Going from Champ Car to IndyCar in 2008, from turbo to normally aspirated engines, I noticed that initial throttle response was better, so converting back to turbos is like driving an improved Champ Car; the turbo lag is reduced but there is still a noticeable delay in pickup. However, once the turbo spools up, you do get a decent kick in the pants. Having said that, I do wish there was an extra 2000rpm, because the Honda engine is really coming on song just before you hit the 12,000rpm limiter. (Wilson was on pole at Portland in 2007 in a Champ Car, at LEFT).
Handling-wise, I'd say that once everyone has the DW12 more figured out, it could compress the field from front to back. But right now, there's still so much scope to adjust the handling, it's about who's smart and discovers all those things first. At Barber, I initially ran the 2011 Barber race tires and we weren't setting the pace and we weren't too far off, either, but it was fairly tricky to drive. Then we got two laps on the tire compound that was used at Motegi last year and that just transformed it for me, and I went one second quicker. With more time to play with setups and for me to familiarize myself with the car, I think there is a lot of potential to be tapped.
Obviously, there are a lot of unknowns in the IZOD IndyCar Series this year – we don't know which of the three engines is going to be the best. What I'm confident about is that wherever Honda is in the power race, Dale Coyne Racing can be mixing it with Chip Ganassi Racing, the gold standard of the Honda-powered teams – actually, the gold standard of IndyCar racing for the past four years! Sure, we'll have our bad days, but I think we'll have a lot of good days and I think there's a good opportunity here.
We have Bill Pappas (FAR RIGHT) on my car, John Dick on my teammate James Jakes' car, and Dale is assembling a strong crew, too. Maybe it will take a little bit of time – we weren't the first team to start testing, that's for sure – but we have the sort of people around us who can work things out in a hurry and can propel us forward.
Our next test isn't until Sebring – the official test next week – but as team manager Phil Le Pan pointed out, there is a parts shortage at the moment, we haven't got all the latest bits yet, so what's the point in going testing with a car that isn't in the specification we'll be racing in at St. Pete? That situation is the same for a lot of teams.
One thing I'd like to clarify before I sign off. There was some talk about myself and Tony Kanaan boycotting the race at Texas this year. That's not really what we were trying to say. What's wrong is that we feel the DW12 has too much downforce for the amount of horsepower it's producing on ovals. The aerodynamic package gives a huge draft effect from a long way back and allows cars to follow each other closely, but they can't pass. We lost Dan Wheldon last October, and we want lessons to have been learned so that we can avoid the mindless pack racing and take the sport forward.
As a result, I spoke to [IndyCar vp of technology] Will Phillips at length last Friday, and he says there is still plenty of room to take quite a bit of downforce out from the underwing, so he's confident we can get to a point where we're having to lift. We may still be able to run flat on new tires in qualifying, but in the race, we'll have to lift – so the cars will not be running in a huge pack, we'll need racecraft and hopefully it will be an entertaining race. No one – not the spectators or the drivers – want to see a situation where there are 28 cars just going around like they're on a highway but at 220mph. Will has given me confidence that there's going to be modifications made, and that at the 15-car test at TMS in March, we'll see significant progress.
I hope that over the next few weeks on the run-up to St. Pete, there will be significant progress made by Dale Coyne Racing, too, so that we can hit the ground running. There can be no let-up from any team if it hopes to compete with Ganassi, so the more track time we get and more data we acquire in the next month, the better off we'll be. I've got to say, with this new formula, it's a great feeling to have so much buzz around the series once more. Now I hope to be creating a lot of that buzz with DCR.
I'll get back to you soon.