I came back to Firestone Indy Lights in 2012 with Belardi Auto Racing, and was hoping to improve on our four podiums from 2011, including fighting for the Championship.
The first few events did not go as we hoped they would, and it was really tough for us to see that we were finishing beyond the top-10 when we knew we were capable of much more.
When we got to Indy, I was eager to get back on the track that I did not necessarily have the best memories from. I just wanted to be back in my car and move forward – not think about the terrible crash I had there the previous year. Qualifying at Indy was the highest we had qualified yet; starting the biggest race of the season in P4 on the most famous track in the world was not bad. Unfortunately my bad luck continued and I crashed towards the end of the race and made my return to the infield medical care center. Luckily I was not injured at all, but I was pretty disappointed and pretty sure that the Indianapolis Motor Speedway just did not like me.
From Indy things did not get much better…for a while at least. I suffered a big crash during qualifying in Belle Isle where my car caught on fire and the tub was damaged beyond repair in the time we had until the race, so I was unable to compete that weekend. After Belle Isle I was able to capture some top-10 finishes at Milwaukee, Iowa and Toronto. The race at Toronto could have had a better outcome, but I also had an incident there and was forced to retire that event with 20 laps remaining.
As we continued to travel throughout Canada, I remember Edmonton being a difficult one because I was very ill the morning of our race. I had some sort of virus or food poisoning where I could not keep any food or liquids down - not even water. Despite how I was feeling, I just wanted to get in my car and race. In the end I managed to finish the race but had to immediately go see the track doctor because of how dehydrated I was. It wasn’t my best move, especially because the course at Edmonton is very difficult, but I’m glad I stuck it out and was able to finish. Racing means so much to me and I really did not want to let the team down because they put so much effort into each weekend; I did not want to waste their time just because I didn’t feel well.
After Edmonton we finished our Canadian swing at Trois-Rivieres near Montreal. It was nice to get to go back there, and it’s an unusual event because Firestone Indy Lights is the main attraction since the IZOD IndyCar Series races at Mid-Ohio that same weekend. The fans there are all very welcoming, and it’s a nice opportunity for me to brush up on my French. It was definitely a great weekend overall because of the atmosphere and getting to be the “main attraction,” as well as I was able to gather another top-10.
Once we returned to the U.S., we headed to Baltimore where I had another top-10 finish, and last but not least, we made our way to Fontana where we managed to qualify in P4 again – matching our highest qualifying effort from Indy. We were strong all weekend, but unfortunately during the race I was involved in an incident. It caused a puncture to my right rear tire during lap one, and that ultimately caused the spin that ended my race. All involved were okay, but it was a disappointing way to end the season to say the least.
It was an interesting year because it was not at all what we were expecting, but I learned a lot and am very grateful to have such a great team behind me the entire season. The Belardi Auto Racing team never gave up and always did their best to help me as much as possible. I’m not sure what the 2013 season holds for me quite yet, but I am definitely working on the possibilities during this lengthy off-season.
Season in a nutshell
Average start: 8.6
Average finish: 9.8
Best qualifying: 4th (Indianapolis, Fontana)
Best finish: 6th (Iowa)
Second Firestone Indy Lights season with Belardi Auto Racing. ... Two consecutive top-10 finishes after not running Belle Isle. ... Led first career laps at Edmonton.