In my pre-race Milwaukee blog last week, I talked a lot about the importance of learning and how no matter what you're driving or what day it is, there is still a chance to learn something along the way. The past weekend was a very valuable learning experience for me on many different levels. I experienced things I was not used to like pushing the car right out of the box in qualifying on cold sticker tires, changes to the car, that we maybe able to try at Iowa, and of course, a lot more race experience...
At Milwaukee we were able to test there a week before the event, which was great to get some practice in. During the first sessions of tests, we started off with a great plan but the car was just a little too free which we knew could be fixed as the track came in and rubbered up. By the end of the first two-hour test session on Thursday we were P3, needing a little more security in the rear, and I needed to work on a couple little minor things on carrying the throttle deeper into the corner and turn a little later as well. The next two-hour session in the afternoon, we were able to make those changes and finished P1; starting off on the right foot for The Milwaukee Mile the following weekend.
For me as a rookie, one of my weaknesses has always been getting the most out of the car as fast as possible on a short four-lap qualifying run, and with starting position being so important at a place like Milwaukee, we wanted to make sure we worked on that as much as possible. After two short practice sessions on Friday morning, it was time for qualifying. We drew fourth in line to go out, luckily, the two cars I was really watching for (Carlos and Sage) went out in front of me, so I knew what the challenge ahead of us would be rolling out onto the track. Four short laps later, we missed our first Firestone Indy Lights pole by .03 over a combined average of two laps. My first lap was a 24.99 and the second a 24.84. Looking back, I could have pushed a lot harder on the first lap and made up those three hundredths up, but you learn as you go. It had been our best qualifier of the season for the previous races we qualified fifth and third and I have to say I was still pretty happy with our first front row start this season.
With it being so hard to pass at Milwaukee it was my goal to try to grab the lead on the start. Sage said that I jumped it, but the flagman waved the green before he started to accelerate and I guess I was more ready for that than he was. We were able to gain a bit of a gap going into Turn 1, and over the next laps we built up a four second lead. , It had been our first time leading in an Indy Lights race. After leading 56 of the first laps and getting the fastest lap of the race, I learned we were a little overly aggressive on the tires, which made the second half of the race a struggle for us, but with every mistake you learn.
As we head into Iowa, I am hoping to bring my learning experience from Milwaukee with me. It's going to be a whole different animal compared to Milwaukee—flat out and high banking will make for some pretty exciting racing for us. The hardest thing about this weekend is the track schedule. On a normal race weekend we have three days to get everything ready for the big day, but this weekend we do it all in a single day. On Saturday, we'll have two practice sessions, qualifying, and the race all in one day. This might test the physical and mental strength of some drivers, but this is exactly why we train as much as we do!