Just over a week ago, British single-seater ace Darren Manning created something of a shock in US racing circles by inking a deal to join Chip Ganassi's Indy Racing League team in place of the late Tony Renna.

Prior to his switch to the oval-only series, Manning - a double British GP F3 support race winner and Japanese and Macau F3 champion - had been making waves with Derrick Walker's Reynard in Champ Cars and appeared poised for a tilt at the 2004 title.

Here he talks about his racing background, the tragic circumstances that led to his IRL call-up and what it means to finally get a fully-funded drive...

MC:
We are joined today by the newest IndyCar Series driver for the 2004 season, Darren Manning. Darren was announced this past week as the driver of the #10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Panoz G-Force -Toyota for the upcoming season. The 28-year old native of North Yorkshire, England, was the 1999 All Japan F3 champion, and then served as the test driver for the BAR-Honda Formula One team from 2000-2002. This past season he competed in the CART series, scoring three top-five finishes and 15 top-ten efforts while driving for Walker Racing. In doing so, he recorded a season best second place finish in the season finale in Australia. Darren, good afternoon, and thanks for joining us today.

Darren Manning:
No problem. Pleasure to be here.

MC:
This past season, driving for Walker Racing, you recorded a solid effort in what was, basically, an underfunded team in the CART Series. Now, in joining Team Target, you are a member of a championship-winning programme. Since your announcement last week, have you had time to think about what the future may hold for you?

DM:
Well, not much really. It's been pretty much a bit of a whirlwind being in here, doing seat fittings and things like that and just getting to know the guys. And it's obviously going to be fantastic working with the Target - the Ganassi guys here and their proven record is second to none, even in world motorsport. And Scott [Dixon], obviously, is going to be a good benchmark for me. I am just excited, really. It's the biggest team I have raced with, and just looking forward to it.

MC:
You mentioned your team-mate, Scott Dixon, the series champion this past year. I believe you and Scott have raced in previous series together, but do you have an established competitive relationship from the past, or are you definitely learning about a new team-mate this year?

DM:
No, he's definitely a new team-mate for me, really. The only real experience of racing against him was at Rockingham [England] last year, when I did the one-off event over there, but didn't really get to meet him very much. He just passed two words to me now this morning - he's been passing through the shop while I have been doing my seat fitting - but I am looking forward to it. I have heard lots of good things about him. Like I said, his track record is very well proven and a good yardstick for me. Obviously, I've got his data to look at to see if he's faster than me somewhere and if I am faster than him somewhere, so hopefully we're going to learn off each other and you never know, I might be able to bring something to the teamwork as well.

MC:
Being brand new to the fans of the IndyCar Series, what would you like them to know or what should they know about Darren Manning?

DM:
Well, hopefully they are going to find out pretty shortly. I am the kind of guy that will get out there and talk to everybody. I am pretty much a personable kind of character, and I enjoy my racing. Hopefully that will come across in my driving on the track and off. I am so passionate about racing and things, so hopefully that will come across in whatever I do throughout this year, and hopefully there will be lots of opportunities for me to shine on track as well, which is where hopefully I can prove myself best.

MC:
Darren, your oval track experience has pretty been limited to, I believe, three starts over the past two seasons - Rockingham, Germany and Milwaukee. But your results have been pretty darn impressive there.

DM:
Yeah, but probably my best results have been on the ovals, funnily enough. Milwaukee was my best result really this year up until Surfer's, where I got up into second. But, yeah, the ovals are pretty new to me. Obviously, last year, I led maybe 18 laps on my first time out in a Champ Car on an oval, on a first-time on a single-seater on the oval. So maybe it suits my style of driving, I am not too sure, but you obviously have got to be very precise and critical of the car and things, so hopefully that will suit me and, you know, I turn left better than I do right, as well, so that's always good.

MC:
You started to answer my next question with your response there, but I mean, with your background Formula Vauxhall, karting, British F3, All Japan F3, there's not a lot of ovals in those series, but, yet, what is it about you that has allowed you to adapt to different configurations - not just with the cars, but with the type circuits that you come go to?

DM:
I think the experience that I have got over my 18 years of racing, if you include the karting. I am not afraid to get in and out of different cars. I even raced in the ASCAR Series last year, kind of European's equivalent of the NASCAR Series, which was great. That was good oval experience and great, great fun as well. I am not afraid to, like I say, lend my hand to driving different cars and racing. You know, eleven years in single-seaters in different formulas and working at driving centres and things like that, doing passenger rides and driving all sorts of different cars on the racetrack, I think my experience lends itself well to being adaptable to different cars and different circuits.

And, also, when you race in Europe like in my F3000 days, there was no testing before you went into qualifying. There was very limited testing during the year, so, basically, when you went to a racetrack, most of the time that you have never seen before, and you were straight out into qualifying. And, generally, the fastest time in qualifying was the first ten or fifteen minutes of the first session because of the Formula One rubber that was let down, so you had to learn the track very, very quickly and get down to a time and adapt yourself to the settings that you have. So, as well, for me, the ovals are no different to any other racetrack or any -- any car is the same, you have got four wheels, and a go-fast pedal and a slow-down pedal and you know, time to go faster than everybody else. That's just the way I work. I have got to go around faster than everybody else.

MC:
I'd like to open our forum to the media....

Q:
I want to get this one out of the way then we'll move on....

DM:
Go ahead.

Q:
Emotionally, when Chip [Ganassi] offered you this job, and knowing why this job was open, what went through your mind?

DM:
Well, it was a lot of mixed feelings really. There was a lot of excitement. We had talked to Chip before they signed Tony [Renna] as well - I think I was one of the guys on the short list alongside Tony. I probably knew it was coming up, the call was going to be coming, as well, after the unfortunate accident. It was a lot of mixed feelings - excitement that I was going to get the drive, and a lot of sorrow too. I didn't really know what I was feeling, you know - I was probably going to get offered the drive in circumstance I had never come across before. Very few drivers do in their career. So, everybody has been very supportive and I want to be supportive as possible to all Tony's family and friends and obviously, you know, I will be racing in Tony's memory as well. I think that's all I can say on that matter really.

Q:
The one basis to what you have been able to accomplish is the fact that you did not have the best of equipment when it came with the chassis; you did not have top-flight fun. Now, you are with a championship team and that has got to give you confidence above all else.

DM:
Oh, yeah, absolutely. I have been racing a long time and very rarely - I think there's only been one time that I have had a fully-funded, proper professional drive, and that was when I won the championship in Japan. Trust me, I have got a very big smile on my face - inside, I know what I can do when I haven't got all the things available to me that I have got this year. I am just excited to get to grips and get out there testing. This is the earliest I have ever been signed before for a new season, and to be testing before Christmas and things like that, with these guys, and to be able to pick their brains, it's a lot more unlimited resources than I have ever had before, so I am really looking forward to it.

Q:
When I heard that you had made the deal, one of the first things I thought of was, I know that there were tons of times that you walked through the paddock in a Champ Car series and saw what everybody else had, and you had to have a bit of jealously. Now everybody could be a little jealous of you.

DM:
About time, eh? For the last 18 years, I have been working up to this so, trust me, I am going to revel in it, and I am going to be on top of the world with it, trust me.

Q:
You make it sound kind of simple, just jump in the neat old car and drive, I am sure it is not quite that easy, but have you practiced any in the IRL car or what are your plans?

DM:
No, I have been practicing my seat fittings for the last couple of days, that's about it really. And I have got a good nice selection of videotapes and paperwork that I have requested from the guys to look through before I get out there. But there's a test at Homestead next week, where me and Scott are going to be out on probably separate days. And then, Texas, the beginning of December, looks like I am going to be out. So that's the first time I am going to be in the car that I am going to be running in the car.

 

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