Fresh off a season where he finished as runner-up in the highly competitive Star Mazda Championship, Connor De Phillippi sat down with INDYCAR Nation for a review of his season, plans for the future, sponsorship searches, and plenty of thoughts and observations on racing on the Mazda Road to Indy. Read on!
Connor, thanks for your time. You finished P2 in the overall standings in Star Mazda this year, racking up 4 victories overall. What letter grade would you give yourself for the season?
CDP: Thank you for having me! Yes, we came up one place short of where we would have liked to, and to be honest we let a few wins get away from us. In that respect, the Team Pelfrey guys worked extremely hard all year and we fought hard all the way through the year. Overall, I would give a B+ grade for the season. I performed pretty well throughout the season, but most definitely made a few mistakes that put us in a tough hole to dig out of. As a whole, we missed the race set up a few times which cost us points, but we learned each time we hit the track and that was my favorite part about being a part of Team Pelfrey.
Looking back on 2011, is there a moment or a race you’d like to have back?
CDP: Looking back, I would have to take the Barber race back and do things differently. In the race, we had speed well capable of battling for the win and when I was passing for 3rd place, I put myself in a risky position very early in the race. If I would have waited one more lap and tried the pass again, we would have left there with at least a second place finish, if not the win. That weekend was a big test for us as a team because we had struggled there quite a bit, but it was that one decision in the race that I would take back if I could. The poor Barber finish really set the tone for the rest of the season.
Which of your fellow Star Mazda drivers impressed you the most this year?
CDP: To be honest, my teammate Nick Andries impressed me the most by a mile! We worked really hard together in the pre-season and when it came time to hit the track in St.Pete, he was well in contention for the win. Every race weekend, he was right in the thick of things and the amount he improved from 2010 to 2011 was incredible! Not only did he improve on the track the entire year, but he improved off the track just as much. We worked extremely well together in the engineering room, which played a very large role in being successful all season, and it was a pleasure to be able to work with someone that was willing to put in just as much effort as I was.
If you had to name the biggest lesson learned from this past year of driving, what would it be?
CDP: My biggest lesson learned was how to manage a race well. It was very important in our series because it was very easy to over drive the car and fade in the final minutes of the race. I felt the race was always my strength throughout the season and it was something that my team helped me really fine tune and develop in pre-season testing. Also, at the end of the year I finally started to get my qualifying strategy down a bit better, which I feel I struggled with the first half of the season.
How are things shaping up for 2012? Do you think you’ll be moving up the ladder, or will your focus be on winning a Star Mazda Championship in 2012?
CDP: Hopefully within the next few weeks I will have a much better idea of how things will look for 2012. My goal is to move up to Indy Lights next year and I know I am ready to take on the new challenge. In a way, I do feel like there is unfinished business in the Star Mazda series, but I'm working hard on obtaining the proper partnerships, so if the opportunity is presented to me to move up, then I will most definitely take full advantage of that and in the right car, I feel I can compete right away for the 2012 Indy Lights championship.
OK, I’m a driver on the Mazda Road to Indy, and I’m looking to secure sponsorship for a ride. What are the three biggest qualities I can possess in order to make that happen?
CDP: To be honest, there is no magic solution to this.... And if you know one please let me know!!! HAHA! It’s a ton of hard work each and every day, and it truly pushes you to your limits when it comes to how dedicated you are to motorsports. If I had to pick three, they would be: Dedication, Persistence and Creativity. I wanted to put luck in place of creativity but I've found that as long as you keep working hard, come up with creative partnership ideas and show how bad you really want to succeed, things are bound to come around to give you that opportunity. Now the tricky part is to be ready for when that one, two, or more big opportunities present themselves to take full advantage of them!
Let’s say you’ve GOT to win a race on one track in Star Mazda equipment. Which one do you absolutely, positively choose?
CDP: Getting the win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca this year was huge! It was essentially my home race and I really wanted very badly to bring home the win, not only for myself but for the team and me to end the season on a high note. If I were to pick one track to have to win at, that would have to be Mosport. It is pretty much tied with Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca as my favorite track and I came up short of the win in both 2010 and 2011 at Mosport. The track is very fast and takes a lot of cojones to be able to squeeze that last little bit of time out of the car. There is no feeling comparable to going flat out through turns 1 and 2 on a qualifying lap!
What’s your offseason like? What does a routine week for you consist of?
CDP: Off season weeks are very repetitious and can be long at times, but I just remind myself that no one will work as hard as I do for myself, so I need to keep giving it my 110% effort, each and every day. Pretty much every Monday-Friday, I work out and or go for a bike ride in the morning, and then from about 10am to 5pm I am behind my desk making calls and typing emails to potential partners for the 2012 season. Throw in a few meetings here and there, and that is pretty much what it all boils down to. I will be the first to admit it gets frustrating at times, especially when you hear quite a few “no’s” from companies that just aren’t in the position to partner as of yet. HOWEVER, when that “YES!” finally comes, it makes all those “no's” worthwhile!
Hypothetical Question: Right now, some offers to fully fund you for a year of NASCAR’s Nationwide Series, or a year in the IZOD IndyCar Series, including a year or so in the ladder to prepare. Honestly, which would you take?
CDP: The IZOD IndyCar Series - no question in my mind! I have my goals set and I'm going to work hard to get to the pinnacle of U.S. open wheel motorsports. When I was making my transition to cars from karts, I made my decision and I promised myself I would commit to that goal until I reached the top. I want to represent the USA and I want to compete against the best well-rounded and diverse drivers there are. The IZOD IndyCar series has so much potential; the series is growing very well in my opinion and I will do anything to continue growing with a series that is so dedicated to helping young drivers like me reach the very top.
Finish this sentence. Next time we catch up with you…
CDP: …We'll hopefully be going over questions about my expectations for 2012 and how pre-season testing is going in Indy Lights!!!
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.