Following a disastrous weekend at the Long Beach Grand Prix, Barber Motorsports Park presented a great opportunity to finally grab a few finishes and some solid results. Heading into the weekend, the team was confident that Barber would suit our car, as there are quite a few fast turns and not too many straights. From running USF2000 there in the past, I am very familiar and comfortable with the layout. We also had a lot of track time with two test sessions, two practices, qualifying, and two races.
The two tests were compromised by an overheating issue, but both practices were productive and encouraging. Unfortunately, in both practices we were never able to log a full sticker tire run, and this hurt us in qualifying. We had a package that was definitely worth a top-5 effort, but we ended up 9th.
By the drop of the green flag, I was swarmed by cars behind under acceleration. I was jammed in the middle of a 3-wide situation though Turn 1 and Turn 2. The whole time I was being squeezed and pin-balled in between the bigger cars to my left and right. I finally broke free, but I was already back to 12th. I made up 2 of the 3 spots lost, and slotted into 10th. For the next 40 minutes, I was completely involved in maintaining position. Every lap, I would enter Turn 5, Turn 7, and Turn 14 on the bottom of the racetrack defending the Bentley behind. For a long time I held on, until I made a mistake under braking into Turn 5 that left the door open for the Bentley. With two laps to go, I was involved in a similar battle with a hard charging Audi. Desperately trying to hold onto the outside of Turn 7, I dropped a wheel and lost a few more spots to the train behind. I finished 14th. I was very frustrated and confused with the entire race. Naturally, I was disappointed in myself for making the two mistakes under high-pressure, and I was confused with our lack of pace. It was all I could do to hold off the cars behind, and even when I was able to be in clean air, we just struggled to have any pace. Especially since we had been so strong all weekend.
Since I was battling all Race 1, I never put up a good lap the entire race. This qualified me back to 16th for Race 2. With Barber being a historically difficult track to pass, and turbulent air a difficult obstacle to overcome, 16th was definitely not ideal, but we also made a few changes overnight to help our performance.
As the green flag flew, I was more aggressive on my defense from the rows behind and only dropped back a couple spots. I made up what I lost quickly in Turn 2 and Turn 5, slotting me into 15th. In the opening laps, I made work of an Acura on the outside on Turn 15 and then a Ferrari into Turn 1. After a 15 minute battle with the Gainsco McLaren, I dove down the inside of Turn 14 to pick up 12th. At this point in the race, I had saved my tires, and was now really starting to reel in the back half of the top-10. I caught the Mercedes and snuck down to the bottom of Turn 2 to grab 11th.
Shortly after, we caught GT Cup traffic, and my progress stalled. Once clear, I continued my charge forward. I ran down the other Acura, and gained an advantage heading out of Turn 13, as he made a mistake and dropped a wheel. He put the block on me heading into Turn 14, so I cut to the outside to put me clear on the inside for the final corner. Door to door we entered the last corner, and the Acura turned right down into me, door slamming me into a spin. I rejoined in 15th place, and crossed the line in 14th after gaining one spot back.
I had a lot to be proud of that race. Not once did I think of how angry I was at what had happened. The only thing I could think of was potential. I felt that that was one of the best races I had ever driven, even though there are little to no results to back it up. I had the same race pace as the leaders, ran very consistent times, made lots of passes, and I had fun! The team and I are working really well together, I come to every race weekend as prepared as possible, and the car is very strong. It is only a matter of time until our luck turns around, and some numbers get up on the board. I look forward to when those races will come, because we will be ready.