Editor's note: Lotus DRR's Oriol Servia will be composing a daily diary throughout the weekend at Long Beach.
Two rounds into the season, I can tell you it's already been quite busy, but first let's rewind a few months. After the sad news of Newman/Haas Racing leaving the IZOD IndyCar Series – hopefully, not for long – I had to find a new ride last winter. It was heartbreaking to leave a legendary team where I have scored the best results in my career, but the way my career has been, in winter times I often feel like an orphan looking for a new family, so it was nothing new for me.
Still, I thought it might be hard to adapt once more, but I can't stop saying this: the Lotus DRR team (which in my head I still think of as Dreyer & Reinbold Racing) has exceeded every expectation at every level. I really believe we have the best race shop of any IndyCar team, and the funny thing is that the place looks very underwhelming from the outside. But then you walk in and it's amazing! – from the working areas where the cars are, to all the machinery they have, it's all top-notch.
Lotus DRR has an alliance with Hurco and other brands that means they have CNC machines and other equipment that I'd never seen in an IndyCar shop before. They have areas where they can entertain sponsors, too, and then a two-bedroom apartment facing the inside of the shop – and even that's top quality. It was a real “wow” moment. And the best bit? The working area has replicated the garages of Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the '50s with white and green booths. It's really beautiful.
And then there are the mechanics. I already expected them to be good because you look back at some of the top drivers they've had like Justin Wilson and Buddy Rice and they didn't used to suffer reliability issues, did they? So yeah, they're very good.
The engineer, Yves Touron, is someone I worked well with in '06 and '08 at KV. And then the owners were new to me, too. I'd never spent much time with Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl and I'm very impressed with how involved they are with the team and how much they look after their sponsors.
We don't have one huge sponsor but lots of smaller ones and when I went to West Palm Beach for the sponsor summit, Robbie and Dennis had maybe 15 companies who had been involved with them since the team started. They all become primary sponsors at one, two or three races a year and they're taken very good care of so it's a win-win for everybody and strong business-to-business relationships are formed.
From the selfish point of view, I also wanted to see how committed Dennis and Robbie are to making the team stronger, and I have no worries there now. They aren't in IndyCar just to try and make a bit of money. They want the team to do well, to the extent that they even turned down seven-figure sums from potential drivers of a second car who they felt wouldn't have made the operation stronger. Everyone knows Robbie was a driver so you know he wants to win, and Dennis' family for a couple of generations have been part of the fabric of Indianapolis Motor Speedway, so their hearts are in the right place. So once you're inside it's like “Wow, this is a very serious operation and we can do the job.”
As we all know, Lotus is still playing catch-up with GM and Honda and so we desperately need more testing. If we had that, I think we could be a big help to Lotus. I think the performances of Sebastien Bourdais in the Dragon car and myself in the Lotus DRR car at Barber were almost miraculous. It shows the commitment of the teams to give 110 percent, and the drivers to put 110 percent effort in every lap, taking a lot of risks, probably more than anyone else.
Sebastien is a guy who won four Champ Car titles, I'm confident that I can challenge for it too, and Alex Tagliani (Bryan Herta Autosport) was on pole for last year's Indy 500. In other words, we are a group of strong drivers who can help the Lotus engine make progress if we are able to test and we can then also set up the car to minimize the differences between us and the Chevy- and Honda-powered cars.
With the pits staying open under yellow these days, there will be less chance of the guys at the back cycling through to the front, so getting the best possible grid position has become more vital than ever. But wherever you start on the grid, it's great to be part of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach because it's more than just a race; it's an event, and one with a 38-year history. Sure, it's great to be on the harbor near the Queen Mary and to be in downtown Los Angeles, but I think the secret of the event's success is that longevity. I have fans come and tell me things like, “My Dad used to bring me as a kid; now I bring my kids,” and that continuity is essential to building anticipation to an event. As drivers, we love it because it's hugely popular and so there's a great atmosphere, and it's also a driving challenge, and from that perspective, Long Beach is like IndyCar's equivalent of Formula 1's Monaco Grand Prix.
Although it's very difficult to pass at Long Beach, there are two, maybe three passing places at Long Beach, so that's two, maybe three more than Monaco! And the challenging parts of the circuit in particular are down by the fountain because it's cramped and narrow and very easy to clip a wall, but then also the braking into Turn 9 at the end of the back straight is challenging. It's the best place to overtake but it's very bumpy and the grip level changes as you're braking, so it's hard to get the best out of the car. Plus because everyone knows it's the best place to overtake, everyone tries extra hard there to try and stop you!
But the racing we saw at Barber was good because Firestone brought two different tires – the blacks and the reds – whose compounds were very different, so they made a big difference to grip levels and durability. So if that's the case again, we're going to have a very good race this weekend with a lot of overtaking.
It's also a place that has seen me do well. My first race there I didn't like too much, but the more you go, the better you get at it, and the better you get at it, the more you like it! (Racing drivers are quite transparent in their tastes…). It takes a while for you to find all the little tricks to getting the best time from your car around there, and I've had good success. I finished second there in 2007 and last year, I had a shot at the win until someone made a mistake and blocked the track in front of me!
So I go there with a great deal of optimism that we can show off the Lotus DRR's potential and give Lotus its best showing yet.
I will get back to you after Friday practice, which from the weather forecasts I've seen, may be wet. That could be fun…