After our previous BBQ at the Long Beach Grand Prix, just finishing the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Barber was going to be an accomplishment in itself. Fortunately, I got three practice sessions this weekend before going into qualifying!
An hour and forty-five minutes of practice was going to be great. Even though I had been to Barber Motorsports Park before, this time it was warmer than 35 degrees. The track temp reached up to 124 degrees, and the tires did not like it.
In the cooler practice sessions, I was quite happy with the package we had and felt that I could take the fight to the Team Moore Racing cars and potentially the Sam Schmidt Motorsports cars.
When the track temp had risen for the afternoon session, I struggled. The surface became very greasy and made it tough to feel what the car was doing. Every lap I was making mistakes and was very inconsistent. I kept plugging away, though, and eventually drove the car to the limit it had and was able to string a lap together to start P11 in the first race of the weekend.
Race 1 rolled around and it was hot — around 85 degrees air temp and 125 degrees track temp. This was a sprint race for 30 laps, so I went as fast as I could for the entire race. I ended up finishing 11th but was as high as 9th at one point. After getting the first race out of the way, I had an idea of what I needed in the car to survive and fight in race 2.
The unfortunate part about our series is that we don’t get a morning warm-up, so I was going into Sunday’s race blind and thinking ‘Well, its 40 laps and I’m just going to do my best and the cards will fall where they fall.’
I was starting P11 again, but on the formation laps I could see the dark grey skies forming. ‘Woohoo,’ I was thinking to myself. Let the rain come and I can drive circles around these guys. As the saying goes, “rain is the great equalizer,” and I was praying for the rain so I could show my skills.
The race started, and I got a bad jump and went into turn 1 dead last. I knew my car had more grip, though, because I saved a set of sticker tires for this race. I used those tires and took the wide line through turn 2. I jumped on the throttle early and held it as we went down through turn 3. Scott Anderson was now on my right, and from our race yesterday I knew he was good on brakes into turn 5. I was on the inside, though, and I knew I had to go as deep as possible without taking us both out.
He broke a few feet deeper since he was on the rubber side of the track, and we went side by side into turn 5. I was then thinking, ‘Okay, I need to get out of here well because the next corner is a right-handed turn and he would have the inside.’
I began to inch him closer and closer to the edge of the track before he eventually had a loose moment and slotted in behind me.
Next, I was chasing down the Team Moore Racing cars. I was running right on the gearboxes of Zack Meyer and Vittorio Ghirelli but I could not get around them, so I held my position and was waiting for a mistake.
After about five laps, I began to lose my front tire grip. Having learned the day before what happens when you don’t take care of your tires, I quickly softened my front anti-roll bar and rebalanced my car. This, however, took some grip away from my rear, and I began to struggle with power down. I suppose everything can’t be perfect!
I started to fall back from the Team Moore Racing cars but still had Scott all over me. I was really looking at those clouds now thinking, ‘Any day now!’
Thirty-five laps in, my prayers were answered. Down came the rain and washed all the grip away. I pulled my tear-off and switched to rain racing mode, carefully tippy-toeing around the track but still sliding the rear around like a drift car.
After two laps I had the second-fastest lap in the rain and was gaining back time on the Team Moore cars. I was able to then pass Vittorio coming out of the fast chicane and could see Zack just ahead.
Next thing I knew: full course yellow.
“What?!” I screamed out loud!
We had three more laps in the race, and it was going to be my best finish all season. But the series officials don’t like rain, so they ordered us to stop a few laps short. I crossed the line P9, which made for my first top 10 of the season.
Now that we have completed the amount of miles that we were supposed to do in winter testing, we have a good understanding of what the tires want. It’s very good that we get plenty of track time at Indianapolis in two weeks because it is going to be a brand new track for everyone.
I’m looking forward to the new circuit and also moving up closer to that top five position.