ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — I’m happy that we are going racing with the Verizon IndyCar Series this weekend in St. Petersburg. It has been a busy offseason for me since I signed to drive for Ed Carpenter Racing in 12 road and street course races this season.
I signed the deal in the middle of November and my 2013 racing season wasn’t over. I finished the World Endurance Championship with a LMP2 class win at Bahrain. It was a tremendous way to finish the year as we enjoyed four WEC victories.
And, of course, I collected an IndyCar Series victory last year at Belle Isle for Dale Coyne Racing. That was a special weekend as I jumped into that car was fast immediately. On that Saturday in Detroit, I won the race and the pole for the Sunday event. I finished third on Sunday, too.
Now, it’s time to go racing in 2014 and I can’t wait.
For the first time in my IndyCar Series career, I was able to test before the holidays as we took the Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet to Sebring for two days to get acclimated with the Ed Carpenter team. It felt good to know that I was going to be with these guys all year.
Like any new driver, you have to sit down and figure out what you like and what the team can give you in engineering, equipment and strategy. This team has a lot of experience and some very good young talent. They have won races before and I feel comfortable with them.
We ran through a lot of things on our testing list those two days at Sebring and then went to the holiday season. Ed was very good about letting me sign a sports car testing program with Toyota in its P1 Le Mans car. So I knew it would be busy in the U.S. and Europe during the winter months.
I came back to the U.S. after the holidays and took some additional laps at Sebring and Sonoma Raceway. It’s always fun to go to Sonoma. I made it to the podium there in my rookie IndyCar season, so I have enjoyed driving that track. The elevation and fast turns are great.
In addition, I went to Fontana to watch Ed test the Fuzzy’s Chevy on the two-mile oval and that was a good experience to see how he interacted with his own team and the engineering staff. Of course, he is the boss and can say a few more things to his squad than I can as the team’s “new guy.”
But I noticed that Ed and I have similar personalities in the car. We don’t get too emotional behind the wheel. It’s amazing how he is driving at over 200 mph. He knows what he is doing. I really think Ed could have been an excellent road racer had he started in karts like most of the IndyCar guys. He came up through the oval tracks with midget and sprint cars and that is different. He didn’t drive on a road circuit until he was in the IndyCar Series. That makes it tough.
Ed, the team owner, thought it would be better for Ed Carpenter Racing to bring me in to drive the streets and road circuits. Ed has been improving a lot on the roads, but the IndyCar Series is just so competitive right now that he wanted me to drive the Fuzzy’s car in those events. He wants his team to be a contender at all races and I hope I can do that for him this year in the 12 races I will run.
In addition to the testing this winter, I have tried to be as constant in the gym as possible. But being the cockpit is still the best workout. o getting in the ‘seat time’ in the tests keeps me very fit. In the meantime, I signed another sports car deal in selected WEC races including Silverstone, Spa and LeMans in the LMP2 Millennium team. I won four races with that team last year.
But right now, it’s time to concentrate on the streets of St. Petersburg and the 110-lap Firestone Grand Prix set for this Sunday at 3 p.m. EDT. That circuit has not been that good for me as I was knocked out the race twice on the very first lap. And I have qualified well there in the past, too.
The start is always wild at St. Pete. It’s the first race of the season and you have the wild front straightaway that is an airport runway. So you can get five or six cars wide going into turn one and that means trouble can occur in a hurry. As a driver, you want to be aggressive at the start but you also don’t want to get yourself in trouble immediately.
There is a fine line there and you never know what to expect. The officials always tell the drivers to watch themselves into that first turn. But the adrenalin gets flowing in that season opener and every driver wants to get the jump on the other.
I feel very good going into the St. Petersburg with my new Ed Carpenter Racing squad. We’ll seek a good qualifying performance and a solid race to kick off my debut with the new team.
One thing is for sure, the St. Petersburg race will be a good one to watch for a racing fan.