In his first year as a McLaren factory driver last season, Michael Cooper impressed with a strong run to second the the Pirelli GT4 America Sprint championship for Blackdog Speed Shop.
He is back with Blackdog and Mclaren this year looking to do one spot better in the Sprint standings while adding a SprintX program with Flying Lizard Motorsports alongside Erin Vogel.
This week in the Pirelli Paddock Pass, Cooper reflects on the strong finish to his 2019 campaign, how he has adapted to driving the mid-engined McLaren after years in front-engined machinery, his goals for the season, and more.
Do you and Blackdog Speed Shop carry any momentum from the strong second half of 2019 into the new season?
“Absolutely, that starts with the continuity, which is a key component to a successful race program. [Team owner] Tony Gaples and [team manager] Ray Sorenson have managed to bring back every person involved in the program last season.
“When we roll off the truck at COTA, we can literally pick up where we left off. Obviously, the points reset back to zero and it’s a new game, but we are more prepared then ever.
“Other people may have stepped their game up, so there are no illusions at Blackdog of how much work it will take to be successful this year. We are ready.”
How much more familiar with the McLaren 570S GT4 are you and the team today than you were this time last year?
“The familiarity with the car is night and day from early 2019. At this point last year Blackdog had possession of the cars for less than a month and they worked their tails off in that period to be ready for Race 1.
“McLaren did what they could to assist in that period, but the team deserves a lot of credit for taking it upon themselves to understand the car.
“There is not a lot you can do to improve a GT4 car, especially the McLaren. It’s really about understanding what you’ve got to work with.
“That willingness to learn and improved hasn’t plateaued either. During the off-season Marc, Shawn and Ray truly went through the cars with a fine-tooth comb. A lot of people will say they did that, but our guys actually did it.
“From a driving perspective, I had a couple of test days in the car heading into the season last year. A few days is a good base, but you always want more, now I’ve got a year of racing and testing experience with this GT4.
“One of the bigger difference makers to me has always been creating an understanding of how do I extract the most out of the electronic driving aids.
“ABS and traction control have become a huge piece of the puzzle in sports car racing today, getting the most from them is a make or break any given weekend.”
How did the SprintX deal with Flying Lizard Motorsports come together?
“It was at another sports car race in Monterey last year. Erin Vogel was trying to figure out what to do next after locking up a regional GT4 championship under the Flying Lizard banner.
“We started brainstorming on what would be best for her while also looking at what made sense so that I could be involved.
“GT4 America made sense because the team was already racing there, Erin had a feeling for it from a one-off earlier in 2019, and I have quite a bit of experience in the series.”
What has your transition been like from front engine American sports cars to mid-engine European sports cars?
“It actually seems to suit me better than any of the cars I’ve previously driven, so there wasn’t much that needed to be adjusted in my style to optimize it to the McLaren.
“At one of the tests we had last year, I took a step back and tried to do my best to look at things objectively to see if there was another way to get more out of the car.
“Ultimately my natural momentum style seems to work fluently with the mid-engine platform.”
What are your goals for the two programs this season?
“The goal for myself is to execute and maximize points in every single race. Race wins are nice, but they don’t really matter to me. It’s the points for winning that count.”