MELVILLE, NJ – The penultimate event of the 2020 USF2000 season proved to be a breakthrough weekend for me, with not only my first top-5 finish but my first podium as well!
This year has been challenging to say the least, and going into the races at New Jersey Motorsports Park I was still looking to improve from my best result which I had gotten in the beginning of the season. My team Exclusive Autosport and I took part in a two day test at NJMP ahead of the races here, and we were able to gather valuable information and a solid starting setup for this event.
On the first day of the race weekend we knew the EA cars were competitive and were able to stick to our testing plan in every free practice session. NJMP is almost entirely made up of high-speed corners, which meant passing was going to be difficult due to strong aero-wash when following other cars. This put a big emphasis on qualifying; I knew I had to deliver a blistering lap.
The team took a risk on tire strategy by having us drivers use two of four new sets of tires in Q1. I was able to qualify in 5th for the first race, my best qualifying result to-date. Despite starting on used tires while most of the field started on stickers, I was able to hold position and earn my first top-5 finish in USF2000!
Saturday’s result was very motivating going into the final day of the event. However, qualifying for Race 2 went anything but to-plan, and due to a red flag none of the EA cars were able to get a flying lap on new tires. As a result I only qualified 12th and had a big challenge ahead of me as I knew it would be hard to make up positions.
That proved to be the case, and due to the aero-wash was only able to move up one spot to finish 11th in Race 2. Not only was the result worse than we had hoped for, but we’d be starting Race 3 from even further back in 14th! I was frustrated and knew we had to make a change going into Race 3 if I wanted to make up any positions. We took a gamble on setup and hoped it would pay off.
The weather forecast had been changing all day, looking less and less likely to rain for Race 3. Of course, it began to drizzle as we were getting strapped into our cars, making for some sketchy conditions at the start of the race. The field all started on slicks, and I knew I had to be aggressive and alert to make up positions yet avoid errors if any corners became more damp.
The car felt great and, despite some contact on lap one, I was able to make moves right away. The aero wash hardly hindered me which proved to be a monumental advantage over my opponents, and I was able to set the fastest lap of the race while making passes. A few laps in I found myself all the way up in 8th, at which point four cars independently slid off the track in front of me. The red flag was thrown and all cars to come into the pits to equip rain tires.
I was concerned I’d lose my advantage over the field as aero wash became less significant with worse conditions. I kept an open mind and knew this was going to be a mentally demanding race. I started fourth on the restart and lost one position a few laps after the green, but got my head down and began experimenting with my driving to find where the grip was. Soon enough I was chasing down the cars ahead of me and made two passes to put myself in 3rd position until the end of the race!
I was stoked to say the least and was finally able to feel what it was like to be on the podium again. I can’t thank Exclusive Autosport and especially my family for their unwavering support throughout this season, and of course the scholarships offered by the Lucas Oil School of Racing for getting me here in the first place!