Looking around INDYCAR, Latin American drivers are representing in full force. Drivers from Argentina, Venezuela, Chile, and other regions make up a large portion of the IZOD IndyCar Series and Mazda Road to Indy rosters. You’ll notice one country missing from that list though…Mexico. Previous to Michel Jourdain’s entry into the Indy 500, only one driver has been charged with representing the Mexican colors, and that is Firestone Indy Lights driver Juan Pablo Garcia.
Garcia has raced part-time in three different Firestone Indy Lights seasons with three different teams. This season, he’s landed with new team Jeffrey Mark Motorsport, piloting the No. 76 Freightliner Trucks entry.
“It’s good that we both share the same goal of moving up to the IZOD IndyCar Series,” Garcia said of his team. “I’m really happy with everyone at the team and how the season has been going with them. Jeff is a very good person, he supports me a lot during the races and it’s important for me to have his support, and all the sponsors of the team and my personal sponsors support.”
The path to a full-time season hasn’t been easy for Garcia. One-offs and small bundles of races put a lot of pressure on drivers to perform well for their future relationship with teams and sponsors. With that pressure off his back, points and finishing races occupy his strategy meetings rather than the worry of the one race to “prove it all.”
One of those races that Garcia has run in past seasons is the Freedom 100, also the next race on the 2012 schedule. But asking him, he considers the upcoming May 25 race as his first time competing in the event.
“I raced last year there, but I think this year will be a completely new race for me,” Garcia said. “I have a new team, everything is going smoother than last year, so I’m really looking forward to that race to see what I’ve learned from the test at Fontana. I know we’re going to have an open test at Indy just before the race, so I think I have a lot to learn to race on ovals. With the help of Jeff and Brian [Page] I know they’ll guide me to the right way.”
The good news on being the only full-time Mexican driver in INDYCAR is the fact that it sets the path for sponsors to see the potential in investing in Mexican drivers racing a neighboring country. Garcia cites a lack of economic strength and dwindling motor racing interest as the reason for the absence support for native drivers as of now, but is glad he can play his part in hopefully opening the door for more.
“[My Mexican heritage] is really special to me,” he said. “I know it’s a hard road to get into the IZOD IndyCar Series, and the Mazda Road to Indy is doing a very good job. I appreciate all of the support that INDYCAR is giving me right now as the only Mexican driver with a full season. I’m really happy to have the Mexican colors with me. I’m hoping that any Mexicans living in the U.S. and in Indianapolis come support me in that race. That will be very important for me, to see many Mexican people before my race.”
And what about getting some help from his fellow countryman, Jourdain?
“I’m very happy that there is another Mexican driver placed in INDYCAR, and now we’re two,” Garcia said. “I know we’re going to have a lot of support from the fans up there. I hope that Michel does a really good job so he can help me get sponsors, because if he finishes in a good place it will give a good name to him and to me!”