It's officially July, the time in the Star Mazda season where we say goodbye to the ovals, and head back to fighting in the streets and road courses across America (and Canada). This upcoming weekend is going to be a new experience for me, the first time I've ever raced in the Maple Leaf country. I've heard from Hinch 1,000 times now how Toronto is one of the best places on earth…but I think the Mayor might be a little biased? Either way, I'm extremely excited to get to go to a new city, and race at a track the Star Mazda Championship hasn't been to since 2007!
In my last blog, I was giving you guys a preview for the Iowa race, our second and last oval of the season. After finishing third at the “Night Before The 500,” we had momentum going into the weekend and that helped us a lot going out on track with confidence and trying to find the limit of the car.
On Friday, we had two 30-minute practice sessions and it took most of the first session for me to get the car where I was comfortable taking the whole lap flat. I remember the first lap I ever did; I don't think I took a single breath. The car would just enter the turn so smoothly and as it got closer to the apex, you would feel the rear of the car getting a little lighter and lighter. That feeling would stay until you got straight with the exit wall. Turn 1 and 2 was the most exciting though, the car would enter the same and then you would hit the famous bump and hope it stayed underneath you. I have to say when the car snapping out full throttle at 150mph, that took some getting use to!
At a place like Lucas Oil Raceway, the car would drift out two or three times a lap and that was no problem. At Iowa, all it took was one good moment to end up in the wall. Practice continued, along with a rain-filled three-hour session Saturday morning, and we found a few more things to help the car and got it ready for qualifying.
As we got the cars on pit lane for qualifying at Iowa, the skies started to open up again and it started to sprinkle just a little. I was the eighth car in line to go out on track and even though there was rain, they kept sending cars to go out for their run. Before too long there was only one car left in front of me to go. Then the rain picked up, from sprinkles to large drops. Finally for safety reasons, the officials decided to go yellow and wait for it to let up. We were put on hold for about 10 minutes and then we started up again. They sent the car in front of me out while the track was still wet. He did his run and it was time for me to go out.
As soon as I entered Turn 3 on my warm-up lap, with the moisture being pushed off of my visor, I knew it was going to be a hard run. With the rain, the car became the loosest car I've ever driven. To get the pole at Iowa, I knew my out lap had to be flat. Going into Turn 1, I held it flat and I noticed the car was a lot lighter then usual, I kept my foot in it, hoping it would stick but as soon as I hit the bump, the car snapped, and I went full opposite. While looking to save it and trying to recover, I tried to take Turns 3 and 4 flat.
As I got to the exit, the car snapped again. Thankfully another save, and at the point, I knew I just had to drive to the limit of the track to get the best time I could with the conditions I was dealt with. It was far from the run I was hoping for but that's racing – you have to know when you only have so much to work with and use it the best you can. Two more cars went after me, and then the rain came again, they threw the yellow for the balance of the session and we waited again. Once it was clear, they jet-dried the track, and sent the rest out, I went from third to sixth to start the race.
Heading into the race, I knew that the only place I had to go was up. One of the advantages of starting from the back, but I quickly learned, there is a lot of disadvantages of starting from the back as well on an oval. When the green flag came out, we had a great start! I went from sixth to fourth before Turn 1, As soon as I entered T1, I found out real quick that I didn't have the front grip I needed to hold the car on the bottom so I had to lift to keep the car from pushing up and making contact with the outside car but unfortunately that killed my straightway speed going into the turn and in the first couple laps, I found myself back in sixth place.
I think the one mistake that I made that weekend that hurt us a lot in the race was, we didn't run too much with traffic. We made the car work perfect in clean air but as soon as I got close to another car, I couldn't do much to make a pass – I had to sit and hope that the driver in front of me made a mistake.
The laps seemed to count by and by the time our first yellow came out that ended the race on lap 91, I was just holding on to the tires at that point. When I had clean air, I was running identical times as Sage Karam. Since I started so far back, I was never able to come back. The K12 team worked extremely hard that weekend, and I would like to say a big thank you to them for that! Sixth place was far from what we wanted, but we got good points out of it, and brought it home in one piece.
As you know me, I love the ovals of our season. It's sad to see all of them done for 2012 but we have to keep our eyes forward and look toward our next race – Toronto! Sage and I had a very successful test this past week, and I feel like we found that extra little bit we've been looking for on the road course side of things so far this year. Going through the data from St. Pete and Barber, we found some things I could be doing differently, and changed some things on the car to help. I'm really excited to be able to go to Canada this weekend try them out.
With the short amount of track time we are going to have, the important things for us are going to be going out and making mistake-free laps, learning the track, and figuring out what we need for the setup come race time. From the drivers I've talked to, they say Toronto is a very physical track as well. I'm happy I've been able to spend a lot of time with my trainer these past months and, at this point in the season, I've learned the basics how to drive the car. Now what's left is working on the details, and every little bit helps, especially when the top 10 is within two tenths. The K12 car and my Andretti Autosport team go to the track to win, and that's what I'm striving towards doing. If you think about it, your first year in any series is about learning!
Other than the busy past couple weeks of racing I've had, Sage came back from Iowa with me to stay for a couple weeks. We've been training together, doing some normal 17-year-old things and we actually managed to run our first off-road RC car race. We managed to finish second and third in the A Main… after we took each other out several times. It's a good thing we get that out of our systems now, instead of at Toronto!
Thank you for reading, hopefully I'll see some of you in Canada!
Star Mazda Championship driver Zach Veach drives the Andretti Autosport No. 77 K12/Mazda. For more on Zach, go to www.zachveach.com.