After learning about Wexford-based up-and-comer Kris Wright, I've decided to work on an extended series covering the driver in and out of his race car. Catch up on the series here.
Like all things in life: learning to swim, riding a bike, getting behind the wheel of a 230 brake horsepower car ... there's always a first step. For Wright, that came Easter weekend at Oulton Park in England.
Wright officially made the transition from being mainly a LMP3/LMP2 driver for the last year of his career to driving a Formula 3 car in the British F3 Championship. The first "race" was indeed at Oulton Park where the first three rounds of the season took place.
Wright, unlike his nearly overnight success when claiming the points championship during his first full season in the IMSA LMP3 series, struggled behind the wheel for his first three rounds of full time F3 racing. But ... that's likely because Wright is -- in the least racing-term way possible -- quite literally playing catch up.
He also had a mechanical issue or two to deal with.
"The other two cars on the team did really well," Wright said of his Fortec Motorsport team. "The team result was pretty good, but we don't really know what happened with me."
"I started off pretty good, I was mid-pack and I wasn't even pushing the corners. I was right in the mix with the rest of my team," Wright told me of his pre-race testing in the car. "As soon as official practice started, though, I kept getting slower and slower and then qualifying wasn't good and I stayed toward the back for the rest of the week."
When Wright went overseas to test the car multiple times in 2018, he found it to be one of the best and most professional feeling cars and teams he'd ever been around. He was immediately comfortable racing it, and knew something was off when the official rounds began.
"Something was cracked and it's really difficult to pull the car apart and really detect every issue when you're at a race week," Wright went on. "They pulled it apart a couple of times, but they'll pull it apart back at the shop where things aren't as hectic."
It sounded an awful lot like the engineers pulled everything apart to the extent of their on-location ability, but it will take some digging in the 20-some days that lead up to the Snetterton 300, and another three rounds, in May.
"The worst part was not knowing whether it was me or the car," Wright confessed. "That was the hardest part, but we'll see next time out ... Easter Sunday we had a day off and I tried to hit the reset button, play some golf, relax a bit, but nothing came back from that one day. We'll just go for the next one."
Beyond the car itself slowing over the course of a race weekend, Wright faced additional challenges he described to me upon his trip back to the United States. The first issue is that of the majority of drivers being familiar with the courses ahead of Wright's first time around the track.
While he's making practice runs and learning corners and turns in real side-by-side conditions, other racers are using the time to shave time off their laps. He's always a "session behind," to use Wright's words.
"I might use that first session to get up to speed with the track and learn braking points, but they're using that session to get their car setups going. I'm typically going to be a session behind before qualifying."
His coach, Nic Jonsson, had this to say of Wright's F3 debut:
"It was challenging and a great learning experience for the first race weekend at Oulton. Qualifying was tough as Kris worked to get up to speed; it’s hard to find the limit. He did a great job, had a couple of respectable races and learned good race craft. Unfortunately, he was taken out at Turn 4 in the second race but came back in the final race."
Looking at the results, it was evident the issues getting up to speed impacted the third race, as Wright was the only driver to post a speed below 100 mph.
Another issue Wright faced was that the LMP3 and LMP2 cars are much more of a stable driving experience. Wright's used to the extra downforce and cornering abilities of the wide, spoilered, closed cockpit prototype vehicles.
"These guys that I'm racing against, this is the most downforce that they've ever dealt with," Wright told me of his competition. "That provides a bit of ... I guess it's confidence, you know? The last car they drove would have been a Formula 4 or a car without any wings on it."
"The car is moving around less than they are used to, but it's moving a lot more than what I'm used to, if that makes sense."
Yeah, that makes sense to me from my extended time playing with different cars and tunings on the various Forza Motorsports games on Xbox One -- something I typically bring up with Wright when pretending I know what it's like to take corners at blistering speeds.
Jonsson spoke following the race about how important every session is for Wright at this point -- in real life, not Forza -- and how valuable his seat time really is.
"The qualifying session was a fantastic learning experience since Kris never raced on this tire before," Jonsson said. "To get the most out of the car and tire, you need to practice this a lot to know when the tire has its core and surface temp and the tire is ready for that flying lap."
"There’s also a specific way to warm the tires up gradually, and this might be one of the most difficult things, but he did a good job with this as well," he went on. "It’s going to keep getting better each qualifying session throughout the year."
A final challenge to overcome beyond dealing with the new tracks and car?
"I need to lose 20 pounds," Wright told me after I asked if there was anything else from his trip I needed to know. I immediately thought this was a joke based on his athletic build and anti-Sunday frame.
"I didn't realize how much weight really mattered," Wright went on. "I mean, I'm not overweight at all. I'm racing against these kids though, and they're 140 lbs, and I'm 165."
"It differs from track-to-track because of how different tracks have uphill and downhill segments, but a typical track -- two kilos is a quarter of a second. A lot of these kids, fully suited up, weigh five kilos less than I do when I have nothing on."
Ok, I guess he's serious ... That is something from .2 to .8 seconds slower depending on the track ...
"I'm getting on a very aggressive weight loss -- not diet, but weight loss and workout program," Wright told me. "A lot of it is about my legs from playing hockey and stuff like that. When my engineer told me to lose weight, I laughed at first."
The good news is, Wright will be watching me eat the next time we catch up over lunch -- not eating himself, as he let me know behind a laugh. He'll be sticking to his proposed "not diet" and workout plan. Beyond that, he's racing for an experienced team with an "incredible" engineer. The car will be worked out and Wright will have a chance to get back in it and battle.
One thing is for certain, the teammates, particularly Johnathan Hoggard, who currently sits second in points after a successful first weekend, proved that the Fortec team is there to compete -- something Wright was extremely confident about.
"I consider it the best team I've been with, and I don't mean that as disrespect to any teams I've raced with. They're just that good," Wright told me. "They're really, really good. They've helped a lot of Formula 1 drivers in the early parts of their careers."
"They're really freaking good. I'm not in it for a championship yet -- I've got some catching up to do, and I'm glad they're there to back me."
We'll catch back up with Wright ahead of the Snetterton 300, May 18 and 19.
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