so the final design will depend largely on that.
I think the basic idea at the moment is that the base car will be white. That way it's easier for us to work in the logos of our existing partners, and hopefully some new ones, without any colours clashing.
How's your relationship with your teammate for the 500, Sebastian Saavedra?
PM: My relationship with Sebastian is good. I've known him for two years now, and for the past year we've trained together quite a bit at PitFit. He's also put up with me hanging around during those first couple of races - he's a good guy. I'm looking forward to working with him.
You won the pole at Indy for the Firestone Freedom 100 for Firestone Indy Lights last year, so you have some experience at Indy. Although that race itself didn't turn out as you wanted last year, what can you take from that experience for this Month of May?
PM: I think there are several things to take with me. I think I have a good idea how I expect it the car to feel in qualifying trim, but you'll have to ask me afterwards to find out whether I was right or not. I didn't get to show it, but we had a great race car last year too, so I also know what I'm looking for in terms of feel from the car for that side of things. I think having that experience will help me out a huge amount, but again, I'll be able to tell you with more accuracy after opening weekend.
Of course, this is the Indy 500 Centennial. Can you tell us what being a part of that means to you?
PM: Being part of the Indy 500 means a huge amount to me even before you add in the fact that it’s the Centennial. I am so thrilled that I have been given the opportunity to be a part of the event. For a long time this winter, and even as recently as a couple of weeks ago, it looked like I might not be out there this May. I'd told everyone all winter long that this event was the one I most wanted to do this year, and to be facing the prospect of genuinely not getting a shot at it was just gut-wrenchingly awful. No racing driver makes a good spectator. Also, as you touched on earlier, I have some unfinished business at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and I intend on doing everything within my power to sort that out this year!
This can be a rough business. How do you deal with naysayers, detractors, and the more negative voices out there?
PM: At times, this can be an extremely tough business. With the internet, and now social media, we are able to interact with our supporters to a much greater extent, and let them really get to see who we are and what we’re about. However at the same time, it also provides an opportunity for you to expose yourself to the opinions of people who don't like you - who think you shouldn't be given a shot. Earlier this year for example, right after we announced the Texas test, someone sent me a link via twitter saying: "Hey, we're all talking about you! Come check it out”. I followed the link, and was taken to a forum where people were just ripping me to shreds.
I know that the best course of action is usually to try and walk away, but I felt that many of the accusations being thrown at me weren't fair. So I sat down and did something you should probably never do - I composed a polite reply. I just wanted to give people the facts, try to be eloquent, and let them know that I disagreed. But mainly, I wanted to ask them to let me have a go, and if it doesn’t work out, feel free to say whatever – but just give me a chance. I actually had a much better response to the post than I expected.
Needless to say, there were some people who just ignored everything I wrote, but you know what? I guess it's not worth bothering with those guys anyway because they had made up their minds about me before I even got in a car...and without ever meeting me. The great thing about Twitter and Facebook is that they both have a delete and a block button! On the rare occasion that someone actually bothers to find me on either of those just to cause trouble, I find them both very effective.
Lastly, what can we expect to see from Pippa Mann this May?
PM: Well, I think first of all, I just have to get through the rookie orientation smoothly - and I've been told that driving the cars that slow can actually be more difficult than driving them at speed due to the downforce levels. I plan to settle in with my team, do plenty of pit stop practice, and spend a lot of time working on that so it doesn't come as a complete shock on race day. I plan to work with the crew, my engineer, and with Sebastian, and try and help steer the setup towards a fast car for qualifying and a handling car for the race. Our current plan is to try and qualify on Pole Day, much like everyone else, and we wouldn’t be doing this if we didn't think that was possible. After that, everything will be new to me. So I guess I just want to avoid any rookie mistakes, and try and bring the car home safely and to a solid finish for Conquest Racing.
Check out more Pippa online via her Twitter account (twitter.com/PippaMann), or at her website (http://www.pippamann.com/).
Zachary Houghton runs the INDYCAR blog & fan site INDYCAR Advocate (www.indycaradvocate.com). He can be reached on Twitter (@indycaradvocate) or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org