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My Mazda Road to Indy: Meet Jake Parsons

Jake Parsons at speed.

A weekly series providing an inside look at new faces on the Mazda Road to Indy, the only driver development program of its type in the world.
 
Jake Parsons turned more than a few heads in the November Chris Griffis Memorial test at Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Parsons, who recently signed with reigning champions Juncos Racing for his rookie Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires season, finished in the top five in each of the six test sessions.
 
The 21-year-old Australian comes to the U.S. fresh off a second-place finish in the 2015 Formula Masters China series where he earned three wins and seven podiums in 10 starts. Parsons began his racing career in the Australia karting ranks, earning multiple state and national podiums from 2010 to 2012. Netting Rookie of the Year honors in the New South Wales Formula Ford championship in 2013, he won the FIA Formula BMW Championship (AsiaCup) with Team Meritus in the following year, which earned him a test in the team’s GP2 car. He also contested partial seasons in Formula Masters China and Formula Ford Australia.
 
In this Q&A, Parsons talks about growing up in a family of racers, his love of martial arts and why going from summer in Australia to winter in Indianapolis will be no big deal.

Tell us about growing up in Australia.

I was born in Melbourne. One of my earliest memories is getting a model F1 car, an Ayrton Senna model. I remember looking at it and thinking it looked like a spaceship! I loved the technology, the whole package. We moved to Sydney just before I turned six. 

What first got you interested in karting?  

I’ve always been into racing. My dad used to race cars, as did my uncle on my mom’s side. When I was 3 or 4 years old, I would sit on the bonnet of my grandfather’s car and watch my uncle race. It was such a positive part of their lives and a good connection between both sides of the family. 
 
It was funny – before I ever got in a kart, I had decided I wanted to race. I waited until I was 7 years old but I didn’t like it when I first tried it! It was a lot to take in at first, a bit scary and loud at that age. I’d always been on the spectator side watching my family, so I’d never been all that close. I took a break but it didn’t dampen my ambitions. I went back when I was 9 and from that point onwards, everything changed. Everything was about racing from that moment on.
 
I had the big picture in my head when I was quite young. At the track, the other kids were always talking about video games they were playing or what they were doing on the weekend. For me, it was about the racing. And it was quite family-oriented; I’d grown up in it and knew what to expect, that it wasn’t just a weekend sport for us. It was quite purposeful for me from the start.

You’ve said that you made a conscious decision to run multiple racing series, rather than just one, to increase your learning curve. Why?

If you race in Australia, you race in Formula Ford then you either go to Europe or America or you go the GT route. We looked at what I needed to learn to get to the end goal of the Verizon IndyCar Series or Formula One, and it was all about learning and progressing as efficiently as I could. We did some Formula Ford, some Formula Masters and did the entire season of Formula BMW, which was AsiaCup. Committing to all of it would have been too expensive, so we chose where it would be the most useful. We didn’t want to get locked in to one thing and when the AsiaCup opportunity came about, we thought it would be another element we could bring in to increase my progression. We won all the rounds of AsiaCup in 2014 and then did two rounds of Formula Masters. It’s an unconventional approach but I think it’s paid off that we did it that way. I had some opportunities in Super GT in Japan but decided that racing formula cars was where we wanted to stay. 

Coming off of formula series in Australia and China, what got you interested in the Mazda Road to Indy and the Pro Mazda series?

I stayed in Australia to finish high school, but we’d always kept our eyes on the Pro Mazda series. The Mazda Road to Indy is acknowledged in Australia as being a very good formula car path because it’s so structured, with a clear end category that everyone wants to be in which is IndyCar. It’s been a massive ambition since I was very young. In the big range of racing categories, it’s difficult to continue without enough sponsorship so it’s important to have the scholarship program that rewards drivers for doing well. And to be at circuits like St. Petersburg alongside IndyCar keeps you very well connected to where you want to be. If you’re just racing in Australia, or in other series, you’re not connected to the right people. In Pro Mazda, you can hone your skills and do so in front of the right people. 

You ran near the front in every session at the Chris Griffis test at COTA – what did you think of the Pro Mazda car and how big a transition was it from the Formula Masters car?

It’s basically what I expected, though the driving style is a little bit different than I was anticipating. I got my head around it at Circuit of the Americas so I will continue to refine my driving and keep improving. If I do, I think we’ll be in good shape.

What are your expectations for 2016 – both on the track and living in the U.S.?

I think the championship is a realistic goal. With all the testing we’ve done, I think everything is on track for that kind of opportunity so there’s no reason not to be aiming for that. I’m excited and looking forward to the season. Juncos Racing is a great team to be around. They’re very diligent and precise with their preparation and I feel very comfortable with them. I have a great deal of trust in our ability to be consistently competitive. It’s tricky to go into a series without enough data so I’m glad we have a good bunch of people from the other drivers to (driver coach and former Indy Lights driver) Peter Dempsey. 
 
I’ll be moving to Indianapolis in February. Luckily, I do like the cold weather! I like the city; it has a good vibe. I visit friends in Japan every year and I always go there during the winter when it’s cold, so I’m sure Indianapolis will be similar – double jackets and everything! 

You’re staying with your trainer in Sydney at the moment – talk about your daily fitness regimen.

We go to the beach in the morning and do some beach sprints. There’s a trail run that goes from the beach back to the house, so that’s the morning. I’m pretty knackered at the end of that. Then we go into the gym in the afternoon. So it’s cardio in the morning and strength training in the afternoon. I’m naturally on the skinny side so I’m trying to increase everything – core, arms and neck. In my early days of karting I struggled for strength so now I have this period of time to prepare so I can be really fit for Pro Mazda. Soon we’ll turn to more race-specific exercises. 

What kind of activities do you do away from the race car?

I trained for four years in martial arts (Taekwondo) and reached First Dan Black Belt. There’s not a lot of time now, but when racing was less demanding I was committed to martial arts. There was so much flying to races in 2014 and 2015, but once I’m in the U.S. I’ll have more time. Other than that, it’s great to see friends when I go home. They’re all committed to their university studies and of course, I’m committed to the racing, so it’s hard to link up schedules!

If I wasn’t driving a race car, I’d be ___________________________.

I’d probably be a music producer. I use music around racing to keep the positivity high, keep the focus on and keep myself pumped up. I have different music for different things away from the track as well. It’s a part of life that I really like so it would be cool to be involved in that.

What is your favorite racetrack and what is your best memory about it?

Kuala Lumpur last year would have to be the highlight. It was the first time they had run a Grand Prix there and they made an outrageous track right in the middle of the city. It was really tight, twisty and bumpy – and it was a lot of fun. It wasn’t your conventional type of track and it was more of an event with all the things happening outside of the racing. (Note: Parsons finished second in Race Two of the Formula Masters China event at Kuala Lumpur, part of the 2015 Formula One KL City Grand Prix.)

What do you do to chill out?

I’m pretty into gaming and I find it’s the opposite of driving, because you can be as intense or relaxed as you want with it. It’s all about you and it’s pretty low-key compared to racing.

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