Champion chat: Petri Suvanto
 September 28, 2011| 
  • Series News

Courtesy of INDYCAR recently chatted with Petri Suvanto, the 2011 champion of the Cooper Tires Presents the US F2000 National Championship Powered by Mazda. Known as the “Flying Finn,” the 18-year-old Suvanto drove the Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing’s #3 Viseko Van Diemen-Mazda with remarkable consistency all season long, and secured the championship at the Streets of Baltimore.


Suvanto tells us about how the Mazda Road to Indy program drew him to the United States, how attending his first Indianapolis 500 solidified his ultimate goal of becoming Finland’s first IZOD IndyCar Series title.


Q.   Congratulations on winning the USF2000 National Championship title. Did the season go as you expected it to be when you signed with Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing? Did you expect to be the series champion?


PETRI SUVANTO: I'd say that I didn't really have any expectations coming into the season. I came in with an open mind. It was to be my first season of racing in United States and only my second year in single-seaters. The 2010 season in Europe had been very difficult with lots of up and downs. I showed some promising signs over the season, but I wasn't able to put all the pieces together to really get podiums and wins in the very competitive Formula BMW Europe series. So coming into the year 2011, my main goal was to put all those experiences from 2010 to use in order to make the puzzle complete.


Q. USF2000 was very competitive with several drivers claiming wins. Did you think it would be as competitive as it was?


PETRI SUVANTO: Like I said earlier, I came in with an open mind and didn't really have any preconceptions. Before the season I took a look at some of the drivers who I knew I was going to race against and it's funny how, already then, I had a pretty good idea who will be the ones to beat. I knew from the beginning that it's a competitive bunch.


Q. You mentioned that 2011 was only your second season in single-seat race cars, but it was also your first season racing in America. What are the biggest differences about racing here than what you experienced racing in Europe?


PETRI SUVANTO: It was a bit different, but honestly I expected the differences be more drastic than they actually were. It's very hard to describe the differences with words but let me try. The key differences would be atmosphere, accessibility and on track rules. Atmosphere is a bit more relaxed generally and everybody on the paddock seems to know each other regardless of series, team or role. Another big difference I noticed was that the American paddocks are much more accessible to fans, which is very positive aspect from my point of view. Bringing the fans much closer to the people involved in racing. In fact, it was a new experience for me to be stopped by a fan requesting an autograph from me. Many times when this happened I looked around to check if there was someone from IndyCar right behind me. I view myself as a regular Finnish high school kid who just happens to be doing what he loves.


On track rules are different too - American wheel to wheel racing rules are much more strict. This can be viewed from both positive and negative standpoint but I'd lean more towards the positive side. As evidence of the effectiveness of the rules: I didn't get a single tyre mark to my sidepods during the season, which is remarkable considering how close and tough battles we had.


Q. What will you remember most when you look back on the season?


PETRI SUVANTO: I have so many great memories from the season with the Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor Racing but two of them shine brighter than the rest.


The first moment was definitely the win at Lucas Oil Raceway Park. This was the one race all the USF2000 drivers wanted to win - like Indy 500 is for IndyCar and Monaco for F1, it just had that extra something. It was all the tiny details that made it so special: the beautiful gloom of the evening, racing under the lights for the first time, the mental demands of an oval race, the race being my first one on an oval and the fact that I was the first-ever Finnish driver to win an oval race in a formula car. When I crossed the finish line first - oh my! After everybody had left and teams were taking down their awnings I was there sitting on that hill next to the track for ages just visualizing the race in my mind and how it felt to win it. It was not just the best moment of my season but the best moment of my life so far.


Another great moment was the race weekend at Mid-Ohio, because it was probably the best one of my life from the performance point of view. The whole team just made inch-perfect job throughout the hot weekend resulting into the kind of race weekend which occurs only few times over driver's whole career.


Q. What do you feel was the most important point in winning the championship? When did you know you would be the champion?


PETRI SUVANTO:  It's very hard to point out a certain thing. It consisted of many things: the good atmosphere amongst the team, consistency, right decisions, learning from the mistakes, constant development, hunger and the list goes on. When a unit works towards a same goal all doing their absolute best - good things happen. Everyone in the team did their job making sure even all the tiniest details were right. One thing my engineer pointed out as a key was that we were able to cope well even when we were struggling. For example, the most difficult weekend of the season was Road America and yet we were still able to fight back and grap a second place and a win regardless of the big problems we had. I always tried to avoid thinking about championship points. I just kept my mind in my own performance. The moment I knew I had won the championship was after I crossing the finish line of Baltimore Race 1 finishing 2nd when I clinched it mathematically.


Q. What did you learn in USF2000 and from the Capes that helped you win the championship?


PETRI SUVANTO:  USF2000 as part of Mazda Road to Indy is a perfect learning ground for a young driver like me. The series attracts experienced professional teams like Cape Motorsports, which adds to the package what the series has to offer. Working with a good team in a very well organized series allowed me to hone my skills as a racing driver. Not just the skills that are required on the track, but also skills that are required off the track.


Q. What does winning the championship mean to your career?


PETRI SUVANTO:  Winning such a well-recognized championship as USF2000 means a lot to any driver. For me, it probably meant everything! I came into the season knowing that this is probably my last chance to make it in racing. I knew it was 'make or break' kind of situation. I knew I had to win the championship or else I might not be able to continue chasing my dream.


Q. How important is winning the Mazda Road to Indy scholarship toward your goals for the future?


PETRI SUVANTO:  Mazda Road to Indy scholarship gives me the opportunity to make a step up to Star Mazda, a step closer to reaching my goals. After I came across the pond I made a decision to set my goals towards IndyCar racing, more accurately, becoming IZOD IndyCar champion one day.


This kind of opportunity is very unique and if the current ladder system wouldn't exist, I might not be able to continue pursuing my dreams like I do now. I enjoy the racing in US and currently all my thoughts and energy is directed towards climbing up Mazda Road to Indy ladder. Exciting times lie ahead!


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