Interview: Follow Up with Gabriel Hernandez III
American Red Bull Rookies Cup rider Gabriel Hernandez III completed his first race weekend of the series at Jerez and I spoke to him last night about his experience. My first conversation with Gabe is here.
Scott Jones: To start off, how was your trip from Southern California to Southern Spain?
Gabe Hernandez: The trip over there was long. We went from Los Angeles to London, then to Madrid, then to Jerez. We had some delayed flights, but we were able to make it.
SJ: What kind of shape were you in when you arrived in Jerez?
GH: We arrived Thursday morning, around 1 or 2 AM, I think. So I was really tired. We were supposed to be at the track at 5PM, so I went to sleep until around 4PM, then I got ready and then went to the track. Then I went back to sleep and the next day I was good to go.
SJ: On a race weekend, how many sessions do you have before the first of your two races?
GH: On Friday we have two 30-minutes sessions, then one qualifying session. On Saturday we have no warm up, only the race, and the same on Sunday, just the race.
SJ: So if it’s a track you haven’t ridden before, you don’t have much time to learn the layout. This is another advantage those returning to the series have, right?
GH: Yes. I’m just trying to look at videos of the tracks with my friend, Steven Ludwig . We study track maps, and then I play it on MotoGP.
SJ: I was just going to ask if you had that available.
GH: Yes, I have it on the laptop, so on the trip to Jerez I just played that track over and over.
SJ: So how did your Friday sessions go?
GH: In the practice sessions I was just getting used to the bike again, getting used to the track and trying to loosen up. In Qualifying I ended up in 19th, I think. I was happy about that because my main goal for the weekend was 15-17, so that gave me a chance to hit my goal.
SJ: How did the bike feel after a long break and having ridden it only a couple of days at the Test?
GH: The first session, it kind of did feel like a new bike, but the second session was a lot better.
SJ: So how did Race 1 go for you?
GH: I got a good start, but I was in the back of the pack, just trying to learn from the riders in front of me. I think some people crashed in front of me, and after eight laps I started pushing hard. With my good friend Rory Skinner, we tried to catch up to the top fifteen riders. We got them in our sight and kept chipping away, but there was not enough time to catch up to them.
I think I learned a lot from Rory. I hope he learned from me, and it was a good, solid first race.
SJ: Skinner is a British rider, right?
GH: Yes, I think he’s from Scotland.
SJ: Did you know him before the RBRC Selection Event?
GH: No, I talked to him there a bit, but at the Test we started talking a lot. This race weekend we walked around the paddock together and are getting to be good friends.
SJ: I suppose having English in common helps.
GH: Sure, but I speak some Spanish and sometimes I am a translator for the Spanish riders!
SJ: Are the other riders pretty friendly?
GH: Yes, all the riders are really nice. It’s not what I expected, really. Everyone there is really friendly, you can talk to anyone. Everyone is friends with everyone, no one has a rival.
SJ: Does that include the more experienced riders? Are the returning guys friendly with the new riders?
GH: Yes. I talk to Bo Bendsneyder a lot. Also Robert Schotman. [Note: Bendsneyder and Schotman both rode in the series in 2014, are both Dutch, and Bendsneyder won both races at Jerez, while Schotman scored a total of 9 points on the weekend.] You talk to everyone at least a little.
SJ: So you’re not in an environment that’s so competitive riders are playing head games or anything like that?
GH: No, everyone helps out everyone. Let’s say I’m struggling in a turn, I can ask someone what gear they’re in and they’ll help me out big time.
Also, I expected the parents to be super strict. But they just chill out. I expected them to be mad if their kids finished bad, but they aren’t like that.
SJ: It’s very nice to hear that. So, onto Race 2. From the Live Timing it looked like you were changing positions a lot in the last few laps.
GH: Yes, the last couple of laps I was with Patrick Pulkkinen, Martin Vugrinec and Mykyta Kalinin, and we were a group the entire race. It got hectic at the end, anyone was passing when there was a space.
On the last lap I got a good drive out of Turn 5, and when we went through Turn 6, the tight right hander, I passed Patrick and Martin, so I just pushed as hard as I could to stay at the front of that group.
SJ: Do these 16 lap races feel long or short, or just right?
GH: I think it depends on where you’re at. If you’re with a group, to me the race goes by super quick. But if I’m alone, it feels like it goes on forever!
SJ: So you qualified in 19th and finished in 18th for both races, do you feel like that’s a pretty solid first weekend?
GH: Yes, for the first weekend, I just wanted to finish and get some experience so I can improve little by little, and that’s what I did. So I was happy with my weekend.