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Le Mans Preview: Tony Burgess comes home

Tony Burgess may not be a household name in his hometown, but the Toronto resident is a veteran of sports car racing around the globe,

Published July 20, 2012

Tony Burgess may not be a household name in his hometown, but the Toronto resident is a veteran of sports car racing around the globe.

Racing cars since 1990 and motorcycles before that, Burgess has competed in 16 24-hour races at Daytona, Le Mans, Spa and Bathurst.

In 2011, Burgess finished fourth in the American Le Mans Series driver’s championship. Earlier this week, it was announced that Tony would drive for the legendary Dyson Racing team at this week’s Mobil 1 Presents the Grand Prix of Mosport at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, an opportunity that could possibly give him his first win in the series.

Gary Grant: You live in Toronto, yet most of Toronto doesn’t know your name as a racer. Why do you think the masses haven’t caught on to sports car racing the same way they have IndyCar or Nascar?

Tony Burgess: I think that sports car racing is a more complicated kind of sport, particularly with the Le Mans rules. We have four different classes. We race outside of Toronto, instead of inside Toronto. Having said that, I think Toronto is very much a sports car town.

Ever since the Sixties we’ve had sports car races, including the premier series, the Can Am, in the Sixties and Seventies. Now, the ALMS gets great attendance; I think we see as many people out at Mosport as there were during the Can Am era, which was really the heyday of Mosport.

If you look at the demographic which you would expect to see interested in sports car racing, people who have sports cars, people who are interested in cars and a reasonable percentage of the general public who just like the spectacle, I think sports car racing in Toronto actually does pretty well. No, it doesn’t have the huge media profile of IndyCar or NASCAR but I’m satisfied that it’s holding its own.

GG: You’ve been racing cars since 1990, and raced bikes before that. What was your proudest moment?

TB: I feel really good about the third place finish I got three years ago at Mosport. That was a third place on the road, not just third place in class, which is really satisfying because when you are running in a P1 car, you should really be up near the front. If you get third place but you are in tenth overall, it doesn’t feel as satisfying. To be able to do that at your home track, to be on the same podium that you’ve watched Formula One stars on when you were a kid, is really very satisfying.

GG: You’ve hooked up a pretty significant ride this weekend. What can you tell our readers about this partnership?

TB: This is hopefully going to be a very solid and long-term partnership. The Dyson team is one of the pillars of sports car racing in North America and a very confident team. This is really the first time they’ve had others in their team, although they have run two cars in the past, but not recently. I’m very pleased with it and hopefully it is the beginning of a very long relationship.

GG: Does your background as an engineer help when it comes to getting in a prototype and working with the engineers to set up the car?

TB: Yes, I think it does. I think I can be very useful to any team I drive with because I understand the dynamics of the car and can give good feedback. Ultimately it’s your driving that makes the difference but if you can help to bring the car to the point where it’s optimized, then that’s going to help. Particularly because we don’t have a lot of time (on a race weekend). A team like Dyson has a lot of data and a lot of experience. They don’t really need as much input from the drivers as some of the other teams.

Nevertheless, it really does help to understand the cars, particularly the prototypes which in many ways are counter-intuitive to drive. You actually have to drive them faster into the corners for them to feel better, because of the aerodynamic effect. They also have such incredible brakes. It literally takes a couple of years to recalibrate yourself to really using them properly because it just doesn’t seem physically like they are going to be able to slow the car down that quickly.

GG: You commented on the fact that ultimately it’s your driving that counts the most. With you having been in it so long, what do you think about guys like James Hinchcliffe and Kyle Marcelli who are very aware that there is so much more to their job than just driving the car? They are almost a marketer first and a driver second. What do you feel about that progression of the sport?

TB: I think that that has always been there, ever since the Sixties when motorsports became commercial, with the expansion of TV, etc. You need to be more than just a driver and the driving is still the most important thing but if you want progress as a professional and make your living from the sport you need to do more than just drive. Not a whole lot more, but you do have to be able to be a bit more extroverted and be able to talk to people and have some kind of a business sense so that you know what you need to do to be able to make a living.

Kyle Marcelli does have that. I’m quite impressed with the way he has developed in that regard. Often it’s a struggle. I know that if you’re an introvert and you now have to talk to people, particularly the media, it takes a few years to really get comfortable. It doesn’t always come naturally so I’m very impressed with some of the people who have developed beyond just the driving.

GG: You are also racing with Dyson at Road America. Are there further plans in place for next season?

TB: Not firm plans at this point, but that I think is certainly the goal for both parties — to put something together for next season that works.

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