Q&A with Drayson's Jonny Cocker
Jonny Cocker ended 2009 with the overall pole position for the Asian Le Mans Series event at Okayama, Japan.
If Jonny Cocker’s 2010 season continues like 2009 ended, it will be a banner year for Drayson Racing’s young ace pilot. The team’s move to LMP racing late in 2009 and confirmation of a full American Le Mans Series entry for this year have fans buzzing on both sides of the Atlantic. Lolacars.com caught up with Cocker for a brief Q&A.
Q: Jonny, since that great weekend in Okayama last autumn (his first career pole position in Le Mans-style racing) what’s been happening –how have you been preparing for this year?
JC: Unfortunately there is not a lot that you can do really over the last month but I have been doing as much as I can be - especially in the gym - to ensure that I am as fit as possible in preparation for next year. You also get other things sorted as well, all the little bits really; getting your kit sorted, that sort of thing.
I really just can’t wait for 2010 to begin, I think Okoyama proved that the Lola-Judd LMP1 is an out-of-the-box quick package. I am really looking forward to the upgrades for 2010 because if we can build on what we already had it will be terrific. I am really looking forward to driving the new car to see how it feels but I am still very much in the learning stage with this car only having driven the car twice in a proper event. Laguna we obviously had the incident, so we didn’t get much time in the race unfortunately, but Japan couldn’t have gone any better. I think we built from the first session and in the last free practice we did a new tire run in preparation for qualifying and didn’t really kind of hook the lap up. We had traffic, but what was good was that we didn’t really show our true pace. So, going into qualifying I had in the back of my mind that it’s possible, we can challenge for a front row or maybe even pole, so to get pole was absolutely incredible. You know, it was a moment I will never forget.
Cocker: Actually, physically driving the car is far less physical than the GT2 car but in the high-speed corners extra strength in your arms and upper body and neck is where it makes the difference.
Q: In terms of the change from racing a GT Aston Martin to an LMP, I guess there are certain physical changes: tell us about any extra training. Is there an area that you feel the LMP is more physical to drive that a GT?
JC: Yes, I think it’s surprising actually to people. I find, having only ever driven GT cars, I have zero experience with any cars with any proper level of downforce. Single seaters I have never had anything to do with, so for me to jump from a GT2 car into an LMP1 car - and an LMP1 car that everyone knows has got absolutely superb downforce - I was a little bit apprehensive going into it, thinking “Oh my God, am I going to cope with it?” Actually, physically driving the car is far less physical than the GT2 car but in the high-speed corners extra strength in your arms and upper body and neck is where it makes the difference.
Actually, you know, a circuit like Le Mans, I would expect it would be easier to do a stint there in a P1 car than it would (in a GT). That is because you get a proper rest, you really don’t need to move an awful lot, you’re really comfortable in the car, you have got a proper seat in a really nice position and you rarely have to worry about your mirrors. It’s actually the first car that I really cannot wait to get back into driving because as soon as I’m out of it, I’m missing it. The car is just absolutely amazing to drive. For me to get my head around how quickly it can go was the biggest thing really and once that started to fall into place, I felt I can relax and then we started going quickly. I think everybody involved has done a fantastic job.
Q: Being in the LMP1 Lola-Judd you’re looking forward for the traffic rather than looking back, does that take a lot of getting used to?
JC: I think it’s just a little less pressure really. In the GT2 car it’s not just a case of looking behind you to make sure you look after the P1 guys, it’s to make sure that you look after yourself as well and, collectively you work together to create a fast lap time for both of you. In the same sense you can use the P1 cars when you’re in a GT car to help you with traffic; in a P1 car you can use GT2 cars almost like a block if you are fighting with people. So it’s very much tactical from that point of view but I think having had experience in GT cars for the last few years, driving with both types around me all the time, I think it certainly is an advantage jumping into the other side, because you know what the GT2 drivers are thinking, you know where they are going to want you to pass and you know the best way to get past them cleanly, safely and not lose time.
Q: Do you think that not racing in single seaters is an advantage for you when it comes to LMP racing?
JC: I’d argue the other way really. I would say that having done no single seaters it’s probably more difficult for me to jump into something with downforce and be able to properly adjust to it. But saying that, it’s a race car and at the end of the day, it’s got four wheels and a steering wheel. There is a certain set of things that you do. Yes, it’s a different driving style and there are different priorities that you need to look for when you’re driving the car to get a fast lap time, but as long as you understand how to extract the time, then I don’t think it’s an issue.
Q: How do you enjoy working with the engineers? Is there a difference of working on the GT to working on an LMP like the Lola?
JC: With the GT car you are always tuning the dampers, the tire pressures and basically the dynamics of the car to use the car’s weight and weight transfer because you are obviously relying mainly on mechanical grip. With the Lola we find the base, we run it as low as you can get away with, which is what everyone does and tune it with little fine touches on aero, using maybe different packages front to rear. I think what’s really important with the Drayson Lola is that we have got a proper idea of what things do and you can quantify that with numbers, so when we make a change we know that’s what we are going to get, so we can turn up to a race meeting, having done the simulations, and be very much in the ball park. Then it’s starting to find a suitable set-up really, you need to arrive with a set up and tune it for the day and that’s what we did in Japan and it really worked.
Q: Part of the structure of Drayson Racing of course is the green initiatives that the team are involved with. Do you enjoy being involved in this kind of initiative?
JC: Yes, absolutely. I believe, as does Paul, that things do have to change in motorsport. We cannot continue in the way it has been going. Something has to change and the important thing is that people like Paul and people like the American Le Mans Series, the ACO and Lola want to make changes to set a precedent and make motorsport more sustainable. Being involved in a team which is passionate about being green, driving technology forward and pioneering new technologies is very stimulating. Outside of the actual racing my passion is very much engineering . I enjoy learning how things work and that’s something that I find really good fun as well, so I think it’s a perfect kind of balance between performance and green initiatives. I think that’s what Drayson Racing is all about.
Q: Finally, Johnny, I am not going to ask you about any predictions for 2010 but what are your aims for this season, especially the classic races like Sebring and Le Mans?
JC: Well, I think if we can repeat Japan throughout 2010 and have weekends like that, I see no reason why we are not going to put ourselves at the top of the map. We are going to have more experience, have more testing, we should have a better car and everybody collectively is going to be in a better position so I don’t see any reason why we can’t challenge the guys that are established and more experienced than ourselves. I think everybody loves an underdog , we kind of are at the minute, but I think that’s going to change very quickly.