Darren Manning Q&A -- Countdown to Holland London, England (September 22, 2006) -- A week today and Circuit Park Zandvoort will be reverberating to the sound of 24 A1GP cars unleashing their 550bhp V8 engines in anger for the first time as the...
Darren Manning Q&A -- Countdown to Holland
London, England (September 22, 2006) -- A week today and Circuit Park Zandvoort will be reverberating to the sound of 24 A1GP cars unleashing their 550bhp V8 engines in anger for the first time as the famous Dutch track hosts the opening round of the 2006-07 season of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsport, Friday 29th September -- Sunday 1st October.
Yorkshire's Darren Manning has been called up to take the wheel of A1 Team Great Britain's entry for next Sunday's Sprint and Feature races following an impressive podium-scoring debut for the team back in April at the 2005-06 A1GP season finale in China.
Manning (31), a former test driver for the BAR-Honda Formula One team, is no stranger to the demands of international motorsport having enjoyed successful spells racing in the Far East and in North America, most recently in the Champ Car World Series and the Indy Racing League.
Taking time out before heading to Switzerland for a pre-Zandvoort fitness programme, Darren looked ahead to next weekend's season-opener and the challenge of leading A1 Team GBR into the second season of A1GP competition.
Q: Having scored a podium for A1 Team GBR on your debut, what are your expectations heading into next weekend's event at Zandvoort?
DM: "I'm going there with one goal and that's simply to win! That's my attitude for both the Sprint and Feature race and always has been. I've obviously had a bit more time in the car since debuting for A1 Team GBR in China last season and that translates to feeling even more comfortable and even more confident heading to Zandvoort, backed by the knowledge there's a good team in place to run the car."
Q: Were you surprised to be so competitive on your A1GP debut where other drivers, with similar backgrounds in Champ Car and the Indy Racing League, struggled to get up to speed initially?
DM: "I was a little bit surprised on one hand and not on the other! For sure A1GP's a difficult championship so I was pleased at the time to perform so well. I've driven similar cars and I pride myself on getting up to speed quickly no matter what I'm driving. I've been in that kind of situation before in my career where you're expected to jump in and perform, a good example being my Champ Car debut on the oval at Rockingham back in 2002. It's familiar to me to tackle that kind of challenge and I felt pretty confident going into China that I could do a good job for A1 Team GBR."
Q: Have you raced at Zandvoort before and what are the challenges you expect to face there in an A1GP car?
DM: "I've driven at Zandvoort a couple of times in Formula Three. I like the track, I've only raced on the short configuration but I've driven the longer version we'll use next weekend. It's a good track with one of the biggest challenges simply the fact that it's right on the beach which means it gets pretty sandy and conditions are very changeable. You tend to get a pretty close grid at Zandvoort with lap times all fairly similar and I'd expect the same in A1GP. There's a nice long straight where if you can get tucked in behind the car in front through the last turn you should be well placed for a passing move down the straight, especially in A1GP with the PowerBoost button at your disposal!"
Q: Given the testing limitations in A1GP, how successful was the pre-season test at Silverstone and which areas, if any, in particular do you feel need to be worked on?
DM: "It was a difficult test by virtue of the limited time we had to run, it was just a two-day test and we were running three drivers who all wanted to get as much seat time as possible to either get back up to speed or to learn the car. On top of that we had a new engineer and team structure in place so we were looking to ensure everything clicked from the off. I'm pleased to say the test was very successful in achieving those goals.
"I'm sure we weren't quite as fast as we'd liked to have been but we did end up fastest in the afternoon of the second day. You're always looking for that little bit of extra time from the car and I'm sure we'd have got that if we'd kept one driver in the car for a whole day but that was never part of the plan understandably. The fact that we worked on so many changes and got down to some competitive running bodes really well for the first race."
Q: You'll be joined in Holland by Oliver Jarvis who'll run the scheduled 'rookie' sessions. What will you be looking for Oliver to achieve in those sessions to assist you for the likes of qualifying and the races on Sunday?
DM: "Well there's one or two little set-up things that I know I'm always wanting from the car that I'll be looking for Oliver to try and work towards for me. That said I'm sure they'll be the same things he'd be looking for in his time with the car anyway. We've just got to make sure we get the basics of the car right and don't work too far away from a set-up that I like in the car so I don't have to start again when I get in! Hopefully that won't be the case and I'm sure he'll do a good job to everyone's advantage."
Q: With an accomplished background testing in F1 and racing in both Champ Car and the Indy Racing League, how does the playing field in A1GP compare to your previous racing experiences?
DM: "It's a much larger field put it that way!!! The front half of the grid is pretty much the same, there are always new guys and more experienced drivers doing similar jobs. When I came onto the scene I'd like to think that I was straight on the pace and challenging the experienced guys.
"You'll always get the young drivers coming up through the ranks and pushing people like myself and Jos Verstappen (A1 Team Holland). As it is in any championship the sharp end of the grid is extremely competitive! Obviously some of the more inexperienced guys and rookies you find further down the field but they can always pull some surprises and should never be discounted."
Q: What's the single biggest challenge of an A1GP weekend for a driver, is it getting to grips with the aggregate qualifying system or trying to steer clear of trouble in the Sprint race to get a clear run for the Feature?
DM: "I guess the biggest thing is that it's such a busy weekend. In other series you usually get more testing than qualifying and racing but in A1GP it seems like the other way round! I'm sure most of us are just used to one qualifying session and one race but an A1GP weekend hosts four qualifying sessions to set the grid and two races on the Sunday. It's more of a mental challenge to keep yourself psyched up and ready for everything that's going to be thrown at you when it counts."
Q: Eight different nations won races in the inaugural season of A1GP, how quickly do you think A1 Team GBR can pick up a win this season and do you see any one team being as dominant as A1 Team France was last year?
DM: "Well I'd love for A1 Team GBR to be as dominant as the French last season. Now that the series is in its second season I think it'll be a lot harder for one team to be so strong. France got off to a great start last year and managed to keep it going for most of the season before tailing off a little towards the end when some other nations caught up. Needless to say I'm hoping A1 Team GBR picks up its first win starting next weekend in Zandvoort and challenges for the World Championship from there."