Damon Sturrock has worked with multiple teams in North American open wheel racing since 2001, but this year sees him as the Lead Mechanic for HVM Racing's #78 Nuclear Energy car, piloted by Simona de Silvestro. Before that the Canadian spent all of 2010 as Crew Chief for Alex Lloyd's #19 car at Dale Coyne Racing. Today, he's the next participant in our Six Quick Questions, as he talks about the job, HVM's chances in 2011, working with Simona, and life as part of an IndyCar crew. Read on!
For a little background, how/when did you end up as the Lead Mechanic at HVM? What were your jobs before this one?
DS: This is my second time at HVM Racing. I first worked here during the 2008 season with E.J. Viso. I returned at the beginning of this year to work with Simona de Silvestro. Last year (2010 season), I was the crew chief on Alex Lloyd’s car at Dale Coyne Racing. Living in Indianapolis and working in Chicago is very tough. I'd work in Chicago during the week and come home on weekends, but during racing season that can be hard to do. I really enjoyed myself the last time I worked at HVM Racing. So when a position opened up, I jumped at the opportunity to work with Simona while being able to stay home in Indy!
DS: The month of May is pretty special. This year will be even more, I think. There is an incredible amount of work that goes into preparing for Indy. It's by far the biggest race all year, and along with that comes an amazing amount of pressure. Doing well at Indy can determine how the rest of your season goes. Working 14-hour days for three weeks in a row is taxing on anyone, but being quick on the track at the beginning of the month makes it a little easier. When you’re slow and trying it find speed, you work harder and longer, which is majorly stressful! I was on Ryan Hunter-Reay's car in 2009 when we barely made the show by being the last qualifier! It was possibly one of the worst experiences of my life because I couldn't imagine working that hard all month and not racing. It would be crushing. Race day though, is an amazing experience! It's long but incredible. We have to be at the track at 5 a.m. in order to do a bunch of last minute checks, go through all the race-morning traditions and then head out to grid. The grid is awesome! All the people and pre-race excitement is a huge rush, and helps you get pumped for pit stops during the race. After all… it IS the Indy 500!
You had to know we were going to ask: What’s Simona de Silvestro been like to work with thus far?
DS: Simona – or Sim as we call her – has been great. She is truly a pleasure to have around because she’s always in a great mood and smiling. She comes by the shop quite regularly to see what's going on and usually lifts everyone’s spirits! Simona is very positive, super dedicated and LOVES driving the race car. I think it going to be a fun year!
HVM arranged for testing this winter at Texas, something I understand the team hasn’t done a lot of on ovals for a few years. How’d it go, and how do you see your team’s oval program shaping up for 2011?
DS: I think the oval program this year is definitely going to be better than it has been in the past. Getting a chance to test in Texas was huge for the team. We learned a bunch of things and found some more speed, which can be hard to do with the little track time we see on race weekends. Sometimes you only get an hour of practice before qualifying so you need to have you stuff together. Hopefully we are a little better prepared now!
Cars crash. How hard is it as a crew member to see something you worked so hard on be destroyed, and how do you deal with that?
DS: Well... it happens. It's tough to see the car that you spent countless hours working be smashed to a millions pieces but it’s the reality of racing sometimes. The thing is that the cars are built to break apart in a crash to help save the driver. So after a big wreck, your first concern goes to whether or not the driver is okay. I worked on some cars that have been in huge wrecks. It's never fun but thankfully – for the most part – they have all recovered. You can’t ever really get upset with the driver unless they were just being careless. Let’s be honest – we are asking them to go out there and drive at 240 mph. Almost out of control. It’s our job as the crew to give them a car that doesn't let them down, and they usually bring it home.
What aspect or element of competition in the IZOD IndyCar Series do you think fans sometimes fail to see or understand?
DS: I think I’d have to say the off-season. One of the most frequent questions we get asked is, “So what do you do in the offseason?” Some of the fans think that when we’re not on track, we just get to go home and relax. In reality, there’s almost as much to be done in the off-season. From fixing parts that got wrecked on the track to shop improvements to testing – our work is never done. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.