Plenty of positives for Pippa Mann following a frustrating return to action
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk racing driver Pippa Mann still has plenty to smile about following a frustrating return to action.
The 29-year-old – who grew up near Leiston before moving to the United States in 2008 – was forced to retire from the world famous Indy500 at the end of May after making what she described as a ‘rookie error’, hitting the wall on lap 46 and damaging the car.
Then, on Saturday, engine trouble on only the second lap brought her outing at the Firestone 550 in Texas to an abrupt end.
These were her first races in more than 18 months following the infamous 15-car crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in October 2011 which tragically claimed the life of fellow Briton Dan Wheldon and left Mann needing extensive surgery to her right hand.
And, considering her length of time away from racing, there have been more than enough positive signs that Mann will be a regular in the hugely popular IndyCar Series – which recruits its drivers on a race-by-race basis – over the coming months and years.
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“At Indy we were actually one of the fastest cars on the track at the time we came out,” said the former St Felix School pupil and one-time Ipswich resident, who has become a real fans’ favourite in the sport.
“I was one of the biggest movers at that time from my starting position, however sometimes when you’ve been out of the car a long time you make a mistake that someone with more experience and seat miles might not make.
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“I understeered in the dirty air of another car, gave the wall a whack with the right side of my car, bending a toe link, meaning I couldn’t continue.
“Hearing the crowd’s reaction to me was amazing. I know I’m originally from Suffolk, but I love living and working here in Indianapolis and there are moments when I really feel like this city has adopted me as one of it’s own. That was one of those moments and it was incredibly special.”
Mann’s performance at her second Indy500 – a race attended by around 400,000 people and watched by a television audience of millions – impressed her Cyclops Gear sponsors and secured her a seat at Texas.
And even though her Dale Coyne Racing car’s engine blew up early on, she can take great heart from the fact that she qualified in 19th and was 10th quickest overall in the final practice session.
“We’re already looking at racing a couple more rounds of IndyCar this season,” said Mann. “As for 2014, who knows what the future holds? I know what I’m working on, but unfortunately I can’t share any of the details just yet.
“I would love to be racing more IndyCar races next year, I would love to do some sports car racing too. And I think it goes without saying that I am already working on the 2014 Indy500 program.”
Last month, Suffolk racing driver Pippa Mann took part in her second Indy 500 race – an event attended by around 400,000 spectators and watched by millions more worldwide. STUART WATSON spoke to the 29-year-old about her incredible journey.
THE winner of the world famous Indy 500 race traditionally celebrates with a glass of milk – but it’s a good old fashioned British pub that Pippa Mann misses most.
Last month the 29-year-old raced in the biggest single day sporting event in the world for the second time. More than 250,000 spectators crammed around the iconic two-and-a-half mile oval track in Indianapolis, while a worldwide audience of millions watched via television.
Mann has called America’s 12th largest city home since making the big decision to move to the United States in 2009.
At the time she told this newspaper that the move was necessary as there was simply not enough opportunities for female drivers in the UK. And boy has the transatlantic switch paid off.
It’s a lifestyle that includes autograph sessions, photoshoots, television appearances and travel – not that there are things she doesn’t miss about Blightly mind.
“Unfortunately, I don’t get to come back to England that much,” said the former St Felix School pupil, who grew up near Leiston and lived in Ipswich for a spell.
“I should crack plenty of jokes at this point about not missing the weather much, but I do miss my family.
“There are definitely moments when I wish my schedule would allow me to come back more often.
“Something less sentimental that I also miss is a proper British pub! I might be making rude assertions about the weather in general back home, but the winters here are bitterly cold and in that weather I miss a good local pub with a roaring fire and a roast lunch.”
The big question is, does she tell Americans that she is from Suffolk or is it just easier to say London?
“This is a great question,” she laughs. “You know I was born in London and so sometimes people just assume that’s where I’m from anyway.
“Whenever I tell people I’m from Ipswich they always ask me where the nearest big town is and then I have to explain to them that Ipswich is a large town and is actually the major city in Suffolk.
“Normally this follows with people asking me where it’s near again at which point admittedly I do normally give in and just say it’s an hour outside London!”
Mann has certainly come a long way since she caught the racing bug at a childrens’ party at a karting track. The journey has not always been a smooth one though. Far from it.
In 2010, she became the first woman to qualify for pole in the history of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when racing in the Indy Lights series (the feeder series to IndyCar).
In 2011, she became only the eighth woman ever to qualify for the Indy500 – moving through the field to finish an impressive 20th-place as a rookie driver.
She was rushed to hospital after that race due to severe dehydration suffered after the mechanism controlling her drinks bottle had failed. Such was the cramp that her hands had to be physically prised away from the steering wheel after the gruelling 500-mile race.
Soon after that she fractured her back in a crash at a race in New Hampshire. Then came a reminder – if a reminder was needed – of just how dangerous racing at average speeds of 200mph can be.
On October 16, 2011, Mann was involved in the 15-car crash which claimed the life of former Indy 500 champion – and fellow Brit – Dan Wheldon. Mann herself suffered serious burns to her little finger and spent a year out of the sport as a result.
“We borrowed nerves, we harvested a tendon, borrowed skin and blood vessels and they put it back together again. It works just fine on the wheel of a racing car,” she said.
Mann prefers not to talk about that tragic day out of respect for Wheldon’s family, but her Dayle Coyne Racing has been named ‘DW12’ in the latter’s honour.
The comeback has been a frustrating one, with the outings at Indy and Texas cut short due to a brush with the wall and engine failure respectively.
Just to be back in IndyCar following a year out is an feat in itself though. And with mental strength, ambition and likeability factor in abundance, there is every chance that she could be a household name Stateside sometime soon.
“The journey to make this a race I can return to every year is still very much a work in progress,” said Mann, who describes herself as a ‘girly girl who loves shopping’.
“I was a pole sitter at this track in Indy Lights and one day, with a good budget and a good team behind me, that’s a feat I aim to repeat in an Indy Car.
“Sure, everyone dreams about winning Indy, as do I, but you have to walk before you can run. And in IndyCar right now I am still walking.”