As I've had time to sit back throughout the winter, I've really examined my 2012 season, race by race, going over all of the details — things that worked, and things that didn't. In that time, I've realized that I learned a lot through the 2012 season. On the driving side, the team side, and on a personal level through differing experiences. As a driver, I wasn't happy with our 2012 results, and wanted to make sure I could do whatever it took to correct that for this season. From off-season preparation to our last test at Sebring to getting ready for this week, it's been a journey.
I sat down and went through every race from St. Pete to Road Atlanta, making a list of things I wanted to do better. I wanted to work as hard as I could over the offseason to make sure all that I learned through 2012, was put to good use in 2013 at having a much better season. From my first Indy Lights test on, I knew what I wanted to improve on in the car. At first, it was just getting comfortable with the car itself. Then with more time, it went from the big things like more speed, down to the details like braking that five feet later or making sure my shifting lifts were as small as possible.
As we started to get most of our off season testing underway, and I got the chance to spend more time with my new teammate, Carlos Munoz, it was apparent to me just how dedicated he was on the track and even at home. This pushed me that much more to put in everything that I had. By the time I got up to speed, I was pushing Carlos just as much as he was pushing me and I think that is what has made us, and our cars, strong over the winter. I know there are no trophies for testing but it's a great way to compare yourself to the others.
At the end of the two series tests on the Homestead-Miami Speedway road course, and the Sebring short course, both Andretti Autosport cars have been 1-2 overall. I think that is going to give us a bit of momentum going into St. Pete too. There is still a lot for me to learn that will come with experience, but I feel like we're off to a good start. Everything from time with my engineer Doug, and Carlos, it just seems like every session I am learning something new.
With Sebring being so rough, we knew it would be a great place to check off our final testing items for St. Pete, and with it being a two day test, we had a lot of time to work with. Throughout the Sebring test, we were able to hit on some really important things for our street course setup, but the biggest thing for me was how differently the car handled between low fuel running and full race-fuel running.
With qualifying fuel load, and new tires, the 1,500-lb Indy Lights car, is actually pretty nimble. You can brake extremely late into the corners, just roll as much speed as possible into the apex and as the car is moving around, getting good rotation setting up for the exit of the corner. You can then get back to throttle aggressively driving the car out right on the edge of wheel spin, feeling that limit of grip. The corners go by so quickly, and you're just dancing with this big heavy car, it gives you a feeling of that it's floating over the track, like the tires are barley touching the surface, and you're just guiding it, keeping it on path.
A lot of that changes though, pretty drastically with a full load of fuel. The car loses some of that nimbleness it use to have, and becomes a little lazy to the touch, it just overall feels heavy with the 20-gallon tank full. The car doesn't want to slow down as quickly, on the initial turn in, it takes it a little longer to roll over and take a set, that floating feeling you would have in the car when it was close to its limit turns into a more aggressive snap at mid-corner, making it much harder to catch.
At the exit, traction isn't affected with the extra weight, if anything it might be a bit better, but even so, you feel the car's pull off of the corner isn't that strong, either. As I got to do more laps with this change, I was able to find what was comfortable and what to change between qualifying and the race. The overall technique is the same, but the details are a little different, of course, qualifying is all about pushing the car to and even a little beyond its limit, but with these hour-long, 100-mile Indy Lights races, it'll be all about pushing to what the car will give you, without asking too much from the tires, so you can make sure you are able to finish strong.
The past two years, I've shown up at St. Pete driving a different Mazda Road to Indy series car, and I'm excited to be able to do it again this year with the Firestone Indy Lights car. The past two years, in USF2000 and Star Mazda, I always struggled with overdriving the car, because I had so much time in a high downforce Atlantic Championship car when I was first learning, I always tried to brake the cars too late, and carry too much speed through the corners.
Not having that problem in the Indy Lights car is why I'm so excited for this season and why I think we've been able to be strong throughout testing. Of course we'll really know where we stand as we get into the weekend, but the team has been working extremely hard. With my engineer, my K12 crew, my teammate, and everyone else at Andretti Autosport. I couldn't ask for better people around me, I'm very excited to see what we can accomplish together this year!
I'm looking forward to a great weekend at St. Pete. We all put in everything we had over the off season and through preseason testing, I've been training very hard at home, my engineer and I have been going over video and notes for this weekend going on weeks now, and I'm very confident in our car. I cannot wait to get back behind the wheel and see where we stack up at St. Pete. I hope to see some of you there!
The 12-race Indy Lights championship is going to all come down to consistency and that's what I'm aiming for this year! My goal is to just get podium finishes, wins if possible, without making any costly mistakes.
Also, I want to thank everyone at K12 for their support and allowing me to chase my dream by having the ability to get my education online from anywhere I go, and all of the other great people supporting me including The Young Marines, ADS IT Solutions, Zakosi Data Backup, Replay XD, OMP, Bell Helmets, Firestone, and Art Rotondo.
Firestone Indy Lights driver Zach Veach drives the Andretti Autosport No. 12 K12 machine. For more on Zach, go to www.zachveach.com.