Nicolas Minassian

RJ: What influenced you to start racing, especially, as you started quite late compared to many of your rivals?

NM: It was all a bit of a co-incidence. My dad got a go-kart for me because one of his customers owed him some money and couldn’t afford to pay, so they gave him this go-kart. He thought okay, put it on the back of the truck and then we decided to go away for the weekend and race it. Before I did, we signed up for to do a session versus other drivers at a kart racing school. I enjoyed it and then won. I started doing more races, and kept winning and then became an official go-kart racer for Tecno karts which helped tremendously. I never really looked too far ahead, I never really had a plan, I just took it race-by-race, year-by-year and well? here I am! So it was all a set of co-incidences. To be honest with you, I was always a bit of a nutcase for speed. I used to ride my motorbike but I’d end up in hospital because I broke my leg, I was doing silly things all the while. I was more a motorbike guy than anything, cars just happened in the end.

RJ: Do you regret not going forward with motorbikes as a professional career?

NM: ?Not really, I don’t regret anything to be honest. I’m just grateful to be doing what I’m both doing now and what I’ve done.

RJ: It was a surprise when you switched to British Formula 3 after finishing as the runner-up in the French Formula 3 series, as normally you would’ve progressed to Formula 3000? Was it down to a lack of budget or some other reason?

NM: It always comes down as a question of budget. You know, I never had a real backer that would make it easy to move on; I just had to try and take what I could get. Basically, the budget I then had would cover maybe half-a-season, maybe less, of Formula 3000, or a full season of Formula 3. So I thought, let’s move to England and learn English and it’s a different challenge as well. So I moved to England in 1996 and I haven’t moved since!! You know, it was the best move I could’ve made for my career, because it just became more professional. I didn’t have to worry about money any more, I was racing for the best team in Promatecme and soon I was winning races in a strong series.

RJ: What for you, were the main differences, other than the obvious, in racing in Britain and France?

NM: The level was much higher in England. In French Formula 3 at that time, you’d have maybe 4, 5 drivers challenging or capable of victory. In England, it was about 12-15 drivers. So you had to work much harder as it was more difficult. The tracks were also more difficult as they were more, what I call, old-fashioned tracks which gave you no margin for error. The other thing is obviously back then, everyone from Formula 1 was watching what happened in British Formula 3 but not French Formula 3, so there was that added pressure.

RJ: In terms of their whole setup, the McLaren F3000 team and Kid Jensen’s F3000 team appeared to be very different, but you won with the latter. What was it like to race for David and how different from McLaren was it?

NM: When I went to McLaren, I only signed for them about two weeks before the season started. I only did one day of testing and that was it. That was very much the difference between my results and Nick’s (Heidfeld, Nic’s team-mate) results. The team was very much geared towards Nick but I never ? and still don’t ? mind that too much because I was very grateful to have the drive. The car wasn’t really set up the way I prefer to drive but then when I went to Kid Jensen Racing, I was now the number one driver, as it were, and I was wanted. I had a great relationship with my race engineer, Simon Barker, who used to work for Tyrrell. Pretty much everyone was from Tyrrell with them, so although the team was new, the people there were every bit as good as the people at McLaren. So there was no difference at all from that respect.

RJ: Your Formula 3000 results deserved a F1 drive, but it never happened. If I’m right, the closest you were to a drive was with Honda before Harvey Postlethwaite’s death, or were there other options?

NM: Well, as you probably know, I got a test with Williams in 1997. But unfortunately, just before the test, I broke my hand at the Macau Grand Prix and I drove with a broken hand. I mean, I couldn’t refuse to drive and I said I was alright for the job, but I wasn’t and that had an affect, I think. As for Honda, they hired me because I was doing a good job as a test driver. Later on, there was a possibility with Minardi in 2001. I had talks with the team but it quickly drifted away. Then I had a chance to drive in Indycar and I just jumped straight for that opportunity.

RJ: If Harvey hadn’t died, how well do you think Honda would’ve succeeded in the sport?

NM: I was a little bit on the periphery so I’m not really sure to be honest, I wasn’t that involved. But I do feel that if it had been Harvey’s own team, his own operation, he might’ve done better than perhaps he would’ve done with Honda with all the pressure and politics that was involved. I mean in terms of designing a car he wanted, rather than Honda. But it was a very good car. Very good in testing.

RJ: What did you enjoy the most about your season in America?

NM: I’ve got to say, it wasn’t the most successful race ? in fact, it wasn’t even a race ? it was testing at the Texas Motor Speedway, and in the end the race got cancelled as we were averaging 236 miles per hour on a 1.5 mile oval and I was experiencing about 6G on me, which obviously for us all was impossible to race, but I can say I’ve done that ? I’ve experienced that and that was quite amazing, a scary kind of good!

RJ: Like a special adrenalin you mean?

NM: Yeah, it was an amazing feeling. But I’m glad the race got cancelled. Also, the Indianapolis 500 was a highlight. I’ve got a real admiration for people who’ve done that race year in, year out because it’s a lot harder than people might think going round in a circle.

RJ: Yeah, because I was interviewing Roberto Moreno recently and he said that you have to have total faith in yourself, 100% confidence to tackle that speedway, no matter how experienced you are and if you haven’t got it, you’ll never succeed there.

NM: Absolutely. He’s a great racer. He’s right, you have to be very confident to make a quick decision and then stick to it.

RJ: What was the secret to your success racing in ASCAR’s in 2002 when you won the title? How easy did you find it to adapt to oval racing, which you appeared to adjust very quickly to?

NM: I was always more excited about American racing than Formula 1, all the time. I like the show, the whole event, more than just the race. To be honest, when you like your racing and you’re enjoying it, things happen. When it came to racing ovals, I enjoyed racing on them very much because I put a lot of effort into it because I actually wanted to do NASCAR. Unfortunately that didn’t materialise.

RJ: At the end of 2001, you had just raced in Champ Car and you were still remembered for your successful Formula 3000 runner-up season the previous year ? was there, at that time, no other single-seater option? How difficult was it to give up on single-seaters?

NM: Well, Le Mans was something I always want to try. I was there in 2000 and then after that (RJ Note: Minassian’s 1st Le Mans was actually in 1994, but at a very different stage of his career. What Nic is talking about here is a competitive drive at Le Mans) there was the opportunity to race in sportscars for the Pescarolo team, which is a great team to be involved in. Then I had the opportunity to race for Creation (in ALMS) and you know, this is what I enjoy doing. Just concentrate on what you’ve got and do the best you can, so no, I didn’t mind leaving single-seaters.

RJ: What, for you, has been your personal highlight during your successful racing career in sportscars?

NM: I think the 2008 Le Mans, where I finished second. We were disappointed as we didn’t win because all day long, we’d been in the lead, then lost it, then went back in front, then went back into second. It was a great fight, and although it was disappointing not to win, it was a really good race, really good and that’s the kind of race I like.

RJ: You’ve become a Goodwood Revival favourite recently. What do you enjoy the most about racing here?

NM: Well, what is there not to like about this? The mechanics of the whole organisation; I mean this is the best event like it in the World. My eyes are on stalks because the organisation, it really is the top of the tops. The feeling I get from driving some of these cars is unique. It’s fun, it’s entertaining and I do it because I enjoy it, and when I enjoy it, I want to do well and make it a success which is why I tend to do well here.

RJ: Finally, 2016 ? are you planning to keep racing in sportscars?

NM: Definitely so. I am aiming to do the championships ? European Le Mans Series and the WEC ? and of course, Le Mans. As long as I am quick, I will keep going. As soon as I become embarrassing, I will stop.

Interview conducted on the 12th September 2015 in the paddock where Nic was based whilst driving a Shelby Daytona Coupe. Many thanks to Nic for being so accommodating, and thanks also to Jamie O’Leary at Goodwood for arranging.