Since I checked in last, we've got both our seasons underway and have had mixed results so far. But repeating our win at the 12 Hours of Sebring was such a great way to start our year in the American Le Mans Series.
Early on at Sebring we ran up front with our No. 56 BMW M3. But frankly, what made it so satisfying to win this year, unlike last year where we had no troubles at all, is that this year we had some type of electrical glitch and we struggled to understand what it was.
What that meant was that we ran well with no problems for about five hours into the race, but then all of a sudden the car came by on seven cylinders. We had to sit back and ask, “OK, what was wrong?” Because of the issue, we were no longer leading or running second in class, but we were dropping six seconds per lap.
Luckily, for us, we'd get yellows at opportune moments, or we would have been lapped. We had to stay out and hope for a yellow, and almost each time we were in our window, we got that yellow. We might have lost 30 or 40 seconds throughout the stint, but when the yellow came out, we were able to stay on the lead lap. That happened about six times during the race!
We had to time each pit stop, and do some things electronically to in effect, reboot the car. We had the kind of pit strategy where I wanted to stop when the window opened, but we were concerned about that. We seemed to have a problem right around the hour mark. If we had to pit again inside the final hour, it would kill our chances. So we had to wait a little bit to stop, but in the end, it didn't make a difference because the car ran flawlessly to the end.
The whole race was up and down, and then we got to the last lap. Joey (Hand) was racing (Olivier) Beretta throughout, and when we saw the monitors, I thought it was the 71 that had made contact with him, as I think everyone else did! It turned out it was the other car with Gimmi Bruni driving. Obviously it's difficult, because the two cars look exactly alike, and it's dark and tough to see at night.
Anyway, so we're typing into the messaging system to race control, “avoidable contact, car 71.” I don't think we were the only ones who got confused about it! It was quite a last few laps, and for Bruni to have got in the middle of it was pretty outrageous if you ask me.
The funny thing was Joey came through to win, then there was a gap, and then I saw a Corvette before Beretta. I had to ask, “How did the Corvette get ahead of him?” I guess from what you did see, Beretta was out of the frame by then.
But the last 5-10 laps was just great driving by Joey. We'd double-stinted the tires on the last stop, to where Beretta beat us out a little bit. We hadn't really stayed on the same tires prior to that. We started to lose grip toward the end, but Joey drove the way he did and did what he had to do. We kept him enthusiastic because we still had the chance to win. It was a tough race to win, and it felt so good to win.
Besides Joey and Dirk Mueller, our regular drivers, this was also the first race for our new driver Jonathan Summerton (FAR RIGHT). He did the two tests with us. I told him going in, “Just keep your nose clean, and no doubt you'll do a good job.” And he did. He did exactly what we asked him to do. His times were competitive, he didn't run off the road, he didn't hit anybody and nobody hit him. He was just a good teammate.
I was very pleased with the job he did. He's going to benefit from this experience by being a part of the team. There were no blemishes on his record, and that's tough to do in that race, with that many cars. I couldn't have been more pleased.
Our first two IndyCar races, by contrast, have been tough – it's been a case of what could have been. That applies particularly in St. Pete, where we were very competitive. I don't know if we would have won, but we certainly had a top-five car. A race like that gives you a lot of hope and enthusiasm for the year, but you'd like to come out of the box strong with a result.
Last weekend at Barber, we got held up by another car in qualifying, so we didn't make the top 12. I have no doubt we would have been in without the problem. In the race, we had another mechanical failure, and it happens. There's nothing you can do about it. You just have to take the good things away from the performance. We need to solve the bad things.
There's a lot left for us. What's been good is that Takuma has shown he's a real racer, and a real racecar driver. He'll run in the top six, I have no doubt. Am I disappointed? Well yes, but I'm still hopeful with what's ahead.
I think Honda and Chevrolet are pretty close overall. The trap speeds are about within a mile an hour of each other. I don't think we'll really know until Indy, where it's all about power, and see what happens.
That's one element that has added to the racing, but the competition this year is great. People have criticized IndyCar these days saying the drivers aren't as good as they were in the '80s and '90s. I think that's nonsense. I think the quality of our drivers today is as good, if not better.
It's very competitive, and you saw that by witnessing such a great race at Barber. It's supposed to be difficult to pass, but there was passing everywhere. The tires had great variations in performance, and that meant you really had to set the car up for a balance. Some became tougher to drive as a result. In the end, I think the guys earned their money last Sunday!
We're just now starting our oval testing. The new oval aero kit is interesting looking, I can tell you that!
Now we've got Long Beach for both teams next weekend. I love going to Long Beach; I always have. It's such a great event, and great weekend. If you love racing and California, it doesn't get better.
We feel pretty good about our repeat chances with our BMW by just keeping doing what we're doing. To be back in the IndyCar race again is great, as it was always one of my favorites as a driver.
With Takuma we should be competitive, and we will be in ALMS. It gets your blood pumping when you're in a place like that, with the opportunity to do really well.
Bobby Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing competes with Takuma Sato in the No. 15 Dallara-Honda in the IZOD IndyCar Series and with two BMW M3s in the American Le Mans Series. To learn more about the team, go to www.rahal.com. Rahal is also on Twitter at @BobRahal.