Monday, March 21, 2011

Six Quick Questions With Nick Mancuso

The IZOD IndyCar Series kicks off this week , but we don't want to forget it's also the opening week for Firestone Indy Lights and the Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear. While our favorite top open wheel series is firing up, the top prospects and champions of tomorrow are doing the same in the immediate lower rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy.

INDYCAR Nation members can check out my article on Star Mazda (free to register, if you haven't already!), but in the meantime, here's the latest edition of Six Quick Questions. We interviewed Star Mazda Nick Mancuso, an American driving prospect who looks to make an impact in the series this year as a transfer from the sports car ranks. He was impressive at last week's spring training at Barber Motorsports Park, and should be fun to watch as he contests the 2011 campaign with two-time Star Mazda champions JDC Motorsports. You'll want to read about his transition to the open wheel ranks, as well as his...unique off-the-track pursuits!

Thanks for your time, Nick. You're joining a team in JDC Motorsports that's a two-time series champion. How did this deal come about, and what do you project as your goals for this campaign?

Mancuso: Open Wheel Transition
NM: No problem, I love talking about myself!! JDC Motorsports is a top notch operation with the winning record to prove it and I feel very lucky to be with them. I have been bugging John Church for years to put me in a car and during this off-season I was given a chance by the INDECK Group of Companies to do a test. After some encouraging testing results we decided to start the year off with a partial season and see how it goes. I think I have to be realistic with my goals this year. Being a racecar driver I am inherently self-confident, but I also realize that I barely have any seat time in these cars and I am really jumping in to the deep end of a very talented Star Mazda grid. On the other hand this is the big break that all drivers dream of so I want to make the best of it! If I could challenge for a top-5 finish after a few races and get on the podium by the end of the year I would pat myself on the back.

You just finished testing at Barber Motorsports Park. How did you feel the test went, and what sort of feedback do teams look for from these tests?

NM: The test was great. It was also a bit frustrating as I was typically just barely inside the top ten and sometimes outside of it. Every additional lap I do in one of these cars I learn something and improve. I believe my fastest lap was one of my last laps in every session while some of the other drivers peaked a bit earlier, so I hope to sneak up on people as the race weekends progress. Even I was a bit surprised when I was P3 in the wet during the second day, but I still need to build up my confidence with the car in the dry. All of the JDC cars rolled out of the truck with a pretty good setup but we had very long sessions so we used them to our advantage to make many changes to the cars and see how they reacted.

As I am so new to the cars I typically try to leave the car as is for the initial runs until I can really feel what is going on and what I need to go faster. The team looks for feedback on how the changes affected the balance of the car and how it changes throughout the run. It was interesting to see how reactive the car was to the IndyCar rubber on the track and the changes in ambient temperature. This is all great knowledge to pull from when we come back to Barber in a few weeks.

There's definitely a slew of young talent in Star Mazda this year. Where do you feel the odds lie right now for young drivers wanting to move up the ladder of the Mazda Road To Indy?

NM: Yes, I am very surprised at just how quick these Star Mazda drivers are. Especially my teammate Tristian Vautier, he is one fast Frenchman! It's truly incredible what Mazda is able to do in motorsports given the size of the company and the Mazda Road to Indy reflects their commitment to helping young drivers. If you are a driver out there looking to "make it" in open wheel racing there is nothing better that you can do than aligning yourself with the Mazda Road to Indy. Whether it is at the karting level or you are jumping into the middle of the ladder like I am, just being part of the system is a really unique opportunity.

You're coming over from a sports car background. Why the change, and what challenges does the transition offer?

NM: My racing background is a bit varied as I have never run the same series twice in a row. The Star Mazda car is definitely a big change as I am used to driving something that is three times heavier! I love sports cars and would definitely like the opportunity to run at Sebring, Daytona, LeMans, etc, but there is also a limited window to drive open wheel cars. At 24 years of age I never really feel old until I am gridded next to a 16 year old! I never want to live with any regrets and I would be disappointed if I never fully pursued my dream of driving in IndyCar. The transition is a bit tough and it is taking me longer to adapt than I thought it would, but it is a fascinating challenge. I need to get used to the downforce of the car and just how quick it is to react. Once I build up my confidence in the high speed corners I think I will be right there.

Nick's, er, "lively" off-track pursuits.
I understand you have a somewhat unusual hobby. Care to tell us about it?

NM: Haha which one? My friends have always thought I was a bit crazy as I skydive, spearfish, and practice Krav Maga, but I believe what you are referring to is my fascination with reptiles. It started out when I was a kid and I caught a snake that my mom let me keep. I became very intrigued with reptiles and all of the misconceptions about them. I began taking classes at a local nature center and then eventually started teaching there. I have kept and bred snakes at home since I was about 7 years old (my collection was over 40 snakes at one point!) and also started catching and photographing them in the wild. My interest has taken me on trips all over the world now: I have caught crocodiles in Australia, vipers in Costa Rica, and anacondas in Ecuador to name a few. It's just like the racing in that the more you know about it the less crazy it seems!

Where would you like to see yourself in racing, ideally or realistically, one year from this date?

NM: Ideally: Star Mazda Champion. Realistically I'd like to have been a front runner in the Star Mazda races towards the end of the season when I figure the cars out. I'd like to be either returning to Star Mazda to fight for the 2012 championship or graduating up the Mazda Road to Indy to Indy Lights.

4 comments:

  1. Nick Mancuso is someone to look up to. This interview just proves how awesome and talented he is. I'm excited to see his races in the future.

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  2. I so agree with you, Boyd. He's one of the very few topnotch racers who has an attractive personality to back up his performance on the speedway.

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  3. My only hope is that they do not commercialize Mancuso too much. I have no hate for Tiger Woods and other decorated athletes, but Mancuso should stay where he belongs and where fans want him to see.

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  4. Nick Mancuso is a real star. He is talented but humble. These traits make him a star.

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