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  • Russell Soto

Networking with an Old Friend and Flying in a Formula 4

Hello to everyone and happy Labor Day! It's been an interesting couple of weeks to say the least, and with the start of my second-to-last semester I've been busy balancing the start of my Senior year and renewed efforts to try and get behind the wheel and racing again. But some pretty spectacular stuff has happened lately, culminating in a very successful Formula 4 outing.

What a racing driver does when they're not driving pretty much is networking and trying to meet people that can support their racing in any of a number of ways. This is not easy because when I'm not driving I'm a college student pursuing an Engineering degree, and that presents its own set of challenges - every opportunity needs to be taken advantage of.

So I was very excited when the USF2000 teams came to race at New Jersey Motorsports Park last month. The Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship is an American racing series sanctioned by IndyCar, and is the first rung of the Road to Indy. Needless to say, some very significant people and teams in the US open-wheel racing scene would be there, and I needed to do what I could to get myself over there and make myself known to them.

Enter my old friend Josh Green. Josh and I go back to our karting days, as we were teammates at McAleer Motorsports. He is currently competing in the USF2000 category for Turn 3 Motorsport. When he was able to secure a paddock pass for me it was also an opportunity to reconnect with one of my genuinely best friends in or out of racing.

One of the greatest things I've received from this sport is he friendships I've made with some quality people. Josh is the kind of friend that will not hesitate to have your back, and I will always have his. I am truly lucky to have him and to be able to lend my support anytime in whatever way I can.

This opportunity allowed me to go up and down the paddock visiting teams, talking to engineers, mechanics, team owners, driver coaches and also running into some old friends from karting - people like Yuven Sundaramoorthy, Michael D'Orlando, Conrad Krawiec and engine builder Michael "Chi-Chi" Ramirez. I have to admit being almost overcome with the desire to join them on the grid like old times!

The Turn 3 Motorsport garage at NJMP

Seeing my friend off to the grid...wishing there was an extra Tatuus USF-17 there for me!

It was a good weekend for both of us. Josh managed a P2 on the third race after a podium on the second one, and I met and introduced Russell Soto Racing - both from a driver and engineer angles - to so many people that I actually ran out of business cards. Follow-ups will follow - emails, phone calls, more business cards to be offered, and more events and paddocks to visit. Crazy, crazy stuff. But three days later I would give myself a reminder of why I do all this.

Back at New Jersey Motorsports Park, this time with me in the starring role. I was at the wheel of the fastest open-wheel car I've tested so far. The Mygale Formula 4 run by the Skip Barber Racing School is an open-wheeled single-seat formula car powered by a Ford EcoBoost turbo charged 4-cylinder engine producing 160HP...and it weights 1,200lbs.

Transmission is a SADEV 6-speed sequential. The power-weight ratio is enough to go 0-60 in under 4 seconds, and with the Goodyear tires we were running the car was able to achieve some very high cornering speeds.

The opportunity also reunited me with Ken Fukuda, my instructor from my Mustang GT outing at Lime Rock Park. The fact that I'm driving an F4 car - part of the ladder to a Formula One car - under Ken's watchful eye more than made up for not driving three days before.

Dream car, dream instructor - My expression says it all

After a rocky start due to a software issue with the car I stepped into, I switched to another one and it right away I felt the car and chassis fit me like a glove! I proceeded to make progress with each lap and each session, applying the knowledge Ken was imparting on me on each debrief, and working on the finer points of driving an F4 at the limit.

All settled into the F4 Front Office

At full chat, speeding down the main straight - Just a blur...

This was also the first time I've driven a "downforce" car. The wings on the car act like airplane wings turned upside down: Instead of creating the force that makes an aircraft fly - lift - they create a force that presses a car into the ground, thereby increasing the grip of the tires and the speed it can achieve through a corner. This force is called downforce. The faster you go, the greater the grip. But also, if you slow down, the grip decreases - so when you are screaming down the straight and then brake for a corner, all of a sudden your grip is reduced. I had to almost change my way of thinking: The faster you can take the corner, the more grip you have through it. It can be very counter-intuitive at first.

A day of taking corners faster than I'd ever taken them...and then taking them faster still...

I'm happy to say that I was surprised at how quickly I got used to this. Definitely an F4 car seems like a natural fit to me, as I proceeded to shave off hundredths and tenths lap after fantastic lap.

Lap analysis with Ken after every session - How the magic is learned and polished to a high sheen...

Also had a great time with the Bohra Brothers and Instructor Carter Fartuch - more and more people to meet, more and more memories to make...

So where to go from here? There are two things that I feel extremely happy and fortunate to take from these past few days. For one thing, I've gotten better at getting my name out there and establishing contact with people in the industry that can help me get behind the wheel - or even as an engineer, which could also get me driving in some way, shape or fashion. For another, I've demonstrated plenty of pace and affinity in a car that has direct relevance to the cars I aspire to race in. Of equal importance is finding my rhythm in working with a racing crew and people like Ken Fukuda and Carter Fartuch...and in having fun while at it! All in all, it gives me renewed energy and momentum to try and secure some funding and support, and to not give up this dream of mine. Stay tuned...

I'll be back...

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