The last time I ran at Barber Motorsports Park was in February as part of our Winterfest races which comprised our pre-season races. The weather was very cold and wet, when the track started to dry I dropped a tire on the wet grass on the exit of turn 13 and was ever so quickly sucked into the wall, causing me to miss the first race.
Regular season brought new opportunities and challenges this time around at Barber. I was very excited to be back, it is such an incredible track and facility.
The track requires utmost attention to detail as the nuances of it make it a real challenge that tests each driver to the max. It is a flowing track and one in which the 17 turns have you always working and on your toes. The setting couldn’t be better, in the rolling hills of the charming city of Birmingham, Alabama where the people create a great welcome and warmth.
Barber can be split into 4 sections which are critical to gaining a quick lap. The first is the beginning. Your entry speed into turn 1 affects how you go through 2-3 which sets up the second straight down to turn 5. Carrying good speed and coming off the brake quickly will let you roll speed to the apex and getting back to power quickly will give you a better run down the next straight up to turns 8 & 9. You want to use all the curbing on the left of turn 8 and then be patient before rolling back to full throttle through nine and down to the esses where you are flat. Approaching turn 12 you turn in flat as the track drops away to the left. A quick dab of the brake and a downshift before reaching the apex of 13 and again you are back to full throttle leading through 14 & 15. Another light brake and two downshifts before rolling through 16. This a corner that you sacrifice in order to have a better setup for 17. A slight compromise and staying driver right will help you to be able to get to full power slightly sooner and stay that way through the banking of turn 17 and onto the start/finish straight.
The elevation changes at the track are much more dramatic than television or the on-board cameras perceive it to be. It is a thrill to drive.
Our weekend began with a promoters test day on the Thursday in which we had three sessions. The first couple was spent reacquainting with the track and getting in that flow and rhythm that every driver talks of achieving.
Friday morning we had another practice session and midday we had qualifying. I was improving lap times and pushing myself more. My goal for the session was to carry more rolling speed into the very quick sequence of turn 8 & 9, especially the high speed drop of 12 and rise up to 13. These corners are where lots of time can be gained if done right or lost if you make an error. Towards the end of qualifying I was on some good fliers when all of a sudden we had some issue. I had lost power, at first I thought I’d lost my gears. I pulled off on the escape road and tried to see what I could do, chatting with the team the whole time. Then I was able to grab a gear and headed back on track only to have the car lose all power. I tried rolling backwards to the escape road but couldn’t. Unfortunately I caused a red flag as they had to come and recover my car. This meant that I would lose my fastest lap as a penalty for causing the red flag. It was frustrating to have a voltage issue but that’s racing and things like that occasionally happen.
Things got sorted and late on Friday we had our first race. I was starting P15. I had a great start to the race and was right in the pack battling with my competitors. This is a challenging track to pass on and I never managed to make the moves I needed to. That being said I had one of the best races I’ve ever driven. Despite not getting the results I wanted, I got out of the car very happy with the progress I had made. I had achieved another personal best lap time and had pushed myself and the car to a different level. Those are the things to focus on while racing: if you keep improving the results will come. Being too driven by the results can often compromise the process that leads to the finish.
The next day we had much of the day off as we weren’t racing until late again. We spent part of the day watching some of the other races on the Mazda Road to Indy ladder which included the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights series. We then had the pleasure of welcoming back the fans from the Indy Fans Tweet Up. We brought them through the ArmsUp garage and showed them the cars. They certainly enjoyed getting the inside scoop and learning a bit of the behind the scenes of racing in USF2000. Our series autograph session at the Indy Fan Village was next. It was filled with many smiling faces of the younger fans who were incredibly well mannered and polite in their interactions with us.
Upon returning to the trailer I had the pleasure of meeting a young race fan and his father who had reached out to me on twitter. The child was so excited to be at the race and was an avid fan. I learned of some of his many interactions with drivers, mainly within IndyCar. It was great getting to interact with him and his father. They were incredibly appreciative and I was glad I was able to help enhance their experience at the race weekend. They will be attending the Indy 500 weekend and I told them to come back and visit us at our garage as we race on a different oval at the Night before the 500.
While hanging with my fans, well the two I previously mentioned, the skies opened up and gave us a fresh sprinkling and moistening of the track. The rain passed through quickly yet our race was slightly delayed as the track crew cleared as much of the standing water off the track. Finally it was go time. We had two formation laps behind the pace car, one more than dry races just to give all the drivers the opportunity to see how the track is. Then it was green flag.
I had a brilliant start from the back and a spin at turn 3 by a competitor gave me the advantage to take 3 positions. Wet races have been a struggle for me in the past, yet this time I embraced it even more and pushed myself to newer levels. I was more aggressive and craved greater efficiency in my execution in those conditions. I had some great battles for positions and was running fast lap times for the beginning of the race. I was going quicker than many of my competitors and gaining on them. There was a slight incident and we had a yellow flag bring out the pace car. On the restart I had a bad exit out of 16 and 17 and created a bit of a gap to the pack. I pushed hard and started closing on them in the latter part of the race. Unfortunately with a few laps to go I started seeing a warning pop up on my dash display. With two laps to go I barely made it back to the pits where I had to retire. It was incredibly disappointing as I was having such a good race and keeping great pace. It was a tough pill to swallow but things like this happen in this sport. Our team has always done a phenomenal job with the cars and our reliability. This was the first mechanical retirement from a race for the team since 2012. Hopefully it was the last for a very long time to come.
After the race we found out it was a voltage issue. I was proud that I had pushed as hard as I had and that my fastest lap had been done with only 25% voltage. Who knows what would have been.
All in all I left Barber very proud of how I had driven. It was equally sweet to get some recognition and confirmation of that from a couple of individuals in the media who cover our series. I can’t wait to get back at it at the hallowed ground of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for our road course race.
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
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