An interview with Darren Manning
Indy Racing League Teleconference Transcript
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Thank you for joining us for today's Indy Racing League teleconference. We have several guests joining us this afternoon as we prepare to open the 2009 season this weekend in St. Petersburg. Joining us in a few minutes will be Ryan Hunter-Reay, Eric Bachelart and Alex Tagliani and also Darren Manning. Ryan signed with Vision Racing to drive the No. 21 car this season while Alex was announced earlier today as the driver of the No. 34 Conquest Racing car for the event in St. Petersburg, and Darren will be driving the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold car for the race at St. Petersburg.
Ladies and gentlemen, we're joined now by Darren Manning. Earlier today obviously Darren was announced as the driver of the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Darren has competed in the IndyCar Series for four seasons, earning seven top-five finishes and 25 top 10s. He's competed at St. Petersburg three times in the IndyCar Series. He led three laps there in 2005, qualified fifth there in 2007.
Darren, congratulations on the announcement today, and really in all honesty we've heard several names rumored to be in the second car with not only Dreyer & Reinbold but with a couple other teams out there, and you kind of slipped in under the radar. Tell us a little bit about how your deal came together.
DARREN MANNING: Well, I guess I've been on the minds of Dennis (Reinbold) and Robbie (Buhl) since the end of last year. We were in talks about trying to get a deal together for Australia, which didn't come about. They wanted to try and get me in the car for that, and we had several conversations around that kind of time. I guess I was just on their minds when the opportunity arose that they needed a guy at the last minute. And literally late evening, I got the call, and fortunately I wasn't doing anything else.
I know St. Pete very well and can offer the team and their primary driver, Mike (Conway), a good head of experience and hopefully some good speed and a good performance that I've always had -- good performances. Maybe not the results that I might have had, and we were running up in fifth place with only a few races to go when my gearbox broke last year, and that would have been good, and similarly other times with Ganassi and Foyt, as well.
So it's a good track and a good little team. I know what they've been doing over the winter, and I'm pretty excited, especially seeing as I wasn't doing anything on Monday, and then yesterday afternoon it all came about. I've got to get myself ready and shaped up for this coming weekend and leaving this afternoon to go down there.
MODERATOR: You mentioned kind of getting the call and starting to get ready. I'm sure there's a million things you have to do to get ready. What do you put first? What's first on the list to get done, and how do you prepare on such a short notice?
DARREN MANNING: You know, it is; obviously I'm still working out very hard. I've been driving in the Grand-Am Series at Daytona, 24-Hour Race earlier this year, and I'll still be doing races with them later on this season. Obviously I'd like to do more IndyCar Series races, but this at the moment is only a one-race deal.
I'm kind of ready, but you know, the team needs a seat, and fortunately A.J. (Foyt) was kind enough to put that in the post this morning to give me a chance at St. Petersburg, one of my seats from A.J. last year that I used there, and getting your licenses, your credentials and tickets and race suits and signing the contracts not the least. So that was a good whirlwind -- well, it's still going on now with this and then getting on a flight in a couple of hours. So it hasn't stopped yet, and tomorrow we'll still be going on with getting the seat fit finished and getting me comfortable in the car. It's a last-minute deal but I'm used to it. Not having any money like most drivers out there, you're used to these kind of last-minute deals like Alex (Tagliani) and everybody else. It's what we do.
MODERATOR: You also alluded there a little bit to Mike Conway, your teammate, who's a rookie with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and also a fellow Englishman. Did you know Mike previously? Have you guys competed against each other? Or are you kind of just meeting each other for the first time?
DARREN MANNING: No, we kind of know each other just from around the paddock and things like that. We've never raced against each other. He's a little younger than me and came up through the ranks, not dissimilar to how I did with racing in Formula 3 and winning the Macau Grand Prix and Formula 1 test driver for Honda like I was a couple years later than me.
So we've taken a very similar path, and it's quite amusing that we've ended up at the same place at this junction. I know his speed and talent and successes, and I just got off the phone with him about a half an hour ago answering as teammates. We're both pretty excited, and we know how important it is to have quick teammates.
It was something I and the whole team felt over the last couple of years that we were lacking in at A.J. Foyt Racing, that I was just by myself, and it is difficult when you're just by yourself to get through everything that a race weekend demands and somebody to lean on, an extra set of setup information and data and speed and you're quicker here and I'm quicker there.
It's going to be good for me, but not only is it going to be good for Mike, but obviously having my experiences to lean on about pit stops and what the race is going to bring for him and what to expect of the race weekend and these cars and tires and racing against a lot of these other guys that I've banged wheels with for the last four or five years.
So it's going to be good for me, also, having a guy of Mike's talents to compare data with. And I think that's one of the big reasons why Dennis and the whole DNR team wanted to go this way with me, get two good guys in there that could work well together and help take the team forward, to try and challenge for wins, and I don't see of any reason why we can't do that even this weekend.
Q: Do you bring a sponsor to this deal? And second of all, how long are you committed for the ride?
DARREN MANNING: Well, firstly, at the moment it's just for St. Petersburg. The team has been working really hard on sponsorship and things, and there will be sponsors on the car from the team's point of view, not from my side. You know, they're trying to put something together for the whole season, but obviously everybody from the Conquest guys to Dreyer & Reinbold to everybody is struggling for sponsors, and this is only going to be a one-race deal, possibly Long Beach, because it's only a couple of weeks away and maybe some of the road courses. We'll just have to wait and see.
I certainly don't have any sponsors with me. Part of me would like to say I could bring some sponsorship, but the professional in me wants to get rides on merit, and I think that's why I got the call when they were in the position to put a pro in the car. I think I was one of the guys that's on their list. So I'm happy to do it.
Q: What particular challenges do you face now coming into St. Pete without having any prior experience with the team?
DARREN MANNING: Well, you know, it's going to be tough, obviously, but you know, I know St. Pete like the back of my hand, and I'm pretty happy. I know what's expected of an IndyCar around there, as well, and I think that, again, is one of the top reasons for D & R putting me in the car even at such short notice. I know what's needed of myself and the car to go fast round there.
It's just going to be only a little bit tougher because I haven't driven that car before, but I'm sure after a few laps on Friday, I'll soon know what direction is needed to go, if at all. By the sounds of it, they've been fast in testing with Mike, so I am actually quite excited to get in their car, really, to be honest. I'm sure it's going to be extremely close to the front, so hopefully it's easier than what I've had in the past.
Q: Darren, changes in rules and equipment and teams and personnel, it's common to motorsports, but do you think that the ability to adjust and adapt is a driver's strongest skill?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, absolutely, 100 percent nearly. There are obviously other big skills, but that is one that's on the top of my list anyway and one of the main reasons why I like to drive as many cars at my disposal as possible, to learn and adapt to different driving styles, each cars, whether it's a Grand-Am car, a GT car, an IndyCar, a Formula 1 car, a little Formula Ford or a go-kart, they all demand something different from the driver. I think that's one of my biggest skills is adapting to different circumstances and getting up to speed quicker because of that.
I think it's a great skill of drivers, and this year with the (alternate) tires, you're going to go from one level of grip to another level of grip just solely by changing a set of tires, and a driver is going to need to adapt very quickly, within a couple of corners literally, because your out lap is going to be crucial to what ultimate speed you do. So the quicker you can adapt and get up to speed, the faster we're going to be, which is what is ultimately what we're all after.
Q: In all your experience what has humbled you the most about driving a competitive race car?
DARREN MANNING: The winning, I guess, really. I read an article from another driver, I can't remember who it was, but it was somebody from the Jackie Stewart, Jim Clark era. It was "Motor racing is 99 percent failure and 1 percent success." But obviously that little bit of success is all the more sweeter through the hardships and how humbled you are by different situations, gearbox failures when you're in the lead or a flat tire or another failure or you crashing. There's lots of different things. I think the closer you get to the front, the more humble you have to be.
Q: What are your thoughts on the Formula One win with the Brawn GP team this past weekend?
DARREN MANNING: I know a lot of guys still at work there as I'm sure Mike Conway does. It's a great operation, and obviously it's one of the newer, big budget teams, if you like, of recent eras. BMW came on with Williams and then took over Sauber and things like that, but Reynard and British American Racing as it was back then started up from scratch, and this huge operation, and then it turned into Honda. And they had a lot of good things happening there.
But maybe the decision making wasn't quite how a successful Formula One team should be operated. If you look at Frank Williams, Ron Dennis, (Flavio) Briatore, all the successful teams have got one figurehead making the final decision. And I think now with it being Brawn GP, I'm sure Ross Brawn is making the final decisions.
We know from his Ferrari days that when he's given that power, he makes some very, very good decisions on what's needed from the car, and I don't think he had that when he was with Honda, and I think he's got that now, and it's no real surprise that now with the skills from Brackley and all the guys that are there are shining through and now that somebody is putting their head on the chopping block, if you like.
Q: Having spoken about Grand-Am and anything else, would you ever consider anything else about coming back towards Europe or anywhere else for that matter towards something like the Superleague Formula considering you did sit in the Premier One Grand Prix car?
DARREN MANNING: Yeah, well, I've been trying to forge my career as a professional racing driver, and there's not -- the drive for that type of driver is very limited, as you can imagine. I'm in a situation where I can get paid to drive and do a job that I'm paid to do, like this weekend, for example. They needed a guy that's got certain qualifications, and I'm on that list.
Things like the Superleague, if there is an opportunity where somebody has the same criteria for needing a driver, then yeah, I'd do it for sure. I'm a driver. I'm a racer. I want to win races. I haven't had any calls like that just yet, but you never know. I'm never going to say never.
Q: You mentioned just the struggles that some teams have had trying to find sponsorship like Conquest and Dreyer & Reinbold. I was wondering from your personal perspective how has the search for sponsorship been and backing been from your point of view in this current economy?
DARREN MANNING: It's been a nightmare. I have a manager who works out of the UK and looks after a couple of the other drivers, and I know obviously a lot of teams around America and back in Europe, and a lot of guys have had to shut down, so it's a real testament to anybody who can keep going in this current climate. I know how hard it is to find sponsorship.
I'm not in a position that I have any sponsorship or been -- I've been kind of looking, but I've been more looking for drives than I have been for getting a sponsor and then taking that to a team, if you like.
It's kind of a little bit of different situation for me. I was racing in Europe at the end of last year and that was looking good until that team, the business that was propping that program up went under because of the current crisis, or the current crisis starting last year, and that drive went away, and I picked up a Grand-Am drive and now this.
So it's just scrappy. You've got to never give up, and people like Alex and Eric and Dennis and Robbie, they're fighters, and we all have a good product, and it's just getting it out there to the right people.
MODERATOR: Darren, thanks again for joining us. We appreciate that, and congratulations again, too. We wish you the best of luck this weekend.