Billy here, writing to you from sunny Brownsburg, Indiana, US of A. Although it has almost been just three months since I left New Zealand, it feels just like yesterday. In some ways, a lot has happened in such a short time. It was great catching up with Benjamin a couple weeks ago on the phone and when I did, he asked if I would write a column for Talk Motorsport about my time so far. I can safely say I am a better driver that I am a writer – but anyway here it is, I hope you enjoy it.
It was mid-March 2021 when I flew out of Auckland airport. At the time, I was a little nervous, not just because TVNZ were filming me arriving at the airport but also because, due to Covid, I was travelling alone and knew no one in the U.S.
I had three flights to take but after a painstakingly long 32-hours of travelling, I made it to Indianapolis where my engineer at the time was waiting to pick me up from the airport in the largest ute I have ever seen.
The first two weeks in the States were pretty daunting. I was living out of a motel room and pretty much just waiting for the start of testing.
My race team was still arriving from all different parts of the world and there wasn’t really much for me to do. Added to that, I didn’t have a car and the motel I was staying at wasn’t exactly located in a pedestrian friendly area. It was right next to a very busy road and a state highway – with no ‘sidewalks’. For a long time it felt like Americans just didn’t walk anywhere – so different from home. Starbucks and Subway were the two closes places to eat. I was a little bit sick of them by the end of the two weeks!
My first test in my brand new USF20000 car was at Putnum Park in Indianapolis. Putnum is a nice test track that is quite technical and narrow, but with plenty of run-off areas. A good track to be at when starting to come to grips with a new car. It was a two-day test but unfortunately the rain rolled in on the second day and we only got a few sessions in before it became too unsafe to drive.
My initial impressions of the USF2000 car was that it wasn’t the TRS/Formula Ford hybrid which I had imagined. The car is very sensitive to braking inputs, but at the same time it has tremendous mechanical grip when driven properly.
One of the other first things I noticed was it was spiting flames when I came down to pit limiter speed. Driving in the rain, I could see a massive flame from the exhaust in the right mirror which I thought was pretty cool.
Straight after Putnum we headed to Barber Motorsport Park in Alabama with another two-day test session planned. It is an awesome track, beautifully laid out, but once again I only got a day of testing in. Despite that, it was good to spend time with the team and get to know the car a little more and get familiar with where the first USF2000 round would be at.
On my return to Indianapolis, I was able to move into my apartment which I share with teammate Artem Petrov, a Russian driver competing in the Indy Pro2000. Most of the team mechanics and engineers live in the same apartment block as us and it is only a 30-minute walk to the team workshop. I do all the cooking and Artem is on the dishes – not sure which of us has the better deal.
This weekend’s round at the Lucas Oval is also close to my apartment. I had a two-day test session there and this time I got both days completed. I definitely have a new appreciation for oval racers.
I was surprised by the level of concentration that oval racing requires. As each lap is only ‘four’ corners, every input needs to be perfect as a tenth on a 22-second lap time is huge. It was also very easy to become hypnotized by the black lines on the track as your vision narrows up quite considerably as you’re focusing completely on yourself. I now understand why a radio spotter is needed for the races.
This completed the private team testing and it was then time to head back to Barber for the official Road to Indy test and media days. Lots of photos and interviews mixed in with several test sessions on track meant it was a full-on weekend.
There are quite a few returning drivers in USF2000 this season and those guys, with experience of track and car, did dominate the testing. However, I was amongst the top rookies for most of the sessions and felt I was improving each time out.
Next time out it was race day at Barber!
New Zealand doesn’t have a track like Barber. It is very technical with very fast sweeping corners and large elevation changes. Barber was Round 1 for us this year and it was awesome to be there with the IndyCar Series.
With 26 cars on the track, qualifying was interesting. I struggled to get clear track and qualified P12 and P13 for my two races.
Race 1 went well. I moved forward and finished P6, top rookie and was nipped on the last lap for fastest time. Race 2, I finished P13. It was awesome. The racing was tough as the nature of the track made it very difficult to overtake. It was both satisfying and a relief to get my first US meeting under my belt.
Leaving Barber I headed on my first real road trip with the team as we set off after racing to St Petersburg in Florida. It was great travelling with the team and cars. As the cars had been prepped before we left Barber we were able to have some free time together in St Pete’s. The team boss is Canadian, so we got to an NHL Hockey game and balanced up the ice time with a bit of beach time. The weather in Florida was unbelievably hot and humid which brought another challenge to the weekend.
The weekend’s racing at St Pete’s was the most intense I had ever experienced. The concrete jungle is so unforgiving and, like all street circuits, takes no prisoners. Our only test session was interrupted by red flags so I only got limited time on the track completing about six flying laps.
I qualified P8, top rookie for Race 1 and P18 for Race 2. In Race 1, I once again moved forward and was sitting third, racing for my first podium before finishing fourth under a full course yellow. I got the Drive-of-Race award. In Race 2, I moved forward to 12th. I felt it was another good weekend for me and gained more experience from the weekend.
The USF2000 are holding two rounds at Mid-Ohio this year. Like all the other tracks, this is another one completely new to me, so I took the opportunity to race a Formula 1600 there over 2/3 May as a way to learn the track.
It was great to be back in a Spectrum. This is the same chassis I raced when I won the NZ Formula Ford Championship last year but this time with Hoosier slick tires and a Honda engine. The weekend was tricky, but I shaved seconds off my lap time throughout the weekend and I finished the last race in third place.
With May here there is only one place to be and that’s Indianapolis! To be honest, it is a little surreal to be here racing at the Brickyard. You can feel the history all around as you drive through the tunnel and past the massive stands and tower. Racing here is a dream come true for me and I must thank everyone who has played a part in getting me here. Walking the track was awesome and racing on it was a privilege.
As I head into this weekend for Round 4 of the Championship at the Lucas Oval, I am sitting tenth in the championship. We have one 75-lap race in the evening and the round is worth 1.5 times the points. It is going to deliver a completely new experience which I can’t wait for.
Throughout the weekend I’ll be giving updates on how I’m doing on my Facebook page “Billy Frazer Racing”