I must say it's a lot easier to type this blog than it has been to type the last couple about my European racing adventures! The last two race weekends have really been a big improvement. I haven't made it easy for myself though!
Valencia was the third race weekend of the season. Luckily we had four days of testing in between Barcelona and the Valencia race. We made a lot of progress at the first test in Budapest and continued to improve the car at the Valencia Ricardo Tormo test. Every session on track I learn so much that it's pretty incredible to now look back on the first two race weekends that went so badly and think, "What was I doing?" As my dad says, it's all part of the learning process.
I was really looking forward to getting to Valencia, mainly because it's a street circuit and those have gone well for me this year. It isn't a full-on street circuit though; the walls are nowhere near as close as Long Beach or St. Petersburg! It was a fun track, though, because you could really use the curbs aggressively. There wasn't really one corner that stuck out to me as pretty impressive but the full track in general was fun to drive.
The first practice went really well and we were right on pace. I was finding more speed every lap and was enjoying the circuit. The second practice didn't go quite as well because it seemed like everyone else picked up a lot of speed but we didn't. Most people set their times early in the session but I set mine toward the end because I was finding more time in the track but lost the new tire grip. I wasn't too worried about it because I knew we could improve the car a little and be ready for qualifying.
However, qualifying did not go well, either…. I felt like I got the best out of the car but I didn't follow the proper tire warm-up procedure that the team told me I should follow. Qualifying is all about how you warm up the tires and I did not do it the right way, which meant I wasn't able to get the ultimate lap time out of the tires putting me P25 to start Race 1. It was my mistake, really, because the team was right about how I should bring in the tires and I thought differently on track because of the way I saw people who went out of the pits in front of me bring in their tires. I followed what they did because I wanted to try and get a tow on the long straights. Turns out the people I followed were also slow and on the back of the grid with me. A costly mistake for sure but a lesson learned.
I had to focus on getting a good start and having a good race so I could get a good grid position for Race 2. The worst possible thing happened, I stalled when the lights went out. I got the car started again pretty quickly but I was dead last. However, when I got to the first corner there was mayhem occurring. I don't know how many cars I passed but there were several cars all over the track and luckily I made it through without any damage. I knew I had made up most of the positions I lost after stalling and then some so I was quite happy. The car felt really quick after the first few laps and I started to catch the people in front of me and make passes.
I was sitting P13 in the closing stages of the race and the cars in P12 and 11 were right in front of me. I was a lot quicker than them but it was tougher to pass on this track than I thought it would be. I got by one of them finally, but flat-spotted my left-front tire badly in the process. After one fairly substantial lock-up the tires flat-spot really badly; so it's imperative to get the brake bias right during the race so you can keep the front tires for the end of the race.
Even with the left front flat-spotted I was able to close up quickly on the next car in front of me. I got a really good run on him when he decided to brake check me before I pulled out to pass. I ran straight into the back of this head case damaging my nose box and allowing the car I just passed back around me as I saved the car. That was quite annoying, but I kept pushing and the wing wasn't as badly damaged as I thought. Next thing I knew it was the final lap and I was close enough to at least gain back the position I lost in the brake-checking skirmish. I went for it in the brake zone of the final corner and got the position back, which meant I finished P12 at the line.
It was unfortunate because I knew I had the pace to finish in the top 10 had I not been brake checked hardcore by my competitor. At least I was in a pretty good position for the second race.
I couldn't wait for the second race considering the first race went pretty well and the car was really quick! This time I got off the line and had a decent start. Again the car felt good and I started to make up positions. I started to catch the Race 1 winner, which was pretty encouraging. I was a lot quicker than he was but it took me a couple laps to get by him, but I eventually did. I think I was up to eighth and I was catching the Race 1 polesitter, Lewis Williamson. I got a good run on him down the long straight heading to Turn 11 and as I pulled out to pass he tried to defend the inside line as I went to the outside and he moved back pretty suddenly and I clipped his left-rear tire. It didn't matter to me though because I was committed to overtaking him and I braked very late on the outside and completed the pass for seventh.
I didn't know how badly the front wing was damaged but, too be honest, I didn't care at that point because I was so close to scoring points I was going to push as hard as I could to pass Gabby Chaves in front of me for sixth. Luckily, again, the wing wasn't too badly damaged. I caught Chaves in front of me very quickly on the final lap. I knew I could brake later than anyone in the final corner, so that's where I planned on making the move. We got to the final corner and I was committed to the inside line – but so was he. He blocked the inside line but I had already over committed to it. So to avoid running into the back of him, I jumped the inside curb. We both over shot the corner and he had to use the extra track outside the curb and I lost too much speed in the pass attempt to defend from Williamson behind me. Chaves held onto sixth and Williamson got back by me for seventh. I had to go for it though, because it was either points or no points.
However, after I took the checkered flag the team informed me that another car in front of all of us got a drive-through penalty and I was in fact already in the points on the last lap. I was frustrated, because if I knew I was already in the points, I would have approached the last corner slightly less desperately. But it was a very difficult situation because the team only became aware of the driver getting the drive-through as we approached the final few corners on the last lap. That's racing as they say.
I was still happy because I knew I had the pace to run at the front and it was the best GP3 finish of my career. As soon as I got out of the car I couldn't wait to get back in at Silverstone. I also got out of my car to see another damaged front wing! The first race my nose box was ripped straight down the middle but the wing flaps were fine. The second race the main plane was cracked and the little winglet on the right edge of the wing was gone. Usually front wing damage would be my fault; however, both times were not my fault at all…hah! Something very American to say would be, "Rubbin' is racin'"! I'm very happy that Dallara makes some good, tough front wings!
The post-race Valencia report was encouraging because our race pace was extremely good. However, we had to focus on getting qualifying right because if I would have qualified well in Valencia, I probably could have been on the podium. It was then time to focus on getting ready for the British Grand Prix, Carlin's home race!
I was looking forward to Silverstone because I knew it could be wet! I also knew the track because we had a preseason test there. The first practice was a bit crazy because it was half wet and half dry. I only got a couple laps on slicks and didn't get a great lap, so we weren't too worried about it. Little did I know those were the only three laps I'd get in the dry before the second race!
We decided to run a few laps on a new set of wets in practice 1 and since it dried out pretty quickly during the session, the wets got pretty worn. Session 2 was full wet and we decided to stay on the worn wets for the duration of the session so we could save our only other new set of wets for qualifying the next day if it rained. We ended up P11 when most cars in front of us ran brand-new wets so I was really happy with how the session went.
Qualifying was up next early Saturday morning. The track was still damp but it was mostly dry so we decided to head out on slicks. Unfortunately, on my second flying lap I hit some water on the entry to Turn 1, which sent me a bit over the curb on the exit. This ended our qualifying session; running over the curb ripped the floor off my car and I couldn't be competitive from then on and we didn't have the parts to repair it in the pits. So I would be starting a very strong 30th... That is literally the worst qualifying position I have ever achieved! Oh, well, I knew I could race well after Valencia so I was prepared to push to the front.
The race in the afternoon was going to be interesting. The conditions were very sketchy. It was dry, but the clouds looked like rain. It would just sprinkle a little bit but then the sun would come out. Typical British weather. Some people rolled to the grid on slicks and some on wets. I rolled out on wets but then we decided to swap to dry tires on the track before the teams had to clear the grid. As we switched to dries the sun was coming out and I was pretty happy. Then as the car was put on the ground and the team had to run back to the pits the rain started falling...I couldn't believe it! From me rolling to the grid on wets hoping it would rain then the sun comes out, we switch to drys then it rains again all in 10 minutes... As we rolled around on the formation lap it started raining harder. I knew I had to pit and swap tires but fortunately all the cars in front of me had to do the same as well. Since I started last I was the last car in the pits and the last one to leave.
When I left the pits I was in absolute attack mode. I wanted so badly to make up positions and take advantage of the wet conditions. There were no cars around me at all so I knew I had a lot of time to make up – and when I say a lot of time, the next car in front of me was 20 seconds ahead. I began to set purple sectors and fastest laps of the race every lap. I was absolutely loving the wet conditions and I was pushing incredibly hard. I started catching cars and overtaking them incredibly quickly. At one point, I was a second quicker than anyone on track. I was soon closing in on the top 10.
With a couple laps left I passed for 16th around the outside of Copse Corner (the old Turn 1) and I could see the next group of cars in front of me were all packed up, 15th place to about ninth. I caught the back of that pack with one lap to go. I tried to pass the first car and he blocked everywhere I tried to go. I then went for it around the outside of Turn 1 and he decided it was a good idea to run me straight off the track. I was still alongside him when he kept coming over on me until I was in the grass, which ripped another floor off... So, unfortunately, I had to be content with 15th place at the end of the race. I think if I would have had another two laps I could have been in the top 10.
Things improved after the race because the dude who decided it was a good idea to run people off the road got kicked out of the race weekend for dangerous driving. I have to thank the stewards for good rule enforcement! Another driver was penalized after the race as well so I ended up coming from P30 to P13. Again, when we look back on it, if I would have qualified even in the top 20 I could have been on the podium for sure. “Coulda…woulda…shoulda…." It was time to move on to Race 2 and it was going to be another opportunity to have a strong race.
Race 2 was bright and early Sunday morning and it was finally dry. I started 12th in Valencia and finished seventh, so from 13th I knew I could get in the points if I had a good start. I had a pretty good start but the car in front of me stalled so I had to avoid him immediately and I lost some momentum. I still came around after the first lap in 10th, I think. I made a couple good moves on the opening lap and I started closing in on the next few cars in front of me. The car had quite a bit of oversteer, so I really had to start managing the rear tire wear.
I moved up to seventh after a few laps and I knew I was so close to points yet again, but I had a massive gap to make up to get to sixth. I was struggling with the rear of the car and it was difficult to close the gap. Fortunately, the guys in front of me were also struggling with tire wear and they were struggling a lot more than me! I was closing in on them and the final lap. When we came around to start the last lap, I was getting very close. I could tell the two guys in front of me were really struggling but I just didn't have enough rear grip to really try and make a pass.
Unfortunately, I had to settle for seventh yet again. But looking at the positive side I've now finished in the top 10 twice and have been under 1.5sec away from points in both Race 2s combined! I think we are definitely getting there. Much closer than the first two race weekends, that's for sure.
I am really looking forward to the German Grand Prix. We are going to do everything to get qualifying right and start toward the front where we've been finishing the races at least! The Carlin guys are working really hard and have been really encouraging, which makes me want to work even harder to improve. Let's hope next time I report to everyone I'll have some points on the board!
Thanks for checking in!