The city of New Orleans was alive and buzzing with people who had come to town for the inaugural NOLA Grand Prix and the French Quarter music fest.
Perhaps next year they can be combined so the drivers can enjoy some good music.
The goals for the weekend were simple, have fun, race hard and clean and leave nothing on the track – give it my all.
Our on track duties at NOLA Motorsports Park began with a test day on the Thursday. We ran 3 sessions that day. The second session only lasted two laps for me as we had a half shaft that decided to sheer itself clean off my car at turn 10, promptly ending the session. Luckily nobody was behind me when it broke off.
Friday began early again as we had two practice sessions that day. The morning began with me struggling to gain speed in the tricky complex of turns 10-13. It had also rained overnight and we went out on a drying track. It’s quite tricky going out on slick tires on a damp track, especially as the conditions were changing lap to lap. Staying off the puddles and looking for grip further adds to the challenge in conditions like that. I was over slowing into 10 and losing time to the field. The car wasn’t setup exactly how I would have liked, so for the afternoon session we made some significant changes. It took me a while get accustomed to the new car. We had a car that was setup so well that I wasn’t expecting it and didn’t drive it the way I should have. The car was rotating so nicely through the corners, my problem was I wasn’t used to that and as such wasn’t getting the power down that split second sooner which the car wanted to help plant the rear of the car. I still managed to gain time and close the gap to the front to only 2.7seconds which I was really happy with. The down side was that could have been closer to 2 seconds if a certain someone….ME….didn’t drive through turn 1 in the wrong gear all session, thereby losing almost 7 tenths of a second by doing so. Oops. That was a great mental blunder.
Saturday arrived and with it more amazing southern humidity. The morning was our qualifying session during which I really came to grips and commanded the new setup of the car. We had another intermediate track to deal with as there was still wet patches around the track. However, this session I commanded it much better than I had during Friday’s similar conditions. It was probably the best the car had felt for me in a session. The car was really positive and a pleasure to drive. Big props to our engineer John Walko for giving me such an awesome setup. I had a blast out there and was happy with my drive. I didn’t get the times I wanted as the leaders and most of the field also improved. Once again I would be starting near the back of the field P15. Still good steps forward in my driving that I was proud of, there was obviously more out there yet things were going in the right direction.
Our afternoon began with a USF2000 drivers autograph session at the Indy Fan Village. I thoroughly enjoy these moments as it’s a great opportunity to see those incredible smiles on the faces of the kids. They get so excited even getting autographs from drivers like myself in the lower rungs of the Mazda Road to Indy. It’s always a fun boost of the ego getting to sign autographs for the fans.
Right after the session the Mazda Road to Indy TV crew got the majority of the drivers, 12 of us, to go up on one of the amusement park rides that had been brought in for the grand prix. I love amusement park rides but mainly rollercoasters, this one dealt with height and I’m not that great with being high up. We strapped ourselves in, I sat between my teammate Keyvan Andres Soori and Aaron Telitz with Parker Thompson, another fellow Canadian nearby. We strapped in and the ride proceeded to rise up in the sky. I was shocked that we kept going up and up, it seemed as if the ride was extending in height, I couldn’t believe how high we got. Then all of sudden the ride dropped out of the sky with no warning. Being unexpecting of when that moment would occur, I proceeded to let out a very loud scream much to the amusement of the other drivers nearby.
After my heart had settled after the skipped beats and adrenaline we returned to the garage in time for the Indy Fans tweet up. We had a great crowd, along with some reps from GP of NOLA, Mazda and some media join the fans in a behind the scenes tour of the ArmsUp garage. We had some trivia questions with cool prizes, Q&A’s and inside scoop into the cars themselves. All in all, another fun visit with the fans.
Then it was time to refocus as we were ready to hit the track for Race 1. I had a horrible start and was caught of guard by the field accelerating much quicker than I had anticipated through turn 10 without me having the chance to form up with the grid. Luckily I was able to take the green flag and catch the pack at turn 3. Then I made an error in turn 5. I hadn’t got enough temp into the tires and pushed a bit too hard. Didn’t have the grip and had a 360 degree spin. I lost about ten seconds to the pack and had a fairly lonely race. I didn’t let the spin phase me and just buckled down and hit consistent laps and times. I was very happy with my progress and how well I drove the rest of the race. I managed to catch up and make one pass on a competitor going in to turn 3 but that would be the only action for the remainder of the race. I’d put down a personal best time for the weekend during the race.
After each session, there is extensive review of our onboard video and the data that comes of the car. We can analyze every second of every lap to see many different facets; speed trace, throttle trace, brake trace, RPM, steering input. This helps us to see where we are gaining and losing time in a very detailed manner. We can also compare ourselves to our teammates which helps all of us out. Its such an valuable tool that helps to make us better drivers, well as long as we take what we’ve seen and improve it on track. My data from race 1 was very good and coach Swelk and engineer John were very happy with where I am at, especially compared to where I was last year. Remember, I’m very inexperienced since getting into racing at such a late age.
We were lucky with Race 1 as the skies fully opened up when we were off. It had drizzled a little during the race but never affected the track conditions.
Sunday would provide a much different and bleaker track condition. By the time we got to grid the track was soaked and it was raining. These would be the worst wet conditions I had seen in my short career, yet another challenge to embrace. No point worrying about it, you just gotta go drive it the best you can. We had two formation laps behind the pace car, instead of the normal one. This gave us an opportunity to see the track better and assess where the water was and the grip. The start of the race was crazy, there was so much standing water on the front straight and the rooster tails (spray coming off the tires and shot into the air) was brutal. You couldn’t see anything. It was a huge struggle to see where the other cars where. It was just one massive wall of spray and mist. Our red rain lights had completely disappeared. I had a decent start and stayed with the field. I was making some decent lap times during the first part of the race. It was such a strange track in those conditions as the straightaways had so much standing water and the corners were the areas that had more grip and less water, quite the opposite from what is “the norm”. Mid race we had a safety car and on the restart I tried a different line coming out of turn 10 onto the back straight – bad idea. I had a huge spin and went off track. I proceeded to violently spin and slide onto the grass, over the asphalt of the old portion of the track and back onto the grass. I was very lucky I didn’t end up doing a barrel roll. Luckily I managed to keep the engine running by engaging the clutch. I came out of the grass and proceeded with the race. The down side was it cost me positions and I was dead last of the running cars.
All in all it was a fun experience which I enjoyed, its such a different driving style in the rain than the dry. The normal racing line doesn’t exist in the rain as the aim of the game is to find grip which usually means running offline. In the rain the painted curbs are treacherous and anywhere were rubber is laid down on the track is generally slick. That means taking very wide rim shots around the apex of the corners to the areas that have grip. Also finding parts of the asphalt that is rougher and hasn’t been polished by the tires = more grip.
NOLA is a fun track in the middle of the swamp outside the city. I enjoyed the city and the fans. Next time we are back, please cut the humidity in half and less rain please.
Thanks again for reading and hope you enjoyed it. Next up Barber
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