TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY - Round 3 CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship Texas Motor Speedway is one of the best facilities I have ever been to. I had been there only once before, just to watch a tyre test take place, and I was very keen to get on...
TEXAS MOTOR SPEEDWAY - Round 3 CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship
Texas Motor Speedway is one of the best facilities I have ever been to. I had been there only once before, just to watch a tyre test take place, and I was very keen to get on the track after listening to the drivers comment about it. A fast, high banked, bumpy oval was certainly going to be a new challenge for me, which I was looking forward to.
The final results for Texas were not what we wanted. However, looking on the positive side, we were one of the quickest cars on the track in every session, which makes us feel confident for the rest of the season.
Texas was not a particularly busy race, as far as sponsorship commitments go, so that allowed my engineer and I plenty of time to go over our weekend plan. Unlike the previous two races, we had a great deal of track time before qualifying. This extra time allowed us to be able to work on our car, so that it was good for both qualifying and the race. The qualifying and racing conditions on this kind of oval are 'opposite' in a Dayton Indy Lights car. In qualifying you have the track solely to yourself, whereas in the race you run around in a pack, with sometimes only one second separating the person in first position and the person in last position.
On Thursday we had two half-hour practice sessions. The first one went very well, as we finished the session fastest overall. It gives you great confidence when you roll the car off the truck and the car is very fast, which enables us to build on the set-up we already have, rather than playing 'catch up'. This is also testament to having a great team working together. The second session went very well also, as we were one of the faster cars out there again. Although Texas Motor Speedway is not as long in distance as Michigan and California Speedway, for an Indy Lights car the racing is very similar because the amount of banking in the corners makes it very easy to be flat-out all the way around the lap.
On Friday, we had two half-hour practice sessions and then qualifying. Both practices again went very well. I spent the majority of the practice sessions running on my own, without being in the draft. I found the qualifying format on an oval to be very enjoyable. The three warm-up laps, followed by two timed laps, is very similar to how we used to qualify for kart races, both in England and Europe. In the 2000 season of the CART Dayton Indy Lights Championship the previous winners on the Super Speedways had started from the pole or on the outside pole, so we knew it was very important to qualify right at the front of the field. However, qualifying did not go as expected. I knew, from the moment I completed my first warm-up lap, that we had made a wrong call on a certain element of the car set-up, but I had to maximise what we had so I didn't slip too far down the starting line-up. I ended up qualifying to start the race from a disappointing fifth position.
Although it was very disappointing to know we had had a good chance at getting the pole and then wasting it, it was important to stay focused and remember that the Number 1 Gemstar Communications/PacWest Lights car was going to be very fast in the race.The race was certainly a great spectacle for the fans in Texas, with every car running nose to gearbox. I stayed in the position I started from, for the first half of the race and watched what everybody in front of me was doing. I then started to make my move to the front, by using the high line. It was really paying off, as I had just taken second position when I touched with the car in third place. We touched wheels just as we were coming out of turn 4, and it sent me into a spin. Then, I was collected by another car in the process, and my car came to rest against the wall. This was a sad end to what I thought was turning out to be another high-scoring points finish for me and the PacWest Lights team.
When I have disappointing weekends like I did in Texas, I can't wait to get back in the car again. In the middle of this month, I have a two-day test coming up on my favourite oval, the Milwaukee Mile. In the meantime, I will be training hard with the crew from PitFit. Now that the weather is nice here in Indianapolis, we train outside quite a bit, which I really enjoy. The Indianapolis 500 is also coming up, so I will definitely be there watching the practicing, qualifying and the race. That is one race I would love to have the chance to compete in and it is certainly on my agenda for 2002.