CHAMPCAR/CART: Oriol Servia Ford Racing interview

One of the many young, aggressive drivers currently driving in the CART FedEx Championship Series, Oriol Servia has experienced a mix of ups and downs this season. Driving for Sigma Autosport, a Chicago-based team currently campaigning its first...

One of the many young, aggressive drivers currently driving in the CART FedEx Championship Series, Oriol Servia has experienced a mix of ups and downs this season. Driving for Sigma Autosport, a Chicago-based team currently campaigning its first CART season, Servia talks about the circumstances that led to him joining Sigma, what his offseason was like, the performance of the car and team, and what he thinks the future may hold for him.

ORIOL SERVIA - #22 Sigma Autosport Ford-Cosworth

HOW HAS YOUR SEASON GONE FOR YOU THUS FAR?

"It's been good. We've had our ups and downs, but I think you should expect the downs from a rookie team. This isn't a team that was running in a smaller series that decided to step up, this is a completely new team and there are things that we have to go through, but the good part has been the ups. I don't think anybody expected us to be as fast as we've shown we can be so that's been a good thing. It has also put more pressure on us because when we see that we can do well we really want to do well and it makes our learning curve steeper, which I think is good. For the second part of the season I think we need to get some better results and I think we're in a good position to do that."

YOU HAD QUITE A TURBULENT OFFSEASON. WHAT WAS IT LIKE GOING THROUGH AN EXPERIENCE LIKE THAT?

"Talking about ups and downs, that about sums up what it was like. I ended last season and everybody was saying good things about me and it was looking pretty good. If PPI had stayed around they were really happy with me, but I was also talking to two or three other big teams that really wanted to do something. They were teams that could give me a chance to contend for the championship so it was looking very good, but all the budgets have suffered lately and I think the teams needed me to bring some sponsorship. Unfortunately I lost the support from Telefonica and that didn't make it any easier. At the same time because I saw that this wasn't going to be easy, I had the opportunity to test the Prost [Formula One car] and that was a good thing. When I did the first test with them I knew I was not going to be the driver because they also needed a lot of money that I didn't have. But then I did the second test and it showed that they really appreciated the first one and they really liked my work, which is a good thing. I think I learned some things from that, but it also showed that I could do a good job in F1. Then the Sigma opportunity came along that was good for me and good for them, so we joined forces and made the best of the situation and the opportunity."

BECAUSE THINGS CAME TOGETHER SO LATE, DID YOU BEGIN TO WORRY THAT YOU MIGHT NOT BE DRIVING ANYWHERE IN 2001?

"Yeah, for sure. I mean, I had nothing done and even when we had done the deal with Sigma we only had five testing days, which is not a lot. Fortunately we showed up at Monterrey [Mexico] and Long Beach and were fast, which showed that the team did a good job and that the Lola-Ford is a good package. At least the test with Prost gave me some seat time, especially with the small amount of testing we did with Sigma, so that was also good."

HOW MUCH HAS THE LACK OF OFFSEASON TESTING HURT YOUR PERFORMANCE THIS SEASON?

"I think it took us longer to learn about the car. I was running a Reynard last year and my engineer was running a Reynard last year so we had to learn the Lola and you need more than five days of testing to learn about the car and be competitive. This series is so competitive that if you are three-tenths [of a second] off you are in trouble, and three races ago we had two weekends that I felt were disastrous. We had no speed, but if you look at the [timing] sheets we were maybe fourth-tenths off of our regular lap time, but I think we had to go through that. At some point you get a little bit lost in the set up and you're just not that far off, but it's terrible and that's something that I think you learn from testing."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU HAVE A BETTER FEEL WITH THE CAR ON A ROAD COURSE OR OVAL TRACK?

"I don't know. We've been good and bad everywhere, honestly. We were very fast in Nazareth, extremely fast in Texas, fast in Long Beach and Monterrey, Detroit wasn't fantastic but we weren't bad, but in many places you're guessing. Sometimes you guess right or you don't and then it's not good."

HOW DIFFERENT IS THE LOLA FROM A REYNARD FROM A DRIVER'S POINT OF VIEW?

"To me it's a big difference. The Lola reminds me a lot of my Indy Lights car, which was good. It's funny because it's a completely different car with a lot more horsepower, but the way I drive the Lola is very similar to the way you have to drive the Lights car to go fast."

IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT THE LOLA IS BETTER THAN THE REYNARD ON THE OVALS WHILE THE OPPOSITE HOLDS TRUE ON THE ROAD COURSES. DO YOU THINK THERE'S SOME TRUTH TO THAT?

"I don't know; it's hard to say because I'm very happy with the Lola and the treatment that they give us and I really feel like they are there to help. They are at every race and they are part of the team, you know? They try to keep me up to date on their developments and they are working full time on the car, which for a team like us where we don't have much development on our side, I think it's a good thing. Last year with Reynard I felt that basically the teams were doing most of the developmental work on the car instead of them."

HOW DIFFERENT HAS YOUR SECOND YEAR BEEN COMPARED TO YOUR ROOKIE SEASON A YEAR AGO?

"It's always better, even if you think you already know things, the second year you always know them better. For me I really want to show everybody how good we really are and it's just easier doing that being everywhere for the second time. It's never easy because again, it's not how well you do but it's how well you do compared to the others. If you look at the others, you have people with eight, nine, 10 years in this series so for sure they know more things, so I just have to be better than them in other areas."

BUT AT LEAST YOU'RE NOT GOING TO EACH CIRCUIT KNOWING THAT YOU'LL HAVE TO LEARN THE TRACK.

"Yeah, but I learned many of the circuits from when I was in Lights so that wasn't a really big thing last year. It's just the pursuit of the race, pit stops, good tires, bad tires, heavy fuel load, light fuel load, and you have to learn many things that you think you already know but that you can do better because there's other people doing them better too. That's why you can't relax and you always have to push."

DO YOU THINK YOU'VE CHANGED AS A DRIVER FROM LAST YEAR TO THIS YEAR? HAVE YOU ADJUSTED YOUR STYLE BASED ON WHAT YOU LEARNED FROM YOUR ROOKIE YEAR? "Not the style. I learned things for different situations, like when you go out on cold tires, when you are at the start with a lot of turbulence from these wings on the ovals, I learned those types of things. I also learned a lot about how to get good mileage. Last year that was for sure one of my weak points, but I think I learned a lot about it and I'm getting better and better mileage with each race. You can always do better, but I think I'm quite good at that now, but I'm always learning new things."

THIS WEEKEND'S RACE IN CHICAGO IS A "HOME" RACE FOR SIGMA AUTOSPORT BEING THAT THEY ARE BASED THERE. TALK A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE RACE AND WHAT IT MEANS TO THE TEAM.

"It's going to be interesting. It's a one-mile oval, but very different than the rest of the one-mile ovals. Last year I was running very strong in the race at Chicago, but then we had a fire in the pits and I wasn't able to finish. However my teammate, Cristiano [da Matta] won the race, so I think I have a good baseline for that track. The team is also putting forth a lot of effort for that race because Chicago is where the team is located, so we have high expectations for this one. Just because you're from there doesn't mean you're going to go two-tenth's faster, but it definitely helps that everybody is looking forward to the race there."

WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR OWNER, TOM WIERINGA, WHO HAS SOME RACING EXPERIENCE IN TOYOTA ATLANTICS?

"He has really concentrated on being an owner and it's important if you want to do anything really well. I also think you have to give him a lot of credit for how brave he's been with starting this team. Jumping into a championship like this one with a new team, new people and a driver that he doesn't know, it's not easy, especially without the backing of a major sponsor. Being able to be here and do well, he's very focused and you can see that he's not just here to have fun or make money. He's here to try and win now and down the road, and he transmits that to everyone on the team. He's not the kind of owner that gets to the track on Sunday, watches the race, and leaves. He's really there everyday pushing everyone hard to get better. I think he sets a good example for everybody else on the team because when the owner really wants to do well and works as hard as everybody else, it's a good thing."

WITH HIS RACING EXPERIENCE, WHAT KIND OF RELATIONSHIP DO THE TWO OF YOU HAVE?

"The one good thing about having an owner who is also a driver is that he understands a lot of my viewpoints. Things that maybe other owners wouldn't think are very important that are important to me are also important to him. For example he's my spotter, which is a very important role in races at places like Michigan, and if you've been around it you know what you want to be told, so he does a really good job. It's just one more thing that helps me concentrate on getting better and better with each race."

LOOKING AHEAD A LITTLE BIT, WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR YOU?

"I want to definitely succeed. I just don't want to be someone that people say, 'Yes, this guy must be good.' No. I want to be someone that people say, 'Damn, this guy is good!' I want to have the opportunity, the whole package that makes it possible for me to show how good I am all the time. Consistency is the biggest thing in this championship, and you need the weapons to get everything right every second to prove that. My goal is to win the championship for sure and to succeed here."

DO YOU HAVE ANY DESIRE TO DRIVE OTHER TYPES OF CARS, LIKE SPORTS CARS OR F1 CARS?

"There are lots of things I want to do, but my father was a rally champion and I've always been attracted to rallys. One day I'd like to do a rally, but there are many other things as well. Formula One? Yes. I've always wanted to be in Formula One, but right now my goal is this championship. It's not that I don't look at other things, but my goal is this one and I don't even think about those other things. I thought about Prost when I saw that I might not have a chance here, but obviously if someone came and asked me to drive for them I would consider it, just like you would consider any good opportunity that you might get. But right now my goal is to win here in CART."

ONE OF THE THINGS THAT DISTINGUISHES CART FROM OTHER SERIES IN THE WORLD IS THE DIVERSITY OF CIRCUITS THAT IT RACES ON. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SOME OF THE OVAL RACES THAT ARE GOING AWAY?

"I think it's fantastic that we as drivers have to be fast in all those different situations on all different kinds of tracks. That's the first thing that I really liked when I came to race in America; one weekend you're racing in Long Beach and the next weekend you're racing in Nazareth, so you really have to adapt to a different kind of driving. I also think it's good for the engineers, good for the fans and it's good for the show. I also think the ovals are good, and I really enjoy them. With the right rules, ovals can be very exciting for the fans with lots of passing. There has been a lot of passing in the past on the short ovals, and perhaps we have to go back to some of the rules they had then. My personal opinion is that I don't like the way we [CART] are going with the Handford Device. To me it's the wrong way. It stops the car on the straights, yes, but it creates such turbulence behind the cars that it's very difficult to pass. It's even hard to pass here at Michigan where it's a wide, smooth surface with a lot of room to maneuver. It's just my point of view, but I definitely think we should try to get downforce from the underwing and maybe have even smaller wings for shorter ovals. We definitely need to be able to get close to other cars without being as affected by the airflow like we are now. And if we are really worried about safety, let's put money towards that issue and let's work on something like developing some kind of energy-absorbing walls on the ovals. I think that's something that will help save lives and cure many of the problems that we have now."

AS A DRIVER, HOW DIFFICULT IS IT TO BE FAST ON SUCH A VARIETY OF TRACKS?

"It's very challenging and you always want to beat everybody else, so I'm always going to push to go that one mile per hour faster. You have to have to have a lot of different types of feedback from the car on all the different types of circuits, but it's fantastic. I really like the fact that we race on so many different types of tracks here in CART."

WHEN YOU STARTED YOUR RACING CAREER IN AMERICA, WHAT WAS THE BIGGEST ADJUSTMENT YOU HAD TO MAKE?

"First of all, Catalonia is a fantastic place, and it's not just because I'm from there. For me it's the best you can live because the people are fantastic, you are on the coast near the ocean, but you are also just a two-hour drive to the mountains where you can ski and there's beautiful scenery. Probably leaving my country was the biggest adjustment I had to make when I came to America. Apart from that, racing here in the United States is the best. Before I came over here I raced five years in France, so I was used to not racing in my country, although I was still living at home and that makes a big difference. But from the driving point of view and the technical point of view, I never felt like I needed to make much of an adjustment in order to be successful here."

-Ford Racing

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Oriol Servia