JOLIET, Ill. — It was off to the Autobahn Country Club, a fantastic racing facility located one-hour from downtown Chicago, for F1000 and F2000 action July 7-10.
The test day on Friday was rained out, so the only practice time was on a wet track with rain tires. The rest of the weekend was forecast to be completely dry, so it didn’t make sense to practice and burn through rain tires for no good reason.
I tried going out at the end of the day in the F2000 car, but the track had puddles and remained slick. After two laps, I pulled off the course and got ready to go again on Saturday.
With much better conditions the following morning, I was able to practice in each car and re-familiarize myself with the track and gauge my pace against the competition before we qualified with each car.
I won the pole in F1000 qualifying by 1.2 seconds on my fifth lap, then took a couple laps to test a setup change. It was a bit more challenging in F2000 because the car had a fuel-pickup issue three laps into the session.
I was unable to set any sort of competitive lap time before I had to call it quits on the session.
Unfortunately, there was no way to get the No. 95 car back in action for the first F2000 race one, so I had to take out the backup No. 96. That’s a car I had not driven since Sebring in January.
Nevertheless, I had a good start in sixth place and raced up to fourth on the first lap. It took me a few laps to make the pass for third with some nifty moves in turn eight and defending in turn 11.
But from that point, I couldn’t catch up to the second-place car because of rear grip on the exit of the corners, so I had to settle for third place.
In Sunday’s F1000 action, it was quite a busy day with two qualifying sessions and two races. In the first F1000 race, at the green flag, Reilly Harris passed me going into turn one. That car was faster than mine on the straights.
I did my best to hold my position but eventually had to relinquish it into turn three. A few laps later, as Harris pulled away because I was struggling with high-speed rear grip, the rear of the car snapped around on me into turn 11.
I did a 360-degree spin into the grass and managed to keep the engine running to get back on track right behind my teammate, Tommy Cadwalader, who was in second place.
There was water in the middle of the corner and that caused my spin. I thought it was oil but a few laps later it dried up. That helped me close the gap.
I passed him a couple laps later while the track was still a little wet in the corner. I later learned that it was wet because my radiator’s water hose came unattached and sprayed my left rear, causing me to spin out and also douse the track.
That meant my engine was running pretty hot, I didn’t care because I figured I might as well finish the race and address the issue afterward. I finished second but ran my fastest lap on the final lap.
Unfortunately, mechanical issues meant an early exit to the next two qualifying sessions.
The F1000 qualifying ended after I did another pirouette into turn one on my first flying lap. Immediately after that, the engine temperature rose again and I came into the pits. Another blown water hose created the problem.
My qualifying session was over and I started fifth for the second race.
In F2000 qualifying two, the car had the same fuel-pickup issue as the other car and left me with one banker lap that was good enough for fifth place.
Just before the F2000 race started, the second-place car pulled off into the pits, which meant one less car for me to race. I passed for fourth and then for third a couple laps later.
Unfortunately, I could feel the fuel-pickup issue return. My engine was barely getting any power whenever the car was turning right, but I was still able to race my way to second place.
Because of my car’s raw speed, that’s where I finished.
Despite my F2000 heroics, there was no way to run the F1000 car in race two. The engine was damaged because of the failed water system.
My weekend was over with one pole position a third-place finish and two second-place finishes.
If I were a betting man, I’d wager that if I hadn’t experienced any mechanical issues during the weekend, I would’ve finished with at least two first-place finishes, perhaps even four.
That’s the nature of racing though, and there’s not much to be done except to learn from it and move on.