The fourth round of the IZOD IndyCar Series championship was just last weekend, but it already seems an age ago. To put the Brazil travel for the teams into perspective: Brazil is a long way from North America. There's no direct connection from Indy, so from Chicago to Sao Paulo, it's just a short of 12 hours of flying – the same amount of time as it takes from Chicago to Japan! And now there's a four-week gap before the Indy 500 race, but we'll spend two weeks at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and next week, we've got all four Chip Ganassi Racing cars doing the IndyCar Open test at the Texas Motor Speedway. So we're pedal to the metal even before we launch into a phase in the season where there are five races back to back.
At TMS, the test plan is to run in company with other cars. It's vital that the team, the drivers and the series as a whole know how these cars behave in traffic. If the weather's good, we'll work on individual things early and then fill up with fuel and work on race items. Although they're very different sorts of tracks, TMS will still have information for Indianapolis Motor Speedway. For example, at both tracks, we'll be running a version of the speedway aero package.
When the forefathers of the Indy 500 devised the original schedule, one of the reasons that it lasted an entire month was because of the unpredictable weather in the Midwest. Now the schedule is compressed into seven practice days followed immediately by qualifying. There could be seven beautiful days of weather, or none. Due to the fact that we no longer have a second week of practice, most of the teams work hard in the first week on fuel and race setups, and don't change their cars to qualifying trim until Fast Friday. So having a good day at Texas next week will be useful not only for our race there, but also Indianapolis and some of the other ovals that follow. Remember, for most of us, it's also our first chance to test on an oval with the engine in its present production form.
This brings us onto the turbo saga. I'm going to only say that because GM has appealed the protest decision, comment should be left unsaid until it's finalized. What I feel safe to say is that in Brazil, the top 10 in qualifying were more evenly divided between Chevrolet and Honda. Who has the advantage? I don't know, but in the present “spec car” era, the sanctioning body should have the respected right to continue an equalization of the competition through their determined parity between engines. Bottom line is that qualifying for the race in Brazil was a lot closer between the two groups than at Long Beach.
Back to the racing, Scott Dixon has had an interesting season so far, good and bad in parts. Last weekend in Brazil, for instance, the first stint saw the No. 9 Target car lose time to Will Power and our teammate Dario Franchitti, but as soon as we switched to black primary tires, they worked well with Scott's car setup and so with a clear track ahead, he set some excellent lap times. It's logical to think that would have helped us, but it seems that in that race, it was almost better to spin off, have an issue or start from the back with an early stop, because somehow you'd make your way to the front. Look at what Dario did! He flew through the air with the greatest of ease (backward), stalled, and managed to get himself all the way up to the front near the end. So it was an odd race, to say the least.
For us on the No. 9 car, that yellow just before we were due to pit from the lead toward the end was a disaster. We should have fed out in the top six, based upon green interval sequence, but with the field all bunched together and the pit lane closed, we ended 17th. Gathering points on the mediocre days can often be crucial in the championship, so dropping 10 or 11 places is a bad feeling. However, it's up to us as a team to ensure that bad days are followed by great ones.
Same with Long Beach. After getting second places in the first two races, it was a disappointment to have the No. 9 car suffer a DNF in the third round. I can't reveal what the problem was, but it has been resolved, and that resolution has been spread across the Honda family of cars as a preventative measure. I was actually more disappointed that we didn't get towed back to the pit lane, although I realize Beaux Barfield was trying to get the race restarted a.s.a.p.. Hmm…. I guess it's our fault that Scott was out there needing a tow in the first place!