In 2007, Giedo van der Garde was embroiled in a contract dispute between two back-of-the-grid Formula 1 teams, Spyker and Super Aguri. Each had announced he would be their reserve driver, with Spyker eventually prevailing, but he never participated in a race weekend.
Times have changed. Spyker is now Force India, Super Aguri defunct barely after the 2008 season. And van der Garde, well on the radar of a race seat then but having fallen into relative obscurity since, re-entered the frame with Caterham as one of its reserve drivers a year ago.
Van der Garde participated in five of the last six Friday free practice one sessions, six in total in 2012, and has been confirmed as a race driver for the team this season. At 27, he’s the oldest rookie on the grid by a full four years.
“The main thing for me is that my dream is coming true,” he told the Formula 1 official website in a “rookie diary.” “I told my Dad when I was very young that I was going to be an F1 driver and now it’s happening. I never stopped working for it, never stopped believing it would happen, and with the help and support of a lot of very good people, I’m where I want to be.”
The 2007 season also marked the last time a Dutch driver was on the grid, when Christijan Albers raced for Spyker.
Van der Garde has spent the last four seasons in GP2, and raced in the World Series by Renault before that. He and Caterham teammate Charles Pic, only a sophomore in F1 at age 23, were teammates with the Barwa Addax team in GP2 in 2011.
As a rookie in a team that has yet to score a point in three seasons, expectations are minimal, other than gaining experience and furthering car development.
“Do I feel under pressure? No,” he said. “Not from the team as we’re realistic about what we can do this year. The pressure that does exist is from myself and my trainer. We are preparing as well as possible for the year ahead, but that’s good pressure, the sort that motivates you and pushes you to perform. But pressure on track? No. I know what to do – the team have helped me prepare as well as possible and I’m ready for what’s ahead.”
Travis Pastrana will attempt to make his first NASCAR Cup series race on February 19 with the grandaddy of them all, the Daytona 500, but his road to get there will not be paved and his car will have only two fenders as he tackles Florida Speedweeks and the DIRTcar Nationals.
“It’s good,” Pastrana said in a press release. “We’re going to go down, we’re going to go hangout with [NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series champion] Matt Crafton, one of [Black Rifle’s] drivers, we’ll go to Modified races and watch all the Late Models. We’ll watch the racing, and we’ll bring [United States military] veterans down and hangout with [Steve] Arpin.”
But there is a saying among dirt track fans that goes, ‘asphalt is for getting to the track; dirt is for racing’ – and Pastrana is taking that to heart.
After racing on the snow in Nitro Rallycross February 4-5 in Calgary, Alberta, the original plan was to head to Volusia Speedway Park in Barberville, Florida to watch the modified and late model races. Until Crafton called him out for not racing.
Pastrana relayed the conversation: “I told Crafton [I was coming to watch] and he goes, ‘Ah, too much of a sissy to drive?’ I called Arpin, and said, ‘So, Longhorn, I heard you guys have vehicles that can kick the crap out of Crafton’s vehicle.’ [Arpin] said, ‘Yeah, if you don’t suck, you can beat him.’ I said, ‘Alright, I’m in.’”
The DIRTcar Nationals run from February 6-18. The first week features six UMP Modified Mains each night they run, on Monday (Feb. 6), Friday (Feb. 10), and then the prestigious Gator Championship race on Saturday (Feb. 11). Pastrana hopes to run every night in one of Arpin’s cars, also with sponsorship from Black Riffle Coffee.
And this is not just for bragging rights; there is money on the line. Pastrana and Crafton have a $1 bet on who has the best finish.
It took a day for Pastrana to get comfortable in the modified. And it took a little coaching from Arpin, who has experience in both dirt modifieds and rally cars to make him fast.
“[Arpin] showed up the second day after hearing how bad the first day was,” Pastrana said, which is confirmed in the Instagram post embedded above. “But he just told me, until you commit, it’s not going to work. Once I committed, it started making a lot of sense. But coming in, if you’re lifting off the gas while trying to turn, it just doesn’t turn and all your natural instincts say, ‘Don’t get on the gas.’ So, yeah, I feel like it should suit my driving style because I’m more of an aggressive sideways type of driver, but it was very difficult. Turning and sliding, I’m fine. Getting it there is not the easiest.”
Pastrana has one previous start in a dirt late model that came in the 2010 Prelude to the Dream. He finished 23rd in the 27-car field and was three laps off the pace. He wasn’t the only driver having difficulty getting a feel for the car that night; Jeff Gordon finished on the same lap, only one position ahead of him.
The price of the weekend could well exceed the dollar he may lose to Crafton.
“It’s going to be an expensive weekend,” Pastrana said. “Not everything is covered. If I crash anything, it is going to be all on me. This is one of those things where I want to come down and have fun. I want to hang out with the crowd, I want to sign autographs and give high fives. Especially for the Modified crew, that’s the grassroots racing that I love and some of my friends are involved with. We’ll be camping down there with Arpin and all the Longhorn guys, just hanging out. I feel like that’s a great opportunity for us to bring a lot of [US] veterans and bring people that are into racing and aren’t into racing, friends and family, and just have an awesome time.”
And it’s not out of the question that Pastrana could add another top-10 to his record book in the DIRTcar Nationals. After the rocky first day, Pastrana gained speed. Enough so that Arpin’s confidence was raised.
“We’re pretty confident Crafton is going to have to run hard to keep his dollar,” Arpin said.