Whoa! This track is a lot tougher than I thought it was gonna be, having never driven here and just seen it on TV. Yesterday I told you that television doesn’t do the elevation changes justice. Let me tell you, five laps on a golf-cart doesn’t do it justice once you’re driving it with 670hp behind your shoulders. There are three or four corners here that are virtually flat in fourth or fifth, and if you’re not flat and committed, then you lose a ton of time.
The limited practice – we got an hour and a half this morning – didn’t help. It’s tough to learn a track and get that confidence level up. I was taking big chunks of time out every time I went out on the track, going quicker and quicker. But I just ran out of time to be at my best by the time of qualifying. I wish I’d been able to be in the test that a lot of the cars did a couple weeks back
I got a little bit of traffic – Dario – in qualifying. I came out of the pits with a set of red tires and saw him coming so got totally out of the way and let him go, and so when he did a quick one, he slowed down just as I started my second flyer, and I kind of got disturbed by him slowing. Then I had one last lap and made a mistake in Turn 1. Exiting it, I got hung up on the curb, and scraped the tub as it bottomed out, and scrubbed off my exit speed going up the hill through the Esses and down the long straightaway. I reckon that cost me 0.4sec to the end of the straightaway, which was really the difference of making it to the next group.
The rest of the lap was okay-ish, but I’m lacking a bit of entry and mid-corner speed compared to my teammate Mario Moraes, who’s been doing a really good job, and has been quick all weekend. It’s not a fault of my KV Racing No. 15 GEICO car; it’s me lacking a that last ounce of confidence to hammer it. My mistake in Turn 1 cost me a lot of time compared to Mario, obviously, and then he’s very, very quick in the Bus Stop chicane and around Turn 5. He’s flat from the middle of the Bus Stop all the way round Turn 5 to 6 to 7. So that extra entry speed he takes compared to me carries all the way. So I probably lost 0.3sec compared to him there. For the last few corners and the first two corners we’re back and forth as to who has the edge.
I think I ended up 0.8sec slower than him, and half of that was that Turn 1 mistake. The track’s so fast, it’s so much about momentum, that one mistake will cost a lot, like at any track that’s long and has long straights. Look at Helio: he didn’t put a lap together and so he didn’t make the cut either, and there’s his teammate on pole.
I’d say I was still learning the track, in terms of what I can get away with on what corners, and that knowledge can only come with experience. It’s been a year since my last roadcourse race – Edmonton last year – so I’m still blowing rust off, I guess. The flipside of not being 100 percent confident from the word go is that there have been no major incidents. I’m not going too crazy. The last thing we need to do here is wreck a car.
The soft red Firestones are a big difference compared to the blacks but it looks like they’re also lasting pretty well. Mario did three runs on the same set, and the last of them was pretty close to the first one in terms of pace. That’s a good sign that they’re holding up. We’ll see how they hold up on properly long runs…if there are any long runs. Our anticipation is that if there’s an early crash, we’ll go off sequence, and I’d expect Helio to do the same. That’s what it’s going to take to cycle towards the front, and hopefully once we get there we’ll have the pace to stay there, because it’s pretty damn tough to pass.
Speaking with Jimmy [Vasser] about our race strategy tomorrow, we share the opinion that it’s a case of survival, get the laps in, blow even more rust off, and with a good solid performance, we can have a top-eight finish. My gut feeling – and maybe I’m 100 percent wrong on this – is that there are gonna be a lot of guys out there desperate to get a good finish. They’ve been on ovals since Long Beach, and they’ve been struggling and wrecking – I’m thinking Viso, Hunter-Reay, Doornbos. So on Sunday, they’re going to be trying to make a big statement. None of them have been on road courses for a while, and they’re gonna want to show what they can do… Anyway, my point is, I think they’ll be causing some wild moves and door-slamming. If we can have a clean, smart race, I think we’ll be looking good.
So I’ve made all you Danica fans read through a download of my day before I get to the bit about her. (Ha!) Well, here goes: this is a tough track, way tougher than I thought it was going to be, and I am pretty impressed with how Danica drove today, and out-ran all her teammates. She was 0.2sec ahead of even Kanaan and put herself seventh, and I’ve got to give her a thumbs-up on that. People have been negative on her, or saying she’s only good on ovals. Well that’s bull, and today she proved it. This is a balls-to-the-wall circuit, and she did a damn good job today.
Oh, wait! Just read here on RACER.com that Rahal’s car flunked tech, so he’s been moved to 15th. I was just about hit “Send” on this column and now I discover there’s yet another person on the grid, right behind me, who’s going to have a major grievance. Oh crap, that’s just what we need…
And the interesting effect of that, is that me and Helio are on the same row of the grid. Classic! Fireworks on the 5th of July, huh?P.T.For Paul Tracy's blog from July 3, and all previous P.T. blogs click here