Menards Infiniti Pro Series An Interview With: Brian Stewart, Jesse Mason and Leonardo Maia Part 2 of 2 MODERATOR: We have Jesse Mason joining us today. Jesse celebrated his 20th birthday on Sunday and is the youngest driver in the series. He...
Menards Infiniti Pro Series
An Interview With: Brian Stewart, Jesse Mason and Leonardo Maia
Part 2 of 2
MODERATOR: We have Jesse Mason joining us today. Jesse celebrated his 20th birthday on Sunday and is the youngest driver in the series. He made his Menards Infiniti Pro Series debut at Homestead where he finished third and followed that up with a fourth place finish at Phoenix. You mentioned to me last week that you went to your first race when you were just two months old. What was it like, your father was a race car driver, what was it like kind of growing up around the sport of racing?
JESSE MASON: It was awesome because my dad always had a car in the garage and always watching him work on it and everything else. Gives you a real feeling that you're -- he's succeeding and that everything is going good. There was a lot of hockey influence up here, and we did that as well, but racing was always where my heart was.
Q: That passion for racing, was that geared around being in the car itself or helping out on the engineering and the mechanical side?
JESSE MASON: Definitely from the beginning I wanted to be a driver. There was no doubt about it. You know, watching the guys in the Indy 500 and Formula 1 and everything, that's where you want to be, and that's where I wanted to be. So my dad and everybody here, I had great support, and we did everything we could to get there.
Q: When did you actually climb into the car for the first time?
JESSE MASON: The first time I raced was in a go-kart at age 8. I was basically, it was the earliest you could start. You could do stuff in your backyard and that. We didn't do that. We started to take a more professional like approach, bought a pre-manufactured car and raced down a club track in New York State. It was great. I learned a ton there, and we moved around the state doing the World Karting Association stuff, the Eastern states and it was just unbelievable. I moved into cars when I was 16 and was able to win the Formula Vee Championship up here in Canada, which was another big boost to my career. Since then, it's been a smooth progression forward.
Q: Last year you competed overseas in the German and British Formula 3 Championships. How exactly did you get to know Brian, and how did that relationship start to get you in a car in the Pro Series this year?
JESSE MASON: Well being from up here in Canada, you know the teams that are from around here, and you have extreme respect for anybody who can get things done up here. I've always, since I can remember, known of Brian, known of him and known what he's done. Especially through the success of (Paul) Tracy, in particular, he had a great respect for him. He's done a lot and he's made a lot of big names in the sport. So that's how I learned of him, and obviously, my dad knew him as well. Him and my dad were able to brew something up for this year, which is a lot better than what I thought it would be, to be honest. It's a dream come true right now.
Q: You talked about his reputation and obviously how well known and how respected he is. Now that you've been working with him for a few months, how have you benefited already from working with Brian?
JESSE MASON: Oh, by far, they are the most professional team I've worked with in racing. They go about it very, very seriously, which is good. They want to win. They are not the kind that's just in it for the business side of things. They are in it for the sport. They are in it for the right reasons. They want to win and I want to win. So we have common goals and we have to work together to do that, and it seems to be great. I'm happy with all of the guys that are there. I have probably the best mechanic on the grid in Mo Larson. I know the car is always going to be perfect when I'm out there. My engineer is another big plus, very, very talented guy. You know, like I said, it's a dream come true and I'm glad to be there, definitely.
Q: You've already had two real strong performances to start the year; what would you like to accomplish in the 10 races that we have left?
JESSE MASON: We always want to win and that's what we are going to push for all the time. I have no illusions about it, but I know it's going to be difficult. Looking at the team and what they have done, and how good that I feel that I work with them and how they work, that's a definite possibility. Even at Indy at the end of May here, I think we have good shot at it.
Q. Can you remember the first time you watched the Indianapolis 500, and were you influenced at all by the great Canadians that raced at that track?
JESSE MASON: Oh, definitely. I can't say I can remember the first time, but I definitely remember the high points, good years, just getting there at the end and Tracy getting nipped at the end a couple years ago and definitely Villeneuve winning. It's just all unbelievable. I'm just glad that I had a lot of pride that Canada can represent themselves there, and hopefully we can do the same this year, and as well maybe in the IndyCar Series in a couple of years.
Q. Have you been on the track? Have you been on IMS yet in your Menards Infiniti Pro car?
JESSE MASON: We just finished the Open Test there on Friday. Unbelievable facility. It's a giant place. It's very, very large, and when you're out there, you're thinking, well, straightaways are huge, but, you've got to take it seriously and you can't be too much awestruck about the facility and you've got to get down to work.
Q. I asked Brian this question a few minutes ago, and I'll ask you a version of it, what was your -- how was your adaptation to the oval?
JESSE MASON: Well, it seemed to be all right. We went to Nashville. Nashville was my first experience in the car and the oval. At first I was a little timid because the car has quite a bit of power, tons of grip with the underbody and the wings, the car has a lot of grip. And the tires were good all day long at Nashville and I was able to do a nice, slow progression all day, just getting faster and faster as it went on and not take too many risks and get used to turning left. You know, the cars are set up so that it's pretty easy on the driver to complete a lap, and you can't really think about the car so much. You have to think about your setup, because that's what the other guys are thinking about, and you don't want to give them any advantage. That's what I do. I think more about the car rather than the track.
Q. Tim and Brian have talked about you going to university and taking an engineering degree. First of all, where are you going to school?
JESSE MASON: I go to school in Swansea, Wales, Swansea Institute of Higher Education, it's called. The degree is through the University of Wales in Swansea. It's a motorsport engineering degree, something that's not found so much over here in North America. Ryan Newman was able to get an automotive degree from Purdue, which has obviously propelled him into where he is now, and I have extreme respect for him. I just feel that with a lot of race car drivers out there, there's something you need to do to set yourself apart, aside from just the driving side. With greater knowledge, I feel I can be a better driver, and there's my plan.
Q. How do you track that fine line -- you may know, or you'll eventually know maybe more than your engineer, so how do you tread that fine line to not step on his toes? Do you have to be careful of that?
JESSE MASON: Well, I don't know as much about it as he does now.
Q. Well, not Mo.
JESSE MASON: I understand what you're saying. I guess you can have two different opinions on it. I could see that maybe in the future happening, but as engineers we are going to have to work together. As I say, we have to get the common goal and go faster. We've got to do what makes us faster rather than try to battle each other.
Q. How long have you been going to the school? @!JESSE MASON: I'm in my second year currently. We finish in June. It a three-year program which is good.
Q. You'll have another year of combining school and racing? JESSE MASON: That's correct.
Q. So you're flying back and forth across the Atlantic for each race, are you? @!JESSE MASON: Yes, currently, that's what I've doing.
Q. That must be quite a grind; obviously it has not affected your driving?
JESSE MASON: It has an effect on your life. I hope it doesn't have too much of an effect on my driving. I take my driving very seriously. I get there a couple of days in advance so that I'm acclimatized and everything. You know, obviously, being at the track is where I want to be, so that's where I'm happiest.
Q. What do you think of your new teammate?
JESSE MASON: Leo is great. I have a lot of respect for him. He did a tremendous job last year, and definitely, he's a bonus to the team. Provides great input that we can apply to both cars. It's good to have another car out there that we can compare setups in a way and see what goes faster. It's good to know that he is a caliber of driver that respects what setups are going to do and has a knowledge of the cars already and can help us work together to help us improve the situation for everybody.
Q. Sam Hornish Jr. was talking last year about how it was difficult to have a one-car team, as opposed to now he has Helio (Castroneves) as his teammate and now they can test things on each other and go back and forth; do you think that that's something that definitely is going to be an advantage to you?
JESSE MASON: Yeah, definitely. The teams that seem to be successful in our series, well this year, anyway, the Sam Schmidt team is a two-car operation and they seem to work well together. Hopefully me and Leo, as the season progresses can do that, not only with set up, but on the track, as well with drafting and getting towards the front of the field by the end of the race.
Q. Did you know, have you guys known much about each other beforehand? Have you ever crossed paths?
JESSE MASON: No. It's just a situation, really, we've never raced against each other. I had not met him up until we met at Phoenix, but his reputation preceded him a little bit and everybody said what a great guy he was. It's the truth. He's really light-hearted and you can tell, he takes his racing seriously, as we all do, and it's a great thing.
MODERATOR: Thank you for joining us today and best of luck the rest of the way. We now welcome Leonardo Maia to the teleconference. Leo, thanks for joining us, how are you doing today?
LEONARDO MAIA: Good. How are you doing over there?
MODERATOR: We're doing great. Leo is just 23 years old and coming off the Barber Dodge Pro Series Championship last year. We talked earlier in the call with Brian Stewart about how you got into the Pro Series car at Texas on a Monday and just a few days later in the week were in a car at Phoenix where you finished third. Just recap a little bit. Tell us your thoughts as you went through that whirlwind week back there in March?
LEONARDO MAIA: I had been looking to do something in a race car since the Barber Dodge ended a year ago in August, so just the fact that I'm driving a car was a great thing. I knew I was going to drive a car and that was a great feeling. Came really last second, so, you know it's never good to do it that way because you need a proper amount of testing to really do well and get to know your team, but fortunately for me, Brian Stewart is just incredible. They always put a good car under me and the guys are really fun to work with, great to work with. Everyone there is really good at what they do and they have just made it easier for me. We don't have the 700 horsepower that the IndyCar Series cars have and we have a pretty good amount of downforce. The track was pretty easy for me. Got to Phoenix, pretty much the hardest track on the schedule, that was really tough, and it just was a matter of getting comfortable and trying to push the limits and just lucky to walk away on the podium.
Q: Brian mentioned this, too, during your test and in Phoenix, the team gave you a fairly conservative setup just to get you more acclimated to the series and be careful with you. Now that you've got your feet wet a little bit, do you think you'll be able to hope it up a little bit more?
LEONARDO MAIA: Every lap I do, I feel more comfortable. We just tested at Indy a few days ago, and I really felt comfortable, everything was -- really, it starts to click. So after a while, you sort of get used to all of the little things on the car. You get used to what it does and how I react to certain things and how the wind plays an effect. Oval racing is pretty new to me, so I have to get used to two things at once. I'm going to tracks that I've never been to, oval racing, a new car, new team and these guys have done such a great job they made my life a lot easier.
Q: You mentioned the test at Indianapolis last Friday; what was that like for you?
LEONARDO MAIA: Man, that was really incredible. It was the first time I've driven at Indianapolis, and as soon as I knew I was going to race in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series, that's definitely been what I've been looking forward to the whole time. And it definitely didn't disappoint me. My first lap at Indy, going into Turn 1, and you've got these long straightaways there, you have a lot of time to think. So all the way down, I'm thinking, 'I can't believe mph an hour into Turn 1, and for us, it was flat, so as you go into turn one at 190 you've got to turn, all you see in front of you is a concrete wall. So it's really an intimidating track. It took me a little bit to get used to it. So once I did good it was great, I can really focus on getting the car faster and faster.
Q: You're looking forward to race day then here at the Speedway?
LEONARDO MAIA: Yeah.
Q: I asked Jesse the same question a little bit ago, but obviously Brian Stewart, going back to Brian, he has a great reputation for developing young drivers, and I know you were excited get the chance to work with him. Now that you've had a month or so with Brian, what's it been like working with him?
LEONARDO MAIA: It's been incredible. Brian is a real great guy, a real character, anybody who knows him knows what I'm talking about. He's got a bunch of stories that he tells every night at dinner and just a great guy to work with. He hired the right people. He's got the right team behind him. Hopefully I'll be able to really shown and show with a all of these guys on the team are capable of. I think we are definitely capable of winning races right now. We are definitely capable of winning at indicate and I to win every race, really. The team is excellent and hopefully we can deliver the results.
Q: What types of things has he helped with you already as you've gotten in the car with him?
LEONARDO MAIA: Just staying calm and relaxed. I mean, oval racing, it's a little by new to me and he's got a lot of experience with that when he ran Indy Lights, and now that he's doing the Infiniti Pro Series, he's got quite a bit of experience with that and I'm still new to it. He's just helping me to get used to it and it's a different type of racing that I'm used to, so he's been on both sides. He's done road races and oval racing. So that's been extremely helpful to have someone who has done both, who has made the transition, same transition that I'm making right now and that's been pretty invaluable to me. Hopefully we'll keep learning and keep teaching me and we'll do good.
Q: What goals do you have for the rest of the season?
LEONARDO MAIA: I just pretty much ask for the best. I just try to do the best that I can. If that puts me in third place, if that puts me in first, if that puts me in 10th, again, that's all you can ask of yourself. I ask that from myself and I ask that from the team. The team, actually, you don't have to ask that at all, just have to deliver. The team is incredible. Everybody just does their job, nobody complains, nobody slacks off and everything gets done. It's just a great atmosphere.
MODERATOR: Thanks for taking time to join us on the teleconference this afternoon, best of luck in Indianapolis and best of luck rest of the year.