Driver Diary: Jake Craig – 2017 MRTI Scholarship Shootout
EKN At-Large selection talks of his experience in Phoenix
Seventeen young drivers representing nine countries traveled to Phoenix, Arizona to take part in the Mazda Road to Indy USF2000 $200K Scholarship Shootout. A two-day assessment on and off the track, working with the Bondurant Racing School Formula Mazda cars at the Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park and the panel of judges helped to decide who would compete in the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 powered by Mazda. SKUSA Pro Tour champion Jake Craig was the At-Large selection by eKartingNews.com.
When Rob first called me with the exciting news that I had been chosen for the MRTI Shootout, I was absolutely ecstatic for this opportunity! The week before the Shootout, I was hard at work watching videos from the Bondurant Racing School. I also watched various onboard videos of the Formula Mazda cars to learn every bit I could to best prepare myself for this challenge. I drove out to Phoenix from SoCal on Thursday, two days before the Shootout with my Dad and grandparents. I was lucky to have some family there to support me!
The opening day of the MRTI Shootout started with a 6:00 am shuttle ride to the Bondurant Racing School. I was definitely a little nervous going into the first day of the Shootout! When we arrived at the track, we sat in the Formula Mazda cars to figure out our seating position. Then, it was time to hop in the Bondurant sprinter van to drive around the track. The van ride around the track was absolutely insane! Myself and about 10 other participants were passengers with a Bondurant instructor at the wheel and he was driving all out – thank god for stability control! I definitely thought we were going to roll the van a few times. After that was complete, the time had come to get suited up and ready to hit the track.
I was put into Group Three, so I watched the first couple groups take the track so I could learn a few things before it was time for my session. Once I got in the car, the nerves went away and I was ready to drive! Session one went really well. I was able to learn the track quickly and get comfortable in the car. The Formula Mazda car is an absolute blast to drive, and it was cool getting to drive an ‘old school’ formula car. The car is definitely the closest car to a shifter kart that I’ve driven, in that you can throw it around a little bit and drive it pretty hard.
After the session, we had a debrief with all the coaches so that they could give us some pointers. The rest of the day at the track consisted of two more on-track sessions, in which I kept improving throughout. In order to improve, I would study the notes I took of whatever the coaches had to say, such as better brake release, more initial brake pressure, and working on throttle application, etc. Those were a few of the key things I worked on. The day concluded with a dinner at the hotel with all the other Shootout participants and the coaches.
The second day of the Shootout started with breakfast at the hotel before getting on the shuttle to head to the track once again. I knew that in order to make it to the final five, I needed to have a really good first session. Luckily, all went as planned and I was able to get a good practice session in. I studied all my notes before I went to bed and dreamt about it all night, running continuous laps in my head, perfecting my driving.
After the morning practice session, it was time to find out who was going home and who was staying. I would say that all of us were definitely a bit nervous. I was relieved when I heard my name called and knew that I had to start putting full focus on the rest of the day.
Next up was qualifying for the final five. Qualifying was 20 minutes and we had the option to come in early to save tires or to just sit in the pit to let the tires cool down and go back out. Qualifying was a little tricky, because we didn’t have lap times to see if we were slowing down or not, so it was all by feel. I went out for five laps and then I felt like the tires were getting bit hot, because the car was starting to oversteer. I pulled into pit lane and sat there for a few minutes to let the tires cool and then I went back out for a few laps to take a shot at improving my previous lap time.
Next up was the mock race. In this session, we weren’t actually ‘racing’. We started 10 seconds apart and the idea was to see how our race pace would be (i.e. who could set the fastest time and be most consistent). Cooper Tires also surprised us with another new set of tires for the mock race. On lap two of the race, at the end of the straightaway, my brake pedal went down to the floor and I had no front brakes, forcing me straight off the track. Luckily, I was able to get back to the pit so the Bondurant crew could bleed the brakes and I could get back on-track. As soon as I completed the next few laps, I knew it was going to be a great session. I felt confident with the car and I was able to put in fast and consistent lap times.
After the race, the four other drivers and I were waiting for the final result as the coaches convened. Once they announced the final result, I was definitely disappointed that I didn’t get picked for the $200,000 scholarship, but I was thankful for the opportunity to compete in the Shootout. I learned a great deal of new techniques when driving a formula car from all the coaches. I would like to thank eKartingNews for giving me this opportunity. I would also like to thank everyone from Mazda and Cooper Tires for putting on such a great program.
Thank you for taking the time to read about my MRTI Shootout experience!