The Indy Grand Prix and the Indy 500 have come and gone, and the month of May is almost over; it has certainly gone by in a flash. I have been absorbed solely into racing and nothing else during this time and it feels nice to finally have a little bit of a break before the next race at Pocono in July.
There have been some highs and lows, but it has been an amazing experience. It was very gut wrenching and saddening for my whole family to lose my grandfather, Poppy. I know he would have been very upset with me if I had let his passing interrupt my focus for the Freedom 100, as racing was everything to him. So, I tried to look on the positive side and stay clear-minded.
Poppy’s life was absolutely amazing; he lived in a great era and what he achieved during his time on this earth was incredible. I’m completely blown away from all of the support and condolences from everyone. It has made me incredibly proud, especially when I went to Lucas Oil Raceway and saw that all the USF2000 and Pro Mazda competitors had the same tribute sticker that I ran at the Freedom 100 on their cars. It was hard to keep my emotions in check. I had a strong month racing-wise and I felt Poppy was with me all the way.
There was a great deal of expectation leading into the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race. The hype of the Indy 500 and everything else going on around us was hard to totally absorb. We also only had two days on track; I wish we had more time on The Speedway as it was such a blast to drive on. It went by so quickly and it was all over before I knew it.
Practice didn’t start out so well for us. We all did qualifying simulations in the only morning practice session on Thursday, and straight away it became apparent that the Sam Schmidt cars were very quick. The team and I were still confident we could go out and be in contention for pole, but it was a little disheartening when that didn’t happen. Zach Veach and I spent the rest of the session working together on our race setups. My racecar felt very good in practice, and Zach and I worked really well together, but it was hard to tell how we both compared to the rest of the field.
Qualifying went as we thought with Zach and I lining up in the second row behind Luis Razia and Jack Harvey. Everyone was very close except for Luis, who absolutely smoked us, which was a worry. I figured it would be really hard to break the draft in the race, and I felt as though my race setup was really good so I remained confident.
Carb Day was amazing! I was surprised at how many people were at IMS. I almost missed the drivers briefing because it was chock-a-block traffic getting into the track. It was a really cool experience to be competing in front of such a big crowd. They gave us all the pre-race lead in’s and introductions, which was really special. It made it a little more nerve-wracking before the start of the race, but once we pulled out of pit lane, all my emotions and butterflies disappeared; I was only focused on the race.
When we started the race we all took a couple of laps to get settled in, and when I got into a rhythm, I knew I had a really quick car. I didn’t really know what to expect as I have never raced on a superspeedway and that close to other cars before. I felt good, and I got a run on the leaders so I decided to make a move for the front; it was surprising to see the Schmidt cars struggle a little in the race and drop back after the speed they showed in qualifying.
Once I got out in the lead, I felt really comfortable and strong throughout the race. I couldn’t break away from my teammate Zach or Gabby Chaves, and between the three of us we fought for the lead for the whole race. I was thinking about race strategy for the final lap the entire race. I thought about lifting and letting them past to try and draft back past them on the last lap. But, when Gabby and Zach started fighting and holding each other up, I just went for it. I led right up until the last foot of the race! Unfortunately Gabby managed to get a really good tow leading up to the checkered flag and pipped me by 0.005 of a second for the race win.
It really sucked to be so close to winning and then lose the race; it was a horrible feeling. I can’t complain too much, as Gabby finished the same way in the race last year. Stepping back and looking at the outcome, I’m still a little disappointed; however, I am proud of the race I ran. I was so strong and never fell below third place. My car was very comfortable and easy to drive, in addition to being very fast, so I have to give a lot of credit to my MAZDASPEED/United Fiber & Data crew and Stu my engineer.
I have had an incredibly emotional month here in Indy: from winning my first Indy Lights race at the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis to losing Poppy and finishing second in the Freedom 100. I have taken away so much experience, and I feel a lot stronger as a person. It has also been great for my championship as I have gained a lot of ground to the leaders. I feel right back in contention to fight again, and I’m ready to get after it!