For Justin and the DCR team, the results haven't matched the potential..yet. (LAT photo)
I was told the other day that being a fan of mine has become too frustrating! Well, my message to him and to anyone who follows us is, Don't give up! We're certainly not going to, because, despite having little to show for it, the bright spots have been very bright for Dale Coyne Racing, and I'm still convinced that we're going to win a race this year.
There were times when it's been hard to maintain this upbeat outlook. In St. Petersburg, we didn't have as much fuel in the car as we thought we had, so we ran dry as we came into the pits. That was due to an incorrect calibration on the gauge.
At Long Beach, we did know how much fuel was in the car but it just wasn't enough; there must have been a glitch in the system, because it said that at a certain fuel mileage we could make it, but we actually beat that figure, and yet, later in the race, it came with the correct answer to say we couldn't make it without a third stop! That was a real punch in the face because, when we were leading, for the fuel number we were getting, our car was clearly very fast and we were pulling away from the opposition.
In between those two fuelish moments (see what I did there?), there was Barber – which was a disaster, plain and simple. On lap 1 of first practice, the car caught fire so we missed first and second practice. Then, practice 3 was only 20 minutes long and it got canceled due to fog. So we went into qualifying with no track time under our wheels, and we just weren't close enough on setup. As a result, we took a flyer on setup for the race, and…that didn't work, either. After only eight laps of a stint, the rear tires were shot, so that made the next 20 laps of each stint a bit interesting. It felt like I was on ice, and although I tried everything I could think of to try and reduce the oversteer, even off throttle the car would go loose. At that stage, you begin to run out of ideas.
And then in Brazil, it was our fault that we didn't have the 2.5lb camera-weight ballast in it during qualifying so our third-row grid spot was thrown out and we were put to the back of the grid. When you're 22lbs overweight already, as we are, that missing weight isn't going to make a difference, but I realize rules are rules. Then in the race we had a gearbox issue at first, and then our race ended altogether with an engine problem. Oh wait – before that, we lost radio contact because my earpieces came unplugged after getting caught up on my belts two-thirds of the way through the race.
Hopefully, everything that happened in Sao Paulo is the last of our bad luck and we can have some clear races where all we're doing is chasing the perfect setup, rather than feeling like we've got one or both hands tied behind our back. The fact is we have been quick, we've been making overtaking maneuvers, we led Long Beach legitimately, we've qualified in Firestone Fast Six – and so in terms of pace, we've lived up to my preseason expectations. I have faith in Dale, his team and my engineer Bill Pappas; all the reasons I joined Dale Coyne Racing still hold true. Now we need all the positives to happen in one weekend, and that can happen if we maintain our methodical approach. It will get better with time.
Honda's new turbo seemed to make a small improvement in Brazil – but I mean “seemed to” because there's nothing definitive, in my opinion. The situation is blurred by different downforce levels on a lot of the cars. I think a lot of the Honda-powered cars were pretty trimmed out and that was definitely the way we went. We figured that you can't pass people on corners so it's best to have the car set up to make passes and take advantage of the long straights. We set the fastest trap speed of 188mph (pretty respectable for a street circuit!) in Brazil, and we passed Will Power on that restart by staying with him in the slow corners and then towing past on the straight. Sure, those downforce levels made the brake zones a bit tricky – we were snaking around quite a bit – but it was a tactic that I think would have paid dividends.
Anyway, like I say, it's hard to tell if the new turbos made a difference: ask the Honda drivers and they'll tell you it didn't, Chevy drivers will say it did, but maybe everybody's lying! As far as I'm concerned, this is a BorgWarner deal, and if they say that this is the correct way to equalize single-turbo and twin-turbo engines, I'll go by that. I know people have wondered if that will make the engine more fuel-thirsty, but we're already painted into a corner because we don't have the right size fuel tanks in our cars: we can only get 18 gallons in instead of 18.5. We've called Dallara to get proper replacements and they tell us they don't have any. So much for spec parts, huh?
Looking ahead, the colossus that is Indy isn't just on our radar: for every IndyCar driver and team, it covers our radar! And I go in feeling very positive. The recent test went well, and I was pleasantly surprised by how the car drove; it is possible to get a good balance on it. Obviously, speeds are down at the moment, but I think it will come. I think the boost level we ran at the test was down from the road course level, but I don't know if it was down from what it will be in qualifying or the race.
The only concern we have is the amount of turbulent air this car leaves behind it: it creates a big tow for a following car, but it's then very hard for that car to stay close through the corners, so passing will be done on the straights.
Let's face it, there are a lot of unanswered questions, and that has to be good for the series, and for the 96th Indianapolis 500. I can't wait – so long as we really have managed to shake off all the bad luck…
Thanks for reading.
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