This time of year, there's no escaping all the talk about reviewing the past and planning the future. Many of us choose to look back and gauge the successes and failures of the previous year, and hype up how all that is going to change with our resolutions for the year to come. Personally, I'm not a fan of the common use of "New Year's resolution," as it has devolved in meaning. As much as we like to treat New Year's Eve and New Year's Day as a magical reset button to get our lives back on track, life just doesn't work that way. In fact, it's these winter months that are often the busiest for those in the racing industry, it's hardly a time where we take a break and reset for the new year. We have to be always moving, always looking forward, and always making plans for the future, regardless of what time of year it is.
But it's the beginning of January, and here we are. The 2015 calendar year might be complete, but my involvement in racing is not taking any sort of break before the 2016 season. So, in reviewing 2015, what's been going on? For one, I spent less time in the driver's seat and more time on the sidelines. That's not to say I haven't been keeping myself sharp on the track, no way I'd let that happen. The guys at Ten Pedal Motorsports were kind enough to take me in to pilot their FormulaSPEED 2.0 car in the Formula Car Challenge Triple Crown Series. With their help, I competed at Portland International Raceway, Sonoma Raceway (alongside the IndyCar season finale), and Auto Club Speedway. A few hiccups in the first race at Portland made it an uphill battle for this miniseries, especially when pitted up against the VMB Driver Development young gun Michael Avansino. Despite these struggles, we were vying for the top spot in the series championship and finished second in points. Adding these events together, plus a one-off race I did with World Speed Motorsports in the same class car at Sonoma in March, I held a 50% win record for 2015 (across four weekends, eight races total). Not much to complain about there! It was an awesome opportunity to start the season with a double win under World Speed Motorsports' wing, and to finish it off at Auto Club Speedway with another double win in the Ten Pedal Motorsports car. Seriously, that final race with Ten Pedal Motorsports was everything but easy, but we dialed in a car setup together that was unbelievably good.
So what was that earlier about driving less? Yup, 2015 marks the year where somebody else got to drive our little black and yellow Formula Mazda more than even I did. The Parsons Racing team lived up to its name as my dad, uncle, and I took on one of the most stressful jobs in auto racing: running a team. I worked with our driver Randy Sturgeon to hone his open wheel racing skills in the Formula Car Challenge series, where he eventually found his footing and started battling with the highly experienced drivers. However, I can't take all the credit, Randy's background includes Lotus Cup USA and many visits to the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving and to Allen Berg Racing Schools, where I have frequently coached drivers. He's no stranger to pushing himself and a four-wheeled machine to its limits.
All in all, I'd still call the 2015 season a success. So what's in store for 2016? Well, we've already started on plans for 2016 a few months ago, because January is far too late to make plans for the year! I can't tell you about most of what's in the works for the year, but here's what I can tell you. We'll be back with the Formula Mazda, and you'll see us at select Formula Car Challenge events once again. As we're in the midst of doing some car shopping, you'll likely find us sporting a two car team later in the year, giving our drivers the ultimate racing experience: a teammate to both compete against and learn from! Keep your eyes open for what turns up in the future, because there's a lot of fun stuff in the works. Although there's no clean slate or big reset that rings in the new year for us in the racing industry, we make sure to keep moving and always look ahead. Otherwise, we'd be left in the dust of our competition.
The weekend of November 8, 2014 marked the end of the season for the Formula Car Challenge Presented by Goodyear, and potentially my last season in the Formula Mazda. This may very well have been the most nerve-racking weekend of my racing career thus far, as the race for season points was far too close for comfort.
I maintained a points lead throughout the season, but only just. Newcomer to the series (but drives like a veteran) Tazio Ottis entered Formula Car Challenge this year with EFM Racing , who dominated the 2013 points championship. This formula for a team maintained a strong contender for the points championship right from the start. Another driver who is no stranger to racing this car in this series also decided to shake up the points battle; Stew Tabak in his purple and yellow "Barney" car represented the wiser and more experienced crowd in an attempt to whip us kids into shape.
It could be seen right from the start of the season that this year's championship would be a close one, and each of us delivered the whole way. Stew won a whole slew of races, Tazio collected a solid roundup of podiums, and I had strong successes interrupted by a few weekends of mechanical issues. With as much work as we each put into doing our best, we still managed to enter the final race of the season with a 4 point separation for the top three positions in the points championship. To say that I was feeling a bit under pressure would be a massive understatement.
Thankfully, Sonoma Raceway has been very good to me in recent years, with our last visit being the season opener race where I took home a double win. This season finale started off a little shaky on the official test day, with a heim joint deciding to break apart as soon I started braking in the downhill entry into turn 4. This fun adventure immediately broke the tie rod and brake line, leaving me with the ability to only steer with one wheel and brake with the back wheels. As I held to the wheel, pretending I actually had control of the car, I eventually found myself stopped a couple hundred feet away from the track surface without hitting a thing. Thank goodness. Even better, it turns out the damage was minimal and repairable for the next day's events! Just $89 later, and I was back on the road.
To my benefit, the struggles of the test day were not reflected in the remainder of the weekend. We ran one qualifying session and three races over the course of two days. Each session would determine our starting position of the next race, based on fast lap times, and only the final two races counted towards season points.
In order to win the points championship, I had to get at least second place finishes with my main competitors behind me. Famous Bill Weaver or, "The General," graced us with his presence this weekend to shake things up a bit as well, but he was not a points leader contender in this race. So The General qualified with the fastest time, I can deal with that since I'm not racing against him, what I need is second. So where did I end up in qualifying? Third. By a tenth of a second. I pulled out of qualifying early, in hopes of conserving my tire life for the remainder of the weekend. But of course, that's when Tazio rips a fast lap and sets himself up to start ahead of me for race one.
My entire weekend of races can largely be summed up by saying that I had some great starts. In the first race, I managed an excellently timed stomp on the gas pedal when the green flag waved, and got myself into second position before turn 2. To our surprise at the top of the hill of turn 2, there was a car spun sideways, splitting up the field as we all continued racing each other. Tazio wasn't ready to give up the position and got beside me once we were past the incident, but I lucked out with the inside line as we entered turn 3. I worked on cranking out some fast laps to get a good starting position for race two, and then worked on pacing myself just a little bit, in order to once again save my tires for the upcoming two races that really counted.
Thanks to some fast laps, I set myself up to start off-pole in the first points race. You don't hear racers say this often but... this race was a boring one and I am grateful for it! I started second, and carried second place all the ways to the checkered flag, just what I needed to better position myself for the points lead! I once again set a decent lap time, starting me in second place again for the final race start. Between me, Stew, and Tazio, whichever one of us finishes ahead of the other two takes the series points championship at this point. All I need to do at this point is bring the car home without losing a position, and no need to gain one, either.
So what happens at the start of this race? I get too good of a jump, and find myself between the turn 1 wall and a group of cars in the faster class. As I quickly run out of room to keep myself from hitting anything, I have to back out of the throttle, killing my entry into turn 2 and, even worse, falling back to third place. Bill takes the lead, followed by Tazio, and now I'm sticking to his back wing with Stew sticking to mine. We charge through the first lap of the race, each of us ready to leap on any small mishap that our competitors may experience, itching to take home a championship at the end of the day. As we approach the 180 degree turn 11, braking from ~135 mph and shifting from 5th gear all the ways to 1st, I see an opportunity to get by Tazio. We each ride through the sharp right-hander and suddenly I hear what sounds like a bucket of bolts being forced into a shredder. I fear for a moment that my car has decided to call it quits, but instead I see Tazio pulling off to the side and quickly slowing down as me and Stew drive by him. Unfortunately, luck was not on his side today, and gearbox problems ended his race right there.
Now I'm back into second place, Stew is knocking on my door, but I can taste that points championship just a few laps away. As I realize that I'm actually keeping up with the Formula-Mazda-famous, untouchable driver Bill Weaver, I start dialing in on him thinking I could actually win this race. My lap times start coming down, and I manage to lose sight of Stew as I gain on Bill. With only a few minutes left, I get right on Bill's tail, and even start positioning myself for some pass attempts. But the realization hits that I'm sitting in the points lead, that I can just as quickly lose if I find myself crashing out or even losing a single finishing position. I still want to win this race, but I pursue with caution. But before I know it, the white flag is waved, then the checkered, and it's all over.
So I brought home a string of second place finishes in the NASA West Coast Championships. I'll take it, that's nothing at all to complain about. But what really brings a smile and a giant sigh of relief is what my dad and I finally earned over the course of the 2014 season. A lot of work, a lot of headaches, and a lot of laps brought us to bring home the 2014 Formula Car Challenge points championship trophy. I had won my first championship in this series back in 2010, and I can assure you that the second one is every bit as sweet as the first.
I've recently come to the realization that I should probably clarify what it is that I'm trying to do with a career in racing. I'm sure that the parts about having fun driving fast, pushing myself and car to the limit, and adrenaline rushes can all go unsaid. So let's skip ahead to what I want to do for everyone else.
I grew up as the tiny kid with a hat and backpack (or fanny pack at my more embarrassing times) who was tagging along with my dad to all the races. We often went to Laguna Seca for nearly every event that we possibly could. And I recall that no matter what the event was on any given race weekend, be it Champ Car, ALMS, or even SCCA Club Racing, each and every driver seemed like a glamorous superstar in my eyes. I found it unbelievable that these guys were driving such beautiful machines on a race track that I've only experienced through television and video games. Little did I know that the drivers ranged from paid professionals to adrenaline junkie hobbyists, and that the vehicle spectrum spread from modern engineered supercars to donor street cars held together by zip ties.
This perception of cars and their drivers still has not fully left me. There are still many times when I sit in my race car at pre-grid, thinking to myself "this is more than what I ever realistically dreamed to do when I was a kid." It still blows my mind now and then when I casually mention in a conversation, "oh ya, I love that race track!" because I have actual firsthand experience driving it!
So this is where I'm at now, still racing a Formula Mazda on some widely known race tracks, still with my younger self's attitude of "holy crap I'm actually doing this." I realize that I am insanely lucky, and who knows whether or not I deserve to have been given these opportunities. But since I am here and racing, I want to bring the fans as close to my experience as possible. How I would have loved, when I was little, to ride along in a race car or even to hang out with the crew in the paddock. Now with the help of Internet availability nearly everywhere, declining costs of high quality video cameras, and powerful social networking, the race weekend experience can be shared with everyone who may not be able to experience it in person.
What I am looking to do is to make every fan possible feel like they themselves are part of the team, or even feel what it is to be in the driver's seat. While it may be exciting to pretend I'm some untouchable celebrity, living a whole different life in an entirely different world from the rest of the population, I'd rather remove this distance as much as possible. I want race fans to see me as a person, just like them, who chose a path in the racing field and worked like crazy to turn it into a reality. I'm never fearless behind the wheel of a race car, I don't dream of driving techniques, I was not born with natural driving skills, and believe it or not I have hobbies and interests outside of the automotive field. What I do in racing and am trying to achieve, can be done by a good number of other people as well. And for everyone who is not racing, I want to share with them what it's like and how I'm moving forward in it. As mentioned before, the goal is to make every fan a part of the racing team.
So how is this going to happen? The answer to this questions is constantly evolving, and I'm sure that I'll have a handful of new ideas a week from now. I've already started with my video blogs from each race. More videos will probably need to start happening, outside of just the race weekends. I'd like to share where I am in my racing career, what I'm working towards, and how I'm doing it. And of course any fun stuff in between is good, too, car-related or not. Also, it's been in the works for a while, but I'm trying to work out ideas to provide live streaming video from the race events. This includes both streaming video from inside the car during my race events, and streaming video of our paddock area on any given race weekend. This way, you can witness what we do at the track when I'm not driving, whether we're rebuilding a gearbox or just hanging out. With that said, I'm obviously not promising entertainment here, just trying to give people an idea of what actually happens. If I can ever get my hands on Google Glass, that is certainly going to happen as well. Beyond all this, who knows. Setting up Q&A's somehow may lie in the future, with live chats or question submissions to be answered in bulk. We'll see, there's a lot to figure out!
As many of you already know, I'm attempting to make my first steps into the professional racing tiers, starting with the Pirelli World Challenge. Even more exciting and unique, I'm trying to make it happen with the help of crowdfunding. The Internet is indeed a powerful creation! This event will be a big one for me, and I'll be getting as much video footage of it as I can possibly handle. Plus, those who choose to donate towards this venture ($5 and up) get to be part of the team and experience with their name credited on the race car itself, and on a special page on the website (coming soon). Why such a little amount? Because every little bit adds up, and truly does help. Also, because $5 means more names and more stickers, which just sounds like a lot of fun. Anyways! You can read more about the event and donate here.
And always, if you have any questions or comments, please let me know. Thanks everyone!
It's been a while! Many of you may have noticed that the blog has been a bit deserted for a while (hopefully this will change after I finish up my Master's degree this month!), but the video blogs have been rolling in with each of my races. If you haven't been keeping up with those, head on over to the Videos section!
The season with Formula Car Challenge so far has been for the most part a successful one. It's been a season of strong finishes and no incidents, what more could you ask for!? Unfortunately for me, some of my competitors have been having stronger finishes and no incidents! As the points sit now, TJ Fischer is sitting first in points, followed by Mel Kemper, and then me in a comfortable third spot. For the time being, we're all pretty strong in our current championship standings, but you can never know until the season is over when it comes to auto racing!
Our next race is little more than just a couple weeks away, and it is our big one of the year. We will once again be returning to Sonoma Raceway with IndyCar to race as part of the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, also our national championship event for the Formula Mazda class. This race always reaches the entry cap of 35 cars, providing us drivers and the thousands of fans a close and exciting race.
As you can see in the picture, we've been gearing up and basically rebuilding my car to get ready for this event. On the list are: busted motor mounts, stuck throttle cable, gearbox rebuild, and a safety compliance issue with my fuel cell. Fun stuff to work on with only days left to go! Though I figure it's for the best that my motor does not detach from the car during a race, but hey that could just be me.
Unfortunately, I have limited time to write, so I'll have to provide some updates in the near future. As for now, things are still coming together on the car, video blogs are still being made, and I'll see you all at Sonoma!
We are finally just about there! And I have news for you: while I am still working towards getting a seat to run in Pirelli World Challenge, will at the very least be racing with Formula Car Challenge this season. The season opener will take place on the 16th and 17th of March at Sonoma Raceway, at which I will be racing in the Formula Mazda class. But as I said, while I will be committed to racing with FCC this season, my quest to race in World Challenge will go on. Yes, time is running out to be able to run a full season this year, but participating in a couple of races in preparation for a full season with them next year is still definitely manageable. So the business end of working with teams and securing sponsorships will still be huge on my "what I'm doing" list, I will still be getting my feet wet in a race car for the full year. I can't help but be excited that I will finally be getting back behind the wheel and racing against some great drivers once again.
While Pirelli World Challenge has been my most recent goal, I am still thrilled to be returning to Formula Car Challenge once again. This series has been my home for racing for the last couple of years, and was where I took home a season championship in the Formula Mazda class in 2010. World Speed Motorsports played a huge role in helping me build my experience in racing as well as with learning about the mechanical side of auto racing. I've met some great people through this racing series, and some amazingly good drivers. One thing that I've learned in my years of racing is that younger drivers may be brave and confident throwing a car around, but many of the more senior drivers can surprise you with what years of experience can bring to the table. With Formula Car Challenge, we often end up with an interesting mix of both, to make for some really good racing.
So that is what's going on as spring approaches! I can't wait to be hitting the track soon, and this time I'll be documenting it in pictures and videos like crazy. Hopefully I'll have a nice little compilation to give you guys when it's all finished!
The 2013 racing season is coming up fast! Honestly, it's faster than I'd like! I'll be continuing work with Speed Ventures as well as the Allen Berg Racing School whenever I can, I've had a blast working with both organizations. It's also looking like I'll be dusting off the old Formula Mazda for a full season this year. It should see some time with some SCCA club races and, if I get real lucky, some time out with Formula Car Challenge's West coast division. But that's just plans for the Formula Mazda. I'm still panning out some details to get a ride in the Pirelli World Challenge series this year, which would be absolutely huge to me. I feel that once I get to that point, I can finally tell myself "I made it." Of course, I also strive to achieve my goals bits at a time, and to one-up them once I do! So who knows what's in store for me at that point, but that's the future. For now, World Challenge for me is still in the works, with sponsorship being the only hold up. This is pretty tough and frustrating both at the same time. But I'm certainly not stopping when I've come this far. I'm sure I'll work something out one way or another in the near future!
Beyond this, I'm going to try a new approach in keeping all you race fans up to date with what I'm doing, as well as the finer details of my race weekend happenings. The race update blogs are fun, but also time consuming both for me to create and for you to read (the longer blogs, at least). I still plan to keep doing the blogs, but they may be a bit more concise and brief this season. The reasoning for this is that I am going to make an attempt at embracing modern technology! I'll do my best to cover my race weekend details with photos and lots of videos. This way, instead of requiring you to read and imagine how things went every weekend, I'll be able to give you the full experience with all the sights and sounds in a video compilation! It'll be some work, but it will be a lot of fun for me, and probably more interesting to you viewers. So keep on the look out, race season is picking up soon here!
It's been a while! Apologies for my absence, this has been possibly the busiest off-season for me yet. 2012 was unfortunately a light racing schedule for me, with only a couple races under my belt. Most of the year in terms of racing was spent on test days and coaching. The transition into this new year has been great so far, with many side projects unfolding, and racing plans coming together! I recently had the opportunity to start working with both Allen Berg Racing Schools and Speed Ventures. As much as I love being behind the wheel, it can be great fun and very rewarding to help from the sidelines or from the passenger seat. I've been able to meet lots of great people who all share the common ground of a love for motorsports, who could complain about a job that can provide that!? This has brought me down to one weekend a month of freedom at most, which can be tough. But again, I'm always more than happy to trade a free weekend for time at the track, no matter what it is.
In the meantime, here's a video from a couple years ago in the 125 ICC Shifter Kart at Buttonwillow. I miss driving these things so much, pure racing! I'll be hitting the track soon in one again to lay some laps down, hopefully with more video!
With the second half of qualifying finished up, I was anxious to see how my performance was, especially after the not-so-good performance of the previous qualifying session. With an actual new set of tires on the car, and about 15 minutes of experience on this track layout, I went all out and gunned for it during q2. I saw that my lap times were immediately better than before, checking my timer every time I crossed that start/finish line. I was constantly improving with every lap, until the checkered flag dropped (earlier than I'd prefer, as always). The results showed that my fastest lap was also my last lap of qualifying, I was still getting faster! But still, this was good enough to put me in the 4th position in my class for the race start. Not bad!
Laying down a good qualifying time is just a small step for the overall race weekend, though. The top 6 cars in our class were all within a second of each other, and the rest of the group was just as tight. One more position higher, or maybe even one lower, would have been nice though. Starting the race in 4th means that I'd be starting on the outside of turn 1 and, even worse, on the inside of turn 2. The inside of 2 is often a preferred position to be in, but if there's ever any trouble in that corner, the inside lane is a serious traffic jam.
This was unfortunately the case for the first day of racing. With a somewhat decent start, I made sure to hold my own as we went into turn 1 and approached turn 2. But once we reached turn 2, that entire inside lane slowed to a crawling pace, I'm still not sure why. At that point, I found myself stuck in the position of driving directly behind a group of slow cars, while the lane of cars next to us was passing by too fast for me to try and sneak out without incident. With no way out of the situation, I was stuck watching these cars pass us by without there being anything for me to do. I had to spend the rest of the race trying to build back up to where I was, but I only worked up a 10th place finish by the time the checkered flag dropped. Not my proudest performance to say the least.
Day 2 of racing was pretty much a session of making up the lost ground from day 1, which is pretty tough when running with such a fast group of drivers. Before I had much chance to charge forward, there was a bad accident between one of the FS2.0 cars and a Formula Mazda, putting the FM into a wall and the FS2.0 flipping end over end. The crash was nasty enough to red flag the race, putting all of us in the pits while the race timer counted down. We eventually were released from the pits to continue racing, but not for long. We turned a total of 9 laps in this race, including both race and pace laps. With such little time actually racing, I was only able to gain one position back, giving me a 9th place finish for the day.
While this wasn't my best weekend on the track, it was still a great event. The Indy GP of Sonoma has consistently been the largest and most competitive race weekend for the Formula Mazda class. Drivers from all over the country haul out to the beautiful landscape of Northern California, where we put on an excellent show for thousands of fans to see. While the racing didn't go as well as I hoped, I still got to talk with some favorite IndyCar drivers, shook hands and met with many wonderful fans, and drove the weekend start to finish while bringing the car home in one piece.
I finally got to take the car on the track today! We arrived on Wednesday and set things up to stay at the track. Our paddock setup was all finished, checked all the essentials on the car, and got all ready for the remainder of the weekend. Yesterday, Thursday, was a promoter's test day that I got to witness from the grandstands. I watched the various World Challenge and Formula Car Challenge cars make their way around to observe the different racing lines on this new layout.
And then today I got to see the new track layout from the driver's point of view. The track really isn't all that bad, nor is it very different now. The turn 9 chicane was opened up a little bit, but not too much, still keeping it as a great possible overtaking zone. Turn 11 is still sharp as ever, but things will be more interesting now with the extra speed that we will be carrying into the corner. Turn 7, on the other hand... I'm not so sure about. The 180 degree hairpin is dicey and interesting, but I have some concern over it turning into a parking lot mess on the opening laps of the race. The previous layout for that turn was still a great place to try and outbrake other drivers, but coming to a near stop in this new layout may bring too many mistakes and "courageous moves." We'll see how things go once I have a little more time on track tomorrow.
We did get to qualify today, and I certainly need to pick up my game a little bit. Missing out on practice yesterday did hurt my performance today, but I expect the next qualifying session tomorrow to really pick up for me, especially with new tires. I ended up being 12th fastest, but that will almost surely improve tomorrow once I get some fresh rubber and extra grip. Still plan on breaking into the top 10 at the very least this weekend, we'll see how things go!
Taking place in August from the 24 to the 26 is mine and Formula Car Challenge's biggest race of the year. On this weekend, Formula Car Challenge presented by Goodyear will once again appear in Sonoma for the weekend of the IZOD IndyCar Series event happening there. Even better, Formula Car Challenge has announced that this will also be considered the FCC National Championship event. The Indy weekend events we've had in the past clearly brought in the largest fields, so it makes sense to brand this race as the big highlight for the drivers and fans. Even further, the kind people at MAZDASPEED are offering cash contingency awards and a chance at a shootout for us young drivers to climb up the racing ladder with Mazda's help.
I have competed in this epic event in both of the last two years, and I can personally testify that it is an absolute blast. It brings in a great group of cars to compete (35 car field, combining Formula Mazda with Pro Formula Mazda), and the setting for it is absolutely top notch. Thousands of fans come out for the weekend to enjoy the scenery, cars, and events happening at the track. I haven't had to watch our event here from grandstands (I prefer to watch from the driver's seat), but I can tell you that we have some of the most exciting races you could ask for. Lots of passing, close calls, and good old wheel to wheel racing from beginning to end.
Back in 2010, I started and finished this race around midpack of the field, not my best work but I was in just my second year in the car and was aiming for a top 15 finish. Last year, I was aiming for a top 10, I qualified with a 3rd fastest lap time and finished the race in 6th place. This year has been a lighter season of racing for me, seeing that our personal racing budget has gotten pretty tight, so I'll be dusting the car off come August and picking up as much practice time as I can. This will probably call for some serious iRacing time in preparation. Both the car and I haven't seen nearly as much track time this year unfortunately, but if everything is working as it should and everything holds together, I'd cross my fingers to repeat last year's results with some improvement.
We'll see how things go over the next couple of months. There will be lots of preparation coming up for the big race in August, and I'm still pushing hard to put plans together for a full season next year, perhaps touring cars? We'll find out!