Hi, I’m Daniel Burkett, back for a second season of USF2000 with Belardi Auto Racing and another year of keeping you updated on my progress here at More Front Wing. Here’s a full rundown of my weekend in St. Petersburg.
Thursday was a day full of Road to Indy Summit events, which is always entertaining and quite informative. The day started with media training and a talk with Mike Hull from Target Chip Ganassi Racing before lunch. It was very interesting to hear what Mike had to say about how Ganassi picks their drivers and what makes the difference between good drivers and Ganassi drivers. Other events in the day were a performance thinking seminar, a business in motorsports talk, and the introduction of Road to Indy TV, which is an awesome program put together by Anderson Promotions and the Victory Group that will help all of us in the Mazda Road to Indy get more exposure for ourselves and the whole sport.
After all of the Summit events were done I met up with my driving coach, Stefan Wilson, and my engineer for a track walk. Nothing on the track had changed since last year except that I wasn’t as inexperienced and nervous going into the weekend. It really took me by surprise how quickly one year went by and how much progress I had made with my driving. Stefan and the Belardi crew have definitely been a big part of that process, allowing me to progress quickly and efficiently.
In the evening I was a part of the Festival of States Parade. I had never been in the parade before, so it was a fun new experience. The fans in St. Pete are spectacular — they definitely rival Toronto! The Central Florida Corvette Club brought their finest cars for some of the Mazda Road to Indy talent to cruise around in. After the parade was over, it was an early night as USF2000 was on track at 8 AM.
5:30 AM wake-up calls are never fun, but driving race cars is, so that makes up for it! I shook off my state of sleep, and then my parents and I drove to the track. After arriving, my engineer Tim and I had a quick talk about the plan for the session and then I got suited up and we rolled up to the false grid.
The track was extremely slippery in the morning session, which was expected, with lots of wheel spin and locking front tires. Coming from driving a Formula Atlantic car the previous weekend, adjusting my braking pressure took some time. At the beginning of the session I was one of the fastest cars, and as the session wore on my times stayed the same and everyone else got just a bit quicker. We ended the session in 9th, only two tenths off of 2nd place. And looking at the data, I could have done a lap much quicker but a slower car held me up. Anyway, it was just practice — it didn’t really count for anything.
After the session, Tim, Stefan and I had a debrief and we decided not to change the car because the track would change so much before our afternoon session with IndyCar having a session in between.
Next up for me was a Q&A session at the IndyCar Fan Village. These are always great fun and, like I said before, the fans in St. Pete are nothing short of spectacular and provide a great audience that likes to have fun and be interactive with the drivers. Peter Portante and Aaron Telitz joined me on stage, and we had some good banter going back and forth. It’s always fun hanging out with those two.
Practice 2 started at 3:00 and, just as expected, the track had changed dramatically. It had gained significant grip compared to the first session, and it was much easier to feel the car rather than having it go into a four-wheel drift on the exit of every corner like it had in the first session. I had plenty of clean track to run in, but our car did not have a perfect setup. It was very nervous on entry, which is something that can be very dangerous on a street course — a nervous car can shake confidence easily, and especially on a street course where one mistake can spell disaster.
By the end of the session we had done a reasonable time and were classified in 12th. I was somewhat disappointed with that, but I knew what we had to change on the car in order to have a good qualifying session on Saturday.
After getting back to the trailer, Tim, Stefan and I had a very short debrief as we had already decided what the plan for changes was on pit lane. I was feeling confident that I could put up at least a top-10 qualifying performance, which would give us a decent starting position for the races.
NEXT PAGE: An wet and wild but exciting Saturday in St. Petersburg