What An Opportunity For Pippa Mann!
There were many storylines that came out of this year’s Indianapolis 500. Of course, there was all the hype surrounding the one-hundredth anniversary. Throw in the Pole Day fuel miscues of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. Then there was the near no-show of Andretti Autosport in qualifying, followed by the controversy surrounding the No. 41 car of Bruno Junqueira that was sold out from under him.
During the race itself, there were two separate charges through the field by Tony Kanaan, the uncharacteristic blunders of Team Penske, then the caution-free drama of the last thirty-five laps that saw seven different drivers lead the race – topped off with J.R. Hildebrand’s crushing disappointment coupled with the elation of Dan Wheldon’s sudden victory. It was certainly a race for the ages.
Almost lost in all of the euphoria of the race was a stellar drive by a young rookie driving for one of the paddock’s least heralded teams. Unless you were watching closely, as I was – you would not have noticed how Pippa Mann was steadily moving up through the field throughout the day.
Why was I watching this rookie when most others had their eyes glued to the more visible rookies like Hildebrand or James Hinchcliffe? Well, it all boils down to me being a typical fan.
Pippa Mann and I started corresponding with each other on Twitter back in late winter or early spring. When she landed her ride in the second car at Conquest Racing in a one-off deal for the Indianapolis 500, I sent her a congratulatory note. As she is known to do with almost everyone, she responded directly and we tweeted back and forth for close to an hour – most likely while she was carrying on many direct tweets with many other fans. Knowing she was busy, I wrapped it up asking if I could stop by the Conquest garage during qualifying weekend. She responded with a “”Please do!”
On Bump Day, I decided to take her up on it. I tweeted her just to make sure it was OK and she said “Sure”. As it turned out, we didn’t get by her garage until qualifying was over. She wasn’t there, but her teammate was – Sebastian Saavedra, who had failed to make the race.
Then, surrounded by some of her team and a small group of well-wishers – Pippa made her way to the garage. I caught her eye and she looked like she wondered who this old goat was. When I told her my name, her whole face lit up. She stopped, we visited, I introduced her to Susan and she introduced us to her publicist and she even recalled my blog by name to her. I don’t tell this to brag or name-drop, but to illustrate the point of how fan-friendly Pippa Mann is.
Most celebrities in that situation would be looking around and trying to graciously work their way out of the conversation. Pippa, on the other hand, looked us both right in the eye and made Susan and I feel as if we were the only two people that mattered in her world. Later that evening when things had calmed down, Susan and I both had another encounter with Pippa in the media center. Although she was much more subdued, she was very engaging as we just leaned against a rail and chatted with her. In describing Pippa Mann, Susan summed it up best with one word – charming.
I’ve always said that I’m not a journalist – I’m a fan. Like most fans, I tend to be drawn to stars that exhibit kindness when no one is watching. Nor do I care for those who only perform to the camera. While I had been aware of her driving talents in Firestone Indy Lights, her extremely likeable personality in interviews and her constant accessibility on Twitter (@PippaMann); her demeanor in those two chance meetings after qualifying converted me into a major fan.
For the next couple of days, I waited to see if Eric Bachelart would yank Pippa from the ride she had earned, in favor of her full-time teammate – just as he had done two years earlier, when he replaced Bruno Junqueira for Alex Tagliani in a similar situation. To his credit, he didn’t this time.
Susan and I saw Pippa on Race Morning on her way to driver introductions. She looked terrified. We said Hi from a distance, but she didn’t recognize us. We didn’t expect her to. She had a few things on her mind more pressing than remembering an over-aged blogger from Nashville, TN.
I had already decided to keep an eye on Pippa from my seats near Turn One. She was starting on the inside of the last row. Wisely, she was very cautious at the start. Her next time around, she was in dead last. But then she started passing cars. She steadily moved up until she finished in twentieth. That was impressive enough for her very first IZOD IndyCar Series start, but then I found out that her water bottle never worked and she drove the second half of the race dehydrated with cramps and in severe pain.
Pippa Mann made the Indianapolis 500 her very first time in an IndyCar, when her full-time teammate did not. She drove for an under-funded team that usually resides at the back of the grid. But she drove a heads-up race, kept out of trouble and passed several cars on her way to a more than respectable finish. Yet, the day after the race found her again on the unemployment line.
Thankfully, once the glow had dimmed from the Indianapolis 500 and things got back to normal in the IndyCar world – her performance in May did not go unnoticed. Yesterday, it was announced that Pippa had signed to drive three oval races later this season for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing – New Hampshire, Kentucky and the season finale at Las Vegas.
While driving for Conquest at Indianapolis certainly got Pippa noticed, this could actually prove to be her big break. RLL Racing can obviously prepare a car to run at the front, as witnessed when Bertrand Baguette came within a splash of fuel of winning the Indianapolis 500. They are running selected races this season as they prepare to re-enter the IZOD IndyCar Series as a full-time team for 2012. What better way for Pippa to show what she is capable of, than to snag a good ride like this?
The tight confines of Loudon, NH on August 14 may be difficult for her, although she ran well enough in her one and only start at Milwaukee in Indy Lights, which is very similar to Loudon – finishing ninth in 2009. But her moment to shine should be at Kentucky Speedway, where she won the Indy Lights race there last season. Although she has never raced at Las Vegas, I think she’ll adapt to it in short order.
Given the right set of circumstances, I think Pippa Mann can be the next star of the IZOD IndyCar Series. First and foremost, she is an excellent driver. She hails from the U.K. and has a solid resume from 2003, mostly in Formula Renault. In 2009, Pippa moved to the U.S. and Firestone Indy Lights – driving for Panther Racing and then for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2010, when she finished fifth in points – with a win and two poles.
Pippa worked practically every ounce of speed out of that Conquest car in the month of May. Now that she is with a team that actually has a chance of running at the front, she should do well. She has a private test with her new team scheduled for New Hampshire in July. That should pay dividends, as she has already proven the ability to learn and adapt quickly, as well as persevere through adversity in the cockpit as she did at Indianapolis.
Off the track, Pippa Mann will rival her fellow-Brit Dan Wheldon as a marketer’s dream. She obviously has a keen understanding of the power of social media. I think as she becomes more well-known in this country, more and more sponsorship opportunities will come her way. In the meantime, she has worked herself to death uncovering her own sponsorship deals. It has paid off with this three-race deal with Rahal Letterman Lanigan.
These are brighter days for the IZOD IndyCar Series. Suddenly, there are several young promising drivers in the picture including J.R. Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, Simona de Silvestro, Charlie Kimball, Mike Conway and Jay Howard. I think it is now time to add Pippa Mann to that list.