Amid a frustrating final race for SFR, the Rahals were looking toward Indy. (LAT photo)
So here we are again, fans. The biggest race in the world, and I'm going to be racing for the winner of the 1986 edition of the event – or as I call him, Dad.
There's actually a sense of relief in that, because a) I trust the team to be strong and have a competitive car; b) I have a ride at all; and c) there's now a stretch of three weeks where I can focus on cars, racing and not the whole worrying about the future beyond that. Don't get me wrong – I want to do the rest of the season, but it's been such a strange start to the year for me that it's good to be able to get back to what I do best: racing a car.
Long Beach was frustrating. Frustrating for myself, Sarah Fisher, the whole team and, I'd imagine, Dollar General. We weren't going to get it easy, we knew that when we signed up, but it quickly became obvious that we were going to struggle. After qualifying on Saturday, I sat on the pit wall with the team and said, “Look, without wishing to sound arrogant [I hate arrogant people] and without trashing anyone in the series, there's no way that here at Long Beach I should be the slowest guy in my qualifying group and 0.2sec behind Danica. No way. I'm driving as hard as I can but there's no speed.”
Even after the first session at St. Petersburg, I got out of the car and told Tom Brown, the race engineer, “I bet you this chassis is cracked. I've had that before, in Star Mazda, and it felt like this. No matter what we change it won't react.”
So when I see the chassis twist test measurement numbers in Long Beach, the other three SFR chassis were all within maybe five percent of each other in terms of stiffness, and this one was about 30-35 percent off. We showed the number to the Dallara guys and a red flag was flown by them. My hat goes off to them: they were very good about handling it, especially with a small team like Sarah's.
And then as you saw on race day, we got taken out by Mario Romancini near the end, and, if you watch the replay he wasn't even close to making that pass. So that just added to the frustration. That's the last thing that the team needed – more expense.
The other issue was that we caused the only yellow! What's been interesting about IndyCar this year is that there have been hardly any cautions, which has meant the drivers and teams near the back haven't really had the opportunities to roll the dice strategy wise. It actually is a credit to the quality of the driver lineup this year, but it's frustrating for those who want to take a chance – and annoying for the spectators, who were stuck with a pretty boring race at Long Beach.
And that was my last race. As any fans of mine will be acutely aware, I didn't race at Kansas and I don't have a deal with Newman/Haas Racing. Both are disappointing. On two occasions with Newman/Haas, we were at a contract stage and I felt I was…misled, to an extent. Both times it was a situation where we were told to send the contract over, and that it was virtually a done deal. But then nothing ever found its way back to my inbox. It's been the name of the game this year for me – a lot of promises but really no one following through. It's frustrating, and I don't want to go into detail about who I was dealing with. As for Newman/Haas, I think that potential deal is dead in the water. As of right now, I don't have anything for after Indy – and I mean, not even anything on offer, let alone something signed.
It's a crazy situation, isn't it? Ryan Hunter-Reay only has a deal up to Texas for now, JR Hildebrand hasn't been able to make his IndyCar debut yet – and he's the Firestone Indy Lights champion – and I have nothing beyond Indy.
I suppose that, because we at least knew – or guessed – in advance of Kansas that nothing was going to materialize, we were able to concentrate on Indy with Rahal Letterman Racing. Dad and I had talked about it for a long, long time, although we'd always been hoping for other deals. But once they didn't happen, we committed to each other, and maybe that was best.
Why? Because I truly believe we're in good shape for Indy. RLR has always had good cars there, a lot of the same group of guys who won it in 2004 with Buddy Rice are still there, and Scott Roembke is calling my race – and there's no one who knows more about racing at the Brickyard than him.
RLR still has road course cars, too, so if we can find the funding it would be great to continue on through the season. Dad and I feel we bring more value to sponsors as one unit and that's how we've approached them. But I suppose having nothing means we've got nothing to lose: It applies the pressure a bit, but the other side of the coin is that we can focus on Indy. We don't go into it thinking of championship points: we'll be racing entirely to win, and we'll hold nothing back.
Wish us luck.