F1B EXCLUSIVE: Q&A with Martin Brundle

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Martin Brundle

I you’ve been following F1B over the past year, you will recall that we’ve been keeping you up to date on the very latest activity of the Anglo-American team United Autosports. The team, a joint effort by Just Marketing International’s Zak Brown and Richard Dean, recognized real progressive performances in their maiden year. You also may recall the interviews we had with team owner Zak Brown here and here. You can also check out their website here for more information about this terrific operation.

It was announced a couple weeks ago that Brown had orchestrated a joint effort for the Daytona 24 hour race in 2011 with the Michael Shank team. The Shank operation is equally a terrific team and this should be an outstanding opportunity for everyone involved. F1B’s own Paul Charsley has done some work with the Michael Shank team and speaks incredibly highly of them.

To assault the Daytona 24 hour race, Brown has enlisted the help of a tremendously talented driver. We Americans know him best as the current voice of the BBC pit lane report and older American F1 fans will recall his epic duels with Ayrton Senna in F3.

Martin Brundle, for me, represents a terrific combination of skill, insight, wisdom and tenacity that epitomizes what I have come to know as the quintessential British Racing driver. He is a real professional in every sense of the word whether it is behind the microphone or the steering wheel. I’ve always been a big fan of Martin’s and believe that Zak Brown has made a great choice in his ability to garner the talents of former F1 pilots such as Stefan Johansson, Eddie Cheever and Mark Blundell.

Brundle is no stranger to speed, race craft and the ability to hustle a car. He has always remained in my mind as the man that took the race to Senna and had the Brazilian thinking twice about the talent level in European open wheel racing.

It is a real honor to have been given an opportunity to ask Martin a few questions about his upcoming race in Daytona and what he feels about returning to the cockpit with his old teammate Mark Blundell. It’s a thrill to have his kind consideration for F1B. Here then is my Q&A with the wonderful Martin Brundle:

Formula1blog: Martin, I know I share the sentiment of all American racing fans when I say welcome back to the Daytona 24! Many may know your terrific F1 races but you’re no stranger to victory in sports cars and particularly the Daytona 24 having won there before. What compelled you to get back behind the wheel for Zak Brown?

Martin Brundle: I am very much looking forward to racing in America again. I really enjoyed my time there in the IMSA Jaguar and driving in the IROC Series in 1988, plus of course several F1 races in Detroit and Phoenix. Although I am 51 years old, I have wanted to re-engage in competitive driving for some time as I simply can’t park the passion or the need to race.

I became very busy with my broadcasting career and driver management along with a key position at Silverstone for a number of years. I have managed to reduce this now along with selling our motor dealerships, so Zak’s call to me to compete at the Daytona 24 hours was very timely. It particularly motivated me that my former team mate and good friend Mark Blundell would be driving the car too.

F1B: You’re joining another former F1 pilot and business partner in Mark Blundell for the race, can you tell us one of the most character-defining qualities of Mark’s from a driving perspective? What makes Mark stand out for you behind the wheel?

MB: I know Mark very well. We became friends after we met on the pit wall at a sports car race in Montreal in 1990. We joked about how similar our names are and of course we became team mates in 1991 at Brabham and again in 1993 at Ligier. We have subsequently worked together on F1 TV in the UK and in driver management.

Mark of course has a great record in Indy cars as well as sports cars. I know him to be a fierce and determined driver. Indeed when we were in opposing F1 teams and even as team mates we were pretty aggressive towards each other on the race track.

F1B: Michael Shank Racing is a very well known team and terrific partner for Zak Brown to work with. A great team with great people. Have you worked with Michael Shank Racing before?

MB: I have had correspondence with Michael Shank and members of his team as we prepare for the Daytona test in early January but I have yet to meet anyone in person. The car seems very competitive and Mark Blundell told me after the Homestead test that it’s a very well run and professional organisation. I know how Zak likes to do things so I can’t imagine that he would sign up to anything other than a top line team.

F1B: You’ve won the Daytona 24 before in a Jaguar in 1988. It’s certainly a race for the intelligent driver. How do you and Mark plan for car conservation, team tactics and flexibility to handle the unexpected? Is there a particular time that is the most difficult for you in a 24 hour race? Night, day, dusk or dawn? How drastic is the changeable light conditions to depth perception and the ability to manage the car in slow traffic?

MB: We finished first and second in the two Daytona 24 hour races I have driven in to date with a great TWR team and a special car. I was a bit annoyed not to win it in 1990 but we had a head gasket problem in the final hour and the sister car won the race. Whilst it was only three drivers back then, I do remember it being far and away the most physical race of my career and that was 20 years ago! It is four drivers now but I am still not underestimating the challenge for us, and it will be very tough going especially if the weather happens to be warm and humid. I see the oval section of the track has been resurfaced and that presumably will generate different challenges, but far and away the biggest problem I remember was constantly encountering traffic.

Twenty four hour races are of course largely about endurance and to an extent pacing yourself and protecting the car. However, in more recent years there has always been one car that drives flat out and keeps going, so I suspect the pace will be dictated by the front runners rather than any cunning plans beforehand. I am expecting that we will collectively aim to get to the end of the race and see how far it takes us up the running order.

Any incident in a 24 hour race which means an unscheduled or lengthy pit stop puts you out of contention so every lap and every pass is important. My experience, particularly at Le Mans, is that the early hours of the morning are where mistakes start creeping in. Once daylight breaks on ‘day two’ many seem to get a renewed energy and focus. From what I remember, Daytona has a significantly longer period of darkness than the mid June of Le Mans. We just have to keep the car out of the walls and out of the pits where possible, day and night.

F1B: I must admit that I cannot shake the seared memory of your pace and giving Senna all he wanted in F3. I may be out of bounds but if memory serves correctly, you are massively quick on tight circuits like Monaco and Hungaroring. Does the Daytona 24 circuit favor your strengths? As tracks go, does it present a real challenge like some of the European circuits?

MB: Yes, I certainly had an amazing season with Senna in British F3 in 1983 which appears to move increasingly into motor racing folklore. It put me straight into F1 which was handy. In F1 I always went very well on street circuits but I was on the podium at other tracks too such as Spa and Monza. I have a neat and precise style of driving which works pretty well everywhere but was particularly effective on tight circuits.

The Daytona 24 hour circuit is a combination of slow, fast and banked corners. In the end I expect time will be made or lost in the braking zones and slow corner apexes as always. The fact is that there is a specific amount of power and grip available from the car combined with the twists, turns and cambers of the tarmac, and you have to find the limit of grip and drive as close to it as you can regardless of where you are racing.

F1B: Are you a Right-foot or Left-foot braker? Do you feel one style is quicker than another one?

MB: Of necessity I am a right foot braker because I once knocked my left foot off my leg in a qualifying crash for the 1984 Dallas F1 Grand Prix. My left foot now works rather like a switch and although I try to practise left foot braking on the road it normally has my passengers hanging from their seat belts with their noses against the windscreen due to my lack of finesse. I wish I was a left foot braker as it would have helped my F1 career enormously.

F1B: Can we expect to see more Martin Brundle in 2011 behind the wheel?

MB: I have some other plans for racing in 2011. I did race for Lamborghini and Volkswagen during 2010 and I would like to do some more sports car races. My son Alex, who is now 20 and races in F3 and F2, may also be engaging in some sports car racing. My great ambition is to share a car with him at Le Mans before I become too old. Luckily, for now I appear to have decent speed and I would like to use that where possible, while remembering that my primary role is calling the F1 races to tens of millions of English speaking fans around the world. Although sadly for me, not the USA.

I have to be honest, a Brundle/Brundle combination at Le Mans would be a terrific sight to see. We would like to thank Martin for his time and kind answers and everyone involved in making this Q&A possible. Look for Martin on the BBC and yes, sadly we Americans don’t get a regular dose of Martin Brundle but I do have the answer…attend the 2011 Daytona 24 hours and you will get to see Messrs. Brundle, Blundell and Brown battle for the win in prototypes.

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