Thursday morning, we weren’t due at the track until 11am so a leisurely morning saw us head off to breakfast. On the menu, a simple well balanced dish of natural greek yoghurt for protein, granola for carbohydrates, berries for fibre and honey for… sweetness. Over breakfast we don't talk shop, making sure to keep a relaxed and calm start to the day and allow it to carry over to the track.
We arrived at Barber Motorsports Park as the other series were running in their practice sessions, parked the rental car and then shuttled to the paddock passing Mr Barber himself on the way. There are three tiers of trucks, trailers and RVs from Porsche cup, radicals, pro Mazda, USF2000 to Indy Lights all loaded in and set to go. Down on the lowest tier the Indy Lights paddock is adjacent to the pit lane and right next to the soon to be loaded Indy Car paddock.
The day started with a few interviews and the pre-session engineering meeting which laid out the plans for the practice session and what direction the team would take. Between the meeting and practice we have several hours to fill, which we used to listen to music, worked on reaction time and hand eye coordination and 30 min before the track went green Alex suited up and we headed into the pits.
The session went okay, a few issues saw Alex in seventh position after 45mins with 1 red flag and around 27 laps the team gained valuable data and solidified the direction for the quali setup.
Starting a little earlier we followed the same routine as the day prior with a simple breakfast and left for the track at 8:30am ready for a 9:30am briefing prior to qualifying (quali) 1. This sets the grid for the first race of the weekend on Saturday so the focus levels were high across the board. Adding to this Trevor Carlin of Carlin Motorsport LLC had arrived late yesterday evening and was at the track in support of the team.
The air was crisp and the truck was warm so we began our warmup outside with alternating mins of skipping and rest. Alex was sporting a very athletic kit of jeans and Blundstones ready to make this skipping count. From there, hand eye and neck work are our key focus just before he gets in the car.
30mins until green… we walked down to the start of pit lane waiting for the gates to open and here is where Alex’s switches to scenario 7, the mode in which the world falls away and his focus comes into view. He’s very quiet as we walk through the pit lane past all of the Indy Car teams getting set up for practice tomorrow. When we arrive at the pit box the car rolls in and it’s time to get after it, balaclava, helmet and gloves on. A purposeful fist bump signals its time to get to work, so he jumps the wall to get strapped in.
The engine starts and his mechanic waiting for the green stands to the front right of the car, the green flag waves and he sends Alex out onto the track.
By the end of the first stint his speed was promising, posting a P3 position and still improving each lap by the end he was within .600 of P1 and sitting in 7th on the grid or row 4 for the start of race 1.
The car felt great
he told me after quali, as with all competitive individuals P7 isn’t P1 but there were plenty of positives to take from the session. Next lunch and back on track at 3:00pm for Q2 which is the quali for race 2 on Sunday.
Fast forward to the afternoon and a similar result, Alex had a brief reach into the top three but there just didn’t seem to be the pace as the lap time just kept coming down. Finishing up in P8 the day ended and the focus shifted to Race 1 tomorrow. With their eyes set on improving and starting on the fourth row in the race we will see what tomorrow brings, having a history of charging through the pack in F3 we will see how that translates into Indy Lights.
Race day 1 - 30laps...
Another typical start to the day, but for today we had an interesting shuttle to the paddock after jumping in. The gentleman sitting next to me in the back seat introduced himself to Alex and myself. It turned out we had inadvertently jumped in with Charlie Kimball, after the initial introduction Charlie didn’t hesitate to get the scoop on everything that Alex has been up to along with his expectations for the race.
The morning ran smoothly with the engineering and drivers meetings out of the way by 10am, giving us a chance to visit the viewing area at turn two and watch part of the first practice session for Indy Car. The howl of the Indy Car’s got the excitement running high and it wasn’t long before we were back at the trailer and Alex was suited and booted ready for us to walk down pit lane.
In Indy Lights they form up the grid in the pit lane, then send the cars out behind the safety car to do a warm up and form up lap.
The stage is set and they form up into two parallel columns which they cannot deviate from, they enter the home straight and the leader, P1 dictated the speed and start of the race. P1 has a zone of around 100m in which to start the race. At this point tensions are at an all time high. The team all stand fixated on the timing screens and home straight as the procession edges closer to the start.
The green flag waved and the roar was palpable; you could feel the percussion from the engines pressurising your ear drums as the pack flew past, however it only lasted until the first corner before the yellow flag was flown and the safety car was out. Two of the lead drivers tangled at the front and it ended with one driver buried in the wall and the other relegated to the back of the pack.
AP had managed to avoid the carnage and pick up two grid places in the process which he maintained through the the conclusion of the race sealing a 5th place finish in his Indy Lights debut. A strong result given the circumstances.
There were smiles all around and with positive steps forward the team is ready to gather what they learned today and put it together for race 2 tomorrow.
Race day 2,
As the day dawned on the final race day in Alabama we woke to a relaxing morning, we managed to catch the majority of the Italian F1 GP before we made it to the track at 10am for the last engineering meeting of the weekend.
Further improvements made overnight to see the team confident of a strong result in race 2.
Just before the race was Indycar’s warm up session which was great to see how the big teams interact with their drivers and how they make the most of the time that they have on track. We were lucky to be set up just behind the fence opposite Scott Dixon and Will Powers pit boxes.
Just on our side of the fence we got to warming up, a mixture of short cardio efforts, hand eye coordination and muscular strength sets up Alex’s ready for action in the first lap. Once the timer counts down and the car is rolling out it’s time to go to work.
Helmet on, World off.
The grid forms up in the pit lane and we all stand by ready for the yellow flag to wave signalling the start of the form up laps. The anticipation and tension were high being the last race of the weekend, all the steps forward, all of the challenges and all the work for the weekend culminating in front of us. As they rounded the corner on to the home straight you can hear the engines roar and the noise is electrifying. The field of 13 cars scream past at 150km/ph and dive into the first corner, Alex manages to pass 4 cars on the first lap jumping into P4. The energy swelled at the pit wall, yells of excitement and support rang out amongst the team as Alex set his position and got after the car in P3. It was all going according to plan until an unexpected power malfunction caused the car to slow momentarily, long enough to slide back into P6.
By this point, running on the last set of tires for the weekend the tires were done and Alex made the best of the situation and brought it home for a strong points finish closing out the weekend on a positive.
My three main takeaways from this weekend:
Hard work is a requirement to succeed in any environment, but even the hardest worker needs to be resilient in the face of adversity.
Always say yes, open yourself up to opportunity and never completely close any door. Sometimes you might slam the door but never let it hitch, sometime in the future you may just open it again.
Trust the process, especially when you are working in a team environment. This doesn't mean follow blindly, but understand that it was built this way for a reason, sometimes the means just need adjusting.
Next weekend is my last with the team and Alex for the year and I'll do my best to provide a different perspective, let me know if there is anything you're interested in knowing.
Until next time,