BF Interview: DTM Driver Joey Hand

Joey Hand had one of the best years a racer can have in 2011, having won the ALMS GT class, driving BMW Motorsport and BMW Team RLL to the teams’ and manufacturers’ titles as well as winning the 24 hours of Daytona at the wheel of a Riley BMW, and last but not least landing a third place podium in the GTE-Pro class at the Le Mans 24 Hour race.

Joey Hand has now taken to the skies- racking up frequent flyer miles at a rapid pace to compete in Europe ‘s DTM.Joey was kind enough to take some time out of his jam packed schedule to discuss with us what it ‘s like to be racing in the DTM and being the only American.

BimmerFile:Joey we’ve followed you for a long time in a variety of BMW products- Daytona Prototypes, Grand Am and of course GT cars in ALMS. You also have had open wheel experience. What does the M3 DTM compare to in your experience?

Joey Hand: Funny thing today, not more than an hour ago I signed a stack of photos of every car I’ve ever driven- I was surprised because there must have been 20 of them, all different cars. I’ve driven a lot of cars, not everything a BMW product but in the BMW racing line I have driven just about everything since 2001.

For me, the DTM, probably compares mostly to an open wheel car in the high speed stuff and like a GT car in the slow speed stuff. The big thing with the DTM is the downforce, its the first thing you notice about the car. When you get into third and fourth gear corners it has SO MUCH downforce especially from the middle of the car rearward, that’s where you start to feel the comfort. As you slow down and you get into first and second gear corners it’s much more agile and none of that down force is there so you drive it, you can get sideways because there is no traction control so you are constantly modulating the throttle. Here at the Norisring without traction control you are modulating against the wall. So it is very much like a GT car in first and second gear corners from there it is all about downforce.

The next thing you notice about the car is that it has carbon brakes so it stops really really deep into corners. The car is underpowered for the amount of downforce it has so you don’t go really super fast on the straights but when you get to the brake zones you brake at the 100 marker where generally speaking in a GT you’d brake at the 300 marker so its quite a bit deeper. At tracks we’ve tested at like Valencia you’re close to where the F1 guys are braking- of course they are coming faster- but still have similar deceleration with the carbon brakes and the downforce. Especially on the initial brake applications. When going from a sixth gear straight to a second gear corner when you initially hit the brakes you can push the brake pedal as hard as you possibly can because there is so much downforce on the car the wheels won’t lock up and you can bleed the speed off quickly but as the downforce decreases you have to trail out the brakes or the wheels will lock up.

It’s a different beast for sure, it is a beast and its something for me that I took to real well because of my open wheel and DP experience, all that stuff with downforce and all the other cars I have driven made me adapt quickly to the DTM- and what put me here.

BF: Not to be a downer- but Joey, realistically you are starting over from scratch here. You are bringing all your experience to a completely new product, racing on unfamiliar tracks in Europe which tend to be a different style than US tracks and you are away from home. That’s a lot to overcome- how do you feel you’ re acclimating?

JH: I guess you could say I have a lot stacked up against me in this but BMW is really good about understanding it’s my first year. They know it ‘s my first year, they know its going to take some time to learn all this new stuff. But this is a series, if you even just look at the BMW program if you look at all the teams and drivers. This is the top level of Motorsport, especially with a roof. If you’re talking about a touring car this is definitely the top level, you have only the best teams, a lot of guys from F1- some of the best drivers in the world and you have obviously a lot of manufacturer support from the three manufacturers so it makes for a very steep learning curve.

Every weekend I’m thrown into the lion’s den, thrown into a track pretty much every weekend I’ve never seen before. The whole travel to Europe thing that has been pretty easy for me- I’ve taken a real liking to Germany especially.

Trying to learn the car every week- not only am I learning the car for the season but for each track. Like coming to the Norisring after the Red Bull Ring in Austria, The RBR is a completely different type of circuit- Austria has very quick corners where you really have to man up and hang onto the car in fourth or fifth gear. You’re like WWWhoa! holding on and here (Norisring) it ‘s a lot about throttle control and driving through the bumps and things like that. There are just so many things coming at you- it’s definitely, mentally a lot of work, a lot of strain but I love the challenge. That’s why I am even here. I didn’t have to do this. BMW asked me and of course I wanted to do this, but I didn’t have to.

BF: Why did you take on this challenge of DTM?

JH: For me this is one of the biggest opportunities I have had in my career. At this level, at my age and where I am in my career I really wouldn’t have a shot at this again. I also felt that I was in the right frame of mind driving wise and also in life. Three years ago this probably wouldn’t have been a good idea. But being that I had a really good success in ALMS with RLL, I learned a lot from those guys and my team mates over there like Bill Auberlin and Dirk Müller, and I have just been really fortunate to be a part of great programs but from all that I felt that I had the right mix to come and try to tackle this whole thing.

BF: You were commenting on how this is the top level of Motorsport and how competitive it is- Qualifying for example can get down to the hundredths of a second how does that affect you?

JH: My guys were telling me today that I need four-hundredths to transfer on to quali three so I have to push! I was already pushing my hardest before. That is is what this series all about. When you come to a small track like this, what 48 seconds, I was what 4-tenths out of P1 and I was P15. It’s difficult. There are so many small things and what I found in this series is that I look back and say- If I only would have done this or that because the difference is so small it wouldn’t have taken much to get that tenth or whatever. But you’re already on the limit so much- we squeeze everything we can get out, there is no endurance here. It’s sprinting. It’s tough but I had a good run in Austria which was good for me because we found that when the car becomes right for me, what I need, then I can do the laps.A happy Joey is a fast Joey! The nice thing is that BMW Motorsport and my team RMG have been what I would say is patient, because I don ‘t have a lot of patience and they have been real patient with me learning the stuff. I haven’t made any big mistakes but there are all sorts of little mistakes that you have to learn about. Starts, pitstops and this and that, I told them I don’t want to make big mistakes. I’m going to make mistakes because I am not totally comfortable about every aspect of this type of racing yet.

BF: You don’t have all that much seat time in the M3 DTM so it is understandable that you don’t feel at home in it yet- what are some of those things that you are still getting accustomed to?

JH: The buttons and the steering wheel and all that I am still getting used to. My ALMS car I’ve driven so much I know it very well and that adds comfort- knowing all the different rules for things on track, in pit-lane and such, in ALMS I know all the rules so my comfort level is really high and that is what is coming for me now in DTM. All those small little things that add comfort that you look at from the outside and think that is not really a big deal like knowing where a button is- well, in a pinch it is a really big deal like hitting the pit speed limiter at exactly the right time. There are a few thing like that especially here where hundredths of a second are critical and all these things add up a little.

BF: Could you see DTM making it in the US?

JH: I don’t know, I don’t know when its right. Of course for me I would love to see DTM in the US.I think that a race or two in the US, even just a race, like F1 to see if it can branch out. I don’t know if everybody is ready for that yet. I think in good time with the new cars, with BMW being new and even with the other manufactures having to build new cars I don’t think you want to move too fast but I think DTM has legs. Meaning its got momentum, even in the US, and I hope a little bit because of me it seems its getting a bit more popular people are watching it over the internet, I get a lot of emails, tweets and FaceBook stuff about the races. Those are good signs but I think the US is close to ready for a series like this. People are more open minded now than they were. A series like the ALMS is fairly successful now, the crowds at the races are getting bigger as far as I can tell and I’ve seen it for seven years and it looks strong and I think this DTM series coupled with something else maybe would be.

If you can bring this show that we’ve been having for the last five races to the US I’m telling you if people didn’t come to the first one they would come to the next.

BF: There were 150,000 people at the season opener in Hochenheim and the expected attendance here at the Norisring is 130,000; what’s that like for a driver?

JH: It’s intenese. From a driver’s standpoint, even from an enthusiast perspective you love to see people loving racing. It becomes viral and that is what motorsport needs, especially in the US it ‘s a great shot in the arm.

Bf: With the season at the halfway point, what’s your goal for the final stretch to the end of the year?

JH: My goal is to be in the points for every race. Last race was my first points. I would like to get top ten. I need to be a points scoring driver to be a podium guy next year. There is a lot to it, its intense and it happens fast. It’s very easy to get to the end of the race and think you screwed up that one time and it cost me 3 seconds and that costs you 4 spots which happened to me at Lausitzring- One time I was slow in pitlane and then got held up behind or something. I ended being I think 13th and tenth was three seconds ahead. That’s the way almost all these races end up.

There is an art to running laps in the race. When you get tires you have to put down megalaps, and as the race goes on because we don’t take fuel your getting less and less fuel load and you need to learn to capitalize on that new pace because the car goes better with less fuel. So when you get that third set of tires after your second stop you really need to drive it home- really push it and get those laps. Everything here is about passing in the pits- sure there is passing on track but a lot of times you pass a guy in the pits and its way easier. Say if I pit before the guy in front of me and I can run some really big fast laps and he pits I can leap frog him with being better in the pits that is a trick that I am working on- if I can figure it out I will be a top points paying guy and I look forward to that and have a shot at podium for bot h myself and the team.

There are going to be some places, like Austria, that suit me right away. Places I just get on well at. I hope the next six races are like that!

BF: Joey, we are happy to have you racing for us in the US and we wish you the best of luck.

JH: Thanks, I’ll tell you I am proud, I am very proud to be here with BMW after all these years and very pleased to be given this opportunity and I’m very, very, very proud to be the only American here. That for me is one of the biggest things- I’m very patriotic, I’m American through and through and that’s why I run the flag on my helmets and now to be the American that’s the reason there is an American Flag on the pit-lane at the start of the race is really big. I’m lucky to have the support of BMW Motorsport and all the BMW fans and it always feels good to have that love- that extra motivation and it gives you something to race for. It’s been good so far and the reality is that it is a difficult championship but I am making progress and that is something to build on.

BF: One last question- You’ll be flying back to the US and racing for RLL at the Lime Rock ALMS race but what else will you do?

JH: I’m looking forward to seeing my wife and kids and getting to spend one of our favorite holidays together, the Fourth of July. We’ll be flying the flag, barbecuing and enjoying the fireworks together then it’s off to defend BMW’s home track in the US. In a few weeks I’ll be back in Germany racing in Munich.

BF: Joey, thanks for taking time out of your schedule for us- we wish you safe travels home to the US.

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