So the Thrilla from West Hilla is back in his old territory – or fairly nearby, anyhow. It feels good, it feels busy, and I’m trying to make myself valuable to the IndyCar Series. That’s what it will take, I’m being told, to get me a full-time ride. So here I am, over the barrel. Thankfully, the fans have been great, and I know they’ve been responding to these blogs. That’s kind of helped make me feel less like an intruder at someone else’s party.
Patty and I had dinner last night with Jimmy [Vasser] and the president and vice-president of Honda Canada, so that turned into a bit of a late one. I guess we left around 11.30pm and then I was up early this morning to get a workout in. Then there was a media conference at the track from 11-1, and then I went over to the KV Racing truck, checked out the – deep breath here – Ontario Honda Dealers WoundedWarriors.ca No. 15 car, chatted to the guys there, then had to leave straight from there to a Hudson Bay store in downtown Toronto for IZOD. It was just me and my old teammate Al Unser Jr. Now I’m back at the hotel, just had time to do this blog, and get changed and then I’m heading out to a media dinner. Honda’s invited 20 journalists to meet me.
I haven’t had a chance to discuss it at length with the engineers, but looking back at the Watkins Glen race, we think it’s a combination of four factors that were causing us to be slow on the straights. One, we’re not sure the gearing was optimal for climbing the hill. Two, we had a little bit of bottoming in the compression area of the straight before the hill gets real steep. Three, understeer meant we weren’t getting a good exit….
And four: me. Or, to be precise, my driving style. It takes a bit of pride-swallowing to admit this, but I wasn’t getting the most out of the car because I was driving it too much like a Champ Car, and the technique for the IndyCar Dallara-Honda is different. I was braking later than my teammate Mario, and carrying more entry speed than him, which would have been perfect…for a turbocharged Champ Car. With those Lolas and Panozes (what the hell’s the spelling for more than one Panoz?) you braked late, then came off it and rolled into the corner. It was all about entry speed and mid-corner speed. But you can’t drive an IndyCar this way because it’s got much less acceleration. You need to give up some corner-entry speed so you can get back on the power sooner because you don’t have the turbo to push you down the straights and reach your terminal speed quicker.
So, I’ve learned that with this car, if you get back on the throttle sooner than the next guy, you’ll keep or increase that advantage all the way down the straight. That’s given me something to think about, for sure, and it may be especially important at Edmonton with those wide straights. Except…Edmonton’s corners are so fast, that we can carry a load of momentum through there anyhow. We’ll see, I guess. Anyway, I don’t think I’ll have a problem adjusting. I didn’t start left-foot braking until I was 37 and I got comfortable with that in one two-day test. You can teach this old dog new tricks.
Anyway, back to Toronto. They’ve spruced things up here. Grandstands are of better quality, they’ve upgraded some of the fencing, put a coat of paint on all the walls, because they were looking a bit raggedy when Champ Car raced here two years ago: everything was rusty and it looked a bit of an eyesore. Now it looks brand new and they’ve added some fencing in some sections of the track. Gotta say, it looks good.
The new stadium means the paddock area is laid out differently, and it seems more accessible to get in and out of the garage area. The track layout is the same, run-offs are the same, but like Tag said in his column [ Alex Tagliani's diary - July 9
], the track is pretty bumpy. Another couple of winters of freeze ’n’ thaw have made things rougher since the last time I raced here, no question. There were a couple of bits I think in 2007 that were freshly paved with concrete, but it seems like they’ve risen or settled so there’s big bumps now.
And if the weather turns bad, the track surface is going to be pretty grim. Today was beautiful, tomorrow’s cloudy with maybe rain in the afternoon, Saturday may rain all day, and then it clears for Sunday – crystal clear and cool, around 21degC. So we hope it won’t rain for qualifying, because a bumpy course means there’s dips that gather big puddles. And then the track includes the Lake Shore which is a fast street which usually has ruts because big heavy equipment trucks drive on it. So when it rains round here it’s a complete freakin’ nightmare because the track becomes like ice. The oil from the pavement leaches up too, and then you also have three sets of tracks down the straightaway. Terrible.
So what’s this about my old enemy, Sebastien Bourdais, huh? Someone asked me, I guess just for a joke, whether I’d like to see him back over here in the series. I said, “I’d like to see myself back in the series before I see him here.” In my opinion, it would be a criminal act to have him just walk back into the series and welcomed with open arms and an open seat, when I’ve had to lather everyone up with lotion to get what little I’ve got.
But I think all of us wish Seabass had gotten on better in F1. I guess he didn’t take to the styles of cars they have there. But he ran really well in the Le Mans Peugeot, and those cars are fantastic in corners, so I don’t understand why he hasn’t gone well in the F1 car. It’s hard to have a good race from the gravel trap on the first lap…But maybe I shouldn’t be one to talk after ending up against the same barrier that Milka hit at the Glen.
Later, Thrilla fans.P.T.
For Paul's previous contributions to English Literature, [click here
] and savor the flava