I have to start by saying the entire month of May was without a doubt the greatest month of my entire existence. The opportunities I've had so far this year have been incredible. I'm so blessed to have done all that I have so far – and it's only June!
I began the month in the Sahara Force India Formula 1 car. I felt like that was a pretty nice way to start a month. I was in the car for another aero test at an airfield in England. This was my third aero test for the team, so the car is starting to feel a bit more familiar now. I'm pretty much begging them to let me have a go on a real racetrack now!
I got to do a lot of running again, even though it was on an airfield. I'm not sure on what exactly I'm allowed to say about the test, so I will do my best not to get myself in trouble. What I will say is that there was a lot of speed involved, shifting gears, using the brakes, and turning around at the end of the runway. All sounds quite simple, right?
It's amazing how much data the team can gather from a day at an airstrip. The different pieces the team had to test on the car each provided crucial data for how they want to continue to develop the car throughout the season. A very cool program to be a part of, however, I still want to feel what a Formula 1 car can do on the limit at a proper racetrack... Hopefully someday!
From the F1 car I went back to GP3 for the season opener in Barcelona. It was the first race with the new car and it was definitely an interesting weekend. The tires provided a very new racing environment for all of us, since they are the same tires that we used last year. However, this year, we have a big 400hp engine instead of a smaller 290(ish) hp engine. This meant our qualifying pace was fantastic and much faster than last year.
I would line up third for race one and we all knew it would be a tire conservation race. It was a difficult situation though because during the preseason testing we had so much rain that we didn't really get to do a lot of race run testing so it was almost like jumping into an unknown. It was a very difficult race because to keep the car on track and keep the tires in somewhat decent shape, we had to drive incredibly carefully. At the end of the race we had a lot of work to do to improve, I thought, but we still ended up third and right on the rear wing of first and second, so as much as I thought we needed to improve, we were pretty close.
The second race was more of the same, only we started a bit further back with the reverse grid order which made life even more difficult with the tires. In the end though we came out of the weekend with a 3rd and 5th place finish so I was fairly happy with the points to start the year. So as soon as I got out of the car Sunday morning May 12th, I knew what time it was. It was time to go pursue a dream I had since I was an infant.
The air travel getting back to Indianapolis was pretty much par for the course with my travel history – i.e., terrible. The flight path was Barcelona to London to Chicago to Indy. It was almost a disaster missing our flight to Indy from Chicago but we made it on – without our checked bags, of course. I mean why on earth would the travel be easy on the biggest trip of my life? I made it to Indy Sunday night, May 12, thankfully ,and was ready to get my rookie orientation out of the way the following morning. There was one small problem though – my HANS device was in my checked bag that was somewhere in Chicago. I tweeted that I needed to borrow one and thankfully Marco Andretti texted me saying I could use his! I was then finally ready to get to work at the greatest racing facility in the world...
Monday morning was an amazing day for me. I could finally walk to pit lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a race suit. I didn't have to sneak in on a golf cart like in my childhood, I didn't have to show my credentials, I didn't have to wear a special badge or team shirt – I was a driver! I was also able to sleep in my own bed the night before, which is something I'm not used to before getting in a racecar.
I spent the morning before rookie orientation getting a final fitment in the car, because I hadn't sat in my seat since Long Beach. I didn't really care if it didn't feel right, though, I just wanted to get out and see what it all was like. I had received book loads of information, e-mails, phone calls and basically every piece of advice about the track someone could offer in the weeks leading up to getting on track. It was awesome getting all of that information but you never know what to actually use and you don't really know what people are talking about it until you get on track yourself and feel it out.
Sure enough, I got my chance to get out there. What an amazing realization it was to get up to speed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a place I had been coming to since birth and a place that I love everything about. It may sound like I'm being overly dramatic about this but I kid you not, this is exactly how I felt and still feel.
After I got through the majority of rookie orientation, I couldn't believe the amount of people who actually wanted my autograph as I walked back to the garage. I mean, I was always someone who thought it would be awesome to get the drivers autographs and sure enough there I was, as a driver this time. I wanted to sign everything I possibly could!
When I got back to my phone James Hinchcliffe had sent me a text that was a video of me on the track big-screen TVs doing my first few laps on track – hard to believe, really. It was such an awesome first day on track because we did a lot of running once we completed all the phases of rookie orientation. I must say, I've never had the feeling I've got right now typing this, it meant so much to me getting to be a part of the greatest racing event in the world I'm just so thankful and honored to have had the opportunity! Right, so anyway, it was awesome and I still had a full week of practice ahead of me.
Practice was going well and I was getting pretty comfortable with the car. My engineer, Ray Leto, is an incredibly experienced guy and it was awesome working with him. It was important to get a good feel for the car mechanically before we started trimming the downforce out of it. I think we did the most laps of anyone on the Wednesday before qualifying weekend, which was really nice because I needed as much track time as I could get. Unfortunately, from Thursday on, things did not exactly go smoothly...