BYRD: A frustrating weekend in Pennsylvania
WAMPUM, PA – Another busy weekend took place on the bridge last weekend at the Pittsburgh Int’l Race Complex, where I was scheduled to race in the F2000 and F1000 divisions.
Before the weekend I felt pretty confident in my ability to race in front of the F1000 car and compete for podiums. The same couldn’t be said for the F2000, but I was going to try to learn the car quickly and pick up speed.
The F1000 car got faster and faster over the weekend thanks to the hard work of the Arrive Drive Motorsports team, who were able to convert the feedback into positive setup changes.
This led to a fifth place in qualifying, however we could have been faster had it not been for a problem that left me running out of gas before the end of the session. It left me stranded on track and needed a tow to the pits.
We didn’t have the start of the weekend we wanted with F1000. It rained and that led to different tire strategies, but it was a challenge to keep up with the conditions. My lack of comfort with the wet tires and the car’s extreme braking efficiency made things difficult and I lost fifth place after coming third at the start of the race.
Unfortunately, bad luck got us when one of the relay wires in the engine came loose, hit the engine block and caused the engine to lose power. We managed to get the car back on track after towing to the pits and finished eighth on several laps.
Moving on to the first F2000 race, my main goal was to be as comfortable with the car as possible. Shifting is different because you have to manually increase the speed of the car by raising the throttle and downshift the car by pressing the throttle.
We qualified fourth after a problem with the car’s fuel caps cut the session short. It didn’t really matter, because just like the F1000 race, the F2000 race took place in the rain. Once again, there were strategic choices with the wet tires and we made a bad decision. It didn’t help that we only had three ignition engine cylinders instead of four. We finished sixth, which was not bad under the circumstances.
On the second day of the race, the weather was going to be much better, so we wouldn’t have to worry about the different tire strategies. I had a great run in F1000 qualifying and sat in pole position four tenths faster than quadruple F1000 champion Alex Mayer. I had never overqualified a group of strictly on-pace cars before so it was really good.
My heart rate increased the minute I sat in the car to start the race and things got hectic right away. Entering the first corner, Mayer immediately passed me for the lead, which I attributed to my inexperience with pole position. I lacked confidence in the braking zones, which allowed Shane Prieto to overtake me on the last corner of the first lap.
A few turns later, I made a mistake defending my position and entered the grass at the exit of turn three. At that point I was fifth, but I regained my rhythm and took third and fourth.
I was 13 seconds behind Mayer at the time, so there was a lot of work to do. I quickly climbed back up to third place and then the second place car dropped out due to an engine problem. This brought me back to second place, behind Mayer.
Over the next seven laps the gap narrowed rapidly as I completed laps 1.5 to two seconds faster than Alex. The last three laps have been intense and some of the best I have ever run as we fought for victory.
My inexperience showed that it took me too long to find a passing opportunity and when I did I couldn’t run. Mayer won the race and I finished second, but I learned a lot during the race, including what it feels like when air is removed from the front fender, which reduces front grip and support.
During qualifying for the second race of F2000 I experienced one of the most frustrating things possible and was the most upset I have ever been in or out of a race car. My right foot would get stuck on the frame every time I lifted the accelerator, causing me to miss several braking points because I couldn’t lift the accelerator.
I also had issues downshifting when cornering at low speeds. I kept messing up my downshifts and getting stuck in neutral trying to get out of corners. Between that and the problem with my stuck foot, I was angry.
I got out of the car and slammed my fist on my left rear tire and stormed off. It certainly wasn’t my best time and I’m not proud of letting my temper get the best of me. So far in my racing career, I really haven’t had much reason to be upset by a qualifying or race result, but now I’m at the point where I have certain expectations and that is probably why I was so upset.
The goal after that was to have a clean race, but I couldn’t do it after just one lap. I moved up to third in turn three on the first lap, but on the last corner I missed another downshift to first gear and as I tried to get the car going it sprang up and immediately made me buckle up.
At that point, I had to wait for the whole peloton to pass me until I could start again. After mowing the grass for the PittRace landscapers a bit, I was back on track and driving. I managed to go from 12th to 7th place at the finish.
Overall it was a frustrating result knowing that I had the pace for a comfortable third place, if not potentially second. However, I have gained experience passing slower cars with confidence and it has allowed me to do some much needed practice laps to be more comfortable with the car.
The weekend taught me a lot about myself and the race, which is about the best I could really hope for from a weekend with so many ups and downs like this. Now I’m even more determined than ever to jump into the next round of Formula Race Promotions at Road America and fight for wins in both series.
I want this quadruple podium weekend and I want it now.