R: Which brings us neatly onto the Newman/Haas Racing oval program. How confident are you heading into the next stretch of five races if we include two in Texas?
OS: Well, that's the big question mark we have. We have great quality people but they've been a little bit challenged in how much money they've been able to spend over the past two winters, compared with Ganassi and Penske. So, I honestly don't know. I have the confidence that our guys will be able to figure out the setups we need, I'm extremely excited about one-mile ovals like Milwaukee and Loudon. Funnily enough, Milwaukee was where I first raced for this team, back in 2005.
R: Oh, yeah: you beat your teammate Sebastien Bourdais first time out!
OS: Yes, I beat Bourdais and finished on the podium. And then, in 2008, when I was with KV, I broke the front wing at the start of the race with another car, came into the pits, lost a lap when I came out under yellow just behind the leader, and I was able to pass the leader, make up the lap and come through to finish sixth – one of my best ever short-oval races. So I am really looking forward to that because it will be really competitive like it always is, but we're hopeful to be up there.
On the mile-and-a-halfs, it's so much dependent on high terminal speed, we honestly don't know where we'll be. I know we're not going to suck. But are we going to be fighting for fifth or fighting for 15th? I don't know.
R: Well, the other reason to be encouraged for Milwaukee is that Rahal put a Newman/Haas car on the front row there in 2008 and 2009. And then for the mile-and-a-halfs, he and Robert Doornbos were 1-2 on the grid at Kansas in '09. I know you don't race at Kansas any more, but clearly the team knows what they're trying to achieve on 1.5-milers.
OS: Oh, that is for sure, that is for sure. I think so long as other teams didn't make big progress on the mile-and-a-halfs with all their winter work, I think we will be OK. Like I say, I know we won't suck.
R: Given Newman/Haas' performances and your own performances at Indy in previous years, I'm assuming you're more confident for the 500. Your practice speeds have looked OK, although I guess we don't know what Ganassi and Penske have up their sleeves.
OS: Yeah, but to be honest, we don't know what anyone's got, so don't read too much into the positions you've seen so far. We put the Telemundo car in the top five but I was in the tow of another car – and everyone else up there was in the tow, as well! Plus, everyone's at different downforce levels, too, so it's just difficult this early in practice to judge anyone yet. But Fast Friday? That will definitely be telling because, I can tell you, everyone will be on qualifying downforce levels.
The other thing we should remember is that this race is not always about pure speed. You need good grip because the race will be warmer than it is now – a lot warmer than it is right now, I hope! – and as the track heats up your car slides around a lot more. Then you also need solid pit stops, under yellow and under green conditions, and you also have to survive the double-file restarts. At the start, you don't mind if you pass 10 cars or if 10 cars pass you; you've got 500 miles to go. But then as the race goes on, you want to at least be holding position on the restart and, by the end, you're going for it, trying to gain as many positions as possible. It's going to be…er…interesting, let's say…
Right now, I just want to get out there on track.
R: It must be encouraging that your best qualifying performances this year have so far come at Barber and at Long Beach, two tracks that couldn't be more different – unless one was an oval, I suppose! So going back to your first answer, how likely is it that we will see you taking Newman/Haas Racing back to Victory Lane at some point this year?
OS: Man, I think the chances are high, I really do. Because in Long Beach I believe we had a real shot. And when the day comes, we're going to grab it with both hands, and honestly, that is still my big priority – to win a race. It is funny that we have also ended up being one of the most consistent. I want to win for myself, for the team and for Telemundo. After last year being at home, winning is what the doctor said I need for my mental health! Wouldn't it would be amazing if we could win the next one, huh?!
R: It would be quite a fairy tale, yeah. Obviously you have the new circuits, Baltimore and the totally revised Edmonton, on the schedule now. Could the experience of you and the team put you up on the front row and therefore with the speed to fight for the win?
OS: Well, I think there and the short ovals, there are probably 15 drivers who could be on the front row – with Will, of course! Are we among those 15? Absolutely, and I think you've seen that already. The crucial things are to guess what the red tires are going to do, take the right risks and make the perfect lap, and that could happen anywhere, to be honest, not just Baltimore and Edmonton. We need to keep thinking race to race, and do our best session to session: it's that simple and that difficult. And I firmly believe we're capable of winning again, yes.
R: That may even be enough to bring a smile to Craig's face.
OS: Ha! Exactly!
R: Final question: Who's going to win the Spanish Formula 1 Grand Prix this weekend?
OS: Hopefully my dad will end up winning after the weekend is over. He is the Barcelona track director!