Pippa Mann's fans are convinced of several things ..
1.) She's among the most fan-friendly, accessible drivers in IndyCar. The Ipswich, England, native now lives with her husband in Indianapolis turns up at virtually every fan event she's invited to in Indy. She's also a regular attender of most Tweet ups and other fan gatherings at most IndyCar race locations, even if she's not driving that weekend.
2) She uses her tools ... in the social media realm. From having twitter-based conversation with fans to writing columns for Racer Magazine and her own site, to Behind-the-Scenes photo galleries and Facebook updates, Pippa relentlessly works the social media channels to connect with fans.
3) Despite the struggles and trials that the majority of IndyCar drivers go through -- not to mention the harsh critics and haters sniping from the anonymous shadows -- Pippa remains remarkably positive in public.
The year of 2012 found Pippa out of IndyCar entirely. She returned in 2013 and qualified for her second Indy 500 and has since raced at Texas and Pocono for Dale Coyne Racing. Coyne recently announced Pippa would also race for him in the season-ending race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California on Oct. 19. (Read the biography from Pippa's site here.)
So, what keeps Pippa jumping through the daunting hoops that face most IndyCar drivers these days? How does she stay posistive? What's with all the ovals from someone who grew up racing road courses in Europe? What's the sponsorship climate like out there these days? Well, I asked her earlier this week ...
pressdog: What has been some of the challenges going through a season where not only are you part time, but often you've not known for sure if or when the next opportunity will come?
Pippa Mann: You know, it's kind of been this way for me since my last full season of racing in 2010 in Indy Lights, and things work this way for a lot of drivers. It's tough, and at times I've found it very hard to stay positive, especially in private. Last year, when I didn't get the chance to race in IndyCar at all, kind of felt like my own personal Hell. I loved the two races I did at the end of the season in Auto GP, but my goal was always to be back at the Indy 500 this year, and then to try and run more races after that. I'm definitely much better at living with the stress than I was two years ago, and I would like to think I have less dramatic happy/distraught swings when things do and don't work out.
However it's probably worth noting that this year I have already been incredibly lucky compared to last year. I have gotten to start three IndyCar races, one of them my second Indy 500, and this past weekend I bought home a top 15 finish and earned myself another race later in the year. So I'm also trying to enjoy the moments when I get the opportunities to get in a racing car. I think it was something I maybe took for granted for a lot of my career— that I would be driving. Now I know I should never take anything for granted, and I think the hard times have made me a better, more complete person.
pressdog: With all the build up and effort and practice that goes into getting into a race, how do you deal with the letdown of having some mechanical issue take you out, like the engine blowing at Texas? Is there swearing involved? How do you NOT let it get you down long-term?
Pippa: I'm not going to lie -- it's tough. But here's the thing. These things happen in racing. It just "seems" more cruel that it happened to me because I get so few opportunities to get in the car, but these issues happen to full-time drivers too. It's part of the job. You just have to learn to suck it up when it happens, and know there have been times when you weren't so perfect yourself and made a mistake too. However it's tough to go away and explain to sponsors why their investment in you for this race only lasted a couple of laps! That is not a nice conversation to have to have! Then you also have to learn to keep hope alive. You can't allow yourself to believe that was your last race, you have to believe there will be another one, and to hope that when you do get another one, that this time both you and car work together in unison to bring home the result you want! That's also the message you try and convey to your sponsors after something like Texas happens too, and if you don't believe it, they sure as Heck won't!
pressdog: Have there been any silver lining or blessings in disguises to this season of uncertainty for you? Any unexpected positives?
Pippa: As I mentioned in my first answer, I definitely think these tough past three years have made me a better human being. I take less things for granted these days, I try to make the most of every available opportunity whether it's inside or outside the car and go after everything with enthusiasm. The amount of support, and the amount the fan base has stood behind me during these few years where I have bounced around has also been incredible. 2010 was a long time ago, and in fact even my rookie Indy 500 when most people heard of me for the first time feels a while ago now. I am hugely grateful to everyone who has continued to support me, and to everyone who has been vocal about their support, and then gone out there and been vocal about supporting my sponsor, Cyclops Gear, this year too. To be able to bring that kind of value to a growing brand despite my limited time on track has been incredible, and that is all down to my fans. Without them, without their support, their buying the product, telling their friends to, without other female athletes applying to be part of the Team Cyclops Gear program in other disciplines, I would not be here, and I would not have these opportunities. So I think that side of things has been pretty amazing.
pressdog: Your new engine at Pocono ... did you notice improved performance?
Pippa: Yes! I am very grateful to Honda that we got to run one in the No.18 Cyclops Gear car during the race! I was surprised, and pleased that we were in line for one, and I can't thank them enough for giving me that opportunity. I hope I looked after it fairly well in the race, and that it keeps Mike right up front back in the car this weekend at Toronto!
pressdog: Fontana ... have you run there before? What are your expectations?
Pippa: Actually no... But I have seen it before in person, so I have a little more idea what to expect than I did going to Pocono! In all seriousness, there is a manufacturer test there before the race weekend, and while I don't have that confirmed yet, obviously I would love the chance to test. That said, I have a habit of getting up to speed fairly well at the big tracks, and Dale Coyne Racing has been doing a fantastic job helping to tune the car with me to where I want it from the moment I jump in. My expectation is that the track will be somewhere between Texas and Kentucky driving style wise, two places I have been. I'm told it will be a handling track due to the bumps and the seams, and I'm expecting it to be pretty fast, and if Texas is anything to go by, a touch sideways! I'm definitely looking forwards to finding out first hand later this year!
pressdog: You're turning into a bit of an oval-specialists (whether intentionally or not). Does that get back to our discussion on the parabolicas? (Read said discussion here.) I assume you'd love to try the DW12 on a road and/or street course.
Pippa: Yes, spot on! I know we've spoken about this before, but despite the fact I grew up racing road courses, I was always best at the big fast tracks where a combination of bravery and absolute car feel coupled with smooth hands through the long high speed corners was required to get the best lap time. Obviously once I first drove on an oval, those traits came to the fore front, and they've been there ever since. In my second year of Indy Lights I started working out what I really needed from the car to be fast in qualifying, and racy in the race.
My best results in Indy Lights came on the ovals with three poles, a win and two podiums on my way to fifth in the championship that year, and so when I was trying to persuade Eric Bachelart to test me in his IndyCar, trying to persuade him to do it on a big oval was the obvious choice. Everything else in IndyCar up until now has kind of followed on from that point. It's also important to note that when you have limited opportunities, you have to pick your bullets wisely, and given that I know what I'm looking for from the car, and feel I can get up to speed and be competitive quickly on the big tracks, that's why I have been running those.
However I would absolutely love to get to try the DW12 on a road or street course in the future. In fact "love" is not really a strong enough word for how much I would like to do that, but I'm not sure what other word to use!
pressdog: Finally, IndyCar on the upswing? Are people more/less responsive to your pitches? Is it harder, easier, about the same to get sponsor attention?
For me personally it's more about the economy as a whole rather than just IndyCar itself. When times are tough, it's incredibly difficult to persuade companies that spending a decent portion of their marketing budget on something extremely expensive. Very few companies want to be seen to be supporting a rich sport when their customer/consumer/client base is probably struggling financially, even if the company is maintaining wealth. However as the economy has improved, interest has started to pick up again, and people are getting more responsive to approaches and pitches.
Take Cyclops Gear as an example in case. Although we couldn't work out a way to get video recording eye wear into a helmet in the short term, they could see the potential of getting involved, and the IndyCar fan base fit a demographic that could work with their product. They were also looking for more exposure, and to increase both sales, and athletes on their Team Cyclops Gear program in various sports. Throughout the month of May we managed to double their sales, and they were inundated with requests from female athletes who wanted to get involved with the program. This was a direct return on their investment in IndyCar, and their association with me.
Now those numbers didn't just fall out of the sky. A name on the car is not what any sponsor is really after, it's all about activation. And in between driving, and putting together other sponsorship deals during the month of May, I worked to make sure their name stayed out there in front of my fan base - through tweets, through photos, through Facebook, through any medium I could think of, and any way I could think of to try and keep things interesting rather than just the same thing every day. That's what I do every time I'm at the track representing them, and through my association with them, it is then also opening the eyes of other companies whom might be potentially interested in getting involved in the future. In Indy Lights it was mainly about just driving the racing car, but at this level it's just as strongly about business, and being able to provide ROI (Return on Investment) to your existing sponsors, and showcase your ROI potential to possible future sponsors.
You can't drive a racing car to the top 15 in your third start in that type of racing car if you don't get to start any races because you have no sponsorship. At the same time once you have convinced a company of your worth, you have to prove it, and the pressure is on to do that on track. Again, referencing this past weekend in Pocono, that top 15 was just what the doctor ordered for my program this year, and now I'm back in a car at Fontana. Sometimes it definitely feels like a chicken and egg scenario, but once you get one of those two sorted out, and you either have your chicken, or your egg to get things started, the next part of the game is to try and keep the ball rolling. We got things started in Indy, Pocono kept the ball rolling. Here's hoping for more of the same both in the lead up to Fontana, and throughout the race weekend!