Editor’s note: I originally started this site to help up-and-coming drivers obtain the media attention they deserve. Sticking with that original ideology, I’ve decided to try something new this week.
I’ve asked Indy Lights driver Peter Dempsey to recap his first three races in the Firestone Indy Lights series in his own words for the JuniorOpenWheelTalent.com readership.
He was kind enough to oblige and will hopefully be back blogging here again after the Indianapolis Freedom 100 on May 27.
In the meantime, here’s an inside look at Peter’s 2011 season. Enjoy.
Welcome to my first blog, not only of 2011, but ever! Thanks to Ryan at JuniorOpenWheelTalent.com for giving me the opportunity to blog about my 2011 Firestone Indy Lights season.
It’s been a pretty busy opening to the season so far, especially having the first three races over such a short period of time. My girlfriend Mandy and I moved into our new apartment on Saturday, March 12, and the next morning we started our road trip from Chicago to Barber Motorsports Park for the first official test of the season.
I was actually driver coaching for Juncos Racing on Monday and Tuesday and then testing myself on Wednesday. Coaching and listening to the drivers’ feedback really helped me get a grip on the track and prepare for my first test in a Firestone Indy Lights car. After the series test at Barber, I headed down to Miami to participate in a private test with my team, O2 Racing Technology, on Monday, March 21. For me, the pre-season testing kicked off later than I had hoped for; I only got to complete those two tests at Barber and Miami prior to the first race in St. Petersburg. I had been out of a racecar for a year and a half, more or less, so it was important for me to do those tests and be able to perform to the best of my ability going into the first race of the season. Both tests went really well. I had fun getting to know the team at O2RT and learning and experimenting with the car.
After the tests, we hung out at Disney World for a few days and then drove over to St. Petersburg on Thursday morning for some media training with the Mazda Road to Indy program. I was really looking forward to getting to St. Petersburg for the first race. It was really busy for me up until then trying to pull together the funding to do the event, but thankfully I was able to do it with support from my sponsors, Microbiology International who came on board this season, as well as Motorsport Ireland and the Irish Sports Council who kicked in some support.
On Friday morning in St. Petersburg, I was coaching the Juncos Racing drivers, and by the afternoon, I had changed my shirt, gotten into my Firestone Indy Lights gear, and turned myself back into a driver. We had a really good first session, and I was able to learn the track very quickly thanks to the feedback from my Star Mazda drivers. The car was feeling really good, and we knew we had a car that could challenge for at least a top-five qualifying result. We went into qualifying on Saturday morning, and I was lying in first and second at the beginning of the session, but unfortunately, I made a mistake and hit the wall, causing us to lose the last 15 minutes of qualifying. I ended up fifth. It was a little frustrating because we knew we had a car that had the potential to be on the front row if I hadn’t made a mistake.
I was very nervous for the race because it was my first Firestone Indy Lights race, my first time at St. Petersburg, and my first rolling start on a road course, so I wanted to make sure I brought the car home no matter what. I got a great start, passed four cars by turn one, and led the race for the first 11 laps. I ended up on the podium in third which was great considering I was going into the weekend aiming for a top-five finish!
On Monday, we had a wonderful 20-hour drive back to Chicago and arrived back on Tuesday morning. My birthday was on Thursday, March 31, so we did some celebrating that weekend, had a party and went go-karting!
Barber Motorsports Park
The next weekend was the Barber Motorsports Park race, so in between those first two races, I worked hard training and trying to raise more funds to keep me in the car. Being able to test at Barber prior to the race, we felt we could be in a pretty good position for the race. Unfortunately, I got pretty sick with a bad head cold over the weekend of the Barber race and didn’t feel confident enough to drive the car 100%. I only qualified eighth, so I went into the race with the mentality that I just had to make sure I finished and got some championship points. Keeping out of trouble during the race got me another podium position! Coming out of that weekend, we were second in the championship. It was a dream start to the season for both me and the O2RT team.
Streets of Long Beach
After Barber, I was really looking forward to getting to Long Beach the next weekend. I love street courses, and it was a new track for me and a high class event, so I couldn’t wait to experience it. We got home from Barber on Monday, April 11 and left again on Thursday for Long Beach. I also had some sponsors come out to the race which I was really looking forward to. We only had one practice on Friday, and I was using the session to learn the track. We started on some really old tires from a previous test, did some laps, got a feel for the car, and made some changes to the car to make sure we were better for the next practice on Saturday morning. I really wanted to save my new tires for qualifying, so I started off the second practice on old tires, and then when I put on new ones, I ran at the top of time sheets for most of the session and ended up fourth overall.
Qualifying was that afternoon, and I really wasn’t too sure where we would be. I knew we would be fast, but I wasn’t sure if we would be first or fifth since the lap times were so close. We were sitting on pole for most of the qualifying session and rather than risking going too late in the session and catching a yellow flag, we went out for our fast laps with ten minutes to go. Unfortunately for us, we got topped with two minutes to go. Still, we were all really happy to have our first front row start of the season, and we knew we had a good racecar heading into the race on Sunday.
As it got closer to the race, I felt the most nervous I’ve ever been for a race in America. Obviously, it was a big deal starting on the front row, especially being surrounded by a lot of good drivers. Once the green flag dropped, the nerves went away though. I had a great first lap, passed for the lead, then focused on establishing a 1-2 second lead to be comfortable. On lap ten, I pushed a little too hard into turn nine and made one of the biggest mistakes of my career so far, crashing out of the race. I was devastated. It was pretty disappointing, but at the same time, O2RT and I were happy knowing we had the car to win, and if I was going to crash out, I’m glad I was leading while doing it because it helped prove that I can be competitive this season.
After I crashed, I went back to the pits to support my teammate. Then I saw my main rival, Josef [Newgarden], crash. He made the same mistake as I did with four laps to go. It was unfortunate for both of us, but at the same time, his crash meant we didn’t lose too much ground in the championship.
The team grew in confidence over the weekend knowing that we have the capability to win races in 2011. Hopefully, those wins will come sooner rather than later.
We went straight from Long Beach to Las Vegas for our first oval test of the season. Feeling the car at 190 mph was a great day of driving for me! Now I’m focused on getting to Indy for the Firestone Freedom 100 weekend. I have a lot of friends and family coming over from Ireland and a lot of sponsors coming, too, so I’m hoping I can give them a win! In between now and then, I have a couple more oval tests coming up, and I’m going to be working hard on my fitness and raising sponsorship for the rest of the season.
Well, that is my recap of the start of the season until now! Thanks to everyone for reading my first blog post. I hope you enjoyed it, and I am looking forward to writing my next one after Indy!