With six down and seven to go, I have reached the halfway point in the Skip Barber National Championship Series presented by RACR, or should I say International Championship Series. With drivers from Brazil, Canada, Japan, Peru, United States, and Venezuela, this proves to be one of the most competitive junior series around. To be competitive in this series is a challenge and it is a privilege to be able to race against such talented young drivers. Having a five-week break in-between races makes it difficult to not be rusty the next time you get into the car and between races, I was able to go to the local go-kart track to practice and stay sharp. I also had the opportunity to be a mechanic for a fellow teammate at Trackmagic for the IKF (International Kart Federation) Grand Nationals. It was a very different and trying experience that made me realize how much of a privilege it is to be a driver. Reflecting back on the week, I think that I learned a lot in the sense of teamwork and also how mechanics/teams can need a morale boost when things aren't going their way. When things were going well, it made working on the kart fun and easy but when they weren't, the day just seemed to never end. After a hard week of wrenching on a kart, I felt prepared and hungry to win at Putnam Park.
My dad and I flew out early Wednesday morning and arrived at the Indianapolis airport at around 5 PM. From there, we headed towards the track and grabbed a bite to eat before checking into our hotel. Unlike the previous rounds, I opted to do one day of lapping rather than two because I felt like I had peaked too early especially at Grattan and while everyone continued to improve their lap times, mine almost stayed the same. The National Championship had two practice sessions on Thursday and at the end of the day, I ended up being about third quickest.
In Friday's single practice session, I posted the fastest time and was the only driver to get into the 1:15's while everyone else was in the 16's and 17's. This gave me confidence because I knew that I had what it would take to grab the pole position but during my qualifying run, I tried too hard and ended up fifth on the grid for Saturday's race.
Saturday began with a qualifying session that would set up the grid for Sunday's race and after realizing my mistakes on Friday; I focused on the task at hand and tried to not over drive the car. I warmed up for a few laps and started to pick up the pace. After laying down two consecutive 1:16.5 lap times, I knew that my next one would be a flyer. But as luck would have it, a fellow competitor had spun out ahead of me and as he came back onto the track, he took the racing line, which forced me to take the inside line into the hairpin and ruining my good lap. Another fifth place starting position was frustrating but I knew that I had enough to run with the leaders.
Unlike the previous race weekend, I timed the start very poorly and was unable to pick up any positions. I ran in fifth place for a number of laps pressuring fourth place and eventually passed him going into the hairpin. That same lap, I got a good run coming onto the front straightaway and made another pass for third. Now a few car lengths behind first and second, I slowly began to catch up to them and was now in a battle for the lead. As we came onto the front straightaway, I was a few car lengths behind second place and didn't think that I would be able to make the pass. As we came closer to the first turn, the draft began to suck me in and just before we hit the brakes, I popped out as if I was going to pass. Second place thought that I was going to try a bonzai move and over shot the turn, which allowed me to make an easy pass and now stalk the leader. With only five laps to go, an accident occurred involving three cars that brought out a full course yellow. Knowing that the restart would begin before coming onto the straightaway, I stayed close to the leader but he still managed to get a good jump and pull a few car length lead. With only three laps to go, I tried my best to catch up but was unable to and finished second.
On Sunday's start, I was able to stay close behind third place but lost a position going into the first turn. After a few laps had passed, fourth place dropped two wheels off the course allowing me to move past and work on fourth place. The next lap, third and fourth place were in a heated battle and going into the first turn, they collided, which allowed me to slip by and move into third. A little ways back from the leaders, I ran alone trying to chase them down. Focusing on the two cars ahead of me, I drove as smoothly as possible and tried to not make any mistakes. As the laps wound down, it felt as if I was crawling around the track when in reality, I was catching the leaders! With only a few laps left, I could see myself inching my way closer to first and second but simply ran out of time. When the white flag flew, I was still a few car lengths back and not close enough to mount an attack and finished a respectable third.
Still searching for that first victory but out of a possible forty-two points in a weekend, I scored thirty and moved back into fourth in the championship. Now nine points behind second and seven behind third, the championship is still up for grabs and I feel very optimistic with five races to go. We have just over a two month break from now until Lime Rock which leaves me a lot of time to train both mentally and physically. On top of this training, I will also be developing a go-kart to race in the Rotax Max race at Las Vegas in early November. With the top five competitors receiving a free trip to race in the World Finals in Malaysia, I feel that this can only help me stay sharp and in tune for racing.
Until next time, speed on!
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5 & 6 at Grattan Raceway Park
3 & 4 at IRP
Race - Sebring
first step up CART's ladder