Guest blogger Rob Megennis is a 15-year-old racing prodigy and Turo community member. While not old enough to rent a car from the Turo marketplace, his prowess behind the wheel has captured the attention of Turo, and we’ve sponsored his racing circuit for the 2016 season. Stay tuned as Rob blogs on the Mazda Road to Indy.
This past weekend marked the start of the racing season and the start of my IndyCar adventure on the Mazda Road to Indy in the USF2000 series, pursuing my dream of becoming an IndyCar driver. USF2000 cars are two-liter-engine, open-wheel race cars with top speeds of 160 mph. I’m driving for Team Pelfrey, the biggest team with the best engineers and mechanics. The first stop on this year’s circuit was Alabama for two days of practice before heading to the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Barber Motorsports Park, where the practice races took place, is one of the best tracks in the country; it’s a flowing track with lots of elevation changes and lots of different types of corners. I also got to visit the Barber Vintage Motorsports Museum — the coolest museum ever with the largest motorbike collection in the world and a huge collection of F1 cars.
In Alabama, Team Pelfrey showed that we’re on pace with the other top teams. Racing really is a team sport; the driver has to be in tune with his mechanics, engineers, and coaches. Six hours of track time taught us a lot about the car and I even got blisters on my hands from the wheel.
In the last session, I had a scary moment: I went off track at the last corner — a 100 mph corner — and the bumpy grass unsettled the bolts on the shock cover (hood) on my car. Two bends later it flew over my head and hit the driver behind me. Thankfully he was okay, although it destroyed his helmet.
The worst thing about Alabama was that we got stuck with a Hertz car. There are only two cars listed on Turo and neither were available. I’m hoping that when we come back in April we can rent Victor’s Lexus. Our little Nissan from Hertz cost just as much and was zero fun.
Gearing up for St. Pete’s
After the test we flew to Tampa for my first race of the year — the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. This would be my first time racing in a USF2000 car, my first time on a street circuit, and my first time in front of 160,000 racing fans. Street circuits are actual city streets with walls on either side of the road — no extra space or grass like traditional race tracks. The most famous street circuit is probably the Formula One Grand Prix in Monaco.
60 seconds after we got our bags in Tampa, Martin pulled up with his BMW 6 Series convertible, which was perfect for the 80-degree weather. Martin was super friendly and posed for photos with us. After dropping off our bags, we drove right into the heart of St. Petersburg. They started building the track 30 days ago — 1.8 miles of walls and 12-foot-high fencing. We arrived on the the last day you could take a regular car on the track. We drove the entire track, stopping to take pictures along the way. Martin, you can now say your BMW has driven the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg circuit.
We had a day of practice sessions and then qualifying on Friday night. I was a little nervous to get behind the wheel on this track for the first time. The walls feel very close when you are going 150 mph, but eventually, I felt confident to get just inches from the trademark walls of this track. I came into the weekend with no expectations — it was a very tough, experienced, 26-car field, so I was content with my ninth- and eleventh-place qualifying runs.
Race day exceeded my expectations and ended up being the highlight of my career to date. In Race One, I managed to move all the way from ninth to third with a great move on the first turn and a great pass on the back straight. I was absolutely overjoyed when I held onto my third position after the half hour race and the team was ecstatic.
The whole day was immense — the podium, the 50,000 spectators, the press conference after the race, the autograph session — I’ve watched F1 and IndyCar races on TV, so it was unreal to find myself in the middle of one.
And then on Saturday, as I was finishing the autograph session, Martin and his son walked up. They had never been to the race before and they came to support me. It was great to see them there.
The Grand Prix of St. Petersburg turned out phenomenally well — 85 degrees and sunny, thousands of spectators, a buzzing and supportive city, an incredible track, and Turo on the podium. Next up, back to Alabama in mid-April for race three and race four of my Mazda Road to Indy adventure. Come and watch and say hi!