After Mid-Ohio it seemed we really had some momentum going on in the team. But now an even bigger challenge was facing me; Not knowing Sonoma and having to Qualify on the first day of learning the track. The Rfactor simulator didn’t have the track for me to learn so I had to dig out my iRacing membership and shake the dust off. Some drivers also gave me some tips and heading to Sonoma, I wasn’t sure whether to feel confident or not knowing I was heading to a fast sweeping track with blind cresting turns.
All that quickly faded from my mind once I got on track though. In the first session of 30mins somehow I managed to be 4th fastest! I couldn’t believe it. But I knew the car was good and had more to come. In second practice I finished P2. Now the moment was feeling close for me to get my first Indy Lights Pole Position.
Qualifying was a shame to have to settle for P5 unfortunately, especially now we seem to be front runners everywhere we go but I think I’d done a good job to get the car at the front in the first day of driving the track against a tough field of drivers.
Sunday arrived and that means one thing, Race day! Harking back to my Champ Car days, something about race day brings out a little extra in me regardless of how I slept the night before or how the car feels. Warm-up had a couple of issues but it allowed me to see where the car was at with race fuel on board and what we needed to do for the race. I must say thanks to the race announcer at the track. Each driver gets an introduction, in grid order, before we start our engines and now every time I hear my name announced as “Speedy Dan Clarke” so it’s nice to hear that has stuck with me and people like it.
The race started off nicely, I made a big challenge for P4 in Turn6 that was very close wheel-to-wheel, but didn’t pay off. Then in the next turn I had the best battle in a long time with Sebastien Saavedra through T7 and T8 as we ran inches from each other and the curbs. I give credit to him for keeping it clean and fair as we ran two-wide through the flat-out twists of Turn 8.
A few laps later I was surprised to have Sebastien lunge me into T7 and tag my back wheel, spinning me out and to the back of the field. I imagine the adrenaline was running high for him after he had to retire, but his claim to be alongside me was a tad over-exaggerated. He can come over and look at my back wheel to see exactly where he hit me. Still, it was a shame that had to happen between us after a great battle moments before.
After rejoining P14, I didn’t know what to think. I just stepped on it and started to charge back through the field. I couldn’t believe I ended up passing 9 cars in the race and making it back to 5th place. Out-braking drivers into Turn9 and 11 were my favorite spots and I commend everyone for keeping it clean and fair. I thought I was going to get Yacaman at the end for 4th place but alas, my engine proceeded to cut out on me! I couldn’t believe our luck! Then with 3 laps to go, the engine completely stopped on me and I had to park it by the side of the track. Really heart braking especially after being in a great position to close the points to 5th place Saavedra in the series. But I have to admit, it was great to put on a performance like that and have so many people, teams and fans, congratulate me after wards. I guess that was my race to show people “Speedy” has not gone away.
Later inspection revealed the alternator was broken and from the start of the race we were running on battery power alone so the battery was completely drained and, with 3 laps to go, couldn’t spark the engine any longer.
So now the road course races are finished and now we have 3 ovals remaining in the series. I really would’ve liked to win a road race this year but I think the biggest point to prove is being strong on the ovals as everyone knows my forte is road courses. Proving I’m good on ovals too will be a great ticket to future prospects.
At this stage of the year, with not long to go and a lot of good results now to look back on, I have to say a big thank you to Derrick Walker and the guys in the team for giving me this chance to race again and also to prove to the racing community, fans, and my doubters, that I have changed a lot since the ‘Dangerous Dan’ days and I’ve driven pretty consistently all year without errors. There are 3 races remaining so I’m not counting my chickens but I am truly grateful to Derrick and the guys for putting their faith in me.
Now it’s time to study these ovals again and see if we can pick up where we left off with the speed we had at Indy and Iowa!