Pippa Mann is one of my favorite Indy Lights drivers, and one I hope will soon be making the jump to IndyCar. This year, she became the second woman ever to win an Indy Lights race (at Kentucky) while driving the wheels off her car--especially in the second half of the season. She was kind enough to answer six questions about her career, her season in review, and her expectations for the future.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a race car driver?
PM: I first realised I wanted to be a race car driver during my first full season of driving karts at the age of 13. I think my family thought it was just infatuation with a new hobby, and that it would pass...! Needless to say, it never did! The interesting thing about my story is that before I first ever drove a kart, just a few months earlier, it never even crossed my mind. I knew I liked watching racing. I knew I liked cars, and going fast in cars. But in Europe there were almost no female drivers at all, and the idea that I could or would drive a race car never even entered my head. Then one day I got into an indoor kart at a little track near my home. I progressed from there to racing in Italy and qualifying to race in the World Championships at a senior level against all the paid professional drivers in just over five years!
Outside of Indy itself, what’s your favorite track on the current Indy Lights circuit, and why?
PM: I think Sonoma is probably my favourite track on the schedule for 2011 outside of Indy. It's a fast, flowing road course that rewards being able to really dial the car into it with a smooth driving style. It's actually very European in many ways, and very reminiscent of the tracks I grew up racing on.
Your first win at Kentucky had to be pretty special. When did it sink in that you had won, and is there any way to describe the feeling that accompanied it?
PM: I actually don't think it really sank in until after the race in Homestead, where we didn't win that one! I had been trying to go for two out of two, and was fairly confident we could achieve it, but we just went a touch too conservative in the race expecting the track condition to be much more slippery than it was. I think that's when it sunk in just how well we as a whole team on the #11 car had done everything at Kentucky! Most people describe winning as "elation", but for me it was a much quieter emotion. Yes, I was extremely pleased, and suffering slightly from disbelief that when we had won, we had won by that much. I think I was also suffering from disbelief that nothing outside of my control had gone catastrophically wrong in the last few laps, so we really had won! But I think the main emotion, was actually satisfaction. I knew that with this team, the crew of guys on my car, my engineer, this year we could and would win a race or two. In Chicagoland we came so close, then in Kentucky we brought it home. I knew and believed that, but I don't know how many other people truly believed that. So being able to show case to people what we could do when we got it right, what I am capable of as a driver when we get it right, that just bought an amazing sense of quiet satisfaction. Also I think also pride - I was so proud of my guys for what they achieved that weekend too. They deserved that win just as much, if not even more than I did!
Most of us have never been in an accident in any sort of vehicle traveling the velocity of IndyCars or Indy Lights. What goes through your head in an accident like the one you had at Indy this year? Does time seem to slow down, or is it over in a flash?
PM: Accidents in racing cars nearly always seem to happen in slow motion. You see it coming, and you're doing everything you can to avoid it happening, but often in real time, there just isn't enough time to get the car saved, or get out of the way! After you hit the wall everything seems to speed back up to real time though, and then it's over pretty quickly!
If you weren’t going to be a race car driver or in racing, what other profession could you see yourself pursuing?
PM: That's a really interesting question! I think since I discovered racing, I would have struggled to be involved in a profession that wasn't centered around racing. I have always enjoyed writing, and I've never enjoyed being in a confined office space from nine until five on a regular basis, so I guess I would have tried to go into either the journalism or PR side of the sport - something that kept me close and involved in racing, even if I wasn't behind the wheel of a car!
What are your goals for next year? Anything coming together for a peek at the IZOD IndyCar series or the 500?
PM: My goal next year is to be racing in the IZOD Indycar series! We have some good things on the table right now, so I'm just crossing my fingers, continuing to work hard, and hoping one of them turns into reality. I would love to be able to do a full season, but if that's not possible, we're already working on various contingencies to run a partial season instead. There's obviously the option of trying to run an oval program, or even run just enough races to get some experience and keep my rookie status for 2012. I would say as of right now there's a high percentage chance I'll be out there, and I'm extremely excited by the opportunities which seem to be unfolding!