It’s me again. I’ve now done my first Official Test with the other F4 US Championship drivers at the awesome Virginia International Raceway (VIR), my first time seeing the track too.
I flew from Indy to Atlanta and then onto Raleigh-Durham airport to catch a lift with Amy Lentz who was there as the official photographer for Shift Up Now. I’m too young to hire a car here in America, you have to be 21, so Amy was kind enough to offer me a ride to the track in her rental.
We met up with the Kiwi Motorsport Team and some of my new teammates and then did a track walk at the end of the day. The circuit is pretty awesome with lots of natural elevation changes.
My first day went quite well. I was there learning the car as well as the circuit so there was a lot of catching up to do to be anywhere near the others that had been testing or racing F4’s all year.
I started on a used set of tyres. As I learnt the track, and the car, my pace got quicker and quicker even though my tyres were getting worse and worse. I was slowly getting happier with my pace, but it didn’t look as good as I wanted it to because the other drivers were throwing new sets of tyres on every other session. I did get to use a set of hand-me-downs in the final session of the day that one of my teammates had thrown away as my tyres were now very dead. I posted my personal best times that session.
One of my #GetInvolved campaign supporters, Kevin, had a day behind the scene with the team and I at the VIR Test. He arrived wearing one of my signed caps he’d bought in last year’s campaign. Loved that. He got to talk to the crew, Pippa, and I throughout the day and watch how our test day unfolded, and he really enjoyed himself. It was a full-on day for all of us, but we went away feeling happy that we’d achieved a lot and Kevin said he’d had a great time too. I love seeing my supporters have fun too, it means a lot!
Day 2 I went straight out on the same tyres I’d finished the first day on. It wasn’t as cold as the previous day, so the track was coming in quicker. Pippa Mann, Teena (my Team Boss) and I decided to put my one set of new tyres on and see what I could do. My times came down, but the session ended early because of a red flag.
I broke into the top ten fastest on a couple of sessions which felt good, so we knew we were going in the right direction, I just need time in the seat to get to front running pace.
When I got back to Indianapolis, I continued my normal routine of going to the PitFit gym each morning, having high protein, high calorie lunches and dinners to help build muscle and strength. There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes that not even I realised I’d need to be doing, but I’m loving it, and I’m seeing and feeling the difference already.
If you don’t know what PitFit Training is all about, you need to take a look. The place is owned and run by Jim Leo and he built it specifically around motorsport athletes, so it’s off the scale for any driver, and crew, who’s serious about getting the best out of themselves. Everything a driver could want is there, from specialist neck training machinery to cognitive therapy equipment, as well as everything else you’d find in your normal high-end gyms. Kinsey Bishop is my personal trainer, she works with me most days and makes up my routines and then pushes me harder and harder every time, and the results are very obvious.
There’s a couple of other British drivers who train there too whom I’ve become friends with. We’ve been teaching Kinsey and Isaac, another PT, how to make English tea, as well as other English things. They even went out and bought a kettle, so we could have a tea party.
The first round of the F4 US Championship was at Road Atlanta a few weeks back. Pippa had left for Germany to race for the Giti sponsored all-girl team of WS-Racing at the Nürburgring for her first round, so I flew into Atlanta alone and got a lift to the track from my Engineer, Shree.
The whole team did a track walk that evening, and what a track it is! It’s naturally undulating, fast and a quite technical in places. It’s what they describe as an old school circuit, with walls really close to the tarmac so going off in certain places could be a biggie.
The first day on track it rained very hard all day. The sessions were often red flagged for crashes, then lightning, and to top it all off, we heard the Tornado sirens going off in the distance so the organisers sent the teams a message to take cover under a “substantial structure” if we could. Where’s one of them when you need it? I think we managed about 9 proper laps on track in some of the worst weather any of us had ever driven in, so not much learning how to drive the car but it was nice to have posted seventh fastest in one of sessions.
Friday morning Official Free Practice was my first time around the track in the dry. The downhill section from T3 is officially immense! I found out that setting up the entry to T5 is important as you need good exit speed to carry down the straight, but even more important was exiting T7 onto the really long back straight. If you were slow through there you were a sitting duck before you got to 10a.
Qualifying didn’t go to plan. I went out toward the back of the field to do my own thing and warm my tyres. I think I got most of the way around my first flying lap when the red flag came out for a crash, so we all came back to the pits until it was all cleared away. When we got the green flag to go back out again, I got caught up in traffic and just didn’t get a good run anywhere. I think I managed a total of 5 laps in all, with my fastest being my last but still only good enough for twenty-third out of 29 on the grid. I won’t be doing that again that’s for sure.
As Pippa couldn’t be there, she had arranged for Gerardo Bonilla to coach me for the weekend. I know Gerardo from the Lucas Oil School of Racing and he’s amazing. He’d been great because I have a TV crew following my season and they wanted to talk to me after each session to get my feedback but Gerado took over that role so I could focus on my racing.
So, starting race one back down on the twelfth row, I needed binoculars to see the front row. I knew I could have a lot of fun in the race showing off my overtaking skills. One car stalled on the line ahead of me, so I dived out the way of his car but the car behind me didn’t see him and ran straight into the back of it. That was a full course yellow with the safety car deployed at the end of lap 1. We were released after about 6 laps behind the SC and I was able to get by seven cars on my way through the field finishing fifteenth. My times meant I would start race 2 from nineteenth.
I got a good start and immediately got a place on the run in to turn 1 and up the hill into to 2 and 3. Yellow flags came out plus the SC following a four-car crash at T3 on lap 2. When we got going again, I worked my way through the field into thirteenth place when I made a mistake at the Esses at the bottom of the hill. That cost me 12 seconds and six places, dropping back down to nineteenth. I got my head down and reeled in the cars ahead and did some awesome overtakes. I was thinking further ahead than the other drivers, working out where I’d make my moves and how to set them up, which made for some fun laps. By the end of the race I’d overtaken a few more cars and got up to fifteenth, but I knew I there was more to come.
The weather on Sunday dumped it down with rain just in time for the F4 US race. I started on the outside of row 7 in fourteenth place thanks to my times from race 2. I got into my rhythm quickly but had to find the wet parts of the track to keep my tyres cool. I had good pace throughout but got held up so had to find their weak points, set the passes up and execute them quickly.
I fought my way up to ninth place when the SC came out for the third time in the race. The clear up took a bit longer this time, which left us with just a one lap dash to the flag. There was nothing between seventh, eighth and me in ninth but coming out of T7 onto the back straight I got a great run on the car in eighth and got past him approaching the downhill section to the chicane. I left my braking late and was on the dry line, but I saw him leave his brakes even later on the damp section, so I left him room to get down the inside into 10a. I knew he wouldn’t have any mid corner speed and nothing coming back out of 10b so I set the undercut up to pass him going up under the bridge, which worked perfectly. I finished eighth over the line but so, so close to taking seventh off one of my teammates too.
Overall, I’m happier with my pace, but my race craft was on point. Taking a top ten, with no real testing, in such a massive field of talented drivers is a great start, especially as it was the initial target I’d set for myself.
The next round is at Road America on 14 – 17 May, which seems like ages away yet, but I’m training harder than ever to be even better prepared. I’m already raring to go!
Thanks for reading and I’ll see you all next month.