Reporter: Hello everybody, welcome to the team principle’s Thursday press conference here in Monza, Italy, ahead of round ten of the 2017 Formula Virtual World Championship. Please welcome from left to right on the back row, Cory Evans of Holmqvist and Dick Diceman of FUN. And on the front row are; Nick Forrest of North Star Racing, Arthur Lapierre of DS Mathershaw, and Adam Blocker of FIRST Motorsport.
We’re going to start today off with a question to Adam, Nick and Cory, welcome to the press conference guys. How do the three of you feel about your own team’s growth from the first season to the second season? Starting with Adam please.
Adam Blocker: FIRST’s plan was always to focus our efforts on 2017 from the moment we joined in 2016. We looked at 2016 as a year to get settled into the series and considered 2017 as the time to become a competitive midfield team, with a goal of finishing sixth in the constructors’. Other teams said this was unrealistic, but it has turned out to be very possible as we currently sit fifth in the constructors’ with a decent margin back to Holmqvist. Overall, I have been pleasantly surprised by our performances. I dreamed of getting a podium this season, but didn’t think it was realistic. The team has smashed my expectations in this regard, as we scored three in our first half of the season! I understand that in China we had massive help from heavy attrition and that Spain and Austria were largely due to strategy calls, but if it keeps happening we must be doing something right. I mean, look at it: Arden Hutchinson is currently fourth in the drivers’ standings. Fourth! That’s unbelievable and it is a testament to the good engineering the people in Charlotte and Detroit have done, as well as the consistent results from Arden.
Nick Forrest: I think North Star have had quite a strong second season, all things considered. Scoring six points right out of the gate with Judson back in Australia was an incredible start to the season for us, when you think back to where we were in 2016, we were celebrating that one as if we’d won the race! Admittedly, we did take a bit of a wrong turn with the development around the start of the European season, so that sent us a bit further back into the pack, but we’ve still only failed to score in two races so far this year. We were still missing out on some big results, though – we’re the only points scoring team this year that didn’t have a top five finish before Belgium – but we put the work in back at the factory in Perth, along with the Magna guys over at Aurora, and it definitely looks like we’re getting on top of the car now. It’s almost had a new lease of life since Silverstone, and whereas Adam thinks his podiums were scored through attrition and strategy – I can’t speak for Cory, but Dwyer’s in Austria seemed to be strategy as well – in Belgium I think we put the car there on merit, on raw pace. It looks like we can even start closing in on Holmqvist for sixth in the standings, and I think the second half of the season’s only going to get better for North Star!
Reporter: And Cory?
Cory Evans: Like Adam, 2016 was a write-off for us from the start. We joined so late we barely had the car together, never mind a thought of competing for anything serious. Considering we have now scored points and taken a podium with a great strategy call – as Nick rightly points out – I would call out progress very good. That said, our performances are very up and down which is frustrating. The car seems to be right on a knife-point and when it is right we are really quick, but when it is not we struggle. That said we currently sit sixth which is fantastic.
Reporter: Thanks guys. Moving over to you Dick, how do you feel about 2017 so far for FUN?
Dick Diceman: Well I guess by now it’s safe to say that this season is kind of a learning and rebuilding year for us. With the new Volvo engines we knew this season would be tough, as they jumped in without any experience from the sport. However, we have managed to collect a lot of data for future development, and our two brilliant drivers have committed themselves to our project, so I am extremely optimistic for our future. Maybe we hoped we wouldn’t be quite as much behind as we currently are, but again our expectations for this season were never very high in terms of being competitive.
Reporter: So far there are four teams yet to score this season, yourselves, Meteor, Ingram, and Ocelot. Do you think you’ll realistically be able to be the best of those teams and pick up a point or two if there’s a high attrition race at some point?
Dick: Well I wouldn’t dare to predict anything to be honest with you. Currently we are on par with Ingram with Meteor being slightly ahead and Ocelot slightly behind. However overtaking Ocelot in the standings would take what, eleventh place in a race? And to be honest we are not going to be able to get that kind of result without huge twists and bad luck for other teams. The field is more competitive than ever, so scoring points this season or even getting that eleventh place is a very tough task, but if the opportunity comes, I know I can trust my drivers to do the job.
Reporter: Okay finally we’ll come to you Arthur. I think it’s fair to say that the story of DS Mathershaw in 2017 is similar to that of Franklin, you clearly have the pace to be fighting for podiums but there have been so many missed opportunities due to either bad luck or an error of some sort, how do you feel the season is shaping up in comparison to your expectations prior to Melbourne?
Arthur Lapierre: For us it is par for the course so far. The car we know is good, but it is also not the best by quite a long way, we have seen this. From a technical point of view, the partnership with DS Automobiles evolved before the beginning of the season and we said this would take some time to show in our results, but we’re happy that we have got eight podiums. We’re slightly disappointed we have only won once, but we know this season is about maximising points rather than fighting for victories every race. I’d like to think we’re still strong though, and hopefully our run of bad luck is nearly at an end – Adrien has been driving well without much to show for it, and I just hope it changes soon.
Reporter: It was announced fairly recently that Adrien will be staying with you for 2018 which probably didn’t surprise too many people, but in the same press release you also stated that you’re still evaluating your options for the second seat. Allar had a great race last time out in Spa but is he realistically a driver who is of the calibre that everyone is used to seeing at DS Mathershaw? Are there better options?
AL: Adrien is an incredible driver, we all believe there is no doubt about that. He’s been with us from the start, and everyone at this team wants to repay his faith in us with another championship. It is important to consider that Allar is a rookie in Formula Virtual, and his results have shown a lot of promise. We believe in his performance for the rest of the season, but as a team pushing for the top, it would be irresponsible not to consider all of our options. One thing that must be clear is that Allar is very much of the calibre we look for in the team – we have started discussions with him among others, but we cannot say for certain whether he will be in a race seat for 2017.
Reporter: You’re actually looking pretty comfortable at the moment in second place in the constructor’s championship, but some of the teams behind have outscored you pretty heavily in the last few races. Does it play on the minds of everyone in the team when results aren’t going your way or does everyone just get their heads down and work even harder to push on?
AL: For sure, when things do not go our way, it concerns us. Franklin, FIRST, Westwood, Holmqvist and North Star among others have been on the same level as us, and when we have problems they have taken advantage. We continue to work hard behind the scenes and we know we will get some luck again eventually. When the teams around us start to suffer from problems, we must do as they have done and maximise our points.
Reporter: Okay back to you Nick. Prior to testing before this season started, what were your goals for 2017? Points primarily? Podiums? Or were you aiming to finish in a certain position in the constructor’s championship?
NF: Before the start of the year, our goal was to be at least challenging for points on a consistent basis, scoring them more often than not, and we were targeting a constructor’s finish somewhere in the top seven. Although, while we were achieving the former, I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how close the field would be, and that we’d go from fourth to ninth in the table in the span of two races. That was a bit of a harsh slap back to reality, I can tell you that! With the field being so competitive, though, it did give us scope to be a little more ambitious, and set our sights at some of the teams nearer the front of the field. The Westwood’s and the DS’s, for example, I think we can aim to get at least one car ahead of them during the races at this point.
Reporter: It was an excellent job from the team and Karl to get up into third in Belgium, North Star’s first ever podium and Karl’s first in thirty-eight races! It’s now looking like an inspired decision to swap him and Aleksy around, isn’t it? Admittedly we’re only one race in, but how is the relationship between him and Judson so far, in contrast to the sometimes-heated relationship between Judson and Aleksy?
NF: Well as you said, it definitely looks to have been a great move to bring Karl into the team, he’s already outscored Judson after just one race with us! From an inter-team perspective, though, things do seem to have settled down. Aleksy, I think, was slightly too eager to beat Judson, maybe that was a hangup from their VWRS days, but that did spill over a number of times into the races, despite us trying to keep a lid on it all. Again, it’s only been one race, but the team certainly seems to have come back together a little, Judson’s eager to start driving his own races again, and Karl’s enjoying being back in a car nearer the sharp end of the field. Hopefully things do stay cordial between them, but the initial signs are all pretty positive.
Reporter: Let’s hope it stays that way! Adam, speaking of inspired decisions, after six races in the car Oleksandr has now scored twenty-nine points, including a second place! Do you feel now like it was the right move to replace Douglas?
AB: Bringing in Oleksandr has clearly been a good decision from the team’s perspective. Douglas was under performing and had not scored any points. Oleksandr has had good race pace and has scored that one big result for the team as well as some other respectable points scoring finishes. Oleksandr needs to improve his qualifying performances and reduce the number of mistakes he makes, but those will come with time. The decision to swap drivers was made early on in the season to ensure that we didn’t waste potential opportunities to score points and so that Oleksandr could get properly acclimated to the car as soon as possible.
Reporter: Being one of two US based teams in Formula Virtual, do you feel that it’s important for FIRST to have at least one American driver in your team, whether that be a race driver or a reserve driver? Or is it not something that is really considered when making decisions about driver line ups?
AB: In an ideal world, FIRST would always have an American driver. However, we won’t put an American in just to have an American. We chose Douglas as a driver because of his massive experience and occasional exceptional performances. His experience has helped a tremendous amount with car development, and his exceptional performance in Belgium last year put us ahead of North Star and Holmqvist in the standings for 2016. Going forward, I find it unlikely that FIRST will have an American race driver any time soon, as unfortunately there isn’t any good American talent coming through the junior categories at the moment. Brock Kidd is a good talent, but now he has found a home in IndyVirtual. The only current American on the grid is Stuart Harrison, but he has already committed to IndyVirtual next season and I was never fond of him anyway. We are constantly looking for American talent to add to our youth academy, but haven’t found any yet.
Reporter: Cory, some eyebrows were raised when Aron was dropped after his first ever points finish in France, and some thought it was a little harsh when Kiara was replaced two races later in Germany. However, in the three races following, Lewis and Hugh have scored thirty-nine points which is well over half your tally for the season so far! Do you feel it was necessary to make those decisions that might have been perceived as harsh?
CE: I suppose you could say I have taken a leaf from Franklin’s book in that department. We would not have changed our drivers mid-season had it not been necessary, and I do not think there is much more I need to say. The results speak for themselves, they have vindicated the decisions have they not?
Reporter: You’re quite right there, the results definitely speak for themselves. Taking into account the huge improvement from you as the season has progressed, have you had to change your aspirations for the rest of the year? Are you now looking ahead at FIRST, Westwood and Franklin, or are you looking to consolidate sixth ahead of AMR and the rapidly improving North Star?
CE: Top five in the championship is the updated aim which I have mentioned before but this is looking more challenging given the car. I have heard many people say we should focus more on North Star, but we do not tend to look behind.
Reporter: Dick, I’m sorry to remind you but in Monza last season Will Hoskins qualified on pole for FUN, then in the race your guys finished first and third! Do you think the problem for you, as well as some other teams yet to score, was that you had your attention too much on 2016 when you should’ve been looking towards 2017?
DD: Well yeah, last year was by far our best season ever, and it’s not a secret that we continued the development of 4-FUN pretty long. I would say it was worth it, but we did have big plans for this year also. However, after Yamaha made the decision to quit, we kind of had to start everything all over again, and as you probably remember, we were very late with our new car this season. But yeah, most of the teams don’t quite have the resources to be competitive every year. For example if you look at FIRST; they were nowhere last year, but this season they have done an absolutely brilliant job. I hope their example will give some optimism for us and everyone who is struggling this season, things will get better at some point.
Reporter: Following on from that question, what are your hopes for this weekend and who do you think you’ll mainly be competing with?
DD: Well honestly, we are just looking to get some more data for our future development. Monza, being a very fast track, gives us good feedback on where we are going with our engine at the moment. Every car we manage to beat is just a bonus for us.
Reporter: The same question to the rest of you, Arthur?
AL: As always, we hope for a win! Realistically that is not going to happen, but we are aiming for a large haul of points, and a podium as best of the rest behind Downton would be incredible. As always, Franklin will be our main rivals, but literally any one of six or seven teams could easily beat us so we know there is no margin for error.
AB: I expect a double-points finish, with both drivers finishing in the lower end of the points. We’ve had three double points scores in a row now, so continuing that streak would be great. In recent weeks, our main rivals have been Westwood, Holmqvist, and North Star so I expect that to continue. I also expect that we will have our traditionally lacklustre practice then out qualify the true pace of the car once again. If for some reason we are off the pace this weekend, I won’t be too disheartened as Monza is a completely different style of circuit to every other circuit on the calendar.
NF: Monza is another track, like Silverstone and Spa, that we think suits our car very well, so if we can keep the recent engine gremlins at bay, I think we have a good chance to get both cars in the top five if the strategy holds out, maybe even another podium. As for who we’ll be racing, it’s tough to gauge with the field as competitive as it is, but I’d be surprised if Adam and Cory here didn’t have one of their drivers sticking their noses in!
Reporter: And Cory?
CE: I hate to be pessimistic but this circuit is similar to Spa, and we did not have a good weekend there. I would imagine we will be on the fringes of the points again in that group that currently seems to contain ourselves, Westwood, Franklin, DS Mathershaw, FIRST and now North Star. Of course, we will strive for better than that and would love another podium, but let’s be realistic here, unless something goes wrong we are all battling for third place at best.
Alright thank you very much to our five team principals today, I hope you all enjoyed today’s press conference and good luck to everyone for this weekend.