Marco's column: A change has gotta come
Okay, so everyone is moaning about the Richmond race, and I understand that, and everyone – and that includes me – has their opinion why it was bad. I know it's not just one thing and it's a complicated formula – aero, mechanical grip, tires, downforce – all that plays a role in creating great racing. But we need to figure something out quick. My No.26 Venom car was really good, over a second quicker than a lot of the guys in front of me – but I couldn't get past. These races shouldn't be all strategy. Strategy should be a determining factor but not the determining factor.
Of course, Andretti Green Racing's problems started in qualifying. I ended up 16th, my teammate Tony Kanaan was 17th. The data simulator we use told us that we shouldn't shift on our qualifying run, but we unfortunately proved that we should… I was one of the quickest cars in the corners, but I didn't have the revs for the straight. Coming out of Turn 2 in fifth, it would bog down – it was like hitting a brick wall. Then about halfway down the straight it was revving well in the power band, so we reached the corner quick, but the revs were too low to pull me quick through the corner.
It didn't help that we cleaned the track for everyone else by being so early in the qualifying line. Tony [Kanaan, teammate] and I went late last year and we were 1-2 on the grid.
But anyway, on a track you can't pass, to end up qualifying 16th had me pretty bummed. Sure we ended up finishing seventh, but you hate to be the fourth in a four-car team. You know, I keep leaving tracks this year thinking, “Man, I can't wait for the one time that a yellow goes our way. It seems super-tough to get luck for the No. 26 lately. I missed the yellow that Graham Rahal got by about five seconds and he wound up third. That would have kept us on the lead lap, and it could have gotten interesting, but hey, what are you gonna do? Keep driving hard is the only way.
You could say we're getting used to the bad luck, but it still hurts every time. That crash in practice at Iowa was weird. The team thinks it was failure of either the rear wing or a left-front pushrod. All we can see in the data is that whatever happened, I actually gained speed and gained center of pressure so all the aero went on the front. It was like the rear wing collapsed – But the mysterious bit is that, even after the hit, the rear wing was intact and nothing really looked out of whack. So that's why they're now thinking it was the pushrod, because the left front dropping would have had a similar effect. But we don't exactly know yet. Like I say, it's strange.
So there you see we can't even get a break in sessions that mean nothing. But when you have a run like this, you can't let it alter your performance. You need to keep working as hard as ever to get the best car possible beneath you for when the luck suddenly turns your way. You want to be ready to jump on it and maximize it. I'll be honest, it's really tough right now, with everybody looking down on me – not within the team, I must say – but in general. All we can do is keep working. I've not driven different this year than I did when I nearly won the 500, and got a win in my rookie year, so that keeps me confident in myself.
At least most people wouldn't blame me for the shunt at Indy. Oh man, that one was a bummer. That month was a lot of work, and to have it gone within a few hundred yards of the start of the race really hurt. That's gotta be one of the most frustrating things that can happen. All that preparation, your team is putting so much effort, so many hours to make that car the best it can possibly be, and then that happens. As a team, you all just feel so empty, so quick.
On the one hand I can beat myself up for not recognizing that Moraes wouldn't know I was there, but at the same time… You're in Indy cars, you'd think the guy would be aware of his surroundings, but I guess not. I didn't speak with him about it because there's nothing to be gained from it: it was an accident and we can't rewind.
A couple of races later we got a bit of a boost because we had a good run at Texas. I think the Penske and Ganassi cars had speed on me in the first half, but in the second part, when it came down to handling, I think I was one of the better ones. The long green-flag run we had, I had got up to second and I was closing on Briscoe at about a second a lap, and cut the lead from 12 seconds to about three. And then (of course, the story of our year) there was a yellow flag period, and we had the wrong gear ratios in for restarts: I was just going backward every time, so then I'd have to start passing people all over again.
And that wasn't easy. I mean, what we were saying about Richmond, you can think, OK, it's quite a narrow, very short track. But Texas Motor Speedway? We used to put on great shows for the fans there, but this year it was so tough to pass. I tell you, we really need to do something. At TMS, it was a case of losing grip behind another car, so you couldn't stay close enough to the car in front in the corners and you'd have to back out of the throttle. I think there, it could have been solved with bigger wings, or at least an aero package that gives us more downforce.
Maybe these new rules that the IRL is bringing in will be the answer. We'll see at Kentucky. But it's only a temporary fix until the new car arrives. Longer term, I think we should have bigger wings for running in traffic, but also a lot more power, so the difference between the corner apex speed and your terminal speed on the straight is much bigger. It will mean us drivers have to drive more, and that's got to be a good thing.
Before Kentucky, though, we have a decent run of road and street courses, and I think our test at Watkins Glen a couple of weeks back will be a help. Tony, Danica and myself were there for Andretti Green, and we tackled it in three different ways. I went back to a previous setup and I think we went in the right direction. A lot of the stuff we're changing makes sense, after a period of being a bit lost on road courses. That was because I think we were chasing a setup that suited Dario's style when he was with us, because he was so quick. And the fact is, we can't drive quickly in a car set up for him because our styles are so different. He's a right-foot braker and super smooth, and Tony and I are the complete opposite!
So my engineer Peter [Gibbons] is doing a really good job finding what works for me, really studying my style. That's the only way to get the best results, and let's be honest, we need them. The last win for Andretti Green was Richmond last year – 12 months ago, in other words – so we're very, very driven. AGR needs a win, and I need a win for myself.
What the Watkins Glen test taught us will be more for the race there this weekend, obviously, and also variations of it should work at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. For the Honda Indy Toronto, we're going to bring my Long Beach setup, because as you may remember from what I wrote in a previous column, I felt really strong there on race day. I'm really looking forward to that one, now I think about it, but let's see how good we are this weekend. We'll stay positive, whatever else.