The rise of Felipe Nasrby Rob Widdows on 3rd February 2012
“Racing’s comin’ at ya” proclaimed the headline on the front page of the Daytona Beach News-Journal as I made my jet-lagged journey to work last Friday morning.
“Let’s go racin’” yelled the banners in Bill France Boulevard as we approached the Daytona International Speedway, a bull ring of a racetrack just inland from what the locals assure me is the “best beach in the world”.
Now, I might argue with the description of the beach, but not with any of the claims made about the 24-hour race that has made Daytona famous all over the world.
This was my first trip to Daytona, just as it was for young Brazilian racing driver Felipe Nasr. Have you heard about Felipe Nasr? If not, let me tell you that you are going to be very aware of him in years to come. He is 19 years old, comes from Brasilia and is the reigning British Formula 3 Champion. And, since last Sunday afternoon, the subject of a great deal of attention. This guy is very talented, as you will discover.
Last December Nasr went to the speedway to test his Riley-Ford Daytona Prototype having won his drive through a Sunoco competition to find a suitable young driver. Boy, did they find one. He was immediately quick, raising eyebrows right down the pitlane. Before the race on Sunday I sat down with him to talk about the experience.
“You know, coming here is unbelievable, such a great opportunity for me,” he says, a grin all over his face. “I’m just amazed by everything, I’ve only raced in Europe before, I’ve never before raced a car with a roof, something so big and heavy compared to my F3 car. First laps out in practice I was laughing inside my helmet, I was enjoying myself so much. Wow, I couldn’t see where I was going because I don’t see my front wheels like in a single-seater, and there’s 600bhp and the thing is pulling me pretty hard.
"Then I got in the banking, just kept my foot down and, wow, that was something special. The infield is quite narrow and cars will be three abreast, you know, but hey, I’m ready for that. I’m not used to so many cars on the track and I reckon I will overtake more cars than ever before in my life. The key, I think, will be patience, not damaging the car, and keeping up the pace, bringing the car home.
“My goal is Formula One but this race is more time in a racing car, a chance to learn new things, to do long stints, learn about tyre degradation, to deal with traffic, and to race against really good teams and drivers. We have good plans for the future, I just need to make the right decisions, but right now, here at Daytona, I want to be in good shape for the race and I can’t wait to get out there.”
The result on Sunday afternoon could hardly have been more impressive. Late on Saturday night he was dicing with Juan Pablo Montoya, took the lead for a while, he and JPM weaving in and out of the traffic. Standing on the podium in third place, he looked surprised, delighted, elated and just a little bit tired.
The following day I met him as he sat down for lunch at the North Turn restaurant by the beach where Bill France staged his first ever races, on sand, in 1936. This is a haven for any NASCAR fan, a museum as well as a place to eat.
“You know, it was incredible, just incredible,” says Felipe. “Unless you were in the car I cannot really describe what it was like. The darkness, the lights, the traffic, and flat out all the time. Just a fantastic result for me.”
As I said earlier, you will hear and see a great deal more of Felipe Nasr. Yet another hugely talented Brazilian joins the fray.