4.21.14 (via RACER.com) – With our very first win at St. Petersburg just a couple of weeks ago, the team and I were very excited to get back after it, especially at one of the most iconic tracks on the schedule – Long Beach. Last year was my first time getting the opportunity to compete on the circuit and I fell in love with it instantly. Of course for multiple reasons – one, its not like the typical street course; it's very fast and flowing. Third gear in most of the corners whereas in St. Pete and Toronto you're in second. Two, you have the Hairpin, where you're down to just 35mph and you get to drive around a fountain in Turn 3.
Last year our Long Beach weekend started out well, qualifying third but ending the race about 300 yards after the start-finish line on the first lap. So of course, with the championship lead going into the 2014 race, we definitely wanted things to go differently!
Especially with how the points are set up for this season: If a driver fails to compete 50% of the race winner's laps, he or she will only get a single point for that weekend. This puts a heavy price on being overly bold until halfway.
Like St. Pete, our weekend was set up pretty simple. Two practice sessions, qualifying and a 45-lap race. Right from the get go, we put our momentum to good use and ended up P2 in our practice session on Friday. Overall I was pretty happy with the car, but we knew we needed to get more speed out of it. In that situation we made some pretty bold changes on the car for practice two. Looking back it might have just been more of the track that we were chasing which put us behind to P4 in the second practice on Saturday morning. We only had a little over an hour before qualifying, so we went with our gut feel on what to go back on and waited.
At the beginning of the 45-minute session we were playing a bit of catch-up, settling back into the new changes. I felt right away they were the ones we needed. As I got more comfortable with the car, I started to change and try different things with my driving. My engineer was on the radio the whole time telling me what sectors I needed to improve on and where we were the fastest. With about 30 minutes to go, we decided to come in and switch to our first new set of tires. After I got a few laps out of them, we were P1, but I knew it was only going to be for a short time. As I came to pit lane for my second set of new tires, we'd had already fallen to P2. At the point, we decided to make a bigger change than before on the car to help aid the understeer. As I got back on track, we had 9 minutes to go, which only meant 6 or 7 more laps. This was when everyone started putting in their fastest times. We'd be P2, P3, and then P2 again, while everyone was bouncing around.
As I came through the hairpin with only 20 seconds to go, we were 0.15 seconds off, and P4… My engineer told me, "OK, This is going to be your last lap, squeeze everything you can out of her!"
I took a breath to clear my head, and just tried to focus as much as I could to put together a perfect lap; it felt like everything just slowed down for a minute. I came around to the timing line and entered pit lane.
To be honest, I had my head down; I didn't know what kind of lap I just did. A split second later, I heard my engineer come on excitedly saying "Nice job, man! Right now that's pole!" Turns out, the top 4 were separated only by 0.07 of a second… I was only ahead of P2 by 0.03. It was the closest gap I've ever been in! We couldn't believe it.
Of course, getting the pole was a nice start, but only that – a start. Thinking back to St. Pete, we started second, and was able to make a move into turn 1 and go on to win from there. With that being said, we were really focused on making a great start because it's so hard to pass at Long Beach with the low downforce levels.
We were on our way of doing just that as well coming to the green, except for one thing we didn't think about. As Gabby [Chaves] and I were racing neck and neck into Turn 1, his teammate gave him a little push from behind with his front wing. From my point of view, it looked like he pulled another gear. At the same time, I saw Matt Brabham looking to the inside of me.
With the help of the push, Gabby was about a car ahead of me, so it made more sense to let him go, and focus on defending myself from Matt. The race was pretty much sealed from there on, unfortunately. I coasted the first half, trying to save my tires the best I could and came on strong at the end putting the pressure on Gabby. It just wasn't enough.
After 45 laps, we finished second with the fastest lap of the race. We had the fastest car, but a second-place opportunity. All in all, I can't complain with that – we made valuable points, and that's what a championship is all about.
So far, Gabby and I have had identical weekends except for a single point. After Long Beach, I am at 93, and he has 92. It feels great to still be leading the championship, but I'll definitely be working to make our lead bigger next weekend in Barber!
Thank you for reading, and thank you to RePLAY XD, Young Marines, ADS IT Solutions, Zakosi Data Back Up, OMP, Bell, and of course Andretti Autosport for all of the support.