In my last blog preparing for Barber, I talked about two things that were going to be difficult when it came down to race time: trying to pass and conserving the tires. Both of which I encountered when the green flag dropped two Sundays ago. What happened on the passing side of things I expected, but on the tire side, not so much.
Throughout Friday practice we had a great car under us. Was P2 in the first session and P3 in the second. We were always battling with a pretty free car, but with our time on track, the car and I were developing in the right direction I wanted for qualifying. By the end of the second session, I felt ready!
The way the tire program works with Indy Lights is, you get three new sets of tires per weekend and you can start the weekend on a used set from the previous event. So, usually your used set of tires will be used through the first and most of the second practice session, allowing you to go to a new set right at the end and carry those into qualifying. Then in qualifying you end up using the last two new sets of tires. But with taking a used set to Long Beach, our first new tire run in qualifying are always a little reserved – one to save that set for the next event and two, to have a good back up set in the race.
My first run put me P5 on the grid, when I went out for my second new tire run we were caught with a little bad luck. On my second lap, I was on a lap good enough to put me P3 on the grid, but the red came out and ended the session. That's the gamble of qualifying though; sometimes you win, other times, not so much.
Going into the race, I knew just trying to keep the tires under us was going to be the biggest thing, My engineer Doug and I went over a lot of things in preparation for the race and I think found the best car we could have.
The start was one of the things I was focused on most since it was so difficult to pass there. We had a great start getting up alongside P3 going into Turn 1, but being on the dirty side of the track on such a fast corner, we really couldn't capitalize…but even so, we were right in the fight with everyone else. Going into Turn 2, I tried to go side by side with P4. My ex-teammate and I made contact on the entry of the corner. I kept my line and my spot, but by the time we got to the exit it was ether lift off or be drove off of the track. This killed my momentum and I fell back to sixth. Luckily on the exit of Turn 5, Sage Karam and Peter Dempsey made contact, which allowed me to get P5 back, settle into a rhythm and start chasing down Sage again.
A few laps in, I was able to find his weak points and try to take advantage of those, getting a run out of Turn 2 into Turn 5, I tried making a pass, but with Sage being as defensive as he is, I wasn't able to make it stick and had to reset to try again. Within a few more laps, I made the same move going into turn 5 but put myself in a better position to focus on my exit out of 5.
Getting the run out, we went side by side down the straight to Turn 7. By the time I got to the braking zone, I had a half a car ahead, but instead of being aggressive and forcing the rest of my pass and taking fourth into Turn 7, I backed off – the car just didn't feel right at all and I didn't want to take the risk.
As soon as I got to the exit of the corner, it was apparent to me that I had a rear tire puncture. I was able to limp back to the pits and get it changed, but at that point we went a lap down. With half the laps to go, my race was over and I used the rest of it as a practice session for my engineer and I to try different things. Even so, I was able to set the fastest lap of the race in the second half. We had that kind of speed in the car from the beginning, but with a track like Barber, being so hard to pass, it shows the importance of qualifying.
After the race, we found out what ended up hurting us the most – either the contact with Sage or being aggressive with the curbs at Barber broke the bolt on the rear undertray strut, which then let it bend and start rubbing the right-rear tire, leading it to go flat.
It's impossible to say what the outcome would've been if the tire didn't go flat, but each race is just a battle and the war that is the championship, is continuing on. One thing for sure: even with only nine cars, I think every Indy Lights race is going to have some pretty exciting battles!
Looking back now, with all that happened at the Alabama Grand Prix, It was a great learning weekend for me that will carry on to this weekend here at Long Beach. The weekend has always been a dream of mine since I was four years old. You always heard about the Indianapolis 500, and the Long Beach Grand Prix as two of the biggest open-wheel races in the states. To be able to be racing here this weekend is somewhat of a dream come true for me and I must thank K12 and Andretti Autosport for giving me that opportunity.
It being a new track for me and a lot of the Indy Lights field, it's going to come down to learning the track as fast as possible, I've been really studying for this weekend with my engineer and I'm excited to see what we can accomplish. I'm ready to rebound from Barber, and see what battles lie ahead!
In addition to battling at Long Beach, I'm also battling for a spot across the desk from Larry Ling. If you wouldn't mind, I'd appreciate your support by "liking" my video, as I'm a finalist to be interviewed by THE KING! www.ZachVeachOnLarryKing.com.
See you in Long Beach or check us out during the NBC Sports Network broadcast on Sunday…who knows, you may even see a little piece on me before the start of the race!
Thanks for reading.
Firestone Indy Lights driver Zach Veach drives the Andretti Autosport No. 12 K12 machine. For more on Zach, go to www.zachveach.com.