Quite a Fit: Deadmau5, Hinch, Honda and cars

Hinch and Zimmerman check out their specially liveried Fits. Photo: Honda

The pulses rise. The crowd awaits. The cameras are ready.

No, this isn’t Joel Zimmerman – better known as electronic dance music (EDM) artist, superstar and producer Deadmau5 – about to start a show.

It’s Joel about to race his Canadian countryman James Hinchcliffe, of Oakville, Ontario in a pair of Honda Fits around the Putnam Park road course outside Indianapolis.

But don’t tell him the rush isn’t any different. If anything, it’s amplified.

“I just like that control – you know what I mean?” Zimmerman told MotorSportsTalk in an interview. “It’s great feedback between you, the car and the road.

“It’s one thing to be a passenger, and one thing to not have control, like you are in a roller coaster. But to have that kind of response, where you’re going, turning and staring, it puts you in the zone. And having the more high-performance vehicles intensifies it.”

How he got to this point is a story in itself. Intensity and passion are two words that describe Zimmerman’s increased interest in cars, and in motorsport over the last few years.

First off, his introduction to motorsports came via the Gumball Rally, in a Ferrari 458.

“It was all pretty circumstantial or coincidental,” he says. “(Others) do the Gumball as their yearly recreational thing. That’s how I got introduced to the community; you ask who’s the ‘who’s who of racing?’ What else is there to talk about with supercars? You talk about cars. It opened up the world for me. It’s such a great community. We all talk to each other after the rally. It’s extended family.”

Zimmerman lived in Toronto, where public transit is king and driving can be akin to listening to a bad record depending on the time of day – utterly grinding. But a move to Los Angeles meant Zimmerman finally got his driver’s license and would have to learn the nature of L.A. traffic jams (as this author can attest, living in L.A./Orange County area requires a wealth of patience).

“The first time I drove a Ferrari, a year or so ago, was maybe 3-4 weeks after I just got my drivers license,” he explains. “So I have no idea how to drive this car. They just give you the keys and say, ‘Have fun!’

“So the first 5 minutes was terrifying, in L.A. traffic. You’re not even going over 30 (mph). It’s terrifying. You don’t want to hit a kerb, or a car. Then you get used to it. Once you lift the veil of the type of vehicle you’re driving, you start getting it, and after 2 minutes, you’re good.”

The aforementioned Ferrari is one of a host of ultra exotic high-performance cars Zimmerman’s sampled, whether it’s a McLaren 650S, a Bentley Continental GT Supersports or a BAC Mono, the latter of which is the first open-wheel car he’d driven.

But each car provides a different driving experience, and the variety offers great appeal.

“I’ve definitely seen the whole spectrum, from the Honda Fit to the LaFerrari. It’s so different to see that every car offers something different new, regardless of price or quality.

“Nothing to me is more fun than an e-brake on a Honda Fit. But you don’t get that in a McLaren 650S. That would be a bad idea all around. Or the way a Mono handles on a track, versus a Ferrari 458. You can come full stop, you can whip around it in the mono, because there’s a low center of gravity, it’s perfectly balanced and the thing’s on rails. In a Ferrari you’d try that and be in the grass.”

As for the Fit, it fits into the equation as part of Zimmerman’s run up to the launch of his new album – 5 years of mau5 – and a performance in New York on the Honda Stage.

A Mau5 on the Bricks. Joel Zimmerman and James Hinchcliffe at IMS. Photo: Honda

This leads us to Hinchcliffe, who besides hailing from the same area in Toronto is a Honda-powered driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series and took Zimmerman on a rainy two-seater ride at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. It was cool, Zimmerman said, except “if there wouldn’t have been a stupid inch of water… but we still hit a buck 80.”

The two hit it off on social media prior to that and have struck up an obvious, and chill, friendship.

“I like to say I have a talent for reading people,” Zimmerman says. “With Hinch, you just see how he spends time and cares about something he specializes in. So that’s where I hit it off. Doctor, landscaper, whatever it is, you look for the passion and seeing the detail in one thing.”

The two-seater ride came after the two toured the IMS museum. Zimmerman couldn’t believe his eyes.

“Looking through that museum, I walk away realizing how fortunate I am to have 50-plus years of car development experience in my favor,” he says. “Dude, I wouldn’t drive 20 feet at 10 mph in fear of blowing up!

“And yet guys were racing these things, with legit jet engines on the back or the transmission running between their legs.”

Zimmerman took his own shot at racing Hinchcliffe in the Fits – the two half-jokingly riffed pre-race about seeing who would be first to roll it. Fortunately, neither did. This was part two in the run to the Honda Stage.

Part three followed shortly thereafter, for the show itself. See below for the third and final installment:

Would Zimmerman consider racing himself, as others from the world of entertainment such as Paul Newman and Patrick Dempsey have?

“Not in a professional capacity,” he confirms. “Only because I understand, to be up there with the (Lewis) Hamiltons, Hinchtowns and Conor Dalys, you gotta start karting when you’re 7 years old. You have to put all your eggs in that basket so to speak. There’s so many intricate details.

“When I’m going into racing and stuff like that, it’s for personal enjoyment.”

Asked whether he had a favorite form, Zimmerman said he “loves it all,” granted some more than others – ranging from F1, watching Hamilton win the World Championship, to as localized as demolition derbies.

What he does do and continue to do to keep his car presence going is performing a series of “Coffee Runs” – where Zimmerman drives around, sees random people or celebrities on the streets and just lets the camera roll.

“It’s so ad hoc – we don’t produce or schedule these,” he says. “We wire up, literally, whoever’s around; the Mayor (Rob Ford) was the only one we had to schedule.

“But short of that, it’s who’s in the neighborhood, stick a GoPro and do it all in one take. I don’t condense it down to 30 seconds and fast-paced. I hate the quick editing. It’s a discussion.”

And to bring this full circle back to IMS, would Zimmerman ever consider playing the Snake Pit, which has grown in stature in recent years since its revival?

Sadly not for 2015, as the timing conflicts with the Gumball. But it’s obvious that racing and IMS have made an impact on the talented artist, and if one day Deadmau5 does play there it will be a massive get for the Speedway.

As it is, Zimmerman’s been struck with the car and racing bugs, and that’s perhaps the biggest “get” of all.

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment

DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIESNewgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and two red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500