Standing the pressure for the chance of a lifetime Joel Nelson will start his season next weekend on April 27th in Estoril, Portugal. Reno-born Joel Nelson emerged as one of the final winners in the first Red Bull Driver Search. With his first...
Standing the pressure for the chance of a lifetime
Joel Nelson will start his season next weekend on April 27th in Estoril, Portugal.
Reno-born Joel Nelson emerged as one of the final winners in the first Red Bull Driver Search. With his first season as an American hopeful for a Formula One career just a few weeks away, he has learned to live with pressure -- and in a completely new surrounding.
"I always dreamed of racing in Formula One. But I knew that my family could never provide the financial support that is necessary to move to Europe and climb the ladder", Joel Nelson explains. Quite unusual for an American-born racing enthusiast, his idols never came from the ranks of the Unsers, Andrettis, or Foyts. "I got hooked on F1 when I followed Jacques Villeneuve's career in Europe", says Nevada-born Nelson. The young French Canadian won the 1995 Indy 500 and the CART Champ Car series in that year and graduated to F1 the next season, winning just his fourth race in F1 and taking the world title a season later. "Jacques impressed me so much, but I would not say he is my idol. I just want to be myself."
Joel was racing partly in England in the Formula Audi Palmer (which he finished eventually runner-up last year, missing out on the championship by one point) and in the US-based Formula Russell and Touring Cars. In mid-season 2002, while racing at the famous Road America track in Elkhart Lake, Wis., he "got a call from Danny Sullivan out of nowhere. He just informed me about the Red Bull Driver Search, its intentions and goals. There was no promise, I was just told I am under observation", recalls Joel. He really got excited when he was told later to join a group of 16 young US racers to be presented to the international media at the 2002 US Grand Prix at Indianapolis. This group travelled to Le Castellet in southern France in October where the four winners of the program were selected after a three day test.
"I really had to stand the biggest pressure of my life in these days. I knew this would be my only chance and that there were no alternatives for me if I wanted to make it to a career in Europe with F1 in sight", Joel says. As big as the pressure was, as hard as he tried to get adjusted to the different formulae cars and make no mistakes, it was a big relief when he was announced as one of the four winners. By that time, his relationship with former F1 driver and Indy 500 champion Danny Sullivan, the leader of the program, got very intense: "He was so supportive to everyone of us, not only in technical or racing terms. And we are still in touch, exchange phone calls every week. Danny has not stopped his help with our selection, he continues to be always there to give advice."
Joel Nelson will start his season of truth on April 27th in Estoril, Portugal, in his Lola-Zytec single seater car in the Euro Formula. Out of the ten tracks all over Europe he only knows Donington Park in England and Jerez in southern Spain where he has tested before. "But learning new tracks is no problem for me", Joel confesses, "and there are lots of video games by which I can do 'practice' before I even get there".
Just recently, his John Village Team tested at Vallelunga near Rome, and it took Joel just 15 laps to beat the lap record for F3000 cars. Other, more experienced competitors needed to use new tyres to match his lap times.
He will be based in Northampton for this season which does not create a big change for him as he knows England from last year and as there is no language problem. As Formula One teams often test at near-by Silverstone, the venue of the British Grand Prix, Nelson can watch those who made it to where he longs to be. If time permits this: "I am very keen on my physical shape. I take every free minute to work out in the gym", he says. He was a passionate skier, mainly in the Squaw Valley and Heavenly Valley areas until he moved from go-karts into race cars two years ago. "Since then I dare not to ski anymore because I do not want to risk injuries". But he would like to get involved in water sports.
His girl friend for over three years, Faith, moved to England just recently, helping Joel in getting settled in his new home. She will continue her studies at Reno University on-line. "But I will not come to every race. I know team managers do not like drivers' girl-friends in the pits all the time", she says.
Nelson's goal for this season is very clear: "I expect that I can have a shot for the top five in the first races. With the season progressing I want to be fighting for podium finishes and wins. I think five drivers have a chance to win the championship, including myself. The others are all race winners of last season". Joel will be assisted by Danny Sullivan and Helmut Marko, the former Austrian Grand Prix driver and Le Mans winner, who takes care of the Red Bull, supported racers in Europe. But all in all it will be up to Joel to make his mark.
"I am ready." he states very convincingly.