A superb year with lots of learning
If I had to summarize the year 2001, I would say that it has been an intense, long, tiring season, but it gave lots of satisfaction and invaluable experience from the several tracks and cars I have been competing with around the world.
In my third full year campaigning in international motorsports, I competed in seven countries and on three continents for a total of 27 races with a more than positive balance of 4 victories and a second place in the ALMS championship. But the most important for me was to have earned everybody's trust in such a professional field, both in Europe and North America. A year where I experienced really great moments, and others not so good, but always with the desire to improve, something I modestly feel I have achieved, even though I know I still have a lot to learn.
Perhaps the greatest compliment I received was after the last round of the ALMS championship, when Hans Stuck, a German driver with an incredible history, came to me and said he would like to drive with me next year. I couldn't believe it. He, a driver that I admire profoundly and who out of shyness and respect I didn't even dare ask for an autograph!
I also lived the big emotion of the crowd, first in Australia and then at the 24 hours of Le Mans and culminating with the triumph in the 1000 Miles of Road Atlanta, which I consider the best moment of my year.
Traveling through different countries and cities and knowing so many people, having direct contact with the fans who show their love and support, are things as fulfilling as race results. So is seeing the Venezuelan flag flying from a grandstand in Spain, hearing the national anthem in front of 250,000 people at Le Mans, or being told, "Ah, you are from Venezuela, like Johnny Cecotto".
Being a woman makes no difference.
I'm always being asked about the treatment I receive from men and I always say that on track we are all drivers and no-one is going to give away something for nothing. They are not going to give me anything because I am a woman; I have to earn their respect with results, which forces me to aim even more for perfection.
I must admit that I never thought that in such a short time I would be sharing the track with Stuck, Emmanuele Pirro, Eric van de Poele, David Brabham, Johnny Herbert, Jan Magnussen, Stefan Johansson, JJ Lehto or Karl Wendlinger, all of the ex Formula 1 drivers, who besides being very professional are all honest people, always with a sincere comment. A far cry from the selfish and malicious concepts that exist in other environments where the word "professional" does not exist.
My team-mates in the Reynard/Judd cars last year, Didier de Radigues, Eric van de Poele, David Murry, John Graham, Scott Maxwell, Bruno Lambert, were superb and all of them contributed to the success we had with seven consecutive LMP 675 victories and the first three places in the drivers championship for Didier, me and John
Pity we didn't have the same luck at Le Mans. That is pending for this year.
Both teams did a wonderful job for me last year and gave me a lot of support. I especially want to thank Francesco Marzi, my European boss, who even though he was very strict - to the point where I jokingly called him "Frank Williams" Marzi - was very patient with me and the results finally started to appear. I also got a lot of support from my Open Telefonica Nissan team-mates, Tomas Scheckter and Santiago Porteiro, who even though they were fighting hard to climb the international ladder themselves, always found time to help me better my performance in a single seater.
Europe has without doubt a more evolved concept of the tracks, where the main word is security. Having now competed on tracks so full of history and tradition like Monza and Le Mans, or the modern Magny Cours and Monmelo has given me a wider perspective of Motorsports. In Spain the work done by the Open Telefonica people, RPM was fantastic and the Spanish tracks, Jarama, Albacete, Barcelona and Valencia are wonderful. In North America I made my debut at Portland and Mosport and returned to place I already knew, like Sears Point, Laguna Seca, Sebring and Road Atlanta.
Physical preparation played a fundamental role because the Formula Nissan is a car that generates enormous g-forces thanks to it's ground effects similar to those of Formula 1. Which is why, even though they have less power, they can sometimes be as fast as Formula 3000. The Reynard not only had a lot of power, but also required quite a bit of physical strength to drive it. So much so that the ALMS outright champion, Emmanuele Pirro was always making jokes whenever we found ourselves on the podium together, because he couldn't believe that I could drive the car without being exhausted.
I thank my family, the media and the sponsors.
My family has again been a pillar of support in helping my performances and it is not easy to spend so much time away from them. My manager and coach, Vic Elford, has been with me since my first race in the States and now with my participation in Europe I have come to understand the appreciation shown by the fans, thanks to his immense experience and background. Vic believed in me and has put all his experience to work for me so that I can quickly learn the secrets of this fascinating sport. Some people think I should focus on just one single category, but Vic knows that this is only my third year and I have a lot of ground to make up on other drivers, many of whom have some twenty years of experience of Karting and motor racing!
I couldn't forget my wonderful sponsors, without whom all this work would be impossible to materialize. MRW, Solera, CANTV and PDV Racing were the brands that I proudly carried and I hope I satisfied their expectations in a sport that requires everybody's support. Special thanks too, to all the regional, national and international media that have supported my performances, letting so many people know in detail everything I do, as well as having considered me one of Venezuela's best drivers, after Johnny Cecotto, whom I am still dying to meet.
The year 2002 presents an even more thrilling perspective and the only thing I can say so far is that I will again be driving in both Formula Nissan and the American Le Mans Series, although in the latter we will have a few surprises that will be soon be made public.
With the single seater my goal is to classify regularly in the top ten in the 2 litre category and by the end of the season for the races in Argentina and Brazil, make the jump into the new Super Nissan V-6, 3 litre, 450HP class. As for the prototypes, we'll be on the starting grid for the 12 hours of Sebring in March, the first of ten dates, with new races through the streets of Downtown Miami and Washington D.C. And, of course, we'll be back at Le Mans for the 24 hours in June.
Contents ©® 2001/2002 Milka
Duno - All Photographs Courtesy of Octavio Estrada