I don't really know where to start with this one. There has been a lot going on the last four or five weeks and it has been fantastic!
This time last year I was locked into my ART GP3 seat and all was well. Preseason testing was spread out and I was focused on that before the season started and nothing else was really going on. This year, however, has been a different story. When I packed my suitcase at the end of January to go to India ,I knew I'd be going to England after for a few weeks hopefully for GP3 testing. Little did I know I'd be overseas until April. I have visited the washing machine quite often because of my lack of clothing and race gear, but I am not unhappy about that at all!
It all started after the first GP3 preseason test in Portugal. I was pleased with how the new GP3 car felt and I enjoyed driving it with the ART GP team again. After the test I got a couple e-mails talking about me maybe doing the last GP2 preseason test in Barcelona. Any driver knows that sometimes you get e-mails saying pretty amazing things that absolutely never happen, and I thought this was the case. However, two days before the GP2 test in Barcelona I was told to book a flight and meet a new team from Germany, Hilmer Motorsports! I was thrilled with this news because I'd always wanted to drive a GP2 car. They are truly impressive machines that are literally just a step below F1.
I arrived ready to make a seat and get to grips with what I was going to be driving. Unfortunately, the weather was not looking good but I was happy to drive in any conditions.
I was scheduled to drive the first two of the three days and of course the weather for the first two days was forecast to be wet and the third day would be dry. Nothing I can do about the weather, though, so I just focused on learning as much about the car as possible in the wet and see what happens. The team had a lot of things to test over the first two days but unfortunately, with the amount of tires we had, we couldn't do a lot of running. The wet tires were only able to do competitive times for about five or six laps before they started to go off, so it was difficult to get experience in the car. I was still enjoying the car though that's for sure. It had a great amount of power and so much downforce that even in the wet it felt extremely quick.
At the end of day two I was disappointed because I hadn't got to do any dry running and I really wanted to experience the car in the dry. Some discussions began to take place about me getting into the car at some point on the final day of testing for some dry running. I left the track thinking I probably wasn't going to be driving the next day. However, as I sat in my hotel late into the night I kept receiving messages from my dad and Ian Bergin from KINC (the agency that I'm working with in London) about the following day. At around 11:30 p.m., I got word that I could be driving for the Trident GP2 team the following day because they didn't have a second driver. I had to get some sleep at some point, though, so I passed out not really knowing what would happen the next day.
I went down for breakfast with Franz Hilmer, who owns the team I had been testing for the first two days, and he said he was really working toward putting me in the car for the afternoon session that day. I didn't know what to think because it would be great to continue working with the team I had been testing for, but if I could do the full day with Trident I thought I would gain more experience that way.
I got to the track and my dad was still awake back home in America although it was something like 2 a.m., but he was still trying to figure everything out. I walked into the Trident racing truck thinking I'd be driving for them that day when I got another call from Dad saying that the plan had changed and I would actually be doing the afternoon for Hilmer. I have never done so much running around the morning of a test day before. It was absolutely crazy! I was like a homeless racing driver running around with a seat and helmet.
So after sorting out where I would place my seat, I had the morning to watch how things played out before finally jumping in for the afternoon of the third day. It was actually dry, believe it or not! The afternoon session went quite well for not having driven the car in the dry before. On my last new tire run I made a small mistake and ended up getting caught in some traffic but still ended up in the top 10. It was rewarding to have done pretty well after such a hectic few days. The team seemed pleased with the effort after only having a couple hours in the car in dry conditions. I still didn't know what would happen next, though!
There had been a bit of a hang-up on my GP3 program before the GP2 test, so I didn't exactly know if I'd be showing up again to Barcelona the following week for the next GP3 test. When I got back to England all seemed to be sorted out for the time being and I would be heading back to Barcelona the following week to continue working with ART in GP3.
All went well with the GP3 testing – nothing too out of the ordinary really. Some people look at the preseason testing results a little too seriously, which is not always the right thing to do. Preseason is all about being prepared for the full race season. ART does a really good job of focusing on doing things during testing to be as prepared as possible for when it's time to race.
We were able to work through a lot of changes on day one of the test and end up fastest. It was a nice feeling because we needed to do quite a bit of work on the balance of the car after the Estoril test. On day two I got to enjoy the worst rain conditions I've ever driven in in my life (BELOW)! It felt like it could have been quicker as the captain of a ship rather than a racecar driver. I really enjoyed it though because the wet setup we had was fantastic and the car was awesome even as we drove through small lakes and rivers on track. Again it was a productive two days of testing with many different conditions!
Now here is where it starts to get quite interesting again with last-minute deals. When I got back to England after the GP3 test I thought I would be heading back to America for a bit of a break and maybe head to the St. Petersburg IndyCar race. On Monday the week of the Malaysian Grand Prix I was sitting at my place in England when Dad texted me, “I think GP2 might be a go...” I didn't really know what to say because I knew we had talked about it as a very small possibility a few days earlier. At the time he said I had a 75% chance of racing for Hilmer Motorsports and 45 minutes to pack my bags because I had to be on a flight to Malaysia, just in case I got the drive. I was a bit baffled really, flying to Asia on a chance that I might race? Cool!
On Tuesday I shipped out to Malaysia with my friend Ian Bergin. By the time I got to the airport I found out that Jon Lancaster and Pal Varhaug were also flying to Malaysia thinking they were driving the Hilmer car – interesting....