Paul Tracy Watkins Glen blog - Friday
So here we are, back at Watkins Glen, with a surprise ride, thanks to Robbie Buhl and Dennis Reinbold. It's a case of one hand washing the other: I needed to drive because that's how I'm wired, and they need a driver while Mike Conway's out of action. Honda Indy Toronto and Motegi Racing wheels made it happen for me, so I'm very grateful.
Dreyer and Reinbold Racing is a team I've never been in before, although I know Robbie from when we competed in Indy Lights 20 years ago. And Justin Wilson is a new teammate for me, but I've raced against him since he came to the US in 2004. So it's not a massive learning curve in terms of personnel this weekend. And because I got to race here last year with KV, I'm not so new to the track. In fact, it all came back to me pretty quick.
It was a rush to get here, though. I got into Indy at about midnight, and then we had to be on the charter plane at 5.30am. Then when I got here, I headed to the track and did a car fit because I hadn't had a chance to go to the D&R race shop. So we had to check out pedals, belts, steering wheel, and so on. The team had it pretty close to what I wanted though, just a minor adjustment to the belts, and some extra padding here and there.
Then it was time to do photographs for Honda, and then it was practice, so it feels like a long day for just one hour of practice. The good news is that the car is basically good. We just had some issues with understeer. Justin and I started with almost exactly the same setup, but with just one tweak that he runs that doesn't really work for me. But we both had the same problems with the car. He made a change in one direction to cure it, we made a change in a different direction, and his was better. He made a substantial improvement, where mine kinda stayed the same or was little bit worse so we couldn't improve our time.
For most of the session we were sitting between ninth and 12th and one or two of the guys who got ahead I think were on fresh tires. I think qualifying top 12 or even top 10 is a reasonable goal for us. But the good thing is, we've got a good direction for tomorrow, and there's a morning practice session before qualifying. My engineer, Yves Touron, seems good and a nice guy. Had a long talk with him today; we drove to the track together and had a long tech debrief. He seems to have good direction on what we need to do – which is basically go the same way as Justin.
The question mark in my mind is the track; it's quite slippery, and the times are well off last year. I don't know if that's because the surface isn't rubbered in yet or if there's a difference in tire compound. And so maybe that's making our understeer worse. I know everyone had an issue with push, to a greater or lesser degree.
The D&R car isn't too different from the KV car from last year. Obviously there are some setup differences – different master cylinders, different castor, things like that – and I'm struggling with the same issues I did last year. But I think being familiar with the track will speed up the improvements over the weekend. Will I challenge for pole? No. But a solid qualifying in the top half of the field should definitely be possible, and having not driven a road course for a year, I think that's OK. In our first two runs when Justin and I were on the same setup, I think I was within half a second of him.
I didn't have any physical issues either. The steering wasn't too heavy, and my neck muscles were good, which I'm happy about because I've been training them quite a bit. We have a neck-training machine at the gym I go to in Vegas, so I can build up the muscles for all directions, to cover braking, accelerating and lateral g-forces. And then I do a neck rolling exercise, where a trainer puts a strap around my neck and I have to pull against the tension he's creating. Nothing's the same as driving the car though, so it's good to jump in and discover it's strong.
So it's good to be back, and it will be good to get some sleep now too. I'll blog again tomorrow.