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Q&A;: NATACHA GACHNANG

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Q: When did you start racing?

A: My first race was when I was age 9, but I started training at age 6. My father gave me a Christmas gift of a go-kart, and the same christmas, my uncle bought my cousin Sebastian Buemi–who is one year younger than me and who is now racing in F3 Euroseries–one as well.

Q: How competitive were you and your cousin?

A: At first it was more for fun. Then it turned into a competition between us, so it was a good way to progress.

Q: Who taught you how to drive?

A: My dad set up a track in the parking lot of his car dealership and started practicing us there. Then we started going every weekend and holiday to a track in Pontarlier, France which was about one hour from my house for training. My father loves motorsports and my grandfather was an endurance racer in Nurburgring and Le Mans with his brother who was building the car while he would drive.

Q: What does your mother think of you racing?

A: She knows I like it and she is happy for me, but now that I have a little brother it is more difficult for her to come to the races.

Q: When was your first race and how did you do?

A: Osogneia, Switzerland was my first race, it was raining and Sebastian and I were both so stressed. I did good, I finished 8th out of about 50 entries.

Q: What happened next in your career?

A: I did mini-kart, and after that two years with Juniors. I won the Swiss Junior Karting in 2001, against my cousin Sebastian who finished second in the series. At the last corner in the last turn in the last lap he tried to overtake me and we crashed together, but he had damage and couldn’t go back on the track. I could and so I won the championship.

Q: So who was your family rooting for?

A: It was a really strange situation. We traveled together in a van and shared the same tent on the track. It was just big enough for two go-karts and we were both there to win the championship. My cousin has some Italian background so my father and I were the calmer side, for sure.

Q: So, walk us through your career.

A: In 2002 I drove some Formula Ford and some ICA go-kart races. Then, I tested with BMW and finished fourth out of 64 drivers. So I started testing with BMW to make the next season.

In 2003 I went to Maubrey Motorsport in BMW and didn’t have a good season but I got a lot of experience. We were always good by the end of the weekend, but it was a hard season because I was still learning the tracks and learning the car. So, we were always one day behind the other teams.

Then, that same season, (Willi) Weber and (Niki) Lauda came to me to manage me, so that was very exciting. In the end, I signed with Weber because he offered me a better deal. But he put me into a new team again in 2004, and I had another very tough season as I knew more than the engineer and mechanic when I joined the team, so it was a struggle all season.

Then the next year, in 2005, I said I wanted to go to Kaufman Motorsport. I was 17 and in the off season I was doing an apprenticeship at my father’s car dealership to be a secretary, just in case the racing didn’t work out. But I was going crazy because all I was thinking about all day at work was racing and doing my fitness. So I went to Germany to live there and be with the team and work with the team like a family. The winter testing was good and I was always in front of my other teammates, but we took a new car and the new car was very bad. I lost three test days on this car. The season was not bad as I finished 6th and my cousin finished 2nd.

In 2006, I waited for more sponsorship until Feb to do F3 with a top team, but ended up joining a small team with little budget. The daughter was doing the engineering and the mother was changing the tires. At the beginning, I thought it was cool because the father wanted to win like me and prove you can do it with no money, so I went with them. But in the end, you need the money.

Q: So, 2007! You joined the Star Mazda Championship and you have gotten two podiums in four races and everyone is talking about you?

A: Well, I don’t know about that. I love my team AIM and I am so happy. I am finally on a good team and things are really cool, they work very hard and they are very calm.

Q: Would you want to do Star Mazda Championship again so you could do a whole season?

A: I think it would make no sense to do Star Mazda again, because I would not be moving forward.

Q: So talk about how your attempted race in Champ Car Atlantics went in San Jose?

A: It was crazy, because I came not knowing if I was going to drive or not. At the beginning, I hesitated to come because if I wasn’t going to drive, I didn’t want to come. But in the end, I thought if I really want to prove to everyone that, even though I am a woman, I am serious about being a race car driver, I have to come anyway to watch and meet people even if I don’t drive. For that I am really happy. I met a lot of people and now everyone knows that I am serious about racing and that I have talent. Now, they are kind of afraid of me I think, which is good to be taken seriously.

Q: Why jump in a car you don’t know, with a team you don’t know, on a track you don’t know?

A: Because I am crazy. No, because I am a race car driver and I think any other driver would have done the same. When you have an opportunity, you must jump in and try it.

Q: You missed the first practice and made it to the last two laps of the qualifying #1 but ended in contact with Junior Strous (#16 for Condor Motorsports). Which caused you then to miss the next morning practice and in qualifying #2 you ended up hitting the wall again. Not a good debut?

A: I don’t think so. The crashes were bad, as it was my debut race and for the damages, but besides that we learned a lot. I know the car now, this track, the teams, the drivers, and the series. Everyone was so supportive. If I would not have crashed, I would have done the race and then maybe it would have been worse to have finished the race last, because that is what everyone would remember. Now they remember the fight and the crazy situation I tried and that is so good.

Q: Do you think you hurt your career chances in Champ Car Atlantics by driving at San Jose?

A: Not at all. I proved I can compete, I am serious and I have talent. I know I did okay, because three Atlantic teams and a couple of sponsors have already approached my new managers CJMotorsport (www.cjmotorsport.co.uk) about racing in the rest of this season and next. So I am happy.

Q: So you don’t regret it?

A: No I don’t. I would do the same again. It was a crazy weekend for sure, but I think it was good to try, and that is why I came here. If I would have stayed home, nobody would have thought about me, but now everyone knows who I am.

Q: What is the craziest experience you ever had in racing?

A: This weekend for sure.

Q: How did you get the scar on your wrist?

A: I flipped a go-kart upside down while racing my cousin Sebastian in 1999. We had contact and slid about 20 meters upside down.

Q: But you think your experience in Champ Car Atlantic at San Jose was more crazy. Why?

A: Because I took a lot of risk to come there at the end of season, everyone has a lot of days in car, some drivers two seasons. I had no test, no seat fitting, I didn’t even know how to start the engine, or where the speed limiter was…and so it was a little crazy to do that, but if you don’t try you don’t get anything. I want to race and I am serious. I was curious to see the track and the car. And it was quite fun.

Q: Why not wait for a proper test before jumping into a race?

A: Because I thought it was a chance to do something good this weekend, but I missed the practice on Friday and again on Saturday- so it was impossible to do anything because the car was not set up for me. But I tried anyways and I improved with each lap getting faster and faster. After only two sessions in the car, I was only two seconds off the pace–for never having been in the car, competing against the other drivers who had over 60 sessions in the car, and at what many drivers told me was the hardest track of the season–I think I did okay. If I had made the practices, I would have been on the pace and faster than many drivers, I am sure.

Q: So what are your plans for next season?

A: Test in Champ Car Atlantic and come back and show everyone what I can really do once I get time to learn the car.