The best way to describe my Road America Weekend is that it was a roller coaster of emotions. I love Road America. The 4-mile stretch of fast corners and elevation changes through the Elkhart Lake area is one of my favorite tracks. I always look forward to racing there. The long straightaways provide great racing, and the environment of passionate fans makes the atmosphere one-of-a-kind.
I had a fast race car from the very start. I was able to put the car P4 for the first practice- my best practice finish so far of the season. The great news is that the car continued to be quick all weekend, but the bad news is that little issues kept getting in our way.
In the second practice, I was P2 about halfway through our qualifying simulation when I was hit with a mechanical issue outside of the team’s control and missed the opportunity to go faster on new tires. My third practice started by getting spun in the pit lane. About a hundred feet after I launched from my pit box, I was hit by the car behind me and turned into the pit wall. It was an unfortunate and unnecessary incident that took about half of the second practice away from us as we had to repair the damage to the nose and tail. But, we still felt strong going into qualifying.
In testing, we found that you would lose about half a second of lap time per session on a set of tires. So, since Road America is known for its great racing and passing opportunities, I decided to save a set of new tires for the race and start a little further back. I would be able to take advantage of the faster pace and makeup spots, especially if the race stayed green. During a race weekend, we are allowed three sets of tires over two qualifying sessions and two races. Generally, you will use two sets in one qualifying session and start the second qualifying session on used tires then switch to new at about the halfway point. This helps you lay rubber down and get familiar with track conditions before you try to hit the lap on your second set. I tried to do the time on one set in Q1. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do as fast of a lap time as I could with better tires, but I’d have a new set for the race. So ultimately I qualified 11th.
I started P11 in Race 1 on my new set of Cooper Tires. I knew I had a faster car, so I worked to pick off as many cars one by one. I could tell my pace was much better than the cars in front of me, so I was able to move forward quickly and believe that I had a shot at the podium.
Unfortunately, two yellow flag incidents reduced the number of green laps so I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to pick them off. By the time the checkered dropped, I was battling for 4th place- but ultimately crossed the line in 5th- I only needed another few feet to complete the pass. Had the track stayed green longer, I really think I might have had my first podium finish. But it was still the best unofficial finish I’ve had so far in my USF2000 career. I say “unofficial” because I was hit with a 30 second penalty a couple of hours after the race. It was determined by race control I was guilty of avoidable contact in a turn 5 three-wide incident midway thru the race. I was on the inside and held my line tight to the inside curb and the car in the middle turned in tighter than I expected and we made contact and he then moved right and made contact with the outside car. Ultimately, I wasn’t far enough along and should have tried to back out earlier. I saw an opening and felt I was quick enough to win if I could stay in touch with the leaders. What makes it sting even more was the car I made contact with was already under review for avoidable contact earlier in the race and would also later be hit with a 30 second penalty. If only he had already served it, he wouldn’t have been there! But, it’s impossible for race control to make immediate decisions with limited video. At the time, I didn’t expect a penalty because of the amount of contact in the race. But, I understand we need to avoid contact as much as possible and I need to be proactive. So, it stinks to not collect the points especially after having an earlier race at Barber ruined for a drive thru by simply pulling out of line at the start to avoid a crash. But, the important thing is I found the pace I needed to compete for a podium or better.
So on to race 2. I struggled to find clean track during qualifying for race 2. Whenever I would slow to find clean track, I would be met with another driver slowing up in front of me. The draft is massive at Road America, and even though we were hoping for just a clean lap to start beyond mid pack, the draft is needed to win pole and other cars worked to get in the middle of the pack. Our telemetry showed I had a lap good enough for somewhere between 5th and 7th, but a different time line is used in qualifying and I never got a full clean official lap after the tires were up to temp and qualified 14th.
In the race, I had a bad start. My line was on and off the power, so my entire row lost 3 or 4 spots. The race was then filled with cautions and a red flag for rain. But by the last lap I found myself in the top 10 still fighting to make up spots. But a mistake in the last passing corner cost me several spots and I ended where I started in P14.
Even though the weekend was a rollercoaster of emotions, it was actually one of my best race weekends so far. I had a fast car and my confidence is quickly building. We are at the mid-way point of the season, and I am really looking forward to showing more of what I can do at Mid-Ohio in a few weeks (July 1st and 2nd). I’ve won there in the past (in both the Lucas Oil Formula Car Series and in F1600) and know the track well. I have no doubt that my Cape Motorsports crew will give me a fast car, so I will be working hard to put it all together for a great result. Let’s go!!
Since we’ve returned home, I also had the chance on Thursday this week to join the IU Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center in their 30th anniversary celebration on the IUPUI campus, where I go to school. It was an honor to have my car as a center piece for photo ops and as part of the party. Thank you to Dominic and Isaac with Cape Motorsports for bringing the car out! It is really cool to use my small platform to try to help raise money for research and provide something fun for those involved in the fight to treat and cure cancer.
Finally, we are still looking for a few partners to help us round out the rest of the season. If you know of a company or individual who’d like to jump on for a weekend or two, please reach out. Partnering with our team is more than a simple sticker on the car. If you’d like to hear more, just hit reply to this email and we’ll chat!