This race weekend had a very unorthodox start because we had a test day on Tuesday from 4PM to 7PM. Even though the test day started the race weekend early, it was very valuable to learn Watkins Glen because I had never driven there before. So I had the opportunity to familiarize myself with the circuit and it gave the team the chance to experiment with some setups before the official weekend began.
Fast forward to Friday, our first practice session started at 10AM and lasted 45 minutes. The track had lost some grip from the test because there was minimal running during the week and it had been raining most days we weren’t on track. So we decided to only use 1 set of tires for the first session. After the first session I was 7th on the times, but we knew which direction to go with the car for the second session to gain some time.
The second practice session was at 2:30 later that day, and the car felt much better than the morning session. We continued to run most of the session on our older set of tires from the first practice to dial the car in for a qualifying sim at the end of the session so we could see our pace compared to the field. At the end we put on our second set of stickers and put in the quickest time of that session, so we finished the first practice day feeling confident we had a car we could compete for pole with.
Qualifying started at 10AM on Saturday, and since the session was 45 minutes long with only 2 sets of tires to use. We elected to run older tires for the majority of the session to get the car dialed in for the end. Since this race weekend only had one race, we only had to worry about putting in one fast lap to set the grid. The qualifying came down to the wire, and in the last few laps of the session cars gained a tremendous amount of time. When the session was finished we came out 4th to start the race.
Although 4th was a little disappointing know we had a strong car, we felt very confident going into the race because we had a setup that worked well with the tires on the new track surface. Going into the race we elected to adjust the car setup to protect the rear tires, so we made changes to insure we had a lot of rear grip throughout the race. Unfortunately, the track conditions heated up to the point where the changes we made created an extreme understeer, making it very difficult to get the car rotated to get a good exit out of the corners. So from the start of the race I stayed as close as I could to the lead pack in case any opportunities arose to advance late in the race when the tire degradation created an advantage to us. The majority of the race the top cars maintained position and I brought the car home 4th.
With one more race weekend left, we’re still in mathematical contention for the championship. I couldn’t ask for a better finale than at my home track, so I’ll be looking to win both races at Mazda Raceway. I’ll need a little bit of luck to win the title, but I’ve seen crazier things happen in the Mazda Road to Indy!