I got out there early and started a flying lap and, all of a sudden, after going purple in the first sector, there were cars going 10mph in the middle of the Lesmos, which are high-speed corners! Then the next lap I get to the straight after the Ascari chicane and there must have been a line of about 17 cars going 30mph...and a few of them were three wide spread out across the track! I had to pass three people through the grass just to try and start another qualifying lap; it was absolutely ridiculous.
Sure enough, it started to get really hectic with little time remaining. No one wanted to lead the tow train. I just wanted to do one lap by myself and there wasn't enough time to slow down to a slow enough speed to get a gap, so I kept going flat and eventually started the tow train.
I was quick enough to lead them though without them passing me, and I knew they were going to get really good laps with my tow – so I had to back off a little. Time was up, though, and on the last lap I had to try to get in a position for a tow. After passing two cars and getting through a chaotic lap, I put myself up to P12 and then dropped to 17th as the rest of the train came around. I was so frustrated because I knew we had the car for pole. But that was another fantastic learning experience, because if I can come back next year I'll know what to expect.
I knew the racing was going to be incredible at Monza and I was ready to put on a show. A lot of my Irish family were at the race supporting me along with some friends from the States, so I didn't want to let any of them down. I had my best start of the season in Race 1 and started working my way through the field. The racing was so fun!
The tow was incredible and I was having great battles with everyone coming through the field. Luckily, my car was good enough to pass and then break the tow to get to the next group of cars in front of me. At one point, my friend Gabby Chaves bump-drafted me down the front straight and we were flying past cars – it was epic!
As the race came to a close, I had made it up to sixth and was right on fifth with one lap to go. I passed him into the second chicane but I couldn't defend from him down the next straight – and I couldn't get a run on him down to Parabolica, so I ended up sixth, 0.03sec off of fifth! I had fastest lap of the race until the very last lap, again proving our car was fast. If we could have only had a bit of luck in qualifying...seems to be the story of the season. But we've learned more every session and I will continue working on improving.
I started third for Race 2 and I went in thinking that I wasn't coming home without a win. I was so confident that our car was good enough to do it.
I got another good start and briefly led the race heading into the first chicane, but I was on the outside of two other cars, so I had to give way just to make it around the corner. I stayed third around the Lesmos and heading down the back straight I saw the series champion Valtteri Bottas and his teammate James Calado behind me. Bottas wasn't close enough to pass, so I was focused on trying to tow the guys in front of me.
As we got closer to the brake zone for Ascari, I could tell he still wasn't close enough to pass, so I didn't need to block. However, as soon as I started to turn into the corner, it felt like I got hit by a bulldozer and was sent flying into the gravel trap backward...
I was thinking, WHAT ON EARTH JUST HAPPENED?! AND WHY?! Heck, I even restarted the car in the deep gravel and tried to drive out because I just so badly wanted to continue the race, but this wasn't possible. I couldn't believe it – I seriously had never felt so angry in my life, because I knew the team deserved a win after all their hard work and all that they helped me with. I also didn't understand why the series champion just blatantly forgot his braking point, ending my race and season.
I saw the replay so many times and it even made the GP3 season highlight video at the awards banquet that night, and I'm still like, "Seriously, you've got to be kidding me!" Bottas did come up to me after the race to apologize and said he just missed his braking point. I respect that, but it's still just such an unfortunate end to a season that was improving massively every weekend and could have been capped off with a great podium result. After saying all of that, it was out of my control, really. Nothing I could have done about that, so on to the next season.
I really hope I can get back to GP3 next season, because I know I could challenge for the championship after all I've learned this year. Now the worst part of the year starts – the off-season. We are broke again looking for a big budget for next year, but I have no doubt we will be able to do it. I have fantastic supporters and sponsors around me and I'm confident we can develop more great relationships through the winter to put everything together for next year. This year would not have been possible without the Mazda Road to Indy program and everyone at Mazdaspeed Motorsports Development. Those guys have been very good to me and I've been happy to represent their brand and program.
I hope you all have enjoyed hearing about my year; it has definitely been an interesting one. Personally, I feel it was very successful because I know the amount I've learned and I'm ready to put it all together next season, like I did in Star Mazda last year. I absolutely can't wait for the next time I get in a car. I'm sure I'll check in over the off-season to keep everyone up to date on what's going on next year.
Thanks for all the support! It really means a lot!