In an Indy 500 qualification weekend that saw multiple established teams and name go home empty-handed, Conquest Racing's Pippa Mann put four solid laps together to qualify for the Centennial Anniversary Indianapolis 500. The Indy 500 and IZOD IndyCar Series rookie is the first British woman to qualify for the 500. She spent a couple of minutes with us to give an insider's look at her intense qualifying experience!
Thanks for taking the time to chat with INDYCAR Nation again, Pippa! Or should I say, "Indy 500 Qualifier Pippa Mann"? How long after Bump Day concluded did it take to sink in that you had made the field?
PM: I'm not sure whether it will really sink in until I come around to take the green flag as one of the 33 starters! We had a fair few hugs down in pitlane when the boys got me out of the car with about six minutes to go, as there was not enough time left for enough people to go out and bump me out of the field. I did finally feel like I could breathe out for the first time in two days, and a weight of stress did immediately lift off my shoulders! Even now when I think back to Sunday I just want to breathe a sigh of relief!
I know this might not be fun to recall, but can you pinpoint the time you felt lowest all qualifying weekend? It was a real roller-coaster ride there for a good while.
PM: The biggest low point was probably on Saturday evening. We had been fast enough for the previous two days to put the car in the show, but unless we worked out where the mph had gone missing over night, found and fixed the problem, there was no way we would be in the show on Sunday, and there was nothing I could do about it. Knowing it was out of my hands did not make things any easier - in some ways it actually made it worse. I was standing there watching everyone take my car to pieces, and just praying that we would find something that had gotten bound up... anything!
How did you feel after you qualifying run? Relieved? Nervous? How certain were you that time would stick?
PM: We barely made it out for morning warm up on Sunday morning after the mechanics had taken the car so far apart the night before, and in the warm up when we ran, we weren't good - I was having to lift in all four corners and we were slowest on the time sheets. We made two relatively small changes for qualifying, took all the aero out and sent it. I can't describe the feeling of relief when it actually stuck through turn one on that first green flag lap. Then when I saw the speed was okay, and I knew I had seen plenty of people run slower, and that our handling was back where we wanted it, yes relief was definitely the biggest emotion. And pride - I was so proud of all my guys for staying so late, for doing everything they could to get us back out there with a shot to get in the show.
Then immediately the nerves set in. The next three hours were the longest of my life! I was praying for it to keep raining because I really didn't know whether the time would stick or not, and as we've seen, if you end up back in that line at Indy and on the bubble it's the hardest decision ever - whether to send the car, or go back around to the back of the line.
Was the last hour of Bump Day pretty intense for you, or did you finally begin to feel that you were safely in at some point?
PM: The last hour was insane. I was strapped in the car the whole time, just sitting there, sweating and trying to stay calm; trying to make sure that we didn't go down to the line unless we really had to. I didn't want to get in that line and be a part of that unless we absolutely had to be there! When there were about six minutes to go, the guys got me out of the car, and although rationally I knew, my heart was still pounding watching Alex and Marco both run quicker than me at the end there. I think I asked about five times whether the gun had gone off and didn't really believe it had until no one else went back out on track.
What was the mood like in the garage with your team after you had officially made the 500?
PM: It was very tough. On the one hand we were happy to be in, but everything was tempered with sadness for the other car. My guys were all so pleased with the job I was able to do for them, but we all wish there were two of us going out there to take the green this coming weekend...
Charlie Sheen tweeted about you on Bump Day and seemed pretty impressed with your effort! Did you happen to see it? Sounds like you're making some big fans!
PM: I didn't see it happen - I believe I was more concerned about everything else that was going on at the time (i.e. whether it was going to stop raining or not and whether I was going to get back in or not!) I did however see the tweet afterwards, and I was also told about it by many people! As for me - when anyone tweets me to let me know they appreciate the effort we all put into this, and the way we did our jobs this past month I appreciate it, whoever they are! That being said, please let me know if Charlie would like to sponsor a car for a few more IndyCar races this year....!
Aside from Charlie, you also seemed to become a crowd favorite rather quickly at Indy. What was it like hearing the fans really cheer for you on your qualifying run, and how was your fan experience overall?
PM: The fans here at Indy are amazing! I knew I had plenty of them around my garage area, and on Sunday morning when I asked them just for a bit of space in general they were all so understanding. I spent as much time as I could over the week outside signing things for people and taking pictures, but on Sunday morning I was dealing with a certain stress level, and I just needed some time to stay collected. The problem is if you go outside to sign for one person, then you end up signing for about 30! I didn't hear that the fans had been cheering me when I was out on track - if they were then that's incredible and I can't thank them enough for all their support! I have heard them do that for other drivers, and if it happened for me, then I'm humbled!
What's your strategy or philosophy heading into your first Indy 500 race?
PM: That's a great question! Until Sunday evening I never even allowed myself to look ahead to this point, so now I'm just really thinking about that for the first time. Everything beyond making the field is a bonus for me. I just want to get as many miles as possible - hopefully all the way to the end! I want to try and learn how to do some good clean pit-stops, and I need to try and avoid any big rookie mistakes. Most importantly of all however, I just want to do a good enough job so that all the team members at Conquest Racing are proud of me at the end of the race, whatever our result, and are proud to be associated with me. That's the next big goal for me.
Zachary Houghton runs www.indycaradvocate.com, which features regularly-updated INDYCAR, IZOD IndyCar Series, and Mazda Road to Indy interviews, commentary, and more. You can find him on Twitter at @indycaradvocate.