Off to a Good Start
I am starting off this post having just read my previous one (which, admittedly, I wrote a while ago,) and it’s wild to think how much has happened and how different of a place I’m in than I was six months ago.
What a start to the season! I write this with the full understanding that we’re only four races into a very long fifteen race season, but fingers crossed that things keep going well and I can keep the momentum rolling. In a series as competitive as the USF2000 Championship, it will be surely difficult, but WOW!
As a spectator watching from home, one sees the end results of each of my sessions, resulting in three of four poles and four of four race wins. But for me to look at what I’ve come away with from the start of the championship is honestly unbelievable. And believe me, I have just as much confidence in myself as anyone.
Racing is a sport in which everything must work in harmony to achieve the result that each driver is chasing. I experienced this perfect harmony at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Because it’s something that I’ve found to be so rare, when it does occur, it is one of the most confidence-boosting and best things that a young driver can feel.
Before I talk too much about this past weekend in Indy, I want to backtrack to the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, a race weekend that was incredibly difficult in many aspects. Street courses are some of the most strenuous circuits a racing driver can compete on due to the limited practice time (one 30 minute session), the bumpier surface, and the “death grip”-inducing walls that are so intimidating for a driver on their first time out.
Right from the start in St. Petersburg, the series veterans set the pace, as expected. In situations like this, the confidence of being with Cape Motorsports – reigning champs of the past eight years – is invaluable.
Cool and calculated adjustments had the car up to speed very quickly and as soon as I hit the track for the first qualifying session, I was feeling good. Or more accurately, as good as one can feel when going into their first qualifying session, their first time on a street course, in their rookie season of the Road to Indy.
I ended up on pole for Race 1, though almost surely had my teammate not had a transponder issue, I would have been 2nd. Going on to win Race 1- which wasn’t an action packed race by any means - I focused on getting good starts and restarts and was extremely satisfied with my performance out front. I felt that I hadn’t made many mistakes and I had done everything I needed to do.
Race 2 was a different story. I fell back at the start, falling to fourth position but quickly retook third by making a pass in the last corner. The rest of the race, I was struggling with the confidence to push harder and try to get that last little bit to catch the leaders, with the walls seemingly so close and the aerodynamic understeer that comes from closely following another driver. All of that paired with heavy pressure from two drivers close behind me made it a very stressful race. I managed to hold onto third position by a hair, after the driver behind overshot a pass and I was able to over-under him getting back into third place with only a couple of laps remaining. I should not have won this race, but managing to hang onto third proved the right place to be. A mistake by the leader in the last corner caused him and the second-place car to be sidelined, resulting in the motorsports version of the biblical Crossing of the Red Sea and gifting me the win.
In the end, the weekend worked out in my favor. Some weekends don’t go your way, but I recognized that I needed to be better if I wanted to live up to the Cape Motorsports tradition of winning that has been set before me.
Fast-forward to Grand Prix of Indianapolis. This race weekend was a different narrative. I had wins under my belt, an incredible amount of nervousness and pressure put on myself to perform. It was a weird feeling. I was not excited for the race, but I wasn’t dreading it either. I was confident, but also fully understanding the amount of points up for grabs in the championship, and the pressure for me to continue the momentum was a lot.
However, when I arrived, things just felt right. The venue was stunning as always, and I recognized that I was standing inside the Super Bowl arena of motorsports.
Race 1 was truly one of the most hard-fought victories of my career thus far. Hunter McElrea was blazing fast early on, putting pressure on me from behind for the first eight laps. Eventually, he got close enough to make a move past me and slotted into the first position. For the next six laps I knew that I had to put the pressure on Hunter; we had very similar pace, and I knew it. If I could just stick with him and focus on hitting my marks, I knew I would get there by the end of the race.
Shortly thereafter, the car started feeling better and better, and before I knew it, I was at his gearbox, but there were only two laps to go. I had to make a move and keep the winning streak alive - I couldn’t let Hunter take back half of the points lead I had on him.
The last two laps were intense - battling for position, him and I, back and forth. The two major passing zones are into turn 1 following the historical Indianapolis Motor Speedway front straight, and into turn 7 after the equally long back straight. I made a move to get by with two to go, and he slipped right back by in turn 1, which left one more passing opportunity. I knew I had to make it count and things were unfolding exactly how they did one circuit prior. I went to the outside under braking into 7, he washed wide and I took the over-under opportunity. Holding it around the outside on turns 8 and 9, I looked for the over-under in 10 only to see him predict it and defend, leaving an opportunity for an outside pass. I smashed the throttle as soon as I saw him defend and just barely cleared him at the exit of the corner. I defended the last two corners and kept the streak alive! It was definitely the closest race I’ve been in and the most rewarding feeling I’ve had post-win.
Race 2 was a much less exciting race for those watching. Although I needed to survive the seemingly very excessive (at the time) three restarts, and maintain the lead for the checkered. Completing the full weekend sweep.
Sometimes things just all come together, and all the absorbing of information and preparation that goes into something works out. That was what happened that weekend at Indy. Two pole positions, two race wins, a qualifying lap record, and a race lap record. It's a testament to the team. Without the tireless efforts of everyone at Cape Motorsports, weekends like Indy don’t happen. Now we get ready to start again, this time something also completely new to me: oval racing.