Burkett: This time, even contact couldn’t keep us from strong results

Daniel Burkett, Mazda Road to Indy, USF2000, USF2000 bloggers — By on May 7, 2014 9:23 am

Before Race 1, I discussed a start strategy with my driver coach Stefan Wilson and teammate Nico Jamin. We were starting P7 and P8, so we knew that we had to move up the grid to bank some solid points. It would just be a matter of whether we could pull it off right at the start and potentially have a shot at the podium.

When the green flag waved my outside row got a really bad jump on the start and I immediately had to defend from the attacking cars behind me. On the front straight heading into the sweeping left hand Turn 1 at Barber I had actually dropped back to 9th. Going into Turn 1 I carried a lot of speed on entry and overtook one car around the outside and then cut back across the track for a late apex and swooped around another car to snag 7th place.

Entering the long sweeping right hand Turn 2 I had so much momentum from my late apex in T1 that I was able to roll up along the outside of Nico. On the exit of T2, we were wheel to wheel going up the hill and into the left hand hairpin. I had the inside line going into the hairpin, so I knew I could grab 6th place from Nico but Colton Herta and Aaron Telitz were battling for 4th just in front of me and Herta had left a gap down the inside. I had a slight run, but it didn’t matter — I saw a gap to move up a few more positions and I took it.

We were three wide heading down into the late braking zone, and I put my car on the inside line and then muscled it to the apex. Coming out of the hairpin I was in 4th place and my sights were set on my first career USF2000 podium.

A full course caution soon ensued, which bunched up the field and gave me an opportunity to make my move to the podium. But on the restart I timed my acceleration wrong and ended up not being able to capitalize on the opportunity.

However, the car behind me, Aaron Telitz, was right on my gearbox and making challenges for an overtake. We battled for 4th place for about a lap and a half before I was finally able to pull away and start chasing down 3rd place. At that point, though, 3rd was too far ahead and I didn’t have enough laps left.

I brought the car home in 4th and had the second-fastest lap during the race. That meant that I was going to get my first front row start in the USF2000 series in Race 2. I was ecstatic about my 4th place finish, but I was even more excited to get Race 2 started and challenge for the win. I was feeling more than ready and very determined.

The start of Race 2 went well, and I maintained my 2nd place starting position for the opening laps. RC Enerson was pulling away from me but the fight for 3rd place was also happening behind me, so I had a nice cushion in 2nd place with not much going around me. Then a full course yellow came out, which gave me a great opportunity to better my position.

I had a much better jump this time around, but RC defended very well and I was unable to make a move. About a car length of gap was put between us about a lap later and my chase for the lead ensued.

During the caution, Aaron Telitz was able to close the gap and was pressuring me for 2nd place. I was extremely determined not to give up my position as I was running slightly quicker laps than the leader and there was a possibility that in the dying laps of the race I would have an opportunity to win.

Aaron was attacking hard, as I would have done if I had an opportunity to advance up the grid. But I was also defending hard, seeing an opportunity to attack P1 and potentially win the race.

With three laps to go, Aaron had a run on me heading to the hairpin. I saw that he had a run but assumed that he was not close enough to make a move down the inside.

The next thing I knew, my car was being bounced to the very outside of the track and slowing down incredibly quickly. I was initially under the impression that my race was over and my good points weekend just went down the drain.

My car was damaged, but not enough to retire. I had been knocked back to 4th as Victor Franzoni had taken advantage of the contact between me and Aaron and moved up a place. I tried to make a challenge for 3rd, but I no longer had the car to do so and I was struggling to keep up with the pace of the leaders. By the end of the final two laps, I limped the car to a 4th place finish with 5th place right on my gearbox.

I was disappointed to miss out on my first USF2000 podium. However disappointed I might feel, though, 4th is never a bad thing.

I’m now focusing forward onto the GP of Indy and looking to make my first podium appearance there.

Until next time!

– DB

Daniel Burkett races in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship for Belardi Auto Racing. Follow him on Twitter at @dannyburks and on Facebook.

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