To say the past weekend was brutal is quite the understatement. At the end of what could and probably should have been a fantastic Firestone Indy Lights event for myself and the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team, we came away empty-handed.
Houston was a must-win race for us, and we’d prepared absolutely as well as possible to go out and try and control the weekend and return home with a full scoreboard of points. From the moment Friday practice arrived, however, there were unforeseen track issues, necessitating the installation of a tire chicane on the front straight to prevent cars from taking off over a bump. Despite this, we were able to get a full 55-minute practice session and, notwithstanding some persistent braking troubles that caused us big entry instability problems, it was an otherwise productive run and in the circumstances we were very confident going into qualifying on Saturday morning.
We worked hard on Friday night to fine-tune our settings and ensure we would be in the best shape possible for qualifying, and with the circuit now fixed after track workers had ground down the bump, we were all set for a great day. Moments before qualifying, however, the decision was taken to cancel it in favor of running another practice session and to form the race grid based upon championship positions instead.
This meant we would line up only fourth, despite being the quickest car and on a track notoriously difficult for overtaking. That was a massive blow, as we had tons of pace and with the brake issues now rectified and a few tweaks to the balance, we had comfortably put over six tenths of a second on the field in Saturday practice and could have stepped it up again if required.
The race can only be described as a dogfight for me. We started in single-file instead of the usual side-by-side arrangement, and I got a great jump to pass my teammate Gabby Chaves into the chicane but he then cut the circuit and rejoined in front of me. That cost me my momentum, and I was subsequently caught napping into Turn 3 as Juan Pablo Garcia overtook me and I got freight-trained by several cars. We made a bit of contact, but nothing was too seriously bent and I was able to start trying to dig myself out of the huge hole we had found ourselves in.
I worked on Zach Veach for several laps before passing him into Turn 4; we touched wheels, but nothing serious. I then set off after Garcia and was able to make the pass into Turn 6. The next car up was Carlos Munoz, and I had just begun to set chase after him when the safety car was deployed.
After the long safety car period during which Munoz retired with a mechanical issue, I found myself back in the top three. I didn’t get a great jump at the restart, though, and had to defend from Peter Dempsey through the opening turns. We ended up making contact, which dropped me back down the field again. I then hit Veach into Turn 6 and was given a drive-through penalty, by which point the car was pretty damaged anyway. Despite this, we were still running very fast lap times at the end of the race, and after all was said and done, I finished sixth.
Perhaps it wasn’t the cleanest or most clinical race I have ever driven, and perhaps if I had covered Garcia on the first lap then we could have gone on to win it, but who knows? That is what can happen when you don’t start on the front row you get caught in a dogfight. That’s why we focus our entire weekends on qualifying, because it’s everything.
We should never have started down in fourth position in the first place. Had we been able to qualify as usual, we would have earned pole and we would have had the opportunity to control the race on our own terms. Was I aggressive coming through? Did I go for a few 50/50s? Hell yeah; I had to win the race to have a shot at the championship and I was going to fight for every damn inch no matter how far back we were and how big a mountain we had to climb.
All I can say is we gave it our absolute best, we had more than enough speed all weekend and had it been a level playing field then I’m sure we would have got the result we deserved. It didn’t turn out that way, but that’s racing and like life in general, it’s not always fair. We’ll deal with it, though, and ultimately we can hold our heads high knowing we left nothing on the table.