INTERVIEW by DANIELLE OLIVER |PHOTOGRAPHY courtesy of STEVE SWOPE/RLL RACING
From his beginnings as a fourteen year-old karter in his native Belgium to being in the top ten at this year’s Indianapolis 500-Mile Race, Bertrand Baguette has established himself as one of the most sought-after and successful racers in the world. Baguette, a 2009 World Series by Renault champion (in case you don’t speak the fine jargon of racing, this refers to one of the leading motor racing series), is a fascinating individual. Devoid of ego, and genuine, he told us that any stress he might feel for this rather dangerous profession disappears the moment he steps inside his car. Even with a rising career as an internationally renowned racer, the twenty-five year-old with a degree in accounting chooses to adopt an easy-going attitude and has the same hobbies as any other guy his age… except for that ability to drive a car in a circuit at 225 miles per hour.
You’ve been racing for a long time. How did you become interested in racing as a child? Did it run in your family?
My father is a big motorsport fan, and since I was four years old, he took me to all the racetracks to watch the races. He always wanted to race himself but never got the chance to do it. At 14, I asked him to buy my first GO-Kart and he immediately said yes. He was very happy that I decided to start by myself because he never really pushed me to do so before. Up to now, I think I’m the first “Baguette” to be involved in motorsport. [laughs]
How are the types of racing similar and different?
Karting is the first step for every driver. It’s the best school to learn how to manage a race, how to set up a car, how to work with an engineer… You drive it in a different way than a race car because you’re not fixed on your seat (there is no seatbelt) so you can really use your body to help your kart to turn. Then the more you go up through the ladder of motorsport, the harder it gets. You have more horsepower so you have to be more gentle with throttle, and the car gets heavier so the steering wheel effort is higher. The drivers who you’re up against are always better and better the more you go up, and it becomes a new challenge every time to win a championship.
Can you teach us a bit of racing terminology we wouldn’t otherwise know?
Yes, I think that the two most important words in motorsport that every driver knows are “understeer” and “oversteer.” Understeer means that the front of the car doesn’t have enough grip. The car is not turning well when you give it the direction with the steering wheel. We also say “push” sometimes. “Oversteer” means that the rear of the car doesn’t have enough grip. The car is rotating too much. The rear wants to overtake the front of the car which means with a big oversteer you have a high risk of spinning. We also call that “loose.”
Can you tell us about your first Indy experience in 2010?
That was something amazing. Everything was new for me in 2010. It was my first trip to America, my first time at the track, my first Indy 500! First of all, the first big difference between Indy 500 and all the other races is the media coverage. Everybody knows Indy, speaks about Indy, and wants to be at Indy. The pressure there is a lot higher than anywhere else and the closer you get to Pole Day, the higher it is.
I think that my first experience at Indy wasn’t bad at all. I did it with Conquest Racing and we went there with very little money. Despite that, we outqualified a lot of good guys and we put the car in the race immediately on our first run, the first day. Then the race didn’t go that well. We were really competitive but we lost a mirror after 40 laps which screwed everything.
You finished 7th in this year’s Indy. That’s impressive! What are the other milestones in a racing season, and where should we be watching for you in the future?
We had a really good month with RLL (Rahal Letterman Lanigan). We led 11 laps right at the end of the race and we just missed a yellow flag to be able to fight for victory. We still managed to finish 7th which is still a good result for us as it was my (and the team’s) first race of the season. Right now, there is nothing sure yet. I want to be back in Indycar full time in 2012 and we are working on that right now.
What are the differences between racing in the United States and Europe?
Well, for me the big difference is the proximity to the fans. Everything is open here in America. The fans can get close to the cars to see the mechanics working on it, they can see and talk with the drivers in the garage area. Everything is done to give a great show to the spectators first and then we take care about the rest. I like that, and that’s the way it has to be because without fans there’s no sport. I think that in F1, they forgot that. Everything is closed and you need to have a super-pass to be able to go somewhere! That’s not right.
Can you talk about your current team – Rahal Letterman Lanigan? Are you close to your teammates, and how’d you come to be with this specific team?
RLL is a really good team, one of the best with which I had the chance to work so far. Bobby Rahal, the team owner, is a very big asset for everybody. He gave me a lot of advice at Indy and helped me to get this good result. But there isn’t only Bobby. You have many very talented and motivated people over there. They know what they are talking about and they know how to win races and championships. I really hope we can find a way to be together full time in 2012.
What is your best personal moment in racing so far?
I think that this year’s Indy was a really good one and I really appreciate what we did to take the lead over Danica (Patrick) and stay there for 11 laps. But so far my biggest achievement is my title in World Series by Renault in 2009. It’s a feeder series to F1 down in Europe, which means it’s the last step before F1. That gave me the chance to test for the first Formula 1 car which was a dream for me. Unfortunately, F1 is a lot about money and I couldn’t get a chance, but I have no regrets because now I’m having a blast in Indycar!
What is it like behind the wheel during a big race? What goes through your head?
It’s great! I really like it. It really gives me a positive pressure and helps me to give 200 percent of myself. I get nervous, of course, before the race, but once you are in the car and your engine starts all the nervousness disappears and you get completely focused on the target, which is winning the race. Not much goes through your head while driving. You’re just focused on the feeling of the car, you work with the tools you have in the cockpit to try to improve the behavior of it and you listen to your pit box for the strategy. That’s about it.
What are the other hobbies of a young, international racing star? Do you have an interest that would surprise our readers?
Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll surprise your readers! I’m just a normal guy outside the track. I like to hang out with friends, cinema, video games… basic stuff. I also do train a lot outside the track because you have to be fit to drive those cars.
What can our readers do to support you?
They can follow me on my twitter account or on my website where they can send me messages if they want!