After an incredibly long and difficult off-season, the 2011 race season has finally begun. For me, like many other drivers, the off-season was all about business. The "business" of motorsports.
I was working with my dad in his office every day trying to sort out my plans for the 2011 season. Working with my dad is NOT easy at times but he really has a passion for helping me succeed and I wouldn't be where I am today without him! We found ourselves in many different meetings across the country all throughout the off-season. We even had a meeting in Texas on my birthday in December! I didn't mind, though, because we got to meet some great people and enjoy some warm weather before heading back to snowy Indianapolis to keep working on getting me back in a racecar as soon as possible.
It was a great pleasure working with everyone at Mazda over the off-season to make sure I was positioned in the right championship this year. They really care about their drivers and I'm proud to represent Mazda everywhere I go this year.
After several months of meetings and negotiations, it was finally time to announce my 2011 racing program. I couldn't really believe what I would be doing this year. It's really a dream come true! Ever since I started racing I've wanted to compete in Europe against the best of the best, and in the 2011 GP3 Championship, that is exactly what I will be doing. BUT, that's only the first part of the dream! I've never missed an Indy 500 since birth and I've grown up around IndyCar and Firestone Indy Lights. When the announcement was made that I'd be competing in five Firestone Indy Lights races alongside my GP3 program, I was elated. To think that I'm one step below Indycar is pretty incredible!
So I mentioned that the season had begun… The racing hasn't started quite yet but preseason testing is in full swing. The first test of the season was at Paul Ricard in France on March 3 and 4. I signed with Carlin for the 2011 GP3 season and I was extremely excited to start working with them. They have such an incredible reputation in racing I feel honored to be driving for them this year.
Before heading to France, I spent a week with the team in England prepping for the test. I spent a lot of time with my engineer, Matt, making sure I was as prepared as possible. I also spent a lot of hours on the Carlin simulator. I feel old, but technically I'm still a teenager so I'm allowed to love video games and racing simulators fit into that category as well. I basically don't know any of the tracks I'll be racing on this year in Europe, so the simulator is really helpful for that. I did hundreds of laps on the first three tracks that we would be testing on before the season starts: Paul Ricard, Silverstone [Arena circuit] and Barcelona. It was really nice to have access to something like that at the team's workshop.
So that was the first few days in England and once the weekend came around, the cars were loaded up and sent off to France. The Carlin guys had a bit of time off for the weekend before we got to work on track the next week. I was staying in a small hotel in Woking which was about 100 yards from the McLaren Technical Center! It was a nice, small hotel but, since I didn't have a car, it was a bit of a quiet weekend for me. Luckily I got to go bowling one night with my friend and now teammate with Sam Schmidt Motorsports in Firestone Indy Lights, Josef Newgarden, and some of the Carlin mechanics. I am absolutely horrendous at bowling but so was everyone else really so I didn't feel too bad.
After another day at the Carlin workshop in the simulator it was FINALLY time to fly to France. I was flying with the team from Stanstead to Marseille. I went to print out my boarding pass like we're supposed to and I missed the four-hour cutoff by like four minutes… So that meant they had to charge me something like $60 just to check in at the airport. As if aspiring racing drivers weren't poor enough!?
Once the disaster of flying was over I was pumped to get on track. Unfortunately, the forecast was not looking so good and, sure enough Thursday morning it was wet. However, it was still really good to get track time in wet conditions so I could get used to the Pirelli wet tire and to the car in the wet, since it's got a turbo engine. The track was really fun in the wet! There are some incredibly high-speed corners that were a lot of fun with a bit of opposite lock!
Fortunately day two was a dry day. We really got to push the limits of the car and get some good dry weather testing in. I have a lot to learn about the cars over there but I'm trying to get on top of it as soon as possible. It's very different coming from America, because the cars we race over here are very different to what all the European drivers grow up racing. I'm focused on working hard to learn as quick as possible to put the American flag on top of the podium this year!After a really productive two days in France it was immediately time to hop on a plane back to the good ole USA!
It's always fun having the middle, MIDDLE seat for a nine-hour flight on a Boeing 747. I was headed to sunny Orlando for a bit of Firestone Indy Lights testing, though, so I wasn't too upset! I got to Orlando and then headed to Sebring for my first day of the season with Sam Schmidt Motorsports. There were 11 cars testing for two days at Sebring, but unfortunately I was only doing the second of the two days. It was hard to watch all my competitors test on the first day but, unfortunately, budgets are tight. I made the best of it, though – I have some really fast teammates and I was able to look at what they were doing, look at some data and prepare for when I got into the car the next day. I got a gnarly sunburn though, so that was a bit uncomfortable… my poor Irish skin…
Getting in the Indy Lights car the next day was quite an adjustment. It's a very different car compared to the GP3 car and that is one thing I will have to work on a lot this year. I will have to get myself to adjust back and forth without wasting any practice time on race weekends. I felt as though I adjusted to the car pretty quickly and we got going on a good test program. I felt great, even though I was a day behind everyone else. We got a lot of work done and I really enjoyed working with my engineer, Chris. The Sam Schmidt Motorsports team is a fantastic group of people.
So now I have a few days off at home before heading to Barber Motorsports Park for the official preseason test for Firestone Indy Lights. I'm extremely happy that everything has started and I'm looking forward to getting back in BOTH of my racecars soon! Thanks to everyone for all the support!