Every race car driver's number one goal is to win. The thought of winning is what motivates us to get up in the morning. To spend months in the gym training. To pour over data for hours to find an advantage, no matter how small.
When you don't win, it's torture. Every driver has lost, and when they do there are two categories they fit into. The first group take the loss personally. They dwell on what went wrong and every loss adds to an ever increasing weight on their shoulders that inevitably effects their performance negatively. The second group takes the loss as a lesson. They focus on what went wrong, whether it was something in their control or not, and use it as motivation to improve for the next race.
I fall into the latter group. Last year, I raced my rookie year in Firestone Indy Lights and ran with a championship winning operation. The expectation to win was enormous, and no one put more pressure on me than I did. We came close a few times, finishing on the podium five times during the year, but never getting to that top step. I used that entire season as motivation to work harder than ever.
Over the winter I switched to a smaller team that has not won as many races or championships, and people questioned me. The key was bringing together the right group of people. I worked hard with the team owner to find the best people out there and put them together on my car.
The results were apparent right away when we topped the charts of the first official series test back in February. We headed into the first race in St. Petersburg, Fla., feeling good about our chances. We qualified the car on pole, but our first race win was not to be as the guy who qualified ninth tried a kamikaze move in turn one and took me out of the race.
Round two was held at the same track we topped the times at in pre-season testing, so hopes were high. An ill-timed yellow flag in qualifying hurt our chances of starting on the front row and we were forced to start from fifth, which is where I finished.
Heading into last weekend's race in Long Beach, Calif., we knew that the car would be quick and we just needed to maximize every lap. We ran well in practice and using a good strategy in qualifying, took our second pole position in three races. Luckily this time everyone was well behaved in turn one, and we led from the drop of the green flag until the waving doubled checkered.
Getting that first win out of the way was a fantastic feeling. The last lap was one of the longest of my life. I took every corner at 90 per cent to make sure no little mistakes would throw all the hard work away. Crossing the line was an incredible feeling. The cool down lap was the best part. It takes a whole team of people to achieve a result like that. You know that when you get out of the car there will be lots of people; people who want to congratulate you, your team, media people wanting interviews. But on that cool down lap it's just you, alone in the car to soak it all in.
It meant a little something extra to get the first win at Long Beach. This race is in its 36th year and is one of the staple events on the calendar. The winners of this race reads like a who's who of open wheel racing champions. It has a fantastic atmosphere, incredible fans and is a favourite among teams, drivers and sponsors alike.
There is a big difference in the industry in the way a fast driver is viewed and a winning driver is viewed. A lot of very quick drivers were not known as winners, and when you are trying to make that break into the top level of the sport, in this case IndyCar, people need to know you can win. It was great to see how much of the IndyCar community was watching and took notice.
I always find it funny how after a bad result, you return to your trailer to change out of your race suit and take a look at your cell phone and it's like your number doesn't exist. People know how tough drivers are on themselves and don't want to talk to you in that state. When you have a good weekend you come back to find tons of texts and e-mails and voice-mails offering congrats. There is often one from that girl who never called you back, too.
Getting the monkey of our back was a great relief, but the hard work is only just beginning. There is still a lot of racing to go and I am still playing catch up after being taken out in round one. Our heads are down, we proved we can win and now the pressure is off. We just go out to do what we do best.
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