Editor’s Note: I’m trying something new this week. Prior to this year’s Skip Barber Karting Scholarship I asked friend and driver coach Steve Welk if he was heading to the shootout at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and if he would be interested in writing a guest post on JuniorOpenWheelTalent.com. He gladly accepted the invitation and you can read his submission below. His piece starts out with a day-by-day description of the shootout and ends with some interesting thoughts on a few of the competitors. It should be noted that while Steve coached for Skip Barber Racing, he was not working for Skip Barber last weekend but was coaching eventual winner Tristan DeGrand and Andrew Hobbs — which he is up front about in his intro. Enjoy.
By: Steve Welk – President of Linear Sport Motorsports Management
A little background on myself / disclaimer, I have been involved in motorsport since the age of eight which puts me at the 20-year mark this year. In 2003 I began instructing with the Skip Barber Racing School then formed Linear Sport in 2005. I decided to end my own driving career in 2008 to focus solely on driver development. I work individually with drivers from karting through the upper levels of junior formula car racing and coached drivers Tristan DeGrand and Andrew Hobbs at this year’s Shootout.
The 2011 edition of the Skip Barber Scholarship Shootout was another very well run event that should be on any driver’s agenda if they plan on making the transition from karts to cars. Regardless if a driver comes away with a scholarship (sometimes even more so if you don’t), the knowledge gained about the realities of motorsport is invaluable.
For this event Skip Barber brings out their top instructors and the 2011 edition included the likes of Indy Lights driver Joel Miller, former Toyota Atlantic driver Grant Ryley and ALMS prototype driver Gerardo Bonilla amongst several others. While on track the competitors received some of the best instruction available. Off track drivers were introduced to several aspects of the sport through seminars from industry veterans and, for the outgoing driver, it provided some great networking opportunities. This year’s guest speakers and judges included SPEED TV’s Bob Varsha, Team USA Scholarship Director Jeremy Shaw, MAZDASPEED Communications Director Dean Case, sponsorship expert Townsend Bell, and former Formula One driver and author Derek Daly.
The other thing that Skip Barber needs to be applauded for is the division of the shootout this year. Over the last couple of seasons the event had become less and less of a karting shootout and morphed into a Skip Barber Shootout. After listening to their competitors they divided up the event into two programs, one for karters and one for veterans of the 2011 Skip Barber Race Series. This format will transfer nicely into 2012 as the Race Series Shootout prize will become the MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development Scholarship for the USF2000 National Championship.
The format for this year’s shootout was similar to the past two years with the first day comprising street driving and safety training to satisfy the FIA Motorsports Safety and Development Fund aspect of the scholarship for the karting group (the Race Series drivers did not go through this day of the program). This is a great aspect to the program as it gets the drivers to break a little bit of the nerves of the event and have a little bit of fun sliding street cars around the skid pad and autocross. Also during the first day the drivers had their first real test by going through mock interviews administered by Bob Varsha and Jeremy Shaw.
On the second day the drivers went through three different seminars in the morning: one from Dean Case on the business of motorsport, one with Shaw and Varsha on public relations, and then Gerado Bonilla held one on the teams’ view of what is expected of a pro racing driver.
The afternoon of the second day allowed drivers to show their speed on track. The scoring system for the on-track version breaks down based on two categories: Fastest lap and fastest average over each session. Points were awarded for first on down in each category, so a driver can have a best of two firsts in each session. These points were awarded over the four on-track sessions and act as the main guide for the judges to debate who they think should be awarded prizes and in what order.
The event organizers decided to throw one more element into the event this year which was an excellent move. Session three was a mock race dubbed a “Competitive Module” with the karters doing a single file start in their two different groups and the Race Series drivers doing a double-file start. The grid order was set based on average lap time from the previous two sessions, this split the karting group into a marked quick group and slow group. The session was designed to test the drivers’ decision-making ability in a race-like condition. Finishing positions in the event were awarded as a small part of the total points. It was the wildcard test and between the three groups there was one minor incident, which speaks volumes for the maturity of all the drivers.
After the final on-track session Sunday morning the judges broke for deliberations. The process is always tedious and having been involved in them before, I was more than happy to be on the outside looking in. During the almost four-hour process… You might ask, what did a bunch of will-be racecar drivers do to kill time?. Most of the group watched racing videos in the hospitality building with “50 Years of Formula One on Board” sparking a lot of talk of the history of the sport.
The results for the event are available for all to see and I for the most part agree with the results (we are all racers and will always have our opinion), but I thought I would touch on a few of the drivers who stood out, starting with the Race Series drivers:
Danilo Estrela (Danny Star): 1st – For those who followed the Skip Barber National Championship Danilo had a tough season with a lot of quickness and a lot of mistakes. In order for him to take top honors he not only had to show his speed again, but that he has the ability to stay out of trouble. He was quick each session and lead at the end of the “competitive module.” He put his stamp on the event by setting the fast lap in the last session by over half second while setting the fastest average. It was a deserved honor for the quick Brazilian.
Andrew Hobbs: 4th – Andrew was another driver who struggled in his rookie formula car season and came into the event with a lot to prove in order to have a shot at a prize. The Wisconsin driver improved throughout the event in both pace and consistency. Hobbs probably logged his best racecar performance to date during the final session running third fastest with the fourth fastest average to move himself up in the judges’ order.
Jack Mitchell Jr.: Not Ranked – In these events there is always someone who feels they were left out and I think Mitchell has a case to be made. Mitchell set the second quickest time in session one and backed that up with a third in session two. He wasn’t able to match his speed in the final two sessions, but it was a strong performance from the young driver nonetheless. Look for him to be a threat all season if he returns to the Skip ranks next year.
Tristan DeGrand: 1st – Tristan DeGrand was solid over the course of the entire program. Each session he didn’t put a wheel wrong. He was able to deal with a car that was found to have mechanical issues in session one, avoided a spinning car in session two, made text book passes in the competitive module, and threw down fast lap after fast lap in the final session; claiming both fast average and fast lap like his co-winner Estrela. The feat was all the more impressive since DeGrand hadn’t sat in a Skip Barber car for over two years until a school two days before the shootout.
Aaron Teliz: 4th – For Aaron Teliz this was his second time going through the Skip Barber Shootout and he made the most of his previous experience. He was one of the quickest drivers in the first session and overall quickest of the karters in the second. A slightly stronger performance when the quick group was combined and he would have been a serious threat for the overall prize. He has a smooth style that will serve him well in the Skip cars and beyond.
Ayla Agren: 6th – The sole European entrant of the group, Ayla was able to turn some heads with her performance. The international karting driver was one of the few drivers to come to the event without doing anything more than her three-day school in the Skip Barber car. Her quickness was tempered by a few offs while learning the limits of the car, which hurt her chances to finish higher up. She will only get better with more experience in the car.
Nicolas Silva: 8th – If there was an award for most outgoing driver I think Nic would have taken that award. He made sure he introduced himself to every guest speaker and asked questions during each talk. On track he was fast as well, setting the second quickest lap in the final session. Two spins cost him a shot at a higher finishing position but when he gets his consistency worked out he will be a threat for wins in the Skip Barber Series.
As I said in the first paragraph, this is a must attend event for any driver who wants to get a four-day course on becoming a racecar driver. I applaud the Skip Barber Racing School and MAZDASPEED Motorsports Development for their continued effort in furthering the careers of young racing drivers.