It's all business in this blog, fans, because that's how the day was. I'm so focused. If I want to make sure that I have more races to come, I've gotta maximize what I can get from this weekend and leave all the team owners with a good impression: max attack on the track, taking care of sponsors and fans off the track. F0rget the other drivers: let's just do the best I can.
However, I admit I've sent through some more random photos to RACER, so let's hope they use one or two, just to lighten the mood a bit.
Q1 went perfect – the car was very good on black tires, and we were quickest, and then we put the reds on and we only did one flying lap on them and the car was just perfect, and we set another hot lap a 61.6 or 61.5, I think. And the team said, “Well if you don’t want to do another one, save the tires, and start on them in Q2.”
So I thought, yeah, okay, and I felt the car was perfect for me. And in the second group of 12, I think only Will Power was quicker than my time. Maybe Helio too. So we went out in Top 12 qualifying on these used reds and the balance had shifted, and then I also had a spin through the grass after the chicane. I tried to do another lap on those tires but it just wasn’t there. So we thought, OK, we’ll just put the new tires on, the car should be good, and for whatever reason the car was more nervous at the rear and sliding around, and I had a hard time committing to the corners to the same level as I had in Q1. I think I was a tenth off of that Q1 lap, and a tenth out from making it to the Fast Six. The balance had gone as the track temperature went up and the track rubbered up some more.
In a way it’s disappointing to get so close – especially when I could see 10 minutes later that two of the guys who had gotten into the Fast Six, Dario and Rahal, appeared to hit the same issue as me just a little bit later. Their laps in that Fast Six session were actually slower than mine had been. So that’s a bummer.
But ninth on the grid isn’t a disaster, especially not at a track where you can overtake. And we were quick all day; I think I proved to everyone that I’ve still got good speed, and I can feel that I’m starting to really getting to where I’m fulfilling my potential more regularly. With just three roadcourse races in the last year, especially with a car I didn’t know, I think I’m getting things right a lot more often than I’m getting them wrong. If you took Dario or Scott Dixon and made them sit out for so long and then threw them in a new chassis engine package, I don’t think they could have adapted quicker than me. Oh and one of the roadcourses was somewhere I hadn’t been before.
But I’ll be the first to admit that more time in the car would help. If you put my best three lap segments together in that Top 12, we’d have been fifth and into the Firestone Fast Six. Constant running, weekend to weekend, would make that kind of thing second nature. As it is, there will be more little errors that lose you half a tenth here, half a tenth there, if you’re not driving regularly. But it’s a decent qualifying position, though I think yesterday I was hoping fourth row.
So, looking at the race tomorrow, I think how the track changes through the race is gonna be interesting, because like I discovered today, as it rubbered up, I didn’t gain much front-end grip and I lost a bunch of grip from the rear. Can we make changes to adapt to that? That’s one thing we’ve got to look at.
I know our pace on old tires is very good, and the running that we did in practice so far this weekend has indicated we’re pretty good on tire management compared to others – and I mean even compared to the big teams. So I’m pretty sure we could get on the podium. You can’t factor out all three Penskes (ever) and Dixon’s race pace I reckon will look stronger than he’s shown in qualifying. But I’ve had top five finishes in every race I’ve started here. And if it’s any indicator, the last two races I started on the eighth row, and came through to take fifth and fourth, so I think we can make a couple of passes at the start and settle into the rhythm and hopefully exploit the weak spots of the cars ahead of us.
The key to this race is getting to the last stint still in good physical shape, because you’re gonna need to go fast in that last stint, and this is a physical race track. Once your body starts feeling tired, you mentally start losing it, and once that concentration goes, that’s when the mistakes arrive. The race is supposed to be hot, too. But I feel in good shape.
Pitstop strategy is obviously a big deal too. We’re close enough to the front that we don’t even need to consider risking an offbeat strategy. I think we should pit when others do so that we don’t get screwed if there’s suddenly a yellow. And pitstop time is when that’s most likely to occur, when people are pushing too hard on cold tires or coming out of the pits and desperately trying not to be passed by whoever’s coming flying up the pit straight.
As usual, a yellow can either hurt or help. Do you go the extra lap and risk getting a yellow, or do you play the safe game and just pit when the leaders pit? We’ll make that decision tomorrow, maybe on the fly. I think it’s important for me to make a couple of positions on the start and have a strong first lap, and then judging by our pace on the tires, decide our philosophy from there.
I was pleased to see how many fans came out for qualifying. The grandstands looked pretty well populated, so I hope those people can make contributions to WoundedWarriors.ca over the weekend. It’s a very good cause that puts our lives into perspective. And while I’m here, I want to thank all the fans who have made contributions already, and who have shown a lot of support for me, especially the superfan who gave me the jersey. I'll post you a picture tomorrow.
I hope to repay the faithful with a good result on Sunday…
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