The weather in Florida cooperated this morning (albeit much cooler temp’s) and allowed the rest of the talented field of Karting Champions to finish their practice/orientation laps at the Andersen Karting Facility by mid-morning. The drivers that weren’t able to complete laps on Monday (due to rain) had obviously been watching the other competitors on-track. The skill levels and determination had definitely stepped-up from Monday, and the buzz of competitiveness hung in the air like static electricity. Everyone seemed to have much better starts from pit lane today as sleep must have helped the understanding of the finer-points of true race car clutch operation.
Things seemed to be moving along nicely — until 10am when the shrill of the Mazda powered 2.0 litre race car that was on-track suddenly went muffled, then quiet. The crews, officials, and observers rushed to see the reason and found the driver of the #4 Van Diemen had suddenly exceeded the limits of grip and talent just past the Esses and prior to turn-in of the hairpin corner that leads to the longest straightaway. Certainly the driver must have felt the car seemed to accelerate as it went into the wet grass (from the rain on Monday) after a driver-induced brake lockup. The car travelled 50+ feet to the wooden privacy fence that surrounds the track, climbed up the four-foot tall earthen-berm, punched through the tire wall and fencing, and nearly catapulted itself over the berm and into the highway! It must have provided a shocking story for any car that happened to be driving by on the roadway at that moment…. The car was left high-centered on the berm, tires and fencing near to the roadway, and the driver feeling quite unsuccessful in his late-braking efforts. The driver was not injured – although some ego bruising was apparent – and the car was quickly repaired and ready before the afternoon sessions of competition. The other drivers of the #4 car later in the day commented that they could not even tell anything had happened to the car & that its handling performance was identical to their previous runs — a significant vote of confidence for the USF2000 Series, its race cars, and the abilities of the professional teams that compete at this level. The comments from the parents in attendance was strong also: “Wow! For the damage to the fence, the car didn’t get hurt much at all! I’m glad the driver is OK,” and “That was a quick repair for that kind of damage. I thought the car may be done for the day with damage like that.”
After some fence and tire wall repair, the track officials returned the safety integrity to the racetrack, so the sessions could continue. Lunch was delivered to the track for everyone, and John Doonan of Mazda Motorsports gave a short presentation. Doonan offered a substantive outline of Mazda’s corporate philosophy behind its motorsports program, and both drivers and their parents had wide-eyes with full attention that were absorbing every syllable spoken. The facts he stated that delivered the most impact (based on facial expressions in the audience) were :
- Mazda has the youngest average-age buyer of ALL cars in North America, and Mazda has made this a priority with the creation/inception of its motorsports programs.
- The ZOOM-ZOOM in every Mazda road car intentionally has “the Soul of a Sportscar” with most race car engines in the Mazda Motorsports programs being “stock engines” from the same production as road cars.
- The Mazda engine that won the 2011 USF2000 Series had 2 full seasons of competition, and over 6600miles of hard racing on it!
The qualifying and competition sessions started after lunch, and the drivers alternated in media training presentations from the Mazda staff. This is yet another advantage of this program that is without equal anywhere else in the racing world, and attendees were appreciative of the opportunity to gather insights from the professionals that have years of experience.
The on-track action increased its intensity thru the afternoon. Every driver showed significant improvements in most areas. The surprising commonality was that most drivers were anticipating the aero aspects of the winged cars on Monday during the track walk and pre-driving, and the reality is that all drivers struggled with the braking & cornering abilities of these sophisticated open-wheel race cars! While some drivers grasped the concepts better than others, all were intently focused on the de-brief sessions with engineers, coaches, and team owners. The opportunities on-offer seemed to be well-absorbed by the young drivers with vast racing experience in karts, but limited knowledge of proper formula racing cars. Every driver will take away tremendous knowledge and a greater understanding of what is required to become a Mazda Road to Indy driver!
Wednesday will feature a tour of another Mazda Road to Indy team race shop in the morning, followed by the Scholarship Award from INDYCAR management. We will post the final results in another OpenPaddock article. Remember to watch for the interviews on OpenPaddock / Inside the Helmet coming soon!
Team Managing Director (TMD)
Driver Recruitment Officer (DRO)