When I was a kid, in my eyes racing drivers were viewed with great admiration and almost God-like status. The things they could do in a car placed them a step above the rest of us mere mortals. Over the years, my admiration for drivers has remained, but the God like status has been replaced with respect.
While talking with a crewmember during the autograph session of the Generac 500 at Road America, my wife took our kids to meet the drivers. When she got to the Dyson Racing table, she told Guy Smith that when he was in Champ Cars, my daughter, who was three at the time, decided he was her favorite driver. Not only was Guy flattered, but Chris Dyson seated to the left responded “That is so cool.”
As the autograph session ended and I met up with the kids to hear all the wondrous stories about meeting the drivers, we found ourselves by the Dyson Racing tables. My wife took our daughter over to get her photo with Guy. He disappeared into the transporter and returned with his helmet for her to hold for the photo.
Skipping the PR representative protocol, I rolled the dice and approached Guy to see if he had time for an interview. I was expecting a no, which is completely acceptable on a Sunday two hours before a race, but what I got was “sure, no problem.”
Even with all the travel and racing life style, I found Guy Smith to be a level headed, down-to-earth individual. The type of person you would like to have as a neighbor. Just think of the introductions “This is my neighbor Guy. What does he do? He wins Le Mans.”
Mecca of Speed: You brought a wide range of experience to Dyson Racing, including a Le Mans win in the Bentley Speed 8, and Champ Car experience with Rocketsports. What transfers over from your past experience to work with this car?
Guy Smith: The Lola is a different chassis compared to the Bentley and Audi I’ve driven in the past. Fortunately, all of these top sports cars drive amazingly similar, so driving the car isn’t that different. These cars always continue to surprise me with how fast and well they perform.
While sports cars are much heavier and bigger then a Champ Car, they actually respond and handle similar to a Champ Car.
Mecca of Speed: Can you slide a sports car more compared to a Champ Car?
Guy Smith: Because it’s a big car, you tend to think it’s going to be clumsy or lazy, but it’s amazing how responsive these cars are. By all intensive purposes, this Lola is a Champ Car with bodywork. They are lots of fun to drive.
In sports car racing there are so many variables with the races being long. There are a lot of yellows and sharing the car with different co-drivers always makes for interesting racing.
I’m really enjoying my time here and I think ALMS is a great series for racing.
Mecca of Speed: The Petite Le Mans is coming up. For longer endurance races, are you advised to adjust your driving style, to back off a bit? From the outside it looks like you start the race and run flat out for 10, 12, or 24 hours.
Guy Smith: In the past, at a place like Le Mans, when the reliability of the car was not as good, it was always look after the car until about one or two o’clock in the morning. Then start to push. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at things, the cars these days are so reliable that you can’t count on the competitions car to break down. You now have to push from the word go and hope your car is going to make it. If you try and play the conservative game, chances are you are not going to win the race.
The race we do here (Road America) is two hours and 45 minutes. It’s a sprint race. Going to Petite Le Mans, it’s a 10-hour race, but you have to drive it as a 10-hour sprint race.
If you do a 24-hour race, which is Le Mans or Daytona, for the car it’s like doing 10-11 grand prix in a row. We do a grand prix, have a few hours rest and do another grand prix, have a few more hours rest and do one more grand prix. That puts into perspective what the cars and drivers go through. It’s pretty brutal. These cars take a beating for 24 hours, it’s pretty amazing.
Mecca of Speed: Having run both closed and open cockpit sports cars, is there a big difference between the two?
Guy Smith: Generally speaking, my only experience with a closed cockpit car is with the Bentley and it pretty much handles the same way as our Lola.
There are pluses and minuses. A closed top car is quicker in a straight line, so that is the plus behind the closed cockpit. The down side is there is more head on the driver and they are more difficult to get in and out of. But, they do look very sexy.
I think the way the rules are going; in 2010 all the modern cars like we are racing here today ultimately will have roofs. They will be good looking cars, so that will be great to see.
Mecca of Speed: Are there any old GPT (Grand Touring Prototype) cars from the past that you would like to have for a day on an open track to experience?
Guy Smith: I was speaking with Rob Dyson and he had a lot of experience with the Porsche 962. He said it was a phenomenal car, so that would be great to drive.
Yesterday I was talking with a couple of mechanics who worked back in the GTP days. They were saying the Nissans were pretty impressive and then along came the Scream Eagle Toyotas. They sounded like they were pretty awesome to drive, so any of those cars would be great fun.
Mecca of Speed: What do you find is the biggest difference between racing in Europe and racing in the United States?
Guy Smith: The racing is very similar and competitive in both series, but what I like here is it’s more relaxed. In Europe, they take it very seriously. The teams don’t really speak to each other, its very Formula One-like, which is fine, but over here (United States) the teams all help each other out. The drivers all hang out together and when you race with each other all season long, it makes things more enjoyable. Of course, you have the added bonus of the weather over here.
A lot of European drivers race over here and really love it. I certainly enjoy it.
Mecca of Speed: What is the story behind your helmet design?
Guy Smith: I have had a lot of designs over the years. For whatever reason, I keep changing it. The one I have at the moment and plan to keep is pretty much British colors. It’s red, white and blue, although the red is more of a Ferrari red, so it looks a little orange. I like the design and the chrome. You try to incorporate your favorite colors and your favorite designs and this is what I’ve come up with. I hope to stay with this design for the rest of my career.
Mecca of Speed: What is your personal streetcar?
Guy Smith: At the moment, I have an Audi Q7, which is the larger 4X4 build by Audi. I’m going to be a Dad in a couple of months and I’ve been told you have to carry all the stuff that goes along with being a Dad so we got a big car.
Mecca of Speed: The smaller the kids are, the more stuff you need.
Guy Smith: Exactly
Mecca of Speed: When your family is a little older, do you plan on having them come to your races?
Guy Smith: Yes, my wife currently comes to the majority of the races. Hopefully my wife and the baby, who will be five to six months old in March will be able to come to Sebring. Provided my wife is ok, and the baby is ok, that is our plan. We’ll have to get him a little race suit and some earmuffs, then we’ll be ready to go.
Mecca of Speed: Excluding a cell phone, when you are travel, what do you find as an asset?
Guy Smith: I bring my laptop, especially when I’m away for more then a week. I can get my email and check some good websites to keep track of what is going on. Besides the laptop, I bring a good book and an iPod. The flights can be long pretty tiring so you need something to keep yourself amused, and not get stressed out.
Mecca of Speed: Speaking of iPods, what is on your top ten play list?
Guy Smith: I have a little bit of everything. From Bob Marley to Gnarls Barkley, dance music, Led Zeppelin and The Knew. A real mix, a lot of European music, dance music, it really depends on how I’m feeling.
Mecca of Speed: Music gives you a place to get away to.
Guy Smith: Yeah, when you are on a plane and literally want to shut off and think things through, it’s always nice. Thank God for the iPod.
Mecca of Speed: Racing is a sport where you can change team or even the series from year to year. What are your long-term goals?
Guy Smith: In racing, it can be very difficult to say from year to year where you are going to be. I really enjoy driving here with Dyson Racing. I hope to be here for many years in the future. James Weaver has been here 20 years, so if you do you job well, they seem to be happy with that.
I would also like to go back and win Le Mans again. I have been fortunate to win Le Mans at an early age. Tom Kristensen has won it seven times, and I would like to try and win again. That’s an incredible record, but not impossible to beat.
I would possibly go to Champ Car in the right situation with a good team, but I am very happy here in sports cars.
I would like to win the Daytona 24 hours, Sebring, and I’ve won Le Mans, those are the three big races. Petite Le Mans is another great race, so I have a lot of unfinished business in sports cars.
Mecca of Speed: When you are running at Le Mans, do you ever get the urge to skip the chicanes and run the full straightaway?
Guy Smith: Yeah, it’s still pretty quick even with the chicanes. I can’t imagine what it was like without the chicanes. I’ve talked with Andy Wallace and Derek Bell, they have some interesting stories about how fast it was. One time either Andy or Derek lost or had a door open when they were going about 230 mph. That had to be pretty scary.
Le Mans is still pretty dangerous as it is, so right now I’m happy with the chicanes.
Mecca of Speed: Dyson is currently fighting an up hill battle, but the team has a long history of never giving up. What are the team goals for the remainder of the season?
Guy Smith: We have got a new car and a new engine, both very good products but very new. What you find is with new products, you have new problems and to resolve them it takes some time. That process started in January, so now most of those problems have been fixed. We are about 90% of where we should be. By the end of the year, we hope to be 100% fixed.
We are also gaining in performance. We are getting faster and faster, which is key.
It’s going to be difficult because the Audi has such an advantage with their increased horsepower and fuel efficiency. What we want to do is at least give them a good run for their money and hopefully try and win a race by the end of the year.
That’s our aim and we are getting closer. We had a good performance at Portland. We ran a strong race. We were fastest in the morning warm up, so we have proven we can do it. Now we need to do it on a regular basis.
Mecca of Speed: How has your experience been driving a LMP1 car in a multi-class field? Are the classes given any special instructions during the drivers meeting?
Guy Smith: Not really. Basically what you learn is different cars and different drivers. For example, if you come up behind a GT2 car and it’s an Alex Job car, I know the two guys in the car are very good drivers with plenty of experience. I can trust them if I want to make a dive down the inside, they are not going to do anything silly on me.
Likewise, with another car where the driver doesn’t have the experience you have to be a bit more cautious.
The main thing with our cars is you have got to be aggressive and decisive, but you also have to put yourself in the other cars position to make sure you know they have seen you.
I love that element of our racing. It can be frustrating when you are trying to get a clear lap and there is traffic, it’s the most frustrating feeling in the world. On the other hand it’s a great thing in the race, if you can get through traffic and the car behind you doesn’t. Then you get a break. The next lap it can go the opposite way. It’s an added element to the racing, that I think makes it so interesting.
Mecca of Speed: A kind of uncontrolled dynamic.
Guy Smith: It’s completely out of your control. Sometimes it works to your advantage when you are trying to catch a guy in front of you, and they get caught in traffic you can catch up. Likewise, it can be a disadvantage and you can find yourself in the same situation.
It’s give and take. The main thing is to be as aggressive as possible, but not to aggressive that you get snarled up into an accident. It’s defiantly an art. When I came into sports car racing, I tended to be a bit cautious. Then when I got more experience I learned how far I could push the boundary.
Mecca of Speed: So far in your career, what victory has been the sweetest?
Guy Smith: La Mans has been the best so far, it’s something I always wanted to win as a kid and I’ve been able to do that. So that one is the sweetest. Winning that again would be great, along with Sebring or Daytona for the next one.
Content credit Guy Smith and John Vatne. Photo credit Scott Rohloff and John Vatne.