Classic Brit – Dan Clarke

If you were looking for what some consider a classic Brit – low key, dry sense of humor and proper manners – Dan Clarke would fit that description. He isn’t one to call attention to himself but that doesn’t mean you should pass up the opportunity to talk with him if the opportunity presents itself. Dan has maintained a down-to-earth quality that some people lose when the first glimmer of stars appear in their eyes.

Mecca of Speed:  The start of the season was a bit of musical chairs for some teams. You were relatively quiet and made one statement that your talent will speak for you. You didn’t seem worried about landing back with this team. Did you already have a deal going for 2007 with Minardi?

Dan Clarke: It’s just pretty much what I said at the time. We had been talking with the team. Anytime there was a test I was already in Indianapolis at the workshop, and the engineers and mechanics were ready to have me back again.

It was just a matter of sorting out the money, which in the end is what it came down to. That is why it took so long, and that was pretty much how we said it would be at the beginning of the year.

Mecca of Speed: Last year you took the pole here at Road America in the wet, and the race was run in the dry. This year the series has switched to the Panoz chassis, how does it compare to the Lola?

Dan Clarke: The Panoz is proving itself on the fast circuits like Road America, Mont-Tremblant and Portland.  The minimum speed in the corners is a lot higher, so the main difference with this car is the aero package.  It comes more into play on these circuits and that is why you see the lap times immediately quicker.

As far as a visible or noticeable difference from the drivers view in the cockpit, I haven’t really noticed anything. It all looks the same; I’m even looking at the same steering wheel.

The handling is pretty much the same; they just go quicker around these fast circuits, which is nice.

Mecca of Speed: Running with ALMS this weekend there are multiple tire compounds on the track. Do these different rubber compounds on the track have much effect on the way your Champ Car handles?

Dan Clarke: We certainly anticipate when sharing a weekend with ALMS and other formulas some kind of change in the track with all the different tire manufactures. Right now on Friday at lunchtime it’s too early to tell how it’s going to be- the track is always green on Friday anyway.

If anything it will be better because at the end of the day it’s all rubber and it might work out to be even faster.

Mecca of Speed: Following Road America, Champ Car is heading over to Europe. Did you have an opportunity to race on the tracks on the schedule when you were racing lower formulas in Europe?

Dan Clarke: Not these two tracks in particular but I’ve raced at Spa in Belgium and Zandvoort in Holland in Formula Ford and F3.

I’m excited about going to Europe; five minutes ago I was booking my flight to the UK. It gives me an opportunity to spend time with family around these races. I’m looking forward to that, but I’m also excited for Champ Car and their fans and teams to experience Europe. Belgium and Holland have a really nice atmosphere.

It’s great to be a part of Champ Car as it’s growing with a stronger global presence.

Mecca of Speed: Last season this team really started to come into its own, consistently finishing in the front portion of the grid. Has the addition of Paul Stoddart been the next piece of the puzzle to take this team to the next level?

Dan Clarke: What a lot of people are forgetting is Keith Wiggins is the guy running this team. He had an F1 team in the mid 90s and then made the switch to Champ Car and has been running this team very successfully, on a very limited budget for a few years now. Joining his team is what attracted us to Champ Car in the first place.

Keith was the drive at the beginning of the season when everyone was playing musical chairs in 2006. That was the drive we had our eyes on and luckily we got it in the 11th hour.

Since Paul Stoddart has arrived the structure has stayed pretty much the same. Keith still runs it. I would say he is in the same position as he was last year in terms of managing and keeping an eye on everybody. He is running things the same way as he was last year.

For me it’s pretty much the same thing. All the crew and engineers are the same with the addition of Mike Cannon, so it’s business as usual.

The nice thing about having Stoddart around is he is a breath of fresh air. He lets his hair down and has a little fun. There are a lot of two seater F1 guys who are now in the team and they are all Brits, so that’s nice for me as well. It’s a nice atmosphere and everyone is jelling really well.

Mecca of Speed: It’s a little bit of home coming over for you. With all the travel and time you spend in the United States, what are the little things you miss from home?

Dan Clarke: Just family and friends. I miss the British sense of humor as well, sarcasm and things like that. It’s easy to work away from home, but every now and then it’s nice to go home and refresh.

Mecca of Speed: Do you tune in late night T.V. looking for Monty Python reruns?

Dan Clarke: Yeah, luckily I have cable with the Fox Soccer Channel and BBC America is keeping me sane.

Mecca of Speed: You have been showing speed this season, but seem to be hampered by mechanical problems. What are your goals for the remainder of the season?

Dan Clarke: To achieve the results that we should have been having all year, really. We have had some bad luck and I’ve made some mistakes myself as well, but I think every driver has as well. It’s when you string our bad luck in with the mistakes it looks like we have had a bad year.

Our approach to every race is the same; you have to take everything in stride. You start every weekend and see what you have, build on it and go from there. For example two weeks ago at San Jose we got P2 in second qualifying and were within half a tenth of making pole for the race. So things are working for us.

Then just a few hiccups in the race wrecked it all. It felt like “oh great here it goes again, more bad luck”. But really there is nothing you can do about it; you just have to keep plugging away.

If you believe in karma and fate your luck is going to come back around. Some people who have had a lot of luck will have things change as well. The best time to be a star is the second half of the season because that is what everyone is going to remember in the off season.

Mecca of Speed: So this is all part of the master plan to finish strong.

Dan Clarke: (Laughing) Yeah right, I’m holding back all my race wins for a later day.

Mecca of Speed: The standing starts have been fairly strong after a few challenges in a couple of races. How is it from your perspective as a driver?

Dan Clarke: I like it and really embraced it. I wanted Champ Car to start them as soon as possible. Coming from Europe every thing is done with a standing start. The only place you have a rolling start is in kart racing.

The difficult part has been working with the car’s clutch. At Mont-Tremblant I was running in third and had a clutch blow up during the race. We didn’t plan on that and quite honestly it shouldn’t have happened.

It can be a bit difficult getting the knack for it and some tracks are more difficult then others. When you look at Edmonton for example being a runway there is a certain part of the track that has a lot of rubber where the planes land and other parts that don’t have any rubber so it comes and goes in your favor. Sometimes it’s there and sometimes it’s not.

Generally at tracks like this it’s going to be a standard standing start where it’s going to be the same for everybody so we will see how it goes. I do hope that I’m not starting out up hill.

Mecca of Speed: It seems with the standing start if you have a mid-pack qualifying position it removes the possibility of getting behind a slow car coming to the start, preventing an extra gap from developing before the green flag is dropped if the series was still using rolling starts.

Dan Clarke: It’s another element because you have to get your starts perfect otherwise you are going to be overtaken but if you get good you are going to be overtaking other people.

With rolling starts last year at some tracks if you started 11th or 12th you would find yourself left behind with everything when green because the front of the pack was starting a half a lap earlier and that is really frustrating.

I don’t think standing starts makes anything more dangerous. When we first started I think a lot of people were worried but things have worked out so far. It’s a good thing.

If you qualify 10th or so, you always have the opportunity to pick up a couple of positions at the start and then you are looking good for a race strategy.

Mecca of Speed: We see it every race, what is the influence behind your helmet design?

Dan Clarke: To be honest, the red color is something I’ve always had from when I was racing karts. Initially I had a band that was like a little Zorro or something that went around the visor and around the back. In encapsulated the visor, which was a kind of mean look.

It also incorporated these lines, a bit of a vertically incorporated design, which is a bit of the opposite of everyone else.

Over the last few years, between my manager and me it’s evolved into what it is now, a much simpler design. It’s easy to recognize from a distance. I think it’s reflective of my personality. It’s not trying to be too flashy, no metallic or chrome.

Mecca of Speed: No flames or anything crazy.

Dan Clarke: Exactly, just plenty of space for sponsorship. (Laughs)

Mecca of Speed: I think it is a very tasteful and well-designed helmet harkening to a time before all the prizma colored paints. Although it’s a different orientation and color it reminds me a bit of Ayrton Senna’s helmet, clean and easy to recognize. If you did a sports car race like the 24 hours of Daytona people would be able to tell who is in the car, because your helmet is a type of signature.

Dan Clarke: Yah, I think it’s another thing like the Speedy Dan image, I think Champ Car or any sport can really benefit from personality. The Speedy Dan helmet design and the time that goes into the colors on the car to make the helmet more recognizable is good for the series to keep the identity going from year to year.

Mecca of Speed: Are you looking to stay in Champ Car after 2007?

Dan Clarke: Definitely. We opted out of a second year in F3 where we would have been fighting for the championship in Britain to do Champ Car. We went away from the GP2 path and the European racing series because we were drawn toward Champ Car and the refreshing attitude everyone has in the series. The type of entertainment value, the whole show they work to put on along with the open playing field we find very attractive.

The engines and cars are designed to really get around when you are racing, giving you the chance to overtake and race people.

Coming to a team run by Keith is exactly what we wanted to do. It wasn’t really a surprise last year with all the opportunities we were having even though it was our rookie season.  We were fighting for podiums; got a pole position because we were on a really good team in a formula of racing where when everyone puts their heads together you can do well.

Mecca of Speed: In closing we would like to ask a question we use from time to time that shows a bit about the driver inside the helmet. If someone picked up your iPod and looked at “Dan’s Top Ten List” what would they find?

Dan Clarke: Oh gosh, there would be a bit of 80s cheese, a little bit of classical, mainly the cheese I would have to say (Laughing). I didn’t get to much sleep last night so today I was trying to get pumped up so I was listening to a little dance music.

Anything that keeps you going through all the traveling you have to do. You can’t complain about the life style, but sometimes when you are on an airplane you need a bit of a pick me up.

Mecca of Speed: I grew up with the 80s cheese, it has its place and it’s good to see some people still appreciate it.

Dan Clarke: It will always have its place (Laugh).

Mecca of Speed: Thank you for your time. It’s been a pleasure.

Dan Clarke: Thank you

Content credit Dan Clark and John Vatne. Photo credit Scott Rohloff and John Vatne.