HomeNews & InsightsClearRoute x Paul di Resta – Q&A Exclusive

ClearRoute x Paul di Resta – Q&A Exclusive

By Kouros Aliabadi 16th Mar 2023

We were delighted to secure an exclusive interview with Paul di Resta ahead of his WEC 2023 campaign. In this Q&A, Peugeot Sport driver Paul shares his hopes for the season, the importance of team mentality and culture, and why iterative software development is the future of race car technology.

Watch the video of this interview here

The last season was challenging. So what’s the team been doing during the break to prepare for its full season in WEC?

Well, I think naturally, the start of this program is very new for everyone involved. But this is where the foundations are built early on. You’d be kept naive to think you’re going to come into this championship and succeed straightaway.

We’ve lots of journeys ahead of us, lots of ups and downs, lots of positives, lots of negatives. And from here, I think you can see a true reflection of where we’re going to go. This is where we lay the direction for the next one to two years. To succeed at Le Mans, to try and go there and win this year, even next year, is a huge ask. But everybody’s moving forward. And I think when everybody looks in the mirror, that’s what we’re trying to do.

Culture is fundamental to the success at ClearRoute. So how important is team mentality and culture in motor racing?

Massive. Team morale is huge. You don’t call this a nine to five job. People talk about the Le Mans 24 hours, it’s not: it’s more like the Le Mans 40 hours. Guys arriving at seven in the morning, restarting at three, finishing the next day at three, nevermind everything else that goes on. It is a true test between machine and human beings. Physically, mentally, it pushes you to the point of weakness.

How do you actually prepare for a race like that? Do you have any rituals you have anything you’d like to do each race day or in the build up to it?

Can you always prepare for stuff in life? I don’t think you can. You try your best, but the reality is, when you’re in the hot seat, you’re in the office. It’s about helping each other. And predominantly, making sure you do your job to 100% of your ability. And I think that’s where team spirit comes forward. I think the French environment is very good at that. They’re very good at spending time together when they need to. And equally, they know exactly what needs to happen in the garage, and when the flag drops.

Do you consider mental fitness as important as physical fitness when you’re competing successfully in endurance racing?

I think mental fitness always comes into it. I think it’s like going to the gym. Sitting in front of a computer – whatever you do. The mental side of things is what keeps the brain active. If you go with the trainer to the gym, you always do that extra rep because they pressure you into it. You know, I even tell my kids that. They say they can’t do it. I say no, you have to try.

So do you see the prevalence of race simulation as an advantage or disadvantage for new drivers?

An advantage. I mean, you’re only as good as your last slide. Your last corner. It’s a changing world and it’s a changing environment. Yes, I’m getting older and wiser as I go along that journey. Am I as fast as I was when I was 21? Probably not. But I probably think about it more. I’m probably more naturally talented in the sense of feeling comfortable in my environment. But you perform to what you can, whether you’ve had one, seven or ten hours sleep. But, you know, having kids has changed my outlook on that – and probably enhanced my endurance from that side of things!

How much has technology and software advanced in car design and build since you began racing?

I think that’s evolved even to the point of an hour ago, when during a meeting, we were asking for new things and new data on the performance analysis of other competitors. The answer – yes, that can be done. But it’s about building software that can do it.

And boy, things were so much simpler just ten years ago. Look at the technology on the 908 for example. And look at phones these days. Could you live without an iPhone now? And all the apps? It’s the same for the race car. But of course with more things to monitor performance, have we actually confused the brain?

On that note, is there such a thing as too much tech? Does tech ever hinder performance and overtake driver instinct?

I would prefer much less to be honest, because it’s about the raw talent and the physical athlete, but I completely get where it’s going. And things have to move on. Without that interest in research & development, would you get the interest of the sporting world? Would you get the spectators, the manufacturers’ support? Like you guys – (ClearRoute): what you do, that’s what it’s all about in this world.

So talking of ClearRoute… the company uses advanced software engineering techniques to ensure customers build better and more durable software. How important is it for the team to use similar techniques to build better cars, whilst maintaining stability and endurance?

It’s very important because the software used in the racing industry has to keep evolving, to keep going forward. Any software that you write has its negatives, has its positives: the important thing is that you fix it, you go forward, you understand what you want out to make that software better. It’s what runs the car, it’s what gives the driver the feedback, it’s what gives IT teams live data. It’s the thrill of seeing the imagery coming in, what they get from it, and how it keeps their brain active. And of course, ultimately, the human being is the ultimate sensor in the car because he drives it as fast as he wants.

So how much of your time do you spend trying to understand the software and the tech behind this stuff? Or do you just kind of sit back and let the experts do it?

That’s above my paygrade! I keep saying to people: the analysis is the most interesting thing for me. How you can extract it, and put that into physical data and understand and build the databases against your competitors to understand your influence for the next two years. And look at how equal the world is becoming. It influences that as well, in influencing the green side of what you’re trying to do and lowering emissions going forward.

How on earth do you stay mentally focused during a race of that length of time? What actually goes through your head when you’re doing something like Le Mans?

My family is the most important thing to me. But when I’m here, I’m expected to do the job as anybody is. There are points though when I’m during a Le Mans 24 hour and you have to detach yourself from the race that’s going on. You have to go and sit and have lunch with your family for an hour, detach yourself and hope everything’s going to go right.

But at the same time you have the pressure, you have the adrenaline to keep driving you forward. But switching off is a great thing because when you come back into the main shaft you’re ready to go. Whether you get your buzz off caffeine, sugar, fats, I don’t really know but you know your body by this point in life. I’m certainly where I am; for a younger guy, he needs to find out where that is. And that can all be done. And that can be done by a database as well, because we’ve got two physios that follow six drivers, to follow the diets, offering full nutrition advice. Not only for us, but the people surrounding us to make sure they’re giving positive energy as well.

Obviously, younger people might have different motivators, but for you, it’s your family – how do you actually keep them front and centre when you’re so focused on a race?

Fortunately, Laura, my wife, has been with me since I was 18. She’s been through from start to finish, she fully understands the passion. But at the same time, it’s bread on the table. My kids have grown up surrounded by it and embraced it. And I’ve got a tremendous amount of support from there. And without that, honestly, the difference would be incredible.

Yes, they’re always in my mind, and always will be in my mind and their top priority in life. But at the same point, I know they’re safe and sound and if they really need to get me they will. But I’m allowed to get on with what I need to, and while I’m allowed to get on with what I need to, I can give the best to the people that employ me on the racetrack.

Do you go back in between races, and then big periods of time during the season with them? Are you on the road all the time?

I’m on the road a lot. But when I’m back, I am fully with them. I miss a lot of weekends, I miss a lot of free time, obviously, but when I am there I am fully hands on. But taking them to school, sitting down and having a family dinner. And just engaging with them. It’s the most important time.

But if you could sum up what you’re most excited about this season, that would be brilliant – is there just one really big moment?

I think the biggest thing for me is growing with a team. You’ve got Ferrari, Porsche, Acura, Cadillac, Toyota, all these manufacturers are joining and what’s going to be world leading in my sport, a very special thing. But along that journey, there’s going to be highs and lows. I want to see hopefully this is low, I want to see where the highs are going to be. But that is going to take true grit and determination to get there. And I’m fully focused on this journey to keep progressively going forward. And you can only look back on it and see success if you are successful. And you get that ultimate Le Mans win at a World Endurance Championship. That’s only some years away. That may be sooner – I honestly don’t know. But I’m enjoying it, and with enjoyment comes success.

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