Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Six Quick Questions With Patrick McKenna

As this past weekend showed, the 2011 Star Mazda field is stacked with talent. Of that talent, one of the newcomers is Irish racer Patrick McKenna. He’s a 23 year-old rookie who finished as runner-up in USF2000 last year, managing a pair of victories along the way. He finished 4th in his Star Mazda debut for Team GDT at St. Petersburg. Before St. Pete, however, Patrick took some time to answer Six Quick Questions, where he talks about moving up through the ranks of the Mazda Road to Indy, the racing scene in Ireland, and much more!

Patrick, thanks for the opportunity to chat with you. You're coming from USF2000 to the next rung in the Mazda Road to Indy in Star Mazda. From a driver's standpoint, how much of a transition is it to this new platform?

PM: From my own prospective the move from a USF2000 car to a Star Mazda has been a pretty natural transition. When Dan Andersen gave me the opportunity to test one of his Star Mazda cars for coming 2nd in USF2000 last season, I felt at home straight away in the Mazda. Its certainly not too big of a step but just a progression in terms of horsepower and Mechanical and Aero grip. The Star Mazda is a very nice car to drive in terms of the power to grip ratio.

How did you end up racing in America? What's been your career progression up to this point?

PM: My decision to race in the US was based mainly on the announcement of the Road to Indy ladder at the end of 2009. Also my friend Peter Dempsey who had a lot of success in his time in Star Mazda had sold me on the benifits of racing this side of the Atlantic. With Mazda's support of the open wheel ladder in North America I felt the US was the best place for me to try and progress my career and the rejuvenation of the USF2000 series in 2010 was the right move for me at the time. I have not looked back since. Previous to 2010 my career started in Karting from 1999 through 2006 in Ireland and the UK. I then competed in FF1600 in Ireland and the major races in the UK in 2007 and 2008 before competing in the British Formula Ford National Championship in 2009.

McKenna: Solid Star Mazda debut
We hear now and gain about the Irish racing scene with such drivers as Adam Carroll in IndyCar last year, as well as Lights driver Niall Quinn. How are the racing opportunities for drivers over there right now?

PM: The Formula car racing scene in Ireland has suffered a bit of a recession in recent times and the grid numbers are not what they used to be. Rallying is certainly the most popular form of motorsport in Ireland. However, the governing body Motorsport Ireland do a great job in trying to help out young drivers who want to progress there career and race internationally. I have been fortunate to recieve scholarships associated with winning the Dunlop Motorpsort Ireland Young Racing Driver of the Year award for the past two years. This has been a big help in getting me to this stage of my career and I am extremely grateful for their support.

You showed some definite speed at the test at Barber in mid-March. What sort of goals have you set for yourself as far as performance this year?

PM: Yes, the Barber tests were positive for us considering we had done a lot less testing than some of our competitors. The team have given me a great opportunity, We have gelled from the start and I feel we can definitely be competitive throughout the season. For sure there are a lot of very quick drivers in Star Mazda this year as well as a lot of good teams. I have no doubt that it will be a very competitive season but the goal would be to start off with some strong results and build from that as the season goes on.

What's a weird racing quirk or superstition you have?

PM: I have tried to get rid of superstitions throughout my years of racing but I guess its something very common among drivers. One I had from my time karting was never to think of any possible post race celebrations before you've actually raced!! Or as the saying goes, "don't count your chickens before they've hatched".

Do you feel the Mazda Road to Indy is a viable ladder to take you to the top of American Open Wheel racing?

PM: I think the announcement of the Mazda Road to Indy this year was certainly another big step in the right direction for open wheel racing. It's a well-structered and supported ladder system unrivalled anywhere else in the world. The scholarship for the Lights winner to IndyCar is also another big benifit of the ladder and further proves Mazda and INDYCAR's intentions of helping young drivers progress to IndyCar. However, as we know it costs a lot of money run at the top levels of racing and drivers still need to take budget with them before they get established. It's the nature of racing these days, but hopefully it will continue to change for the better and there will be more opportunities for up and coming drivers in open wheel racing.

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