A lot of people outside of the racing world think that once the season ends in September or October that we have the whole winter off, but in reality, we are just as or even busier then we are during the regular season. Personally, I always look forward to the end of the year because that's when you take everything you've learned during the season and try to improve on it, especially if you plan on moving up to a bigger car like I am.
The only downside of winter testing is you miss out on the “race weekend” part of it. You still get to do qualifying sims and race runs, but it's never the same as having 19 other drivers who are giving everything to achieve the same goal as you.
Getting the rare opportunity to get in both winter testing and a race weekend is incredibly valuable for both me as a driver and for my team. After winning the Cooper Tires USF2000 Winterfest Championship back in January, it's my goal to work to get the team another winter title in a Star Mazda through the Formula Car Challenge.
Last time you guys heard from me was after the Star Mazda season finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, where I managed to spin 360-degrees in the Corkscrew without losing a position, and finished on the podium with a third-place result.
Since then, all of the “Mazda Road to Indy” drivers had the opportunity to be a part of a two-day test at our dream track, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway! The only thing that stopped us from taking on the four most historic corners in all of racing was this slight problem that it was a road course test. After the first few laps, I understand why we did the road course. It takes some time to register topping out at 155mph down the front straight after going through Turn 1 on the oval, and then braking for Turn 1 on the road course. I have to say it was a pretty big honor being able to drive through Turn 1 on the oval and across the yard of bricks. It was a great test for the team, and leading three out of the four sessions gave us the momentum to carry forward into our winter program.
When I got the word from the team that we would be competing in the Formula Car Challenge Winter championship at Sonoma and Fontana, I was really excited to get some more race experience under my belt before the start of next season. There's never a substitution for seat time, everything you can learn now, is only going to help when it comes race time during March when the new season begins.
Unlike when the IZOD IndyCar Series ran at Sonoma back in August, the Formula Car Challenge ran on a different configuration that turned the back side of the track into faster esses. That meant a smaller margin error and really makes you push the limits of the racecar. So, before we headed out there, I spent a lot of time on iRacing learning the new configuration, and going over data with my engineer Yancy on things I needed to work on. Right off the truck, the event started off on a positive note, and things kept moving in that direction.
We were able to lead all the practice sessions we competed in except for one and, on Saturday morning, I even had the opportunity to run the car in the rain for the first time – my favorite track conditions! But for some reason, the crew wasn't as excited as I was when it started raining…
I quickly noticed that with the added downforce the Star Mazda car has compared to the USF2000 machine, it makes the car able to be pushed that extra bit more in the high-speed corners with a wet track. The only downside of having more horsepower than the USF2000 car was the wheel spin – patience is everything when it comes to throttle.