With the season starting to come to a close it’s become extremely important to get a strong performance to reignite our championship hopes; and Toronto delivered. Going into the weekend, Toronto felt almost like a home race for me. I have tons of family that live in Toronto, so the support I get every year that I race there is incredible. Going into this weekend, I was extremely focused on making sure we had the best weekend possible to get back into the hunt for the championship.
The first surprise of the weekend was that the track had been altered from the original layout. Due to a new hotel being built on the western part of the track, the pit lane had to be moved to the opposite side of the track. In order to compensate for such a massive change, the entire track layout for turns 9,10, and 11 were entirely new corners. For the first practice session it was like learning a new track with an entirely new line and bumps to maneuver. The new section couldn’t be any more different from the previous years. Before, the section was a very flowing and high-speed section. Now, it was far more technical and bumpy with an emphasis on exit shots instead of rolling a higher minimum speed. After the first practice session I was 5th quickest.
Moving into the next practice session, I knew the track would have much more grip than the first session. It is very common to have a street course get seconds quicker throughout the weekend because of the lack of grip when the cars first drive the track. By the end of the weekend, the track will have tons of rubber from all the different series that race, adding even more traction. For the second practice we ended up 4th quickest, feeling very confident going into qualifying the next morning.
For qualifying we were very quick on the first set of tires, moving between the top 3 spots. Our strategy we decided to use meant we had to sit in pit lane for the middle part of the session waiting to use our stickers so our fast laps would be in the last few minutes of the session. Unfortunately right as my tires were coming up to temperature, another car crashed on track causing a red flag, which ended the session early. The red flag caught out many cars in the field, so it’s tough to say if we would’ve had the pace to be on pole, but I knew we should’ve been starting higher than 7th for the race. I was still extremely confident in the car we had, so I knew I could race the car to the front.
In the first race I had a clean start and managed to hold on to 7th after the first few corners. After the first lap the car running in 5th made contact with another car and punctured their tire, forcing them to pit early moving me into the 6th position. After a few laps behind 5th, I made a move going into turn 3 and completed the pass to enter the top 5. Soon after my pass, the race went yellow because of an incident that happened behind me in Turn 3. After going back to green flag racing I advanced to 4th after a few laps with another pass into Turn 3. I spent the majority of the race from that point closing the gap to the 3rd position. With about 6 laps to go I found myself on the rear of 3rd place pressuring for a podium finish. I had been saving 1 push-to-pass for the final lap, and made a tight pass down the back straight away going into the brake zone of Turn 3. After nearly locking up and going into the barriers, I gathered the car up and completed the pass and finished the race in 3rd.
The second race was nearly entirely opposite. I was starting 4th due to the fast times in the first race, and had a clean start once again, putting myself in 4th position after the first few corners. After a couple laps the car in front locked up going into Turn 3, so I advanced to 3rd early in the race. I slowly reeled in 2nd place, but couldn’t get a good enough run to make a pass. After a few laps, the car behind would catch up to me and make a pass attempt going into Turn 3. I would be forced to defend the pass, but would sacrifice my gap to the car in front of me. The race went on like this to the very end and had a nail-biting finish where I managed to hold off to finish 3rd again.
After a few rough race weekends without the results we felt we should’ve had, Toronto was a breath of fresh air. I feel like the team and myself are revitalized and ready to make a sprint to the finish line and try to take this championship while we have some momentum. The next race is at Mid Ohio in the last week of July and we’ll have to get two more podium finishes to move forward in the point standings.