Hi, good to be back on Racer.com!
I'm writing this from the Andretti Autosport shop today, where I'm getting a new seat made. Being 17, I've grown a bit in the last year, and although I've only put on five pounds in weight, I've gotten taller so I've been getting higher in the car and also my knees were rubbing on the steering wheel. I wouldn't want to blame any results on not being comfortable, but being lower in the car suits my judgment and perspective better.
As any racecar driver will say, you want everything on your side. The Star Mazda Series is more competitive than ever in 2012. I've learned a lot about this car from last year, and we're capable of winning races this season, but we definitely have more fast rivals than before. We're battling drivers with GP3 and Formula 3 experience, so the standard at the front is very high. That's why I really enjoyed our battle with Gabby Chaves for second place in Barber Motorsports Park, because he has GP3 experience and at the end of one of the most fun battles of my career, we finished ahead of him, so that was really satisfying.
As well as physically growing, I'm growing as a racer, I think. For example, one of the things I've improved is looking after the tires. Last year I was too aggressive with the tires and used to burn them off too soon. With the Mazda engine producing around 270hp but the whole car weighing not much more than 1,000lbs, it's easy to light up the rears so avoiding that is vital if you want to be fast at the end of a race.
The St. Petersburg races were quite an adventure for us, as we had an accident in practice and the team worked their tails off to get the car prepared for qualifying. Unfortunately, though, it got stuck in fifth gear so I didn't get to qualify and had to start 22nd and last. However, in the race, we carved through to finish eighth despite the gearbox going wrong again mid-race – I had to do 13 downshifts to go down three ratios! – so in the circumstances, we had to be happy. In the second race, we started 12th and worked our way through to seventh, setting the second- or third-fastest lap of the race, but we just ran out of green-flag laps to make more progress. Come to think of it, those races were fun too: the traditional passing zones for our cars at St. Pete are the same as for IndyCars, but I was passing some drivers in places they weren't expecting so that was cool!
After finishing second in the first race at Barber, we were battling for fourth in the second one and those two results combined could have really elevated us in the championship. Unfortunately, coming to the white flag, to start the last lap, Petri Suvanto's right-front wheel hit my left rear and I went off the track. I got back on in 18th, and over that last lap, I got up to 12th which was good…but a 12th is still a 12th and it should have been a lot better. The whole team was left frustrated by that.
Still, although the championship leader has 115 points and we have 61, I do believe this championship is still winnable. The series has extended the schedule – there are five or six more races than last year – and we have two ovals coming up, and I love oval racing whereas the championship leader has never raced on one before. So I definitely think we should be able to gain good ground there.
The next race is at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indianapolis on the night before the Indy 500, so come and see us in action. Despite all the bad luck, we know we're a competitive team and have a competitive car so now the attitude is, “Let's go out and prove it.”
Thanks for reading!
• Follow Sage at @SageKaram88, Andretti Autosport at @FollowAndretti, and the Star Mazda Series at @StarMazdaSeries