Exclusive interview with Brian Vickers
With AF Corse-Waltrip Ferrari team co-owner Michael Waltrip unable to race at the WEC Spa round or the Le Mans 24 Hours due to his NASCAR commitments, one of his part-season Sprint Cup drivers, Brian Vickers, has taken on the challenge of making his European endurance racing debut at Spa this weekend. Sadly, a crash in the Saturday morning warm-up session has prevented the car from racing today, but we caught up with the 2003 NASCAR Busch Series champion yesterday to get his thoughts on the track, his Ferrari 458 and the coming challenge of Le Mans…
You haven't raced in Europe before, you haven't raced at Spa before and you haven't raced in a GT car before, so this must be a new and very exciting experience?
“Yeah, I really enjoyed it. Spa is one amazing racetrack. It truly is a special place and it's become my new favourite road course straight away. I like some of the road courses we run in the US - Sonoma, the Glen, Road Atlanta and Sebring - but Spa is incredible. I love Eau Rouge, it’s a fun turn, and also the last high-speed turn, Blanchimont.”
How is the GTE Ferrari 458 to drive?
I've never had to watch my mirrors before - I've never had to spot for myself...
“It’s a very different experience to the Cup car. Everything's different, but the braking is probably the biggest thing. It's a lighter car – I don't think the brakes are necessarily better, it's just the car is much lighter. We actually have bigger brakes on Cup cars, but we have a lot more car to stop, so it doesn't stop quite as well. The stopping power, the cornering speed and the lightness of the Ferrari are all very impressive.”
How have you found the traffic in sportscar racing?
“It's the hardest part, learning how to manage that. I've never had to watch my mirrors before - I've never had to spot for myself, actually. Normally I have a spotter telling me if someone’s coming on the inside or outside, so it’s a whole new experience.”
Are you looking forward to Le Mans?
“Yeah, I’m very excited. I’ve always wanted to race there, I've always heard great things about the track and the race itself is very prestigious. But from a driving standpoint, Spa is incredible. I'm really thankful I had the opportunity to drive here first, as I didn't realise how big an issue the traffic would be. Racecars are racecars, but the traffic is all new: even cars in your own class can be at a very different speed than you. Everyone's within a couple of tenths in NASCAR, give or take, and you have an idea where everybody's braking, who's coming and when they're coming. So being here first will help me a lot for Le Mans.”
How have your co-drivers Rob Kauffman and Rui Aguas helped you settle in?
“I’ve been working them to understand where's the best place to let the faster prototype guys pass - when do I check my mirrors and not check my mirrors. A couple of times when I wasn't even in traffic, I still missed the turn-in, because I was looking in the mirror, not where I was going.”
Are you comfortable in the car and happy with your setup?
“We're still working on it a little bit: we were fighting a bit of understeer yesterday and we're losing the rear a little bit today coming out of corners. Yesterday, we had traction-control issues, too, and we had to turn it off. When we thought we had it fixed, I came in and the team asked 'what did you think?’ I was like, s***, I don't know, it's the first time I've ever had traction control! I think it's working!”
How do you find driving with the traction control? Do you prefer to have more control over the power or does it help you do other things?
“You can definitely stay on the gas more. Let me run a race first, I guess: I've only made four laps with it in my life, ever, so I don't really have a good idea if I prefer it or not. In general, I like having 900hp and no traction control, I have to really drive the car then. This notion of coming out of a corner and standing on the throttle seems like cheating to me, but at the same time it's a lot of fun. It's kind of a balance: once I figure it out, learn how to take advantage of it and really push the car further to the limit using it, I'll probably enjoy it more.”