|The season has come to an end and that means I’m no longer a Road to Indy rookie! I am super grateful for the incredible opportunity to race in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship with Jay Howard Driver Development. The experience has made me a much better driver, and I have gotten the chance to race in some really cool events alongside INDYCAR.
We wrapped the season up at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course last weekend where I got the chance to test my skills in the rain for the first time in the USF2000 cars.
On day one, we struggled with pace all day. It was very frustrating because we weren’t able to find where I was losing significant time. I had pushed the car to what felt like the limit, but the time just wasn’t there. It was pretty confusing after we had been among the fastest cars at the same track in July. Mid-Ohio is all about qualifying because it’s very difficult to pass. I had to check up to miss an incident at the start of the race and later had to give two spots back and a lot of time after race control said I jumped the restart. I went at the call of the green and the two in front didn’t, but they can’t see everything, especially near the back. Ultimately, we didn’t have the pace anyway so we started 18th and finished 18th.
Day two gave us some tricky weather conditions to battle. Steady rain in morning qualifying made the session very tough. My approach was to go out on the first lap and just try different lines and find where the grip is and gradually build from there. But, on the second lap of qualifying I had to slow way down and go off track to avoid a spinning car. At this point I hadn’t yet done a lap in anger but was expecting to get the full 20 minutes of qualifying time. But, the session was cut short to just the first four minutes after multiple cars off track had taken too long to clean up.
They abandoned the qualifying times and set the race order based off second fastest lap from the previous dry qualifying. So, I started in 17th in the race (still very wet) and had moved up a few spots at the start. I was thrown another obstacle when another car broke too deep into the brake zone in turn 2 (the keyhole) and knocked me off track taking himself with me. I was able to keep the car running and avoid getting stuck in the gravel trap, but I had to rejoin at the tail end of the field. I had to start over in my charge to the front. So, I put my head down and did my best to not make mistakes. By the end of the race, I worked my way up to P11. Under the final caution, I was passed (right at the scene of the crash) many seconds after the caution came out. I should have been given the spot back, but race control hasn’t taken action yet (we sent them the video and they have the onboards). We are still waiting to hear from race control if the call will be made. I understand they are probably not too concerned about the difference between 11th and 12th, especially when there was chaos everywhere on track. But in our book, we are counting it as P11 . I was really hoping for more green time in the rain because I think my experience in the wet in the UK with Team USA was helping and I could have worked my way up near the top five. But, there were only about three green flag laps.
We brought on some extra coaching help this weekend so I could have someone only focusing on me and to also help Jay spend a little more time with Christian Rasmussen as he tried to wrap up the Indy Pro 2000 championship. Congrats Christian!
So, Spencer Pigot was with me all weekend. Spencer was a great help and what I learned from him and Jonatan Jorge leading up to the weekend will apply in the future as well. Jay had recommended Spencer and I was excited because of our common background. We’re both Team USA Scholarship winners who greatly benefitted from Jeremy Shaw’s program (and Spencer is one of the models for what is possible) and we have both been fortunate to be supported by Doug Mockett & Company and also Art Wilmes and Rising Star Racing. I hope to be able to work with Spencer again.
I also want to thank Jay Howard, my engineer Derich Cutshaw, chief mechanic Joe Hidalgo, my teammates and the rest of the JHDD team. They’ve been fantastic teachers and great to work with all season. It’s been a great experience!
While I had hoped to be a little closer to the front by the end of the season, my first season still went mostly to plan. This season was about learning cars with downforce, the Cooper Tires and the tracks and setting myself up to win in year two. USF2000 is almost always a multi-year program and all of the championship contenders were in their 2nd or 3rd season. We were making good progress on getting closer to the leaders on pace until the last weekend and I was usually in front of my teammates.
Now with the 2021 season behind us, we are not taking any breaks and have immediately gotten to work on the 2022 program. We plan to begin testing at the end of the month, so I can’t wait to get started. More information to come soon!
As always, thank you to every one of you for your support. On to next season!
Stay Fast! Jackson