So I think we can say that the 96th Indianapolis 500 didn't go as planned for Verizon Team Penske. Looking at the result of the race, I think a top-three finish was on the cards, but when Mike Conway's already broken wing collapsed under aero load and his car looped into a spin on lap 80, our No. 12 Verizon car was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I eased off the gas but once you're committed to the line, and on speedways you don't have much steering lock, you'll just understeer up, especially once you hit the gray area created by 80 laps-worth of tire marbles.
Conway's car and the SAFER barrier cushioned my collision, so although it was a bad and early end to the day, at least he's OK after tilting sideways, I'm OK despite his car flying across mine and thankfully my teammate Helio Castroneves is OK after avoiding the loose wheel that went bouncing across the track.
If there's any team you want to be with at Indy, though, it's Penske. Not only do we have good cars, there's also a very level-headed approach to disappointment which is what we need as we turn our attention back to the IZOD IndyCar Series championship battle. Although Roger Penske is hungrier than ever to win a 16th Indy 500, after the post-race debrief it was, “OK guys. Let's go and beat everyone next weekend.”
That's what's most important to him; the next race. Sure, we learn from what's happened before, but we don't dwell on it, whether we've won or lost. There's no smugness if we're in Victory Lane, there's no beating ourselves up if we aren't. Detaching ourselves from emotion is one of the keys to success; another is thinking ahead, all the time.
That's why on Tuesday we were testing up at the Milwaukee Mile, and thinking about the run of four back-to-back races at Belle Isle, Texas Motor Speedway, Milwaukee and Iowa. It's going to be intense for drivers but even more so for the other team members, out on the road, converting the specs of the chassis between a street race, a speedway, a flat road course-like oval and then a short oval. And that's even without throwing potential race damage into the mix. (Obviously, we hope that last bit doesn't affect the three Team Penske cars, but the crews have to be prepared for every possible outcome.)
Milwaukee is going to be interesting, because compared with last year's car, the DW12 has some characteristics that are similar, some that are different, so every team and every driver are sort of starting from scratch to learn how best to tackle the track with these new cars. With the strength in depth of the engineering here at Team Penske and three good drivers – three sources of information and feedback – I'm thinking we should be a strong force there.
But first it's back to life on the streets. We've returned to the 2.1-mile Belle Isle course after four years away, and the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix is a huge deal for us. As well as Team Penske being the most successful Chevrolet-powered team of the year, this is the heartland of the American motor industry, Roger was the principal guy behind bringing Chevrolet back to IndyCar racing and our own Bud Denker is chairman of this race. I'm not saying our links with the event put more pressure on us – we go to every race to win, so that's a constant pressure that we live with and we love it! – but I do know it would be especially sweet to drive the No. 12 Verizon car into Victory Lane on Sunday.
We expect the opposition to be tough, but then we always do…and it always is! We've seen more teams emerge with strong performances in the last two races and I expect to see the same from them at Belle Isle so we'll be working hard to qualify at the front because it will be a tricky circuit to pass on. But as well as nailing a good qualifying setup, we'll also be studying tire behavior in practice, because the teams and Firestone haven't been here for four years. Detroit gets hit hard by winter weather so the track surface will play a part in who has the most competitive car over long stints.
Like I always say, in the IZOD IndyCar Series, it's important to nail every little detail but if everyone on the Verizon car is performing at their best, I'm confident we'll be one of the teams to beat.
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