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EFCN: MY Road to Indy – Pro Mazda’s Garett Grist
 

In his rookie season of Pro Mazda competition, Garett Grist scored two victories, one being a dominating performance in the Night Before the 500 on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway - LLC Photography)
In his rookie season of Pro Mazda competition, Garett Grist scored two victories, one being a dominating performance in the Night Before the 500 on the Lucas Oil Raceway oval
(Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway - LLC Photography)

For Grimsby, Ontario’s Garett Grist, the ‘fast track’ approach that he has taken in the Mazda Road to Indy does not quite mirror his more methodical advancement up the North American karting ladder. Like a majority of the drivers currently starring in the Mazda Road to Indy, Grist began his career in karts at the age of six, and worked his way through the set class structure, moving to the next level when his age required it. In stark contrast, the 19-year-old spent just a year in the USF2000 program with Andretti Autosport in 2013, moving with his team to the Pro Mazda Championship this season when they elected to shutter their USF2000 effort. After winning at Mid-Ohio in his freshman season of two-liter racing, he skipped a potential sophomore year in the series, which would certainly have included a shot at the title. Instead, Grist jumped into the Andretti Pro Mazda seat vacated by Matthew Brabham and proceeded to win two races en route to an eighth place finish in the series championship. There were both highs and lows, but his natural talent was certainly put on display, as he dominated the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway and won for a second time at Mid-Ohio.

Grist’s personal ‘road’ to Indy started on the kart tracks of southern Ontario, where he began his career like so many before him, running at a local kart club. Garett’s natural talents were apparent as he won his class titles in 2004 and 2005 before progressing to regional competition in 2006, where he finished as champion in the Sunoco Ron Fellows Karting Championship, which was supported by the great Canadian sports car racer, Ron Fellows. Grist would go on to run in the Snap-on Stars of Karting program, which was the primary national championship series in the US in the mid-2000s, which was co-owned by Paul Zalud, Bobby Rahal and Bryan Herta. He also represented his country in the Rotax Grand Finals in Egypt in 2009 after winning the Canadian title in Rotax Junior. He would be part of Team Canada again in 2010, traveling to Italy for the prestigious international competition.
 

Grist scored the Canadian National Karting Championship in the Rotax Max Junior category in 2009
Grist scored the Canadian National Karting Championship in the Rotax Max Junior category in 2009

The move to cars came in 2010 when he attended the Bridgestone Racing School in Bowmanville, Ontario, as part of being invited to the ‘Hinchtown Shootout’, a training and scholarship program organized by Canadian IndyCar driver James Hinchcliffe. In 2011, he would tackle open wheel racing full-time, running in the Ontario Formula 1600 Challenge with Britain West Motorsports. Grist scored a pair of wins, four poles and nine podiums in the 12 races, finishing second overall in the title fight. He also set the track record at the famed Mosport, circuit, which is certainly a test for any young pilot. It was a strong debut in FF racing that set up the calculated advancement into the ultra-competitive F1600 Championship Series in 2012, where he ran with Bryan Herta Autosport’s new Mygale effort. Garett proceeded to garner three podium finishes enroute to fourth in the championship, which was impressive considering the fact that he was not eligible to do the series finale at Watkins Glen because he was too young. That year, he was again selected to run for his country, being named to the Team Canada squad that participated in the Formula Ford Festival and Walter Hayes Trophy. All this experience simply paved the path to his first year in USF2000, in 2013.

eFormulaCarNews.com: Garett, thank you for taking the time to chat with us about the development of your career and how you navigated your way onto the Mazda Road to Indy. You had an extremely solid rookie season in the Pro Mazda Championship with Andretti Autosport in 2014, with a strong upward trend in positive results that no doubt mirrors your growing comfort level in the racecar. Just as was the case in USF2000 in 2013, you were able to win in your freshman season, which is huge, considering the talent level. Let’s start by getting your thoughts on the season before we go back and discuss your karting career and your racecar debut. When you look back on your 2014 program as a whole, how would you grade your performance?
 

Garett followed up his win during the Indy 500 weekend with another triumph at Mid-Ohio in August (Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway - LLC Photography)
Garett followed up his win during the Indy 500 weekend with another triumph at Mid-Ohio in August
(Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway - LLC Photography)

Garett Grist: No problem, thanks for having me! Overall, I would give us a ‘B’ based on it being a bit of an up-and-down season. It started out with the series introducing a new front tire and me having to change my driving style for the car. So I had a lot of work to start the year off. We had some really strong weekends, like Lucas Oil Raceway and Mid Ohio, where we were able to win. In Houston, we got pole for both days as well. But we also had a few bad weekends like Milwaukee and Sonoma. As a freshman, you expect to have those, because year one is your year to learn. I was learning every session this year, and everything was a new experience for me being in a new car and new class. I think I learned a lot this year and it made me a better driver, especially looking ahead to next year.

EFCN: Please discuss how the transition from USF2000 to Pro Mazda developed for you, and what do you think were the more difficult hurdles or trials that you needed to overcome when graduating to the second run of the Road to Indy.

GG: The transition was bit harder then I anticipated due to the series switching the front tire. I was starting to learn the car and felt really comfortable then they decided to make the switch, making me have to re-adjust some of the things I had learned. Other then that, it was just getting used to more speed, more downforce and bigger brakes, which wasn’t a big deal. I think you could feel the biggest difference between the USF2000 and Pro Mazda on the ovals. It was really an eye opener to feel how much more downforce the car had.

EFCN: Winning as a rookie on any level of the Mazda Road to Indy is tough, because the fields are consistently filled with experienced series sophomores. You won on the oval at Lucas Oil Raceway and on the challenging Mid-Ohio road course, two tracks at which you excelled in 2013 running in USF2000. Is there something about those tracks that suits your driving style, or do you simply like running on them?

GG: I’ve been asked this question a lot over the past few years and, honestly, I think it’s a combination of both. I love the high line at LOR and the flowing track of Mid-Ohio really suits my style. They happen to be my favorite oval and road courses, so that might help a bit. I just feel that these are two of the most fun tracks to race on. They are both hard to get fast on, so that’s a challenge I like.

EFCN: Personally, as a driver, how would your characterize the growth that you enjoyed within your skill set in 2014?

GG: I think I grew a lot in 2014, not just on the track, but also off the track. All that matters about the Road To Indy is learning as much as you can, so that you’re prepared for when you get a shot at IndyCar. I learned a lot about the car this past year and learned more things on the set-up side. I also learned about my driving, the style I have and the changes I need to make. All these I will use in 2015 and grow them even more to become a better driver.
 

Like a majority of the drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy, the Canadian worked through the ranks to national and international karting competition, honing his racecraft
Like a majority of the drivers in the Mazda Road to Indy, the Canadian worked through the ranks to national and international karting competition, honing his racecraft

EFCN: Karting is a key component to the development of virtually every driver in the Mazda Road to Indy, and you are another great example of this fact. You began karting at a very early age and then stepped quickly into the most competitive series in North America at the time, the Snap-on Stars of Karting program. Please tell us about your initial years in karting, how you got involved and how your first years went.

GG: I started karting when I was six at a local dirt oval, because that was the only track in the area where you could start at before seven. My Dad raced dirt bikes growing up and broke a lot of bones, so he wanted to put me in something a bit safer. The next year, I switched over to road course racing at Hamilton Kartways. From there, I won a few club championships at Hamilton and Mosport in the four-cycle classes, then moved up to the Sunoco Ron Fellows Championship series, which was the big regional championship in Ontario at the time. I was able to get a few championships there as well and, based on that success, we made the decision to stop racing in Canada and start racing in the Stars of Karting series in the US, which like you said, was the most competitive in North America. I raced in the two-cycle Cadet category for a few years and learned so much. The level of competition was so much higher there. I remember my freshman year starting on the front row with Sage (Karam). I couldn't believe it because at that time, because he was the best in the class. I continued racing Cadet in Stars for two more years, and then unfortunately, the series came to an end.

EFCN: Around that time, the Rotax Max program, which is a global motorsports entity, began to pick up speed in Canada and you entered the fray, eventually qualifying to be part of Team Canada after their annual Grand Final, which attracts drivers for 60+ countries to vie for the world title. You won the Canadian National Championship in Rotax Junior in 2009, represented your country at the Rotax Grand Finals in Egypt and you were named the ‘Karter of the Year’ by Inside Track Magazine, Canada’s leading motorsports publication. That was a big year. Do you look back at that season as a turning point, possibly a realization that a career is racing was a potential reality?

GG: Totally, that was a real breakout year for me. I had won a lot of karting championships before that, but I had never had a year so strong. Being the regional champion, national champion and voted ‘Karter of the Year’ all in the same season, especially as a freshman, was massive. It showed me that I have the potential to make it somewhere in racing. But, more importantly, it showed this to my family and supporters, which without them I wouldn't be able to do what I do.

EFCN: Like many before you, you then moved into Formula 1600 racing in Ontario and had the opportunity to run some storied tracks like Mosport and Mt. Tremblant. From there, you jumped into the F1600 Championship and tackled a whole new set of facilities. First off, how important was including Formula Ford in your learning curve.
 

In 2012, Garett joined Bryan Herta Autosports' new factory Mygale team and was a frontrunner in the F1600 Championship Series (Photo: F1600 Championship Series)
In 2012, Garett joined Bryan Herta Autosports' new factory Mygale team and was a frontrunner in the F1600 Championship Series
(Photo: F1600 Championship Series)

GG: For me, Formula Ford was a must have in my career. It’s where you learn the basics of car racing. It’s treaded tires, no downforce and the ‘H’ pattern gearbox. The formula teaches you how to drive a racecar and starts your technical development. It’s the best transition from karts to cars, in my opinion.

EFCN: You were also faced with a new schedule of tracks that certainly expanded your skill set and ability to learn new layouts. Do look back at those years as being key to your continuing success?

GG: I do, especially with Road To Indy having so many street tracks. The skills I learned in year’s previous when it comes to being able to learn tracks quickly and to adapt to them have really helped me so far. And I think they will continue to help me for years to come.

EFCN: The 2015 season is really only three months away, with the Cooper Tire Winterfest events set for mid-February. We’ve heard that Andretti Autosport will likely be returning to the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights, so will this help make your decision regarding your team of choice for the new year, or are you weighing your options? Is a full-on sophomore run at the Pro Mazda Championship the goal for next year?

GG: It’s great that Andretti Autosport will be back next year in Pro Mazda and Indy Lights. It’s good to have a name like Andretti in the Road To Indy and a team of their caliber. I’ve tested with a few teams so far this off-season and will have a decision soon. A full sophomore run in Pro Mazda is definitely the plan for next year. I think it will be great to have a second season in a class. So far in the Road To Indy, I’ve been a rookie both years. In fact, I’ve been a rookie in each different formula car series I’ve run over the last four years, so next year will be a very new experience for me. I’m looking forward to it.

EFCN: Garett, that’s for chatting with us and we’ll be looking forward to send the announcement of your team for 2015.
Pacific Mountain Central Eastern International



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