So the Thrilla from West Hilla thought he’d lay low the last couple of days. I’m not sure how things are with Jimmy Vasser at the moment. He was pissed at me on Sunday. When we went out to dinner, he was saying things like, “I told you to play it cool, it’s a long race, don’t do anything stupid, don’t go for moves that don’t look better than 50-50 – and then you took your ******* teammate out on the first lap!”
I was pretty apologetic, I know I screwed up, and when I said that I was trying to get fully alongside Mario and then backed out because I was off the racing line where it was dirty, Jimmy told me that even if I had been fully alongside him, that would still have left my teammate off the road and in the dirt at the place I tried it. Fair enough and I understand why Mario was mad about it afterward.
Mario and I have text messaged each other since then – I apologized, he said thank you – and I think we’re okay. But I didn’t want to call because his dad’s very ill now, so the kid’s having to deal with something a lot more important than being knocked out of a race.
Amazingly enough, the No. 15 Edmonton Honda Dealers/WoundedWarriors.ca KV Racing car held up from the collision, and I could hang with the Penske and Ganassi train for about six laps. We had started with my tire pressures slightly high so I could pull off some maneuvers while everyone’s tires were cold, but we had gambled on there being a yellow or two in the opening stint like there normally is there. But it never happened, so when the pressures skyrocketed, it started cooking the fronts and I was getting massive understeer so I had to back off otherwise they were going to be destroyed by halfway through the stint. I checked my mirrors, and there was only Rahal behind me and no one behind him so I was able to pace myself on him and got the gap out before our first pitstops. I think he may have been having tire issues as well.
We had a bit of a slow stop because of a wheel nut problem I think, so I came out wheel to wheel with Rahal and Jimmy told me after that he’d held his breath because he thought we were gonna collide. But I had to get in front of Graham because it’s so twisty at the start of the lap, his tires would have been up to temp by the time I got a chance to pass. So I forced the issue, and he backed off. Actually, Mark Johnson our team manager said he would have been furious with me if I had backed down from Rahal in that situation when I hadn’t been prepared to back out of a move on my teammate.
I had no trouble from Rahal after that – he just kinda fell away. The second pitstop was great, and I cut the gap to Dario from 20sec to about 15, I think, because the balance on that last set of tires was great. But I had to think about fuel mileage as well, and Dario was too far gone to close in without screwing the fuel situation and the tires, so it was a bit boring after that.
Oh, there was one kind of weird moment, when I got passed by three cars at Turn 1; it must have looked like I was scrambling for gears, but it was simpler than that. At one point coming up to lap some traffic, I hit the full-rich fuel mixture button, which gives you I think 30sec at maximum power even if you’ve got the fuel adjustment switch dialed in at one of the leaner settings. It’s like a mild push-to-pass boost. Anyway, I must have hit the pitlane speedlimiter button by accident, because as soon as I dropped below a certain speed for Turn 1, the limiter kicked in and the car wouldn’t go above 60mph. Couldn’t understand what the hell was wrong, so I was fumbling around like an ass, recycling the ignition, did this, did that, and then I realized the problem. (My son’s reading this over my shoulder and laughing at me, by the way…)
I’d like to have had the chance to have a go at Dario, but with no yellows, there wasn’t a chance so sixth was okay. Considering this was probably the toughest circuit on the calendar, I was pleased to prove my race fitness: apart from a couple of blisters on my hands, I had no physical issues at all, despite the race going green for all except the last couple of laps.
I’m not happy to use these words in case they’re sort of prophesying, but if that was the last race of my career, I think I can walk away with my head held high in terms of my performance. I was the first of the non-Penske or Ganassi cars home, and to be honest, that’s about the highest target anyone’s been able to aim at in IndyCar for the past couple of seasons.
Obviously, I’m hoping it wasn’t my final race though. Nelson Phillips from Monster’s Canadian division came to dinner with us after the race, and I told him how much I’d love to run the remaining road courses, at Mid-Ohio where I’ve had a pole and a win in the past, and Sonoma which I’ve driven around but never raced. And I’d really like to go to Motegi: I haven’t raced in Japan since 2002, I have a lot of fans there, and that track is pretty challenging. There is maybe a chance for those races, but nothing yet that I can really hang my hopes on. Monster’s been really supportive though, and we appreciate what we’ve done for each other, so it would be good to continue giving them that kind of value. So if there are any teams out there who want a driver to finish up the season, drop me a line.
I want to mention Felipe Massa, and it seems pretty unbelievable to do this just a couple of columns after saying R.I.P. to Henry Surtees. I was watching F1 qualifying from Hungary in my hotel room on Saturday morning, and I was amazed at what happened to Massa. I’ve been in races where on ovals there’s parts flying everywhere – springs, shocks, spools, sidepods – but generally, everyone’s gotten away with it, even if it’s caused their car to crash. So for something freaky like that to happen and a part to hit Massa right above his visor is just the unluckiest. But I guess also he got lucky, in that it could have been worse, as we saw just a week earlier. I genuinely wish the little dude a speedy recovery, and we can be relieved that it’s looking a lot more positive now.
I guess everyone’s a bit jumpy now, but still I think Renault’s punishment for having a loose wheel is a pretty bad rap for Alonso just before a Spanish race. Is he going to end up taking Massa’s place at Ferrari for one weekend? That might be pretty interesting seeing him and Kimi as teammates. And I guess it also means Briatore doesn’t have a car to give Piquet Jr., so I guess that’s an upside.
To stop talking about racing, I just had a miserable trip home. Monday morning Patty, C.J. and me flew to Phoenix to pick up the motorhome from my buddy Chuck’s house. He had had a bunch of service items done on it, because it’s been waiting there since the trip home from Indy via Texas. Anyway, about an hour out of Phoenix on the drive to Vegas, the goddam air conditioning unit crapped out on us, so I drove the remaining five hours through a 117 degree heat desert, with the thermo in the motorhome reading at 106, and with me still feeling semi-dehydrated from the race. So today I’ve been running around looking for a place to fix the unit, no one wanted to deal with it in the time frame I gave them. We head north to Sturgis, S.D. for the Bike Week on Saturday. Our Harleys are ready in the trailer, so I’m just hoping the motorhome’s ready in time, too.
Oh, one more thing: there have been three helicopters flying around all freakin’ day. I guess they’re news choppers, because they’ve been tracking the raid on the home of Michael Jackson’s doctor, who lived just down the street from me. So there’s police and news crews and paparazzi everywhere trying to get into the neighborhood.
Hopefully on Saturday, I’ll be trying to get out of the neighborhood. But I’ll say again that I’ll fly to Kentucky at a moment’s notice…Thrilla
For previous Paul Tracy blogs [click here