I just checked: the last time I wrote for you was last September! I was driving for Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing, I was talking about the wild race at Chicago, how great it was to have a smart, quick and open guy like Oriol Servia as a teammate, and I was enjoying the fact that we were closing the gap on Ganassi and Penske.
It's weird, because it seems so long ago and it feels like so much has happened, but actually in the last five months, only one significant thing has changed directly to me: In the depths of my frustration at being out of a ride, Sarah Fisher and her husband Andy O'Gara kind of emerged out of the darkness like a bright light. Here I am, totally pumped about the next two IZOD IndyCar Series races, desperate to give Sarah, Andy and Dollar General a great repayment for their faith.
First of all, because the memory's freshest, I'm going to tell you that today (Monday) I tested the Corvette Racing C6.R at Sebring and it was maybe even more fun than I expected. I love Corvettes anyway, and I was pretty quick – a couple of tenths off Oliver Gavin and Johnny O'Connell but quicker than the others – and there's no shame in being slower than those guys at first, considering they (a) are very talented sports car racers, and (b) know the 'Vette inside out and have been racing it for years. As you know, my dad has always encouraged me to get any kind of motorsport experience I can, because it's never going to hurt and it's always going to benefit, so it was fun.
For now, I don't know what it might lead to. I'd love it to be the Le Mans 24 Hours, but even so, I don't know if the team would be thinking in terms of this year, because I don't know how many drivers they need or how many they've got already. The team guys weren't really giving out details. But I'd love to do Le Mans with a totally professional team like Corvette Racing, and I know they're interested in having more Americans on the driving force in the long term. O'Connell was pleased for me today, and so I'd like to think that one day it will lead to something. I've been trying to do this for so long, so it was a dream fulfilled just to check it out and have them check me out!
I don't think I'm becoming a full time sports car driver yet, though. I'm not leaving open-wheel racing any time soon. I'm committed to making this part of my career work out, whatever I have to do!
I tell you, watching the Brazil race was no fun. For every interesting thing that happened on track – and I'm pleased for the IZOD IndyCar Series that there were a bunch of those – I'd feel some more pain, wondering what I might have been achieving out there. OK, I'm sure there were a few unemployed drivers thinking that, but as soon as I looked at that track, I thought it was made for me. If they sort the track surface out, when we go back next year the racing will be even better. That layout was designed for racing, and that's great.
So why wasn't I there? Well, it's a long story, but I started to get the picture regarding losing my seat at Newman/Haas/Lanigan in January. In fact, I remember it was Thursday, Jan. 14, I was standing outside my mom's house and I called Bernie Haas, Carl's wife and co-owner of the team. It became clear that…it was not turning out the way I was expecting or the way we had agreed back in August last year. Of course, I was frustrated, disappointed – any kind of words related to that in a thesaurus! – but I kept very quiet publicly. Obviously, one or two people in the media did some talking on my behalf and in a supportive way, which I'm very grateful for, but in the meantime I just started working away on other fronts, trying to make deals happen. But, of course, it was January and February, and by then most companies have assigned their money for 2010. Heck, they did that back in late summer 2009, so it was too late to get something really solid together.
Then one day, I was at a swim meet with my girlfriend Katie in Miami – actually, we were just sitting down in a restaurant with some friends – and I got a call from a 317 number, and I thought, “You know what? I've got to answer anything from the Indy area, because who knows what it might be about.” So I answered and it was Andy O'Gara, and he eventually came out and said, “Would you be interested in Sarah Fisher Racing for St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park?” I told him yes, I think so but I'd like to come visit the shop.
I went and sat down and thought about it some more: I thought about Dollar General and how it would be a strong company with a good reputation to be associated with and then there's the team. I have lot of respect for Sarah. A lot of people overlook her, but not only was she the first woman to get a pole in Indy car racing, but not enough people talk about how smart of a business person she must be. I mean, you think about how many teams are decreasing in size, and how many race shops are disappearing, whereas SFR has increased from nine to 17 full-time employees in the past year. That's during a recession which has hit motorsports hard in this country especially.
So I was warming to the idea already, but I'd told Andy that I'd like to come and visit the shop – I've seen a few this past winter. Well, I walked in and I was instantly impressed. There was the good quality of the cars, the people and the equipment and it was just so organized. At that point, I decided it was a great opportunity to do those two races and we took it.
Now, there is a lot of work to be done, and none of us is denying that. The engineers are eager to get on with it, and we went down to Barber last week and tested there and I tell you, we may not have been setting lap records, but that car was in the ballpark. We'll work like hell on honing that car from the moment the green flag flies for first practice at St. Pete this Friday. Everyone is really excited about this, and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity. What we know – and it's great to have this feeling – is that we'll bust a gut for each other, give each other everything we've got, and aim high. Given how great Sarah has been to me, I wouldn't give anything less than my best.
What that will result in, I don't know. It's going to be tough to get into the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying, as we saw in Sao Paulo, where two Penskes and one Ganassi didn't make it! But qualifying in the top 12 is definitely in the cards, and I think a top-six finish is possible if we keep our nose clean and don't hit any problems.
Would rain help us? I don't deny I enjoy racing in the rain, but I don't like the unpredictability it can throw into the equation when it comes to race day, with people spinning and causing yellows. You get more than enough of that at St. Pete even in the dry, so I'd rather believe what it says on the long-range weather forecasts right now – it's gonna stay dry in the St. Petersburg region through to the end of Sunday. If we can have a straightforward race, that should let us show everyone what myself and SFR can achieve together.
Some time in the next two weeks, I'd like to think I'll be able to announce what the rest of the 2010 season holds for me, but for the sake of my fans, I will say that I could have a full-time ride from Long Beach onward. However, nothing's firmed up yet so I don't want to even talk about the possibilities. Let's just be happy with what we know we've got, and focus on showing gratitude to Sarah Fisher with a couple of strong results.