What a day it has been here at Infineon Raceway for me and the guys at Bryan Herta Autosport! Today included two practice sessions that, due to weather, resulted in a change to the schedule. The sessions were shortened a bit and held almost back to back. Needless to say, it was a very busy morning before it came time to qualify at 1:30 p.m.
I have not driven a racecar in four months and I have never driven one of Bryan Herta Autosport's Indy Lights cars, so the goal of the first session was for me to get reacquainted and comfortable. Straight out of the box I was impressed with the performance and the braking. As I mentioned before, the last car I drove around this circuit was a Star Mazda car two years ago so the extra horsepower and car size made for some getting used to. With a car that has a lot more downforce, this track becomes a real joy to drive with all the elevation changes. I would have to say that Turns 3A and 3B along with the Esses that are flat out are my favorite parts of the circuit.
As the session progressed, I was feeling more comfortable in the car and was getting faster and faster. Before I knew it the 30-minute session was over and it was time to debrief with my engineer. We decided to stay on pit lane because our next practice run was 45 minutes away. It was a quick turnaround!
Many things happened in our short break before the second practice and, again before I knew it, I was being strapped back into the car and heading out. The track had a better feel as the day began to warm up slowly and my confidence in the car kept improving.
Throughout the run I was fighting with exit understeer that my engineer and I addressed accordingly. However, it was still giving us a bit of a headache but if this were easy then everybody would be doing it! Anyway, I was given a goal to learn as much as possible in the very short amount of time and break into the 1:24:00 range. I was able to accomplish this and we had some good data to look at before qualifying in the afternoon.
It was now 1:30 p.m. and time for qualifying. The sun was shining so the track conditions had changed. Again, team owner Bryan Herta gave me a goal which was to continue building on what I learned in the previous sessions. With that piece of advice, it was helmet on and into the car.
It was very busy session with everyone trying to find a clear piece of track. I had a small off-course excursion early on but settled into a groove and started putting laps together. I was still fighting the understeer a little bit and continuing to learn the car as a whole. At that point, I heard over the radio that I was currently P7. This was when the first caution came out so it was time for a chassis adjustment.
During the rest of the session my engineer, Ian Brown, continued to make some adjustments as the pace became faster and faster. I was digging deep to get as much as I could out of the car and I missed the Turn 9 chicane after locking up the tires. I decided to pit because that lap was ruined and this turned out to be a costly mistake.
While I was in the pits, a few cars went quicker which bumped me to P11. When I went back out on track, I was only able to complete two laps before the qualifying session was finished. This is definitely not where we should have been, so we have some hard work ahead for the race. The positive side is the constant progression I made throughout the day in getting quicker and quicker.
This car is a lot different from what I am used to in Star Mazda, so trusting the car's limits on the track is a learning curve. It was great to get back into the seat today after not being able to drive for so long! I am looking forward to the race tomorrow and putting in a great drive for BHA. I would like to thank my sponsors Doug Mockett & Company, Lamborghini Travels, Blanco Basura Clothing, Valli Construction and Paradise Landscape for making this weekend possible.
Stay tuned for the race update Sunday evening.