After four rounds we have two runner-up positions and we're fourth in the championship table, ahead of both Ganassi cars and one Penske. My optimism for the season was justified and only one or two occasions – some within our control, some of them out of our hands – could have put the Z-Line Designs No. 22 car higher up.
I know every driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series can say that, though, so let's just say that I really think Dreyer & Reinbold Racing is proving a lot of people wrong in 2010. Some of them thought I was being too optimistic at the start of the year, and assumed the Penske and Ganassi cars would quickly occupy the first five places in the point standings. Well, both myself and Ryan Hunter-Reay are spoiling that domination, and I think that's great news for the series.
Certainly not all my predictions have been right, though. As you'll recall, I ended my last column so optimistic heading to the third round at Barber Motorsports Park. If I'd been told that I'd only be 11th on the grid, I would have been massively disappointed. And guess what: I still am, because it simply came down to us not believing in ourselves! We made a couple of changes during practice, and didn't think they were making any difference and we changed back – and in hindsight, we should have stuck with them. It was hard because the track was changing, and you're second guessing yourself the whole weekend. We were practicing at something like 9 a.m. on the Saturday, but not qualifying until about 4 p.m. and so the track conditions were 180 degrees different, and the temperature was about 50 degrees different! That's how it felt, at least…
So we just didn't get it right on the day, and it cost us, big time. The way the field is at the moment, any little slip will see you bumped. You can't afford to get it wrong. And once the changes had been made, there was no way out: they were major enough that in the time available during qualifying, we couldn't have switched back to what we had. It wasn't until afterward, when we were able to sit down and analyze everything, that we were able to say, “OK, we aborted the other options a bit too early, so let's go back that way.” The proof of what we'd done wrong was there with my D&R teammate, Mike Conway, who had stuck with our changes a bit longer. He made a couple of additional tweaks, got it really working, and stuck his car on the front row.
So that left a big task ahead for the No. 22 branch of the team on Sunday: a bunch of cars to pass on a circuit where I thought it would be almost impossible to overtake. But thankfully, that was another prediction I got wrong! We were able to make things happen. The car was so good in the race, and not only that, it looked after my Firestones really well. Once we got 15 laps into a stint, and everyone else was really struggling, we were ready to pounce, and that's a similar situation to what we had in St. Pete. At Barber, we also set fastest race lap, and that's encouraging. We're working things out: sometimes it's at the start of the weekend, sometimes it's at the end, but it's a good foundation we're building right now and encouraging for the road and street courses coming up in July and August.
It was disappointing that our performance in the Barber race was only for seventh place but, as a driver, it makes you feel like a hero when you can start to overtake people. Through the race I was looking for different lines. Obviously, when you're close behind cars, you do everything you can to keep a wing out in clean air so you've got some downforce. Also, although everyone was complaining that the track surface is very abrasive, I thought that on the racing line it was actually getting very polished, and that made it feel like you were losing grip. If you went off line, you could find more grip on the unused asphalt, so that's another reason you'll have seen me taking different lines to corners.
You're kind of led by the car and what it wants, so if it understeers on turn-in, you generally turn a little earlier or you play about with the pedals a little to see if it likes more or less weight on the front, and so on. You have to understand what the car wants so you can maximize the tire grip and mechanical grip. That's especially important on long corners and decreasing-radius corners in particular. It's so easy to overload the front axle, so you have to dance around on the pedals a little.
We pitted at the first yellow, which, as the race winner Helio Castroneves proved to almost all of us, was the wrong thing to do, but from mid-grid and with a strong car, we had to roll the dice. From then on it was just flat-out trying to make up places, and like I said, it was hard but not impossible. I think Barber would benefit from having a more legitimate overtaking opportunity, but at the same time, they don't want to ruin the facility. That's the dilemma the owners have, because it's a pretty cool circuit and a fantastic facility, and if you start changing it, there's a chance of screwing things up. They need to study the layout very carefully before deciding what to do and where to do it. Maybe they should call the guys at iRacing and do some design proposals on a simulator first before they start digging.