Sunday, August 30, 2009

Busy Day, Busy Race, Great Result!

Yesterday was a very busy day for me at the Chicagoland Speedway. The Firestone Indy Lights had everything on one day (kind of like Iowa- but that one was because of rain delays). Our practice was from 9:30-10:30, qualifying starting at 1:30 and then the race at 5:15. Chicagoland is a really fun track to race the Lights cars on because while it is a 1.5 mile, D-shaped superspeedway, the banking is high and the back straight has a bend in it. This means that it is reasonably easy to run two and even three wide through the corners flat out. And side by side racing is exactly what everyone got to see! But practice first.

We started practice with the first intention being some running in clean air (not around other cars) to get used to the set up, get up to speed and learn the line. I also spent some time running the high and low grooves so I was comfortable in both places. Then, because the car was handling well on my own, it was time to find some traffic. I had to rely heavily all day on my spotter, Chris Wheeler, to get me in a pack of quick cars and then give me all the information I needed about what was going on around me. The spotter stands right up at the top of the grandstand and talks through everything he sees on the radio to me. All of the spotters are up in the same area and so they talk amongst themselves. This means that if I see something I don’t like on track, I can let the other driver know through my spotter to their spotter. But usually before I can say anything on the radio, Chris has already informed the series tech official or the other driver’s spotter! Working in traffic in practice was a lot of fun and in the hour long session, I ran more laps than I would in the race. I got out of the car a little dizzy, but with a huge grin on my face!

Then it was a mad dash to get ready for qualifying. We didn’t feel we had the right gears in the car, so the mechanics made hay and got those changed. Then it was some quick set up adjustments and on our way. My mechanics time was especially short since I would be 2nd in line for qualifying. On an oval qualifying, it is the aggregate time of two laps done completely by yourself. You get one warm up lap and then it the clock starts. At Chicagoland, we went straight out onto turn1 and put your foot down. You only lift off full throttle after you have seen the checkered flag. I was reasonably happy with my run, but knew that if we had more time to prepare, we could have done more to the car and gone a bit quicker. I ended the session in 11th which I wasn’t too worried about since it was going to be pack racing and there would be plenty of laps to move forward.

After the morning’s practice, I was really comfortable with how competitive my car was going to be in the race. I had a good jump and when the green flag flew, the pack formed! It was a little bit chaotic into Turns 1 and 2 but things settled down as we headed to 3. Then in the middle of Turns 3 and 4, Anna Beatriz, who was trying to pass me on the outside, moved down on me and pushed me onto the apron (the flat, non-banked dirty bottom of the track). I had to get out of the throttle massively and catch the car from spinning. As a result, I lost all my momentum and fell out the back of the 16 car field. I caught my breath, restarted my heart, and set about chasing down the pack. I wasn’t a long ways behind and soon I had caught the group with a massive run in the draft. I passed about 3 cars in one go and was looking to keep moving forward when I saw contact ahead of me, wing parts flying around and the yellow flag came out. We got to turn 1 and Pippa Mann spun ahead of me. I stayed low and was fine. At that point, I had moved back up to 12th or so. Then as we restarted, the #5 car of Mario Romancini blew his engine and I moved past him.

Then it was back into the pack until after about 30 laps, there was big contact in turns 3 and 4 involving Mike Potekhen, Anna Beatriz and the innocent James Hinchcliffe. The three of them made big contact and I was lucky to avoid the spinning cars and all of the debris. When we got restarted, I had a good restart, but had to lift heading into turn 1. As a result, I lost the draft of the lead pack and dropped behind the lapped Mann. I then drafted off her and ran some very fast lap times to catch back up to the front group. I then had about 20 laps to find a way to move forward through the tight group. I got a few big runs on the group of 7 cars, but got balked each way I went it seemed! When I had a run on the outside, someone else went high. When I went low, another car went before me! I still picked of Martin Plowman as his car faded and crossed the line in 7th, right next to 6th place Sebastian Saavedra. I struggled to crack into that pack and move forward, but I was extremely happy to have finished with the lead group and with a car that was as fast as the leaders. I was comfortable running up and down the track all afternoon and can’t wait to get to the last race of the season in Homestead. Homestead won’t be as chaotic a pack as Chicagoland, but it will still be a fast close race. I have a month off of racing for September now, but will be busy traveling the country to diabetes conferences with a showcar. I am looking forward to blogging about my experiences at those really neat events.

Now though, I am in a car very early on a Sunday morning headed to downtown Chicago for an in-studio interview with ABC 7. Should be fun! Then I get to spend the day in town wandering around, shopping and relaxing before flying home to California this evening.

(Here's the link to the TV interview I was on my way to when I wrote this blog! And I have tried to embed it below.... Just ignore the advertisement before the segment :) )

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Carneros 100

Today's race at Infineon Raceway went very well. The morning dawned very cool with lots of cloud cover and it was even misting at the hotel. For our warm up at 8:30, my engineer and I had made some changes to the car. My first impression was very positive and some of the other drivers struggled with the cool track temperature. There were four spinners on the out lap! We ended the session in 10th, but I knew there was more to come in the race.

I had qualified in 9th, but the #27 AFS car of Sebastien Saavedra had to change an engine before qualifying because he had crashed. When he crashed, gravel got into the belts and a new unit had to be put into the car. Because the engine wasn't out of miles, he got sent to the back. I would roll up to the green flag in 8th, on the outside of row 4. I had a decent start, fought off Plowman and tried to take advantage of moves ahead. I couldn't make any progress though and finished lap 1 in 8th. Then as we came around to finish our second lap, a full course yellow came out for the stranded car of Gustavo Yacaman. It took a few laps for them to clean up the incident and then it was back to green flag racing. I was following Mario Romancini and trying to take advantage oh him being held up by a train of cars. Then after about lap 15, I made a late braking move into turn 5, the second gear right hander after the fast left-right combination of turn 3-4. I then pulled away and up to the gearbox of my teammate Richard Phillipe. I ran most of the race in the back of the train of cars ahead and couldn't make a move stick. There were some overtaking ahead of me, but I couldn't take advantage of the chaos to move forward. Once, as I tried to overtake James Hinchcliffe ahead of me, I had to avoid Romancini trying to pass both of us. We went into turn 11, the last hairpin, three wide and all managed to come out in the exact same positions as we went into it. On lap 34 (out of 40), I was struggling with a slightly sticky throttle pedal, I lost some exit speed and Saavedra, who had worked his way through the field, made a very late pass into turn 11. I ran wide so that he wouldn't run into the side of me and had to settle for 8th. I was pleased to finish in the top 10 and with the progress my engineer and I made with the car over the weekend. The points I got for 8th put me back up to 9th in the points standings. It will be tough to catch 8th with only two races remaining, but I am sure I can solidify my 9th place in the next races.

My family and I have stopped at Harris Ranch in Coalinga alongside the 5 for dinner. It is about halfway home and they do a very tasty steak!

Top-10 and Progress

Today was practice and qualifying at Infineon Raceway. The weather was perfect with sun all day and, unlike yesterday, it didn't get too hot. The Indy Lights first practice was at 9 this morning and I was focused on learning the track, evaluating the car set up and getting ready for qualifying in the early afternoon.

Practice didn't go exactly to plan as I spun off in Turn 2 after about 6 to 8 laps. We didn't have the greatest balance or grip in the car and I was just pushing hard. I lost the back end and lightly brushed the wall. The car was fine, but we did have an electrical problem. The mechanics got the problem fixed and I was back out on track quickly. There were a couple more yellow flags that disrupted the session. My lap time only put me 13th, but I knew that I could go better for qualifying.

My engineer and I worked hard to come up with good ideas for qualifying and we must have done something right! The car was a lot better in qualifying and I could really push the limits. We made the right call on when to put new tires on the car and the yellow flags actually worked in our favor this weekend. I ended the session 9th and I am really pleased to qualify back in the top 10. Watkins Glen and Edmonton are the only other two road courses where I qualified in the top-10 this season. I finished both of those races in the top-5. I am not sure that a top-5 will be possible tomorrow as it is so hard to pass around this track, but I will be doing everything I can to make it happen.

We have a quick 30 minute warm up in the morning to make some more progress and the Carneros 100 rolls off at 11:15 PT. I have a lot of family, friends and sponsors supporting me this weekend and I can't wait to go racing tomorrow!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pre-race in Wine Country

Today was preparation day for this weekend's Carneros 100 at Infineon Raceway (what that actually means is I am racing at Infineon, used to be Sears Point, right near Sonoma, San Francisco, and wine country galore). I had a good talk with my engineer and got some ideas ready to go for the first practice. I will be spending the first few laps getting comfortable with the track and learning the line. Then we will make some changes to the car and hopefully make some forward progress before the qualifying session at 1:30. I am really excited for this weekend as I have a lot of family and friends here and the track looks like a blast to drive. I have driven it before, but it was over 6 years ago! There is a lottttt of elevation change and a good mix of high speed and slow speed corners. The weather looks to be nice, a bit warm tomorrow and really good on Sunday.

You can follow my race day updates on my Twitter or on Novo Nordisk's Twitter set up for me.

Here's the schedule:

Practice: 9-9:45
Autograph Session: 12-1
Qualifying: 1:30-2:10

Warm-up: 8:30-9
Pre-Race: 10:15
Race: 11:15 Carneros 100 (40 laps/ 100 miles)

Now my family are gathering in my hotel room to head out for a group dinner!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Memory Lanes (Interstate Lanes that is!)

This morning (very early in the morning, I might add) I drove up from home in Ventura County to Sonoma. I took the 5 freeway which runs into the south end of the Central Valley in California and hugs it's western edge up towards San Francisco. Once you get into the Valley, the scenery stays just about the same until you turn over to the Bay Area. However, I know the road from my house up to the Lerdo Hwy exit on the 5 very well. See at Lerdo Hwy is a racetrack by the name of Buttonwillow Raceway Park.

Buttonwillow is a great track, especially for testing. However, it holds an even more special place in my heart because it is the racetrack where I turned my first laps in a race car. I remember that day very clearly. I had been racing in the go kart in Santa Maria the weekend before my Monday- Tuesday test day at Buttonwillow. As a result, my dad and I drove straight over to Buttonwillow and headed out to the track early on Monday morning with the go-kart trailer in tow. It was a nice day- cool in the morning, but the sun was shining and it soon warmed up to be perfect testing weather. I helped my dad unload the go karts so he could work on them during the day and then I got focused on learning what I had to differently to drive a racecar as compared to a go-kart. I remember my first few laps being a bit of a blur but soooo much fun! I came into the pitlane the first time and told the team (and my dad who had borrowed a radio) that 'that was the most fun I have had in my life. Ever. Period!' Apparently, my smile was big enough to see well before I had taken my helmet off.

There were a few other big impressions from those two days of testing. The first was that I needed to really work out if I was going to start racing cars. By the afternoon of Tuesday, I was exhausted! I know I had been racing the go-karts all weekend, but still I remember taking a nap in the car during the second afternoon while the team made some changes to the car. I also remember that the mechanic who strapped me into the car (Big Mike) got the belts so tight that I was sore for a week. I have never had a mechanic be able to strap me into the car that tightly since! The Buttonwillow Ranch brought lunch out the track and we went there for dinner on Monday night. The food was pretty tasty. So if you are ever cruising along on the 5 near Buttonwillow and are getting hungry- stop in for a bite. Although it has been quite a few years since I have eaten there, so no guarantees! The final thing I remember from that first two day test of my racecar career is that I was fast. I ran a lap of 1:06.5 (it might have been a .4) and that was one of the quicker laps the team had seen around that configuration of Buttonwillow. That fact really helped me convince my parents that I should pursue a racing career. Well my love of racing all helped I'm sure. As I drove past Buttonwillow, the Buttonwillow Ranch, the Lerdo Hwy exit and the Buttonwillow buildings next to the freeway, I remembered that first test in a car (and the thousand of miles of testing I did there after that first test).

I spent some time at Infineon Raceway (the site for this weekend's race) today doing a TV interview and then headed out to my hotel for the weekend. Since I have a lot of guests and family coming up this weekend, we have organized a group of rooms at the Hilton Sonoma Wine Country. They have been really good about shuffling room reservations around and when I arrived were extremely hospitable. The hotel is beautiful and I am really looking forward to the rest of the weekend. Not to speak of the racing! But that is for tomorrow's blog. I don't drive until Saturday so tomorrow is just a prep day.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


So this post is a short one to apologize for my delay in posting anything. I have been pretty busy and when I have had time off, I am working hard to relax and enjoy what is left of summer. Since last weekend was my only weekend off in August, I went to the beach, surfed, kayaked, swam, hung out, and then went to a big BBQ on Sunday. Sunday night I was in bed by 8:30 and asleep by 8:40! I don't think I have gone to sleep that early since I was 10.... (I don't count jet lag).

I head up to Sonoma for this weekend's Carneros 100 at the Infineon Grand Prix early on Thursday morning. I have a TV interview at the track for an evening news show in San Francisco around midday. And tonight I get to talk with the DJ's on ESPN Radio San Francisco about the weekend's race! There are a lot of my family, friends, supporters and sponsors coming this weekend. It should be a lot of fun with great weather, great racing and hopefully a great result!

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mid Ohio Practice and Qualifying

Today was practice and qualifying at the Mid Ohio Sports Car Course in Ohio. Practice went alright, but not perfectly. The track was really cool and slippery to start with and it took a long time for the tires to come up to temperature. When the tires did come in, I was fighting the car more than I should have been. I ended the session in about 11th or so. We had some ideas on what to do with the car before the qualifying session.

Between practice and qualifying, a rain storm came through the area and thoroughly doused the track. It would be a gamble on whether the track would dry out, stay wet, or be somewhere in between! As it turned out, it was a pretty simple call. After the first 15 minutes of qualifying, the track was dry enough for slick tires. I came in and we put the first of my two sets of new tires on the car. I was running laps on the slippery track that when I did them put me in the top 5. As the track was improving every lap, by the time I had finished each lap, I had been dropped down the order to 10th or 12th. This sequence went on until I stopped with about 10 minutes left to go and put the second set of new tires on the car. The tires were just coming in and I was getting ready to put a strong qualifying time in when a full course yellow flag came out for a couple of cars off course. Unfortunately, the timing was less than ideal as my second set of tires were going to be an improvement on my first set. As a result, I was classified in 12th. Starting on the outside of row 6 will present a challenge tomorrow, especially on the start. We have made some big changes to the car for the morning and I am sure that we will have good pace in the race. Hopefully I can make some passes and move up the order!

The weather looks good for tomorrow and it may even be a lot hotter with more humidity than we have seen all weekend. It should be a perfect day for a race!

Friday, August 7, 2009

Getting to rock and roll at Mid-Ohio

After my tough race last weekend in Kentucky, I am really looking forward to getting back onto a permanent road course. The last time I raced on a non-temporary road course it was the 4th of July and I had a solid 4th place result. Coming off a poor showing last weekend at the Kentucky Speedway, the team and I could use another top-5. Last weekend, we sat around waiting for the track to stop leaking water and then for it to dry up again after it rained on Saturday afternoon. Then we had a quick practice on a very dirty track and straight into the race. I started 11th because of entrant points. I moved high into Turn 3 on lap 1 to try to get past my teammate. As we got to the apex, Gustavo Yacaman ahead of me on the high side as well spun. When I lifted and tried to turn more to avoid him, the back of my car came around and I slid up into the wall. My day was done. It was very frustrating after standing around for a day and a half. But moving forward I am excited about Mid-Ohio.

I raced here in 2003 in the US Formula Ford 2000 championship and finished 2nd to my teammate. Having some track experience will help me get up to speed quickly and tune the car for what the track needs. Mid-Ohio is one of the stalwarts of American race tracks. It presents a lot of different challenges throughout the lap. There is a lot of elevation changes and a variety of technical corners. Here is a lap rundown:

The pit straight is pretty short and leads up to a very interesting sight picture. Turn 1 is a fast left hander with the turn in point just at a bridge over the top of the track. With the concrete bridge abutments, you can't see the exit as you approach the entry of the corner. Then it is the second longest straight on the track uphill up to the 'keyhole.' The keyhole is a long right handed corner that drops away significantly on the exit. The exit is critical though as it leads to the longest straight on the track. It is downhill most of the way with an easy flat bend in the middle. Then it is into a section of linked corners that lead almost the whole way back to the pit straight. Turn 4 is a right hander that has some camber at the apex and exits up the hill directly into turn 5. Turn 5 is a slow 180-degree left hander over the crest of the hill. The exit is difficult because it falls away downhill pretty aggressively and so traction is a problem Turn 6 is a 90-degree right hander that leads directly through a flat out kink into the entrance of 'Thunder Valley.' The entrance to Thunder Valley is a 3rd gear right hander with a big crest at the apex. Once again you can't see the exit of the corner when you commit to power. After the crest, the track falls away and the wall close in to narrow the sight picture. You go down into a valley and then climb back up before a fast left hander to exit 'Thunder Valley.' As you come out of the fast left hander, you drop over a crest into the 'Carousel'. The Carousel is a long right hander that leads you into a quick left kink back onto the pit straight. It is a busy, technical and very fun lap. I can't wait to drive it tomorrow!
(Photo from 2003 USFF2000 at Mid-Ohio- Thanks RacePix!)

Firestone Indy Lights Mid-Ohio Schedule:
Practice: 8:30-9:15
Qualifying: 11:30-12:15

Race:10:15 (40 Laps)