The Toronto weekend was in a way, very bittersweet, but I'm happy for it.
After the start of our season on the street and road courses, I was a little nervous about how Rounds 7 and 8 would go. From the beginning I was having a lot of trouble with braking in the Star Mazda car. Each braking zone, I would over use the brakes with too much pressure, and that would cause the car to be very unstable on the entry of the corner not allowing me to roll in the amount of speed needed.
We had a very successful test a few days before Toronto – there we decided to change some things to the brakes and it made all the difference in the world. It allowed me to push the entry of the corner more, and helped with overall consistency as well. I feel the brakes are what helped us the most at Toronto.
Thinking about the weekend we had, it couldn't have started off better for me, and my team. In the first 30-minute practice session, I was P1 at the end and my teammate Sage Karam was P2. It was the first time I've led a practice session on a road course in the Star Mazda car – it was a great feeling, to say the least.
The Toronto track was like one I've never been on before. Every apex of every corner had concrete patches in them, so you would turn into the corner and the car would feel fine but then you would hit the patch. This made the car start to understeer a lot, so you would have to add in more steering to keep the car on the line. On top of that, you had to unwind the wheel back out right before you hit pavement again or the more steering would cause the rear to snap out.
So you really had your hands full, not to mention it being the bumpiest street course I've ever been on. It was definitely a tough track to drive but was also very different compared to other street courses. Toronto had a permanent road course flow to it with the last few corners and made it a blast to drive.
The next and final practice session, we ended up P3 with my teammate being P1, It was a really neat experience to have both practice sessions lead by the two Andretti cars in the field. Although that gives you some momentum to go into qualifying and the race with, winning practice doesn't mean much – but it did give us a direction to work on and that's what we did to get ready for Saturday.
Unlike a normal race, we barely made any adjustments on the car throughout the weekend. That was especially the case when getting ready for qualifying – the car was fast right off of the truck, and we just waited for the track to come to us. I found more time in myself by just getting laps and trying different things, sticking to short runs and working on the setup. Also, with the track being so bumpy and having so many concrete patches, it was hard to fine-tune the car because it never did the something twice; we got it close and left it!
We were watching for rain throughout Friday and Saturday wondering when it would come and the answer was qualifying – luckily it didn't come until about 15 minutes into the session and we were able to get one clear lap, which put us P3 on the chart for the first race. But when it came, it was a complete downpour, the type of rain that looks fake when you see it in a movie. The track kept getting faster and faster, I think if we would have had a full session we could have went up a little more, but I was extremely happy with a third-place starting spot, especially my start at St. Pete, our last road course. Things were really starting to turn around for the K12 car and me. Not even touching the car for the race later that day, we sat around, looked at data, looked at video, and waited for the race.
There was really only one thing I was worried about on the start, and that's the straightaway from Turn 1 to Turn 3. With it being so long, your exit speed in Turn 1 and being able to brake super late into Turn 3 becomes the most important thing in the race. It's fairly easy to get a draft on the car ahead of you and be completely alongside them before the braking zone.
I had a fairly good start, and followed P1 though Turn 1, but third managed to get a draft on me going into T3 and went to the inside. That forced him on the dirty side of the track when he tried to out brake me, so he locked up his front tires, and I was able to get back underneath him, to take my spot back. A couple corners later, the yellow was out for my teammate, who broke on the start.
As we went back to green flag racing, the leader (Jack Hawksworth) and I pulled out a pretty big gap over third; we were running identical times, and we both were fighting for the fastest lap. I would set it, then he would beat it. This kept happening until the last yellow came out to end the race.
We didn't win, but a second place felt like one for sure. It was my first podium finish on a road course this season and for the next race, my first start on the front row. It was a rewarding feeling – we've been working so hard after the rough start to the season and I was feeling like it was starting to turn around.
On Sunday morning, we had our second and last race of the weekend, starting P2, I knew exactly what I wanted to try to do and that was to get a good run through Turn 1 and draft the leader to pass going into Turn 3.
The lights counted down, and I managed to get the best start of my life. Before Turn 1, I was close to being at the side pod of the leader, the only problem was, this didn't allow me to get the draft I needed down the straightaway to pass into Turn 3. Just like the first race, after about half of the track, the yellow came out again; this was another chance to get the pass for the lead down.
As we went back to green, I had a pretty good start and nice draft down the straightaway, with the defensive line the leader took, I wasn't able to force the issue and had to fall back in line and hope for another chance. A couple laps later, I was pulling away from third and staying right with the leader, I knew I had a good enough car to go for a win but I just needed to push it. Well, I pushed a little too far and the car pushed out a little too far too. Going through Turn 6, I knew that was where I was losing time, so I tried to make up for it, and force the car to do something it couldn't. My left-rear made contact with the tire wall on exit and cleaned it off, ending my race.
We had a top-two car for sure, maybe even a winning car. I learned a lot from this, and I'm never going to make this mistake twice. You have to go for a win when you can, but also know when to cruise for points. Second would have been a lot better than 17th but, it's a huge learning process. I just want to thank my K12 guys for sticking with me and really working hard for me, I was heartbroken for them on Sunday, but I just have to make it up to them in Edmonton this weekend right?
Edmonton is up next for rounds nine and 10, and I have to say, I'm really excited for it, the fans in Canada are just great racing people, and the culture is really relaxed too. Toronto and maybe Edmonton, are going to be on my list of favorites for a long time!
Last but not least, I want to thank K12 for making my dream possible, as well as ReplayXD, the Young Marines, Arai, OMP, Zakosi Data Backup, and ADS IT Solutions.
I hope to see some of you in Edmonton! Any good places to eat there?
Star Mazda Championship driver Zach Veach drives the Andretti Autosport No. 77 K12/Mazda. For more on Zach, go to www.zachveach.com.