Good morning and welcome to Shanghai, China for the team principal’s Thursday press conference ahead of this weekend’s Chinese V-Prix – round three of the 2019 Formula Virtual World Championship. Joining us today, from left to right, are; Adam Willis of Excelsior, Adam Blocker of FIRST Motorsport, Cory Evans from Koenigsegg Team Holmqvist, Kazuki Armos of Meteor International FV Team and Nick Forrest from North Star Racing. Welcome to you all.
Reporter: We’ll go from left to right so let’s start with you Adam Willis. This is your first season in Formula Virtual, how has the experience been so far and have you learned a lot since your debut in the sport despite not qualifying yet?
Adam Willis: I’d say it’s been a mixed bag.
Reporter: As mentioned you haven't started a race yet but pre-qualifying has been pretty close, are you expecting to have your first race start over the next few races and which of your two drivers are you more confident in to deliver it?
AW: Both drivers have shown they are capable, so I’m not going to put one in front of the other. But we are certainly aiming to compete in our first race. It hasn’t been easy, especially as such a late entry to this season, but I believe in our team, in our plans and I hope we can bring that to fruition sometime soon.
Reporter: Hopefully we'll be seeing the Excelsior out on track in the future. Moving on to you now Adam Blocker, it has been arguably a mixed bag for FIRST so far this season. Are you happy with your pace in the last two races compared to your expectations and do you think your FIRST win is on offer in the near future?
Adam Blocker: To be honest, we expected a little more than what we have had in terms of pace in results. We were hoping to be up there with the top group, but right now appear to be slightly behind the front runners. I am hopeful that we will be able to win a race this season. I think the main thing that we need is to get a clean weekend in where both drivers suffer no issues in qualifying that negatively impact our race. Both drivers had bad qualifyings in Australia, and Zozulya had a failure in Japan. It’s difficult to race your way into a good position from the back.
Reporter: Zozulya has struggled with qualifying pace last year and we saw that again in Japan, albeit due to a mechanical problem. On the flipside Perez hasn’t had great Sundays this year. Are you worried that neither driver can nail both qualifying and race or are you confident they can pull a weekend together?
AB: For sure that is a concern, and that has been a general trend over the past season or so for both of them. However, I think that once they find good pace their "bad" section (Zozulya in Q, Perez in R), it might click for them and things might really turn around. The same was happening to Allar Kangur for a while. He could not qualify to save his life. Then he got one good qualifying result and he has been a good bit better since.
Reporter: Good point, I’m sure Perez and Zozulya can do that. Corey, Bergkvist made his full time debut this year after that brief stint in 2016. Has his points finish in Australia given him confidence for this year and has Beyer as a experienced driver been helping him adapt to a top tier series?
Cory Evans: Seb was delighted with Australia, but it gave him no more confidence. He believes in his abilities and has every faith he would deliver. Felix has helped him adjust yeah, simply because it is such a different environment here, and not always one that is particularly friendly, there are a lot of snakes and backstabbers.
Reporter: This year Koenigsegg have a second team alongside you in Excelsior. Has it helped you that they have a second team and therefore more data, and have you helped Excelsior with their debut in FV?
CE: Barely, you only get data when the cars are actually running. Excelsior have kinda gone about it their own. We say hi in the paddock but it’s not been much more than that.
Reporter: Ok thanks Cory, we will come back to you. Now, Kazuki, you’ve shown some good midfield pace so far in both the last two races and in pre-season testing. Are you hoping to score your first points since 2016 within the next few races and potentially get out of Q1? And will that improve the team morale?
Kazuki Armos: We have been out of Q1 both races so that won’t change anything. Points have to be the target now. We must get the strategy right. The midfield is so tight everything really counts.
Reporter: Both Lopez and Simon have been doing a solid job in the past two races, with both of them running in the top ten at some point in the races. Do you expect them to improve throughout the season as they gain more experience since Simon is only in his second year and Lopez in his first?
KA: Both drivers know what is expected of them and that is a continued improvement trajectory. We signed them because we believe they are capable of that. Should we be proved wrong, you know what to expect and we will be sure to enact that change as soon as it should be necessary.
Reporter: Sounds good to me! Last but not least, let’s go to you, Nick. You’ve had three points finishes from four starts and are placed 5th in the championship, which by my calculations is your best ever start to a season. Are you happy with that or are you expecting to improve and challenge for higher positions?
Nick Forrest: Uh...that’s a bit of a tricky one to answer, I must admit. Obviously in motorsport, or any kind of sport, really, you want to be aiming as high as possible and not getting complacent about where you are. Although we have seen a number of times in the past in Formula Virtual, teams who aim too high one season have tended to plummet down the order the next. Plus, with the midfield as close as it has been so far, I think North Star needs to focus on consolidating our fifth place in the standings for the time being, then we can see where we stand a little later on in the season.
Reporter: This is García’s first full season, is adapting well to competing in a year long campaign in a top series compared to his two separate two race stints last year? And has Halvosen been helping him out a bit with getting use to FV?
NF: I’d say he was on both counts, from what I’ve seen. Last season he was called up to a race seat with very little preparation after Johan’s injury, and also heading up a challenge in the VWRS as well at the same time, whereas this season he’s had much more time to get up to speed with the car, with a full pre-season of testing under his belt. Johan, too, has actually been very open with Gabriele about how to extract the most out of the car and where he can improve, it seems to be a case of both drivers wanting a teammate that can push them to be that little bit better, and help move the team forward together.
Reporter: Certainly from what we've seen Garcia has been doing well. We’ll move onto the fan questions now then. First one is for you Nick; “Are you worried about losing Halvosen to a top team as he has been doing very impressive lately?”
NF: I wouldn’t say worried, necessarily, but then there is always that possibility with the Formula Virtual driver market, especially given how active it’s been recently. From what we understand, however, Johan’s very happy with where he is and where we are currently, we’d both be very glad to continue our relationship onward, and with a bit of luck, North Star could well become a top team in that time, is at least what we’re aiming for.
Reporter: Interesting response, you now Kaz; “How does it feel to be back in the midfield fighting with other teams after two years at the back of the field?”
KA: Honestly, no different. We have had two seasons without points. Until we get at least one point back on the board, nothing changes. This year is our best car in a while so we do have hope, but we have to develop a lot to get there first.
Reporter: Good to see Meteor back up fighting after the last two years. Cory, next one says; “What race do you consider as your ‘home race’ as Sweden is not on the calendar?”
CE: As someone who is half-British and half-Swedish, with Sweden not around I consider Silverstone our home race. We would love a race in Sweden though.
Reporter: It would be exciting to see a race in Sweden. Here’s a good one for you Adam Blocker; “Personally, who is your favourite driver to have raced for FIRST in any category throughout the teams history?”
AB: For me, my favourite FV driver that has driven for FIRST is probably Oleksandr Zozulya with Felix Perez being a close second just because he hasn’t done as many races (and therefore hasn’t achieved as much yet). The reason why I have more of an attachment to these guys is that they came through our academy and have been involved with the team for years before arriving in Formula Virtual. Both of them joined our academy in 2016, and Zozulya actually raced for us in the 2014-2015 FV2 Winter series. So it is really cool to have two guys that we have developed racing for us in FV, and it will be really rewarding if we have some success with them.
Reporter: Understandable. Final one for you Adam Willis; “Did you get free tickets to Avengers: Endgame due to your Marvel sponsorship?”
AW: We did. The whole team rented out the local cinema to watch it. Anyone who didn’t want to were able to give their tickets away to fans of Marvel and of our team.
Reporter: Fair play. That’s all the fan questions, thanks to everyone who sent them in. Now, I don’t think this has ever been discussed before, but seeing how we’ve had a wet qualifying and a dry qualifying so far this season, do you approach a wet qualifying differently then usual? Generally the fans seem to enjoy wet sessions were there is more unpredictability but what’s it like from a team's point of view?
NF: It kind of depends on where you are on in comparison to the rest of the grid, I feel. Wet sessions, especially when the conditions are as volatile as they were in Australia, are liable to throw up all kinda of surprises, so I imagine you’d want that if you were a team toward the back of the grid, whereas the frontrunners would want a dry qualifying session to make the most of their pace. I think, for the first time, North Star are actually in the position of wanting dry qualifying sessions, so here’s hoping!
KA: Wet always poses a challenge, just because we and the drivers have less experience with the conditions. Naturally, we hope for dry for the security and comfort, but there is an allure from the wet because it can throw up a surprise.
CE: Wet sessions see slower times. They also have the ability for more surprise results, so they are nice if you’re not particularly competitive.
AB: In Formula Virtual, a wet qualifying session is really exciting and a lot is put in the drivers hands to get a good lap in. However, as a team if we have a bad performance in the wet we are not as concerned because we know it doesn’t represent the actual pace in the car. If the team has a difficult dry qualifying session, then the outlook for the race is worse because our race pace will likely be similar to our qualifying pace unless we had some technical issue in qualifying. In the end, our approach to each session is basically the same but the information and attitude that we take out of each session is fairly different.
AW: Both were new experiences for us, and come with different challenges. Obviously in the wet it becomes more about timing than outright pace necessarily, which I suppose can be a bit stressful, as you need to ensure that decisions are made quickly and efficiently. Maybe as a new outfit, we're still lacking in that department at the moment, but I also think those sessions are our best chance at a surprise result.
Reporter: Great answers, thank you very much. I've heard there is a chance of rain this weekend so watch out for that. Final question, as usual to everyone, what are your expectations for this weekend, and which team do you think are the ones to beat?
AW: We’re just hoping to qualify for our first race, that’s our aim at the moment, we won’t delude ourselves and say that we’re aiming for points at the moment, as nice as that would be. As for the winner, I think the DS Mathershaw team have looked the strongest so far, so I expect them to go on and take another win.
AB: Two cars in the top 6. I think DS Mathershaw will win again, probably Kangur this time.
CE: We want points. And Downton will win. I reckon Klaas has fire in his belly after Japan, so expect a strong showing from him.
KA: We have to have a solid midfield result, or we will be dissatisfied. Points are the natural goal. As far as predictions go, I’d say a Downton probably.
NF: For the win, DS Mathershaw have looked very strong the opening couple of races, so I think it’d be a bold call to bet against them at least challenging for the victory. If everything goes smoothly, I think North Star should be able to score another double points finish to continue our momentum from Japan, and if anything happens to the top teams, hopefully we’ll be there to pick up the pieces.
Reporter: Super, mega thank you very much to you all, great job today. Thank you to everyone for joining us and we'll see you tomorrow for practice. Until then, goodbye, or as they say in Chinese… something in Chinese.
The latest in other series