I had a carbon brace made and it really did support in the pushing motion, so I figured it would be OK for Barber which is a relatively smooth track. It's also a fun track that puts a lot of demands on the car and tires, so I was really pleased at how the team progressed since our preseason test there. Back in March, we had the setup that Mike Conway had used to get on the front row last year, but it wasn't working on this year's tires. So we made some modifications that gave us a nice balance, but we sacrificed performance: I think at that test we were only 14th or 15th. But again, the engineering staff dug in, did their research and last weekend they gave the Charter car both balance and speed. We're still not Penske or Ganassi, but we were in the mix up front and got into the Firestone Fast Six again. Knowing the team has this capability is what makes me happy that I re-signed with Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl last winter.
Unfortunately, as you know, the race ended with a broken car when again we probably could have been top five. I had been battling Oriol Servia, and gone a lap longer than him on the first stint, and the idea was to go two laps longer on the second and jump him that way. But Takuma Sato and I touched on the first lap after a restart, which broke his front wing and gave me a left-rear puncture. I used all the road because I didn't realize he still had the nose of his car alongside me even though, being a bit taller, the way I'm positioned in the car means I can see 90 degrees either side! I could not see anyone to the side of me, and it's not an oval where you have spotters to help guide you.
It's down to the driver on the outside to be far enough alongside, so the driver on the inside knows he's there. If you loiter around on the outside rear corner of someone on the exit of a turn, you have to be ready to take avoiding action. When I'd been put in Takuma's situation – where the car ahead runs me out of road and puts me on the grass – I've had to lift and steer out of his way. It's just the risk you take when you're trying an outside pass. There is a reason that outside passes have such a low success rate…
Then the crash with Raphael Matos was what finally put us out. As we went into Turn 5 wide, he tried the outside pass. Rafa did a good job as he was ahead and gave me plenty of room on entry, but on the exit he changed his line just slightly. My mid-corner understeer meant I couldn't tighten my line any further. I was thinking if I gunned the throttle, my wheel would make contact with his sidepod and just knock him wide, but my natural instinct is to save my car, so I tried to tighten my line. Unfortunately, it washed out and my front hit his rear just enough to start turning him. Rafa's obviously upset and thinks it's my fault, but if he'd run just another six inches wide and we'd both survive and he wins the corner. I'm gutted that I didn't see it coming, but once I was in the trap, I felt there was nothing more I could do to avoid the situation.
I guess these are all effects of the side-by-side restarts and we are now finding situations that are happening five or six times a race that would normally happen two or three times a season. The racing has changed and I don't think any of us have really appreciated that it has. We are running side by side for half a lap – and that never used to happen before.
I think the fact that all the drivers and teams are finding this season even tougher than last year has proven some preseason theories wrong. Some people thought the teams would try and save money for the new 2012 car but, no, they're used to the mentality that every year counts. Everyone's going for it. This year's IZOD IndyCar Series championship means just as much as next year's and just as much as last year's. It's good competition and the development process does not let up.
Last weekend, Simon Pagenaud was my teammate and I think he did an excellent job substituting for Ana, considering it was his first ever race in an IndyCar. His feedback was good, the two of us worked well together and we split the load. He's already done a year of Champ Car (although four years ago!) and he's been racing in the ALMS in high-downforce LMP cars, so I thought the team's choice of him as Ana's sub was totally logical. I think Ana did the right thing by resting her scaphoid: I've broken that bone before and I know she'll get back sooner by resting it. Missing Barber was a smart move on her part.
I'm looking forward to Long Beach, one of the IZOD IndyCar Series' true classics. Of course, it helps knowing that I had a really good car there last year (qualified third, finished second) and that we've done a few things since then that could help us further. I'm hoping to put the No. 22 Z-Line Designs car right at the front again. Sure, all the usual suspects are going to be strong, but I really believe we can put it on the front row. And if we're doing double-file restarts, I want to stay in the top two from start to finish. Believe me, Turn 1 at Long Beach is going to be BUSY this weekend – and, I suspect, so are the Turn 1 corner workers.