I think it's just as well that we've decided that I should write these columns after every two races, because trying to remember everything that happened to the No. 22 Z-Line Designs car in Sao Paulo and St. Petersburg is hard. I suppose almost all my rivals can relate to that, though, and I guess that's what made the opening rounds of the 2010 IZOD IndyCar Series so good for the spectators and TV viewers. Everyone was entertained – although the Brazil race was little bit too
entertaining if you were sitting where I was.
We qualified well, and took third on the grid, but the start was a mess for everyone except the front-row guys, Dario Franchitti and Alex Tagliani. At Turn 2, Briscoe got into the back of me and cut my tire so I had to pit. With the pits officially closed, we, of course, had to suck up the penalty, and called in for a second time, so we were playing catch-up from that moment on. Just as well it was a good circuit to pass on.
Then, after we'd restarted following that brief monsoon, we really wanted to pit for dry tires when Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power did, but there seemed to be a lack of communication between IndyCar and us. I thought they'd told us that first time past the pits they would be closed, and the second time around they'd be open, and then we'd get the green flag. But first time around, half the field pitted – and I'm not sure anyone was aware of what was or wasn't permitted, because no one's radio was working properly at that place.
Still, I thought to myself that maybe it wouldn't be a big deal because the track was still pretty wet and we were about to get the green…except we weren't! Four laps later, the track's drying out rapidly and we're still behind the safety car. My positive outlook turned to, “This sucks!” On top of that, the way the pit lane there was laid out meant that those who pitted lost hardly any positions because everyone still on track was running at safety car speed.
Amazingly, things found a way to get worse for the Z-Line car. There's a pin that holds the head-rest support in place and that had popped out; under the final caution for Briscoe's shunt, I was trying to stick that back in but it was impossible with all those bumps, so I just had to jam it in place with my arm. And then my left-rear tire was gradually deflating in the last stint – the long stint, of course! – so traction on corner exit was terrible, and every turn leading onto a straight seemed to be a right-hander, so I went from having too much understeer for the majority of the race to suddenly having a lot of oversteer. It became really apparent in the last 10 laps and by then, we were dragging the floor of the car all down the straight – and that's a bumpy track to be doing that. We ended up 11th.
Oh, wait, I almost forgot another little hitch we had. Remember that Simpsons episode where Homer's got no windshield on his car, and he's following the garbage truck and a used diaper flies out and hits him in the face? Well, when I was trying to play catch-up after that terrible start, I was following another car – Helio's, I think – and his rear wheel pulled off a loose bit of one of the trackside advertising banners. It was bizarre: it came at me in a big square, and hit my visor (fortunately, it came off instantly) but then it got caught over the on-board camera and covered part of the airbox – which, of course, cost us power and cooling – so, for the next three laps, I was passed by at least one car every time I went down the back straight. By now, I was thinking “This can't be happening…”
Anyway, at my next pit stop, as I came to a standstill in the box, this bit of banner fell off the airbox and into my lap. Obviously, the team could see from the telemetry that the engine had been running hot, so while I'm stopped, I'm watching my front-right tire-changer ripping off the carbon fiber cover over the radiator to improve the engine cooling. I want to tell him not to bother because I've got the answer here in my hand, but I can't because the radio was so poor, so I just screw up the plastic, chuck it out of the car and drive off.
So, you understand why we only finished 11th? Considering Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's pace, considering how well my race engineer Matt Curry and the whole team had worked for me and considering everything we'd learned about and improved on the car, we left Brazil feeling…well, feeling weird, to be honest. On the one hand, we'd been massively unlucky, but we also felt encouraged. I think we had given ourselves enough evidence that the day it all goes right, we could be in with a shout of victory. And so I think for D&R, the second round, at St. Petersburg, was fulfillment of the promise that we'd shown in between the incidents at Sao Paulo.