Aaron Jeansonne: Great Adventure

Written by Team USA. Posted in Aaron Jeansonne, Driver Blogs, Feature

Published on August 08, 2019 with No Comments

SULPHUR, La. – Hi all. I’m back home now and I had time to write this on my long flight back. I had a nap, some coffee and some time to think whilst watching a film. After some thought and reflection, I can honestly say the last few weeks have been some of the best of my life.

Heading into Paddock Hill Bend at Brands Hatch. Gary Hawkins photo.

I was able to compete in two consecutive race weekends at Brands Hatch with Oldfield Motorsport. The first event was for the Champion of Brands, in which we had very good pace in damp/wet conditions in testing. Without a doubt I have turned more laps at Brands Hatch than any other circuit, including laps in the wet, so I was very confident upon arrival that I could have the pace to run near the front. When Race One rolled around, the track was completely dry and I had not driven the car in the dry at this track since early in the season with Josh Smith’s Formula Ford Festival winning setup, and I absolutely loved the setup when we tested. However, the car felt much different in the race and we were lacking overall pace and straightline speed. We made an adjustment for Race Two, improving the car enough to allow me to make a couple passes until, unfortunately, a car slipped in some oil and crashed into me while I was making the pass.

With Kennedy at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.

Even so, we left the weekend optimistic, knowing we had speed in the wet, and while we ultimately didn’t know in the dry, we had some light. Afterwards, I made a trip to London for a few days with my girlfriend of nearly two years, Kennedy, since it wasn’t very far from the track. It brought back some great memories of when Jonathan Kotyk and I went in 2017 during our Team USA Scholarship experience. I was very happy to make more memories there and get to do and see some things that I wasn’t able to last time. The weather was perfect, and I’d say the highlight of that trip was paddling a boat around Regent’s Park! It was a relaxing few days to calm down mentally before the next weekend.

Next on the agenda was the Avon Tyres BRSCC National Formula Ford Championship rounds. When we arrived at the track, the weather was over 100 degrees and humid! Being from south Louisiana, you’d think I would be accustomed to it. But… our hotel didn’t have air conditioning! I honestly don’t know how I slept that night, but I didn’t question it. The Louisiana-ish weather continued with an absolutely blistering storm. I made sure to let everyone know I was sorry for bringing my weather with me.

Wheel to wheel on Brabham Straight (Gary Hawkins photo).

Anyway, we were handed another test day of mixed conditions much like the previous weekend, except with a little more dry running. Unfortunately a few mechanical issues limited our track time, but the car wasn’t very far off in the dry. We knew we still had work to do though. The next day I felt blessed with a wet qualifying session, nearly torrential, and we were running competitive lap times until a little over half way through the session when I made a mistake, spinning the car up the hill at Druids (Turn Two). It really didn’t help us that the other cars were able to continue qualifying for two more laps while I was stuck in the gravel, right off the edge of the track where the wet line was. I was disappointed that we fell to eighth by the end of the session, but I knew in similar conditions I could still display my speed and the car’s speed in the races.

My first podium in the UK felt great (Gary Hawkins photo).

The rain ended, so I was asking the racing gods to shed a couple little happy tears for us. Wish granted! Just before we went out, there was enough light rain to get the track wet. A lot of other teams looked as if they were waiting until the last minute to decide their setup, while we ran an “in between” setup.  In theory this allowed us to be relatively quick regardless of how the track may change. That’s why it came as a surprise to me how quick we became even though the track was nearly full wet. We were consistently the fastest car, which enabled me to drive my heart out to a podium all the way from eighth in only 15 minutes. In doing so, we very nearly caught the leaders, fellow American Spike Kohlbecker and former teammate (while I was driving for Cliff Dempsey Racing with the Team USA Scholarship) and very experienced Formula Ford racer Neil Maclennan. The craziest thing about it is that it almost felt easy, that’s just how good the car was. I was very proud of all of us as a team, because podiums in National Formula Ford don’t come easy, especially with my lack of experience compared to the other front runners. And although Oldfield Motorsport has had plenty podiums in this championship, it was my first ever in the U.K. I shook my fist while crossing the line as if I had won the race. I forgot how good that feeling was. The people that know me very well couldn’t believe how thrilled I was to finish third because when I started racing, I was unsatisfied with anything other than a win. With a year and a half of not racing for wins, I realized that it’s a privilege to be in the mix for the win, and it’s much more fun than racing for 10th!

We had the night to enjoy ourselves and discuss things before the two remaining races on Sunday. It’s well known by now that we have struggled for speed this season, and at this point Race Two was looking to be dry. We had been questioning (besides lots of other problems) if maybe my driving style required a different setup than Josh? I couldn’t wrap my head around it though, because I liked the car so much at Brands Hatch with his setup early in the season on a test day. We just couldn’t figure out what was different. We have lacked overall speed and car handling since the Anglesey race weekend, where we had speed in the test day before a strange gearbox failure. From then until now has been a struggle.  However, we knew we had to try something different at this recent Brands Hatch weekend. We went with a different setup for Race Two, starting in third position (based on finishing position from Race One), and although the car wasn’t terrible, I fell back to seventh and couldn’t hang with the lead pack.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t hang on to our pole (Gary Hawkins Photo).

The reverse grid rule switched the positions of the top seven, which placed us on pole for Race Three, but we didn’t have confidence that we could stay there with the forecast showing another dry race. We made a setup change to try to give me more corner exit oversteer in an attempt to get better runs onto the straights, and within one lap I could already tell the understeer was worse. I pushed very hard, but after dropping some positions I made a mistake and went off track at Paddock Hill Bend (Turn One) and damaged the suspension. I continued to fall down the field but never gave up, and still managed not to be the last car to finish, finishing right in front of ex-teammate Scott Huntley.

Spa is just spectacular!

We were really scratching our heads after that weekend as to how the setup change could do the opposite of what we wanted. But without much time to think, we gathered ourselves for our next adventure, the FFR rounds in Belgium! Circuit de Spa Francorchamps is a legendary place and I felt so lucky and honored to even be at this beautiful track. To make matters even better I got to coach for one of the team’s drivers, and he even requested I do one on-track session to give him good reference data. All I can say is wow, what a thriller that was! I only had about six laps (each one at Spa takes nearly three minutes) so I had to be very calculated and precise with my approach. It took everything I had not to attempt Eau Rouge flat on the first lap and drive above the limit! I’d prefer that to a roller coaster any day. Anyway we made progress throughout the weekend and my driver was pleased with the data and feedback, so I was happy as well. I always seem to be in a fun situation on my birthday. The team even got me a cute little cake – not sure how they knew I liked carrot cake but they got it right!

Carrot cake for my birthday – thanks, guys.

James and I then made the eight-hour drive back to Measham and had lots of time to discuss our Brands Hatch weekend. We still have no conclusions on what has happened this season as a whole, and although he is confident in my driving abilities, and I am confident in the team’s ability to win races, we don’t believe we can figure out how to turn things around for the next scheduled event at Kirkistown in Northern Ireland. So we agreed that right now what is best for the team is to have a few experienced drivers test and give their feedback as well, and have a think on what all can be changed with the car, assuming something fundamentally could be wrong. We are still eyeing Brands Hatch and the Formula Ford Festival… We both believe that if the car is right and I am prepared, we can compete for wins. It saddens me that the team brought me in with such high expectations and we haven’t met them, but no one is pointing fingers. I’ve learned a lot about giving feedback on the car and I know it has made me better.

Next on the agenda is a low-key fun race weekend in the 14 Hours of Sebring endurance event in the World Racing League in a 2010 Mazda MX-5 with Possien-Hall Motorsports. I’ll be getting lots of seat time at a track where I’ve had success in the past. It will also be interesting to see how the physics compare to being a top contender in the global and advanced MX-5 Cup series on iRacing.
Aaron

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