Well, I just looked and realized I hadn't blogged for you since just after Mid-Ohio, so let's quickly recap: Infineon was OK but, as you know, the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team and myself have high expectations on road and street courses, so starting seventh and finishing sixth is just a so-so result. It's only when you take into account that we finished on the tail of a couple of Penskes and ahead of Ryan Hunter-Reay and Tony Kanaan that you think, “Actually, that was reasonable.”
Then what did excite us was the feeling we were making good progress on the ovals after Chicago and Kentucky. In the first of those, we finished seventh, and then in the second, we didn't always have outstanding pace, but I was very pleased with the consistency of the handling, even in traffic. However, then we went to Motegi, which was a real struggle, and we qualified 18th and finished 16th. We have a few theories about that and will hopefully soon get to experiment with different avenues of development.
Weirdest of all was what happened at Homestead, though. The test there on the Monday was very informative, and we studied the data very carefully. I wish I could go into more detail, but I'm not prepared to give away our secrets because we went so well in qualifying! Taking sixth on the grid, our best oval grid position of the year, should have been the launching pad for signing off the 2010 season in a really good way. It was the easiest car I've ever driven and it was quick – and I know I'm not the first driver to point out that the faster the car, the easier it is to drive on these 1.5-mile ovals.
However, from that setup we developed our race setup, and come the race, that didn't seem to work for us in the turbulent air. The car became way too free. OK, I didn't get a great start, but even eight car-lengths back from the guy in front, I almost backed my No. 22 Z-Line Designs car into the wall on lap 1, and by lap 2 I'd run out of adjustments. I'd maxed out my bars and my weight-jacker and it was a case of hanging on for the rest of the race. Interesting yes, but very baffling also.
That made for a long evening, and I think all of us on the 22 car felt frustrated because we'd had such a quick car in qualifying. Seriously, it felt fantastic to have out-qualified all the Andretti Autosport guys plus one of the Penskes – on an oval! – so we really wanted to finish the season on a high. But the car just wouldn't stick because it was too on edge in race trim, and I'm sorry to say I didn't leave the track with any firm conclusions about why it was like that.
Still, it had been interesting to see the speed we produced in qualifying, and it couldn't have come at a better event – that's to say, the last of the season. It's definitely one of the factors for me already having signed with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for 2011. There really is a lot of untapped potential here, and a lot of talented people. If we stay focused, keep on having a very logical pattern of what we're doing in testing and carrying each plan out to the letter, there's no reason why we shouldn't be winning races in 2011.
Of course, there was the continuity factor, too. Not since winter 2005 had I been able to renew a contract with a team two months before the end of a year, and it had become so frustrating to go through the same thing, year after year – all that uncertainty through the Christmas period, joining a new team, getting to know the team, developing the road course setups, having the oval testing shoved to one side, and then get to the end of the season and have people saying, “Oh, he's not very good on ovals.” It made me want to say, “Well do you realize we did only one day of testing on an oval?”
So, 2011 is going to be different. I'm with a team that I already know has a good baseline for a road course setup and, while we'll keep working on that, we want to alter our focus to the ovals and elevate ourselves to where we know we should be. We do keep getting little glimmers of where we could be. This last season, the team policy was to exploit the fact that myself and (originally) Mike Conway had shown pace on road courses in the past and focus on trying to maximize what we had there to try and get wins. We came close on several occasions. For 2011, we'll be more balanced, and maybe even bias our test days – not that there's many of them – toward working on oval setups.
That strikes me as a very sound plan. If we can bring oval setups up to the quality of our road course setups, and then fine-tune from there, I think we'll be in really good shape. We have a good group of mechanics and I enjoy working with them, so there's good potential there, too.
It would be very hard to walk away from this after just a year, especially as we all need to bring our A-game in 2011. The competition, in terms of numbers, will be tougher, assuming that Graham Rahal gets a third Ganassi seat, so it's important that we maximize every opportunity in every area. That's the only way to deal with the situation: make our position better, and do it fast. That's another reason for signing with DRR: to me, agreeing to something in mid-November shows how serious they are in trying to move themselves forward and be proactive. The sooner the deal was signed, the sooner we could focus on the year ahead, the better chance we're giving ourselves to start punching above our weight from the first moment we hit the track in the new year.
I'm going to Indy at the end of this month to be with the team to discuss the 2010 season and how we're going to move forward in 2011. That's the next step. And then I guess we'll be discussing when we should next test, where we can get most benefit from testing, and also the things we want to test. The off-season is when you can make the most progress in a concentrated time span, trying development items and fine-tuning what we've got, so it's important we make the most of the time we have.
In between times I'll be doing the usual – being a husband, being a dad, working out a lot and doing a lot of cycling. A little bit of iRacing here and there, too. I host some races on there and everyone is invited. You just need to follow me on Twitter [@JustinWilson22] to find out when they are occurring.
As of now, I have no idea who my teammate is going to be, and the team is talking to quite a few people. I'm just pleased I've got my deal sorted out and it doesn't bother me too much who they choose. However, obviously I'd like a strong teammate. Mike was great for the first part of 2010, and I think we helped push the program along. But I'm aware there are plenty of good free agents out there right now who could help us develop the car.
I can't talk about the 2010 and '11 seasons without also adding how excited I am about the 2012 season. It's a great situation when every single thing you hear about it is positive: three engine manufacturers, at least three aero-kit suppliers, and the promotion of the series by IZOD. I think the IndyCar Series is going in the direction it needs to and we want it to. The TV figures aren't where they need to be, but it seems like everyone's very serious about the sport and it's going to keep growing. Even as it is right now, this is the place I wanted to be for the next 10 years, but with the increase in momentum, and raising its profile, it's even more what I'm looking for.
Happy Thanksgiving and thanks for reading.