James Winslow suffered more ill-fortune in round three of the Firestone Indy Lights series, as a charging performance on the streets of Long Beach ended in a bizarre mechanical problem for the Sam Schmidt Motorsport driver.
Having seen a potential top five result go begging in round two at Barber Motorsport Park when, having overcome a gearbox issue mid-race, he damaged a front wing while battling with fellow Briton Dan Clarke, the Briton began the 45-lap Long Beach race on the back foot having had his qualifying effort hampered by a gearbox problem that cost valuable track time.
However, he again appeared on course to transform a 14th-place start into a top five finish when he suffered a 100mph crash caused by a steering failure.
Winslow showed that he would be a threat on raceday by posting the third fastest time in morning practice, but knew that he would need to defy the belief that passing on street courses is impossible if he was to achieve the same potential in the race.
Buoyed by having a car that he knew was going to be quick, the multiple Formula Three champion started positively, making up two places immediately. However, on lap five, he reported an unexpected problem – as the bolts holding his steering wheel in place began to work loose.
Despite having 40 laps remaining before he would see the chequered flag, Winslow pressed on, passing twelve cars on the road even though his steering was becoming more and more vague. Having worked his way into the top six, and with ten laps remaining, one of the errant bolts fell out of the steering wheel, but still the Briton continued to race on, lapping as quickly as anyone in the top three. Then, just as he closed on fifth place – and looking likely to claim the place with a lap to run – the steering wheel came off in his hands, leaving him powerless to avoid a high-speed meeting with the wall.
"The car was awesome, and we were mega-fast, but Lady Luck simply wasn't on our side again today,” Winslow sighed, “The steering wheel had begun to feel loose within a few laps of the start and, by lap 20, it had so much play in it that I was having to hold it on the column with one hand, and steer with the other!
“I was up to eighth by that point, and really didn't want to have to stop to have the problem looked at, even though I knew that it could only be a matter of time before it got too bad to carry on. It was so bad that, while we were under caution for another incident, I didn't even want to warm the tyres in case I made matters worse. By lap 35, it needed 25 per cent more effort to get the wheels to turn – but I was still flying through the field!
“I was up into sixth, closing on Martin Plowman for fifth and only a couple of seconds off the battle for podium places as we started the last lap, and I really thought that we would be able to make it the end and gain some good points for our effort, but the steering wheel just came off completely between turns two and three. My first thought was to get the car slowed down – to the point that my team-mate ran into the back of me – but, with a corner coming up and no steering to take it with, things were always going to end badly.
“Fortunately, my team-mate hitting me meant that I went into the wall backwards rather than head-on, and I wasn't hurt in the incident, but it's still frustrating to think that, having bounced back from our problems in qualifying and gone so well in final practice, we could be denied by something as unusual as this!
“We had the pace to run with the leaders, and showed that passing is possible around Long Beach, but we have simply had too much bad luck. Things have to turn our way soon, and there are still positives we can take from this weekend. The team was great, and the problems were not their fault – both were one in a million failures. We will bounce back at Indianapolis!”