I am back on another plane and it seems like the only time I have free from distractions enough to concentrate on blogging is on airplanes headed home from a race or to a race. It also gives me a really good opportunity to reflect on things I have done, things I have coming up and my life in general. My weekend recap is going to be split into two posts- I will get the other one up this evening or tomorrow morning. I didn’t want to bore everyone with a novel.
My last post was in preparation for the race weekend in Toronto. I was on an Air Canada plane headed from Orlando and Children with Diabetes to Toronto for the race weekend. Not only was a big race weekend, it was also going to be a big weekend in terms of media coverage for my Major Partner, Novo Nordisk. Novo Nordisk’s Canadian HQ is in Toronto (well in neighboring Mississauga, but still close enough) and so they were going to have guests at the race weekend as well as pitching my story to TV and print media. With two practices and a qualifying session on Friday, a warm-up and the race on Saturday, my schedule was already going to be busy. Throw in multiple media interviews, a sponsor dinner (which I thoroughly enjoyed!), and some crazy Canadian weather and my weekend became almost as hectic as my ‘home race’ in Long Beach.
Practice on Friday morning went very well. I had a good feeling with the car and ended the session 8th quickest. I had traffic a bit on my fastest lap and thought there was another few tenths of a second in the car. My engineer and I had some good ideas on how to improve the car for the next practice. The biggest thing about practice on a street circuit is that the track changes lap to lap. The dirt gets cleaned up, the rubber goes down, and the line develops in big steps. The lap time changes dramatically through the weekend. In the second practice, my running was disrupted by multiple yellow flags and it was hard to get a good read on the car. However, going into qualifying, I was confident of a solid top-10 starting spot. Qualifying didn’t go quite to plan. I had a lot of confidence on my first set of new tires, but the lap time really plateaud early and I couldn’t go any quicker. After stopping for my second set of new tires, I had the same problem. I did my quick lap time early, but was unable to go any quicker. I matched my quickest time a few laps, but couldn’t make any in-roads on the fastest times. My lap time only put me 13th on the grid and I was really frustrated as I felt I had done a good job driving. I wasn’t sure what was wrong as the set up felt different but hard to pinpoint the problem areas. When we got the car back to the tent after the session, the mechanics noticed that the front roll bar had broken. After hearing that, I understood why the feeling was so hard to pinpoint. We came up with some good ideas on things to test for the morning and then it was off to the mandatory autograph session inside the exhibit hall. After the autograph session, I headed off to dinner with some Novo Nordisk people. We had dinner at a really neat restaurant at the top of the Royal Ontario Museum. When we sat down, the sun was still out and the view out over the city was great. Then as the sun set and the lights came on, the view only got better and better. I thoroughly enjoyed my conversations as well as the food and was feeling much more positive as I headed back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep before race day.
The weather for Saturday was more unsettled than for Friday with a chance of thunderstorms up until midday. With our race being held at 12:30, there was every chance of a wet race. The warm up was held under dry conditions, even though the sky became more and more threatening the whole session. The changes we made to the car in race prep gave me a lot of confidence and allowed me to set the 9th quickest time. Just as the checkered flag flew on our practice, the skies opened and it started to rain. It began lightly at first and then became torrential with lots of thunder and lightning. The lightning was so close to the track at one point that they had to stop the Indy Car practice session. The whole paddock and track were thoroughly soaked and so we had to make the tough choices on set up for the race. We could gamble that it would stay wet and set the car up appropriately, or we could gamble that it would dry out and run the set up we had practiced with in the morning. With the skies still dark and it consistently drizzling, we gambled for a wet set up. Starting 13th, we could afford to take a slightly bigger risk than other drivers. I knew we had the pace for the top 10, it was just going to take some luck and some solid passing moves. As it was, the series declared the start of the race wet which meant we had to start on wets. If the track dried enough to put slicks on, it would be up to the driver and team to make the call, stop and change tires. After the pace laps, we thought that if there was a crash and a full course yellow, we would stop for dry tires. However, even with the treacherous and changing conditions, everyone behaved themselves and the race stayed green. After 6 laps, the wet tires were pretty thrashed and most everyone stopped for dry tires. I came into the pits on lap 7. My pit stop wasn’t the fastest and when I came out of the pits, I was already a lap down back in 15th place. I caught and passed Pippa Mann for 14th place. My teammate, Richard Phillipe, was running behind me and I was struggling with the brakes into turn 1. With about 20 laps to go (out of the 50 scheduled), I locked the rears into turn 1 and Richard got a strong run on me down the straight. He passed me into the hairpin and that was pretty much all the excitement involved in my race. I finished in 15th, a full lap down on the leaders. When I compared my times from the pit lane, the in laps and the out laps, I was reasonably pleased with my performance. I had solid in lap times and out lap times. I lost over a minute in the pits to the fastest pit stop. My fastest lap time was in the top 7 as well. My sector times were all in the top 8 which was really encouraging for the pace of the car. After the race, I had another couple of interviews and then it was off to dinner, sans sponsors. When I finally crawled into bed, I was completely exhausted!