Darren Manning feels ready for the coming 2004 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season. Manning comes into the series as a qualified rookie, having run a complete season of Champ Car here in the United States. He'll be considered a rookie for...
Darren Manning feels ready for the coming 2004 Indy Racing League IndyCar Series season. Manning comes into the series as a qualified rookie, having run a complete season of Champ Car here in the United States. He'll be considered a rookie for the 88th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race, but not in the full 16-race series season.
His Lola/Ford was christened the Team St. George entry and Manning went out with a cheerful attitude, led 18 laps, finished ninth and surprised everyone but himself with a display of finesse in that 500K race.
Last year Manning worked the full Champ Car series for Scotsman Derrick Walker, driving an out-classed Reynard chassis with the spec Ford-Cosworth XFE engine. It was an up-and-down season for the duo, but Manning's speed and his consistency improved throughout the year, which he ended on the second step of the Surfers Paradise, Australia podium in October.
Darren got the call to drive for Team Target, Chip Ganassi's2003 IndyCar Series championship winning squad when appointed driver Tony Renna died during his first test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's never the way a driver wants to take over a seat, but Manning figured it was the best opportunity he was likely to get.
And so the man who had won the All Japan F3 title in 1999, had worked as a test driver for Formula One's BAR team since 2001 packed his bags and moved cross-town to Ganassi's north Indianapolis shops.
Fighting a loose car for the first day and a half of his Phoenix test last week, which ended the Indy Racing League's pre-season practices, Manning stuck with the car and improved it, moving up to tenth place once all four sessions were complete, ninth for the day on Thursday once languishing in 13th the prior day. After being sideways quite a bit in the early going Manning's comfort level is getting better.
"I'm with the best team on the circuit and I've settled well with my guys," he admitted. "Instead of 10-12 corners, I now have to deal with two or four, depending on the track." Team Target is the best outfit he's been involved with since his BAR days and since Manning drove with the Tom's Toyota team in the Japanese F3 series. "They're like the Chip Ganassi of F3," is how he explained the Tom's squad.
But Manning really hasn't had this type of opportunity before in his driving career. "Usually, I've been with a smaller team with limited resources and I'm excited to be with a team that has financial backing that allows us to move forward." He feels he's going into every race "with a chance of winning. I realize I have a great chance to show what I can do."
He tried to break into Formula One, using his testing role as a springboard, but realized that, at the end of the day, if you're not with one of the top teams, it really doesn't matter. "There are a number of things you need in F1," Manning said. "You have to have money, you need to know people and you've got to be at the right place at the right time with the right team."
The Brit is also looking forward to his first drive at the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. He came to the 2003 race with his Walker Racing crew, strictly as a spectator. "I came to see it as an outsider last year. Indy has always been a goal for me. It's pretty amazing, isn't it? You have 400,000 people there for one day and it's such an emotional time. A win for me would be phenomenal and to follow in the footsteps of Graham Hill would make me immensely proud."
Darren Manning's thoughtful work as he learns about the Panoz G Force chassis and the Toyota engine he's running for Team Target and Chip Ganassi in the Indy Racing League will hold him in good stead as the 16-race series unfolds.
He's not rushing into this without care; rather, Manning is using the pre- season to learn his car, his engine, how to perform with his engineers and his new teammate, Dixon. Manning is glad to be working with a team so professional and with a co-driver who has similar set-up needs to his own. Now, as the season approaches next week, all he has to do is get out there and show what he's worth.