Helio knows there's always something new on the horizon in IndyCar racing. (LAT photo)
If you've known me for long, you know I'm comfortable with change. In fact, I thrive on it. I've always taken the philosophy that life is all about how you adapt to the things that change around you, and I think that philosophy will suit me very well during the next year or so. Change is what lies ahead for all of us at Team Penske and in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
Let's start with this year's changes. We've got new rules, new promotions and new racetracks, all of which will add to the excitement of IndyCar racing. The most controversial change is double-file restarts at all races. At first this was just going to be in use at ovals, but then it was expanded to road and street courses. It's the most radical change we face this season.
I believe it's a good thing for the fans. I'm not sure yet exactly how it will affect teams or drivers, especially those of us who are at or near the lead, but there's no question it will add to the drama. It will be difficult, especially on road courses, because there's always the possibility we might touch wheels. Sometime people lose their heads on restarts – yes, I include myself in that statement – so it will be tricky to pull it off without major incidents. Just look at my first experience with the new start procedures on the opening lap at St. Petersburg: it didn't work out so well for us! But I'm confident in the people around me. There are some unbelievably talented drivers in this series, so I'll feel comfortable restarting a race with someone next to me.
The whole point is to make IndyCar more exciting for fans, and I'm all for that. Sometimes single-file restarts can be boring and predictable, with little chance for the drivers who aren't leading to get into the lead. Like I said, the leader isn't going to like this rule, but the driver running second definitely will!
So, overall, I think it's a good thing. The series and race fans wanted more excitement, and they'll get it. It's also reassuring that IndyCar's leaders listen to race fans and respond. It will be very different for us, but I'm up to the challenge. Time will tell how it will work, but I'm all for shaking things up a little bit.
There are other good things going on, too. This year we'll visit three new venues and one revamped one. We'll go to New Hampshire Motor Speedway, a flat, one-mile oval; Baltimore, a new street circuit; Las Vegas, a 1.5-mile oval; and Edmonton's newly redesigned street circuit.
Everyone knows I like short tracks, so I know I'm going to love New Hampshire. I haven't been there yet, but I've been told that it's incredibly fast. We should be flat all the way around it, which is unbelievable for us. If you're a race fan and you live in the Boston area, get ready for this. It's going to be a great show, especially with the double-file restart. You will be thoroughly entertained, I promise!
I'm also really excited about the Baltimore race in September. I've looked at the track map, and it's awesome. We'll race around Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles play. It's right on the waterfront – a very interesting and challenging layout. I've heard they've already sold a lot of seats, so there is a buzz about it. I'm really looking forward to this one. If you've never seen a street race, you're in for a treat. It's more than just a race. It's like a carnival – so much for people to do and see aside from just racing. I see so many families at street races and, being a dad myself, that always touches me. A race is a great place to bring your children. Try it, they'll love it!
I'm also excited about the return to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, another track we've raced at previously and one I really enjoy. The greatest thing about Vegas is the surroundings. It's a cool oval in a beautiful desert setting. And you're in Vegas, baby. You can't beat that!
Those are just the changes for this year. Next year, as you know, we all go to a completely different car and engine, which will be a major challenge and an exciting moment in the history of IndyCar. Like all the current changes, I'm embracing this one, too.
Every year, my goal is trying to get what I want most – a championship. I have a great reason to come back to Indianapolis, of course. The challenge of winning keeps me motivated. I enjoy it. I love all of it, to be honest, which is probably why you see me smiling when I'm at the racetrack. I'm blessed to be able to do something I truly love. Every year seems to be more fun to me. I'm understanding more and more, learning with each race. That progress, and the challenge of winning, keeps me motivated.
Winning is what drives me. I don't go out there just to be competitive. There are obstacles and forces that are out of your control, but I love to compete and I love to win. I like knowing I can get the absolute most out of a car, but winning is what keeps me going.
Actually, every time I go to a racetrack, I feel like a kid. At the open test at Barber Motorsports Park in March, just picking up my helmet for the first time in months reminded me of when I was a child. Racing has given me so much joy all of these years, and part of that joy is knowing that you're up to the challenge of dealing with change.
This sport changes every year. That's part of the reason I fell in love with it in the first place.
• For the full version of this feature article, plus much more, check out the May 2011 issue of RACER magazine. CLICK HERE to subscribe.