Tim Clauson’s decision to take the USAC team he co-owns with Richard Marshall and attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 has paid off in numerous ways. Entering the No. 39 Chevy, he aligned with Pippa Mann to drive the car, and despite being an odds-on favorite to miss making the field of 33, the Briton made the show on Saturday, avoided the Bump Day dramas, and had an almost faultless run to 16th place in the race.
“Well, I think it went better than I think any of us could have imagined. I made no bones about it, that I really felt like our race would be getting into the race,” he said. “And on pole day, sitting there was a Ganassi car and McLaren, thinking we might have to fight for that 30th spot there, it was really surreal. When we went in Saturday, we really thought if we went that first round in the top 25 that we’d really be solid.
“And we ended up going, I think 24th after the first round, and we kind of went, ‘OK, well now we can start thinking about other things.’ As we watched cars go and times pick up, we went ahead and got into line, but really made the decision that we didn’t want to beat ourselves. As long as we were locked in, we were going to ride it out. Which we did, in that slow lane. I told somebody going in that I was happy that there was going to be more than the 33 cars, because I really wanted to compete to be in the 500. And to get to go through that last hour on Saturday, and live every emotion that you can live in the sport was one of the most incredible, frustrating at times, and then exhilarating things I’ve ever been through in the sport.”
Finishing directly ahead of previous Indy 500 winners Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, the rookie team — a mash-up of IndyCar, sports car, and dirt racing veterans — delivered the most unexpected surprise over 500 miles of hard racing.
“Really, we had modest goals on race day,” he continued. “I think Pippa talked about her goal was to run in the top 15. I thought she was being a little generous with that hope, but really if I felt like if we finished on the lead lap and could run in the top 20 then honestly that was going to be a win for us. As a first-year program, really just trying to learn our way around the whole thing. From my standpoint, it was a great success on the racetrack — and I think off the racetrack, it was even more so.”
And with the No. 39 chosen specifically to honor the one used by his late son, short-track legend and three-time Indy 500 starter Bryan Clauson who was an organ donor, the family patriarch won the race to drive awareness for the team’s primary mission on behalf of their sponsor.
“The amount of people who came to talk to us about organ donation and Driven2SaveLives, and tell their donor stories, and not just fans but, I have to guess, we may have had somebody from about every team there that made their way over to just share their story or just thank us for what our team was there representing. From that standpoint it was truly humbling to get to do that,” he said.
“Some of the partners that Pippa had brought with her that are personal sponsors, had said how much they’d enjoyed being a part of something, maybe even a little bit bigger than trying to win the race on Sunday, that they really felt a connection to organ donation as a whole, but even more intimately, our story. Our donor story. I think that’s one of the keys for us.”
Clauson likes the idea of returning for year’s Indy 500. It will involve securing more sponsorship, and given his choice of driver in 2019, he’d like to see if finishing better than 16th with Mann is possible.
“I think really collectively that to get to go back there with a group of people — and I say get to go back there; we still have to work on that piece of it,” he said. “But to get to go there with a group that understands why we’re doing it, and the reason that we’re doing it, and the bigger picture of it all, makes it that much more satisfying for when you do have the results that go on top of that.
“There were several reasons both personally and professionally why we wanted to go with Pippa. From the personal standpoint, I’ve said it before, what she did for not only Driven2SaveLives and organ donation, but for me, my family, and Bryan’s last year after she didn’t make the show, was something that most people, let alone race car drivers aren’t going to do. She did all that. The second piece of it, I remember Bryan telling me in 2016 how good she really was, and how good she was from an engineering standpoint, from the feedback standpoint. From those two things, that got us going that direction, obviously.
“But then also, I’d argue there’s probably not too many people, if anybody, that work any harder at the day to day to put an Indianapolis 500 program together. Us as a new team, we needed that experience. Her in the race car really … I think she’s a fabulous race car driver, but I didn’t get to experience that intimately until this month. And to watch her just be so methodical, know what our goals were. I think in her position, if it was anybody else, maybe they do try to make that big run to do something heroic for their own benefit, right? But she didn’t. She stuck to our plan all month long and honestly. Not only was she the perfect fit for us out of the race car, she also turned out to be the perfect fit for us in the race car as well.”
The Indy 500 remains the top attraction for Clauson.
“As far as running more races, it’s not really something that I want to do,” he said. “I love the Indianapolis 500. Obviously, I have a very personal connection with the Indy 500 with what Bryan got to do there. Our goal would be to go back next year and in future years. And I think that with Pippa’s help, we’ve laid down an incredible foundation to build upon. Going into the month, I would say, it was probably 50/50 or less if we would do it again next year — just not knowing. But we’ve been able now to lay this incredible foundation. I learned a lot. Richard Marshall my partner, he learned a lot. When we go into the next week or two and have these conversations, I’m a lot more positive, and quite frankly excited about building upon what we got to do this year.”
Listen to the full conversation with Clauson below: