The summer break for GP3 is just now coming to a close but, as usual, I've been a bit busy over the last few weeks! Things continue to improve over here in Europe which has been really encouraging. I've got some points on the board now and here is how it happened...
I was really looking forward to getting to the Nurburgring – but really, what driver doesn't look forward to going there? My teammates and I drove to Germany from England which was a pretty cool experience for me. We got to the track Wednesday afternoon and after dropping some stuff off in the paddock there was one thing I had to do as a driver at the Nurburgring...do a lap of the Nordschleife. I took my teammates Callum and Leo with me and we luckily got on the big track right before it closed!
I was driving my Mazda 3 Sport and I was ready to let it rip. I had always dreamed of driving around the big track. It was incredible! Everything about it was so unique and very dangerous – which made it even more fun to drive, of course. Unfortunately, I didn't have a stopwatch or anything so I'm not sure how fast I actually went around, but I know there were plenty of people going faster than me!
The Nurburgring F1 circuit was fantastic as well. I really enjoyed getting used to the track. Most of the corners have a lot of camber and the track flows together like no other track I've driven on. Practice went pretty well for us because we were able to identify some things we needed to change before qualifying. I wanted more of an oversteer balance on brand-new tires in qualifying trim. We definitely got closer to how I'd like the car in qualifying because we had our best qualifying result of the season with 16th.
I know 16th still does not sound very illustrious but, heck, it's a lot better than starting 25th-30th! We knew we had a strong racecar because we've had such great races over the last few race weekends. We knew that our biggest area to improve on was qualifying and we certainly improved but there is still more time to come.
I knew the first sector had a lot of good opportunities to make up some places on the first lap, which is exactly what I did. I got a pretty good start and went to where I like to pass people the most; the outside. I picked up a couple places in Turn 1 and then somehow got from the outside of Turn 1 to the outside of Turn 2 and started to go around another couple cars when I got hit in the left-rear tire. That sent me a bit wider than I would have liked and quite sideways, but I got it all under control and kept the wheels lit heading down to Turn 3.
I again went deep into the brake zone on the outside and kept making positions. It sounds like I've passed the whole field twice now that at each corner I say, "I passed another couple people" – but in all seriousness I went from 16th to around ninth on lap one! It was a good first lap and I started pursuing the rest of the cars in front of me.
I got up to eighth and if I were to finish there I'd be on the pole for race two the next day. I was pretty happy with that but I obviously wanted more!
Things started to get interesting though with around six laps left. It started raining and the track was getting wet pretty quickly. The guys who were running in the top 5 continued on slicks which is what we decided to do as well. It was so sketchy on track though, very difficult to tell how much grip the track still had. I was up to sixth in the closing laps and was just trying to hold onto that from then on. The rain came down harder each lap. By the last lap, I was just desperately trying to keep the car on the track! I was actually using the brakes on the straights to keep the tires as hot as possible heading to the next corner. I needed to keep as much heat in the tires as possible. I was able to do that and finish sixth, my first points of the season and my best finish so far this year! I was very pleased with the race and was really looking forward to race two.
Race two was another tricky situation with the weather. It was very cold and rainy but I was ready to go because, so far during the season, we had been strong in the wet. As we sat on the grid it almost looked like it was going to dry out so we decided to lower the tire pressures a little bit to handle the track possibly drying. Unfortunately, it was so cold that I just couldn't get heat into the tires no matter what I did and, as soon as the race started, the car was pretty scary to drive. I had been so confident in the wet all year but this time was different because I was stuck having to save my life the whole race.
All I could do was hold onto eighth place. It was no fault of the team; it was just a situation where we made the wrong call. We win and lose as a team! Overall, I was still happy with the weekend because we had two strong top 10 finishes and came away with some points on the board.
Next up was the Hungarian GP and I was particularly looking forward to this race because we had such a strong test there earlier in the season. The weather was again a bit obscure with the first session starting damp and ending damp with a hint of dry. We were able to use some of the information that we learned in Germany to help us quite a bit in Hungary. We felt quite confident heading into qualifying after improving the car a lot at the end of the second practice session.
The rear of the car was rotating very well which is what I needed on new tires. Unfortunately, we did not end up where we should have been in qualifying. On my final run in qualifying on my best lap I tried to downshift just a little bit earlier into the high-speed Turn 4 but I was carrying more speed than I ever had into that corner and the car just didn't downshift. The ECU doesn't allow the car to downshift if it can't match the revs well enough to keep the rear tires from locking. With that happening on my quickest lap, we ended up 13th.
I was so gutted after the session because it was the first time all season I felt really competitive in qualifying and after looking at the data, we found that the downshift cost us two tenths of a second. At the very worst, we would have ended up seventh or eighth had I not had the shift problem. Looking at the positive side though we were now in a position to be competitive during the race and our qualifying pace was improving at each race.