For the last five years Mario Dominguez has called Champ Car home. With only 14 races on the Champ Car schedule in 2006, Mario has branched out to sports car racing in the American Le Mans Series. We caught up with Mario at the Road America event and discussed his current racing career in and outside of ALMS.
Mecca of Speed: It’s a nice surprise seeing you here at Road America for the ALMS (American Le Mans Series) event, in addition to running in Champ Car full time. Was this a last minute deal, or something you have had in the works with Risi Competizione?
Mario Dominguez: It was a last minute deal when they called me to do Lime Rock Park. For me that race was a big learning experience because I had never driven a GT or sports cars before. Nothing like this in my life, I’ve only done single seaters. It was a big learning experience, but I think I did quite well.
My drive at Lime Rock was enough to have Ferrari and Risi call me back to do three more races, which are here at Road America, Mosport, and Petite Le Mans.
I’ve very happy with this opportunity, there is nothing better then driving for Ferrari. This is a factory supported effort so it’s fantastic for me.
Mecca of Speed: What is the biggest difference between sports cars and Champ Cars- the braking or the horsepower?
Mario Dominguez: Sports cars are such a different beast. They are obviously a lot slower, everything happens slower. You don’t brake and turn with as much cornering speed as a Champ Car.
It requires a different technique and driving style. You have to be smoother. Even though it’s slower, that doesn’t mean it’s easy to be fast. I’m learning every time I go out there and turn a lap. I’m learning how to make this car go faster.
Mecca of Speed: Do you have input from your fellow Ferrari drivers as guidance, or a base line to start from?
Mario Dominguez: We communicate very well between the four drivers; we share all the information and discuss what we can do to make the car faster, and make ourselves faster.
Mecca of Speed: What is your personal street car?
Mario Dominguez: I have a BMW M3 and a Ferrari 328.
Mecca of Speed: Those keep you in the neighborhood of what you are racing in ALMS.
Mario Dominguez: Yeah, we’ll see, Giuseppe (Risi) said he was going to sell me one of these cars (Ferrari F430) at the end of the year, so we will see if he keeps his word.
Mecca of Speed: You have been performing quite admirably when you consider the size of Dale Coyne Racing. How is the chemistry? The team seems to be more like a family without as much overhead.
Mario Dominguez: The chemistry is good with the team. To say it’s a smaller team, it’s a much smaller team. We don’t have anything the good teams have as far as the cars and the technology compared to the larger teams.
It’s tough, but what I like about it is that everybody works very hard. The few guys we have in the team put their heart into it.
Dale is a great guy. He is a very good person who loves racing. It’s fun to race with a group of people that put their hearts into it. It’s obviously their job, but it’s more like their passion.
I do my best with what we have. It’s not easy, but I’m trying to do my best. It’s nice to have a Dale Coyne car running better then it normally does.
Mecca of Speed: Your abilities are a credit to the results the team is putting up. You are due to make the podium soon.
Mario Dominguez: Yes, a fifth in San Jose, it should have been a podium. We lost so many spots on the pit stops. Things like that we have to work on because we don’t have mechanics that are full time. They need to work on things like pit stops, but it’s hard when you have different guys on the weekend, however they do work hard.
It should have been a podium in Denver, but you know, should of, could of, would of, but the car broke down. The rear rocker broke, but we are running better then the team normally does, so that’s good.
Mecca of Speed: How are your prospects looking for next season?
Mario Dominguez: We would certainly like to do next year with more competitive racing, but at this point in time I just want to finish this season. Then I’ll focus on next year. I think we have some pretty good things lined up as far as sponsors for next year and hopefully that will give me the opportunity to go somewhere a little more competitive.
Mecca of Speed: Are you still active in karting?
Mario Dominguez: Yes, I have a shifter kart in Mexico and I try to go every time I’m there. I try to run two or three times a week, but during the season it’s harder when I come home to Mexico for three days, and then have to leave again.
I love karting, it’s my passion. It’s so fun to kart and it helps you so much to drive the bigger cars like a Champ Car. The power to weight ratio is quite similar. The reflexes and strength a kart gives you in the form of physical conditioning is very good.
Mecca of Speed: You are a motorcyclist and currently ride a BMW. What do you look for in a street bike?
Mario Dominguez: Normally I would love to own a MV Agusta or a Ducati. Either one I would be happy with but they are too fast for me because they are too tempting to ride fast. I don’t want to get myself into an accident because I couldn’t resist the temptation. I like my BMW; it’s a 650 Dakar GS, a nice touring bike that has some off road capabilities.
I go riding in some beautiful places around Mexico, it’s quite nice, very impressive. Sometimes we go to this volcano that is 13,000 feet up and we go inside the crater. There is a lake there, it’s just amazing.
BMWs are great bikes. You can take them anywhere and I don’t have to worry about going too fast. With a Ducati or an Agusta I would have too much temptation, and I cannot resist it.
Mecca of Speed: Adults often have qualities that are instilled in them as children. In high school you did a year at a military academy. What from that experience has helped you in racing or life in general?
Mario Dominguez: I think for life in general and even in racing, that fact that you have to be very disciplined. You learn that in a military academy, along with following orders.
I believe a race team is very much like the military. You have the team manager who would be the Captain. From there you have the crew chief that would be the Sergeant. It’s the same thing, everybody has a job to do and people to direct.
In racing, to be successful you have to be very disciplined and have everyone in line. Sometimes in racing there is more screaming than in the military.
That’s what my military academy experience has taught me about life. You have to learn to follow orders and have some discipline.
Mecca of Speed: Considering the amount of traveling you do in motorsports, besides a cell phone what is the one thing that makes life easier during the season.
Mario Dominguez: I like staying at nice hotels (laughs). That makes things a lot easier.
Mecca of Speed: Does your family make it to a lot of your races?
Mario Dominguez: Sometimes they come and sometimes I rather they wouldn’t come. They can make me too nervous. My mother pressures me more then the actual team owners.
Mecca of Speed: Would you like to run more in the style of old school drivers, who would run one full series, and other select races like Daytona or Le Mans?
Mario Dominguez: I would love to do Daytona, Le Mans, races that are world famous. Sebring would also be nice.
Mecca of Speed: What are three of your favorite tacks?
Mario Dominguez: Road America, Mexico City and Surfers Paradise in Australia.
Mecca of Speed: Fast well laid out tracks.
Mario Dominguez: Yes, very fast, well laid out and fun to drive. It makes things very exciting.
Mecca of Speed: What’s on the top ten list on your iPod?
Mario Dominguez: The Bee Gees, some new Techno song, I use those for jogging. I don’t know otherwise, my favorite band is the Bee Gees.
Mecca of Speed: With jogging, how much strength vs. cardio training do you do?
Mario Dominguez: I do a little more strength then cardio. About 45 minutes of cardio and two hours strength training.
Mecca of Speed: In racing, a driver’s helmet is his signature, and your design has followed you through your career. What is the story behind your design?
Mario Dominguez: The inspiration was from Michele Alboreto. When I was a youngster racing go-karts I was a big fan of his and bought an exact replica of his helmet. Complete with the Marlboro logo and the yellow and blue. I’ve always liked those colors. I’ve changed some things, and added some lines here and there, but my design is based on his helmet.
Mecca of Speed: You list Ayrton Senna as a racing hero. If you had the opportunity, what questions would you like to ask him?
Mario Dominguez: Obviously racing, he would be so interesting to talk to. I would like to learn some of the tricks to his fantastic concentration and how he remained so focused whenever he drove a racecar. To try and figure out how he could help me in that way.
Mecca of Speed: There is the legend that he would hold his breath for an entire qualifying lap to heighten his senses.
Mario Dominguez: I don’t think he did it on purpose. I just think he didn’t have time to breathe or think about it.
Mecca of Speed: Too much of a G load?
Mario Dominguez: Yes, it’s happened to me in the past where I come out of the car after a qualifying lap and I can’t breathe. I found I was holding my breath for who knows how long. One time my mechanic said, “You’re beat, you need to work out more.” It was just that I didn’t realize I was holding my breath and I didn’t know for how long.
Mecca of Speed: That’s unbelievable.
Mario Dominguez: You don’t realize it. You are so focused on driving that you pretty much don’t have time to breathe. If you are in Champ Car or Formula One, there is no time.
Mecca of Speed: What happened last year with all the rumors of you going to Formula one? Were those just proposals coming in?
Mario Dominguez: I tried and it was very close. I did a test drive with Jordan at Silverstone and it was looking good. Then I had some good offers and promises in Champ Car. At the same time other drives arrived with larger sponsors, so it became even more difficult. I may have been able to stay as a test driver but I figured I better wait.
Formula One has always been my dream. I still dream of it, but it’s not going to be easy. It requires a lot of sponsorship to go there.
Mecca of Speed: It takes quite a bit to get everything together and run with a competitive team. It would be hard to start with a team such as Midland.
Mario Dominguez: I would not mind running with Midland or Super Aguri. Formula One is my dream and you have to get there somehow. You know Alonso didn’t start at Renault or Schumacher at Ferrari. You have to start somewhere.
Mecca of Speed: What is your impression of the difference between running a Champ Car, and your test with the Jordon in Formula One?
Mario Dominguez: There are a lot more team personnel in Formula One. The power is very similar, but that handling and gearboxes are amazing.
Mecca of Speed: Do you think the semi-automatic gearbox in the Panoz DP01for next season will be similar to what you experienced during your Formula One test?
Mario Dominguez: No, it won’t even be close. Formula One is a different ballgame. It’s all fly by wire and very advanced.
Mecca of Speed: You think about going left, and the Formula One car goes left for you.
Mario Dominguez: Yes, almost. It’s that advanced.
Content credit Mario Dominguez and John Vatne. Photo credit Scott Rohloff and John Vatne.