If I were a “glass half-empty” guy, I'd point out that we've qualified in the top eight at the first four rounds of the IZOD IndyCar Series yet we've only finished a race in the top eight once, and so we're 14th in the championship.
If I were a “glass half-full” guy, I'd say that despite being 14th in the championship, we're only 15 points away from seventh, and that three times out of four, we've put the No. 22 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car into the Firestone Fast Six in qualifying despite opposition from four Ganassi cars, three Penskes and four Andretti Autosport cars. Definitely something we should be proud of.
I'm neither of those types of guy: I'm a realist. I'm well aware we can't alter what's in the past, and although we all have to learn from mistakes, we also have to recognize when things are out of our hands. I feel sorry for my fans, but I also feel sorry for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and our sponsors that we haven't yet been able to get them on a podium yet, despite showing some strong pace. But it's exactly because of that pace that we can look at going onward and upward.
St. Petersburg and Barber I covered in my last blog, but then came Long Beach, and I think Helio Castroneves sending me into a spin is pretty well documented. I was gutted, and the team was justifiably furious, but I don't think it was ever going to be a top-five day for us, because the car was a bit of a handful. We made a change during warm-up that felt OK, but as it transpired, it only worked if you were flat-out. As the tires wore down in the race, the car pushed on corner-entry and went loose on corner exits, so I couldn't get a run on anyone to make any passes.
When a car's not handling well, you can't do a good job of saving fuel. As a driver, you're compensating for its handling by trying to get the same lap speed in different ways – ways that use up more fuel. So I think we'd have been jumped by Dario, Scott and Helio going a lap or two longer. Looking at the results, I reckon a seventh or sixth was possible – not great, but a hell of a lot better than how it turned out.
Once the spin had shuffled us to the back, the team had to try and think about how they could still salvage something, and switched to a pretty ambitious alternate strategy and once I was out in clear air and able to push hard, the handling improved, as expected and I think I was quicker than the leaders at that point, but still a heck of a long way back after going off-sequence. But then after the third pit stop, at Turn 8 I locked up the rear tires when they were still cold and when I released the brakes, they didn't come unlocked soon enough to prevent me from backing it into the tire wall. Rookie error! So the team got me back out with a new rear wing and toe-link but we were a few laps down so it was basically over for us.
A few learning points all round then, but I think we need to be careful to not beat ourselves – that goes for the team and for myself. Last year on this blog I talked about how tough the field was, but trust me, it's something else again this year. As a result, a lot of teams and drivers are almost over thinking or trying too hard when certain situations come up. That's why, apart from Will and Dario, there hasn't been a lot of consistency in the results out there and that's why, behind those two, the rest of us are pretty bunched up in the championship table.
Following the race, there was a lot of talk about how certain drivers get punished for on-track incidents, and others seem to get away with the same crimes. And the explanation from Race Control was just bizarre, to put it politely. My problem isn't with Helio so much (he did send me a polite e-mail apologizing for what happened), although I am amazed by how many accidents he's had this year. My main issue is that the rules are applied inconsistently. It's not like me to go against the series or the establishment, but I felt something needed to be said in that interview I did on Versus in Brazil. The facts are that I was frustrated by Helio's error, but I wasn't angry until Race Control failed to do anything about him.
Still, there was something ironic about the fact that Helio and I ended up qualifying alongside each other at Brazil. But there, the battle wasn't so much against other drivers as against the weather. I think it was important that the IZOD IndyCar Series showed we were trying to hold the race on Sunday, because that's when they scheduled it, and no one should fault them for that. But, in reality, the conditions were impossible; it was like driving on ice while wearing a blindfold. On Monday, it was still like driving on ice but the majority of the time you could see. There was one alarming moment where a bunch of us were following Tag, I think, and I don't know if he got stuck in fourth gear down the back straight but suddenly we all bunched up and this rear wing loomed at us from out of the mist, and the car I was alongside and I just basically swerved either side of him and missed him by inches.
Anyway, it was still very, very slick out there, especially since we were on full dry settings, thinking a dry line might emerge or that we'd just spend the day sitting behind the pace car. It was so bad that I managed to spin on the exit of a corner while off-power, which I thought was pretty special… Not really sure what causes that, except the front really gripping up on exit. I can't even say it was satisfying coming up through the field to finish seventh after my incident at Turn 1 on the Sunday. It just means I made my mistake earlier than everyone else made theirs! We had some radio problems which meant the team couldn't get me into the pits as soon as they would have liked. If we'd been able to do that we could have been looking at a top-4 finish even with the spin. It really was one of those chaotic races we see now and again and I think everyone other than Will thought of the weekend as a missed opportunity.
At least, driving for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, I feel our consistency in terms of performance can be carried over into the ovals. And that's important because it's The Big One next. I can't wait for the centennial Indianapolis 500. It's the world's biggest race, but on its 100th birthday it's going to be even more special. And with Paul Tracy as one of my teammates – along with Davey Hamilton and Ana Beatriz – it's going to be an entertaining couple of weeks, I know that!
I think we'll be perceived as outsiders for victory – like everyone who's good but not in a Penske or Ganassi! – but that race can get pretty crazy, and smart fuel strategies can put you in the right place at the right time so long as you have the pace. I'm confident we do. Last year I qualified 11th, and myself, and D&R teammates Mike Conway and Tomas Scheckter all took turns in the lead. It's a pretty special feeling, as you can imagine. D&R had good cars and, because we operated well as a team, we finished seventh, ahead of two Penskes!
This year will be tougher, but because of my confidence in our team, my ambitions are higher. I think qualifying in the top 10 is a possibility, because we've learned a lot since last time, and there are a couple of things on the car we want to change to make it even better than last year. Can't wait to get out on track this Saturday, and I hope to see you there.