Stefano Coletti is new to IndyCar, new to Indianapolis, and new to this country in general. guidance
INDIANAPOLIS - Going into the 2015 Indy 500, two of the 34 entries are rookies who have never taken part in the 'Greatest Spectacle in Racing' before. One is Gabby Chaves, the reigning Indy Lights champion and Bryan Herta Autosport driver. The other is Stefano Coletti.
I've always liked the atmosphere and the spirit of racing here (USA). It's completely different in Europe
Stefano Coletti on his move to IndyCar
The Monegasque driver (Monaco) has spent his entire single-seater career on the path that usually leads to the pinnacle of motorsport, Formula One. For at least seven years though, Coletti has yearned to take part in F1's open-wheel cousin, on the other side of the pond.
Why the switch from European to North American motorsport?
Like most who follow his career path, he started out in karting and has since competed in Euro F3, Formula Renault, GP3, and GP2 (where he won seven times, more than any other non-champion). Only four other drivers have made more starts than him in GP2 series history and
But why, after successfully climbing the traditional ladder to F1, did he switch to IndyCar?
"I always wanted to come to the states for racing, for IndyCar," Coletti explained to Motorsport.com. "I've always liked the atmosphere and the spirit of racing here. It's completely different in Europe. I've tried a few times to come over here in 2008 and before 2010, but my manager wanted me to stay a bit longer because they thought we could have a shot at Formula One. The problem is in Formula One, even if you're good, it doesn't even matter right now ... It's a huge amount of money."
I've always wanted to be part of it and race here, and now, here I am. It's a dream come true.
Stefano Coletti on racing at Indy
Those words are not without merit. Fabio Leimer recently went to Sauber with a GP2 title and $14 million dollars in hand, and yet, he was turned down by the mid-pack team.
A 'dream come true'
Coletti has been a fan of the series and more specifically, the 500 since he was young, saying "I've always wanted to be part of it and race here, and now, here I am. It's a dream come true."
A little, slight mistake and you're straight into the wall. It's very hard and you just have to concentrate a lot more than what I've done before
Stefano Coletti on handling the high speeds at IMS
He is a driver that has raced on the streets of Monaco, through Eau Rouge on Spa-Francorchamps, and in front of the Tifosi at Monza. But Indy is different. "It's special (to me) because I've always watched this race on TV. When you look at it with all those fans around and the atmosphere of the race with all the history behind it, it's just something that looks huge, from TV alone."
Handling the speed
Despite dreaming of racing here for so many years, the experience is something completely new to the 26-year-old, who has never raced on an oval, let alone at 230mph without braking.
"It's difficult. Speeds are not what I'm used to, ever," he admitted. "The highest speed I've been to now was probably 205mph and now you go on an oval running 225 average. It's even faster before you have to turn. Everything needs to be perfect. The timing into the corner has to be right and there can't be any mistakes."
"A little, slight mistake and you're straight into the wall. It's very hard and you just have to concentrate a lot more than what I've done before."
At such high speeds, any incident is going to be big. That was exemplified by the two airborne practice crashes we saw this past week, things a driver must shut out in order to compete at a competitive level here.
"You just try not to think about it when you get into the car. It's fast. Every time you get to a comfort zone when you're doing 221, then you go 'okay, let's go a bit faster.' Then you get to 223, then 225 average and every time is a step. It looks like nothing when you're talking about two or three mph more on a lap, but it's a lot faster."
"We of course go flat-out through the corner and when you get to that corner and you're a little bit quicker, it's not easy to deal with. It is difficult but we're getting used to it."
Guidance from a living legend
The transition goes well beyond constantly turning left at 230mph on an oval though, which is what Arie Luyendyk is for. The two-time Indy 500 champion serves as a driver coach for the new IndyCar driver.
"He brought me around the track and taught me a bit of things. (He) told me where to turn in, the lines, what to do, what to feel on the car, and especially what not to do. It is important to have him around - It's a completetely different thing than I used to to do. Until now, my races were usually an hour long - It's much longer with more pit stops (now) and you have to learn to be patient. I have to get used to that."
Fending of TK
"We had a lot of bad luck in the first few races but we finally had a clean race here in the GP, finishing 8th."
To which I replied, 'Not an easy task to hold off Tony Kanaan for that long.'
"I did (Laughs)! I did hold him. The only way he passed me was when I went straight in turn one when he was three seconds behind me so I fought for the whole race to keep him behind and once I was in the clear, I got off all by myself. It was a good fight, a fair fight. It was a hard one but we left each other room. We were very pleased after that race."
Someone Monaco can cheer for
His fellow Monegasque are watching his career very intently and with great interest. That is because Coletti will be the first Monaco-native to contest the 500 since Louis Chiron did so in 1929. On top of that, in 2013, he became the first Monaco driver to win at the iconic street circuit since 1931 when, once again, Louis Chiron did so.
"It's like I'm following in his footsteps," laughed Coletti. "I never thought about it that way but it's something special. People from Monaco have been following me a lot and I think it's a big thing for them too, so hopefully we can do well with a lot of them watching."
Coletti pilots the No. 4 KV Racing Honda this year and has two teammates for the 500 in Sebastien Bourdais and Bryan Clauson.