Drivers, too, practiced their pitbox entry and exits at Homestead. To simulate a race stop, we put our spare cars in the adjacent pit boxes so the drivers had the tightest entry and exit to maneuver. The launch is probably a bit more complicated than the getting in, because the drivers have the hand clutch on the steering wheel; instead of a clutch pedal, they're operating that at the same time as they're turning the wheel to exit the box while lighting the tires, so they're one-handing the turn part of the steering as they depart. Seldom do you get a straight exit, so this might be a potential area for hiccups this year.
But then, the drivers have had a lot to adapt to with these new cars. We interacted with IndyCar Dallara on Dario Franchitti's pedal box to adjust it to suit right-foot brakers, and I hope that will benefit other teams, too – KV, for example, as our understanding is that Rubens Barrichello is another right-footer. [IndyCar vp of technology] Will Phillips worked hard with Dallara because he realized the importance of not punishing anyone, because these drivers have lived their whole lives with a certain driving style and so the new pedal box is now a “spec option” for all teams. Dario made a comment along the lines of, “No one's going to suddenly tell Phil Mickelson to become a right-handed golfer, so why should someone prevent you driving the way that comes naturally?”
Initially, adapting to the car didn't come easy for Scott Dixon, either, as far as its basic handling is concerned. For those still paying attention, Scott hates push, so getting it right for him has been fun. But Eric, Rick and the group worked really hard on the balance of the car and the settings we have available to us – suspension and dampers in particular – and that has helped us tailor the car to suit all four of our drivers – Scott and Dario in the Target cars, Graham Rahal in the Service Central car and Charlie Kimball in the Novo Nordisk car.
I think we're now in a position with Scott where it's favorable. But you've got to remember that everyone is in the same boat: every driver is dealing with a new racecar. Maybe Rubens' situation is best, with major open-wheel racing experience but coming in totally cold to this series, with no preconceived notion of what an IndyCar should be.
It's my belief that drivers create an advantage by having an open mind and that's much more useful than previous experience when it comes time to adjust to a new car. Drivers who watch their fellow competitors, and listen to what the engineers, mechanics and teammates are talking about achieve the most. They don't allow anything to jade them into becoming one-track in their thought process. Being open to change is vital in all aspects of life. Graham and Charlie, for example, are refreshing, as young guys who soak up everything around them without hesitation – and that will make them successful. That precisely parallels Scott's and Dario's ethic. Having youth at the wheel is a great reminder to all of us that it's important to remember where you came from.
Carbon brakes are another feature of the new car that required adjustment from all of us, not just the drivers. They were a little bit of an issue at first but we've finally started to understand their heat properties, the kind of ducting they need plus the best driving style. At the beginning the team owners were told that a team could do the entire season on two or maybe three sets of rotors, based upon the full-season mileage allocation, and I'm not really sure that's the case. But then, the parts situation is going to be quite an adventure in itself because Dallara is still producing the spares and we have four street and road races at the front end of the schedule.
What I'm thinking is that we may need to bring Michael Johnson out of retirement to stand in our pitbox in his cleats, so if our car hits the fence, he takes a list of the parts we need and sprints to Dallara's spares truck so we're first in line! In reality, that's what's going to make or break you – enough components so you can build your racecar in advance of the next race.