The month of October was an extremely hectic one for me; just think about being in nine different countries on three different continents in nineteen days. I would have to say it was one of the most interesting and diverse schedules in my career and this is after the regular season had ended.
Right at the beginning of October I got notification that I'd be doing the MRF Challenge series in India on the grand prix race weekend at the Buddh International Circuit. I already knew I was headed back to England on Oct.10 to prepare for my first World Series Formula Renault 3.5 test in Barcelona, but this added a whole new adventure to the trip. I didn't have enough time to organize an Indian visa on my American passport because it would, at the very least, take a couple days; so I had to frantically see if I could get an visa on my Irish passport, when I got to England (yes, I have two passports and it does indeed make me feel like James Bond).
With some help, I was able to find out that I could get an Indian visa on my Irish passport in a day (with an added fee...) if I went to the Indian Embassy in Dublin. This was good news; it meant I could actually race in India. So on Oct. 9, the night before I was supposed to fly to England, I had to quickly add a flight from London to Dublin on the day I arrived in London.
After a little sleep on the 10th, I departed the good ol' US of A with a suitcase packed for three weeks, which meant it would become rather smelly after two. I got to London early on the morning of the 11th had enough time to drop off my stuff at my UK address and had to leave that night for Dublin. I slept a little during the day because I was feeling quite sick with a cold or something worse that I caught in Indiana. At this stage of the trip, I had no time to be sick, though.
I woke up early the next morning in Dublin to be near the front of the line at the Indian embassy – and of course I was beaten by several other hopeful people. I had all kinds of documents, passport-sized photos, and letters from India saying I could swing by and do some motor racing in their country. The Indian official didn't seem to be very happy with what I brought him, mainly because I wasn't quite sure how to make the payment for what I needed. He just shouted at me and told me to go to a post office and get some postal order (an Irish cashiers check). I ran to the post office to get what he needed and went back and waited again, this time in a longer line. It was getting to the point in the day where they wouldn't accept any more visa applications, so I was happy when I got to the front of the line.
He started shouting at me again saying I needed something else (which would have been great to have known the first time at the window). A second trip to the post office was required and when I returned, I skipped the line and gave him all the stuff he needed. Finally, in the late afternoon, I left the Indian embassy armed with the required visa and headed back to the airport.
After a quick two days in England, it was time to take my road show to Toulouse, France. I was going to spend a few days with the Tech 1 Race Team preparing to drive their World Series by Renault car the next week in Barcelona. I was able to make my seat at their workshop, go over data, on-board videos and study anything I could to be as prepared as possible for the test.
On Thursday morning we drove together to Barcelona for the final round of the World Series by Renault championship. It was very difficult to be patient to wait for my opportunity to drive, because both of my GP3 teammates from this season – Aaro Vainio and Daniel Abt – were racing that weekend and so was one of our other homies, Antonio Felix da Costa. I knew a lot of the guys in the race, which is always difficult because you want to be out on track battling with them.
Renault does a great job with their events because they get huge crowds and have a lot of cool stuff going on during the weekend. I was able to sit down with Tech 1's drivers – Jules Bianchi and my teammate Daniel – after all their sessions, which was another great bit of preparation. Jules was fighting for the championship that weekend and it came down to the final race on Sunday.
Unfortunately, after putting forth an incredible effort to get ahead of his championship rival Robin Frijns, he was knocked off track and out of the race by Robin. I hated to see a championship end that way, it was not right...
The good news for me, though, was that the next time the cars would be on track, I would be driving one of them. The test was a two-day program and I was originally only scheduled to do one day, but thankfully we were able to work it out with the great people at Tech 1 and some of my supporters back home to do both days. These cars take a lot to learn and it was hugely beneficial to do both days.
After my first few runs in the car, I realized I was getting into some serious machinery now. This car was unbelievably fast with an extremely high level of grip. The combination of the wonderful carbon brakes, the beautiful sound of the powerful V8 engine, and the F1-style DRS system made for an incredible experience – and a lot to learn.
I started struggling physically after several runs because I hadn't been in a racecar in over a month and a half – and I had the pleasure of just getting over being sick for two weeks. I had to make the best of it, though, and after some added padding for my neck, all was good. It was a great first day in the car and I was enjoying working with the team to find more speed every run.
On day two I woke up a bit stiff but was ready to hit the track. The G-forces we were pulling in that car were incredible – over 3.5 G's in multiple corners every lap. On the second day I was really trying to fine-tune what I was learning. I was able to brake extremely late with a pretty near perfect brake pressure data graph shape, but couldn't get myself to release the brake early enough and use the downforce before the apex of the medium-speed corners at Barcelona like Turns 1, 3 and 7. This would cause me to lose a bit of time on exit.
When it came to new tire runs I just needed a bit more pace. I don't think we had the best balance possible but I didn't know enough about the car yet to fine-tune it properly. It was such a huge experience over the two days, though; I really hope I can get back in that car again soon.
The quickest guys during the test were going over a second and a half quicker than GP2 cars – which I thought was extremely impressive considering the World Series car has almost 100hp less than GP2. I would also go as far as saying the World Series car would probably be quicker than an IndyCar lap time-wise around a road course like Barber Motorsports Park, let's say. I learned a lot from the two days but there is still a massive amount more to know about the car, tires and how to make it all work together properly.
I had to put away my happy feelings about high horsepower and high downforce because I had to head to India the morning after the test to drive something entirely different. Even though every fiber of my body was sore after the two days, I managed just about four hours of sleep in some hotel close to the Barcelona airport before jetting off to India on Thursday morning.
I had never been to the Asian continent before, so I was looking forward to a new experience in India. I went from Barcelona to London, got on the plane and waited two hours sitting there because they didn't know how much fuel they had. I finally got to my hotel in India around 2 a.m. and couldn't fall asleep until around 3 a.m. – and suddenly it was time to wake up to head to the racetrack for a seat fit, practice and qualifying.
We were staying about an hour from the track and I must say, driving to and from the track was extremely interesting. Horn usage is critical on Indian roads...
I also found that the air was extremely hard to breathe – the smog was unlike anything I've seen before. It was crazy to see the number of people everywhere really, such a huge population. I brought a lot of my own food because SPEED's Will Buxton warned me about the risks of “Delhi Belly” or worse...
The MRF Challenge car was very different compared to the World Series car, but the Buddh circuit was fantastic! The cars were oversteer machines – if you were watching us on track it would look like we were all practicing for the next appearance of Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious saga. It was different, but also kind of fun because you could control the oversteer quite well. It brought back memories of my days in Skip Barber, because we were all in the same big tent and there were no teams just mechanics and some engineers.
Things went well as we sorted out the car. I qualified second and sixth – after a napping experience in between practice and qualifying – and then was able to win the first race, which was a nice feeling.
I had to start a little further back though for race two and finished third. I had a great fight on track, though, and apparently provided some entertainment for people watching, so that's always good.
The people in India were great and seemed to really enjoy having us there and all the people at MRF were awesome! It's always nice to see a lot of people interested in a support series for Formula 1 – there were even billboards advertising the MRF Challenge on the way to the race circuit!
By the end of the races on Sunday, I was struggling with a lack of sleep and not knowing what time zone I was in. I left the track with most of the drivers before the F1 race started to maybe sleep a little in the hotel. I didn't realize until Sunday morning that my flight was not really on Monday morning, it was more like Sunday night. I had to leave my hotel at midnight Sunday night/Monday morning for a 3:40 a.m. flight to London. Before the race weekend even started I had slept for seven of 48 hours! It was starting to look like I would continue that trend.
I was scheduled to fly from Delhi to London Heathrow airport and then get to London Gatwick to fly to Las Vegas. Everyone said I wouldn't make it from Heathrow to Gatwick on a Monday morning in the time that I had – but guess what, I made it with plenty of time to spare. A friend from the Double R F3 team I drove for earlier in the year picked me up from Heathrow and did a qualifying lap to Gatwick. Purple sectors…
After something like 19 hours of flying I was in Las Vegas and very happy to be in the United States. I had a really cool opportunity to drive the Pirelli three-seat F1 car at Las Vegas Speedway on Tuesday of the SEMA week. It was a lot of fun driving alongside Didier Theys and trying to scare some people! The three-seaters will also be in Austin for the USGP and I think I'll be driving one there as well, which will be a lot of fun.
As I type this I am on a plane again, this time heading home! I enjoyed walking around the SEMA show in Las Vegas for a couple days with my dad, checking out some crazy stuff and chatting with a lot of familiar faces.
Next up on my schedule is the United States Grand Prix – I can't believe it's finally almost here. I wish I could race something that weekend but at least I'll get to do a bit of driving in the three-seater. After that the very difficult job begins of trying to sort out how we're going to do World Series Renault 3.5 next year. That would be the ideal choice of things to do but we just have to put it all together.
I hope to see a huge crowd in Austin and hoping the interest in F1 in America continues to grow after the race! I want to see people waving American flags when Alex Rossi is driving the Caterham F1 car in the first Friday practice of the weekend! I can't wait to see an American or Americans RACING in the USGP again someday, and I hope one of those Americans can be me!
Thanks everyone for the continued support it means a lot!