The other two have to build and learn throughout the year, given their respective handicaps. With three sports car rookies in a new ALMS team – if a veteran squad in other forms of motorsport – the goal at Conquest has to be gaining laps, keeping the car in one piece, and adjusting the mindset, Plowman relates.
“For 15 years, it's been just you and everybody else,” he says. “Now, it's having teammates, driving the same car, and you have to be mindful of the setup changes you make. I also have to learn the carbon brakes. Patrick told me to drag the carbon brakes a little bit, which helps them get up to temperature, as they're unpredictable when cold. Jumping in with cold tires, cold brakes and cold driver, you have to learn quickly.
“One of the biggest things I'll have to do is get up to speed as fast as possible,” he adds. “The worst for us is probably Long Beach, where we'll only have a two-hour morning session to get the car setup, get me up to speed, get me out, then get David up to speed as he's new too. I really have to do my job as quickly as possible. It will be funny now as we used to joke about the sports car guys waking us up at 7 in the morning, now that'll be me!”
Baguette's biggest handicap comes from running a petrol-powered P1 car, where only a podium is a realistic target. Winning is all but impossible given the performance gap between their car and Audi's diesels, even despite rules changes made in the offseason to reduce the diesel power.
“Our expectations are to be the best among the petrol-powered cars,” Baguette admits. “The big marker point (later in the year) will be the Toyotas. We still don't know where they are compare to us even if I'm sure they'll be very quick. But the diesels will stay at the front.”
INDY RETURN PROSPECTS
For 2012, the best chance of seeing Plowman, Baguette and/or Matos in an IndyCar will be at Indianapolis. Neither the ALMS nor WEC has a conflicting round with qualifying and race weekends. The first two are hopeful of securing an Indy 500 one-off, with Matos optimistic of a full-season return in the future.
“Of course that's still my personal goal, and it would be logical to do so with Conquest if the funding was there,” Plowman says. “Eric has the car. He's working on a number of things, but the perfect situation is the full ALMS and the Indy 500.”
Conquest's issue is engine-related, as the team still doesn't have an engine contract for its IndyCar. Baguette, a former Conquest driver in his only full IndyCar season (2010), is also on the hunt for a 500 ride.
“We tried during last year to assemble a full-season IndyCar program, but we quickly saw that it would be very difficult without any money,” Baguette says. “I still want to do the Indy 500 especially after what we showed last year. I hope we'll be able to find a good opportunity again.”
Matos' desire to return to IndyCar is immeasurable. As a Brazilian driver, he's hopeful to carry the torch beyond the current trio of Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and series newcomer Rubens Barrichello, all of whom are 36 or older. At 30, Matos has time on his side to make a return and keep the flame in Brazil, a country known for its rabid fan base.
“For sure I want to go back!” Matos exclaims. “Especially with the way the schedule is now with so many road courses, it really fits my natural abilities and what I grew up doing. Indy is always very special and I've always done well at the Speedway.
“When I look back, I qualified third on my second ever IndyCar race in Long Beach, and led that race as well as a rookie driving for a one-car team. We've also run in fourth and third the two years in the Indy 500, and those things bring me the confidence there.
“IndyCar is starting a new era and it will be interesting to see who will have the strongest package. Talking to some teams, I feel good when talking to team owners. I think I got into people's heads in my first two and a half seasons in IndyCars.”
The motivation factor is there for all three of them. Although their paths to IndyCar have been temporarily detoured, the desire is still there to maximize their sports car opportunities, starting this weekend in Sebring.