By Road to Indy
Brazilian Lucas Kohl recently announced his decision to return to Pabst Racing and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda for a third season – his second with the Oconomowoc, Wis.-based team that won the Team Championship in 2017.
A karting standout in his homeland, Kohl, 19, knew the country’s junior formula series would not take him where he wanted to go. With former IndyCar and Formula 1 star Roberto Moreno as his coach and mentor, Kohl made the move to the United States and the Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires in 2016. Here, Kohl details how he and his father entered into racing together, the karting events that keep his skills sharp during the winter, and how going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway will never get old.
Tell us about growing up in Brazil (in Santa Cruz do Sul, northwest of Porto Alegre).
Naturally, I played soccer as a kid – I played for our town’s soccer team for three years. But when I started karting at age 11, I couldn’t do both and I knew I wanted to drive more than I wanted to play soccer. My parents and my brother, who’s 11 now, still live there.
What first got you interested in racing?
My dad started racing touring cars as a hobby when I was 10 and we got a kart for me. That’s where it started. When he went to a track that had a karting track, I went. He won a national championship in the P3 prototype class, racing in endurance races. It was nice because we were able to race together in the prototype in 2015.
Do you still race karts?
I race almost every weekend. On the day I got back to Miami from Brazil after the holidays, I went straight to the kart track! The karting helps because I haven’t driven the USF2000 car since September, but I keep sharp from driving the kart so I don’t stop driving. It’s way cheaper than driving a regular race car – and here in Florida, the weather is perfect for it year round.
When did you know you wanted to be a race car driver?
In the beginning, I was just racing on Saturdays in club races, then it became every weekend. That’s when I knew it was what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t care about the traveling, or having to train hard and be in shape. For me, that’s all work towards my driving. I thought about racing every day.
In 2014, we were introduced to Roberto and started working together. He has really helped me – he was a great driver in his time and he’s a great person off the track, so I hope I can be as successful as he was. He lives very close to me in Miami, and he has the karts at his house, so we’re there every weekend.
We entered the Junior Formula Brazil series in 2015, which is like F1600. I won the championship, winning eight of 16 races. I did the prototype championship in 2016 but also did a lot of karting events. It was hard because I come from a very small town and there are only four or five drivers in the club races, then 20 or 30 drivers in the national races.
What got you interested in the Mazda Road to Indy and the USF2000 series?
The scholarship programs that Mazda and Cooper Tires have really made me want to come here. And everything is very professional, the driving level is really good, and it’s a good atmosphere for me. We run with IndyCar and all the great racetracks in the United States which is great.
The formula levels in Brazil are not very strong, so the plan for me was to stay in karting in 2016, do some of the prototype racing, then go to the States. We looked at the F1600 series, but I decided to stay in Brazil and race karts for one more year so I could go straight into USF2000.
What are your expectations for 2018, and what are you most looking forward to?
We had a really strong year in 2017, winning the team championship and coming second in the driver championship with Rinus (VeeKay). I had some problems in the beginning of the year with a few crashes early but we got it going again at Indy and Road America. I hope I can be competitive, be in the top five every weekend and on the podium, and be consistent. We’ve been working really hard and I hope it pays off in the end.
I really like going to Road America – it’s the home race for Pabst Racing and a really important race for our team. But I look forward to every race weekend. It’s really good to work with Pabst and I’ve learned a lot from them. You feel like you’re part of the family, and we work really well together. I’m honored to be part of that.
What kind of activities do you do away from the race car?
I’ve been doing a lot of cycling and running, so with that and karting, I keep busy. Roberto got me into cycling, so I do a lot of that. Sometimes I go cycling with Matheus (Leist, 2017 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series driver) and I train a lot. It’s hot during the summer, but if you train during the hot weather then go racing, you’re ready.
What is your favorite racetrack?
Road America is one of them, because I had my best result there, but it’s so special going back to Indianapolis, there’s so much tradition. It’s hard to believe you’re really there, you can really feel the history. I like Toronto, too – it’s hard to pick just one! They’re all such iconic tracks with so much history behind them. I went back and watched Roberto race at Road America. Especially for someone like me, from a small town in Brazil, to go to these places that I’m so used to seeing on TV, it’s kind of overwhelming.
When we had the hurricane in Miami, the first place all the drivers thought to go to was Indianapolis. All the guys from Florida. It’s the racing capital of the world, so it’s like home. I got back there just after the hurricane and my apartment was fine, but I couldn’t buy any food or water so it was getting kind of desperate. I went to Indy and spent a week and a half there because we didn’t have power or water.
If I wasn’t driving a race car, I’d be ___________________________.
I could only see myself driving a race car! It would have to be in sports, like cycling. I like watching basketball but I’m not that big so the NBA would not work for me. I am going to school for business, so it would probably be something around that, but I can’t imagine not driving a race car.
What are your hobbies?
The main one is cycling, I love doing it. I’m always looking for things for my bike. I also do online races on the simulator at my house. But it’s mostly training or karting. There’s not much time left for other things if you want to be competitive on the Mazda Road to Indy. You have to push yourself really hard.
What do you do to relax and get away from racing?
I go to see my family in Brazil for a week or two during the off season and the holidays, or my friends will come visit me in Miami. But during the season I stay focused all the time. I don’t have classes during the summer, so it’s perfect for me to race.