Here at TechDissected, we are huge fans of games, simulators and technology, and when we got the chance to speak with Barrett Rolph, we jumped at it. If you are unaware of the importance of this, allow us to inform you.
GT Academy is held now on a yearly basis, which requires the video game Gran Turismo (playable on the Playstation 3 console at this time), a wheel and pedals, grit and determination. What this allows is the next wave of race car drivers to have a chance at showing how fast they are in game, and based on their times, can advance to a meeting with the 32 other fastest drivers in their specific country. 16 of them make it to the next step, at Silverstone Circuit in the U.K. In Barrett Rolph’s case, he got to star in the TV show, broadcasted on Spike in the US. In Season 3, he was runner up in the final round.
At Brad McClaren‘s request, we were given the opportunity to speak to Barrett Rolph, with Jeff Trocchio providing most of the questions and Cliff Wade contributing some as well. He’s promoting his GoFundMe campaign, which will be used to get him a seat in the Skip Barber Open Wheel Series. This will allow him to prove his worth on the track, and gain more seat experience. Let’s have a look at a few of the questions and answers during the half hour conversation.
JT: First I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
BR: No no, I need to thank you guys, you are doing me a big favor here and helping me out actually.
JT: We came up with a few questions, Cliff and myself, and then if there’s anything you want to add at the end then we can absolutely do that.
BR: Sure no problem.
JT: I’m a huge racing video game fan. How did you get your start in that part; what was your first racing game?
BR: My first actual racing game was Mario Kart, probably like everyone else. But the one that stands out the most, was my dad getting me a Playstation for my 7th or 8th birthday and the game was Andretti Racing I believe. That was the first one that opened the door of real cars on real racetracks to me. I have pretty fond memories of playing that game with my dad and having him teach me the proper braking and how to get around the corner optimally.
BR: And my dad was the one that really got me into cars in general. He used to sell racing transporters. I traveled all over the country with him when he would go to the races.
JT: That is definitely cool!
BR: Yeah! So I’ve played Gran Turismo since the first version on the Playstation when it came out in 1997 or 1998 in the US. So I’ve played it on Playstation, Playstation 2 and Playstation 3, and when GT Academy first came out it was in Europe only. So, I found out about it right away, and when it was announced it was coming to the US I was in my second year of college. I figured out the dates, and found I would have had three or four weeks of classes and tests when it was taking place.
JT: That is a bummer!
BR: Yes so I made the conscious decision to back out and just stopped doing laps the first year.
JT: How supportive has your family been during this time?
RB: Well its a mixed bag. My dad was the one who got me into racing and the one that has kind of held up my career a little bit at the same time. When I was 17 I did the Red Bull Driver’s Search Program, and qualified, but because I wasn’t 18, he stopped me so I could continue and finish high school here. But, he is the one that took me to the go kart track for the first time; let me steer while he used the pedals when I was 4. I got my first taste of go karts myself when I was 6.
JT: Once you got into the GT Academy, where there things you learned there, that you’ve since added to your arsenal, whether inside the car or out?
BR: They didn’t highlight it on the show, but GT Academy was the first place I’ve been able to push a real car. I’ve done go karting but not a lot of full car experience stuff. The first time I’ve gotten into a car that wasn’t mine and was told to go for it, was at the GT Academy National Finals in NYC. The 2nd day, we got to sit in a Nissan 370Z and hit the track to make sure we could push a car around the track, before taking us all the way to Silverstone. I put up a real respectable time my first time around. That was really the first full sized car experience I had. They have some of the top drivers in the world that go there and teach and critique. There were things they didn’t show, like they had us on body monitors so you could see your heart rate and blood pressure. Taught us how to do things with the car that you can’t feel in a game.
JT: The Nissan GTR is a car with a lot of technology that makes it go fast. Are you that type of fast, or are you a fan of the mechanical grip and big motor kind of guy?
BR: I’m mixed a bit, but I’m more a mechanical grip kind of guy. Funny you should ask, because it makes me think of the first time I got in the GTR was on the National Circuit at Silverstone. The second corner is a fast left hander, and I got some understeer going in, so my natural reaction is to put more wheel into it and lift. The instructor told me to give it more wheel but not to lift because the car would adjust to my input of the steering wheel with its electronics. Personally, I’m not a fan of that though. I’d rather have the car misbehave, and figure out how to get it around the corner myself. It takes feel away with the electronics.
JT: Because it’s counter intuitive to what you are trying to do.
BR: Exactly. I have a Ford Fiesta ST which I’ve had for a year now and do auto-cross with it. I have to turn the electronics off in order to drive it there. With it on, and the car starts to rotate, I correct it, and then it messes up the corrections I’m already making. So that’s how I feel about that, but as far as big engines, I’m a big fan of turbocharging and making power more efficiently.
JT: If I could provide you with any car right now, racing or street, what would it be?
BR: Honestly, an IndyLights car. My dad did a lot in the Indy Series and I grew up around open wheel cars. So yeah, I don’t think I could just jump in and be competitive as those take a massive amount of physical ability, but I feel like I could jump into it and enjoy it. We did some open wheel Formula stuff when we were in Silverstone and that was some of my favorite times.
JT: What kind of setup did you have in Gran Turismo to get the times?
BR: I have a Logitech G27 and I’ve been driving on Gran Turismo with a wheel since the beginning, starting with the Driving Force GT.
JT: In that vein, have you tried any other simulators? PC, console or otherwise?
BR: I actually made the switch to PC sims back in 2008-2011 until my computer couldn’t handle them anymore. I got into iRacing and played rFactor as well, so I did get into the PC sims, the best one I think is iRacing. They have the best physics model and manufacturer backing as well as the force feedback and laser scanned tracks. It allows for better car setup. I like GT because it offers close to real world feel, but allows you to drive cars you would never drive in any other game.
JT: What type of prep do you do before a race?
BR: I’ve always been athletic, but when I knew I was going to be heading to GT Academy, I started doing a workout routine daily after work. I would run 2 miles a day at six minutes a mile. Then I would do upper body strength exercises after that. Two days on and one day off.
JT: For folks that want to get into autocross or racing, what is a good avenue to get practice?
BR: Get a tool. Get a wheel, get a Playstation or XBox and practice there. You can learn a lot by practicing on a simulator before you get out on track and they are becoming more viable daily as a tool to learn how cars will behave. And have patience. And you can do research on how certain setup adjustments will effect the car. When I get out on track and the car is doing something I don’t want, being able to communicate that to someone else, and knowing places to look might be helpful in fixing the issue quicker.
JT: Cliff wants to know, what drivers in the NASCAR series, if any, do you follow?
BR: I was a big Jeff Gordon fan. I don’t watch it as much anymore, but Jeff Gordon is a really talented guy and does well on the road courses, so maybe that’s why I like him. I also like Sam Hornish, Jr. I was a big fan of his when he was in IndyCar, and he has to work hard for his seats. When he gets them I’m always cheering for him.
JT: So why don’t you give me a little bit of information about your GoFundMe Campaign and what its initial use is for.
BR: Absolutely. I have a $40,000 donation I’m trying to hit, which is going to allow me to enter the Skip Barber Open Wheel series. I believe it’s a 6 race series. All of the cars are the same and a lot of professional drivers start there and use it as a tool to keep them up to speed or to break into the professional driving arena. They have really good people that run the program, and it is great seat time. They do driver interviews, and Mazda sponsors it as the Mazda Road to Indy program. So besides exposure and getting seat time, there’s also the opportunity to move up. So the top 4 finishers of the Skip Barber Open Wheel series have a chance at the championship shootout at the end of the year and the winner gets $200,000 to move up into the USF2000 series. The main thing I’m looking to do at Skip Barber, is to get my name out there. I’d like to make some contacts and in turn, sponsors. Getting these sponsors noticed on my car is going to help them as much as it will help me. I’m looking to make a career out of this.
JT: So Cliff wants to know, when you are making millions, do we get a shoutout?
BR: (laughs) Definitely! If you guys can have any sort of effect on getting me a seat I will definitely do whatever I can to make things happen for you guys.
JT: I really appreciate you taking the time for us Barrett.
BR: I appreciate you contacting me and agreeing to do this. I’m hoping for some exposure so I can start doing what I want to do.
Please join us in supporting Barrett Rolph on his quest for a drive in the Skip Barber Open Wheel Series. We have listed his GoFundMe campaign and Facebook page below. We are proud to give Barrett a chance to get his name out there and get him more support for his campaign.