Coming off a great race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the Firestone Freedom 100, I was really pumped heading to the Milwaukee Mile for the IndyFest. The week before the race, I was very fortunate to be able to spend eight days back in Ireland visiting friends and family. I arrived back on Tuesday the week of the race. Luckily, I was able to get over the jet lag quickly enough to be fresh for the first practice day on Thursday. The great thing about racing in Milwaukee is that it allows me to be able to stay at home in my own bed over the race weekend, and you can never beat the feeling of a good night’s sleep!
The schedule for that weekend was pretty busy. We had an unofficial practice day on Thursday which included two hours of track time in the morning and two hours in the evening. Each team was allowed five sets of tires for the weekend compared to the standard three sets on normal race weekends.
We opted to start off Thursday with 30-mile tires from Indy, but unfortunately, my team misunderstood the rules on the tires, and they were counted as one of our five allocated sets. This left us on the back foot as we had to put on our second set of tires during the first practice on Thursday. We then had to try to carry these tires through the afternoon session. Everyone else seemed to have left themselves in a better position with regards to tire wear compared to us. By the end of Thursday, the car was certainly getting better. I had built up my confidence throughout the day, and I was driving the track pretty well. The one handling issue we really had was that we struggled to put the power down off the corners. The rear of the car would always want to snap loose. We worked hard to fix this, but with tires that had up to 80 miles, this was difficult. We ended up finishing the day up P4 overall, I think, but we were not really close enough to the pace of the quicker guys. We were hoping that saving the tires for Day 2 would help us. I debriefed with my team after practice, came up with a plan for Friday, and it was time to get out of Milwaukee and head back home for dinner! Mandy (my girlfriend) of course always spoils me on race weekends, so when I got home, dinner was ready! It was also really good! We watched some TV, and I was off to sleep!
Friday morning was an early start. Practice was at 9:00 am, so that meant I had to be at the track at no later than 8:00 am. My alarm went off at 5:45 am, I hit the snooze button, and I woke up at 6:45 am! In a panic, I was up and out the door running a little late. My home is an hour and fifteen minutes from the Mile, so I was flat out to make it there for 8:00 am. I arrived a little late, about 8:20 am, but luckily I still had plenty of time. We rolled out for Practice 2 at 9:00 am. The plan was to run a few laps on the old tires then work on a qualifying run with a new set of Firestones. The car was a lot better once we put on our new tires. The qualifying run went well, and I knew there was a lot left in the car once we got to qualifying. We ran some more laps and made some setup changes trying to find the right balance for me, but I really don’t think the “perfect car” exists at the Milwaukee Mile – you really have to work hard in the cockpit. We ended up P2 in Practice 1 but still a few tenths shy of Karam.
Heading into the second practice, our aim was to save a new set of tires for both qualifying and the race. This made Practice 2 difficult for us to be competitive, but we just kept working on finding the right balance. One thing we missed out on doing was a solid race simulation during practice two which would hurt us eventually heading into race day. We finished Practice 2 out in P8. At the end of the session, everyone had done qualifying runs which left us 0.9 from P1.
Qualifying and Race Day
Qualifying was up next, and we actually drew a decent qualifying spot. We rolled out sixth for qualifying. At this point, Karam was on the pole from Zach Veach. We had a feeling all weekend we certainly had a qualifying car for a top four position. As I rolled off pit road and onto the track, I focused on getting my tires up to temperature as quickly as possible. By the time I had gotten to Turns 1 and 2 on my warm up lap, I could feel they were good. I pushed as hard as I could for the next two and a half laps running 2 laps at 25.0 secs. I maybe left a little bit on the table, but overall I was happy, and we ended up in P3, 0.2 from the pole. The car felt great in qualifying, and we were satisfied with that run. We did a short debrief after qualifying, and it was time to head off to attend a little team party that evening. It started at 7:00 pm and I stayed until about 9:30 pm. It was great to be able to socialize with my crew and sponsors, especially as Milwaukee is Belardi’s home race and mine as well, since I live so close! I made it home by 11:00 pm and jumped straight into bed.
Race day had arrived! The best part of the weekend is always race day. You get that feeling in your body that only race day can provide. I really love it, and that’s why I love racing. It had rained overnight, and the track was quite cool in the morning, so nobody was really too sure what to expect from the track heading into the race. We decided not to make any real changes from our qualifying car as we felt we had enough adjustments in the cockpit to suit the track conditions. I really felt we had a strong package heading into the race and that we had a podium car. I was lining up behind Karam in P3, and I was expecting him to get a great jump at the start. The complete opposite happened, and he just didn’t go. Before I knew it, I was back to fifth before Turn 1. I jumped to the outside and managed to pull past Munoz on the outside and get back to 3rd. After about two laps, I was suffering with the rear of the car being loose on power which allowed Munoz to get past me. I certainly didn’t make it easy for him, but the car was just hooked up more than mine, and I couldn’t keep up with him. I was working as hard as I could in the cockpit with my tools throughout the first 35 laps, but I just couldn’t get the balance where I wanted it. We had just missed on the setup, and I realized at that point that I was just going to have to settle for a fourth place.
I continued to use the tools and save the tires as best as I could, and it was working out okay. By mid-point, our pace was similar to the leaders, and we were about 10 seconds behind P1. Just after the mid-point of the race, I caught up to my teammate to lap him. With my car being quite loose, I never had the confidence to get close enough to him to make a pass. This really ruined our race as it allowed Gabby Chaves to catch me, and I just could never get past Goncalvez. Eventually, the leaders caught us, and we went a lap down. Munoz passed me, and then Chaves had a run with five laps to go. I tried to get low at T2, but eventually the rear of the car gave up, and I spun. Luckily I made only slight contact with the wall, and the yellow came out. I was back to sixth, but I knew I had a lap on the other cars. With only 3 laps left, I brought the car home in 6th place. It was a really difficult race for the #5 Belardi Auto Racing car, but at least we made it home. Now we are off to Iowa and hoping to have a better weekend. I have won at Iowa before in 2009 in the Star Mazda race, so I am hoping to have a good result there again.
Thanks for reading and I will talk to you guys after Iowa!
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. Listen to the IMS Radio call of the Sukup 100 at the Iowa Speedway tonight beginning at 7:50pm CDT at http://racecontrol.indycar.com/, 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.
Be sure to get your official Peter Dempsey Racing gear at his new merchandise store. Right now there are two shirt designs available in Men’s, Women’s and Kid’s sizes including a design commemorating his incredible 0.0026-sec victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this year.
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