July found us in Toronto, Canada. This would be only my second time outside of the United States, the only other time being my trip over to the UK for the 25th anniversary of the Team USA Scholarship. The overall vibe was very similar to that of our opening weekend at the streets of St. Petersburg; it was very much a social event!
The race week kicked off for us at the Sick Kids Children Hospital where we played some games and painted (toy) racecars! It was so much fun hanging out with such wonderful kids. Thursday brought us our track walk, the first time we noticed how bumpy and different the track was compared to the year prior – or so I was told! As the sun set, I found an excuse to put on some fancy clothes and walked over to the Green Flag Gala where the likes of Conor Daly and James Hinchcliffe along with fellow USF2000 drivers Garth Rickards and Jordan Lloyd could be found. It was super fun mingling around and chatting with so many people who love this sport (thank you Alycia for setting this up for me!).
Now on to the race days. The track was extremely challenging and showed how unforgiving it was in the first practice session on Friday when three drivers smacked the wall. Luckily, no one was injured but we only got about three laps in, just enough to scrub our Cooper Tires! Practice Two went much smoother and found us in P6, continuing our momentum from Road America. We then followed that up with our best qualifying effort of the season, sixth place. It felt weird having only two rows of cars in front of me as we came to the green for Race One on Saturday but I kept my typical aggression and found myself in fourth position exiting Turn One. It was short-lived, however, as the Aussie Jordan Lloyd overtook me going into Turn Three. After some hard battling, we finished in a solid seventh position, but I felt like we still had a bit more.
That evening I had a great opportunity to take my mind off the track as I had been invited to meet with some guests from a series sponsor, Allied Building Products. It was such a relaxing and fun event full of laughs! As we were having dinner I found out that the gentlemen sitting next to me would also be throwing the green flag for our race on Sunday. I tried as hard as I could to convince him to throw the green when I gave him “the signal” but he didn’t budge… and that is what I will blame my poor start for Sunday on!
We started Race Two in sixth and exited Turn One in sixth – the first time we hadn’t gained a position coming out of the first turn all season. As the race went on we made a couple of passes and capitalized on others’ misfortune which saw us finish fourth. At one point we even had the fastest race lap! It felt so great to be near the front of the pack and the Afterburner guys had worked so hard to get us there… but now there was a strong desire to get our Mazda Soul Red car onto the podium.