Race 2 was a bit of a mess again! I had a fantastic start but there were around five or six cars who stalled and I immediately had to take to the grass to avoid them. I hit a massive mound of dirt and grass or something and I knew the car was damaged because I could see a massive dust cloud coming from the back of my car all the way down the front straight. The race went immediately to safety car and the good news was I had gained several positions. I was up to P16, I think, from starting P21. At that time, I didn't really know if the car was damaged and we rolled through the pit lane a couple times under safety car and the team couldn't see any damage, either. So that meant I was clear to go for it at the restart.
I had a fantastic restart and was the only car able to make an attempt at passing into Turn 1. I braked late but sure enough as soon as I turned into the corner I had considerably less grip than I should have had and ran wide. It was almost the same feeling as Turkey when my floor had been ripped off. It was a struggle from then on to defend my position but, again, I just had to make it to the finish. When we got the car back after the race, sure enough the floor was pretty much destroyed.
So the results were not what we wanted again but overall it was a really positive weekend, because all the hours at the shop and on the simulator paid off – I was starting to change my driving style and get closer to the pace of the guys at the front. I would be back on track next in Hungary for two days of testing which I knew would be very beneficial.
After Barcelona it was back on a plane heading to Indy for the Indianapolis 500. It was going to be my last time at home until early August. I was paying very close attention to everything going on in Indy while I was in England because I could watch practice and qualifying on my laptop. I love everything about the Indy 500 so I couldn't wait to get home and enjoy the weekend.
At home, I was able to catch up with some friends and family, which was nice, but I couldn't wait to get to the track and check things out. My Indy Lights car was being driven by Bryan Clauson that weekend and that was tough because I was really dying to get in a car! The Indy Lights guys were meant to qualify on Thursday before Carb Day but it got rained out...which meant I would be on pole for a race I wasn't even in! I couldn't believe it but I was happy to be able to help my Sam Schmidt Motorsports team without even getting in a car. I was happy for Bryan because I knew he had a good car and it would be good for him and the Mazda Road to Indy machine to start up front.
Carb Day rolled around and I couldn't wait to see the IndyCars on track for the first time in person all month. I absolutely can't wait to have the opportunity to drive in the Indy 500 someday. It's incredible every year watching the drivers on the edge at 225mph+! Every year I get more jealous of the guys on track. This year was even tougher for me because the Firestone Freedom 100 was up next after IndyCar final practice and the guys I had been racing against for the first three races of the season would be racing without me. But I knew my priorities were in Europe and that even though it was tough not racing, I knew it was the right decision.
It was a crazy race with a lot of carnage but in the end it was the Sam Schmidt Motorsports team with a 1-2 finish. My teammate Josef Newgarden scored a great win and I was really happy for him and the team. The Mazda Road to Indy car also had a good race, Bryan finishing fifth in his first Indy Lights race!
The Indy 500 weekend was full of great events and Mazda Road to Indy races and I was doing my best to attend as many as I could while making time to see my family – and maybe get a bit of sleep. Saturday night, the night before the 500 was a crazy evening. I went out to what is now Lucas Oil Raceway for the USF2000 and Star Mazda races and it brought back a lot of fantastic memories from the year before, when I was able to win my home Star Mazda race in front of a huge number of friends and family.
I was hoping to get home right after the two races took place because I had to pack for living in England until August!! My flight back overseas was Sunday night right after the 500. Unfortunately, the Indiana weather caused a bit of a delay and the Star Mazda race did not finish until close to 11 p.m., which meant I got home around midnight and my family was planning on heading to the Speedway at 4 a.m. to beat the traffic. I tried to pack as quickly as I could but I had to make sure I had everything I needed for a little over two months away from home. I think I got to bed around 1:30 a.m. and was awake again at 4 a.m. Once we got to the track at 5:30 a.m. I slept in one of my mom's tower terrace suites until around 7:30 and then I was good to go!
It was an incredible day at the track and the amount of people there was awesome. I've never missed an Indy 500 since birth and every year I think it's one of the most fantastic experiences ever. The race itself was one of the best I've seen and the finish was just insane!! I was absolutely gutted to see JR Hildebrand lose in the final few hundred feet but I was also happy for my friend Dan Wheldon. Dan has always been a great friend and has always been supportive of my career. I also have to give a shout out to Graham Rahal. It's good to see two fellow Americans in the top three. He was pretty proud of passing quite a few cars, so I'll give Rahal some credit! Keep it up my friend.
So the race was over and I had to get to the airport. Thankfully my uncle and aunt volunteered to drive me to the airport through some very heavy traffic. It had been a very busy five days in Indy which meant I had fallen asleep immediately in the car! Fortunately, I made it to the airport in time and I was off to Budapest, Hungary, for two days of GP3 testing.
I slept every hour of all three flights to get to Budapest. I was very much looking forward to getting back behind the wheel. I knew what I had to do to keep improving and I was ready to keep moving up the time sheets. I really liked the Hungaroring circuit and I was getting closer to fine-tuning my driving style to suit the GP3 car. At the end of day 1, we could see in the data that I was getting the hang of driving the car a bit smoother with less initial brake pressure and strong throttle applications to get good corner exits.
We had made a few small adjustments to the setup for day 2 and, sure enough, we went out on new tires and we were immediately quick. I think we were P3 when we came in the pits and I was extremely happy. It's so strange, though, because the lap time came and it didn't really feel like a lap where I was driving extremely hard on the limit. With these cars, you have to be very careful not to overdrive. I just had to work on perfecting small things and driving the car very smoothly and accurately.
We ended the morning P7 after saving a set of tires for the afternoon. It felt great to be in the ballpark, which meant we were not looking for a huge amount of time anymore. We then had to work on small adjustments to fine-tune me and the car.
The afternoon session was a bit of a mess because we waited until late to start running then it started raining. I went out with a couple minutes left while it was still raining and I was able to put a lap in before I hit a wet curb and did a pretty impressive 360, if I do say so myself! We ended that session P15 but we are now consistently in the top half of the grid compared to the first two race weekends where we struggled to break out of the 20th to 30th range. Overall we were P7 for day 2. I am very happy with that and next up is yet another two-day test in Valencia. I will again work on fine-tuning my driving style and learning a new track. I can't wait to get to the next race, the European Grand Prix in Valencia.
I know this was long but there has been a lot going on, hope you guys enjoy it! Things are getting better, don't give up on me quite yet!