What a weekend in Long Beach. It couldn’t have gone much better for us. On top of the results, we were also celebrating our one year anniversary with Konica Minolta.
Long Beach is a unique event for us. The schedule is like no other and the logistics are crazy. We were on track at 7:45 a.m. on Friday for our first session.
The first session is always interesting at a street course. From an engineering point of view, it’s hard to take much out of it. The track has almost no rubber on it; it’s very dusty, and changing every lap.
So as a driver, if you’re struggling with something, you have to isolate the problem. Is it something that will improve as the track develops, or is it something we need to address now?
It really makes it a tricky situation. After this session we would only have one 30-minute session and qualifying, and that would be after IndyCar, World Challenge, and the rest of the support series have run, putting down much more rubber.
So a lot comes down to preparation and how your car rolls off the truck. During the second session we saw that we were going to be pretty strong. Ricky was comfortably quickest in the session.
Qualifying was a bit of a different story. It was a serious battle for pole between Ricky and Pruett. They were trading fast laps every lap. Ricky pulled out a serious lap right at the end that secured the pole.
The race was going to be tough. We saw on the segment times where each car was strong and how close everyone was. Track position was going to be the key to winning the race.
At the green, Pruett had a strong start and had a car length on Ricky going into Turn 1, but Ricky was pretty committed to keeping the lead and went back by under braking. They ran nose-to-tail the whole stint. With only one pit stop, a lot was going to come down to executing the stop and having a strong in and out lap.
As Ricky rolled into the pits, I saw that the 01 stayed out an extra lap. I knew he would be gaining time on hot tires while I was on my out-lap on cold tires.
My only focus at this point was pushing as hard as possible on that out-lap to try and not get jumped. I was pushing pretty hard and actually tagged the wall out of Turn 8 with the left rear.
Before every race I usually watch the previous few years’ races to try and learn anything.
In last year’s race the 01 got by the 5 on cold tires, and if it wasn’t for that, it wouldn’t have happened. So I knew the laps were going to be what won or lost the race.
Coming down the front straight there’s a giant big-screen TV with the race broadcast. I just happened to see it, and see the 01 leaving the pit lane while I was crossing the start/finish. I knew by the time we got to Turn 1 it would be pretty close.
He was stronger than I thought on his out-lap and held me off for the entire first lap. I was pretty sure I lost my chance. I got a good run out of the hairpin on the second lap and was about three car lengths behind him going into Turn 1.
I knew it was going to be my only shot at it, and I knew how strong our car was under braking. I was committed to going by and he was very good about leaving room. I was coming with a lot of momentum, so if he had made a move over, I’m sure we would have collided.
From there we were very evenly paced, he stayed within two seconds for the entire stint and didn’t let up. The countdown seemed like an eternity.
Coming across the line with two laps to go I saw the GT battle for third and knew they were going to be tough to get by. Thankfully I was able to put them between me and the 01 to relieve the pressure for the final lap.
It’s been a strong start to our season and we were able to make up a lot of ground in the championship this weekend. Can’t wait for Laguna!