Short Story: Started 7th- Finished 13th two laps down after having to stop and change a flat right rear tire. I also recorded the fastest race lap at an average speed of nearly 187 mile an hour.
Long Story (or short book!):Today’s Firestone Indy Lights race was the Kansas Lottery 100. The Kansas Lottery had sponsored the event and since it was 100 miles long (67 laps of the 1.5 mile Kansas Speedway) it was a fitting name. What made it perfect was that it turned out to be a lottery in so many ways! Overnight, it had rained very hard (at one point there was a tornado warning in the area around the track!) and washed off a lot of the rubber the Indy Cars and Indy Lights had built up. Also, the weather was still very unsettled and storms were threatening. The wind was stronger than it had been all weekend and was gusting to over 30 miles an hour. It was blowing directly across turns 1 and 2 (not really an issue) and from inside out in turns 3 and 4 (big issue!). We were scheduled to race at 12 noon after the Indy Cars had their Sunday morning warm up. Because of the threatening weather (and no need for a time certain schedule without live TV coverage) the race director moved our start time up to 10AM. This all contributed to a race that ran almost as many laps under yellow as under the green flag! There were 10 cars that didn’t finish due to incidents- all of them through 3 and 4. There were even a couple of cars that spun and didn’t hit anything- not causing a yellow but still chaotic.
All of these factors made my first oval race quite an experience. I started inside row 4 in 7th. The first start was waved off (not sure why) and so we did an extra lap in formation before taking the green flag. The start went well for me; I accelerated up through the gears, took the green and stayed low through 1 and 2. My line got held up by Pippa Mann directly in front of me and so I had a couple of cars go past me around the outside. I settled into a rhythm and passed back one of the cars that got me on the start as well as Pippa. Then the first of many yellows flew for a really big crash in turn 4. There were three cars involved and it took quite a few laps to clean it up. When we next went green, I had a good restart and was working back into the rhythm. I was setting up Daniel Herrington, the other car that passed me on the initial start when it went yellow again. After they finally got all that cleaned up, we went green again. I had another oval rookie Gustavo Yacaman on my outside heading into 3 and 4 (where all the chaos had been happening!). I held my line on the inside and all of a sudden I hear my spotter, “yellow, yellow, yellow- The guy on your outside spun down the track.” I had seen the tire smoke and was feeling pretty good about myself- I was having a good run, being patient, learning so much so quickly, ready for it to go back to green. Then as we accelerated to prepare for the restart, I felt something funny in the back right of the car. On an oval, the rule is: If it feels funny, stop and check it out! I thought it was the right rear tire going down so rather than risk a lot, accelerate to the green and stick it in the fence, I brought it to pit road and pulled into the pit box with a flat right rear tire. The crew did a good job changing it and away I went back on track- two laps down and in 17th position. I was just getting back up to speed and it went yellow for another big wreck in 3 and 4. What we think happened on the cut tire is that Yacaman behind me tried to come down on me when he was running on the high line. His wing rubbed on my tire, cut it and sent him spinning. That matches what the team saw on the side of the tire and him having to stop for a new wing. I spent the rest of the race racing with my teammate (on the lead lap) and James Hinchliffe (only one lap down). Watching Jay’s driving (and running side by side with him) taught me a lot about how to maximize what you have on the oval. He was really struggling with the car, but kept going and racing smart. There was another really big crash down in turn 3 and 4 near enough to the end that we finished the race under yellow flag. Because of all the chaos and carnage, I finished the race in 13th place. I also had the fastest race lap time. I know we had the pace to run in the top 5-8 all day. Once again, I am encouraged by the speed of the car and the way the team and engineering staff is making progress. Also, on a day when there was probably close to $500k in crash damage, I brought the car home with all four tires (three I started with!) all pointed straight and rolling. I picked up points and learned a lot. Pretty soon, Lady Luck is going to smile on me and we will be on the podium.
Now I am on a plane from Kansas City, Missouri (?!? I don’t get why Kansas City is mostly in Missouri) to Atlanta where I will grab a nice healthy dinner in the airport somewhere before a late night flight down to Palm Beach, Florida. I am spending the week down in Palm Beach doing things at Palm Beach International Raceway before speaking at the American Diabetes Wholesale’s Diabetes Educator of the Year award breakfast, Friday May 1st at the Boca Raton Resort and Spa. I then head up to Indianapolis on Saturday before our test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway next Tuesday, May 5th.
Biggest impression from my first oval race: What a lot of fun! The whole weekend was truly enjoyable- from practicing running in traffic, to single car two lap qualifying to racing in a pack inches from each other at over 180 miles an hour. It’s a real blast!