Pro Mazda Debut - September 3, 2014
Moorpark, Calif. — One week ago I made my debut in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires at the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. My week started off as usual working my nine-to-five job at Gen Right Off Road in Simi Valley, California as a production MIG welder, but I was very excited to be leaving for Sonoma on Wednesday afternoon, preparing for my first drive in a Pro Mazda car. The Thursday test session would my first time ever in the Pro Mazda platform – or for that matter, any car with proper downforce.
Prior to Thursday I had not driven anything with wings. With my second year of car racing coming to an end, I have driven cars such as the F1600 and Mazda MX-5, but neither has any real aerodynamic downforce at all. I knew that with absolutely no testing in a Pro Mazda before the Sonoma race weekend, I would be facing a real challenge when it came to adapting to the car, but that’s what made it all the more special for me.
I arrived at the Sonoma Raceway course early Thursday morning to an unfamiliar, to me, Verizon IndyCar Series paddock. I made my way to the World Speed Motorsports tent to meet the team and get fitted to the car. The first practice session was a real shocker; the first time I hit the throttle, I realized just how much different the Pro Mazda car was to anything I had driven in the past! I used the two 30-minute practice sessions with time management in mind. I tried to come up to speed as quickly as possible, while still paying close attention to how I could improve the car setup to my liking. At the end of the day, I felt like I had learned a lot, and was excited to get back in the car the following day.
Friday came, and with it, qualifying and the first race. In qualifying, I found just how competitive the Pro Mazda series really is, but I pleased to put myself in 10th place for Race One and ninth for Race Two in a tight 21-car field. The start of the first race was very dramatic for me; I was defending my position on lap one when my inexperience showed through and I lost control of the car, sending me into the dirt. I was able to get the car re-fired and back on track, but not before falling all the way to last place. I gained an advantage with a full-course caution coming out and was able to move up a few spots to finish 15th. It was a disappointing race, so I naturally took some time after the race to reflect on what exactly I had done wrong, and then began focus on how to make up for it in Race Two.
I started ninth on the grid for Saturday’s second race, which fortunately put me on the inside for the treacherous Turn Two. The green flag dropped, and coming into Turn Two, there was a wreck involving a few cars. I was able to avoid being collected in the carnage and make up a couple spots before Turn Three. I found myself in sixth position at the end of the first lap, where I would stay for the remainder of the race. The lap times I ran during the race were right on pace with the leaders, which was good news to me. If I had been able to qualify higher up the grid maybe I would have had a shot for a top-five finish – but maybe that’s being a bit greedy! I was happy to be able to turn things around from the unfortunate events of Friday and deliver a decent result for myself and the team.
At the end of the day I was happy with my performance. My pace and consistency may have been surprising to those individuals who knew I only had only about two hours of seat time before that second race. I felt like I was improving with every session, which was my goal. I knew it would be a challenge going up against competitors who had been in the car all season, or had at least more than a couple hours in the car before the race J.
I’m very happy I had the opportunity to run this debut race with World Speed Motorsports. From the engineers to the mechanics, the atmosphere and work ethic within the team was just what I had hoped for. The Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires is a fantastic series, with a great car and some world-class competition. It was a priceless experience for me; so much was learned in such a short period of time. I know I still have a lot more to gain from myself and from the car, and I hope to be back next year delivering even better results.
Thank you very much to World Speed Motorsports for this wonderful opportunity, especially my mechanic Skylar, engineer Mike Doyle, team manager Kevin Harrison and team principal Telo Stewart. My thanks also go out to everyone who has helped me thus far in my career, including Jeremy Shaw with the Team USA Scholarship, MAZDASPEED Driver Development, and of course my parents.
Thank you for reading!