So that was fun driving on slicks in the wet of Sao Paulo. Unfortunately, it wasn't fast. But to be honest, it didn't make a lot of difference to the finishing position of the No. 26 Venom Energy Andretti Autosport car. Maybe we'd have been two or three positions higher, but so what? That wasn't the make or break; what was make or break was our strategy.
It's easy to be the Monday morning quarterback and say I should have pitted with Will Power, but at the time we were trying to do something different to beat him. Given the number of mistakes and incidents through the afternoon, it seemed reasonable to expect another full-course caution. Unfortunately for us, it never came, whereas Dario Franchitti spun and caused the yellow flag he needed! The day I spin and it puts me fourth, I'll be happy.
Long Beach saw my whole weekend defined by qualifying, when I clipped a wall on my third lap and bent a toe link. That was a shame, because even with only three laps under my belt, I was 14th, so that was a real missed opportunity. We were going to be right there pace-wise, definitely able to stick it in the Firestone Fast Six like Ryan Hunter-Reay and Mike Conway did. I was driving exactly Ryan's car, and that mistake left me very disappointed. Still, I'd rather a mistake while trying, than not. Those places take a certain discipline, and that day I didn't have it and the collision bent a toe link.
Twenty-four hours later I was depressed again – we had just gone on reds when everyone else was on blacks, so I'm pretty sure that would have been a fun stint, but then we had that collision with Bourdais. I had no idea he was there: I even looked in my mirror and didn't see him and I wasn't warned on the radio. So I guess it was 50/50 between me and Dad as to whose fault it was…Well, actually, Sebastien does have brakes!
But, whatever, I'd say it was one of those dumb incidents that was easily avoidable from three different ways. All in all, a bummer of a weekend for us guys, but obviously major props to Mike Conway and the team for getting Andretti Autosport the win.
Mike and Ryan are upping my street course game big time. There are just certain places where you know somebody's going to be fast, and Barber's one of those for me, but at Long Beach and Brazil, we just know Ryan's going to be fast. Sometimes I can drive his setup, but I'm not going to be as quick with a car set up for his style: I'll be two tenths off, and that two tenths is a big difference that can mean you'll suddenly find yourself 16th. That's the quality of driver in the IZOD IndyCar Series these days. (The lack of mistakes in the second half of the Brazil race, even though the surface was like ice, is another example.)
So now I'm trying to find that one change that I can make to Ryan's setup that will make it just that little bit more drivable for me. If I use his setup, it's super-hard for me to pull a time out because it's very edgy. If I get the lap time, great, we'll be sitting pretty, but at the same time I'm risking crashing everywhere because it's not suitable for me. Like I say, that one change will make all the difference and will give me a car that is…I guess “inviting” is the word. I like a car I that I can really attack with, but with Ryan's setup you have to be so smooth, it just demands a different discipline. That's why, in Sao Paulo, I got my butt kicked in qualifying. I had a lap going that was easily going to get us into the top 12 segment of qualifying and then the rear stepped out just a little and there went those two tenths.
However, we survived the craziness of the early laps and got up to sixth in the first few laps of the race. That left us looking good for the second day, but as I mentioned before, we went wrong on strategy. Plain and simple, we should have brought home a trophy from Brazil. And we could have been top five or top six at all the races but survival has become key, partly because of the double-file restarts. When we survived without an incident, like at Barber, we finished fourth and, at Long Beach, we could have finished fifth or sixth even from 14th on the grid. Look where Danica finished. I swear that when everything comes together on one weekend – when a smooth run in qualifying is the same weekend that things go smooth on race day, we'll have some silverware to show for it.
There wouldn't be a better time for that to happen than Indy 500. I tell you, I'm ready to go win that race, whatever it takes. What's going to tell the story will be qualifying. I ran flat-out for four laps last year and I qualified 16th, and that's not going to cut it this year. There are more cars, there are more strong cars – extra Ganassi and Sam Schmidt cars and so on – so a run like last year will be Bump Day material, and we really don't want that. I mean, hell, even Tony Kanaan nearly missed the show last year and it wasn't as competitive as it's going to be this year. The speed has got to be improved.
I believe we know how to get a comfortable car under us. Last year, Dario had a quick car, but if there had been constant traffic, man, I was coming. His car wasn't that good for getting him past the backmarkers; not compared to ours. So if we can get speed, too, then watch us!
Everyone at Andretti Autosport knows this, so they've been working hard at the shaker rigs – it's good to know they're as fired up as me. I tell you, the team's coming around. Mike's win at Long Beach was a big boost.
Obviously, Indy will be the first chance to do double-file restarts on an oval. Since all that controversy went down at St. Pete – where the Venom Energy car got wrecked (along with a lot of others) through no fault of ours – things have changed for the better. We're starting a little bit later, which strings us out a little bit more before the first corner. Long Beach and Brazil were ones that I'd have guessed would have been the worst as far as Turn 1 goes, but they turned out OK. I think we're all starting to see the bigger picture in terms of survival being key. So when we arrive at Turn 1, we're letting the guy on the inside go, and falling in line, rather than attempting to out-brake them and be a first-corner hero. I thought in the rain at Brazil, we were all pretty good at looking after each other. So I wouldn't say I was a fan of double-file restarts, but I wouldn't say I'm not a fan, either. If the spectators and TV viewers like it, that's good. We're supposed to be racing drivers and adults; we'll just deal with what we're told to.
Indy could be different, I suppose, especially if there's a load of marbles off line. But it comes down to discipline, just like in the race. If I have a run on a lapped car up the front straight, but I know I'm not going to get the pass completed by Turn 1, then I've just got to back off and file in behind it. Sure, it can get hairy at certain points, but it would be amazing to get through a 500-mile race at Indy without a scare or two. If you just back off and get the car down in the groove, you'll be fine: if there's someone on your inside, he's got you beat already. It's like with TK and me at Indy in '08: he should have just backed off once I was all the way alongside him and on the inside of him. Then he could have just followed me through, but no, he tried to hang on the outside, he got into the marbles and that was the end of that. I mean, sure, I caught him by surprise a little, too, but although it's tempting to try and hang the thing out there, the racing line has narrowed at that point in the race, and you've got to measure risk vs. reward.
Well, I hope to see you at Indy. It's the Centennial, so the biggest race in the world just got even more special. And I will do everything in my power to put the No. 26 Venom Energy car on that victory platform.