OK, so let's get the bad stuff out of the way first because, man, I'm tired of making excuses. I've only got half as many points as my teammates, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay, but that's reflective of bad luck – and a couple of mistakes – and not because we've been lacking pace.
One thing that's been hurting us is that we've been changing personnel on the No. 26 RC Cola car, and racing is all about consistency. Dad has now moved to work on Ryan's car, but before that he was on mine and he got so hands-on that my engineer Allen McDonald and I had to literally justify every change we were making to the car.
Well, if Dad's doubting us and he's the boss, we're not going to go against what he's suggesting! So at Barber we followed his wishes, which was a bit on the conservative side and so we effectively qualified a racecar and left too much understeer in it. Almost every single change I had wanted to make was how my teammate Hinchcliffe set up his car, and he was contending for pole!
Dad being Dad, he publicly and honestly fell on his sword on TV and admitted he'd played it wrong. And then I did the same the next day when I broke an element of the front wing on EJ Viso's car when he braked sooner than I expected. Without that, we'd have had a top-six finish.
So I'm not way off the pace or anything I'm worried about. Even without the setup I wanted, I only missed out on the Firestone Fast Six at Barber by 0.15sec, and in Brazil, I was just half a tenth off. Unfortunately, missing by even that much can be the difference between starting fifth and starting 10th; it seems the IZOD IndyCar Series is even more crazy-competitive in 2012 than it was when we all had the same engines last year!
Speaking of engines, I must admit I'm frustrated by the Chevrolet-vs.-Honda turbo debate. You read Honda's comments along the lines of “Chevrolet chose twin-turbos and we chose single…” and you think, “Exactly! Stop right there. The key word is ‘chose.' End of discussion.” As far as I'm concerned, you make your bed, you lie in it. It truly is that simple.
Frustrating is also how I'd describe Long Beach. We deliberately threw away qualifying and just went on black tires and saved ourselves a set of reds because of the Chevrolet engine penalty that put us all 10 places back. I think it was a sensible move and we could have gotten a strong finish because we were coming up through the field and it was turning into a fun race. Then I caught Graham Rahal, and by now you'll have seen his blocking maneuver and my accident.
Afterward, he tried to convince some of the more gullible people with some lame comment like, “Oh, Marco wouldn't have made the corner” – as if he's done me a freakin' favor by launching me into an accident! I'm thinking, “Er….dude, don't worry about me, I'm on fresh reds, I'd have had no problem making the corner, thank you.”
So the opening four races have been a bust for the No. 26 team and it's been disappointing and frustrating, but it has not been demoralizing: if you lose confidence, you might as well not show up. We know we have the pace and the team to make it work and we can claw back a lot of the ground we've lost in the championship.
Now it's time for the Indianapolis 500 – and that's a championship in itself. An Indy 500 win is a game-changer, a life changer, and I'm showing up to win it. We're not missing anything so we're there to aim for Victory Lane. You may not see me right at the top of the time sheets throughout this week ahead, but that's because we'll be focusing on the race setup. Heck, I believe that if I qualify 33rd, I can win that race, so I'll be focusing on building for May 27th. Still, I think with the extra 40-50hp we're being given for Pole Day, it's going to be harder to get the car figured out, and I think that's where we could shine, given the strength of the team.
Already this season, Andretti Autosport has proven we're part of a Big Three at the front of IndyCar racing again, along with Penske and Ganassi, after we suffered a few years in the backwaters. Actually, considering my teammates are third and fourth in the championship, maybe we've replaced Ganassi in the Big Two!
What is for certain is this: pace-wise, there's an Andretti car up near the top in every session and that's all you can do: always be on it. Sure, it's frustrating to see Penske win the first few races but, like I say, a lot is riding on May 27 for us so hopefully we can change everything around there. Things do come around; luck turns. We haven't been getting our butt kicked; we've just tripped a couple of times but the outlook is good because we have strength in depth in the team personnel. There's no magic, everyone's human – even Will Power! – and we don't look at him as unbeatable and therefore we're happy to just finish second. We're out there for blood, trying to beat him.
At Indy, it's a very different scenario for Andretti Autosport in 2012 compared with 2011. I remember within one or two runs last year, I thought “Uh-oh, this is going to be a long month!” and sure enough we had all that drama trying to make it in the field on Bump Day. But even starting 27th, until the car got loose in the middle of the race, we were looking good: by the second or third stint we were up to third place. Because the Speedway is less like your typical oval and more like an ultra-fast road course, it's really a place where you can make things happen on the Sunday.
So maximizing our potential on race day is what's got to be our top priority this coming week. If the team wants all five of us – myself, Ryan, Hinch plus Sebastian Saavedra and Ana Beatriz [whose cars Marco shook down on opening day, with Beatriz's at right -Ed.]– to go out and run together, that's fine by me. Let's fill it up, put some downforce in it and go do long simulation runs. Come to think of it, with five of us, we can almost simulate our own race!
In conclusion, I'd say that this is a track where I expect to be competitive every year and where I've been looking to prove people wrong ever since my rookie year. I didn't luck into that second-place finish, and we've had good results every second year, so hopefully this is one of those years again. But if there's one race in the world where winning is everything and second place is the first of the losers, it's the Indy 500. So nothing but Victory Lane will do. Hope to see you out there with your RC Cola gear!