Dan's Diary: Monterrey, Mexico - Round 1 CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship

Mexico was certainly an eye-opener for me in a lot of ways. Firstly, 5th place was not the result I was looking for but, considering the circumstances, I think I will look back at this race as a good save. Starting from 10th on the grid, it was...

Mexico was certainly an eye-opener for me in a lot of ways. Firstly, 5th place was not the result I was looking for but, considering the circumstances, I think I will look back at this race as a good save. Starting from 10th on the grid, it was pretty tough just to stay out of trouble. I am not used to starting that far back -- without sounding too cocky -- and I certainly would prefer not to start that far back again this season!

Our first practice on Thursday afternoon was cancelled, due to the track not being 100% complete. This left my engineer and me plenty of time to study the new track and plan our strategy for the weekend. I was also able to attend the media lunch, which is something I like to go to whenever possible, in order to get my name about. The media lunch turned out to be very beneficial for my team -- PacWest Racing -- the CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship and me. CART did a fantastic job in making the local television media aware of us. Later that night, my team and I went out for a great meal in downtown Monterrey. Eating out is something I enjoy a lot, especially when I am in a different country. During my karting days, I was very fortunate to visit many different countries, and I always enjoyed going to as many traditional restaurants as I could.

The track itself was really very well laid out, considering it was brand new. However, I knew it was obviously going to be slippery, as it was very dirty and dusty, but I couldn't wait to get out there! Also, one of the rules in the CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship, which I think is very good, is that you are allowed only three sets of tyres from the start of official practice to the end of the race weekend. This is something that I think will benefit me, when I progress up into Champ Cars. Also, from a team viewpoint, it is good for cutting down on the cost of running cars, because I am sure if we did not have this rule, we would be putting new tyres on every session.

On Friday and Saturday we had a 45-minute practice and a half-hour qualifying session. Both days were very frustrating for me. The track was very, very slippery, which was something that the team and I had under-estimated. However, we kept working hard through the sessions to get a set-up that suited both the track and my driving style, which is still new to these cars. Each time we went out, the track was getting quicker and quicker, so we knew how important it was for me to get the best out of the new tyres and the car in those final dying minutes of the second qualifying session. Unfortunately, we didn't get the best out of the car, due to a sticking throttle problem, which we didn't unveil until after I had qualified in a disappointing 10th position. The sticking throttle problem was through no fault of the team, but it was just one of those unfortunate things in motor racing. Nonetheless, I knew the Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights team would put a good car under me for the race. They didn't disappoint!

The race itself was very different to what I thought it would be. The main thing I knew I had to focus on was bringing the car home in a good, solid, points-scoring position. This meant I had to make sure I made good use of the first few laps, which I managed to do. However, it surprised me just how close we were running at the start of the race. I thought the field would spread out very quickly, but this was certainly not the case, so I had to be very careful when I was working my way through the field. The track was so slippery off-line, that when I dived down the inside one car, I nearly clipped the car in front of him. This was because off the racing line it was so dirty, and it was very hard to get the car slowed down in order to get through the corner. On the racing line, the track was getting more and more grippy with every lap. By the time the race had settled down, I had moved up into 5th place and I was making ground on the car in front of me and setting some of the fastest race laps in the process. But with the way the track was, it made it very difficult to pass. I could get close to the car in front, but only for a few laps before my tyres would over-heat, at which point I would have to drop back, let them cool a little bit and then have another run at trying to overtake. A yellow flag then slowed the race, but once we were back under way, the race fell straight back in to its earlier mould. Towards the end of the race, I did come under a little bit of pressure, due to my last attempt to move up into 4th place. As a result, I over-heated my front tyres, which slowed me down at certain parts of the track, but I had managed to hold on to 5th place.

The main thing that I learnt this weekend in Mexico is that qualifying is the key to a having a strong race in Indy Lights. With the cars being so evenly matched, it is very difficult to pass and, especially when you are on a one-line racetrack, it is extremely difficult to pass. The depth of talent in the field is also great. There may not be very many cars, but they all have very good teams running them, as well as good drivers in them.

Now I am back in Indianapolis, training hard before our next race at Long Beach. This is one of my favourite races of the year, and it would be great to win this one! I came very close last year, but not quite, so I'll see what I can do. I lived very close to Long Beach last year, so it sort of feels like my home race, which I like. I am also looking forward to my two more days testing in the car before Long Beach! I am anxious to get back in the car and get the rest of the season under way!

Best wishes,
Dan

www.danwheldon.com

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Series Indy Lights