Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Edmonton Indy With Stefan Rzadzinski

Well, if you're going to preview a race, why not go right to a local source?

That's why we've got Edmonton native and Star Mazda Series driver Stefan Rzadzinski on hand to help preview this weekend's Edmonton Indy action, and also talk a bit about what he has going as he works his way through the Mazda Road to Indy. "Razzle-Dazzle" has been doing some cool initiatives in terms of sponsorship, and I can't think of anyone better to walk us through not only a bit about Edmonton Indy, but also the story of a racer working hard to be a part of INDYCAR.

Stef, let's discuss this course layout. Can you take us through it from a racer's point of view?

SR: I'm lucky enough to be the only Star Mazda driver who's driven the Edmonton circuit, so I guess it's time to spill all the beans!

Based on the limited street/airport racing I've had, I would say the City Centre Airport circuit in Edmonton is a combination of Toronto and St. Pete.

Turn 1 you have a bit of a bumpy braking zone on the airport runway, similar to Turn 1 in St. Pete. However, as you enter the corner, the new asphalt from 2011 is very smooth and this should give cars good grip post-braking zone. Great passing zone here!

You go down another long straightaway with a few small kinks all the way to Turn 5, which is a very tight hairpin. It's another really good passing zone but getting on power and out of the corner is crucial here. Minimum speeds are lower here than anywhere we've been all season.

Following that, you get a nice flowing section of racetrack from turns 6-9 which I enjoy very much. I think this section is my favourite on the entire course because of the medium speed corners where you're really just balancing the car.

Turns 10 and 11 require more balance as there are some really big bumps that can upset the car. Watch out for drivers pushing a bit too hard and losing the rear end, very easy to do especially before the track grips up.

Turn 12 is another corner where you're setting up for a big straightaway and the last passing zone of the racetrack, Turn 13. It's a section where you need a good exit if you hope to make or defend from a pass, especially on the last lap!

Turn 13 is the final corner on the racetrack, an extremely tight left-hand hairpin which is even slower than Turn 5. If two cars are coming side by side out of this corner, expect to see a drag race to the line!

Does this track favor any particular driving style? What will be the keys to a successful run here?

SR: I think this track needs a good balance of patience and precision for a quick lap. Due to the long straightaways, getting onto power and maximizing speed on the straights means you cannot be too overzealous on a lot of the corner entry's.

However, in race trim, the slow corners and long straightaways can create a lot of passing zones. So if you can run with a controlled aggression, there are plenty of places to make passes happen.

How about Edmonton Indy? What does it mean for Edmonton and Alberta to have this race here? (I ask because you're the hometown hero for this race!)

SR: I'm biased, but I think it is the best race event of the year for IndyCar. Even though Edmonton is a bit "off the grid" for most people, the event has drawn so much attention in and around the area since its inception. For those who haven't been, here are a few things to expect: great track sight-lines, lots of people, and a big party. The event is still new to a lot of people in Edmonton and I'm sure we'll continue to see it grow in the years to come, but it has to be one of the best attended events Friday-Sunday on the entire IndyCar schedule.

What do you love about Edmonton and Alberta? What makes it a great place?

SR: I love the Edmonton and Alberta mentality. Edmonton is a "small" city that can do really big things, and I think we prove it year after year here during the Edmonton Indy. The metropolitan area of Edmonton is about 1 million people, so there's still plenty of people and business, but it's not a city where you ever feel cramped or overwhelmed. I like that balance. Plus, we're really big on festivals and events which is always a lot of fun.

I think Alberta in general (3 million people in total) holds true to that. We're really not that "big", but our province does things on a very high level from fun events to business. See the Calgary Stampede and Edmonton Indy for just two examples. I could go on for a while, but you should just come and check it out for yourself.

Keeping with the Canadian theme: can we talk about Paul Tracy for a minute? He's been helping you now and again, right?

SR: It's been great to have that support from Paul from time to time. Things have changed a lot since Paul moved up through the ranks, but my current engineer, Burke Harrison, was his engineer when they won the 1990 Indy Lights Championship! It's cool to have a bit of a connection there and learn from both of them.

There are so many new things I'm experiencing this season so it doesn't hurt to have somebody with a ton of experience, like Paul, to turn to when I need advice.

Rzadzinski: Powered By Alberta.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
You've done something pretty cool in terms of working sponsorship--the Powered by Alberta initiative. Can you walk us through that?

SR: The Powered by Alberta initiative was an idea of mine to try and raise excitement about my racing program, my province, and the Edmonton Indy. I initially took this idea to a number of Alberta businesses and supporters who bought into the "Powered by Alberta Businesses" concept. I think a lot of my partners saw the potential in the program and bought into the theme of a unified group of Albertans taking on the best in the world. I'm very proud to be running for them and am very thankful that they believe in my venture!

I'm currently running without a title sponsor, but over 20 Alberta businesses have come on board in some way to help me compete this season. Therefore, naturally, the car is "Powered by Alberta Businesses". The Star Mazda series is a perfect starting point for this program because of the Mazda Road to Indy tie-in and I'd like to think we'll be seeing a lot more of my "Powered by Alberta" car in years to come.

I've also launched a "Powered by Alberta Pit Crew" where Albertans can come and be a part of my team in a small way. We're doing some fun membership events and online material with that. But I can't give all of my secrets away, can I? :)

To sum it all up, things can get very busy but I can't complain if I get to stay in a race car!

How do you feel this season is progressing for you in Star Mazda?

SR: This season in Star Mazda has been a huge learning curve for me, but the JDC Motorsports crew is definitely helping me "grow up" as a driver and I can't thank them enough.

I would compare it to a puzzle...the pieces are there (I'd like to think so, at least), but I'm still continuously trying to wrap my head around it and put it all together. Every race weekend and test day we've had there has been tremendous progress, so I'm very much looking forward to my hometown race. After being in the fight for a top 5 in Toronto before a mistake, my confidence and excitement are at a season-high and I'm definitely looking forward to having my best showing of the season.

What would good result at Edmonton mean for you?

SR: A good result in Edmonton would mean the world to me as well as everyone that's helped me get this far. I know I'm just a rookie so I have to be reasonable, but I'm extremely excited about racing at home. It was only a couple of years ago that I was just a kid racing local go-karts dreaming about racing on this circuit. I'm blessed to be back for my second Edmonton Indy and hope there are many more successful events to come.

Are you expecting a lot of support from friends and family in the crowd this weekend?

SR: I'm really looking forward to experiencing that again this year. Last year was very special and unique to have all of my friends and family around the event. Almost all of the races I go to myself, so I hardly interact with anyone I know. It's a cool feeling to see familiar faces everywhere while doing "your" thing for a weekend at home. Motorsports is something that can seem so distant for people here 11 months and 3 weeks of the year because of the lack of high profile race events in the area, but everyone really gets behind it during Indy time. I'm just happy I can represent them, give them a taste of what I do, and hope they keep rooting for me!

Rzad also raced Lights at Edmonton in his '11 debut.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
What about maturity in race car drivers? It's pretty clear that some drivers have a certain amount of poise and maturity, while others come into that late (or not at all). Despite your relatively young age, you seem to be a driver who has a handle on that. Is that something learned, or just a personality thing?

SR: I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that racing drivers, many of them very young, recognize that there is no time to "waste" in the early years. Especially in this day and age when it's also about marketing, branding, etc. it's difficult to show yourself on a professional ladder system without having your head wrapped around those things.

Personally, I knew from a young age that my parents were never going to be able to fund my motorsports. However, I was determined to make it in racing, so I had to find a way. I started looking for sponsorship when I was 14 years old, and by the time I was 16, I managed to get a few supporters of my early programs. Now, at 19, I've developed some of those skills such as meeting people, sharing my story/goals/aspirations, doing business deals, etc. things have really moved along for me. I know that through these years of "grinding it out" in hopes of making it in motorsports, I've grown up a lot in every aspect of life. There has definitely been invaluable training in this, and I wouldn't have it any other way (except it makes me feel like an old man sometimes).

As the old saying goes, "if it was easy, everyone would do it". I know that I may potentially face some extra challenges, but I will always do my best to work through them whatever they may be. This quote was something that inspired me years ago, and it still means a lot to me today:

"It is impossible to win the race unless you venture to run, impossible to win the victory unless you dare to battle." -Richard M. DeVos

Let's talk about progression and the Mazda Road to Indy. How would you like your progression to go over the next few years, and what sort of attitude do you take towards gauging where you are?

SR: I'd love to come back and compete in the Star Mazda Championship in 2013. Even with a limited schedule, I feel like I'm just finding my groove in the car and I'm sure I will keep making progress throughout the year if I can stay in a car. I would love to be able to compete a full season and then move on to Indy Lights, and eventually, IndyCar.

At this point, I'm just trying to establish that I'm a driver than can compete at this level and I'm learning a ton of things in the process. In saying that, I don't think about "where I'm at" too much as you just have to make the most of every situation. I think I'm realistic in saying that I could use another year of Star Mazda to keep developing my skills, but I'd love to be able to move up through the ladder with success in the near future.

What's the rest of this year's racing schedule look like for you?

SR: At this point, it's all up in the air. I hope to be back in the car soon and who knows what I'll be able to put together. Talk to me after the Edmonton Indy weekend and I'll have a better idea!


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