Monday, January 14, 2013

Ready To Race: Interview With Stefan Rzadzinki

We've chatted with everyone's favorite Son of Edmonton before, but now Canadian driver Stefan Rzadzinski is preparing for a full season of racing in USF2000. It's been an up and down ride for young prospect on the Mazda Road to Indy, but he'll be entering into what should be a very solid situation as he teams with driver Michael Johnson and JDC motorsports in a full-time gig.

We asked "Razzle Dazzle" about the upcoming season, the recent Mazda Road to Indy changes, his thoughts on the cancellation of Edmonton Indy, what it means to be a part of the legacy of Canadian drivers, and much more:

Stef, thanks so much for your time. How long has your deal with JDC Motorsports for USF2000 been in the works?

Rzad: Since the end of last season, my goal has been to put something together with JDC Motorsports for the 2013 season. Although initially we were working towards a full season in Pro Mazda, a good opportunity came up in the last few months with their USF2000 program. With the loss of the Edmonton Indy, it was a bit more difficult to put some of the budgets together. However, my supporters CanTorque, Christenson Developments, Goldmark Diesel and Calroc Equipment really stepped up early and helped ensure I had a full-season program this coming year. I'm very excited to get in the car and get the season going with JDC Motorsports!

So, the big question: what does this move to USF2000 bring to you in terms of a career move?

Rzad: I'm really excited about this opportunity in the USF2000 Championship as it finally brings me some stability for the first time on the Mazda Road to Indy. I've learned quite a bit over the last couple of seasons, but I was always after a full-season program. In a way, this might even be seen as an opportunity to really see the true "start" of my path on the Road to Indy.

We've seen some big car counts in USF2000. Is that going to be a change from some of your previous experiences on the Mazda Road to Indy?

Rzad: It will be a bit different from the other series', but it is also the same for everyone in USF2000. In the end, we have to focus on our program to be successful.

Pro Mazda (formerly Star Mazda) certainly had an interesting offseason. Do you some positive changes coming with Dan Andersen now at the helm of that series?

Rzad: Looking at what Dan Andersen has done with the USF2000 Championship, it's hard not to get excited about him getting involved with Pro Mazda. I'm excited to be a part of their program this year in USF2000, and hopefully I'll be back in a Pro Mazda car shortly as well!

Rzad being interviewed at 2012's Edmonton Indy
Have you had much of a chance to see your new teammate Michael Johnson race yet?

Rzad: He was up skiing in my part of Canada just a few days ago, but I didn't get a chance to catch up with him. However, I raced with Michael in Skip Barber in 2011 and we developed a good relationship there. Both being with JDC Motorsports in 2012, we also shared the same events on a number of occasions. We both get along well and I expect to have a solid season with him as my teammate in 2013!

Can you talk a little bit about your sponsorship program? I know you've worked hard on putting together a package in conjunction with your Powered By Alberta program?

My sponsorship program for this season has really come out of the Powered by Alberta program I started last year. Initially, it was about getting support from Alberta businesses to have a local driver in the Edmonton Indy, as well as across the continent.

This year has been a continuation of that, but we've really had a few of my partners from last year step up and make it happen individually. CanTorque and Christenson Developments have significantly stepped up their support and are the main reason I could commit to the JDC Motorsports team. We're still looking to add more partners to our program though, and hope to announce more partnerships in the coming months!

Since we're talking about Alberta, how have things been in Edmonton since the Edmonton Indy was cancelled for 2013?

Rzad: Initially, I think the cancellation of the Edmonton Indy was a shock to everyone, including myself. It took a little while for people to start to come around and talk racing again, but I'm very glad some people have seen it as an opportunity to use my program to keep Edmonton and Alberta in the IndyCar circles.

Obviously, it did not help with some of the local supporters who were using that event as their sole activation point. However, we are working on things to stay involved and active locally, even without the Edmonton Indy! In saying that, I'd love to see the event come back sometime very soon.

So what's on the schedule now as you prepare for the race season?

Rzad: Right now I'm in the JDC Motorsports shop in Minneapolis with the team for a few days while we prep for pre-season testing. After that, we'll be heading to the track and doing the USF2000 Winterfest at the beginning of February before the season kicks off.

We've talked before about the special legacy of Canadian drivers in open wheel racing. How much does that stick with you on a day-to-day basis?

Rzad: It's hard not to look past it because there has been so much success from Canadian drivers in motorsports, specifically in open wheel. Looking back at guys like Greg Moore, Paul Tracy, Gilles and Jacques Villeneuve, you see drivers who have left a big imprint on the racing world.

Even in IndyCar at the moment, Alex Tagliani is a veteran who has been successful and stuck around for many years, while James Hinchcliffe is on the rise. I think there's a special sense of pride in being Canadian in motorsports, maybe it's because our racing season can be so short! I know in many cases Canadian drivers travel south quite often nowadays, but I grew up karting between May and September for many years.

After your first race this year, you will have raced in events including Pro (Star) Mazda, Firestone Indy Lights, and now USF2000. Do you feel like you'd be able to jump back up to Lights without much of a disruption?

Rzad: It's pretty cool to have an opportunity to sample every part of the Mazda Road to Indy ladder, even if it means I've been a bit of a nomad! Overall, I think it has helped me in my career. Even though I probably jumped head first into the fire with my Indy Lights debut, I believe it allowed me to adjust to the Pro Mazda in a shorter period of time. I'm hoping that my experience with the Pro Mazda will also assist in adjusting into an USF2000 car fairly quickly!

I do think I've learned a lot since the first time in an Indy Lights car, so I am confident I could go there and get back into a flow fairly quickly and be much more proficient. If the last few years have taught me anything, it's to be adaptable to whatever challenges I'm confronted with.

I think the story of my career thus far has mostly been opening doors and trying to make the most of my opportunities. For 2013, I'm excited to finally have a full program in place where I'm confident I will be able to develop the most as a driver.

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