Last month I was lucky enough to have an extra day in Southern California ahead of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. While there, I made my way over to the GRC press event where they introduced all the teams and drivers taking part in the 2015 season. Plenty of big players in the game this year, including Chip Ganassi Racing, and the continued involvement of both Ford and Volkswagen.
It was a pretty fun event, hosted by Indy car and Tudor Ferarri driver, Townsend Bell. While there I had a chance to sit down with 2014 GRC Supercar champion, Joni Wiman (Though here in the States he’s sometimes called Johnny Weeman, the actual pronunciation is Yawni Veeman) and get his perspective on the upcoming season, and what it takes to prepare for and compete at this level.
MLAS: You ran the Lites, won the championship. Came in last year in your rookie year in the Supercars and took home a championship. I was actually there in Vegas and that was a fantastic win. So tell me, when you already have two championships under your belt being just twenty-one what more is there to work for? What keeps you motivated?
Joni Wiman: Well of course for this year the goal is to win a race and then at some point be the world champion; but you know for now, the future seems to be here and you always find something that you want to be better on. You never have a perfect season.
MLAS: So what kind of things do you hope to improve on this year?
JW: Well as you said to win a race (smiling). Consistency was good last year, I just need to maintain that. The car is better now. For sure, we’ll be more competitive
MLAS: What kind of changes did you guys make in the off-season that you feel makes the car better?
JW: We’ve got an updated engine, quite a lot more power. We’ve got some things on the suspension and so yeah, I think we’ll do a lot better, be faster than last year.
MLAS: What kinds of changes do you make in the suspension that help your driving? Is it more geared towards helping your style of driving or is it just overall a smoother car?
JW: I like a stiff car because I’m coming from single-seaters so I like the car to be you know, a real good turning, don’t lean too much so that’s how I like to set it up as you know, it’s personal. Some would like to do with a smooth car…
MLAS: Yeah, a flimsy flopper? (chuckles) But you like a stiff car.
JW: Yeah I just, you’ve got to find your own way.
MLAS: How do you think a stiffer car suits your style more besides coming from single-seaters? Do you find that even with other cars you’ve raced that you always kind of go back to that stiffer set-up?
JW: Yeah I always prefer stiffer but especially for rallycross coming from single-seaters, you’ve got to be very smooth with the car. It’s so easy to be aggressive, you know. I feel like a stiffer car helps me to be smooth. I don’t…the car does what I want.
MLAS: Do you find that you had to change your style quite a bit coming into a GRC car versus what you were driving in the past?
JW: Well I mean the Lites prepared me very well for the Supercars because they don’t have that much power but it has a lot of grip, so you know you need to be really smooth. If you slide it, you lose it so that was a really good, good (training) ground.
MLAS: Where else would you like to race and you think this is really it for you? What other kind of racing would you like to explore?
JW: I would like to try rally. I was supposed to try one this winter in Finland. It would have been 300km of stages but you know, it just got too expensive at home; but that’s definitely one thing I want to try. Not you know, move over to it but just try one of the races.
MLAS: See how it is? (both smiling) Do most of your heroes come from the WRC?
JW: Yeah and of course Formula 1 – Kimi. (brightly) He’s so cool, you know.
MLAS: Yeah, I bet! (laughing) Have you had a chance to meet him?
JW: No, unfortunately not
MLAS: I got a chance to meet him at the US Grand Prix last year. He’s quite a character.
JW: Yeah (smiling)
MLAS: Is that one of the guys that you really looked up to growing up?
JW: Yeah, him and Marcus Gronholm.
MLAS: Now Marcus Gronholm, he worked with you last year for a bit didn’t he?
JW: Yeah, he’s working for me. He’s basically taking care of all my things that has to do with racing.
MLAS: He’s a huge hero of mine as well. I’ve been racing Pikes Peak [International Hill Climb] for the last ten years and when they came up with the Olsbergs cars I guess in 2010, I was racing Time Attack and they came up to run Unlimited and I got a chance to meet him. He’s quite a guy, so I can’t imagine having much better people in your corner when you’re trying to get prepared for a race. Speaking of that, tell me how you prepare for a race? How do you get ready for each of these rounds?
JW: Well I like to you know, just relax before the race because the weekend is so intense. You have no time to take your own time, except in the hotel room for like two hours before I sleep; but you know that’s my way to do it. If I got something, some information from the track, some testing from the track of course I try to you know, watch it on the computer, think what to do better.
MLAS: Do you spend a lot of time analyzing your racing?
JW: Yeah we do, we have a like a data in all of the cars so we can compare me and my teammate together. That’s helped a lot. That’s the thing you’ve got to have.
MLAS: How much time do you think you spend in the week you know, working out and getting ready physically?
JW: Well I mean I train physically five days a week and it takes up to two hours.
MLAS: That’s not too bad and I mean you’re still young too, so it’s not like you’re putting the pounds on or anything. That’s good.
JW: (chuckling) No no.
MLAS: But then a lot of mental training, huh? So a lot of reviewing film and reviewing data?
JW: Yeah, yeah.
MLAS: Do you like that aspect of it? Do you really get in tune with the technical part of racing?
JW: Yeah you know I like it but to a certain point (smiling) but if it gets too detailed I don’t like it anymore.
MLAS: (laughing) Sure okay, so what are your favourite parts though about going over the data? What kinds of things do you really like to analyze?
JW: Of course (chuckles) of course it’s always fun to see that you’re better than the other guy in some part but I would say the learning part is, you can exactly see the speed in the corner where you brake and so and so. It’s just interesting to see it, how small things can be a big difference.
MLAS: So tell me who spotted for your last year?
JW: Jussi Pinomaki, he’s the Team Manager.
MLAS: And is he going to do it for your again this year?
JW: Yeah, at the races he can do because he’s more focused on the World Championship so…
MLAS: What kind of feedback do you get while you’re in the car on track?
JW: Well he just trying to keep me calm, telling me when to do the joker [lap] and when to push, and of course he tells me what’s the situation to the cars behind.
MLAS: Does he spend a lot of time talking to you or does he keep it to just what you need, what he feels like you need?
JW: Just what I need. I don’t want more but it’s like one or two times per lap for sure.
MLAS: When you’re going through your typical lap in these cars, what’s going through your head? Is it happening now more naturally? Do you get through a lap without thinking too much?
JW: Yeah, yeah but as I said to many people, the car is so fast that we always need to think like one corner ahead. So if you’re thinking how you should do the corner when you’re in it, it’s way too late. So you know, you have to think something but if starting to think too much it won’t be good later.
MLAS: Sure, so you find that you’re most fluid when you’ve got that perfect mix of seeing couple turns ahead but also being in the moment and making sure that you’re…
JW: Yeah! And of course, feel the car.
MLAS: How overwhelming is it – the data that you get back on the car while you’re driving it?
JW: Oh it can never be good enough to feel the car, to give information about the car but I feel like I’ve got a lot better year by year and you know, it’s important to say what you want. The guys looking at the race can say something but they don’t actually know how the car feels.
MLAS: Do you give them a debrief after you get off a track, after each practice round or each round?
JW: Yeah, yeah.
MLAS: What kind of things do you talk about?
JW: Well we just talk. They come to me and ask, “How does the car feel?” I say if it’s good, if it’s too soft. For example, if I’m losing grip after five, six laps – that’s not good. (smiles) I don’t know, just things with the engine, if it’s responsive enough. Everything that has to do with getting that fast lap.
MLAS: Very good. Thanks Joni.
A Final Word
The Red Bull GRC 2015 season kicks off on the streets of Fort Lauderdale in front of the Bahia Mar Resort & Marina on May 30-31, 2015. Tickets can be purchased online. If you can’t see the race in person, then tune in to NBC on the Sunday at 3:00pm EST for the Supercar finals. The GRC Lites will air on NBC Sports Network, Wednesday June 3, 2015. Follow Joni Wiman on social media via the following links: