Gary Paffett Interview – DTM ace talks Motorsport

gary paffett

This fantastic interview with Gary was conducted in 2010 by Junior Torque editor Richard. 

An invitation to visit the award winning Mclaren Technology Centre in Woking to interview one of Britans top Motorsport talents is one hard to pass up.

Gary Paffett is one of Britans most successful racing drivers. From being a top level Karter, to winning every single race in Formula Vauxhall Junior, to dominating the German F3 Championship and winning the cream of the touring car crop championship; DTM, he has been at the sharp end of everything he has competed in. Nowadays he has to combine his winning in DTM with testing for Mclaren and has helped develop race winning F1 cars for years.

Not content with all this however, Gary still aspires to race in F1 and that his hard work for McLaren will translate into a race drive at some point.

So lets start with some quick fire questions Gary, firstly what is your favorite race track?

(Laughs) that’s one of the hardest questions ever! Ah, favorite race track? I find that very difficult to answer. I mean being drivers you’ll know that your favorite track is normally the one you’re quite successful at because you’ve had good experience there, but I think one of the best tracks I have driven, definitely one of the most enjoyable, is Spa. It’s a fantastic circuit but I’ve never really had much success there so its strange that I enjoy it so much. Spa is definitely one of the best circuits I’ve driven; otherwise I’d say Istanbul. We raced there in DTM in 2005 as a one off and yeh it was really good. I really like the circuit and the facilities so thats definitely one of my favorites too.

So whats your current road car, am I right in guessing it’s a Mercedes?

Mercedes D Class and a Merc GL.

Who is your childhood hero?

Aryton Senna, like a lot of people I think. I got to meet him once, when I was about 11. It would have been really nice to have met him when I started racing properly because he was such a good driver firstly but just his whole manner – how he dealt with the team and everything else. And his way of racing has only ever been replicated by Michael (Schumacher). The way Michael built the team around him is something that Aryton used to do so it was a shame we didn’t get to meet him properly.

Did you meet him when you were karting?

Um yeh when we were karting we went to Silverstone one day as visitors of McLaren and he was there.

It must be quite something to actually race for the team that he helped build?

Yeh yeh absolutely. I mean watching the red and white Marlboro cars with Aryton driving was really my first memory of watching him in F1, so yeh it’s great to be here at the team he sort of built.

Does Mercedes taking over Brawn mean you go to Mercedes or do you stay with McLaren?

(Laughs) I mean I have great links with Mercedes and Norbert from DTM and also from being here at McLaren but certainly my F1 duties and job is here at McLaren and that’s where I am at the moment. It’s not as if from one week to the next I’m at Brawn which is now Mercedes, I have a job with McLaren and I really enjoy that job and at the moment this is where I’m going to be.

Ok that leads on to the next question, do you still hope to race in F1?

Absolutely, I mean every driver wants to be racing in F1 and that dream never goes away and all the time I’m keeping myself involved in F1 by a bit of testing for Vodafone McLaren Mercedes or doing something else. As long as I’m in F1 I feel I’ve got a chance of possibly getting a race seat but it’s just as always, it’s waiting for the right opportunity to come along and so far that hasn’t come up but we’ve got to keep looking. You know I’ve got a great position at the moment with Mercedes in DTM and also with McLaren so it’d have to be a pretty serious offer to go away from what I’ve got but certainly racing in F1 is one of my dreams.

So one of the new teams wouldn’t tempt you?

Well it could but it’d have to be a pretty strong guarantee that they’d last more than 6 months! (Smiles)

Your thoughts on Jenson joining the team?

It’s great. I mean I can’t believe it’s happened really, it’s almost unthinkable to have the last two world champions both being British, both in the team. It’s just incredible. I mean Lewis has been doing a fantastic job since he arrived here, Jenson has done a fantastic job this year and it’s great for the team to have him onboard, he’s obviously a very top line driver and I think it’ll only help the team to develop further.

Have you guys (You, Jenson and Lewis) actually raced each other before?

I raced with Jenson a couple of times in Karting, but he was a couple of years ahead of me so I never really properly raced him. He was usually at the end of a karting class just as I was joining it but I raced against him a couple of times and I have beaten him! (Laughs) I expect every driver says that, but I was a very good friend of Jensons’ from a really young age. When I started Karting I was living down in the West country and Jenson was based in Frome so we got to know each other quite well as we were always testing at the same circuits at the same time so yeh I’ve known Jenson, the same as Lewis, from a very young age.

They say DTM cars are just single seaters with a shell, is this true and if so what are DTM cars like to drive compared to F1?

I would say that’s absolutely true. They’re so far away from regular touring cars which are basically cars pulled off the production line and modified. These are purpose built cars with space frame chassis and a carbon fibre safety cell with wishbone suspension and purpose built engines. So they’re very much a racing car, a single seater car with a body on, to the point where they actually handle very similar to a F1 car. I mean F1 cars are so fast they’re ahead of any other single seater so it’s quite hard to get close to them but the DTM’s still generate a lot of down force now and generally the weight distribution of the cars are pretty well split so they actually handle very similar to what a single seater does so it doesn’t actually take too much, now I’m used to it, to jump from one to the other…

I was going to say, you must jump from one to the other quite a bit? Maybe not now with the current testing ban but a few years ago?

Yeh, I think it was 2007. I was testing at Jerez for 2 days and then the next day I flew to Germany and then drove the DTM car the day after, so I had two days between the two cars before a race weekend. I’ve gotten used to it. I’ve been doing it since 2005 when I was already doing simulator work and racing in DTM so I got used to it then and for the last 3 years I’ve been doing both full time and so yeh I’ve got used to it. To start with it was quite tough, the different styles you need, but as the DTM cars have developed they’ve become more similar to how you’d drive a single seater, closed the gap.

Would you welcome diesel engines to DTM?

Nah not really no, I think we’re quite happy with the regulations as they are. I mean if they were forced to do it then possibly but I think they’re pretty happy with the regulations so I don’t think they see a need for it.

With the withdrawal of F3000 team Brand Motorsport in 2003, was this a low or high point in your career considering you were signed up for DTM immediately afterwards?

At the time it was a really low point, we had very high hopes at the start of the season and there was a lot of talk about big sponsors and we had a lot of very good people from top teams involved in the project. Then as the season started, it kind of got worse every week. We went to the first race in Imola and had a pretty disastrous weekend and then shortly after that they shut up shop, so that was certainly a low point! I was just getting to the point where I was trying to start my career and I was suddenly left , April time, without a drive in anything. So yes it was a low point but then as you say shortly after, probably a couple of weeks later I was picked up by Mercedes and Team Rosberg to drive in DTM. I had tested for them in the winter of 2002, after I won the F3 championship, so they’d already tested me in the DTM car but we had gone to do F3000. I think that as they had already tested me in the car they were quite happy that I’d do a good job.

You were the first winner of the DTM race with a year old car…

Well I was the only one until Jamie Green did it this year but I was still the first!

Well how did it make you feel and was it a high point of your career to date?

Absolutely it was. In 2006 I took a year out of racing in DTM to do full time testing here and then in 2007, they cut the testing back a lot and so there wasn’t so much for me to do. I went to rejoin DTM and at the time, they said that all they had to offer was a year old car, which after winning the championship in 2005, was obviously disappointing. So to actually come back in the year old car and then to win in my second race was incredible. It was really a way of “ stamping my authority “ to say “I’m back” and can still race! It was great for me and I think it was even better for the team. They’d never won and so to win the race and have Paul Di Resta ,who was my team mate, come second—a one /two finish in a race where it wasn’t even as if everyone else fell off ! We genuinely won that race and I think it was fantastic and for the team just incredible!

How different did you find an F1 car to drive compared to other single seaters, what’s the biggest thing you had to get used to?

Um, it’s very different, the first time I drove an F1 car was in 2000 actually and all I’d driven up to that point was an F3 car so that was a fairly big shock and after about 15 laps I felt that my neck was going to fall off! The first time , after driving an F3 car, it didn’t take too long but then in 2005, I started driving in the car full time. You really have to get used to how fast the cars are and they are incredibly fast compared to any other car. I think the biggest thing about them is they’re always really well balanced – you know a lot of the times when you get in race cars and they’re horrible, not very balanced, but with F1, because of the preparations these guys do and the simulations – which is good because of how fast the cars are – when you do get in the car, it’s always pretty close to being well balanced. It’s never undriveable, it’s always nice to drive and that’s the biggest thing about them, although you may have to change a few things, they’re always close to where they need to be.

Did it take long to get used to the Aero grip of the F1 cars and did it require a different way of driving?

Absolutely. The speeds you take through the high speed corners are incredible really and even in mid to slow speed corners, the aero plays a big part so you do have to get used to driving quite differently. But I would say, that coming from an F3 car, it’s actually the other way, in the F3 car you carry as much minimum speed as you can, whereas in an F1 car, although you’ve got a lot of downforce you’ve also got a lot more power so you have to drive it quite differently. You have to get yourself out of the corners as early as you can without losing traction whereas in an F3 car you haven’t really got any power at all compared to the amount of downforce you’ve got, so it’s a bit different. Quite a different way to drive in high to low speed corners, you have to get used to carrying a lot of speed into some corners but being a bit more careful in others.

Did left foot braking in karting stand you in good stead for the latter formulas of racing?

I would say yes and no really because when I started racing cars, you got taught to right foot brake and heel and toe and when I started driving racing cars at the end of 1997 that’s what I was doing and from that point on I was always right foot braking. Everything I drove including the DTM was right foot braking but obviously when I moved to McLaren I changed to left foot braking which you have to do in the F1 car. But then when I went back to DTM, that’s when I converted back to right foot braking and it did take a while to get used to it again. Obviously all those years of karting that I did, when you do learn to brake and control with your left foot — but still I did have a pretty big gap before I started doing it again —but yes I do think it did help. I think there are a lot of other aspects of karting that have helped a lot more when you go racing.

Would you welcome a return in F1 to H pattern of sequential gearboxes? If DTM went paddle shift would you welcome it?

No, DTM is great like it is as there are no electronics but I wouldn’t want to drive an F1 car without paddleshift, I think they’re just too fast. I think it would be too difficult. I wouldn’t want paddle shift in DTM though, some people may like it but it does take a bit of the skill out of it.

Why did you skip Formula Ford earlier in your career?

Um well, I did Formula Vauxhall Junior instead. I mean the two championships sort of ran side by side and I think we saw Vauxhall as probably the more cost effective way of doing it. It was slightly cheaper to do it because we entered our own team. I think it was just a bit more cost effective for us to do it really, and it was a great championship. There were a lot of top drivers doing it when I did it. It had guys like Antonio Pizzonia, Robert Bell etc- there were some top drivers in there so it was a good championship.

How important was Martin Hines to your early career?

Very important. Yeah he spotted me when I was 9 years old at a kart track and basically after that helped us out with karts and things at the start, because I don’t come from a wealthy family and the money had pretty much run out by that point; we were borrowing things and getting things from other people. He did a lot for me at that point and then eventually we moved up closer to the factory and my dad started working on the karts and I started driving in the ZIP team. Without him I wouldn’t have got to where I did get to. You know we then went to car racing and started by running the cars out of the car factory. Martin was certainly committed to getting me as far as I could get.

What’s your current fitness regime?

Just train as much as you can! (Laughs) I think when you get to the level of DTM or F1 I think your fitness really depends on how much other stuff you’ve got to do because it’s just down to how much time you can actually get to train. I think Lewis has said that he was fitter at the start of 2007 than he was in 2008 because he was a rookie, no one did much PR work with him the whole winter of 2006, he just trained and got himself fit, ready for the racing and then after his first year in F1 it all went crazy and suddenly he had no time to do the training that he had done before. It’s very much a mix — Doing your cardio stuff which isn’t that intense but needs lots of duration and obviously muscle endurance. I mean the cars are hard to drive, we try to do some neck training but it’s the most difficult muscle to train so there’s no replacement to actually driving the car.

On your website it says you race computer games, do you mind telling us which ones!?

(Laughs) Um well I’ve got the world’s best game downstairs (McLaren simulator) although don’t call it a computer game! (Laughs) I mean from a young age I’ve gone on computer games to learn circuits and for enjoyment really so I’ve played all the Grand Prix series games, all the Grand Turismo games and I suppose the game I play the most at the moment is Toca Grid which is quite good fun. Because I’ve got the simulator here I don’t so much enjoy simulation racing games, they’re not quite up to scratch compared to the one we have here! (Laughs) I enjoy anything that you can just pick up your joypad and have fun with really and Toca Grid is perfect for that, especially the online play is very good.

I take it you can’t buy one of the simulators you’ve got downstairs!?

You probably could but I don’t have the money to! I think if you asked them a price for it they’d take around 6 months to get you a price! (Laughs)

So you can’t buy them from Argos then?

(Laughs) No not really it’s not like Meccano!

Anyway…. back on subject!… if you could change one thing about Motorsport what would it be?

It would be to get rid of the requirement to have lots of money to compete.

And what would your one tip for young racing drivers be who are trying to make their mark on the sport?

You’ve got to just do your absolute best and try to keep yourself motivated and keep going. It’s not easy and I think you’ve really got to enjoy it. That’s one thing, if you don’t enjoy it very much then it’s very difficult to get yourself motivated so you’ve really got to enjoy the racing. I think another big thing is that you’ve got to try and talk to people and get yourself known by people. I think that’s quite important even at a young age. You’ve got to get involved with things and get to know people and then you’ve got more of a chance of getting sponsorship. I think nowadays you can’t just rely on talent; you’ve got to have a personality and be good at approaching people and getting yourself noticed.

What’s your take on the sterilisation of some of the modern race tracks? Do you find modern tracks as fun as the old ones?

I don’t think I find the new tracks boring but certainly when you end up going to race tracks like we do in DTM that have very little run off and that don’t have tarmac run offs and things like that, it certainly keeps you on edge and certainly concentrates your mind a bit more. The thing is it has to be a safety orientated sport now. It’s less to do with drivers crashing and more about failures happening and what happens then. When you look at circuits that don’t have the run off it’s not that you actually have many crashes but it’s just for that one time when it does happen, there needs to be a lot of safety in place. I think as long as it’s controlled –because of the way F1 cars are now, the high performance and the speeds they go, you need that run off. I don’t think it takes anything away from the sport because the guys that are always on the edge and always pushing, are using every bit of tarmac so I don’t think it affects the racing at all. I think visually it’s quite difficult sometimes because it’s just a sea of tarmac but I think that certainly from a racing point of view, it’s best to be safer when the eventualities happen. We’ve had it here with both Lewis and Heikki over the last couple of years. With Heikki at Barcelona it was a very big crash but he managed to walk away from it and race again the next week, so it’s really important to keep the safety and they’re doing a pretty good job.

I think a 90 degree bend is still a 90 degree bend no matter what the runoff, a driver still just finds the quickest way round that bend

Certainly they do need to look at ways of keeping the drivers between the white lines…

Yeh concrete is always a good deterrent!..

Yeh I mean F1 cars aren’t so bad, certainly in DTM cars we still have big problems with cars leaving the track because we’ve got more ground clearance. I think Djon was the worst one this year. We ended up so far off the track that we were out of camera shot, so they do have a lot of trouble policing it. With the F1 cars and the circuits they race at you don’t really see it happening too much, apart from Kimi in the wet at Spa last year, going all the way round the outside of Pouhon to overtake everybody!

Do you see yourself one day later on in your career involved in sports cars or Le Mans?

I don’t know I mean people have asked me about Le Mans, it’s a really prestigious and historic race and something I’d really like to do at some point, just to say that I’ve had the experience and done it, but for me racing is about racing over shorter distances, endurance racing is fine but it’s a very different thing and I haven’t done it so I wouldn’t exactly know but I certainly enjoy the shorter racing.

Author: Clerk of the Course

The Clerk of Junior Torque. Administrator, Editor and Dictator!


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