Enerson and Jorge have worked together for seven years. Photo courtesy Jonatan Jorge

Q&A: Jonatan Jorge on JJRD’s rise in driver coaching arena

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One of the areas in motorsport that is vital to success that’s more behind the scenes is driver coaching. Drivers are always looking to find the extra edge on track, and a lot of that comes from the willingness to learn and adapt to advice and feedback.

Brazilian Jonatan Jorge started as a driver in his own right and still races occasionally, but the now Bradenton, Fla.-based “JJ” has carved out a successful 20-plus year career in motorsports primarily in the coaching field. He started JJRD – or JJ Racing Development – to help drivers in the arena and has really seen his business, which has grown primarily from word of mouth, take off in the last couple years.

We caught up with “JJ” as the 2017 North American open-wheel and sports car seasons get going in earnest with this weekend’s Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg and next week’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, to get a look inside how the business has grown and what some of the tips are for young drivers he offers. One of Jorge’s clients, Joel Janco, will race in the a Ligier JS P3 Nissan for Duqueine Engineering in the Michelin Le Mans Cup this year; Jorge will drive with Janco at the Red Bull Ring in July with RC Enerson in the car the last three weekends in Paul Ricard (August), Spa (September) and Portimao, Portugal (October).

Some of the clients Jorge will work with this year include Enerson, Austin Versteeg (Lamborghini Super Trofeo driver), Oliver Askew, Ricky Donison and Anthony Martin (Cape Motorsports in MRTI), Tom Kimber-Smith, Jose Gutierrez and Mike Guasch (Enerson’s teammates in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson in IMSA), Janco, Gerry Kraut and others. Martin won both Pro Mazda races this weekend and Askew his first USF2000 race at St. Petersburg.

The JJRD logo appears on several helmets. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MotorSportsTalk: Each driver I’m sure is different, but what are some things you look for when it comes to working with certain drivers? What things do you hope to see them improve upon?

Jonatan Jorge: “Every driver is different as you said and requires a different approach. For me, it’s important to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses and make sure that they are aware of them, once we are on the same page it’s time to go to work and start to polish every area. Every driver has their own style of driving,how they retain information and how they react to the feed back. It’s a little bit of a juggling act but I found that not trying to change a driver but instead making them the best they can be with their own ‘flavor’ tends to make the process of growing smooth and exciting with always having a particular task to improve on.

“Being excited for the work ahead I guess is what I look forward to the most. It shows me that they are putting in the same effort I am, it’s very rewarding. It’s always great to work with different level of experiences, even working with pro drivers at the top of their game is fun to do and the things we can see from the outside always brings a different perspective and creates areas for improvement.”

MST: What are some of your more rewarding stories of drivers you’ve coached? Since there’s not really a metric to define it, how do you define success from a coaching perspective? 

JJ: “Grabbing a driver that very few believe can be a champion and turning them into one is the best feeling in the world for me. I’ve worked with drivers that are used to winning everything in karting, but getting a driver who hasn’t tasted that feeling yet and turning them in to a champion is about as good as it gets! Then when you have the chance to work and help a pro, self-sufficient driver in the sport that has reached a rut, to then see them through is quite positive.”

Askew and Cape are new to JJRD this year, but already winners. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MST: For a number of years, word-of-mouth has been the primary way people have contacted you. How has that developed over the years to where now you have an even busier year ahead? 

JJ: “Word of mouth in this very small racing world is really all you need in terms of coaching, because that means you’re generally getting the results you need and keeping your own ego in line! In the last few years, I’ve had the chance to put my logo on a few drivers’ helmets and if we’re winning, that helps create more opportunities.

“I am very lucky to have been able to be fulfilled with my job for a long time now and I get my ‘fix’ of being competitive. When I made the decision to stop racing many years ago I often wonder how I could replace that feeling of chasing that competitiveness,of trying to be the best,trying to be better then the rest, I think I found that in the coaching I have been doing. I could not really imagine doing something else. Maybe there is more money doing some other work, but I would be miserable!”

MST: How do you maintain such a calm and chill presence as a coach? What are your keys to being a successful coach and seeing the tips you’re providing translate to drivers when they get behind the wheel?

JJ: “Funny you should ask, when I raced I was anything but calm, and I tended to do the completely opposite of what I teach! I guess making many mistake in the past with my own racing career now serves me well in teaching the right from wrong to the drivers in a very simple way. I am without a doubt a much better coach then I was ever a race car driver. Teaching them how to prioritize the difference between what you can control and what you can not is very important for me and it simplify thoughts fairly easy. With experience, you can sort of see things developing ahead and translate a sense of calm to the drivers that things will work out on their own time. There is no need to rush anything, so long as you understand the work that needs to be put in, you will be rewarded pretty shortly.”

MST: How do you measure a driver’s improvement? Is it purely results based or is it more in technique improvement and maturation, or development? 

JJ: “There is improvement everywhere all the time!  You are always evolving, sometimes you run past scenarios and don’t even realize you have just got something on your back pocket to use in the future. You are always shaping things from the driving technique, to communicating to the engineer, evolving yourself as a person, or maturing in to what it takes to be a professional in this sport. Or, if you are already a professional, you’re finding a different way to approach situations that will make you grow beyond what you thought was possible.

“There are gains on every side you look. For sure the goal is to get results on track, without a doubt but to get there you have to acknowledge that small gains on every insignificant areas are important. Paying attention to small details play a huge role to be better then others who may be focusing on the wrong areas. Some drivers get to the end result faster then others but I believe anyone can become really good if you accept the time it need to be put in.”

Martin, also with Cape, was a double winner this weekend. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

MST: Who or what got you interested in coaching? How do you stay sharp after doing this for so many years and what are some of the ways you learn as a coach? 

JJ: “I spent 20+ years trying to become a race car driver and it was when life got in the way that I realized I needed to support myself while being happy in the process. It wasn’t a decision I was ready or wanted to make, but it was a decision that was needed. After a lot of soul searching I found that coaching was as close as I could get to the feeling of driving myself and I’m glad I found it.

“I try to put myself in situations that are unorthodox sometimes to get to learn how different people approach different things, the more I learn about different drivers/people in general and their personalities the bigger my spectrum becomes to tap in to different ways to approach my drivers. I sometimes volunteer my time to work with drivers that are either very novice or even work with well rounded pro drivers just to be able to see the way they each navigate during a weekend.

“I would say that the more I immerse myself in to different environments the more I feel like I can help anyone. Every once in a while I will do a race hear and there just for fun and with no pressure and that helps me realize and transmit  to the drivers that this hole thing is supposed to be fun and enjoyable. Sure it’s a job sometimes and you have pressure from sponsors and the pressure you put on your self for no reason really without even realizing it. If it’s not enjoyable, why do it!?”

Porsche announces LMP1 withdrawal from FIA WEC

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Porsche has announced its withdrawal from the FIA World Endurance Championship’s LMP1 class, the top class, a year earlier than its current contract called it to.

The move comes after a high-profile meeting in Germany to evaluate the effectiveness of Porsche’s top-tier LMP1 program to the overall Porsche brand.

Additionally, Porsche has confirmed its entry into the FIA Formula E Championship from season six, starting in 2019.

This aligns with the company’s new electric direction focus for its product line, Porsche Strategy 2025, which will see Porsche develop a combination of pure GT vehicles and fully electric sports cars, such as the first fully electric Porsche model, based upon the Mission E concept car.

Porsche released the following statement today about the end of its LMP1 tenure:

“Building up the Le Mans team from scratch was a huge challenge. Over the years, we have developed an incredibly successful and professional team. This will be our basis going forward. I am certain that we will maintain our high level in Formula E. Confidence is high, and we are excited to get started,” said Fritz Enzinger, Vice President in charge of LMP1.

Porsche said it plans to keep the LMP1 team intact, including its factory drivers, elsewhere within the framework of the company. Additionally, the new mid-engined 911 RSR will continue in the GT ranks; the new car won its first race in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with Dirk Werner and Patrick Pilet at Lime Rock Park this past week.

The Porsche 919 Hybrid won the last three 24 Hours of Le Mans overall, taking its overall win total to a Le Mans record 19 wins. It’s also won the last two FIA World Endurance Championship LMP1 championships, with Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley in 2015 and with Neel Jani, Romain Dumas and Marc Lieb last year.

The move leaves the FIA WEC’s marquee LMP1 class in a difficult position from 2018 and beyond, as Porsche joins fellow VAG brand Audi as a second manufacturer to withdraw from the top class in as many years.

Toyota is left as the single manufacturer, its contract good through 2019. But while LMP1 privateer has witnessed several announcements of new programs, how many actually materialize beyond the press releases into cars on the grid remains to be seen.

Despite the excitement over manufacturers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s Daytona Prototype international (DPi) formula, the DPis paired with the 2017-spec LMP2 cars in IMSA’s Prototype class, the Automobile Club de l’Ouest would need to allow DPis to race at Le Mans if they are to make an appearance in Europe. Right now, the cars are ineligible.

The GTE-Pro ranks will be bolstered with BMW’s arrival with the new M8 GTE, joining the existing four manufacturers there, and that will likely emerge as the series’ marquee class.

Porsche announces entry to Formula E for season six

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Porsche has announced that it will be joining the FIA Formula E grid in 2019, taking the 12th and final slot currently available.

In the same announcement that confirmed the closure of its LMP1 program at the end of the season, Porsche revealed that it would be moving into the all-electric series for the 2019/20 campaign with a factory-backed operation.

“Entering Formula E and achieving success in this category are the logical outcomes of our Mission
E road car program,” said Michael Steiner, Member of the Executive Board for Research and
Development at Porsche AG.

“The growing freedom for in-house technology developments makes Formula E attractive to us. Porsche is working with alternative, innovative drive concepts.

“For us, Formula E is the ultimate competitive environment for driving forward the development of high-performance vehicles in areas such as environmental friendliness, efficiency and sustainability.”

Porsche has held an interest in Formula E for some time, with many of its key motorsport bosses venturing to the recent races in Monaco and Berlin in order to undertake research regarding a possible entry.

Following Monday’s news that Mercedes would be taking up its option on an entry to Formula E for season six, Porsche’s arrival acts as another huge boost for the burgeoning electric championship, which already enjoys involvement from manufacturers such as Renault, Audi, BMW and Jaguar.

“I’m delighted to welcome Porsche to the FIA Formula E Championship,” Formula E CEO Alejandro Agag said. “If somebody told me when we started this project five years ago, that we’d be announcing a partnership with a brand like Porsche, I wouldn’t have believed it.

“To have a name like Porsche in Formula E, with all it represents in terms of racing and heritage – and in terms of sport cars – is an inflexion point in our quest to change the public perception about electric cars.

“The electric revolution continues, and Formula E remains the championship for that revolution.”

FIA president Jean Todt added: “Porsche is a brand which has a fantastic history in motorsport, and its intention to join the FIA Formula E Championship alongside so many of the world’s biggest car manufacturers is very positive.

“It’s clear that the hard work done to create a relevant laboratory for developing electric vehicle technologies has been successful, and I look forward to seeing Formula E continue to be a place of great sporting competition as well as innovation.

“I’m very happy that Porsche is coming to Formula E, but I regret their decision to leave the World Endurance Championship.”

The decision to end its LMP1 program and quit the FIA World Endurance Championship with one year still to run on its contract sees Porsche follow in the footsteps of sister Volkswagen Group brand Audi, which pulled a similar move less than 12 months ago.

Audi closed its long-running and hugely-successful LMP1 team at the end of last year in order to shift its focus to Formula E, enjoying works status with the ABT Schaeffler team from season four.

Porsche’s entry to Formula E marks its first foray into single-seater racing with a factory team since the end of its CART program in 1990.

Bottas feels at home at Mercedes as a challenger, not No. 2

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BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) Valtteri Bottas feels like he finally belongs at Mercedes, and that is not as a support driver to Lewis Hamilton.

The Finnish driver has exceeded expectations since joining from Williams as an emergency replacement for Nico Rosberg, who dramatically retired days after winning last year’s Formula One championship.

“I feel very much part of the team, I feel I can definitely perform at my best level,” Bottas said Thursday ahead of this weekend’s Hungarian Grand Prix. “(There is) plenty more to come.”

The widely held perception was that Bottas, who had never won a race before this season, was clearly arriving as the No. 2 behind Hamilton, a three-time F1 champion.

Yet at the halfway point of the 20-race season, Bottas is in third place overall, 22 points behind Hamilton and 23 behind four-time F1 champion Sebastian Vettel of Ferrari. That puts him within touching distance.

Bottas won in Russia and Austria, and finished second in Canada, Azerbaijan and Britain. With four straight podium finishes, he has good momentum for the Hungarian GP, the last race before a month-long summer break.

If not for his failure to finish the Spanish GP in May, Bottas could be even closer to Hamilton and Vettel.

“I feel like I am getting up to speed now. In a way I hope there wasn’t a break,” Bottas said Thursday. “I always set targets higher. I didn’t expect myself to be behind (Hamilton) all the time. I’ve shown it is possible to battle and show my skills.”

Asked if he thinks he can win the title, the 27-year-old Bottas says “everything is wide open,” adding “I believe I can fight for the pole (position) here.”

The twisting nature of the 4.4-kilometer (2.7-mile) Hungaroring circuit may favor Ferrari more than Mercedes, however.

Mercedes struggled at this season’s Monaco GP, which is a similarly tight-turning track where overtaking is much harder. Vettel won in Monaco from pole, while Bottas was fourth for Mercedes and Hamilton managed only seventh spot.

“We’ve learnt a lot since Monaco,” Bottas said. “I think it will be a good test for our car, we’re expecting a close battle.”

F1 Paddock Pass: Hungarian Grand Prix (VIDEO)

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Formula 1’s final race before the summer break takes place this weekend with the Hungarian Grand Prix from the Hungaroring in Budapest.

It’s a busy time of year and a highly important weekend on the calendar, with the two championship combatants only separated by one point and all the silly season talk about 2018 heating up – particularly with the two-day young driver test set to run on Tuesday and Wednesday of next week after the race.

And with the confirmation the Halo device is set to be introduced next year, what are the drivers thoughts on that?

All that makes for ideal timing of this weekend’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass with Will Buxton checking in from the ground in Hungary.

Here’s the pre-race episode, below.