The 2018 Mazda Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season is well underway, as we approach the halfway mark of the Pro Mazda schedule. I think it’s fair to say that the season so far has been nothing short of hectic and exciting, I hope the viewers and fans can agree. I think this is the most competitive Pro Mazda field the series has seen in some time, and it has produced some amazing battles. I am happy to have the opportunity to continue growing as a driver under such a high level of open-wheel competition.
The first couple of races tested our character as a team at Cape Motorsport, especially during the second round of the championship at Barber Motorsports Park, where we struggled to enter the top-five positions during official sessions. I think our mindset and attitude as a group is spot on, which has shown both towards the end of the 2017 season and at this year’s Indianapolis GP. Speed alone isn’t going to take care of the championship this year; we are always going to have our ups and downs as we continue to grow and become stronger — it’s the resilience that counts.
Our most recent championship stop was held a couple of weeks ago at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, on the Grand Prix circuit. It is always super-special competing at the “Racing Capital of the World” — you can feel the history within the town of Speedway, and especially at the Brickyard.
We were quite confident in ourselves and in the car’s heading into the weekend after having success both last year during the USF2000 race and at our first Pro Mazda outing in November during the Chris Griffis Memorial Test. The first two practice sessions showed promise as we finished inside the top five within tenths of the quickest lap time. Both my engineer Dominic Cape and myself knew how much more potential the car had, and in the final session before qualifying we progressed to finish quickest overall. This then transferred to back-to-back pole positions for the double-header race weekend.
Both races were full of action, and the long front-stretch at IMS gave opportunity for passing, especially after restarts. In Race One I made the mistake of braking too late at the start into Turn 1 and fell back to eighth, but I knew the race was long and the I had one of the quickest cars in the field so I tried to settle in and move forward. After several restarts, I found myself back in contention for the win running in second place, but just ran out of time at the finish.
Race 2 began with a multiple-car incident as soon as the green flag dropped, which resulted in a 10-minute caution period. At the restart, I led the field to the green flag, until second place drafted around me on the outside. I tried to maintain the lead into Turn 1 but unfortunately my left front clipped the right rear of the challenging car which knocked the toe out. I did the best I could with the circumstances to finish fourth. Overall, I think the weekend was very positive. It was good to be back challenging for pole positions and race wins, especially on a road course.
This weekend, the Mazda Road to Indy schedule brings us to Lucas Oil Raceway in Brownsburg, just outside Indianapolis, for our first of two oval races this season. The “Carb Day Classic” is back as both USF2000 and Pro Mazda series compete Friday evening before the Indianapolis 500 weekend. I expect to be fighting for the win again this weekend. We had great success last year at the Iowa oval so we are looking to capitalize on that experience.
Thursday morning, the annual MRTI Oval Clinic was held at Lucas Oil Raceway for USF2000 and Pro Mazda competitors, which gave us a chance to listen to oval tips from seasoned veterans Josef Newgarden, Kyle Kaiser and Johnny Unser. Ovals are a totally different animal compared to road courses — everything is magnified, from setup, to passing, to incidents, etc. I am also looking forward to attending my second Indy 500 this year on Sunday — I’ve had less exciting weekends!
A big thanks to all my supporters, Mazda Motorsports, Doug Mockett & Co., the Team USA Scholarship, Bell Helmets, Sparco USA, Cape Motorsports, JJRD, Cooper Tires, SAFEisFAST.com, Young Adventurers, Palm Beach Cross Fit, On Track Promotions, and the Mazda Road to Indy.
Thanks for reading, we’ll give it our all!