LOS ANGELES (Jan. 18, 2013) –It’s a major coup for any racing series to bring in a new driver with a record as strong as Jonathan Summerton’s. The 24-year-old has scored wins in multiple open-wheel classes during his career, from Formula 3 to A1GP to the Atlantic Series, and added another trophy to his mantle when he helped Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing score a GT class victory in last year’s 12 Hours of Sebring.
This year, Summerton is refocusing his efforts on a Global Rallycross drive, appearing at Olsbergs MSE’s Supercar Lites test in Lake Elsinore, CA last Saturday. He took his first laps in a Lites car in the morning before sampling an OMSE Ford Fiesta in the afternoon. Here, Summerton talks about adjusting to a new form of racing, working with the team, and his prospects for the 2013 season:
You got the call to come out and test at Elsinore at the last minute. How quickly did your deal to test come together?
Getting there, coming from Florida, is a long flight, but I got there Friday evening and was able to come out Saturday morning to the cold! It was a cold, cold morning, most of southern California was shocked by it. We headed to the track and I think it was still about 32. So it was definitely a cold morning, but I was excited about getting in the Lites car.
You’ve been lucky enough to drive in many different disciplines, from open-wheel to sports car racing, but have you had any experience in anything like a rallycross car? Does anything even come close?
Honestly, there really isn’t much that I’ve driven outside of road course racing. I think the closest thing would be any fun that I’ve had in my road car on the dirt road, or anything I’ve done in the GT car in the past season in the American Le Mans Series. It’s one of those things where I didn’t really have a lot of experience, so it was a new aspect, line of work, that I’m looking at doing.
Your first laps in one of the Lites cars came in the morning session. What were your thoughts about driving the car for the first time? How comfortable were you with it in the first few laps?
With learning the car and everything, it was a whole new aspect to racing. We came from road to dirt on the test track and it was a learning experience, but after the first time out, I was able to get right to business and understanding. Of course, having a coach (Patrik Sandell) there who had done professional rally was a great help. And it was very exciting to be learning something totally new and trying to learn a new form of racing.
It looked like you were one of the fastest drivers out there in the morning Lites test, and then in the afternoon you got to run a few laps in the Fiesta Supercar. How different was going from one car to the other over the course of one day, especially when you’re new to rallycross?
Well, of course the Lites car is set up for drivers to be able to adjust to the Supercar very easily and very quickly. They’ve got the handbrake, they’ve got the all-wheel drive, they’ve got the balance, all characteristics of the Supercar. Jumping into the Supercar, it had a lot more power, (it was) a little bit different, but all the controls and most of the aspects of driving the car were very similar. Of course, getting used to the power was quite phenomenal, coming from the 300 horsepower to the 650 area. The car was amazing. I definitely enjoyed the full day of testing in both the Lites and the Supercar.
You mentioned that having a driver coach was helpful, and Andreas Eriksson has his own lengthy history in racing, so there were plenty of resources for you to adapt to driving the car. Did you get any advice over the course of the day that helped you get acclimated?
Andreas and Patrik both were very helpful. Patrik was in the Lites car with me, teaching me all about the initial, basic things you need to know for rallycross. And when I got in the Supercar, Andreas was coaching me over the headset, talking me through lap by lap when I was out there. And some people may or may not have known Tanner (Foust) was out there, and he came over and gave a few words of advice that I took in. Of course, I’m the rookie, and I was learning as much as I could.
Having worked with a lot of high-profile teams over the course of your career, how easy is it for you to develop a rapport in different environments? What was it like working with Olsbergs?
Olsbergs, Andreas Eriksson, his whole crew, were definitely professionals. Having raced in Europe and done the whole European scene, I understood the way they worked, the way things were done. It was a lot of fun getting to learn about the cars, and I was totally interested because it’s something new. The more I could learn, the better, and it’ll help me down the road and in the future towards possibly running a Supercar this season.
How close have you come to putting a Supercar program together for the season? And if you make it to the grid, what would your goals be?
We’re working on a program. We’ve been talking with Andreas, and I know there’s some spots on the grid for the Supercar. We’ve been talking with Chip Pankow of the series and working with the series and Andreas closely to put a program together for this coming season in the Supercar. And it’s looking very promising. Looking to combine the sponsors with the manufacturer is key. It’s definitely an exciting process.
For my goals for this season—of course, for the first few races, it’s going to be trying to catch up, let’s say. We’re going to try to do a few tests and understand the car, and hopefully better prepare myself for the first few races. But in the first few races, if I were to make it through to the final and be competitive, that would be great. After that, it’s going for the win. I’m always going to be going for the wins. I feel that given a well-prepped car, and the team I’m working with, I think it would be a good possibility of being able to compete with the front guys. It’d be great to go out there and win the championship the first year, but just getting a few wins under our belt would be great.
Photo credit: Chris Leone