I am really unsure of what time zone I'm in at the moment. The last however-many days I've been traveling (about three weeks, I think?) have gone by really fast. It seems like yesterday I was preparing to go to Barber for my second Firestone Indy Lights race.
Barber was a bit of a messy weekend that didn't go so well. We were pretty quick in practice and in qualifying I just couldn't get the right space on track to get a lap. I won't spend much time on this subject of Barber just because there was nothing really special about the weekend. I was pretty pumped for the race, though, because I was going to be carrying the on-board camera for the Versus TV broadcast! Sure enough during the race there was action happening all around me. Some of my competitors were involved in a crash right next to me on the first lap into Turn 5 and I had to go way out into the grass to avoid them. In fact, during the first two laps of the race I may have spent more time out in the grass avoiding things than I did on the racetrack. Never a good thing.
As I tried to work my way up front there was another incident as I was battling for third, which resulted in me having to pit for a new nose and right-front tire. That basically ended my race. However, I went out of the pits behind first and second ( I was a lap down) and was able to catch them, run with them, back off and then catch them again so it definitely showed we had the pace once again to run at the front.
Literally once I jumped out of the car, I had to sprint to the airport. It wasn't like St. Pete where we had a few hours to get to the airport – this time we really had to hit the road. I shed all my sweaty driver gear so my mom could bring it home and wash it before Long Beach (my mom is an incredible woman!) and jumped into the rental car with Dad so I could get on a plane! This time I was headed to Barcelona, Spain.
The final three days of preseason testing for GP3 were taking place at the Circuit de Catalunya. I couldn't wait to get back to Europe, considering I had a bad weekend in Alabama. Luckily I slept a little on the flight over to Spain. Things continued to go badly for me, however, because my luggage never made it to Spain… Another travel nightmare was taking place! All I had left in the Carlin team's trailer was my helmet, shoes and gloves. So I was missing a few key items. These things happen, though, so we had to make the best of it! Luckily the team had a spare HANS device and we were able to borrow a suit from another team.
I got to the track and was pretty blown away by the size of the facility. It was so awesome, I had seen it on TV and in video games and I couldn't believe I was actually there! Unfortunately, the track didn't let us walk the circuit until 7 p.m. that Monday night and we were on track Tuesday morning. After walking the track, driving to the hotel, having dinner, it was almost 11 p.m.! I fell asleep really fast and couldn't wait to get going the next morning.
The first day of testing, I will tell you right now, did not go well… I was coming to grips with the track in the morning when the worst possible thing happened. I had a BIG crash.
I had only done about 15 laps on track when the crash happened. It was in the flat-out Turn 3. It's a very high-speed corner and as soon as I turned in, the car got very loose. I caught it but by the time I caught it and tried to get it out of the gravel I was very close to the wall. So I was slowly drifting toward the wall. I guess I was going pretty fast but things seemed to be happening in slow motion for me.
I almost had the car saved when I literally just clipped the wall with my left-rear tire and that immediately ripped the gearbox open and flung the left front of the car into the wall as well. I got out and could see the gears and the gearbox had ripped in half, which left the entire rear of the car at a 45-degree angle… I felt really bad for my Carlin guys because I knew it was going to be a long day of repairs.
I couldn't believe what I had done. It was not a very good feeling, especially after having such a bad weekend at Barber. That was the first time I had actually crashed by myself in several years. I was very disappointed in myself, but these things do happen in racing. I had to use the rest of the day to learn as much as possible from my teammates and try and help them by going out around the track to watch and maybe help them by watching what other drivers were doing. The Carlin guys did an amazing job getting the car fixed for me to go out in the afternoon session with about five minutes left just to make sure everything was running right so we'd be ready for the next morning.
It was unfortunate to be a day behind but I had to make the best of it. We tried to work very hard on me getting used to the track and figuring out the best way to bring in the Pirelli tires on this particular track. The tires seemed to come to temperature a lot differently at Barcelona than any other track we had tested on. After discovering another way to bring in the tires we were able to use them more efficiently. The temperatures were quite a bit warmer than any of the other previous tests so maybe that was a key contributing fact to the differences in the tire.
The final two days of testing were a real eye-opener for me because we didn't work on the setup of the car much. I had to personally change my driving style to suit the car better to find more speed. It was like nothing I'd ever done in my career so far. I had to go out and just change the way I drive. I was braking too hard initially and upsetting the car in the brake zone which translated to some instability turning into the corner. I really had to go out and work on my brake zones and almost drive the car easier to get more time out of it.
Immediately I was able to change what I was doing and it seemed to help a lot. For the final day, I just worked on fine-tuning what I had changed in my driving style and it seemed to continue to work better. By the end of the third day, we had made a lot of progress and I was really happy with the test. Next up for GP3 is our first race in Turkey – but I was already in race mode because I had to catch the earliest flight out of Barcelona to make it back to Long Beach!
Unfortunately, the earliest flight out of Barcelona was Friday morning and I had practice in Long Beach on Friday. I was really hoping I could make the first session. I wanted to get the pilots to step on the gas a little and just drop me out of the plane with a parachute over Long Beach so I could make the first session. It was sad they weren't up for that idea…
I flew from Barcelona to Paris and then Paris to LAX. Paris to LAX was the longest flight I had ever been on so that was – boring? All I did was watch on-board video from Long Beach the whole flight. I couldn't wait to get on that track. Sure enough I landed in L.A. as my session was going on, so I missed it. I was disappointed for sure but I heard my teammate Esteban Guerrieri took my car out during the session, because his broke down and he set the quickest time of the session with my car – so at least my car was ready to go!
There was no time to sit down when I got to the track. I had to make sure I was ready for practice session two the next morning. I was able to look over a lot of data and video from my teammates earlier that day and I felt ready to take to the track. I surprisingly slept pretty well that night! It was nice to get a good amount of sleep for a busy Saturday.
When I took to the track Saturday morning, I couldn't believe I was driving on the famous streets of Long Beach! I've been watching that race for years, dreaming of racing on it. We did a lot of laps in practice so I could get used to the track and it worked out well – I really enjoyed the track and seemed to come to grips with it pretty quickly.
It felt like I just got to the track when it was already time to qualify! Things were happening really fast. Luckily, qualifying was a bit longer than normal and we were planning on again doing a lot of laps. By mid-session I had set the fastest time in qualifying, so I was adjusting to the track pretty quickly. My engineer, Chris Finch, was helping me a lot with monitoring where I was losing the most time on track and which areas I needed to improve on the most. However, with about eight minutes to go, just like Barber, I got some pretty incredible blocks and never got a lap in during the closing minutes of the session. I was so unbelievably frustrated because I wanted the pole so badly even though I was behind on track time. I knew our car was quick enough to do it but, unfortunately, there were a lot of people on track who felt it was appropriate to stop in front of someone who was on a flying lap. Oh well, I was starting P4 for the race and I still couldn't wait.
I was getting a lot of questions throughout the weekend about jet lag, but to be honest I wasn't feeling it. There is so much adrenaline pumping throughout the day it keeps you going. But at night as soon as I got to my hotel room I was out. I felt well-rested for race day. The morning warm up was good because I got more and more laps on the track. We were able to make a few adjustments for the race and I thought we had a great car.
The start of the race was chaotic coming off of that tight hairpin. I was flat-out as soon as I could go but the leaders were gone way early. The start didn't look pretty but the race was green so it was time to get down to business. I felt like I was still learning the track every lap during the race and as I made improvements on my driving I was catching the cars in front of me.
Early in the race, Peter Dempsey who was leading, crashed into the Turn 9 barrier. It wasn't good to see my driver coach from last year in the wall but Long Beach was an incredibly tough track and it was easy to make a mistake. The restart was crazy because everyone tried to go to power early coming out of the hairpin and simultaneously everyone was completely sideways! It looked kind of funny from the driver's seat.
I had a fantastic restart and was able to get along side my teammate Esteban going into Turn 1 and take over second place. I was absolutely determined to catch Josef Newgarden, who was now leading. He is a big rival since we grew up racing together for many years. It was a very long race and every lap I kept making small adjustments and finding a bit more speed out of the track. My car was also handling great and I started catching Newgarden. I was very good out of the final hairpin, so I knew that's where I wanted to get a run on him going down the front straight.
I closed up on him just enough into the last hairpin in the closing stages of the race to rub his right-rear tire with my nose. I saw a little smoke come off his tire, which meant I was close! When we exited the corner I went to grab third gear and I went straight to fourth – I couldn't believe it, the one big chance I had was now gone and I was having gearbox issues. The next lap it did the same thing and I had to start worrying about Esteban, who was catching me fast. I realized I had to back off a lot to shift into third gear and be very careful on downshifts.
Once I adjusted to the problem I started to catch back up to Josef when the unthinkable happened. Going into Turn 8, I see Josef lock his brakes and start to go wide entering the corner. I knew it was hard to stop the car once you got wide of the apex, so I was hoping to time a run down the next straight – but I didn't have to. He caught the tire barrier as I was entering the corner.
I couldn't believe I was leading the race. I felt bad for my team considering we were in a position for a 1-2-3 finish but hey, I wasn't unhappy that I was in the lead. When my team told me the race was going to finish under yellow I couldn't believe i!! I was going to win the Long Beach Grand Prix! I thought I was going to rip out of my seat belts and go crazy. It was such an incredible feeling after such a rough week before.
I got a radio message after the checkered flag from my engineer saying that one of our other engineers, Kent, was doing a crazy interpretive dance on pit lane – which confirmed the fact that I had won, because Kent doesn't throw down a dance very often!
I really wish I could describe the feeling as I drove around to Victory Lane. It was an incredible day for Sam Schmidt Motorsports. I was so happy for my mechanics and Chris, because we've been working really hard so far this season and it was great to be rewarded with a win. Needless to say, after a full day of media activities I slept well Sunday night! The best part was the fact I didn't have to hop on a plane for another couple days.
I decided to take a few days off in Southern California before heading home. So now I have a few days off which is an insane thought. Next up for me is a flight back to England on April 28 to work with the Carlin guys before heading to Turkey for the first GP3 race of the season. I wont be racing Firestone Indy Lights again until Trois-Rivieres in August!
This was a long story but it was a crazy one so I hope you enjoy. Thanks for reading!