As I mentioned in my pre-event blog, this event has become one of my favorites on the calendar because the fans are so spectacular. They certainly lived up to their reputation this year, starting on Friday when admission was free for everyone.
Friday was a long and busy day for USF2000 drivers. We started early in the morning with an 8:30 AM practice session, which went well for me. It took some time to get re-acclimated to a USF2000 car from all of the Atlantic driving I’ve been doing! Still, we ended the first session with a decent time and good direction to go in with car setup.
The second practice session started at noon. In between sessions, fans started flowing in and the autograph and picture requests started to come. I’m not going to lie — I really do enjoy the love from Toronto fans! I had one boy come up to me to say that he met me last year and was determined to make it a tradition of seeing his favorite driver. That was a really cool moment for me and certainly something I’ll remember for a very long time.
Practice two was much of the same for me except that I wasn’t as happy with the car and our speed on track was sub-par to say the least. My engineer Dave and coach Stefan and I worked for about two hours after the session examining video and data to make the necessary changes for qualifying that evening.
Lining up for qualifying was another very cool moment for me. As we pushed the car towards the grid fans were everywhere, so much so that we had to be extra careful when pushing the car so as not to run over anyone’s toes! I posed for a photo with a young fan once I finally made it to the pre-grid, and from then on it was a mad rush of fans waiting in line to take pictures with me. I’ve heard some drivers complain about taking pictures and signing autographs, but personally I love it. Making a young fan’s day is well worth the small amount of effort needed to quickly pose in front of my car.
We had decided on an alternate strategy for qualifying, starting on used tires and then switching to new after I was confident in the setup we had on the car. For the first half of qualifying our pace was quite slow compared to the top times, but this had more to do with starting on used tires. When the new slicks went on, I found 1.2 seconds on my best time, which was good enough to put me in 9th place. I was relatively pleased with my performance considering the strides we made with car setup, and I was feeling good going into our Saturday evening race.
What I didn’t know on Friday is that our Saturday evening race would actually turn into a Sunday morning race. I arrived at the Direct Energy Centre at around noon on Saturday, looked at some of my qualifying data, then walked around the paddock a bit and found myself a nice place to watch the IndyCar race. That didn’t last very long as it was quickly red flagged and I returned to the nice dry Belardi trailer where I awaited information about our race.
I was hearing all kinds of rumors about when our race would take place and whether it would be before IndyCar or after. I really wasn’t going to take any chances, so I hung around my car as I figured that would be the least risky in case of a quick 10-minute call to the grid. Soon enough we got the news that everything had been cancelled and that our first race was going to be at 7:45 the next morning followed by a 12:20 race later that day. I was slightly surprised at the news because I didn’t think it was all that wet on the track, but nonetheless it was what we had to deal with.
The following morning was an early one and most definitely wet. As I arrived I took a walk down to the track entrance and I could tell that it was definitely going to be a damp start to our race. Stefan, Dave and I talked about changes that needed to be made to the car for the wet conditions.
Rolling up to the grid, I was feeling a bit nervous about the start not knowing what other drivers were going planning to do in the slippery conditions. Taking into account that we only had four hours in between Race 1 and Race 2, crashing hard in was not an option.
NEXT PAGE: Two races in one day for Daniel Burkett and the rest of the USF2000 field in Toronto
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