For those of you who don’t know me or my past, my name is Gianmarco Raimondo (a.k.a. GMO because let’s face it, my name is a mouthful, and I’m a professional racing driver and instructor. I started out karting when I was nine until I was sixteen and back then the categories I drove in were Honda Jr, Rotax Jr, and ICC Shifter. After my karting years, I raced various different formula car series’, ranging from Skip Barber to Formula BMW, Formula 3, GP2, and even some testing in World Series Renault and Auto GP. Once I finished my run in Europe I moved back to North America to drive various different GT cars and took part in some pretty awesome car development along the way, ranging from a Wolf GB08 to a Maserati GranTurismo GT4 and Porsche GT3 Cup car.
After racing all of these different categories in 4 different continents over 10 years, I jumped into a ROK Shifter to race the final round of the Motomaster Ron Fellows Karting Championship with Professional Racing Ontario (PRO) and here’s my story on why I did it!
As any driver knows, dealing with the politics and financial aspect of racing can really put a cramp on the drive to pursue it. Since I have been in a bit of a lull finding sponsorship to race cars, the idea came to me to go back to my roots and work in the industry that made me fall in love with the sport of racing!
Having worked a couple instructing programs with Curtis Fox and Darryl Timmers, the idea of working with PRO was an easy choice. Coincidentally, Curtis and Darryl were in the position to expand their team and brought me on as their new data analyst or “data guy” and driver coach to help their team on the technical side. I do anything from track walks, to reading data, visual coaching, onboard video analysis, and even some mental coaching. On a few occasions, I even got my hands a little dirty working on the karts, which is a rare sight for data guy let me tell you.
Essentially, whatever my racing career has taught me over the last 20 years, I have brought to the table to help the next generation of racers!
It has definitely been an adjustment to work with kids and teen racers with such a raw and unpolished passion to compete. Usually the drivers I have coached in the past have either been successful drivers or gentlemen drivers with zero track experience. Karters are a rare breed, in that in most cases they don’t have much experience driving anything let alone how to do it ‘properly’, yet they can still throw an oversteering go-kart into a corner at the blink of an eye and have no explanation for how this happened, it really is a fascinating phenomenon. No ‘think’ just ‘do’.
Now-a-days, so much technology has come into the sport, mostly with the data acquisition. Twelve years ago we just started introducing data at the tail end of my karting career, but it wasn’t consistent nor reliable so I never used it. All of the information we can pick up in this day and age, can be so confusing to younger drivers. I must say, one of my biggest challenges was keeping multiple eight year-olds still long enough to look at a screen they don’t care about and tell them exactly where they’re losing one-second a lap before they want to run off to get french fries or start playing with whatever was closest to them.
I really don’t blame them because the graphs we can get can be confusing and seem like schoolwork, but little do they know the GPS quality is better than what I used in F3.
The racing itself didn’t really change, but drivers definitely have more handed to them compared to when I was karting. I wish I had multiple people telling me what exactly to do before every session and how to set up my go kart when I first started. Half the time I spent karting was figuring out who wanted to help me and who didn’t because everyone wanted to be the fastest on the team. You kind of just dealt with whatever you had on track yourself. Now I see when a set-up change ‘doesn’t work’, for example, the driver will blame so many other factors that I’ve never even dreamed of, even as a driver! Don’t get me wrong, all drivers do it at some point in their career, but hearing ‘the kart had too much grip’ had to be one of my favourites! I would’ve given all of my Pokémon cards up to have too much grip when I was a kid.
To have the opportunity to work with PRO has been a very different yet satisfying experience for me. Since everyone I work with is either an old/new friend or teammate from over the years, the work environment is amazing! Everyone is very honest plus everyone wants to help and I’m sure I’m not the first to tell you, but this isn’t common in the industry; not to mention the amount of experience and success each employee has to offer. The team has great equipment, no one plays any funny business to try and trick tech inspection, and they arguably provide the best engines/tune-ups in the paddock. What more could you need from a team?
Mid-year, I moved all the way to Québec and I commuted almost every weekend to come and work for these guys. I love comparing data and helping the kids understand what to do and what not to do because I see a piece of my younger self in every one of them. Working with PRO definitely fuelled me to race the shifter kart. As a driver, you hate to spectate what you could be racing yourself, so for me, it was inevitable to participate in at least one race.
I really did miss driving a kart and it really brought back a lot of childhood memories. I have to say, go-karts, more specifically shifters are one of the most demanding things to drive in terms of full-body exertion and coordination. Racing high-end formula cars gives you a similar visual challenge and use of reflexes, but you can relax at least for a little bit on the straights and most of the strain is coming from very specific body parts since you’re strapped down from 6 different points. Compared to driving shifter karts, it’s like riding a bull with no saddle. Instant traction, you feel every bump, shifting gears constantly with your arm not fingers, you have a fibreglass seat digging into your ribs the faster you go, so if you make a mistake you are going to feel it.
There really isn’t anything like it. It’s very hard to describe, but it’s the best and the worst feeling all at the same time. Unfortunately, during the race this year, I wasn’t as fit as when I was actively racing, so the shifter really took a toll on my neck and ribs. Since I stopped racing in Europe and changed my focus to instructing/coaching for the time being, I haven’t had the time nor the availability to train nine times a week and really forgot how hard it was to rip around in one of these things. Thankfully, whatever training I did made my arms and shoulders last, but my neck was bobble-head quality by the end of the weekend.
Unless you’re driving high-end formula cars or prototypes, you will never experience the same G-Forces in any other vehicle than a kart. Training your neck properly isn’t really something you can do in a public gym either, but that’s just me being a typical driver and giving excuses! Even though I’ve driven a shifter kart within a year’s span, I haven’t raced one, with new tires especially, in over 12 years so I thought I could’ve handled the stress, but I was very close to wrong. I didn’t pick the best weekend to race either; Goodwood with a chicane. No straights to rest on and a lot of acceleration in second gear. So just imagine a guillotine type sensation coming out of the corners. Again, best and worst feeling ever.
To make a long story even longer, there’s nothing better than going back to your roots and driving what made you fall in love with racing alongside your fellow peers.
Looking forward to the next one and I’ll definitely be ready for the guillotine!