Long Beach is roughly 30 minutes from my parents’ house, so I was fortunate enough to cruise down the California coast a few days early and spend some time with my parents before the race weekend. I went surfing every day leading up to the race weekend and was feeling relaxed and ready for an awesome race. Luckily for me, we were finally racing in my time zone, so waking up at 6 AM was normal and didn’t feel like 3 AM!
On Wednesday, I spent some time visiting a handful of elementary schools in the Long Beach area, educating over 800 kids on the importance of road safety and promoting the Grand Prix. I really enjoyed answering the kids’ goofy questions and seeing the smiles on their faces when I handed them a signed hero card.
On Friday, I got to the track extra early to meet with my engineer and Bryan Herta to discuss how we were going to approach each session. We had a very good plan, and I was confident that we were going to be fighting for a top-five position.
Getting me laps around the track was the most important part of practice 1 since I had never driven the Long Beach circuit before. After 20 laps I felt very comfortable and we could begin to dial in our car for the weekend.
On Saturday morning we were greeted with very cool weather and thick moisture in the air. I knew that this would provide extra downforce and also more power to the motor. We lowered the aero on our car significantly and found that we were going much faster on the straight with zero time loss in the corners. Halfway through the session I pitted and told my engineer, “drop some more wing out of this girl, and lets see how quick she can actually go.” Sure enough, we went .75 of a second quicker and were now hitting 163 mph. We were confident that we would be in for a good fight for qualifying.
Qualifying rolled around a few hours later, but the fog had burned off and the track temp had increased. We put two sets of new tires on for qualifying but only went 0.2 seconds quicker than in second practice. Many of the other drivers actually went slower in qualifying compared to practice 2, so we knew we weren’t in too much trouble and were not too worried about our qualifying spot.
I got to the track extra early Sunday morning for our drivers meeting and to also have a final pre-race discussion with my engineer and team owner. We were contemplating making a big change but decided against it because we didn’t want to take the risk on our setup and throw away the race.
Sitting on the grid, I was calm and collected. I knew it was a long race and was prepared to fight until the end.
After the command to start our engines, I did a big burnout and began to warm up my tires for the start of our 45 lap race. I got to turn five, and that was when I got the radio call that no driver ever wants to hear: “Lloyd you’re on fire, pull over in a safety station.”
As I was heading down to the turn six safety station I got another call: “Hold on, return to pit lane, it looks to be something we might be able to fix.”
I returned to pit lane and the Bryan Herta Autosport guys quickly found the problem. The engine oil cap had come off, and oil was splashing out of the tank every time I went around a corner. The main problem was that a replacement cap was all the way back at the truck. My mechanic quickly ran back to the truck while the other mechanics controlled the fire and cleaned up the oil. Bryan Herta was in pit lane feeding me information and told me that we were going to make the best of this bad situation. He told me to go out and run as many laps as possible since seat time is the most important thing for me.
I was able to get out 11 laps down and run to the checkered. We learned a lot in that race that will prove valuable for Barber.
While the weekend wasn’t one that I want to remember, I did get to drive the legendary Long Beach circuit. I met a lot of amazing kids and made some great new friends. I’m excited to get to Barber and have two races to turn our luck around and finally be in the hunt for the top five that we have been aiming for!