Editor’s Note: I’m pleased to welcome back junior formula racer Jack Mitchell Jr. to Junior Open-Wheel Talent. Mitchell last wrote for JOWT following the Canadian Grand Prix in June, 2013. This season, he is racing in the F1600 Formula F Championship Series and recently charged from 17th on the grid to finish 2nd at Road Atlanta (see video below). But before you watch the highlight video, make sure to read Jack’s recap of his weekend in Georgia. Enjoy. -Ed
Thank you so much for having me back!
The offseason was a pretty long one for me. I had not been in a car for over six months, which is rough for any driver. I used my time during the off season to focus on developing myself as an athlete, applying to college, and finishing off high school strong. Fortunately my hard work paid off, and I am attending Marquette University in the fall and I will continue racing while there. In Chicago there was snow on the ground for a majority of those six months and it was freezing cold. Needless to say, I was ecstatic to hop on a plane and get down to the warm south and one of my favorite tracks, Road Atlanta.
When I arrived at the track on Thursday morning the paddock was packed full of trailers and race season was on! It was great to be back in the track environment, and I was ready to go. I felt pretty confident heading into the weekend. Returning with a team for the second year presents an opportunity in which a driver can continue the work started the year before in a positive way right from the start of the season. When I reconnected with Exclusive Autosport I felt like my team was my extended family, and I was able to hit the ground running from an engineering standpoint. After winning the Toyo Tires Formula 1600 in Canada there was mutual trust and it was great to continue to build together. This was evident throughout Thursday testing. We shook down a new car and got some good baseline data during the first session. When we were in Canada it was colder and we were on a different tire, so we knew that there were going to be some new factors to deal with. After one session it was pretty clear tire degradation was going to come in to play, not only in the short term of a thirty minute race but also as the weekend progressed. We made a few changes that helped with the tires and went into Friday looking strong.
Going into Friday practice the idea was to focus on making sure my lap times were as consistent as possible on track. My main personal goal this year is to be consistent. Consistency is the key to good points, and good points are the key to championships. Last year I only won a few races, but consistent podiums ended up adding up and helped the overall championship fight quite a bit. I ended up the morning session P3, and the afternoon session P1. Everything was looking good for the weekend so far.
Unfortunately qualifying did not go that well. We had a team strategy that we thought would work, and it most likely would have, but we had gear linkage issues that put a big damper on our times that session. By the time we got it fixed, I was stuck in the middle of a larger team with limited time left. I finished qualifying P13.
I started the race a little farther back than I would have liked, but on a positive note I knew I had a fun race ahead. I made slow progressive moves until I was in the top 5. I knew we had a lot of speed because I was being told on the radio that we had half a second on the rest of the field each lap, and I was feeling really confident that the win was in sight. Drafting plays a big part in races at Road Atlanta, so I felt confident being in P5 with a few laps to go.
With around 10 minutes left, I went through Turn 5 and the power suddenly cut out. I had 75% power all the way until Turn 10 and I lost 10 positions. It came back after Turn 10, but the pace car came out immediately after that. We still do not know what actually happened. Really unfortunate turn of events for a first race but we moved on. The E.A. team was amazing and replaced everything electrical in the car, which fixed the issue immediately. Big thanks to the whole team for all the work they put in to keep the car going all weekend.
I did not think qualifying could get any worse after Saturday, but it was possible. I had the second quickest lap in Race 1, so I went out second for qualifying. Within three turns a car had already crashed so we were in the pits. With 20 minutes remaining, I went out with my teammates prepared to get a lap in. It seemed like there was nowhere on track for me to get a lap and before I knew it a few cars went off and it took around 10-15 minutes to clean up. Just like that qualifying was over, and I was P18 on the grid.
I knew I was in for a good race as I rolled up to the grid! I won’t go into much detail about the race because you will have the opportunity to watch everything unfold yourself, but I will say the one thing you cannot tell from the video is that it was unbelievably fun for me. Once I was through traffic, I was rapidly catching the leaders during the last few laps, and ended up just short of the win. It was a good battle; in fact, my car had a flat rear tire when I came into the pits at the end of the race! Ending up 2nd, coming from 17th, was the last thing I thought I would be doing when I showed up on Thursday. I went from being at the very front in Friday practice to the back in qualifying, a true rollercoaster weekend. It is times like last weekend when I am extremely thankful for the turn of events that have allowed me to compete in the most enjoyable sport on the planet.
I’d like to thank the EA crew, my engineer Remi, Michael Duncalfe, Spectrum, Honda, Bell Helmets, Flex Watches, and my family for all of the support this weekend. I look forward to building on the solid points we earned this weekend at Watkins Glen next month.
Enjoy the video!
-Jack Mitchell Jr.