After letting the emotions sink in for a couple of months, thinking back to the season finale at Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca still feels like a dream. Everything that I worked towards for so very long came to fruition that weekend. The opportunity given to racers by the Road to Indy and Cooper Tires is truly everything a young driver who dreams of IndyCar could ever hope for. I wanted to write a blog about my season, as I see my season having multiple phases, and explain some of the different emotions I felt throughout.
The season started out exactly how I had hoped for, driving for Cape Motorsports, the many-time USF2000 reigning champions. I went in with utmost confidence and the start of the season went perfectly with a pole, two wins and the championship lead.
My success at St. Petersburg, coupled with my previous experience at Indianapolis, meant I went into Indy even more confident, and capitalized on it. Topping the charts in every single official session of the weekend, I was rolling on pure momentum.
The momentum carried on but my mindset shifted slightly. As a championship gets further and further along, each result becomes more and more important. At Road America, we rolled out of the trailer missing the setup slightly but quickly advanced, capping it off with my fifth win of the year.
Toronto was a very difficult race; crashes in practice meant I went into qualifying with virtually no track time, thus giving a track knowledge advantage to series veterans, especially my teammate Darren Keane, who had driven at Toronto two years prior. The first race went smoothly, lacking some pace and running consistently in fourth place. In race two however, I was slightly frustrated, having pace I felt that would put me on the podium I had slight contact with competitor Colin Kaminsky. I initially thought it hadn’t caused any damage, however as soon as I went into the brake zone I realized I had a puncture, forcing me to pit and give up a sizeable amount of points in the championship.
Unfortunately, this was followed up by my toughest race of the season at Mid-Ohio. Not only was it a tough race but it was in front of my home crowd with the biggest following I had all year. It felt as though things were just not syncing up, my driving with the car setup, and we were always trying to gain more and more time to catch up to the front runners, but always seeming to be the same amount off of the leaders.
Qualifying eighth for race one meant I would be right in the mid-pack, at the toughest track for overtaking. I managed to salvage an eighth-place finish, but my championship competitor winning the race made the points loss hit hard. This carried to the next day, where I ended up getting hit twice in race two, falling back to 12th place, but racing back up to a seventh-place finish.
This was crunch time, heading to Portland was an opportunity that I absolutely had to grasp, and regain the momentum I had lost, in order to turn the championship around and regain my footing if I was going to win the $300,000 scholarship. I was able to do just that; I regained momentum with a pair of podiums, getting good points and keeping the hope alive.
The Season Finale
Ultimately, the championship came down to the final race at Laguna Seca. I was starting third after taking pole and finishing fourth in the opening race, and my championship rival Hunter McElrea was starting last due to a mechanical failure in qualifying. He had the championship lead, and my previous knowledge meant that a reasonable expectation would be for him to finish seventh or eighth. Knowing that, the points deficit meant the only way I would win the championship was to win the race.
I had to step up; I had to drive the car on the absolute limit. If I made any mistakes, I knew I wouldn’t win the championship and my future in racing would be completely uncertain. My back was against the wall, starting at a large disadvantage due to having used a different tire strategy. All of the drivers starting ahead of me had new Cooper tires, and the drivers right behind me did as well.
I left it all out there, capturing the lead in Turn One and holding on for dear life. I managed to bring home a win, the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship and the invaluable scholarship, guaranteeing myself a spot in an Indy Pro 2000 race car for the 2020 season. The emotions I felt that day were like nothing I have ever experienced. I managed to complete what I had started seemingly so long before at St. Petersburg. I also want to acknowledge the stellar job by Hunter all year, we had an exceptionally competitive season and he pushed me to my limits every step of the way.
2020 Season Plans
To say I am excited to get next season started is an understatement. I’ve had my first taste of the new car at the Chris Griffis Memorial Test at Indianapolis, and topped the charts with both teams I tested with.
The Indy Pro 2000 car feels fantastic and really suits my driving style well. I’m going into next year confidently, ready to fight for another championship. It will be another long season but truly I feel as though I am twice the driver I was six months ago.
I also recently had the pleasure to test something completely new. Meyer Shank Racing supported my efforts this season in USF2000 and gave me the opportunity to get my feet wet in sports car racing. I drove the Acura NSX GTD car, at the legendary Daytona International Speedway road course. I was completely blown away by the car, and it was so cool to be driving on the track at the same time as Jack Harvey, Alexander Rossi, Juan Pablo Montoya and other drivers I have looked up to for a long time.
My 2020 plans are very much in the works, and it will not be long before they are announced. Stay tuned!