Notches On The Belt – Guy Cosmo

Standing at the career crossroads Guy Cosmo had a choice, an outside chance at a possible ride someday, or build a career one race at a time proving determination creates opportunity.

Mecca of Speed: How did the car feel in the opening session today?

Guy Cosmo: It felt pretty good, just a lot of traffic to deal with. In these cars managing all the other cars on track is a whole different experience then in a GT (Grand Touring) car. Usually we come up on traffic so fast that we are braking in spots we would normally be going flat out.

In GT one of the things we always prided ourselves on was our average race pace. We could keep an hour and a half stint within a few tenths of a second of our ultimate lap because it’s easy to move over and let a prototype car go by. We could pace the GTC cars and hang in our GT group, maintaining our pace the full race distance.

In the P2 (Le Mans Prototype 2) car our pace skyrockets and then we get parked behind a slower car, it’s frustrating for us. We can lose five seconds a lap in traffic, where in a GT car if you lost six tenths it was a big deal. Now we can get bottled up five or six seconds a lap, so racing a P2 car is a whole different beast.

It’s nice not to have anyone pass us though.

Mecca of Speed: 2006 was the last time you raced a P2 car with B-K Motorsports. Where have you found the biggest improvements?

Guy Cosmo: I think the best way to describe it is the new generation of P2 cars is more efficient. The cars are capable of producing more down force, even though they have been limited by the class regulations. They seem to be more refined and all around a better car. Five to Six years is a lot of time for development in the racing world and it shows. It’s fun to say the least.

Mecca of Speed: You have moved up from GT to P2 and over the last few years been in a variety of cars including Daytona Prototype. What does it take to change your mindset when switching between different cars?

Guy Cosmo: Fortunately, having swapped between different style cars, classes and series over the years you get that much more experience, which makes the transitions easier.

Comparing a prototype to a GT car they are worlds apart. My brain switches over, like flipping a switch. In a GT car I know what makes a GT car go fast. The feedback I get from the car gives me the input I need as a driver for steering and pedal application. It’s a whole different mindset compared to driving a prototype.

It’s pretty easy to switch because not much transfers from one type of car to the other.

The same theories apply to make any car go fast. Physics are physics; the tires have a maximum level of grip, which creates a response from the car. You can’t do anything to changes those things so you have to adjust to them, but because the classes of cars are so different there is really no confusion.

It’s been a number of years since I’ve switched from a Le Mans Prototype to a DP (Daytona Prototype), but in that case you stay focused on what the car’s ultimate strengths are. A P2 car it’s a little bit lighter, has carbon brakes and more aero, so braking is where you are going to see the biggest difference.

Managing grip and balance in a car is key to making it perform. It’s pretty easy to bring a car it to its limit of grip. You develop your own strategy on how you will brake, enter a corner and carry the maximum speed while maintaining a balance with the level of grip you have. For most drivers I would assume that is pretty easy to assess no matter what you are driving. Bringing a tire to its limit is our job, it’s what we do.

The difference you really have to pay attention to is how much you can get out of braking. A P2 car will break a fair amount deeper then a DP will. Sometimes it’s harder to find the limitations of a car’s stopping ability then finding its maximum grip mid corner.

I remember Butch Leitzinger swapping between the Daytona Prototypes and Le Mans Prototypes when he was racing at Dyson. He said when he hopped back into the Le Mans Prototype he was a second off pace compared to James Weaver and all of the time was lost under braking. Your brain is trained on aspects like braking points after driving one car for the weekend like he was with the Daytona Prototype. It’s going to take this much space and time to slow a given car down. He forgot in the Le Mans Prototype that there was much more you could get out of that car under braking which was where he was losing time.

There is some adjustment between cars but all of that is evaporating at this point going into this combined series. We will all be racing on the track at the same time in 2014.

Mecca of Speed: How do you think the P2 cars will compare to the Daytona Prototypes next season?

Guy Cosmo: That is the biggest question everyone has going into next year. Initially it was pretty clear, the GT classes are going to be, as they basically exist, unchanged remaining as two separate classes.

Trying to combine two very different cars in inherent design, the consensus is we don’t know any successful way to do it, so we wouldn’t expect Elkan and the brain trust behind USCR to. They have to figure out something that the masses aren’t already anticipating.

I think a lot of us might be wishing they would leave the two classes separate. Leave P2 as P2 and DP as DP. We’ll have to compete for the overall win, but then you are not making the financial investment in your car for balance of performance. Changing cars due to different regulations can be a great financial undertaking. I think that is one of the biggest concerns for many teams. We are hearing this from some DP teams who just went to a new car with new bodywork and now they may have to reinvest to change the car for next season.

We are going to have to look at a new aero package and what that may do to our car. You are going to have everybody spending more money on top of what looks to be a more expensive operating budget to withstand all the races on the calendar in 2014.

I would say leave it be and find out where things stand. I think a DP is going to win Daytona no matter how you cut it. The top speed of those cars is significantly faster then our P2 car. Braking and cornering there is going to be an advantage for the P2 car, so at smaller tighter tracks we are going to have an advantage.

It’s going to be an interesting battle, but taking two very different cars in design and trying to balance them; I’m not sure how happy anyone will be. However, we really have to do whatever they decide, deal with it and go race.

I don’t think you are going to see many teams make the switch from one car to the other. The additional miles are a bit of an unknown next season. For the DP teams that includes adding a 10 and 12-hour race. For ALMS teams it’s adding a 6 and 24-hour race. It’s an enormous amount of mileage teams will be adding to a season and budget. Anything we can do to not add additional expenses up front is going to help everyone. Some of the under budgeted teams may not be able to do it, but I don’t know, I’m just speculating.

The buzz I’m hearing is wouldn’t it be great if we all raced at the same time as the cars stand now and who ever wins, wins.

Mecca of Speed: Are you looking forward to putting a P2 car on the banking at Daytona?

Guy Cosmo: Yes! I think that is going to be really cool. The cars produce a ton of down force but straight line speed will be down compared to the DPs. Anywhere we go we are lucky to crack 170 mph and I know a DP is nearly cracking 200 mph at Daytona. Unless something drastic changes with what we can do to our aero setup to get more top speed I feel like we are going to be a sitting duck up on the banking. Even compared to the GT cars.

The DP cars are faster then a GT in a straight line as well. The way it looks I think you are going to have five different classes all doing the same speed coming to the braking zone at a lot of tracks, so we’ll see how it balances out.

Mecca of Speed: How is it working around PC (Prototype Challenge) cars during a race? They have around the same top speed as a GT car, but far greater grip in the corner.

Guy Cosmo: It’s been hectic on track trying to manage and play nice between the classes. The PC car is the one car that is in the mix of it all. Straight-line speeds are not much faster then the GT cars, but they have more torque. That seems to give them a little more power then the P2 cars. The P2 cars are better under braking but at a lot of tracks we have gone to the pole sitting PC car has been faster then the P2 cars. Going forward that makes another class that is doing the same speed as two other classes when we all get to the end of the straightaway.

Mecca of Speed: At Mid-Ohio you were spun towards the end of the race by Ryan Briscoe. What is the driver’s mindset when they are forced off the track through contact?

Guy Cosmo: Because you are still in race mode and a huge event just took place, your emotions could go crazy but as a driver you go into autopilot. You immediate objective is to get back on track and get going again. You never know what is going to happen until the race is over.

With three minuets to go someone could just as easily run him off the track, then I get caught up and we win. You just don’t know, so your number one objective is to get up and running again.

Part two is I just had contact from another car and as a result spun and hit the guardrail. The big question is do we have any damage to the car. Obviously with three minuets left the strategy was to just bring the car home. There was no need for me to push it 100%. I spent the first lap and a half evaluating the car, making sure I didn’t have a flat tire or any issue that was going to make me crash.

I took it easy and realized the gap between he and I was what it was and I wasn’t going to make it up. I ran a consistent pace to bring the car home and we deal with the incident after the race is over.

Mecca of Speed: You have driven with most of the guys on this team, what is the process used to determine who drives with whom?

Guy Cosmo: This year was a unique situation because of the driver ranking for P2 compared to what it is for GT. In GT the pairing is open and we probably would have left it the same because Scott and Johannes had a good working relationship. After three seasons, they were a well-oiled machine.

I’m ranked as a Silver this year. I’ve never been a factory driver, won Le Mans etc. You can’t have two silvers driving together, or a Silver and a Bronze, which Ed is. So it was put either Scott and I or Johannes and I together to mix it up. It turned out I have been driving with Scott, which has been great.

I love working with Ed and helping him progress during a race weekend. Ed is a gentleman driver and continually improving his race craft. We have had a lot of great races together. It’s an interesting dynamic now because he has a different form of feedback with Johannes as his teammate, which provides a different perspective. Johannes has a ton of experience allowing him to offer Ed input in a different way then I could.

It’s nice being paired with a pro so we can get after some race wins and try to run down a championship. At the end of the day we want this team to be successful. We are trying to improve our car and program’s consistency so the team can win.

I’m happy to be a part of this team no matter whom I’m driving with.

Mecca of Speed: Where do you see potential areas of advances to take the fight to Level 5 for the P2 championship?

Guy Cosmo: It really comes down to miles. They have had three years with the car. That history, experience and data they have gathered has gone into a great program. They have honed down on how to really make these cars work and keep them in the optimum window.

We have had very little mileage in comparison to Level 5. We have no history with this car for each track we go to. The car set-up is an evolution of what we learned each time the car is on track. We did some testing during the mid-season break and started to figure a few things out. At Lime Rock we showed a large improvement in our performance, consistency and outright pace come race time. We are getting better every time we run and learning more about what we want to improve on.

From a drivers perspective I think I took for granted that I’ve driven a prototype before and know how to drive them. We found out we needed to change our driving style even more then we expected to fit this car’s capabilities. It’s been a great learning experience. Really fun and a challenge for all of us, this is what we do. We figure out cars and how to make them go fast. We are getting there, improving constantly and ready to start leading the way.

Mecca of Speed: What is your first memory of competing in the Toyota Atlantic series?

Guy Cosmo: That was in interesting time for me. After spending a few seasons in F2000 and racing in the Scandinavian F2000 championship I came back hoping I could step up to Atlantics. I was really struggling to find funding for a program. That was the year that changed my focus in racing.

Those cars were great, but I didn’t have any testing before I ran five races that year. When I look back at that whole time I have little recollection of what took place. I think it was my age, realization of what it takes to advance in the sport be it connections, being with the right team or enough experience and ability or inability to find proper funding for a program. It was a lot for me at that age to try and absorbed.

Everything before that was something I could handle but Atlantics were a new environment. I couldn’t stay there because I didn’t have enough funding so I finished the year out doing some Star Mazda races. Then I came back the next year for a full season of Star Mazda, won the championship and got the biggest slap in the face.

I won one of five national open wheel championships in the United States and had zero opportunity to test and advance back to Atlantics or Indy Lights. That was also the year of the Red Bull driver search, which Scott Speed ultimately won. They choose 16 kids, I was one of five series champions, but wasn’t offered a chance to be part of that driver search.

That really made me realize if I wanted to succeed in the sport, I had to give up my dreams of being an IndyCar driver, or an F1 driver and become a racecar driver. Brian Till who still is a very good friend of mine was the one to brought that to my attention. You can do everything needed and sit out as long as you have so if the call comes you are in an IndyCar or an open wheel car. Or you can race week in and week out, get paid to do it by working on getting into anything you can.

Brian helped me realize that. I needed to put food on the table and wasn’t going to give up and work 9 to 5. I wanted to be in racecars and needed to survive so I started searching for opportunities in sports cars. A bunch of years later I’m very happy to be making a living as a sports car driver in a great series, with a great team and sponsor.

It’s not the career path I original thought of, but I’m really happy where I wound up and now it’s time to go win and get notches on the belt.

Mecca of Speed: We have seen this pattern with quite a few open wheel drivers who find a career in sports cars.

Guy Cosmo: Who are all those guys, Michael Valiante, Joey Hand and Andy Lally to name a few. There are very few of us from that time that have gone on to make it to IndyCar or stay in open wheel racing. We are hammering it out here make a great career it in this series.

Mecca of Speed: Where did the opportunity come from to start working in front of the camera for the race broadcast?

Guy Cosmo: I don’t really know the answer to that outside of having a reputation of being a bit of a media hog and a ham in front of the camera. Johnny O’Connell was doing the track descriptions, but at one event he couldn’t make it and they asked me because I happened to be there.

I’ve been doing it since then. I don’t want to take it away from Johnny, but it complements the driving part he does on simulator and calling the race. It’s a lot of fun. I like being on camera but just wish I wasn’t so goofy sometimes.

Content credit Guy Cosmo and John Vatne. Photo Credit Scott Rohloff, Randy Erdman and John Vatne.