I had always wanted to go to Malaysia, as it looked like an awesome circuit. When I arrived it seemed like I went from the North Pole (England) to the surface of the sun! It was insanely hot.
I could not believe the hotel we were staying in as well when I got there. It was something straight from the Vegas strip. Lights, shopping mall, water park, bungee jumping, buffet, magicians; it was all there! As usual, though, not much time is spent at the hotel during the race weekend. I didn't mind that at all because when I got to the Sepang circuit I could not wait to get on track.
It was an amazing thought to think I was getting ready for my first GP2 race weekend after all that had gone on over the last couple months. At one point I didn't know if I'd be racing in Europe in 2013 and then I was testing more than I ever have in the preseason in GP3 and a hint of GP2. I didn't really have high expectations for the weekend because of how little track time you get.
I'm not really sure what type of discussions took place while we were on the plane but on Thursday afternoon, my name and the American flag was placed on one of the cars – that was a relief. When I went out for the first 30-minute practice session it all happened pretty fast. By the end of the session I was very happy with the car but was just starting to get a feel for the track. It was then already time to qualify – another 30-minute session! With the two soft sets of tires that we had for qualifying, that meant I would have three to four laps total where I would pushing hard on the tires. With the way the Pirelli's are designed that is the way it works!
After the first set I was pleased with the improvements I made and already knew where I could find more time on the next set. When I say that, it's not as if I'm out there going easy, it's just that you don't know the limits of the car and tires. Since they only last one or two laps, you don't get many opportunities to put what you learned about the grip level of the track, car and tires together on the next lap.
On the second set of tires I was able to put together a decent lap but didn't get a second lap because of traffic – and then the session was over. Again, as soon as I came into the pits I was very happy with the car and knew exactly where I could improve next time out. It was frustrating because I was P16 but I was only a second off the pace, which I was somewhat happy with. As a driver, you always want to be quickest but in reality with the lack of experience I had in the car and the last-minute nature of everything, it was a pretty good effort.
It was my first full day in the car, an hour of track time and it was already time to race. I had never done a race with a pit stop, I didn't get a chance to do a practice start at all during the testing in Barcelona or the practice session that weekend but I was pumped to get the race going. Talk about jumping in at the deep end...
That first race would be one of the toughest physical challenges of my career, because of the length of the race and heat. I chose to race without a drink bottle because I'd never used one before and the Indy Lights races that I did were almost an hour long themselves like the GP2 races.
When the lights went out the car right in front of me stalled, causing evasive maneuvers. I was quite used to the GP3 car's really short first gear and when I up shifted to second I bogged down a bit and lost some positions – in fact I was 23rd around the first corner. So the beginning of the race didn't go how I would have liked but I focused on conserving tires and seeing what I could do.
The car was very good and I then started to work my way up the field to P13 before my pit stop for tires. My pit stop was a pretty cool experience! The team did a great job and I got back to racing switching from the soft tires to a new set of hard tires.
Two laps after the pit stop, my engineer radioed me to tell me that I had a drive-through penalty and I could not believe it. I really had no idea what I could have done. He said it was for ignoring yellow flags and I just didn't understand where that could have happened. At the time there was nothing we could do so I had to pit for the drive through and I was back to P21.
Even today, I still don't understand the details of the penalty because there was something like five or six of us who stopped on the same lap who got the same penalty, so in all honesty it seems like it could have been a bit of a mistake. The green sector they said I did under yellow was the final sector on my out lap after the pit stop on new tires.
It was very frustrating but I still had a long race ahead of me and I knew I could still learn more about the car and track by continuing to push and not give up. With two laps to go when I saw I was catching a group of cars at a very high rate of speed. I was able to run a very quick pace and conserve my tires throughout the middle portion of the race, helping me to pass two cars on the last lap.
I wish there was more TV coverage of that part because it was quite an exciting last lap for me! After the drive-through penalty I was still able to finish 13th. I had set fifth-fastest lap of the race and I was disappointed that we didn't get the opportunity to fight for the reverse grid pole, because without the time penalty of the drive-through we could have been around seventh or eighth at the end of race one.
I had one more chance to drive the fantastic Hilmer Motorsports GP2 car on Sunday. I knew the car was good and I knew we could fight within the top 10. I wanted to get a good start and go from there because I knew with the way the car was, we could have good tire grip at the end of the race. It would be all about who has the best tires in the end!
I got a fantastic start and great run into T1. I also took advantage of an accident in front of me in Turn 4 and found myself in eighth at the end of lap one. I was already in the points!
After lap one it was instant tire conservation mode, it felt like. I wanted to stay with the lead pack in front of me but also try to build a gap to the competitors behind, which I was able to do. It was crazy how careful you had to be applying the power out of every corner. With the way the tires work, if you had just a bit too much wheelspin on exit of a slow corner, it could screw the rest of your race.
I was able to keep the entire lead group in front of me throughout the race. I was being very careful on my tires but had just a little bit more oversteer on entry to the slow corners than I did the day before. I started trying to close the gap with a few laps left. I set the second-fastest lap of the race on the way! I didn't want to push too early, though, because with such little experience in that situation, I just didn't know how much I could push in the middle of the race to still have tires at the end. I did end up having a bit more grip than the three guys directly in front of me at the end and I started to engage in a battle with them.
On the last lap, Johnny Cecotto Jr. and Simon Trummer in front of me were in a close fight and I started trying to take advantage of that. I went for it a little too early though and couldn't quite get Trummer as he defended aggressively. As soon as that happened we let Cecotto get away and I wasn't able to close in on Trummer the rest of the last lap. Had the race gone another lap longer I think I would have been able to take both of them, but that wasn't the case and I finished P7.
I was so happy to score points on my first weekend in the series. It was also a very big moment for the team because they are new in GP2 this season and it was the first points for them as well. I felt very satisfied with all that went on during the weekend, I learned so much and really enjoyed getting the opportunity to race for the Hilmer Motorsports team.
Don't ask me what happens now, though! I really don't know what is happening next. Will you see me in Bahrain in a GP2 car? Maybe! All I know for sure is, I'll be in the GP3 car again at the final preseason test coming up at Silverstone.
I can't say much about the details of what is going on behind the scenes with my racing program for the season, partially because I've got no idea what's happening and it seems to change every day. I'm extremely happy with how it's all gone so far, though, because I have had some great things happen so far this year. I am very thankful for everything but it would certainly be nice to have a bit more certainty in my life at the moment.
Here is a pretty staggering fact for you: In the last 10 months or so here is a list of racecars I have either raced or tested; F3, GP3, GP2, World Series by Renault 3.5, IndyCar, Formula 1 and for good measure I slipped off to India and won the MRF Challenge championship. That is hard to believe, really. I'm so unbelievably thankful for all the opportunities I've had and I can't wait to see what happens the rest of this year. I truly think it will be one to remember! Let's see what happens next...