In attendance: Adam Blocker, FIRST Motorsport Team Principal
Oleksandr Zozulya, FIRST Motorsport Driver
Seth McCormick, FIRST Motorsport Technical Director
Adam Blocker: I have called this press conference today to announce a change to the FIRST Motorsport team that will go into effect immediately. From the French V-Prix onwards, Oleksandr Zozulya will replace Douglas Bacon in the FIRST Motorsport #74 race seat.
I: Woah, that’s big news! What is your reasoning for the decision?
AB: Unfortunately, Douglas has not been performing to the standard that we would like our drivers to perform to. As a result, we have decided to put Oleksandr, who has demonstrated his pace in FV2, in Formula Virtual practice in Japan, and in our simulator, in the car for this crucial period of the season. Douglas has yet to score a point this season, while Arden has scored 22 points already. That gap is unacceptable and something needed to be done before we entered the most important part of our team’s season. I would like to congratulate Oleksandr on becoming a Formula Virtual driver, it has been a lifelong journey and dream for him to do that and now he will be living his dream.
I: Oleksandr, how does it feel to know that you will be racing at Paul Ricard in a week or so?
Oleksandr Zozulya: It is a tremendous honor. I would like to thank Adam and the rest of the team for this amazing opportunity. The team has treated me well since the very beginning of our journey together, way back in 2014 in the FV2 Winter Series. I have learned a lot from being in the team’s young driver development program and I definitely feel ready to take on the challenge of racing in Formula Virtual this season. I am very proud and happy to have made it to the pinnacle of virtual motorsport, I recognize that it is something that many dream of doing but few get a chance to actually do.
I: Do you have any specific targets for your debut race and the season in general?
OZ: I don’t really have any expectations yet. If you ask me the same question three races in I will be able to give you a better answer. All that I can do is go out and try my best to learn as quickly as possible from Arden and my engineers while minimizing rookie mistakes.
I: Well congratulations on making it Oleksandr. In terms of expectations, Seth: from an engineer’s perspective, what targets do you have for FIRST over the next few races?
Seth McCormick: I think the whole team is very optimistic about our potential performance over the next few races. After all, we just scored our maiden podium and we have some major upgrades coming for France. Everyone here at the factory is buzzing to see how much of an impact their hard work to develop these improvements to the car will have. I really think that our rivals should keep an eye on us over the next month or two.
I: And what about for the rest of the season as a whole?
SM: Our pre-season goal for the team was 6th in the constructors’. I definitely think that is possible in our current situation, in fact I think that 5th is possible but it will be difficult. Our performances and execution after the European upgrades will be crucial to our season, so we will have to wait until after the next three or four races and then evaluate what our goals are for the rest of the season. As a team, we have never been in this position before so we really don’t know what to expect. As long as I feel like we don’t waste any opportunities I will be happy with this season.
I: Thanks for that Seth. Adam: back to you. With the promotion of Oleksandr Zozulya to race driver, what does the future hold for Douglas Bacon and FIRST Motorsport?
AB: The short-term will see Douglas serve as our test and reserve driver. There is always the opportunity for him to come back as a race driver if we need him to and he proves himself to be the best option available. He is definitely a candidate for test and reserve driver for 2018 as well, given his experience in Formula Virtual and motorsport, as well as his experience with our team.
I: Don’t you think he deserves an opportunity to properly celebrate what might be the end of his career?
AB: He certainly does. However, as a team we need to focus on getting the best results possible every race for both cars. A proper send-off race for Douglas is certainly possible and we have discussed it, but it will only happen if a bunch of different things come together. It is also important to give Oleksandr, a driver that we see as the future of FIRST Motorsport, as much seat time as possible.
I: Oleksandr, how do you feel about stepping into this situation? You are going to making your race debut in Formula Virtual in the middle of a season where everyone else is already up to speed and you will know that the guy that you are replacing will still be in the garage helping you. Does that put any more pressure on you to perform?
OZ: For me, I am just grateful for the chance to prove myself at the top of international motorsport. I have some catching up to do, but I’ve driven a FV car at multiple Young Driver Tests and at an FV weekend this season so I have some experience. I know that Adam and the team would not give me a race seat if they didn’t think I was ready and I trust their judgement, so I am comfortable with being in this position. In terms of Douglas being in the garage, I think that it will put more pressure on me at first, but if I start performing well that pressure will go away. And having someone with his experience to help a young driver out in this situation is always helpful, regardless of how potentially awkward the situation is.
I: Adam, you said that Oleksandr is a driver that you consider as the future of FIRST Motorsport. Does that mean that he might race with your team in 2018 and beyond?
AB: I cannot comment on that right now. All that I can say is that Oleksandr’s future with our team depends on his performances this season. Our team sees a lot of potential in him and I think that he is a bright young man, so I think he has the potential to excel in Formula Virtual. All that he should be focusing on right now is doing his best to learn and perform to the best of his abilities every week and we will go from there.
I: Final question. Oleksandr won in FIRST Motorsport’s debut race in any category back in December of 2014 in the FV2 Winter Series. Oleksandr also took victory in his first career FV2 Series race. Are you guys expecting a big result in France?
AB: I’m not expecting a victory, but if he wins we will definitely want him to be a race driver in 2018!
OZ: Well Arden did finish on the podium last race, although he was helped out by a couple of high profile collisions. Before that he did qualify 3rd and begin the race hanging on to a podium place on pure pace, so I am very encouraged by that. This is definitely a great time to join a team: right after they secured their best ever result!
SM: Our team is definitely dreaming big after our result in China. However, we know that it will be a tricky race and are definitely not even remotely expecting a victory. We are expecting a solid double points finish, probably both cars in the top 8. If we don’t have any collisions, unreliability, and we choose good strategies for our drivers that result is expected.
I: Thanks to everyone for coming out to Charlotte today for FIRST’s press conference. Tune in to the French V-Prix in a week’s time to watch Oleksandr make his debut in Formula Virtual!