After a short two-week break from Toronto, we were back into the States for Rounds 12, 13 and 14 at Mid-Ohio, where we had a successful series test earlier in the year. We were in the top five for the three test sessions, which took place on Thursday, with the official practice session rounding out the day at 6:30 p.m. Unfortunately, we didn’t quite make it out to practice as we had a transmission failure. The guys worked hard to get the car back together before qualifying which took place Friday morning.
I felt confident in our ability to stay among the top five for qualifying, along with the fact that we had an extra set of Cooper Tires (since we didn’t go out in practice). That really helped as we managed to pull out the third fastest lap time! This was crucial as it would put us in third position for the start of all three races. We were all so pumped and knew that the work and changes we’d put into the program were paying off.
Race One concluded Friday’s on track events. I was a bit nervous taking the green flag and was railed around the outside by Brazilian Victor Franzoni. I later went off in Turn Four, and the rest of the race was a hard-fought battle for fifth, our second top-five finish of the year.
Earlier in the week, an announcement came out that the newest crop of rising stars would gather to be interviewed for the Team USA Scholarship on Friday night at Mid-Ohio. This obviously brought back some great memories for me and I was thrilled to be invited to help out with the interview process. The night kicked off with a wonderful dinner and it was great being able to talk with a lot of the familiar faces who had been interviewing me just a year prior. Then it was time for the one-on-one interviews. I could tell how nervous the nominees were, and for a good reason.
The Team USA Scholarship is a career-changing opportunity; it certainly was for me. I was, hopefully, able to ease the nominees’ stress and answer questions that they had. We mostly talked about what it’s like to be a Team USA Scholarship winner, and what to expect. After speaking with the nominees, I can say with confidence that Jeremy Shaw will have a hard decision to make, as usual. As the night concluded, everyone went back to their respective duties, preparing for the next day of on-track activities.
I was more confident for Saturday’s Race Two and more determined to remain where we belonged. We charged hard in the opening laps and battled our way around the twisting 2.258-mile road course. We came up a bit short but still earned our third consecutive top-five finish. Even though we were on an extremely strong run, it was eating away at me that we weren’t on the podium – yet so close at the same time. I had one more opportunity on Sunday – our third of the weekend – and once again we were out of the gate strong, holding our third position through Turns One and Two. As the race went on, though, the chances of a podium were slowly slipping away as we just didn’t quite have the pace. We ended the race in sixth, which was a little disappointing, but at the same time it was a great weekend for us, with very consistent finishes up near the front of the pack.
As we take a break before the finale at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, I can’t help but find myself constantly thinking about what we have accomplished this season. It has been one of the hardest fought years of my career, but being able to wear this Soul Red Mazda Scholarship suit has been such an honor. The Mazda scholarship itself is so much more than a free season of USF2000. It is an opportunity to become part of a family who will constantly go above and beyond to help you succeed. This next race weekend will be sad as it sees the conclusion of the 2016 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda, but I will be working harder than anyone to get back into such a great program again in 2017. Thank you Mazda, Cooper Tires, Andersen Promotions, USF2000, Team USA Scholarship and to everyone who has made this all possible.
All the best,