After three seasons in the DTM, Sacremento’s very own Joey Hand has had his fair share of ups and downs over the last thirty races, even with the American taking several points finishes last year that saw him finish 12th overall.
Even with his switch to Bert Mampey’s Team RBM last year to partner Augusto Farfus at the beginning of last year, it’s been difficult for both drivers over the 2014 campaign.
The American raced for many years with BMW in the American Le Mans Series, before making the switch to the DTM on its return after a twenty-year absence. He sat down with The Checkered Flag after qualifying during the season finale at Hockenheim about how he’s progressed in his third season.
One of the major changes that came into force at the Norisring race weekend was that free practice for all 23 drivers would be split into two one-hour sessions, something that Hand felt was a big help: “I like that kind of style, but that is really tough for the guys because the gap between the sessions is just so tight. It’s good because it gives you a chance to stop and think, throw something at it for the next free practice, and do the same for qualifying if you need to.”
He admitted that it was a tough year for the Belgian outfit, when it came to getting the best out the M4 DTM, whereas Marco Witmann stormed to title glory: “At the end of the year, we’ve become closer, as here and at Zandvoort, we have some pace. Some years, you just don’t seem to get any breaks, like the Safety Car in Oschersleben caught us out when I was running sixth in the rain.”
Glimpses of increased performance came towards the end of the season for the American, but incidents like his contact with Edoardo Mortara at the final race of the year hindered his progress: “There were so many things that went sideways on me. Then there’s the door latch today during Q1. It’s been that kind of year that when stuff happened, it happened. This year, we actually have a car that is quick. You can have a good showing if you stay out of trouble and get no damage during the race.”
Hand, who always goes by the saying, “If I’m comfy, I’m fast,” found that the new challenger that helped BMW secure two out of three titles this season, had to be driven a bit differently to what he is usually accustomed to.
“We’ve been trying to find our way this year when it comes to making the car drive better. It’s how you change the set-up, when it comes to springs, dampers and roll bars. So for me, the car is getting better. We developed the car, but also a thought process as to how the car is going to work in how you make changes and what you do with.”
He explained that when the car is set up to his liking, it seemed to take away the edginess of the car, as well as the overall performance that the car is capable of: “The high-speed stuff might be edgy, but the car being that way makes it faster. I’m just trying to adapt to it, as well as the team. It sounds easy to just come to a race and say that we’re going to run the car a particular way, but even if I come into the pits and say that the car is too edgy, they’ll tell me that I’ll have to drive it like it is.”
Because of the characteristics of DTM cars being heavily aerodynamically-based, Hand is doing his best to adapt to the way that the car has to be to get the maximum performance possible: “It’s based on how edgy the aero is, trying to keep the car as free as it can be. If you have understeer in this car on a high-speed corner, it doesn’t go anywhere.
“Going from corner to corner, the M4 seems to be edgier at high speed, so you have to get on with it. The team has been really good about it. It’s been so tight this year, where you can find yourself in the back of the pack if you’re a tenth off the pace. Sometimes, I’ve been kicked out of Q3 by hundreds and sometimes thousands of a second.”
Even though Hand has taken a chance by coming over to Europe and racing in a series that he has gotten used to over the past three seasons, his future for 2015 is still with the Munich manufacturer, but it is still unclear as to where he will be racing.
“I don’t know, to be honest. It’s clearly going to be either DTM or the TUSCC series for 2015. Either way, I’d like to come back here to Europe, as I have unfinished business here in the DTM. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve won, and the day’s not over yet,” explained the 35-year-old, who returned stateside to Team RLL for the finale at Petit Le Mans, alongside former WTCC and DTM driver Andy Priaulx.
However, Hand is realistic about the logistical side of the situation, no matter where he races: “Crazier things have happened, but that’s that part of it, but then there’s the travel from home. Going back to the US is my alternative with Bobby Rahal’s program with Team RLL, who I raced with for two years from 2009.
“As much as I would like to grab the DTM by the scruff of the neck and have my way with it, there is also a part of me that would just love to be back in the US.”
With no official confirmation from BMW Motorsport itself about their DTM squad apart from this year’s champion Wittmann being the only one confirmed for 2015, Hand’s future of racing in the DTM for a fourth successive season comes down to a “fielder’s choice,” as mentioned by the man himself.
Hand’s aim this year was to be the first American full-time driver to secure a DTM podium, so it is a case of wait and see if he can still get that chance to prove that he can race with the best in a very competitive series. TCF would like to thank Joey for his time to talk to us, as well as BMW Motorsport for arranging the interview.