Need for Speed

University of Evansville freshman Roberto Lorena admits that before he first set foot on a racetrack, he couldn’t see the intrigue of auto racing.

“I thought, what’s the point of watching cars go around and around for two hours?” he says. But one day, bored, he stopped by a rental go-kart track near his native city of Sao Paolo, Brazil. As soon as he climbed into a vehicle, he was hooked — although, as he recalls, “I was super scared. I couldn’t get my foot off the brake.”

Lorena started racing go-karts competitively in 2009, and by the next year, he was competing on the national level in Brazil. Then an American team recruited him to come to the U.S. — a country whose auto racing program is “way more competitive,” Lorena says. In 2011, he moved to Florida alone at 15. There, he began open-wheel racing, topping out at speeds of 145 miles per hour. This spring, for the first time, he will race a Porsche 911 GT3 — a high-performance version of the popular sports car — with his current team, Miami-based Ansa Motorsports. In just a few years of competing in the U.S., Lorena has earned honors such as Rookie of the Year and fourth place in the Formula 2000 series and seventh in the Formula 1600 series.

Lorena now calls Atlanta home when he’s not studying at UE — a school that piqued his interest after he met with a team of leaders from UE’s Schroeder School of Business, Institute for Global Enterprise, and international programs when they visited Brazil last spring. In addition to studying marketing at UE, he works nearly 30 hours a week (“Is that a lot?” he asks) as a customer service representative at D-Patrick and is involved with UE’s Formula SAE team, a group of engineering students who design and build a formula race car for an international competition.

We caught up with Lorena to learn more about his life in the fast lane.

What goes through your mind while racing?
Not much. You have to be really focused. During practice sessions, you find spots on the track to use as reference: This is where I brake, this is where I turn, this is where I go up a gear. I never get stressed. I’ve seen some drivers get cut off and they’re screaming, hitting the steering wheel. When I get to the track, I just think about crossing the finish line. I’ll do everything to keep myself calm and do what I have to do.

How do you train for competitions?
It’s an expensive sport, so you have very limited practice. In 2011, I only got two days of practice, and this year will probably be the same. On a good season, you might get 10 testing days. But what you can do is learn about the setup and work on your physical preparation. Strength in the upper body is really important to hold the car on track. And I try to read as much as I can about the mechanical side of it – the changes you can make to the car to make it handle the way you want.

What’s it like to crash during a race?
When you crash, time stops. The adrenaline is incredible. I had a crash at 110 miles per hour — a driver cut me off into the grass, and there was a wall right on the other side of the racetrack. As I was going toward it, I thought: “OK. I’m going to crash. What can I do?” You try to turn the steering wheel, brake, accelerate, go the other way. Nothing works. Then you take your hands off the steering wheel and you crash. And that all happens in, like, two seconds.

I haven’t really gotten hurt. Cars are built to withstand impact, but even though they are safe, you still have a gray area. We had the highest level of casualties in the sport last year, so it’s still not as safe as it should be. But if you’re thinking about that, you’ll never go racing.

What do you think of Evansville drivers?
Honestly? I don’t have a driver’s license. Every time I moved, I found somewhere that was close to anything I needed so I could walk. I take the bus to work, and that’s all I’ve seen of Evansville drivers. I’m a resident of Georgia, so I have to take the test there. I finally got it scheduled in January, and they sent me to the wrong DMV, so now I’ll try to take it in March.

How do your marketing studies at UE overlap with your passion for racing?
Marketing is a really important part of auto racing. I need the marketing knowledge to sell myself and earn sponsorships and keep doing what I love to do. I also like doing research and working with numbers, and marketing consists of that. It’s a natural fit.

What are your goals for the future?
I’ve never had a specific series I wanted to race in. I just love racing. I have fun doing it. As long as I can sustain myself and make a living, I’d be up for anything with an engine and four wheels.

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