Improving Every Opportunity – Bruno Junqueira

Bruno Junqueira climbed the racing ladder in Europe and started racing in the United States with great expectations placed on him from his team owners. Bruno’s ethic of always improving had earned him great results with prominent teams and has elevated smaller operations. His abilities and determination are two valued assets that give him the potential to achieve success in sports cars.

Mecca of Speed: How have you adjusted your driving style from your primary experience in the open wheel formula to this Jaguar sports car?

Bruno Junqueira: I have to find a little bit more in the car. Kenny Wilden drove this morning so I’ve only turned about three laps so far this weekend. It’s very different because we don’t have much downforce compared to a single seater. In the slow corners the car is pretty good but when you go to the high speed corners that I could take flat out in an open wheel car I now have to brake.

Corners like the Kink and the Carousel are very different in a sports car compared to when I drove them in ChampCar. Those cars had massive wings that generated a lot of downforce.

At the end of the day you can drive single seaters, this Jaguar, or even a bike, it’s always fun here.

Mecca of Speed: How has your experience been working with a co-driver, having to find a set-up that works for both drivers?

Bruno Junqueira: It’s been very nice. Kenny is a super nice guy and a great driver. Our driving styles are very similar so we are after the same thing. Our set-up for the car is identical, which helps us move forward.

This is the first time I’ve worked with a co-driver and I’m enjoying it.

Mecca of Speed: Being a production based GT car, how much do you have to work with the aero and mechanical package?

Bruno Junqueira: We have plenty of options to work with just like a single seater. Sometimes it takes a little longer to make a change because the car is not designed originally as a racecar. There are more parts we have to take out of the car to get to what we want to change.

Other things are faster. Changing the engine can be done faster in this car compared to an open wheel car.

Mecca of Speed: You have had some open wheel time qualifying at Indy this year in addition to running a full season in the ALMS. Is this first season a test to see if sports cars are your long-term future?

Bruno Junqueira: When I was 24 and won my first race here at Road America in 2001 I thought when I was about 35 I would transition to sports cars. I’ll be 35 in a few months and life has put me in this situation, I have this chance to drive for Jaguar and I’m enjoying it.

You never know what is going to happen in your life or in the future. I’m enjoying my time here.

Mecca of Speed: Now you have a passenger seat driving a sports car so you can take your son with you for in installation lap.

Bruno Junqueira: Yah, when he grows a little bit we will do that for sure.

Mecca of Speed: Paul Gentilozzi owned the Rocketsports ChampCar team and now runs JaguarRSR. Was the relationship started in ChampCar that lead to your opportunity with this team in the ALMS?

Bruno Junqueira: I’ve known Paul for 8-9 years and he has always had very competitive teams. At the end of last year he called and asked me to come driver for him.

Mecca of Speed: When you came to the U.S. and started racing for Chip Ganasis in ChampCar you made significant gains as a driver between your first and second season. Did those improvements come from working with the crew, the engineers, or a bit of both?

Bruno Junqueira: I think a few things happened in my second year at Ganassi.

In 2001 there was a lot of expectations placed on Nicolas Minassian and myself to win the championship in our first year, like Juan Montoya did. Unfortunately it was really hard because we were two rookie drivers, not just as rookies to ChampCar but to racing in the U.S. Montoya had Jimmy Vasser to help guide him in his first year. He also had the Reynard/Honda combination that won the championship the three previous years.

I started in the Lola/Toyota combination, which Montoya finished in 9th the previous year. The car had a lot of promise, but was not as good as the Reynard/Honda combination. I learned things the hard way, all the tracks, how to race on ovals, how to handle full course yellows and working with the team.

In 2001 we worked hard to improve the car, which gave us a strong car for 2002. I was a much better driver, but also had a much better car. If I had the 2002 car in 2001, I could have done better. Not as well as I did in 2002, but I would have been more competitive.

Mecca of Speed: Tires are a major component that effect how a car performs. How does a tire perform over an entire stint as the weight of the car changes and more rubber is put down on the racing surface?

Bruno Junqueira: I think the Dunlop tire performs pretty well over a full stint. To go a full stint the tires have to last over an hour on a relativity heavy car. The last few laps the tires tend to get hot and go off a little bit.

It’s a little different with a single seater. There you put so much fuel in the car and the engine burns fuel very fast. For example if you start out at a track and do a 1:44.5 for the first few laps you will then go up to a 1:45. Towards the end of the run as the fuel burns off and the weight comes down you start turning lap times of 1:44.5 again.

Over the long run your lap time doesn’t change too much. The car starts to slide more, but it’s also getting lighter with less fuel, which makes a big difference with a lighter single seater car. It makes you more consistent over the full fuel run.

In sports cars it’s different. You don’t have as much fuel and the car is heavier so the weight of the fuel doesn’t make as big of a difference. Your lap times are the fastest at the start of a stint and go progressively slower, which is something I’m getting used to.

Mecca of Speed: What is it about Road America that puts it at the top of your list of tracks to race at?

Bruno Junqueira: It is a couple of things. I love fast corners and there are a lot of them here. This place also has long straightaways, which make an exciting race as well.

Second, I’ve raced here six times with a total of 2 pole positions, 2 wins, 4 podiums and 4 or 5 fastest of my races. About every other race I’ve either won, was close to winning or lead during the race. I think the only year I haven’t lead a race here was in 2007 when I was driving for Dale Coyne. I was running second and something happened with the car to take me out of contention.

Another time I didn’t win because I had a bad pit stop, which put me in third.

The atmosphere and general area of the track is also very nice. A great place to come and race.

Mecca of Speed: At the end of the Mid-Ohio race there was substantial rain. Do you like driving in the rain, don’t care either way or prefer to drive in the dry?

Bruno Junqueira: Let me put it this way, at Mid-Ohio our car was not as good as we had hoped and we were running about 10th in line. The car was four laps down due to a spin and a penalty, so by the time I got in the car our race was over.

When the rain came I went from 10th to 4th, which translates from 5th or 6th in the GT class to second. If I were on the lead lap I would have finished second.

Looking at that you might say I did very well in the rain and I must like racing in the rain. I may like the rain, particularly if I’m driving by myself, but I never want it to rain during a race.

Rain can play on lot into luck, good or bad. One day you can get everything right and another day you can have a problem with the brakes and go off track. You may aquaplane and it may not seem like you are in much danger, until it all goes wrong.

I like to practice by myself. I love driving go karts in the rain, but I don’t like to race in the rain, especially with the reduced visibility.

Mecca of Speed: This is the second season for the JaguarRSR team, how has development with the car been progressing?

Bruno Junqueira: I wasn’t with the team last year, but from what they have told me this car has made big improvements at every track we have been to this year. In today’s practice we are already two seconds faster then our qualifying time from last year.

From the start of the season we have continually improved the car at each race. As a driver I’m learning more about the team, car and series making us more competitive.

We were sixth in the morning session today. We weren’t even close to being sixth at the start of the year. We had the best GT race lap in Mosport, there is still a lot of work to do, but we are getting better at every race. It’s a challenge because every other week we race and there is not a lot of time for development.

Mecca of Speed: As a resident in Miami, how often to you get back to Brazil?

Bruno Junqueira: Maybe twice a year.

Mecca of Speed: Looking back to when you were racing in ChampCar and the series was at its peak, how would you describe the experience of racing open wheel cars with 900+ horsepower?

Bruno Junqueira: We were hitting 200 mph here, pushing 202 or even 203. It was a fast fun car to drive. The series was strong, almost as strong as Formula One. I had a lot of fun; the teams had money to hire the best drivers. 90% of the field were professional drivers hired because of their racing abilities.

Mecca of Speed: From your first outing with Chip Ganassi to various teams over the years you have always been able to run fast at Indy. What have you found at that track that other drivers spend a career chasing but never find?

Bruno Junqueira: It’s a combination of three things. Number one, I love fast corners. Indy is very different from other ovals because it has very little banking with four individual corners. It’s almost like driving a road course with fast corners.

Number two, the first time I was at Indy I was fast, and don’t know why. I used to live in Indianapolis and know the tradition of the track and always liked being there.

Third, it’s the experience I had there at the beginning. I was able to drive with good teams, win the pole and was lucky to lead the race several times. I’ve had some great fights on that track and know what it takes to go fast there.

So even when I go to a smaller team or have a car that is not as fast I still know what it takes to make a car more competitive. I know we may not be able to race for the pole, but I work to get the best performance the car and team have to offer.

Mecca of Speed: You had the opportunity to do a couple of A1GP races, how was that car and engine combination compared to a car like a Lola ChampCar?

Bruno Junqueira: That was the old Formula 3000 car, but they missed big time on the choice of tires. The car was very loose, it was fun to drive, but a little strange. I qualified .002 of a second off the pole in South Africa so I had good speed it was still strange to drive.

It was a nice series. They spend a lot of money to do thing properly, but the sponsorship just didn’t show up.

Mecca of Speed: What are your goals for the remainder of the season?

Bruno Junqueira: I want to finish the season stronger as a team then when we started. My goal is to always qualify less then a second off the pole. From there, continue to develop a reliable car to finish each race. I hope to have a podium by the end of the season. If we can achieve that at Road America it would be great.

As a driver I want to continue to gain experience and become a better GT driver.

Mecca of Speed: Who was the influence during the start of your career that motivated you to choose a career in racing?

Bruno Junqueira: My Dad who was an armature racer. Professionally I was influenced by Nelson Piquet and Ayron Senna. It was Piquet in the early to mid 1980s and Senna from the mid 1980s to mid 1990s.  Both those drivers were a source of inspiration.

Mecca of Speed: How much karting do you do?

Bruno Junqueira: Not much, after I broke my back I cut back, maybe twice a year. I won the 500 miles of Gran Viana two years ago. I love karting but really only get out 2-3 times a year.

Mecca of Speed: Becoming a father makes a man grow in ways they didn’t expect. As your son grows, what has he taught you about yourself?

Bruno Junqueira: So much, it’s very hard to describe it. I learn about myself every day, being a father is the best thing in the world. I’ve won 100-150 races in my career from go karts to today. I’ve won in Monaco in Formula 3000, the Indy 500 pole position, my first race at Road America and the ChampCar race in Motegi with Toyota which was big. None of those things get close to when my son was born. I have another child on the way, so another great moment is coming.

Mecca of Speed: Name one thing you have a passion for that may be surprising to your average fan.

Bruno Junqueira: Some people know I love cycling. When I was six I started competing in BMX racing and at seven I won the Brazilian championship. Around 8 or 9 I stopped and at 10 I got a dirt bike. I never rode a bicycle again until I moved to Miami in 2003. Since then I’ve been riding almost every day, I love it.

I love it as training and as a sport. It’s my hobby, when I’m not racing I’m riding my bike.

Mecca of Speed: Are you going to be riding the LiveSTRONG event tonight?

Bruno Junqueira: Yes, I did the first one back when ChampCar raced here and look forward to riding it again.

Mecca of Speed: Good luck this weekend and the remainder of the season.

Bruno Junqueira: Thank you.

Content credit Bruno Junqueira and John Vatne. Photo credit Scott Rohloff, Randy Eardman and John Vatne. 

10/5/2011