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December 07, 2012 News
EKN.ca One-on-One: European F3 Open's Gianmarco Raimondo
 

Gianmarco Raimondo has progressed from the Canadian karting ranks to Formula 3 championship contender in Europe (Photo: Foto Speedy)
Gianmarco Raimondo has progressed from the Canadian karting ranks to Formula 3 championship contender in Europe
(Photo: Foto Speedy)

Ontario junior formula car rising star Gianmarco Raimondo has over the past few years increasingly made a name for himself in Europe. After just missing out on the European F3 Open title, and successful tests in GP2 Series and Formula Renault 3.5 Series cars, eKartingNews.ca recently had the opportunity to speak with the former karter about his time in the karting ranks, junior formula car endeavors, and the future.


EKARTINGNEWS.CA: Let's get the ball rolling by talking about your first involvement in motorsports via karting. What led you to first getting behind the wheel of a kart here in Canada?

GIANMARCO RAIMONDO: My father really introduced me into the motorsport world, as he was a bit of an enthusiast himself, participating in various track days at Mosport and Mont Tremblant, and collecting model F1 and street cars. However, it all started from when I can remember watching Formula One on TV and cheering for Ferrari with my dad as we were big Ferrari fans. I remember watching the speed, hearing the sounds, and personally feeling the emotions of the sport, good or bad. From that moment on, racing was in my blood.

One of the best days that I can remember as a kid was getting my first kart at nine years old; a partially used MBA with a purple frame and red body work. I took it around the block a couple times and actually crashed it on the curb my first time out, having my neighbour helping me start it back up. It gave me such a rush, and I would ask my dad all the time if I could take it out for a spin. It then came to the point where we started club racing in Batavia, N.Y. every weekend.

EKN.CA: What were your initial thoughts when you began racing? How long was it before you started thinking about potentially becoming a professional race car driver?

RAIMONDO: When I began racing, I was very timid and at some points very scared! I was a really quiet and shy kid growing up, but just loved driving and racing. I actually won a couple races my first year, and it was a great way to spend time with my dad, as he is always very busy. He was hard on me at the track, but it really conditioned me at such a young age, which I can say from personal experience was very useful for my future.

The thoughts about becoming a professional driver happened in my last years of karting. I was 16 when I realized that I was basically at the highest level of karting, and to progress meant moving into cars. I saw that it was possible from my position to move like some of my fellow drivers and friends (Daniel Morad and Robert Wickens) up into Formula BMW. The decision was very easy to move on, however, that's not usually the issue about moving up the ladder. There is A LOT of financial and personal dedication that my family and I needed to commit to.

EKN.CA: You steadily moved up from Junior all the way to S1 shifter kart racing. How was that progression, and what were the keys things you learned as you moved up the karting ranks?

RAIMONDO: All of my steps up in karting were big ones. Honda Junior to Rotax Junior, then Rotax Jr to ICC (S1), so the learning curves were very steep. It was difficult like all things that need to be perfected, but a great life experience all it's own.

The key aspects that I learned from karting were consistency, race craft, and mental toughness. I had mechanics and coaches stressing on me how important consistency was, and it took a lot of sweat and tears, but it eventually came to the point where I would have shifter races with 10+ laps being within 2 tenths of each other. This is key in motorosports in general, not only in karting or formula car racing.

EKN.CA: Over the years you enjoyed good success behind the wheel of a kart. What was the key to your success?

RAIMONDO: Like I mentioned previously, mental toughness and consistency was key. Obviously talent has to be in the equation, but control of that 'talent' is what's important, and that's what consistency really is.

There were times however, where it didn't really go so well, but being able to pick yourself up, ignore the bad stuff and learn from your mistakes, and to apply them in other situations is an art all in itself. So dedication is another thing that should be stressed.

EKN.CA: You made the transition to car racing in 2008, first racing in the Skip Barber Regional Series, before switching to the Formula BMW Americas series. As a BMW Junior you were a title contender right away, ultimately finishing third and winning the Rookie of the Year award. Did your experiences in karting help with the transition to cars, and what skills from karting helped you be a title contender as a rookie?

RAIMONDO: I tested a lot in the FBMW, and at the same time did a couple of Skip Barber races in 2007. But the real challenge was being competitive in the FBMW coming straight from karts. I found karting didn't really help in the driving style, but more in race craft. I basically had to erase everything that I learned about karting in order to drive a car properly.

The concentration and mental strength you learn from karting is very important because when the conditions are not optimal or you have constant pressure, you need to force yourself to perform your best regardless. I'll use the example of when I was racing with Stars of Karting in ICC at Utah, when it was 45C and 5000 ft above sea level. To be able to push for an entire race without feeling the heat was incredibly tough, even more than some formula races I've had.

EKN.CA: After another season as a BMW Junior in Formula BMW Americas, where you again finished third in the title fight, you elected to switch to racing in Europe via the Italian Formula 3 Championship. Why make the move to Europe?

RAIMONDO: I actually wanted to do my second year of FBMW in Europe, however I didn't have the funding and my racing scholarship I earned from winning the Rookie Championship was only applicable in the Americas championship, so I chose to stay in North America for another year racing with Autotecnica.

I always knew the racing was better in Europe and that it was the path you needed to take if you wanted to make it to Formula One or any other similar championship. I went to Formula 3 Italia because it had the best combination of price, competition, and prizes. It had the same price as FBMW Europe or Formula Renault 2.0, with a Ferrari test and respectable prize money in the end. In my first race in 2009 as a guest driver, I noticed right away that the driver quality was much higher and that they were more passionate for the sport (blocking, attacking, risking). I fit right in very naturally, and knew that I needed to go that route to get to where I wanted to go.

EKN.CA: Over the past two years you've remained in Europe, racing in Formula 3, first in the F3 Euro Series, then the European F3 Open series. What led you to these two series, and what are the differences between the three F3 series you've raced in?

RAIMONDO: I was attracted to the Euro Series because in the Italians series, I found too much control with the engines and even tires at the beginning of the year, and just the politics in general turned me off. I started to race in the Euro Series because the series in a way came to me. I was noticed in the post season tests in Barcelona by Motopark as we shared the track with them. I was always interested in the Euro Series, but once again didn't really have the budget to do so. This time it was a bit different, as the team wanted me, so it was easier for us financially to commit as the pricing was a bit different.

There weren't too many big differences between the championships and each year had it's own challenge, but I'd have to say the driver level in the Euro Series in respect to all of the other F3 championships was ridiculously high. Even though there were only 12-18 of us, the gap from first to last at the end of a 45 minute race was only about 20+ seconds or so. Regarding the difference in performance from the best to the worst car (as I know from personally being in both), this is very impressive.

EKN.CA: 2012 proved to be a breakout season for you. A title contender from start to finish in the European F3 Open series, you were one of the drivers to beat at each event, ultimately ending the season second in the title fight with four wins (tied for the championship lead). What do you think was key to this past season's success, and how have you grown as driver with this performance?

RAIMONDO: There is a personal and a technical reason for my success this year. Finding the right mental approach was really a breakthrough for me, as I worked mostly on that aspect this year. But to help you see where I'm coming from, I need to start from my first year in Europe as my success this year all started from the experience I gained from that point on.

First of all moving to Italy really showed me how strong I had to be if I wanted to be a high quality driver. At first it sounds really sweet moving to Italy, having a house to yourself, but at first it was really the opposite... I couldn't speak Italian, I had no friends for the first seven months or so, I broke up with my girlfriend (at the time), and I wasn't getting the results I wanted, and basically went into a state of depression. I needed a good slap into reality to be able to see what it meant really to dedicate your life to something.

I spent my first two years of F3 learning everything there was to know about formula racing and grew tremendously as a person and a driver.

This year, I applied everything I learned as a person and as a driver over the years of amazing/impossible racing/life experiences towards this championship on and off track.

Now getting back to the technical reason, I primarily had the right car in the right championship, with the right team and engineer, and with the right amount of experience. Having said that, I couldn't have done anything without the dedication of RP Motorsports.
 

Gianmarco Raimondo is poised to continue moving up the European junior formula car ladder in 2013 after successful tests in GP2 Series and Formula Renault 3.5 Series cars (Photo: GP2 series Media Services)
Gianmarco Raimondo is poised to continue moving up the European junior formula car ladder in 2013 after successful tests in GP2 Series and Formula Renault 3.5 Series cars
(Photo: GP2 series Media Services)

EKN.CA: The results from this past year have definitely raised your profile in Europe. One benefit of this has been the opportunity to test both a GP2 Series car and a Formula Renault 3.5 Series car. How did the tests go, and what was the transition like from the F3 cars you've driven?

RAIMONDO: I could really see the differences between the GP2 and the F3 car, because I drove them on the same track two days apart from each other, and they are both completely different machines.

Going from FBMW to F3 was not too bad, but the GP2 from F3 was very different, but addicting at the same time. It wasn't impossible, everything was relative, be it harder, better, or faster. (Sounds like I'm putting together a Daft Punk song...) The GP2 car needed a completely different driving style despite the relative increase of grip to speed. Since the car has so much power and stopping ability, the car needs over 100bar of braking pressure (F1 amount) to utilize entry speed, but it needs to be stopped at apex and pointed straight for the exit to optimize the speed of the car and more importantly, lack of grip the Pirelli tires provide mid corner.

The World Series car was closer to the F3 in terms of driving style because of the Michelins the car has give it a very high cornering speed.

The tests anyways went very well, I was only one second off in both cars in the end, and I was faster than a lot of drivers who've already tested/raced before me. For it being my first time in either car, and coming from such a different car (F3), we showed that the potential is there and this is really important.

EKN.Ca: What were the primary differences and similarities between the GP2 car and the Renault 3.5 car? Has the tests made you want to drive either cars more?

RAIMONDO: The main difference between the two cars definitely has to be the tires. The GP2 has Pirellis which are very similar to the F1 compound, and the World Series car has Michelins, which are superior to any tire I've ever driven. The Pirelli can vary from 4-5 seconds from new to old tires, the Michelin around 1.5 seconds. This alone changes the cars completely, however, it's not the only difference. The World Series has DRS and also ground effects (downforce from the floor), where essentially the speed is derived from. I believe the GP2 car is a much better car in terms of quality, but the World Series car is faster in the end.

As a driver, I enjoyed driving the World Series car because of the grip, but didn't enjoy spending my entire morning playing Angry Birds because of technical problems (I was joined by very many). The GP2 is more difficult for the driver because you need to take really good care of the tires, if not then the time will never come. It's ridiculous on how fragile they are. Yet, in the end the GP2 essentially has the F1 tire, which will make it more important moving into F1. But on the other hand, World Series provides more track time, so they are two series with their pros and cons. Nonetheless, they are two very addicting cars, and I can't wait to get into either one and feel the speed.

EKN.CA: Let's end things about talking about the future. Have you started making plans for the 2013 race season? Is the plan to stay in Europe, perhaps move up the motorsports ladder to GP2 or Renault 3.5? In addition, will you be getting back behind the wheel of a kart during the off-season, given your are residing in Italy, which is one of the premier locations for karting in Europe?

RAIMONDO: We are very close to get into either GP2 or World Series, but it's all a matter of budget. I'm sure there are a lot of drivers who know what I'm talking about. I haven't completely disregarded North America, but the goal has always been F1, and until I can't reach that goal for whatever reason, I will think more on my other options that I've set aside.

Karting has been an aspect of my training routine actually. In 2010, I did a couple test days with TRT (Tony Kart) in Val Vibrata, and most recently with a local PCR team in Cescina, both using S1 shifters, and both times was asked to do some races for them, seeing I was running close to qualifying laps. Regardless, I believe it's one of the best ways to stay fit and I really miss driving a kart in all honesty. Still to this date, I haven't found anything that's harder to drive all day than a shifter kart.

EKN.CA: Thanks for taking the time to speak to EKN.ca and its readers. We look forward to following your continued progress up the motorsports ladder.

RAIMONDO: Thank you very much for the interest in my career. I hope to give you guys more to write about next season. Best regards znd be sure to keep up to date via http://www.gianmarcoraimondo.com


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