CLERMONT, Ind. — Last week was an insanely busy week that started at New Jersey Motorsports Park and ended at Lucas Oil Raceway in Indiana.
It started really positive as I was able to get a win with the Skip Barber Race Series at New Jersey Motorsports Park. I was third fastest in practice and second fastest in qualifying, which put me on the front row for the race.
Turn one is a relatively fast right hander and I started on the left side of the front row. The next three corners were all right handers, which meant I was at an extreme disadvantage starting on the outside.
There were really only three ways the start could play out, the least likely of which was holding the outside line in turns one and two and take the lead over polesitter Jeshua Alianell.
Much to my surprise, that’s exactly what happened.
After I pulled ahead of Jeshua, I did my best to run as hard as possible while making as few mistakes as I could so that I could hold my lead and maybe even pull away. It was probably on my third or fourth lap that I made a pretty significant error in turn one where I barely went two wheels off on the exit.
Jeshua and Johnny Guindi were still pretty close behind me at that point, so I breathed a sigh of relief when they were still about one to two seconds back behind me even after that mistake. After that I kept checking behind me when I got on the front straight to make sure that nobody was closing in on me and, eventually, nobody was.
Eventually, Jeshua and Johnny had issues, so that left me alone at the front. At that point, it became about being consistent and fast. No need to be a hero and set the fastest lap, just turn good laps at around 95 percent of my limit.
It was hard to stay focused at this point. There was a moment where I lost focus and I started slowing down because I forgot what turn I had just exited because turns three and four appear very similar.
After that happened, I admonished myself and did my best to keep my thoughts in check so that it wouldn’t happen again. Thankfully, the white flag waved and I backed down to about 92 percent to make sure I didn’t make any stupid mistakes.
I took the checkered flag to earn the win, though, when I pulled into the pits it didn’t feel like I’d won because most of the race I was running by myself. In a way it felt like a practice session, but you don’t get a trophy for practice!
Obviously, there was more to it that I’m probably not giving myself credit for, but that’s almost the feeling that I got. By no means was it easy physically or mentally, but I guess in my mind I expected race wins to be more down to the wire and spectacular.
When I’m an older, more jaded racer I’ll probably be wishing that I had more of these types of wins and not the more stressful, down-to-the-wire alternative. In the end, though, my first race win has taught me that boring wins and down-to-the-wire wins are both worth appreciating.
After the victory in New Jersey, I made my way to Indiana, where I was set to race in three different cars in one day at Lucas Oil Raceway. The plan was to race a 100-lap Silver Crown race, a 75-lap USF2000 race and a 30-lap midget race for 205 laps in one night.
Suffice to say I was pretty anxious when it came to race day. I got a small amount of practice in the midget, where we found a problem with the brakes, but I was thankful for the refresher. I was making my debut in the Silver Crown and USF2000 divisions, so that added to the stress.
I was initially going into the first USF2000 practice with a good amount of confidence because I had already completed 200 laps at LOR in Legacy Autosports’ other USF2000 car. Boy, was I in for a surprise when I was fourth slowest of the 26 cars in the session. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was struggling with major looseness in the car on corner entry.
I was pretty frustrated with my pace at the conclusion of practice one and even more demoralized at the conclusion of practice two when nothing we did with the car, helped the issues I was relaying to the crew.
Fortunately, and unfortunately, we concluded that the car was significantly loose and was causing me to over slow corner entry and not be confident during the mid or exit phases of the turn.
We only learned this due to my spotter and driving coach Alex Baron, a former Indy car driver, who watched my practice footage and spotted the issue almost immediately.
However, that only gave us the opportunity to do a one-shot adjustment prior to qualifying without going overboard in the other direction and dialing in a whole lot of understeer that would also prevent me from closing down the time-gap to my competitors, who by then had full test days at the track with their cars as well as three race weekends on different road courses.
Let’s just say I was at a relative disadvantage in terms of preparedness for the race weekend. I managed to qualify 21st and go two-tenths faster than practice, but I still struggled with some looseness. The car was definitely better than it had been previously.
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