As Twitter followers of mine may have noticed, I raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past weekend (6/9-6/11) as part of the Open Wheel World Challenge. I competed in rounds 3 and 4 of the Hoosier Tire US Formula First Championship Series. I’ve competed in this series for years, but I’ve only done one race in the last 18 months due to engine issues with the car and commitments for my kids. Between that and the fact that this race was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, let’s just say I was looking forward to the weekend a tiny bit.
This particular weekend was structured differently from a normal US Formula First weekend as we had a practice session on Friday morning, a qualifying session Friday evening, another qualifying session Saturday morning, then a race Saturday afternoon followed by another race on Sunday morning. Below I’ll offer a brief rundown (with a couple pictures) of the weekend for those who are interested.
Friday Morning (Practice 1)
Friday morning’s session, in all honesty, was quite boring. As my final event last season ended up with a blown engine, the first session this weekend was a session spent breaking in the newly rebuilt engine. That means lower RPMs and, honestly, about 80% throttle. While it was a wonderful time to savor lapping at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (road course, but still), it resulted in times 20 seconds off the fast time and a whiny driver! Breaking in an engine is necessary, but definitely frustrating.
Friday Afternoon (Qualifying 1)
Following a change from the break-in oil to racing oil, it was time to get the maximum from the car as we began to set the grid for Saturday evening’s race 1. Unfortunately, after only six laps of the session, my car developed a miss and various other electrical maladies and I was only able to manage a 1:49.73. While that was good enough for 7th in my class, it was a frustrating session that led to a long night diagnosing and fixing the problem with the car. Long story short, the distributor clamp failed and the timing was so far off as a result that the engine would not refire after I stopped in the pits. Were it not for the generosity and knowledge of fellow racers Doug Seim and Dave Dawson, we would have been hard-pressed to make the Saturday morning session. In the end, though, the car was repaired and we were ready to go for qualifying 2 Saturday morning.
Saturday Morning (Qualifying 2)
After the previous night’s repairs we took to the track Saturday morning with high hopes of improving the pace and our position on the grid for race 1 Saturday afternoon. I managed a 1:48.1 in the session (1.6 seconds faster than qualifying 1), but given the competitiveness of the field I was still starting 7th in class (11th overall) for the Saturday evening race. We made some handling changes to the car that we thought would improve it and got ready for race 1 Saturday evening.
Saturday Evening (Race 1)
Race 1 was significantly affected at the start by the incident pictured above. After what was, in my opinion, a delayed green flag, the cars starting in positions 9-20 (roughly) got a flying start while those of us in the front had to throttle back a bit in order to not jump the start. That led to 4 and 5-wide racing down the front straightaway…which led immediately into the incident pictured. Many thanks to Brian Schell for the image above – it is a brilliant shot! As you may see, I’m near the back of the image while my friend Sam Farmiga is being used as a ramp by a fellow competitor who misjudged the braking zone. Somehow, I made it through the melee and soldiered on to a 5th-place finish despite being hit by a lapped car with two laps to go. It was a solid finish, but no trophy. Sunday morning’s goal was a trophy.
Sunday Morning (Race 2)
Sunday morning’s goal was two-fold. First, I wanted to improve my lap times into the 1:47 range, at least. There were some handling issues with the car that likely prevented race-winning speed, but I thought 1:47 laps were attainable. Second, I wanted a trophy so I needed to be third. One of the grid marshals told me that if I used the duck umbrella (pictured above) I would be on the podium, so I gave it a shot!
Sunday’s race started with two significant incidents. My friend Doug Seim was knocked into the air and out of the race by a fellow Formula First in the second corner and, directly behind us, a massive incident occurred on the front straightaway with 6-8 cars caught up in the melee. That triggered an immediate red flag and a ~25 minute visit to pit lane waiting on the cleanup. Thankfully there were no significant injuries from any of the first lap adventures.
When the race restarted I found a little more pace in the car (breaking into the 1:47 range with several lap times) and my fellow Formula First competitors found a bit of bad luck with reliability. After a furious 4-lap battle to pass some very quick Formula Vees and a 3-lap battle with Sam Farmiga for second in our class, I ended up third at the yard of bricks by a couple feet. I was frustrated at the time, but receiving a third place trophy from Indianapolis with my kids there to watch me (pictured below) soothed the frustration quite quickly.
For the next couple months this blog will return to Microsoft Data Platform-related content, but if you’ve read this far, thanks for reading! Hopefully I get to play race cars another time or two before the 2017 racing season comes to a close.