23 year-old Renault Development Driver Heikki Kovalainen won his first international title last weekend in Valencia, becoming the new World Series by Nissan champion.
Q: Heikki, you have just won your first International title, two days before your 23rd birthday. How does it feel?
Heikki Kovalainen: It feels nice! I am progressing constantly since I started my career: I was 4th in the Formula Renault in 2001, then 3rd in British Formula 3 in 2002, then 2nd in the World Series by Nissan last year. Before this season started, my goal was to win the title and everyone expected me to. The first race was very difficult, but after that, my team and I did an incredible job to turn things around and finally end up here, to become the new champion.
Q: Finishing 10th and 5th here in Valencia is certainly not the way you expected to win the championship. What happened?
HK: We had some problems during the qualifying sessions as we did not find the correct balance of the car. Also, I was disqualified after the first session as I did some fast laps under the yellow flag. I had to start from the back of the grid. That's why I finished only 10th in the first race which is not such a bad result considering I started 18th and managed to score one point, which led to my winning the championship!
During the second race, I started P3 but my car wasn't fast enough and I finished 5th. You know, sometimes, things just don't go so well. I wasn't too disappointed though: the most important point is that I won the title and I also got the new lap record during the warm-up.
Q: How would you describe your second season in the World Series?
HK: It definitely has been a very good year for me. I have won 5 races and taken pole position 7 times, and set the fastest laps on almost every circuit. Off course, I've had some difficult weekends, including this one here in Valencia, but my team - Pons Racing - and I have done a fantastic job this season.
Q: World Series champion, Renault F1 occasional test driver. 2004 has been a great year for you so far.
HK: It has definitely been the best year of my career so far and I am very pleased with the fact that I was able to handle the pressure so well as every one expected me to win the championship this year. I have also had the opportunity to test the R24 for the F1 team, which was fantastic and to do some more development work during the flyaway races when the race drivers were not available.
That has been good for my confidence because they are pleased with the job I have been doing. But my main focus is on finishing the last two races of the season in World Series which will take place in Jerez in a fortnight: I want to finish with two wins. I am this year's champion after all!