McIntosh put to the test With last month's exciting announcement that Canada's Sean McIntosh would return to spearhead an all-out title assault in the 2005 Formula Renault UK Championship, the wheels were quickly put in motion by Team Firstair...
McIntosh put to the test
With last month's exciting announcement that Canada's Sean McIntosh would return to spearhead an all-out title assault in the 2005 Formula Renault UK Championship, the wheels were quickly put in motion by Team Firstair to get the 2004 Graduate Cup Champion strapped back into a car and out on the track in pre-season testing.
Sean's hectic test schedule in February includes a three day excursion to Spain's Guadix circuit, as well as trips to Donington Park, Thruxton and Silverstone; all of these familiar to the 19-year-old Vancouver native following his impressive rookie season in the UK. After a busy February, March subsequently heralds the start of the official pre-season tests, all leading up to the first race of the 2005 Championship at Donington Park in April.
Pumped to be getting back behind the wheel of a race car for the first time since his double-podium at Donington Park last September, Sean looks ahead to the challenges of testing!
Q: Having been out of the cockpit for several months, how long does it take to blow the cob webs off and get back up to speed in the car?
SMc: The first few laps out in the car are really about getting used to everything once again. Usually by the end of the first hour everything's feeling pretty natural and it's as if you'd never been out of the car. To be honest it's like riding a bike, once you know how you never forget. I was excited just to have my seat fitting the other day so I'm really looking forward to driving again!
Q: With a new engineer for 2005, Chris Gorne, how long do you expect it to take before you gel as a unit? How important is the driver-engineer relationship and what part does pre-season testing play in the formation of this relationship?
SMc: I think it'll probably take a couple of tests to really figure out how Chris and I will best work together. It's all about communication really. We have to understand our respective processes and ensure our feedback is compatible. I would expect that after our test in Spain, where we hope to run for three consecutive days, we'll have a solid understanding of each other.
The relationship between driver and engineer is vital; and ultimately it's what wins races! The respect between the pairing has to be mutual, that's evident when you look at all the great champions around the world. Pre-season plays an important part in allowing the relationship to develop between driver and engineer and it also allows you to experiment a little without the same degree of pressure you feel when having to deliver on a race weekend.
Q: Now that you're familiar with the UK circuits, what do you feel you bring to pre-season testing this year?
SMc: Last year in pre-season testing I relied on existing set-ups supplied by the team as I learned the circuits. This year I have my own database and experience on each of the tracks so I can focus more on fine tuning the set-ups based on how I ran in 2004. We have solid set-up information on all the circuits which also gives us a little freedom in pre-season testing to try and experiment a little, knowing that if things don't go as planned we still have a proven base to start from come race weekend.
Q: Are you still learning about the Formula Renault car and how does testing allow you to develop your skills further?
SMc: Well for starters you're always learning in racing, the longer I spend behind the wheel of the Formula Renault the more I know what I like in the car and how to personally improve further on what I'm doing behind the wheel. As I've stated already, pre-season simply allows me more time to work on fine tuning set-ups on the car and an opportunity to try different techniques.
Q: What will your three day test at the Spanish circuit of Quadix achieve in terms of helping you prepare for a season racing on UK circuits?
SMc: To be honest the main reason for testing in Spain is simply to allow us a decent weather platform to run the car. The climate in the UK can be a bit hit and miss in February so teams often choose to run in warmer climates in pre-season testing to guarantee they'll get consecutive days out on track without the threat of rain! Another advantage to testing at certain foreign circuits is you can often book exclusive time at good rates so you won't necessarily be sharing valuable track time with a variety of other race cars.
Q: February's a busy month for you with your test commitments, can you get too much seat time and how do you know which programs to work on at each circuit?
SMc: You can never have too much seat time in my opinion! You can wear your mind out though contemplating all the different set-ups. We usually know which set-ups we'll try when we head to a circuit. Based on my experiences last season I know things I'd like to try at the circuits when we visit them over the next few weeks. My engineer Chris is new to the car so I'm sure he'll want to use some of the time at each circuit trying his ideas. As I said, this is what February is all about, getting back into the swing of things and experimenting while you have the opportunity.
Q: The month of March sees the start of official championship pre-season test days. Do you have a different strategy when testing alongside your rivals or do you seek to compare your progress with the other teams and drivers?
SMc: When we get to March we'll be concentrating more on fine tuning the specific circuit set-ups that we know worked well last season. In addition, we definitely want to get the upper-hand in testing because it's important to be on the pace at the start of the season and not playing catch up at the end! Being fast in every official test session can also have the added effect of challenging the opposition early on thereby building personal confidence for myself and the team even before the season's begun. Bottom line; I want to be the fastest and use March to perfect the package we already have.
Q: Does testing get boring at any point? Is it hard to focus as there's no direct competition unlike strapping in for an actual race?
SMc: I really enjoy testing so it never gets boring for me. I really enjoy working on the engineering side of the car so I'm happy to test and learn more. You've got to be on your game at all times at this level of racing and you should always be moving forward. In pre-season testing you may not always find something that works but when you do it's worth the extra effort as it all helps to keep you ahead of the competition.
Q: Finally, of all the circuits you'll be testing at over the next couple of months do you have a favorite?
SMc: It's always fun to run at Donington or Oulton Park. Both tracks were pretty good to me last season with my win at Oulton Park and podium finishes at Donington. Thruxton and Silverstone are two circuits that I'm really looking forward to having more seat time as I develop my experience there this season. Ultimately you have to be quick at all the circuits to fight for the championship and I'm confident that our pre-season efforts will translate into a solid fight for the 2005 Formula Renault UK Championship.