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LI teen Formula racing pro on fast track

Vital Signs story in LI Life

Vital Signs story in LI Life Credit: Photo by Photo by Eric McCombs

Ryan Tveter isn't old enough to have a conventional driver's license, but he has four professional racing licenses.

"I have my Formula 1600 license, my USF2000 license, my Star Mazda license and my FIA ACCUS license," he said.

Tveter, 17, of Laurel Hollow, is one of the nation's youngest -- and according to his fellow drivers, one of the most promising -- Formula racers.

He drives a sleek and narrow single-seater, low to the ground with a pointed nose.

Designed to tear up racetracks at speeds illegal on Long Island roads, it's the type of car Tveter took to a 10th-place finish among 44 drivers at his professional debut last June at the Montreal Grand Prix.

But it isn't simply speed that has attracted him to weekend and summer motor sports, said Tveter, a senior at Choate Rosemary Hall, a boarding school in Wallingford, Conn.

"I've always had this curiosity for machines, anything that moves," he said. "I love the technical side of it, too. Everything boils down to math and physics, which are my favorite subjects, so it [racing] is basically everything I love."


Training in Texas

Tveter signed in February with the Dallas-based Team GDT as part of a developmental racing program, the Mazda Road to Indy. The team has two permanent drivers and about 10 crew members.

He is competing in the 2012 Star Mazda Championship presented by Goodyear, a sort of minor league to the major league IndyCar, the nation's highest level of Formula racing. The season runs March to October. Formula racing sets rules on the cars; drivers handle single-seaters.

At stake for the Mazda series champion is a prize valued at $1.2 million, including a $600,000 scholarship to move the winner up one rung in the Road to Indy ladder to the 2013 Firestone Indy Lights, one level away from IndyCar.

Tveter said he will likely spend the 2013 season at the Star Madza level, which has about 22 drivers, but he aspires to compete internationally as a Formula 1 racer. He has eight events this season in the United States and Canada; he's missing three more because of school.

His description of the driving experience is chock-full of phrases such as "blip the throttle" and "brake pressure trace."

Tveter's aptitude for the mechanics of driving helps him stand out among young racers, said Remi Lanteigne, a race engineer and program manager. Lanteigne said he decided to work with Tveter in Texas last year after glimpsing what he called the teen's "genius" at a test run.

"He's part of a new breed of race car drivers that we're looking for," said Lanteigne, 40, of Toronto, who has worked with stars such as Helio Castroneves, a Brazilian IndyCar driver who has won three Indianapolis 500 races.

"They're the ones who are very comfortable participating in engineering sessions and communicating on a technical side," Lanteigne added. "Because the cars and their technology are evolving so quickly now, we have to have drivers who are mechanically inclined and engineering inclined."

In Formula 1, Lanteigne noted, drivers have more than 25 switches on their steering wheels and so must understand racing as a science.

Balancing act

Tveter does not come from a racing family and, unlike some of his fellow drivers, didn't spend his childhood karting. He and his parents split their time between Laurel Hollow and Meilen, Switzerland. Tveter spent several years in grade school in Laurel Hollow and Locust Valley and said he considers Oyster Bay his hometown. This fall he plans to study engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

He said balancing racing and school will be difficult, but the bulk of his races are in the summer.

His mother, Terry Collins, called it surreal that at age 16, Tveter, who at that point had never driven on a track, through a friend earned an interview and aced a test drive with a professional team.

"I always say that being a parent is the extremes of joy and terror," Collins said. "It's just a little more intense when your son is a race car driver."

Tveter's car has a top speed of 150 mph. Formula 1 cars can go up to 220 mph. Collins agreed that for her son "the thrill of driving fast" seems to take a backseat to the "innovation, research and education" involved in racing, a sport she acknowledged suits him.

"It's a kind of organized chaos where there's room for creativity alongside the laws of physics," she said.

Tveter is getting used to the highs and lows of racing.

Last month at the Honda Grand Prix in St. Petersburg, Fla., Tveter had his first track incident. His car was bumped from behind and tossed into the air. It barrel-rolled, struck a wall and burst into flames. Tveter quickly ejected and was unhurt.

"Obviously, I was disappointed because it could have been a really great race," he recalled. "There's nothing to do about it now, except take that experience and learn from it and stay positive."

Tveter's team car was rebuilt, and his next event is a support series race in June at the Montreal Grand Prix.

He turns 18 next month and said he may slow down just long enough to earn a conventional driver's license.

"I have my permit," he said.

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