LEXINGTON, Ohio – Another weekend brought me to another race track, this time the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the Skip Barber Racing School F4 series.
Despite my rapid improvement as a race car driver in the last couple of months, I didn’t realize just how much more I have left to learn. Despite all this growth and recent exponential improvement, the weekend at Mid-Ohio showed me that I can’t go into any weekend overconfident in my abilities.
Going into the weekend my goal was to sweep of the weekend by setting the fastest time in every session, winning the pole and winning both races. Obviously that was an ambitious goal because it requires each session to go perfectly. However, it seemed like a reasonable goal given my previous experience at the track and my previous experience with Skip Barber.
I’ve historically won races in the Skip Barber series and I did a whole Road to Indy weekend in a USF2000 car at Mid-Ohio. Put two and two together and I should, theoretically, be at an advantage.
The weekend turned out very different from these expectations. I made a couple of critical errors throughout the course of the weekend. The first big mistake actually happened in the only practice session on Friday. I was feeling super comfortable throughout the whole session with the car and track, but didn’t realize until after that I was overdriving the car and significantly hurting my new tires, especially the fronts.
One of my instructors, Nico Rondet pointed this out to me and that I was steering through every instance of understeer the car was experiencing, effectively scrubbing my tires and speed in the process.
I learned the hard way that this is the last thing you want to do technique-wise, but unfortunately I carried it over to a different car that I would certainly describe as undergripped.
Going into day Saturday, which featured a practice session, qualifying and a race, I was feeling confident that I’d be able to implement the feedback I had been given on Friday and convert it into better lap times and better tire wear.
I was successful in practice, going P1 by a decent margin. It wasn’t that impressive though as my two biggest competitors didn’t full participate in practice. One had a tire go down a few laps into practice and the other only ran a warm-up lap so he could save his tires.
This left me at a tactical disadvantage heading into qualifying since I had already worn out my tires a bit compared to my rivals. I still came out of qualifying in P2, a few tenths behind the pole winner, who started the session with much newer tires.
I did my best in the first race with the tires I had, but I had already used my tires up too much. I raced well during the race, but with my tires falling off I fell back a few places to fifth. Despite that, I felt like it was some of the best driving I’ve done in the series up to this point.
I spent an hour after the race chatting with one of my instructors, Ken Fukuda, who sat down with me and really helped me understand some of the core concepts behind proper technique, as well as the physics behind driving. I feel like that conversation will pay dividends down the road during my career.
Day three started with the one thing I was wishing for the most: rain. There was a possibility of rain throughout Sunday and after a tough race on Saturday, I was really hoping for a wet race so I could start fresh with a new set of rain tires.
That’s exactly what I got, but I made a mistake upon leaving the pits for qualifying and looped my car in turn two and got stuck in the gravel trap. I was forced to wait for a tow truck to pull me out.
Luckily I was in good company because everyone else, at some point in the first two laps, either spun or ended up in the grass or a gravel trap. That forced the race officials to black flag the session, which meant no one completed a qualifying lap and we would start race two based on our fastest laps from race one.
That meant I would start fifth due to my poor performance from Saturday. When race two began later in the day we still had rain tires on because it had rained a couple hours earlier and it could still rain again. By the time we lined up for the race the track was almost dry with the exception of a few slick spots near the apexes of certain corners.
I made another big mistake at the start of race two. During the first couple of laps everybody was tentative due to the track conditions and cold tires and I misread the grip levels of the track.
I thought certain corners were slightly slick from the water, but they weren’t and thus I pushed the car in these corners incrementally so as not to make any big mistakes. However, I was losing substantial ground every lap in these corners, ground that I couldn’t make up.
I spent the entire race trying to hold off the driver behind me and narrowly managed to do that, leading to another frustrating fifth-place finish. I learned a lot throughout the course of the weekend and definitely improved as a driver.
I gained an in-depth knowledge of concepts I didn’t fully comprehend before while exposing my weaknesses as a driver. I need to go into every weekend and every session with no ego and an open, flexible mind. That was probably my biggest takeaway from the weekend.
Racing, especially road course racing, is the art of managing, assessing and adapting to the needs of the car and track at every corner on every lap.