Friday, August 7
As anyone who's been following my blogs on RACER.com knows, since Edmonton – when I left the track not really knowing if I had any drive for the rest of the races this year – I was going to the Bike Week in Sturgis, in South Dakota. I just assumed I had nothing. We had a terrible journey up there: it took us about 24 hours. I took my motorhome and I was in convoy with a buddy of mine who was in his motorhome. And only about three hours out of Vegas – I guess we were around St George, in Utah – I blew a tire on the trailer. Anyway, we got going again and then we stopped for the night. And then when we got going in the morning, my buddy blew a front tire, and we were about four hours waiting this time.
Anyway, we eventually got to Sturgis and got unloaded, and we had a great time there: we went on long rides, visited monuments up there. Pretty impressive. And on the Wednesday we went on a ride to Wyoming, to see Devil's Tower, which is a major rock formation that has no landscaping on it: just a major piece of limestone that sticks straight out of the ground. Weird. And my phone was in my pocket but I'd been riding so it wasn't until I stopped that I saw Jimmy Vasser had called three times. So I'm in the parking lot at Devil's Tower and I called him back and he said, “Hey, where are you?” And I said, “Well I'm doing what I said I would. I'm on a bike ride up near Sturgis.” And he said, “We need you ready to get on a plane to Mid-Ohio, for if we need you. We'll know something in the next couple of hours.”
Luckily we were about ready to leave Devil's Tower, so we got back on the bikes and rode back to Sturgis, and
when I got to the bus, Jimmy phoned again, and said: “Okay, we need you. Mario's dad has just passed away and he would like you to drive his car.”
I mean first of all, I thought that's terrible news for Mario, even though he knew it was coming. He's only 20, and he's lost his dad. That's tragic. And then I was pleased he'd got over what happened in Edmonton. And then I'm thinking, “Holy s***! I've got to catch the 10am flight from Vegas next morning…”
So I told the group and they said, “No problem, we're about ready too,” so we loaded up, and left Sturgis at about
3pm. Now keep in mind it took us about 24 hours to get up there, but that was with tire problems. Without them, I figured we could get back with about three hours to spare – shower, grab my gear, head for the airport. So we set the cruise control at 72mph and almost at the exact same spot as my friend had his tire blow on the way up, he blew the other front. Unbelievable. Stuck in the middle of freakin' nowhere. I had to leave him obviously because of my flight, and he was understanding.
I got back on the gas, and I reckon we covered the distance in about 16 hours driving time and got home at around 7am.
It was tiring, sure, but now I'm pretty fired to be back at Mid-Ohio. Last time I raced here, I took pole and won. Obviously these circumstances aren't ideal from any way you look at it. How I got this ride, when we got this ride, and the fact that I was pretty tired. Luckily with ALMS running here too, our session ran late on Friday and I was able to take a bit of a nap in the truck. But we were sixth quickest on black tires, the car feels good, and I've got a good feeling we can have a good race. Got to qualify in the Top 10 though, because it's hard to pass round here.
I'll get back to you after qualifying.
Saturday, August 8
Hmmm…One of those so-so days, where we're kind of okay with how it went, but not overjoyed. We wound up tenth, and I think we had the potential to get onto the fourth row in that last session. I think only four tenths would have put us into the Fast Six. We just had a little bit too much understeer in the car, and although we made some good gains with it during the day, you only needed to be a little bit off to be swimming in it. The grid is so tightly packed here. Actually, thinking about it, for a 2.2-mile course it's very packed in the top half.
The KV Racing No.5 Azul/Votorantim car wasn't bad, but we were just missing something extra, and I think that's mainly down to track conditions. The grip levels had changed a lot since yesterday, because it rained a lot last night and this morning, and then once the track was dry, it still didn't really pick up much grip, which was a bit of a surprise. For us we had slow- and medium-corner understeer, so you can only do so much once the front wheels aren't properly obeying what you're doing with the steering wheel.
However, we've got a plan in place for tomorrow. Typically, on race days, when we've put fuel in the car, the understeer has gotten worse, so we're going to go radical in the morning warm-up, and try some things that will keep the car neutral at the start of the race.
Mid-Ohio is a great course, but there's not many passing places under braking. It's all about getting momentum out of corners and trying to draft alongside on the straights and stealing the track space that the other driver wants for his turn-in to the corner. It will be interesting to see how this push-to-pass works in those situations. It should be ideal, come to think on it.
But I'm going to have to make some moves at the start, I think, when the tires are cold. Traditionally, I used to get some good passes done on the outside of corners here.
You want to try and do the race on just two stops; it's right on the edge of that two or three stop margin, and if we're playing with the push-to-pass too much, it's going to be hard to keep in that two-stop zone.
There are a couple of cars ahead that I don't want to get stuck behind – I'm thinking Viso and Hunter-Reay – because I've got a feeling we'll be stronger than them; our car's good on used tires (yet again) and I don't want to waste fuel getting past them. Or if we do, I want some yellows, not to put ourselves on an alternative strategy, but just to save fuel.
I've got to comment on Milka. She's a disaster out there and it's beyond even funny. Why do they give her a license? She's what…seven seconds off me, so eight seconds off of Briscoe. That means Ryan's gonna be lapping her every nine or ten laps if we're green all the way! Why do they let her drive? Why does she want to embarrass herself so bad?
Other than that, there's not a whole lot to report. Obviously everyone's talking about Gil de Ferran's new team, and I see he and Pagenaud just won the ALMS race. They're obviously going to be a slick, well-run outfit right off the bat, and I'd be very interested in working there next year if Gil wanted me. For now, the hot rumor is Dixon moving there, and Mario Moraes going to AGR to team up with Tony Kanaan. Not sure why he'd want to do that, because he seems to have a good thing going here at KV. AGR look a little bit better this weekend, but they've had a bad year overall.
Well I wish I had that dilemma of different contracts being offered to me. Let's see if what we do tomorrow can attract some interest.
Sunday, August 9
Well I guess we had a seventh or eighth place car all weekend, and we finished seventh. It wasn't spectacular, it wasn't a Thrilla for us, but it was okay.
The problem was understeer on the slow- and medium-speed corners. We got it to where we were good in the fast stuff, it was great on the brakes and on power-down – it was phenomenal coming out of the Keyhole corner. But the twisty stuff crippled our overall lap time, because it's carrying momentum through there that you make up time at Mid-Ohio, and whenever I tried to roll more speed through there, we'd be pushing out wide and off-line, which ruins the sequence and picks up crap on the tires. So I had to over-slow it, and when you do that, although I could catch cars, passing them was a bitch, especially when you naturally have understeer anyway when you're following another car.
But at least I didn't make mistakes; some of the big-money players like Helio drove through the gravel traps, so they ended up getting beaten by the 40-year-old driving for hamburgers.
I hear they didn't show me passing Viso, but it was quite a good maneuver – I drafted him, hit the push to pass (which feels like…well, nothing to be honest) and then outbraked him. What was more important, I gapped him on the next lap, so when we came in together for our first pitstop, it didn't matter so much that ours was a bit slow. I came out right in front of him, and then although Matos beat us, I was able to get past him on cold tires and then kept him at bay for the whole race. Don't know what happened to Viso after that.
I suppose Marco Andretti must have driven a strong race and clicked off some fast laps before his final pitstop, because he ended up ahead of us, which was a pisser. But he made his team's tactics work, so I'll give him credit. I was able to beat the second generation driver, Graham Rahal. He came out of the gravel trap right in front of me, and I was able to outbrake him at the end of the back straightaway. I was thinking he'd just fall away, because there seemed to be a bunch of parts flying off his car when I went past, but for the rest of the race he was all over me like a cheap suit, so I was working hard in the cockpit to keep a much faster car behind me for those last 20 laps.
Going back to the subject of push to pass: it's okay, but it's nothing that would get an ex-Champ Car driver excited. It's worth 1mph, maybe 2, down the straightaway. The problem is, it gives you an extra 200 revs at the top but by then the motor has gone past its powerband anyhow. So at 9800rpm, this boost is worth 10hp, but at 10,500, it feels like around 3hp. It can help you get a little run on a guy, but it's not like you're going to do 6mph faster like in Champ Car.
I think KV Racing team was pleased with me and they got some good points which the No. 5 needed so I hope I moved Mario further up the pitlane, away from Conweasel – which, after Kentucky, is quite a good thing, I reckon. (Yeah, okay, so he shouldn't have been released at that moment, I know.) But today I hear it was his car that put Danica in the gravel. He'll get some bad rap for that, I'm sure. The weasel picked the wrong bird to mess with; that bird will peck his eyes out!
Just about to log off and send this to Malsher at RACER to check the spelling and grammar. But I see that the NASCAR race at The Glen got rained out. They don't race the Cup cars in the wet, because they don't have the tires for it. They did in the Nationwide races up in Canada, but apparently it was a disaster. I heard you could have won that race in a Hertz rental Toyota Prius.
Right, I have to catch my flight home. I'm hoping that won't be the last time you see me in an IndyCar, but it probably will be for this year. But I'll get back to the training in case there's a late call-up again.
Respect to KV Racing, and again, good luck to Mario in his family's bad time. Thanks for trusting me with your No. 5 car.