First of all, thank you to the well-wishers regarding my hand injury which I got in a wreck during qualifying at Mid-Ohio. Now it's in a brace, my thumb feels OK. It doesn't hurt too much: it's more of an annoyance because I don't have the strength in it to do too much. I normally drive with my thumbs over the steering wheel spokes, but can't do that anymore with the right hand until it heals. For the race at Mid-Ohio, I just had to have my hand at the top of the wheel, like Jean Alesi used to do with both hands.
In the Sonoma test, we eventually found a comfortable arrangement which gives enough support and still allows us to be competitive. While I miss being able to use my thumb while driving, out of the cockpit it hasn't been so much of a worry: I don't feel the urge to give a thumbs-up to any of our results recently, except that pole position in Toronto.
That was a strange weekend of emotional highs and lows – and both those feelings were there from the moment the track action started on Friday. After our first run around the streets of Toronto, I pulled into the pits and I probably had a shocked look on my face. I told our team, “The car's terrible, it's a nightmare to drive, we've got a lot of work to do,” and so on. And they looked at me a bit confused and said, “Well, you're P1 by about seven tenths…” That was a climb-down for me. I said, “Oh… Well OK, it's not that bad. Maybe we can just tweak it a bit…” Funny how quickly your perspective changes.
It just seemed the No. 22 Z-Line Designs car was ultra-fast from the moment it hit the track, and I think the secret was to free it up at the rear to get the quick changes of direction. It was a bit too loose at times – I had a little spin at one point in practice, I think – but it gave us quick lap times. Understeer around that track is just a killer of lap times. So from the balance point of view all we had to do then was increase the mechanical grip and settle down the rear end without blunting the front-end bite.
By the time qualifying came around, we were confident of running our Q1 session on the harder black tires. I wasn't so confident for Q2 but I think we were quickest in that session on blacks, too. The downside of that is that we hadn't yet tried the option reds, and that nearly bit us in the Firestone Fast Six showdown, because you don't have time for two runs. It was a now-or-never situation and the reds brought in a little bit of mid-corner understeer – they increase the grip at the rear more than the front – so we couldn't quite get the turn-in we wanted in some of the high-speed corners. But we still took pole and if there'd been time for a setup tweak and a second run, we could have easily broken into the 59s.
So, at that stage, it looked like we were heading for a good weekend and we led the opening stint. Then, after Dario's strategy had worked for him, he led the middle of the race. It was a tough middle stint, with Dario, Will and myself catching a group of backmarkers all fighting among themselves. Dario dived into the pits first without getting held up by them, and at that point we thought he'd played it just right. However, then Will and myself went flat-out and we lost a little bit of time behind the backmarkers – but not too much – and as we came around that lap, my team came on the radio and told me we had three laps before the in-lap. I got back on the radio and said, “No way; I'm pitting this lap.” And we came in, the team gave me a great pit stop, got me out ahead of Will and both of us emerged ahead of Dario so I had the lead.
We were in the lead and about four seconds up on Will and Dario when the yellow came out on lap 66, and I expected on the restart that I'd be able to pull away again. We'd been running lap times of 62sec flat and pulling away from everyone, taking it easy on the equipment, saving the tires and brakes and I felt I had plenty of speed in reserve if Will caught back up in the event of a full course caution. Well, sure enough, we got a yellow, and I worked my tires that whole yellow period of four or five laps, keeping them clean. Yet all through that last complex before getting the green on the pit straight, it was like I was on ice: I could barely keep it on the track. So coming through the last corner, I had a huge moment, thought I'd hit the wall, and Will drove past me even before we got down to the braking zone.
At that point I think, “Stay calm, it will be fine,” and I see Will almost drive it into the wall. Then down to Turn 5, Will almost hits the wall again and before I know it, I'm following him in on the same line! I even ask the team on the radio whether I have a puncture, the handling's that bad. I get into Turn 6, and just after turn-in, the rear steps out and I hit the lockstops on the steering, trying to save it. Somehow it comes back, I get back on the power and again it steps sideways. At Turn 7, it hangs on longer, but then it gets sideways, and I never get it quite straight enough again before I need to hit the brakes for Turn 8, and that locks the inside rear. I have to decide, “Do I come off the brakes and stove it into the wall, or stay on them and spin?” So I choose the second route….