Oval racing – a very different beast indeed, yet a whole new challenge. This was my first foray on the “straight….straight, left &
repeat.” I had tested on a 5/8 mile oval in November at Memphis International Raceway. We did two days there and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was
very happy with how I drove and how quickly got adjusted to the new driving style.
Driving an oval is completely different. There is a level of finesse that must be achieved with every input. Many ovals do not require the use of the brake and Memphis is no exception. You are full throttle down the straightaway and then as you approach turn in for turn one there is a slight crack out of the throttle, as you come up to the apex and entry into turn two you are feeding more throttle back in so that a little before you exit turn 2 you are back to full power approaching turn 3 & 4. You repeat that process over and over again. All the while trying to drop your lap times by tenths of a second. At Memphis you enter high into turns 1 & 3 and drop down to the low line before rising back up on exit of turns 2 & 4.
Our team engineer, John explained to me that road courses fall within the 1 to 10 scale, whereas ovals fall with the 0 to 1. Essentially that means that everything is magnified. You will feel every small setup change on the car on an oval where you wouldn’t feel those small ones on a road course.
After the Indy road course my teammate Max and I heading down with the team to Memphis for a one day test to be ready for the upcoming race at Lucas Oil Raceway back in Indianapolis.
The day began with about an hour of half of solid track time, getting reacquainted with the oval sensation and nuances. I was playing around with my line going through turns 3 & 4 when I realized I had come in way too high into 3 the result was that I was coming out of 4 too high and before I knew it I had slammed the wall really hard going around 104mph.
I had taken quite the wallop and ended up giving myself a good deep thigh bruise from my leg slamming the shifter mount. Luckily that was the extent of my injuries, aside from the damage to my pride. The car was quite badly damaged on the right rear. The caliper had shattered into a number of pieces and sliced right through the wheel rim. Plus lots of other metal pieces of the uprights etc were sheared off.
The crew spent hours working their tails off to get the car back together and with 25mins to spare we got back out for few installation laps before calling it a day. I was disappointed that I had lost the track time which I had so desperately needed.
Finally it was time to head back to the racing capital of Indianapolis. The USF2000 series had a great oval seminar clinic where we were fortunate enough to have one of the Indy legends, Rick Mears, join us. We also had the pleasure of Carlos Munoz, Simona de Silvestro, Bobby Unser and Derrick Walker also talk to us about techniques and how to begin to master the art of oval racing.
Thursday we had quite a bit of track time at Lucas Oil Raceway. It is another 5/8 mile track and is virtually identical to Memphis. The big difference is that Lucas Oil Raceway has progressive banking unlike Memphis which is the same constant angle from top to bottom in the corners. With the progressive banking it makes cars run the high line to take advantage of the better banking and thus get quicker speeds.
This was a big adjustment for me to have to make. The first session on track had some really cold temperatures and with the memory of my crash at Memphis fresh in my mind it caused me to be way too tentative and nervous. I really struggled to get comfortable that first session. I was running slower than I should, fighting the different higher line and not getting temperature in my tires making the car feel unstable. I needed to go quicker yet I was having the mental blocks and doubts to prevent me from doing so. I was quite frustrated with the first session. I was also way off the pace.
I knew for the next session that I had to get my head out of my *^# and step up and drive. I got out there are went at it. I started finding a bit of the rhythm that is needed to help conquer the oval and soon enough my times began to slowly drop.
It wasn’t until the last session of the day that I got my personal best of a 23.654. I was happy with that but knew that there was more out there. I needed to charge into turn one and lift later than I had and carry more speed through. The same was true heading into turn 3. I was coming off the corners well and getting to power reasonably well but carrying more entry speed means you come out quicker.
Friday was a day off to enjoy Carb Day at IMS and the Indy Lights race. Saturday we were back at it. We had a morning practice session where I was going to do some qualifying simulations. Oval racing has a much different qualifying format where it is single car unlike road courses where we are all on track and have 30mins to get our best lap time. We did the first simulation on a set of scrub tires and then I came into the pits to switch to stickers for the next simulation. I really struggled getting the tires up to temp. I was way too cautious coming out and took too long getting that initial slick coating off the tires. That caused me to have less grip and that quickly turned into a lack of confidence. I hadn’t done well on the qualifying simulation on the stickers but stayed out and managed to equal my personal best lap time.
Next up was qualifying. Each driver had to draw numbers to see what place we would start our session. I had drawn #10. I sat on the grid in pit lane watching the other cars go out while trying to listen to Rob Howden announce the lap times. I knew I had to push harder than I had done before and that I had to put it all out there. I was quite nervous as I awaited my turn and was feeling lots of pressure, as everyone is solely focused on the car and driver on track.
Each car had their out lap, one hot lap before coming to start/finish to see the green/white/checker. That means two timed laps. The two laps are added together so it’s critical to get them both right. Finally it was my turn. I put all my fears aside and went at it. I knew I didn’t want to start at the back of the grid for the race which meant I had to give it my all. I went out for my out lap and pushed hard to get heat into my tires. I had my one hot lap and then as I came out of turns 3 & 4 I approached the start of my timed laps and the green flag. I knew I didn’t get the run out of 4 that I had wanted because I had got to full throttle a smidge of a second later than I should have.
I was so focused on what I needed to do. Next time by I saw the white and before I knew it I saw the checker. I heard my spotter, and coach, Steve Welk on the radio saying nice job. I came into the pits got out of my car so curious about my times. A bunch of the guys from the team came up to me as I was climbing out and said congrats and how they were proud of me. I was finally shown the times and I was pumped. My first lap I had done a 23.217 and my last was a 22.866, I had taken 8 tenths of my best!!! I was stoked. I ended up qualifying P12.
Shortly thereafter it was time to race. We had two formation laps behind the pace car. I was tucked in nicely behind the gear box of the car in front of me as we came through turns 3 & 4 with the grid all packed up awaiting the green flag. I was on it and managed to gain 2 positions heading into turn one. I managed to lose a bit of a gap to the leaders and quickly found myself with lots of space around me.
A couple of laps later I had Steve begin the calls for an epic battle with one of my competitors, Ayla. We battled hard, as she was working to get around me. I was running the high line and whenever she was trying to make a pass she would drop to the lower line yet off the corners I managed to get good exits, causing her to tuck back in behind. For lap after lap I heard Steve, “looking inside” as she dropped lower, “clear” when I was back in front, or “closing…two away, one away” as she got closer and two car lengths to one car length. Apparently Rob on the PA system was calling our battle for much of the race. I was lucky that we had such a great setup on the car and that I could run quickly in the high line and when I needed to pass the lapped cars I could drop to the low line and quickly make the move before popping back in the high line. I really enjoyed the battle I had with Ayla and for around 35 laps she couldn’t get past me. Then all of sudden she pulled up the inside and got past. I was surprised because I hadn’t done anything differently and hadn’t made a mistake. A lap later I was around 7 car lengths behind. I didn’t understand how she had got such a gap to me already.
On the next lap I felt like I was loosing power and a lap later I crawled into the pits to retire with a voltage issue. I was devastated. I had been having such a great race and drove my tail off. I had only made it 44 of the 75 laps.
I was really happy with how I had driven on Saturday and how I had overcome the mental anguishes that I faced. Qualifying had been a blast, which I thoroughly enjoyed, way more than I ever though I would. The race was one of my best starts and was a lot of fun. I loved that my battle for position with Ayla was one of the highlights of the entire race. It was great to leave Lucas Oil Raceway and Indianapolis being proud of myself and my continued progress.
Next up is my “home” race in Toronto, Canada. Despite being from Vancouver it’s the only race in my country so by default, it’s my home race. I love the track and the crowd and can’t wait to hit it up.
Thanks again for following my journey throughout the 2015 USF2000 series with Arms Up Motorsports.
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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