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

Leave a comment

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!?”

MRTI: Chris Griffis Test Sunday times and notebook

Thompson (90, Exclusive) and Hoogenboom (78, BN) in Pro Mazda. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
Leave a comment

The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.

Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.

Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.

COMBINED TIMES

INDY LIGHTS (Best Session)Full Results

Jamin. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 5-Nico Jamin, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:15.7173 (Session 2)
2. 98-Colton Herta, Andretti-Steinbrenner Racing, 1:15.7808 (Session 8)
3. 23-Victor Franzoni, Juncos Racing, 1:15.7953 (Session 8)
4. 3-Pato O’Ward, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.0900 (Session 5)
5. 4-Rinus Veekay, Belardi Auto Racing, 1:16.1419 (Session 5)
6. 31-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:16.1585 (Session 8)
7. 31-Nicolas Dapero, Juncos Racing, 1:16.2491 (Session 4)
8. 48-Ryan Norman, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.3285 (Session 4)
9. 27-Anthony Martin, Andretti Autosport, 1:16.5185 (Session 4)
10. 2-TJ Fischer, Team Pelfrey, 1:16.8124 (Session 5)
11. 21-Heamin Choi, Juncos Racing, 1:18.1931 (Session 5)

PRO MAZDA (Best Session); Full Results 

Askew. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 8-Oliver Askew, Cape Motorsports, 1:19.8142 (Session 5)
2. 79-David Malukas, BN Racing, 1:19.9394 (Session 5)
3. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:19.9815 (Session 5)
4. 1-Carlos Cunha, Juncos Racing, 1:20.0236 (Session 2)
5. 3-Robert Megennis, Juncos Racing, 1:20.1268 (Session 4)
6. 81-Kaylen Frederick, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.1928 (Session 5)
7. 18-Calvin Ming, Pabst Racing, 1:20.2141 (Session 5)
8. 2-Sting Ray Robb, Juncos Racing, 1:20.6289 (Session 5)
9. 91-Nikita Lastochkin, Exclusive Autosport, 1:20.7001 (Session 2)
10. 80-Kris Wright, Team Pelfrey, 1:20.9930 (Session 4)
11. 82-Aaron Telitz, Team Pelfrey, 1:21.2144 (Session 8)
12. 78-Leonard Hoogenboom, BN Racing, 1:21.3713 (Session 8)

USF2000 (Best Session); Full Results

Keane ended head of queue in USF2000. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

1. 36-Darren Keane, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.1424 (Session 5)
2. 22-Andres Gutierrez, Pabst Racing, 1:25.5618 (Session 3)
3. 27-Callan O’Keefe, BN Racing, 1:25.6295 (Session 2)
4. 21-Hunter McElrea, Pabst Racing, 1:25.7021 (Session 5)
5. 31-Rasmus Lindh, Team BENIK, 1:25.7791 (Session 5)
6. 81-Jacob Loomis, Team Pelfrey, 1:25.8514 (Session 5)
7. 90-Parker Thompson, Exclusive Autosport, 1:25.8743 (Session 2)
8. 23-Lucas Kohl, Pabst Racing, 1:25.9792 (Session 6)
9. 37-David Osborne, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:25.9996 (Session 8)
10. 20-Aaron Telitz, RJB Motorsports, 1:26.0042 (Session 6)
11. 80-Michael D’Orlando, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.2295 (Session 8)
12. 37-Jake Craig, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.2452 (Session 4)
13. 25-Elliott Finlayson, BN Racing, 1:26.3668 (Session 8)
14. 32-Jaden Conwright, Team BENIK, 1:26.4557 (Session 2)
15. 38-Max Peichel, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:26.5058 (Session 2)
16. 33-Myles Rowe, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.6004 (Session 8)
17. 90-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:26.6460 (Session 5)
18. 82-David Osborne, Team Pelfrey, 1:26.6824 (Session 2)
19. 34-Sabre Cook, John Cummiskey Racing, 1:26.9362 (Session 6)
20. 38-Oscar DeLuzuriaga, Newman Wachs Racing, 1:27.7455 (Session 8)
21. 92-Justin Gordon, Exclusive Autosport, 1:27.7750 (Session 3)
22. 24-Zoey Edenholm, BN Racing, 1:28.5449 (Session 8)
23. 93-Jayson Clunie, Exclusive Autosport, No Time

NOTES

Old USF2000 teammates Jamin and Telitz share a high-five. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
  • Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
  • There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
  • The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
  • Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
  • Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
  • Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
Veekay. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.

Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.