JUSTIN WILSON'S TEAM SPIRIT
Coming off a strong run to second place at Sonoma, Dale Coyne Racing's Justin Wilson maintained his form at Baltimore, qualifying ahead of the entire Andretti Autosport team, two of the three Ganassi entries and half of the Team Penske duo.
The Briton's talents are unquestioned, and despite being part of a two-car team, those skills have been put to the test as he's effectively driven on his own for most of the season. The benefits of having a consistent teammate are well known, with everything from being able to try different setups during the same session to comparing data offering a competitive advantage, but with Wilson and DCR engineer Bill Pappas mounting a solo campaign, their results are even more impressive.
“With all the change going on, it makes it basically a one-car team because, although the other car is quick and the guys driving it are good drivers, most of the guys spend all their time getting used to the car,” said Wilson, who has his brother Stefan in the second DCR entry this weekend.
“It's different plateaus that you reach each weekend with the car, and when your learning curve is at a different rate than your teammate, it's hard to really do things like a normal set of teammates would do. The guys come in, learn the car and they're trying to add to the program, so in the meantime the other car, my car, we're trying to do what we can. But if we get it wrong there's no one to fall back on. So it makes every single decision you make so critical.
The extended learning curve Wilson and Pappas go through each weekend is the biggest challenge to overcome, according to the seven-time Indy car race winner.
“It also limits how fast you can figure things out,” he said. “Again, it's not really taking anything away from my teammates or the team, it's just the situation. There's a reason why Andretti's four cars and Ganassi's three, and Penske used to be three cars, now it's down to two; but you just collect so much more information that way and use it to their advantage. You have to be pretty happy when you're able to run with them knowing how much extra you have to do to get there.”
Out of curiosity, this writer asked Wilson to run through how many teammates he recalls having this year – at DCR and with the Michael Shank Racing Grand-Am team he drives for. The process of working himself through that mind bender was filled with laughs…
“At the Daytona 24 Hours, the start of the season for me, it was John Pew, AJ Allmendinger and Oswaldo Negri. Oh yeah, and Marcos Ambrose. And in the other car, then the teammates car, it was Gustavo Yacaman, George (Jorge) Goncalvez…who else was in that car? I can't remember… Chris Cummings, yeah. Who is the fourth? (It was Michael Valiante, big guy.)
And how about the start of the IndyCar testing season?
“Yes. I'm just trying to think. Ana Beatriz and my brother in the 18 car. That was the only time we ran two cars in testing. Then we went to St. Pete and then it was Ana. And Ana was joined by Pippa at Indy.
“Detroit…Conway. Mike Conway. Texas is Pippa again. Milwaukee was – was that Ana? Yeah. And Iowa. Pocono. That was Pippa. Toronto. That was Mike again. Before Pocono, I started up with Shank again—it was Watkins Glen then Pocono and then Toronto. And then that was Gustavo in the sports cars. What's after Toronto?”
That would be Mid-Ohio…and you can't blame Wilson for struggling to keep count of the growing teammate/co-driver tally.
“Mid-Ohio was next and that was James Davison. He tested and races. Then we went to Elkhart Lake with Shank and it was the usual: Gus, John and Oz. And then I flew to Sonoma and had Ryo [Ryo Hirakawa] who tested. Then went back to Kansas with Shank: Gus, Oz and John.
“Then James raced at Sonoma. Then my brother this weekend, and the Grand-Am season's not over yet. Gus is in next weekend at Laguna and then the season finale at Lime Rock. And then where do we go with it? Houston is Conweezy again. And then Fontana, I believe it will be Pippa.”
And what does Wilson think of being so in-demand?
“It's great to be popular,” he deadpanned.
Add up the individual teammates JWill has had so far and will have through the rest of the 2012 IndyCar and Grand-Am seasons, and he's at 14. Six of those have been in IndyCar…
JUMPING JOSEF NEWGARDEN
Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing's Josef Newgarden has treated Baltimore's right-left-right chicane like his own personal launching pad during the first two days of the event, and used his acrobatic treatment of the exit chicane to carve a few tenths of a second from his lap time in qualifying.
Newgarden made his first-ever Firestone Fast Six, placing fifth behind Wilson and ahead of Tristan Vautier, and credited his hurdling impression for posting such fast laps.
“That's the only place I'm good around this circuit, I feel like!” he told RACER. “That's why I'm in the Fast Six I think. I don't know – I'm getting ticked everywhere else, so I would want to hear about the other circuit personally. I think you're right, though, just to say, like you have – I'm just barreling it in there, I don't even care what part I'm hitting. The front's going everywhere; it doesn't matter.”
The more aggressive each driver went through the chicane, the more dramatic the drop in lap time appeared to be. As much as a half-second could be gained, according to some drivers, and Newgarden clearly saw the value in attacking harder than the rest.
“I think you're right, the harder you hit it, the faster – I'm just flat out through it pretty much,” added the 2011 Firestone Indy Lights champion. “I like it. I know some people have disliked it and it's been difficult with the railroad tracks around here, and you obviously have to do something to slow the cars down, but I think it's been a lot of fun chicane. I haven't had a lot of chicanes in my career that I've encountered, but I really like it. It's fun as hell to me.”