A conversation with Gabriel Casagrande
Gabriel Casagrande is a 26-year-old Brazilian racing driver who races in the Brazilian Stock Car series and will be re-joining the Vogel team for 2021. He sat down with us to talk about his life and career as a racing driver and what he aims to achieve as he returns to the team that gave him his Stock Car debut in 2017.
Interview conducted and transcribed by Bruna Brito, Edited by Aiden Hover
1) How did the passion for racing come about?
A: It was natural, I remember first becoming interested when I was 5 or 6 years old watching F1 and cheering for Rubinho [Rubens Barrichello].
2) Have you always had your parent’s support and the support of friends and family to pursue a racing career?
A: No, at first they didn’t support me and even tried hard to stop it, but after they were bitten by the racing bug, they started to like it. My mother was very scared and my father knew about the risks involved with entering this sport.
3) What were the biggest difficulties at the beginning of your career? Did you feel any pressure to always show an example in the races?
A: The pressure to be exemplary was already inside the house, thinking about my attitudes towards home, either in life or on the track. At first, I had to give up a lot of things that teenage life offers in order to race – but I feel that everything was worth it.
4) If you were not a driver, what other profession or career would you like to have followed?
A: I really like football and music, working with that would be really cool, but I have no talent for either of these two passions! I think I chose the right side, and being a teacher or working in entertainment also pleases me.
5) Go Karting definitely forms a base for most drivers and you were clearly very good at it. How was this period of great achievement? Which of them is the most striking? Are there any lessons learned during this time that you still carry with you?
A: It was the best time of my life, my only concern was getting good grades at school so I could go to train and run more. And then on the track, the obligation was to have total dedication, that I take that with me forever. Whatever my task, you will have total dedication and a lot of dedication on my part. The biggest achievement in karting was the 2012 Brazilian championship in the Graduates category, where the best drivers in the country competed. I won other cool championships, but this one made me sure that I was at a very high level.
6) What is it like for you to deal with defeats or less than satisfactory results?
A: That is something all drivers have to learn to deal with from an early age, as we have much more defeats than joys in motorsport. At first, it took me a long time to achieve expressive results, but after you get used to it, not winning is complicated. When we go to a different category, which often needs an adaptation period, it is difficult not to be affected by the drop in results.
7) How do you generally prepare for the season? Training, food, etc…
A: I feel good when preparing myself physically, I like to train at the gym every day and also practice all kinds of sports. The fashion today is beach tennis, so this one I practice a lot, combined with football and go-kart, which I never let go of. In food, I am strict during the week, but on weekends I free myself and have a barbeque, which I like very much. I don’t follow a very restrictive diet because I believe I should be happy, and eating everything is very good.
8) What is your opinion on simulators? Do you train on any?
A: I really like the simulators, I started to run them in 2008 in a game called Live For Speed, which for me has the best tyre physics of the simulators to date. I think the equipment is becoming very expensive, and what was supposed to be a hobby for those who were unable to participate in real motoring ended up being unfeasible as well. Of course, it is still possible to participate, but we know that the equipment makes a lot of difference. I like to play iRacing and use Automobilista 2 to train with the StockCar, although I think it is far from reality. I play to have fun – not to prepare.
9) Who are your biggest motorsport idols?
A: When I was a kid, I grew up watching [Michael] Schumacher and Rubinho [Barrichello] dominating for Ferrari. I liked them a lot and I have a great affection for Rubinho because he is Brazilian. After I started watching videos on the internet, I started to admire Senna a lot, who I never had the opportunity to watch live.
10) What track do you dream of running one day?
A: LeMans. I really like long races and I think that one is the most glamorous.
11) Have you received speeding tickets away from the track?
A: Unfortunately, yes. Here in Brazil, we have speed cameras everywhere – even in places where we could walk faster without posing any risk. They are installed there just to get some of our money.
12) What is the model of your first car? And what is the dream model?
A: My first car was a Golf GTI, which served me perfectly and was what I liked the most. My dream car is a Jaguar F-Type, but for that, I will have to work a little more haha!
13) What is your favorite helmet design?
A: I really like my design, it is simple and I change very little year after year.
14) Why did you choose number 83?
A: When I was karting in 2008, I had to choose a number that has never had a history of competition in the family. At that time Grêmio, a team very close to my heart, was doing well and they used this number a lot in promotional items thanks to the 1983 world title, so I decided to adopt it as my number on track.
15) How did it feel to compete for the first time in Stock Cars? How were the days leading up to this new chapter in your career?
A: It was really cool when I got the news that I was going to make my debut in StockCar. I was very young and I knew it would be difficult, but I qualified in the middle of the pack in my first classification. It was cool because everyone wanted to help me in some way, the drivers there are very receptive, as bullsh*t only starts once you have competed in the category for some time. The race was in Cascavel, near my hometown, and my whole family was there. I was a little nervous but after I got in the car, everything seemed to come to me naturally.
16) Motor racing, despite appearing to be an individual sport, relies heavily on the team aspect. What were the biggest surprises you saw when you joined the team and became a member of the talented StockCar grid? And how do you work with the team to achieve the desired results?
A: Motor racing is the most collective individual sport that exists. I’ve had episodes in which I was harmed by a member of the team and also ones in which I was saved by the quick reasoning and attitude of the members, we are not just those drivers inside, we have more than 15 people forming the mechanics behind a StockCar. I like to maintain a healthy relationship with my team, knowing that I depend on them and they depend on me, so we have to be in perfect harmony. A good barbecue with the members and also good results are key to fine-tune the relationship.
17) Was age at any time synonymous with immaturity, “prejudice” or an excuse for someone to stop you from trying or achieving something at some point in your career?
A: I wouldn’t say that prejudice happened, but I have already been passed over by sponsors for being too young and also for making some mistakes on the track that I don’t make anymore. It is part of it. On the other hand, the partners who support me today are the ones who bet on me when I was still nobody in motorsport, so I insist on treating them in the best possible way and always trying to maximize the return to them.
18) Do you regret any reactions or responses you made during or after a race?
A: Yes. We all have our moments of anger and with a hot head we always tend to do things we don’t want to, but the important thing is learning from mistakes and knowing how to move on.
19) How would you describe your 1st pole in 2019 in the StockCar category, how was this moment?
A: It was unexpected, I confess! But after, it was a very good feeling of accomplishment and it took a truckload of pressure off my back. I always performed very well in the races but ended up suffering in the ratings. In 2019 I had 2 poles and I was the only driver of the team to win the honorary position, which provided me with lots of confidence. The car was very good and I had to be careful because I only had one attempt. As I knew I was, on average, one-tenth and a half slower than Thiago Camilo in all qualifying formations, I didn’t want to take any chances to avoid losing a comfortable starting position. It turned out that he risked and failed to make the perfect lap.
20) Last season, you were in 5th place in the championship, but unfortunately, due to inconclusiveCOVID-19 test results, you had to miss out on the final round. What was your feeling at this moment?
A: Very frustrated. The work of a lot of people, a whole year of dedication in unfavorable conditions, my first real chance of being the champion of the category was all gone due to a disease that I took care not to contract – and yet still contracted, it is complicated. I had positive and negative tests, but they preferred to veto my participation and there was nothing I could do. This year I will try again to win the cup.
21) Despite the challenges, in my view, 2020 was a great year. With 4 podiums and 1 victory, often being the highest scorer, and finishing the season in 8th place, how would you rate this season? Do you believe this was a year of more maturity and growth in the category?
A: It was certainly the best year of my career in the psychological sense. I was very confident and, even when the situation of the car was not good, the result ended up being good as I always had my head in the right place in important situations. The year was good despite not having participated in the last stage, which was worth double points and would have put me in the top 3 which was my goal and would have allowed me to fight for the title. In 2021 the goal is to follow the top positions with more and more races in the fight.
22) In terms of technology, StockCar stands out on the national scene. Could you tell us more details about the vehicles, the championship model ..?
A: We have a very competitive category, where the cars are equalized by the same company, and the teams have only the possibility of changing the car’s setup. The championship is attractive to the public because of the 2 races and also the double points final round. The car is very crude, and the use of aids like traction control and ABS is not allowed, so the car is tricky to guide but also is very pleasurable.
23) Do you like the current car model in the StockCar championship? What do you think could change to improve the coming years?
A: Yes, I do. I think that, despite not giving as much priority to the victory of the first race, the championship is more competitive by having two races, with more winners, more exposure for sponsors, and inconstancy of results, which leads us to not be so predictable to the public. I believe that longer runs would bring more appeal and also round with special formats, with more options, etc.
24) What are your expectations for the 2021 season? Any news about this year that you could share?
A: The goal is to fight for the title again, avoid covid, and also enjoy a lot of joy on and off the track. I am back at the Vogel team, which has joined AMattheis, one of the most successful teams in Brazilian motorsport. I am still very excited and eager to get started soon.
25) And finally, would you like to leave a message to inspire young people and fans who also want to venture into the sport?
A: Dedication always, regardless of your physical or financial condition. The result of hard work is the most pleasurable experience and with it, we can all achieve what we want. I know that motorsport is an expensive sport. It’s difficult and has few opportunities, but there is always a gap to be filled.
Thank you to Gabriel for sharing some of his time with us!
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