Didier Francesia, crew chief of the No. 14 ROKiT/AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet driven by rookie Kyle Kirkwood, has led an interesting life.
Born in Paray Le Monial, France (near Lyon and the Magny Cours circuit), he started out as a mechanic professionally in 1987. He worked his way up in a variety of motorsports, from Formula Renault to Formula One and eventually Formula One. NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Always smiling, Francesia has also lived through difficult times: two days after her father’s death, Francesia was burned after a gas explosion at a friend’s house. She went rock climbing three weeks later.
But he has also enjoyed good times, like last year when he worked on the car that Helio Castroneves drove to his fourth Indianapolis 500 win.
Let’s meet Francesia, one of the true characters of the INDYCAR paddock:
Q: What sparked your interest in racing and how did you get started?
Didier France: I started racing motorcycles as a teenager, then raced rally cars briefly. I have always liked speed and everything that goes fast.
Q: What series have you worked on and what pilots have you worked with?
DF: Formula Renault, Formula 3, ice racing, Formula One, Indy Lights, Champ Car, INDYCAR, sports cars, Baja Trophy truck. The list of drivers is very long, so I’m just going to name a few. F1: Thierry Boutsen, Andrea De Cesaris, Alain Prost, Roberto Moreno and Juan Pablo Montoya. In INDYCAR: Dan Wheldon, Ryan Briscoe, Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais and Helio Castroneves.
Q: What are your goals with the AJ Foyt Racing team?
DF: AJ Foyt Racing’s goals are to win a few races this year and become a championship contender in the next five years.
Q: He recently moved from California to Waller, Texas. How has that been?
DF: I lived in a few places in SoCal, mostly on the beach (Ventura) and in the mountains. I’ve been to Lake Arrowhead for the last five years. It is a small and beautiful mountain town. Living at Waller has been good so far. I like small towns and country life. However, it’s a bit flat (laughs).
Q: What is the most memorable moment of your career? Or the top three?
DF: Memorable moments? I can’t pick just one. Top three: P6 qualifying in F1 at Phoenix with one of the smaller teams in 1989 (Scuderia Italia driver Alex Caffi, who fielded Dallaras). Driving a chase truck and making pit stops at the Baja 1000. And of course the last lap of last year’s ‘500’ and climbing the fence with Helio.
Q: What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
DF: The biggest challenge for me has been moving to different countries without speaking the language properly or at all (laughs). I worked in England, Italy, Austria and ended up in Texas (laughs).
Q: What are some things on your wish list?
DF: As for the races: Pikes Peak and Bonneville (Salt Flats) Speed Week. Personal: Rope swinging from a huge rock or from The Arch in Utah. I would also love to fly a jet pack.
Q: Do you come back to France often? If so, how often and where do you visit?
FD: I don’t go back to France as much as I should, every four or five years. Mom is getting older and I’m going to try to go more often.
Q: What interests do you have outside of racing?
FD: Snowboarding, surfing, anything resembling a skateboard/long board, mountain biking, and of course motorcycles – my oldest passion, hands down.
Q: If you didn’t work in racing, what would you do?
FD: He would probably go back to work for Hollywood building cars and props for movies. He did that for a while, and it was super fun.
Q: You have so many tattoos, so many stories, tell us about that ink.
DF: Tattoos, I don’t have many; it’s only one for now (laughs). (First tattoo?) I was 18, a little Ferrari horse on my shoulder. (Favorite?) Next. (Tattoo with the most interesting story behind) I don’t know if it’s the most interesting, but when I got the sole of my foot tattooed, the guy said, ‘Do you want a tattoo there?’
Note: The train tattoo evolved from his youth when he would get into occasional fights. One of the recipients of Francesia’s right fist said, “I felt like I had been hit by a train.”
Q: What is something that few people know about you?
DF: People who really know me know that I love animals more than humans.
Note: Francesia and her fiancée, Sybil, have four dogs, all rescues: Sasha and Vega (pit bulls) and Bonnie and Clyde (German Shepherd and Husky mix).
Q: Do you have any mania?
FD: People who think they know everything. I still learn every day, and I hope it never stops.
Q: Do you have any advice for new mechanics entering the industry?
FD: Hmmm… Stay humble, listen to the older guys, some of them at least (laughs), and stretch. Your back will hurt later in life (laughs).