CHAMPCAR/CART: Bjorn Wirdheim - HVM interview

HVM's Inside Line with Bjorn Wirdheim At the age of 17 Bjorn Wirdheim was the youngest driver to ever win the Swedish Formula Ford championship. Two years with Formula Palmer Audi in England followed, then the tough competition of the German ...

HVM's Inside Line with Bjorn Wirdheim

At the age of 17 Bjorn Wirdheim was the youngest driver to ever win the Swedish Formula Ford championship. Two years with Formula Palmer Audi in England followed, then the tough competition of the German F3 championship. After great success there, he was recruited by Team Arden in the International F3000 championship. There he was the 2002 "Rookie of the Year" and became the first Swede to claim the Formula 3000 championship when he dominated in 2003 with three victories and five pole positions. In 2004 Bjorn became the third driver in Jaguar's Formula One team. HVM Inc. signed Bjorn in April for the 2005 Champ Car season. He made his American debut last month in Long Beach.

Q: How would you sum up your first Champ Car weekend?

BW: Considering the circumstances, never having sat in the car or met the team before the first practice and spending a year away from racing, while testing for Jaguar F1, it was a promising weekend. Not quite where I would have wanted to qualify or finish, but it was clear there is a lot more to come. So I left Long Beach, which by the way is a fantastic venue, on a good note.

Q: What were the biggest surprises for you, regarding Champ Car, the team or the weekend?

BW: The biggest surprise came during the drivers briefing before the race when I realized we (drivers) are not allowed to prevent other cars from overtaking by blocking. That is totally different from the racing in Europe and yet another thing that I need to get used to.

@#Q: How does the Champ Car compare to the car you have most recently driven?

BW: Compared to Formula 1, there is a huge difference. The Cosworth engine produces only slightly less horsepower, but the car is so much heavier. It's easier to control and more drivable but needs more driver input without the electronic aids or power steering. From a driver's point of view, I think it's a more challenging car to drive, as you have to do all the shifting manually and all that comes with it, like blipping the throttle and using the clutch. The Champ Car is very similar to the Formula 3000 car, but Lola builds them both, so I guess perhaps that's why.

Q: What did you think of Long Beach as an event?

BW: Long Beach is a great event, very well organized and it doesn't make things worse that the layout of the circuit is very exciting. I really enjoyed the atmosphere; everyone is very friendly and open. It reminds me a little bit of my two years in International F3000, it's incredibly competitive but most of the time everyone remains on good terms with each other. That makes things easier and more enjoyable. Another difference is in Champ Car the fans get to experience it a lot more as they have direct access to both the drivers and the teams during the weekend, I think that is fantastic.

Q: What circuit are you looking forward to the most and why?

BW: Probably Surfers Paradise. I love racing on street circuits and I've been to Australia a couple of times with Formula 1. Judging by what I've seen on television previous years, it seems like the circuit has a very nice layout and it is a popular event for the fans.

Q: What type of fitness do you think is the most important for Champ Car?

BW: You need strong shoulders and good stamina in order to make it through a race distance. Without power steering, it gets very heavy after a while due to the down force and the way the suspension is set up. Fortunately when you get used to driving the car, you start to build better endurance and spend less energy. The longest race distance I've ever done was in F3000 when we raced in Monaco (one hour 10 minutes) and Long Beach was one hour and 45 minutes. The steering isn't different from the F3000 car so my only issue was the blisters I got on my hands. That won't be a problem in the future as your skin gets stronger but because I missed out on most of the pre-season testing, my hands were not broken in.

Q: What are you doing to prepare for the next event and the rest of the season?

BW: I went back to Sweden for a couple of days as it was probably my last opportunity to see friends and family and my mental trainer for a while as I am planning to move to Indianapolis. I flew to Indy for a couple of weeks to find an apartment and of course we tested in Milwaukee, which I really enjoyed. I will move just before Monterrey and spend some time with the team before my next race.

Q: What do you enjoy in your free time, your time away from the racetrack?

BW: When I am not racing, I am preparing for the next race! I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriend, Ellen and try to live a normal life, as normal as it gets. During the days I do my physical training. During the winter, I've been renovating the flat where we live in the UK; I'm really into DIY (Do It Yourself) at the moment!

Q: What in your opinion has been your greatest achievement in your racing career?

BW: Winning the International F3000 Championship and Pole Position on my first visit to Macau.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Bjorn Wirdheim