Danny Sullivan Q&A

You've won the Indy 500, you've got 17 CART victories under your belt and earned over $9million in your Indycar career. You've also had a year of F1 experience and a third place at Le Mans. So what's next? Racing a 4-wheel drive car, powered with a Suzuki motorbike engine, around an ice track 2000m up the French Alps doesn't automatically spring to mind - but it is exactly what 50-year-old Danny Sullivan is embarking on this winter. In his first Formula France event - a support race to the Andros Trohpy - the American was fourth in his first race and first in the second to finish third place overall. Autosport.com caught up with him in the alpine resort of Val Thorens as he opens another chapter in his long career

Danny Sullivan Q&A


"I don't really know! Some friends, like Henri Leconte, said I should try ice-racing. And then Franz Hummel, who runs the 24 Hours of Chamonix, invited us to go last year. We knew a lot of people like Yvan Muller and Dany Snobeck. I thought it looked like fun. I'm basically coming to the end of my active career, in terms of Indycars or anything like that. But I like to drive, and this looks like fun - so here I am. I spend much of my time in France so it's not too far to come. It's not as if I was flying from Los Angeles to do a 10-lap race - we drove up from St. Tropez, and it's good experience, it's a challenge."


"It's been fantastic. The people are great - this series is more designed for fun, not like for Yvan Muller and those guys (in the Andros Trophy), where it's a bit more serious. If we have fun, that's the most important thing. I don't think anyone is really bothered about whether they win or not. It's a completely different discipline for me, because you have to drive the car sideways. And next week I'm doing the Race of Champions in the Canary Islands, as part of the American team. So this is really quite good experience, learning how to drive a car sideways, because I've never done anything like that. OK, you get the car sideways on the track sometimes, but it's not a technique. But it's fun. When you're a professional driver, there's a lot of stuff that you never get the chance to do. But now I'm able to do a lot more fun things, which is very enjoyable."


"It's good! For a 4-wheel drive car with a motorcycle engine, I have no complaints. When I spun, the reverse was a bit fragile, and I got a bit stuck in the snow so it didn't work, but it was the last lap so it didn't really matter. I think they've done a good job. Everyone's been very good about telling me the techniques, and what to try - but it's not easy, because you've only got five laps. And I'm up against some good ice-racers, like Henri Leconte. But I'll just go until I see the chequered flag. I also noticed on Saturday, when I went round the track very slowly with Yvan, and he told me to be very careful because there was no grip, even at the start. So I learned where the track went, which was a big help. But when I went out Sunday, the track was completely different! That's why I think Yvan is the best at this - he really adapts to the conditions."


"Yes, it's unique in that respect - they seem to come up with some ideas for things like this and the fans love it. I was asked about doing something like this in the States, in Aspen, but I don't think you'd get the Americans coming out for this kind of thing. They might come once if it was close, but I doubt if we'd be able to do this in the town."


"Well, obviously the success in Indycars was most probably the most rewarding, but I would also have to say Formula One with Tyrell for one year, and I really enjoyed my early years in Europe in Formula Ford, Formula Three, Formula Two. I just didn't have the right equipment, the right teams, not all the time. Like any other driver, everyone has the same story. I guess there was never event that stuck out - Can-Am was the most fun series that I did, because it was very professional on the track, but when the race was over everyone was like a family, and we all stayed together and travelled together. Another highlight for me was when I went to Le Mans. That was really special, I wish I had done more sportscar racing earlier in my career, with good teams. I did have good teams when I did it, but I wish I'd done more. When I look back on my career, I don't have any complaints. I suppose the biggest race was Indianapolis 500, because that's like winning Le Mans for a sportscar driver, or I suppose Monaco for a F1 driver, or the British GP for a British driver. It's very special. But all the different phases of my career had their positive sides, as well as their negative sides."


"No, not really. To go back, it would have been going from the top to the bottom, and they looked at my age, and said I was too old, they wanted 20 year olds or younger. Every year I called to try and get back, but I had a contract in Indycars, and good money there. I had a good deal with Tyrrell in 1983, but the timing was wrong to stay. Ken Tyrrell was in a difficult position because they were losing Benetton as a sponsor, it was the beginning of the turbo-charged era, and Tyrell thought he might have to take a paying driver. I was visiting an Indycar race just for a day, and I was offered a contract. I called Tyrrell, and explained the situation, and he was very fair, he said he couldn't let me know whether I'd have a deal with him until the next February. So it was a bird in the hand situation. What do you do? If he'd called me in February and told me he couldn't give me a drive, it would have been too late.

"So I went to Indycar, won three races the first year, in the second year I was offered a contract with Penske. My first race was Long Beach, I was winning when I run out of gas and finished third pushing it over the line. My second race was Indianapolis and I won it. So needless to say it cemented my relationship there. I tried the next year to call some people back in F1, but it was very difficult contract-wise. Indianapolis didn't want me to not come back, Penske didn't want me to go. But if I'd have had the right contact - I didn't expect a team at the top, but at least a second tier team - I'd have tried it. I wanted to stand a chance of getting some good results to get to a top team. But it you go back to a team at the back of the grid, you stand almost no chance, and I still had to make a living. But if I'd had a chance, I would have gone back. All my early career had been in Europe, I didn't follow the American racing at all."


"I've done Le Mans three times - I'd like to go back, but in a main team, so I suppose it would have to be in a second car. I don't really want to go and do one of the other classes - I'd had some meetings about driving a Viper in GTS, but it's not so interesting. I drove the Jaguar there in the pre-chicane times, and I'm really glad I had that experience, because to drive the Mulsanne in those cars, especially in the Jaguar, was really something special. The Jaguar team was so big, and we were sort of the American cousins, the second selection, which I didn't understand before I got there. At that time I was winning the CART championship, so it was a good experience. It was a good team, a fantastic car, but at that point of my career I really wanted to win.

"Porsche in 1994 was the time I had the best chance of winning. What people don't realise is that when I got to the circuit I was supposed to be driving with Dalmas and Baldi, who eventually won. But they are both short, and I'm tall. In most cars you just pull the seat back, but the seat in the Porsche wouldn't go back. I could have possibly have driven for one hour like that, but if they wanted me to drive without mistakes for longer stints, they'd have to change the seat. And they couldn't. So Hurley Haywood was in the other car with Stuck and Boutsen, who were both tall, so it wasn't a difficult choice. And Hurley had some astute words, because he said "One of us is going to regret this." We had some problems and we came across the line on the same lap, in third place. If I got the opportunity, I'd go back."


"Yes, maybe. I would like to try it. I can't imagine it, with all wheels turning. But it would be good to try, depending on my schedule and everything. What I like about Europe is that nothing is too far, all the races are close together. But if I do something I want to do it well, so I want to be able to test and learn the techniques properly beforehand."

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