IndyLights – Peter Dempsey: Winning at Indianapolis

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The month of May is always special in Indianapolis. All the IndyCar teams are flat-out testing and developing their race cars. I was fortunate to get to attend Pole Day this year for the first time, and what a day that was! Ed Carpenter lit up the field with his impressive pole run, and also to see Carlos Munoz qualify 2nd for the 500 was great. This really was amazing by him to out-qualify his seasoned teammates.

Practice and Qualifying

The FIL cars weren’t on track until Thursday with one practice and qualifying, and the race was on Friday. It was quite a short schedule for us, and with rain around Indy, nobody was really too sure how it would all play out.
We had plenty of time since the open test to get a good run plan together for the first practice session. This included a couple of single qualifying runs along with running in some traffic to get an idea of our race car.

This was the first weekend of the year that I really felt we had everything in place and were all on the same page.

We rolled out for the first practice and started off with a few qualifying runs. The car felt very solid out of the box. We had planned to make some back to back changes, so we pitted to make these changes. I really felt everything was running very smoothly apart from one thing; when I was in 5th gear, the gear display would always read 6th, and in 6th gear it would still read 6th. This was a pain as when we would try to fix it in pit lane, it always read correctly! To cut a long story short, we never figured it out! Anyway, by the end of the practice session, we felt happy with the car and rolled back. My two mechanics, Mike and Chad, pulled the gears out to make sure everything was ok for qualifying. I could really see the effort they had put into the car as she looked beautiful. The body fit was tight, and they had polished everything; when race cars look like this, they are the nicest things in the world!
As qualifying came, so did the rain, and we were delayed until 4:00 pm.

This gave me the chance to check out some of the gorgeous looking classic Indy cars that were on display. The drivers back then, in my opinion, were the real drivers, sitting on the back tires with no belts and some goggles! Nutters!

Eventually we got around to qualifying. I can’t really remember, but I think we rolled off 2nd. I really felt we had a car that was certainly capable of the top 4. As I pulled off I was flat out; I never lifted until I saw the checkered flag. I tried to keep my hands as light as possible and the track as short as I could. The one mistake I made was I tried to downshift on my first lap to 5th gear so I would have better gearing going against the wind. This didn’t work out very well as I hit the rev limiter badly. This really cost us our shot at the pole. We had a really fast second lap but not enough for pole. We ended up P3, but we were satisfied with that for the race. Sage Karam grabbed his first pole with Munoz P2. That was Thursday over with, and after a short debrief with my engineer, I was off to dinner. Dinner was lovely; we went to this nice place in Zionsville called Noah Grant’s! One of the nicest places in Indy, in my opinion! After being well fed I was off to sleep. Normally I don’t sleep the night before a race, but this time I slept like a log!

Race Day

We had a driver’s meeting in the morning, so we had to be at the track reasonably early. I left the hotel at about 7:30 am to drive to the track. I couldn’t believe the amount of fans heading to the track! The queue down 10th Street was the longest queue I’ve ever seen for Carb Day. It was quite cool, in the low 60s, which was about 20 degrees colder than the previous year. I feel like that attracted fans to come out and enjoy the day. I eventually got in and headed to the driver’s meeting which as normal was short and sweet. Before heading to the pre-race ceremony, I entertained some guests and sponsors at the Belardi Auto Racing tent. The other drivers and I waited in the pagoda to do our driver intros which started just after the final IndyCar practice. There’s nothing better than the feeling you get when they call “all drivers to your cars” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway! I really enjoyed the walk from the bricks down to my car. Before I knew it, I was strapped in, and it was time to start the engines. It was race time.

We had two warm-up laps, so it was important for me to get the tires up to as much temperature as possible and get ready for the green. I got a decent start and slotted in behind Sage Karam for the first lap. By the end of the first lap, I was on the rev limiter already which allowed Carlos Munoz to get past me, and then I was back to third. I started to drop way back and didn’t understand what was going on; I had dropped back to fifth place when I realized I had another gear left. This made all the difference and allowed me to get back onto the lead group. At the midpoint of the race, I was back up to fourth and sitting right behind the top three.

The car was quite loose behind the leaders, so I used all the adjustment I had available to try to get the car more balanced, but it was certainly a bit of a handful trying to keep up with the leaders. I could really see that Sage and Gabby were playing the waiting game throughout the 20 laps to the end. With about 10 laps to go, Zach Veach tried to make a move on me, but I knew if he got by me that would have been the end of my race. I really had to fight him off as best as I could, and I managed to hold him off which allowed the four of us to break away and make it a four wide battle for the lead in the closing laps.

With four laps to go, I made a move to try to get around Chaves but dropped back about 6 or 7 car lengths. That was when I knew I had to hold it flat out to get back to the leaders before the white flag. As the white flag dropped, I was just about close enough to be in a position to make a move. As we came onto the back straight, Sage made his move followed shortly by Gabby making his move heading into Turn 3.

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw how close the three cars were in front me going into Turn 3. I could really see how much speed they were scrubbing off and how much speed I was starting to gain on them! At this point I was just focused on trying to get a podium for my team. As we came off Turn 4, I had a huge amount of momentum, but they were still three-wide. There wasn’t much room, but there was just enough room for me to squeeze between the wall and Gabby on the run to the start/finish line. I took the risk, made it four-wide, and had just enough momentum to make it across the line first by only 0.0026 seconds! As I crossed the finish line, I felt I had gotten it and shoved my fist in the air! Shortly after, all I could hear was screaming from the team’s radio saying “We did it! We did it!” This was a huge moment for us, both to win my first race and the team to win their first race at IMS, and then to do it in a four-wide finish was something you could have never even dreamt of. We had some great celebrations in victory circle, and shortly after that, it was straight to the media center.

Since then, I’ve carried on doing media appearances and interviews over the past few weeks and made a trip back home to Ireland! I had a great trip home; it was great to catch up with some family, and I really feel that my batteries are recharged going into Milwaukee. There would be nothing more special for me than to be able to follow up my win at IMS with a win at the Milwaukee Mile!


Editor’s Note: Thanks again to Belardi Auto Racing’s Peter Dempsey for sharing his experiences as a racer in the Firestone Indy Lights series. Tune in this weekend at 3:00 pm EDT to NBC Sports Network to watch Peter and the rest of the Firestone Indy Lights drivers to battle at the Milwaukee Mile, and be sure to check back here at OpenPaddock.net next week as we will have Peter’s thoughts and insights from the this weekend. If you aren’t already following Belardi Auto Racing and Peter Dempsey on social media, here’s where you can find them.

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