The race weekend in Milwaukee was technically my sixth pole award this year and third this season; those pole positions turned into three total race wins this year and one race win this season. Being first in line to start a race is only half the battle!
From the beginning of the year, my mechanic, Ron Weaver, was telling me how much I would love the Milwaukee Mile, and after knowing me for about a year and a half now, he was right! Milwaukee was like no other track I've been on before. “The Mile” is an oval, but you have to drive it like a road course, carrying full throttle way past the entrance and working on car setup to try to make it stick enough to take the corners flat. Another thing that took a lot of getting use to was the differences in track surfaces – sometimes the changes to the car would make it better on the old asphalt and worse on the new asphalt or vice versa, and since our line had us running on both, we had to really focus on where we wanted the car to be at its best.
Before the team and I got to Milwaukee, I spent a lot of time on iRacing just trying to get an idea of a line and I also had a lot of help from my Andretti Autosport teammate Sage Karam, since the Star Mazda series had a test day there back in May.
On Thursday of the race weekend, we had an hour-and-a-half session. The first part of it was just trying to learn the new track, but we managed to get some changes in to help give the front more grip from late middle to the exit of the corner during power down, and ended the session P1, and did the same for the next two practices leading to qualifying.
We drew third to go out for qualifying and as a driver you're kind of always hoping to be farther back so you can see what some of the other guys are doing; but we worked with what we had and went on track. We get three warm-up laps and two timed laps. On our warm-up laps, I noticed we had a bit more understeer than in practice, so I adjusted my front bar and gave it all I had. Fortunately, I had the fastest two-lap average and got the pole, but there's no feeling like the one you get when you're wondering if your time was good enough.
My engineer and I had the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday to figure out what we wanted to do on setup for the race; we changed some wing angles and left it alone. Sunday afternoon I got strapped in the car while the Star Mazda race was wrapping up and I sat there watching my best friend Sage completely run away with the win. We pushed to the pit lane, they did the drivers introductions, and we fired our engines and went out for our pace laps.
Coming to the green we had a pretty good start pulling in front of outside pole, but had to run a defensive line in Turn 1 because third place was trying to get a nose in, which killed my momentum leading down the back straight. Boyd Wayne managed to get around me in Turn 3, and that was the race. We had a faster car than Boyd when we were by ourselves, but we didn't have the car we needed in traffic. I have to say Boyd ran a good race; he didn't make any mistakes, and he just adds to the tough completion of this year's USF2000 season. We tried our best and came out with a second-place finish. All in all, it was a good points weekend for the team; we moved up to second in the championship and first place isn't out of reach.
One thing I learned from this weekend was, it's important to use your practice time wisely. Sometimes trying to get every bit of speed out of the car isn't a good setup for the race and I think that's what we ran into. But it does make one wicked qualifying car!
On and off the track, the Milwaukee Mile race was a big event for me, being that it was another oval and another podium result, it was also the first race I got to run with my new partner for the 2011 season: The Young Marines, which is a youth organization for kids from 8-years old through high school. I had the opportunity to have a group from The Young Marines with me at the race and I'm excited to say we have a lot more things planned to do with them this season.
What made it most special for me was having the whole Andretti team put support decals on their cars to help bring awareness of the local Milwaukee family of Xzavier Davis-Bilbo.
Xzavier is a 6-year-old boy who was hit by a woman who was texting while driving when he was helping his sister cross the street a year ago. The incident left him paralyzed from the diaphragm down. Any little thing we can do to help will go a long way for this family. If you would like to help or learn more about Xzavier and his family, please visit http://www.xzavier-survivor.com for more details.
Something I've learned with being at Andretti Autosport is that the team and my teammates are always quick to support each other's initiatives and events. It was so awesome to see Sage take his first Star Mazda race win at Milwaukee and you saw the excitement from the top down at Andretti Autosport. To see Marco Andretti follow that up with a win in the IndyCar at Iowa is great momentum for the team as whole – we are all heading in the right direction!
Last but not least, I want to thank my dad for all he's done for me, Andretti Autosport, the best team and crew I could ever ask for, the Young Marines, Zakosi Data Backup, the Mazda Road to Indy platform and IndyCar for giving drivers like me an opportunity to chase our dreams of someday racing in the Indianapolis 500! Whether you start from the pole position or the back of the pack, we're all chasing our own dream of success.
USF2000 National Championship driver Zach Veach drives the Andretti Autosport No. 7 Zakosi Data Backup/Mazda. For more on Zach, go to www.zachveach.com.