Thanks to everyone who read Part I. I hope you enjoyed it and are looking forward to reading this next chapter.
St. Pete is one of my favourite tracks. For a street circuit it is so smooth, something which is uncommon. The weather is usually amazing and often has some rain thrown in to mix things up a little bit more. One of my most enjoyable aspects of the event is the crowd, a very knowledgeable yet passionate crowd that really embraces the event and the drivers. I always have a blast when I come here. The anticipation that has built to St. Petersburg is always awesome, especially since it is the season opener for my series and often IndyCar as well.
I had raced St. Pete in 2013 when I was competing in the USF2000 series as a national class competitor, the last year there were two classes. Coming back in 2015 presented new excitement and challenges I was ready to embrace.
Friday went well. It was a matter of reacquainting myself with the track, especially in a different car. There is a great flow to the track and once you are able to dial that in it is an awesome feeling. Our lap times are considerably slower than the more powerful IndyCar, yet we still whip around the track with great speed. The quickest guys in my series were doing 1:13.5 lap times while I was a few seconds off the pace at 1:17.2.
Our second session on Friday was cut short by rain, with no possibility of anymore rain throughout the weekend our team decided to pit and not risk doing potential damage to the car on a slick track. We weren’t the only ones who made the call as the rest of the field also parked in the pits for the last ten minutes of the session.
Saturday morning brought a dry track and our first qualifying session of the season. I was jacked and knew the areas I needed to improve. Going into each session I always have 3 things that I need to focus on to gain more time. For qualifying one such issues was to stop “crabbing.” The previous practice session I had been creeping into the corner ever so slightly during the brake zone in a few corners, turn 1 and 4 specifically. This causes the car to be a little unstable during turn-in and also gives me a worse exit of the corner because I’ve essentially turned in a little too early. Having patience and getting the eyes into the corner is key for helping overcome the problem.
At the end of qualifying I had gained 1.4 seconds from my personal best set the day before, yet I was disappointed that I was starting towards the rear of the field, P16. This is a struggle I often face, you come out of the car feeling really good about your session and the way you drove and then you do the comparison to others and you are frustrated. It is hard when we are in a sport that focuses so much on results and where you stack up against your competitors.
For me I was able to let it go quite quickly and realize that I had left a little bit out there where I could have driven better. This definitely seems to be the case for me and something to work on.
Race 1 I was focused and ready to have at it. Unfortunately luck would not be with me. As we rolled to grid I noticed I had a very soft brake pedal. I told Jake, my mechanic, after pumping the brake a few times to try and build up pressure we realized there was most likely air in the line. I was going to have to make do with the car I had and try to overcome the issue.
On the formation lap I struggled. One of the best ways to generate heat in our smaller powered cars is to get lots of heat into the brakes by accelerating and applying the brake with good pressure. This helps get temp in the brakes themselves which passes into core of the tire. I wasn’t able to do this well due to the soft brake pedal I was experiencing. We had the formation lap behind the safety car and then at turn 12 the grid slowed and formed. We came through 13, 14 and then the green flag awaited us.
I didn’t have the start I wanted but made it down to turn one, applied the brakes, missed an accident that had taken out my teammate Keyvan and proceeded to spin because my rear brakes had locked up.
I struggled the rest of the lap, having to use the runoff area at turn 10 before the team decided to call me into the pits to see what the issue was. Luckily the safety car was out because of the crash in turn 1. I brought the car in and quickly the boys jacked the front up. They quickly bled the front brakes (this helps get any air that is stuck in the brake line out). I heard one of our spotters saying where the field was behind the pace car. I desperately wanted to get out on the lead lap and hoof it around to catch up so that I wouldn’t be a lap down. As I heard them say the field is out of 14 and coming down the front straight, the car dropped and they released me.
I flew out of the pits through 2 and 3 and on the straight to 4. I hit the brakes a few hundred feet before my usual brake point knowing that I didn’t have temperature and to make sure the brakes were good. All of a sudden the rears locked and I was spun 180 degrees and rolling backwards. I knew there was a nice tire wall right behind me so I attempted to steer in my mirrors to avoid it. Driving backwards at speed is not enjoyable. Luckily I managed to avoid smashing the rear of the car but while adding a bit of steering lock (turning the wheel) I clipped the front left tire and busted one of the arms. My race was done without even finishing two laps. I was furious, not the way I wanted to start the season. I was taken back to the pits where I sat in shock and dismay. Oh well, that’s racing. I was proud of the team for the work they had done to get me out so quickly.
In the afternoon I got to enjoy meeting with a number of the fans at the IndyCar tweet up. It was a blast with lots of laughs. This to me is such a big part of what racing is all about, connecting with the fans. After all they are the ones that make the sport possible, without them we’d be racing on small tracks by ourselves. I am very grateful. We even had travel chicken come out (look him up on twitter if you don’t know what I’m talking about). I got to interview my coach Steve with the chicken, I thought Steve would take a bite. I look forward to these moments at every race weekend. I like being able to be more than just a name for the fans.
With the brake problem behind us it was time to focus on Race 2. I was pumped to make up some ground and put the struggles of Race 1 behind me.
I had a great start and made a couple of places, again I was starting towards the back of the field. This had been one of my best starts ever, a problem I have been struggling with and constantly working on. Having the right timing is key to gaining positions at the green flag.
Yet again struggles would come to me. Prior to race 1 we had tried a different setup on the car to help with understeer (when the car doesn’t turn in through a corner the way you expect it, the grip isn’t there and gives a slight feeling of a push in the front). Unfortunately I didn’t have the opportunity to drive the setup because of the brake issues so Race 2 was my first time. The places I had gained at the start were promptly given back to my competitors by turn 10 as I had issue getting power down on the exit of corners. I didn’t have the rear grip I would have liked and as such had a loose backend which meant getting to full throttle slightly later than I needed. That meant the other cars had more speed coming out of 9 and took me on the kink up to turn 10.
I had a few issues with brake bias which was a mistake on my part and it caused me to have rear lock and a subsequent spin at turn 13. I was now too far behind the field and ended up finishing second last of the cars running.
I was lucky to gain some points which will help me in the overall championship points.
Next up is New Orleans, otherwise known as NOLA. A fun track and the first time IndyCar will be running there. It is a track I have grown familiar of, having tested there in January with the team and then we had two days and three races there during Winterfest.
There are some areas I need to be better, especially the last corner complex after the back straight from turn 10 onwards to the front straight. Being able to find more time here is key for my success. Not over slowing at turn 10 and rolling more speed through it is the biggest obstacle.
I can’t wait to see how I improve and hopefully get some good results, but most importantly leave nothing on the track, give it my all.
Until next time. Thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed it.
If anyone has any questions they’d like to ask or comments about the blog feel free to get in touch with me
Facebook: James Dayson Racing