It was a good weekend for SMP Racing, even better than I was expecting.
I have to say that it was the longest break we had in a long time, it felt too much like the start of a new season.
Coming to the U.S. is always exciting and Circuit of The Americas is a challenge. It’s one of the hardest circuits of the season as it’s very technical, fast and this year was run mostly at night.
The only thing I missed was the typical American ambience inside the track. Sebring and Road Atlanta is more exciting in terms of the show.
F1 tracks, of course, are much more forgiving now and that makes them a little less exciting for me.
After the first Free Practice, we knew straight away that the performance was not going to be our strongest point of the weekend. The car was nice to drive but wasn’t fast enough.
We needed to make the car a have a little bit better balance for the second sector; this is where we lost a good chunk of the time.
The second session was a wet one. We had a steering problem and didn’t get to drive much but still the Michelin tires worked better in these conditions and the balance was great.
We improved on the balance in the third session but we clearly still didn’t have the outright pace! And that was annoying.
We qualified fourth and had hoped to be competitive for the long run of the race. My first stints were OK, but I couldn’t match the pace of the top three cars.
My second stint was better… Until the massive rain!
The lap before, I could see the rain moving in quickly, but on the next one, it was time to come n and that was a good call from me and the team. It made us gain a lap.
Sergey (Zlobin) went out and stayed out of trouble until the red flag. After the restart, we started to hit problems.
The clutch was completely gone and we had to go out of the pits on the starter motor, and we had four stops still to go.
To top it off, we were having issues with the radio as well. Maurizio (Mediani) went in the car after Sergey, on slicks, and had a fantastic double stint. He maintained the lead and was doing great lap times.
The only problem we had at this point was the radio. Maurizio had to pit earlier than expected, the tires were not ready and we lost 40 seconds.
Since we pitted early, we were not able to be as tight on fuel as we had hoped to be and I when I got back in the car for the last stint, I was told to save two laps of fuel!
I ended up finishing the race on the safety car engine map, driving 40 seconds slower, just to make it to the checkered flag. At this point, it was just about finishing the race.
It was a very good day for the championship. Sergey expanded his lead, and SMP did too in the teams’ championship.
I’m still grumpy about our pace, as the Dunlop equipped cars were better in the dry. But that’s always the case with two different tire manufacturers. Sometimes, you’re the man and sometimes they are.
Looking forward to Japan and who knows, maybe our first win!