I promise you this: We didn't mean to make it so damn dramatic. But we've put WIX Filters, Motegi Racing, Rockford Fosgate and my newest sponsor ARMA Energy into the centennial Indianapolis 500, and we've got four Dreyer & Reinbold Racing cars into the field.
Bump Day was nerve-wracking for me again this year, but not because this time I was worried about the car. I was worried about not getting a chance due to weather. You'll understand why I didn't blog Saturday night, but all I wanted to do was speak with the team and then be with Patty. Those were the only things I needed. Nothing else mattered. This wasn't like last year where it was going to be nail-biting time wondering if that KV car would get in its narrow, happy-zone of track conditions. This time we knew the No. 23 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing car was basically a strong enough package; we just needed the weather to cooperate.
Saturday was just a bummer. After being top 18 all week, we were reasonably certain we'd get in the top 24 on the first day and then just be on standby in case of bumping. But we missed the balance just by a hair – too much understeer – and we had geared for a 226mph lap. That longer gearing meant we just couldn't get up in the strongest part of the rev band because the understeer was scrubbing too much speed off in the corners. We just bogged down, so our terminal speed at the end of the straights wasn't good enough.
John Andretti had just bumped me out of the top 24, and we'd gotten in line to roll again, but then the rain arrived. Then we saw the forecast for Sunday was pretty crappy, too, so we were sitting in 25th, and if there had been a near total rain out, we'd have been fine. We weren't going to withdraw our time and re-qualify unless we had to. But that's not how it turned out. There was enough time for people to start edging me toward the drop zone.
For Bump Day, we actually set the car up fairly conservative. My engineer Yves and Larry Curry [team manager] and the whole Dreyer & Reinbold team are dialed in to the Speedway and they made what was obviously a smart decision. It's easy to say this when I haven't got the proof, but I think if we had taken the riskier settings, we could probably have done 225.4mph average. But like I say, in terms of downforce and gearing, we decided to play it safe because we figured a high 224 would leave us comfortable.
So we're sitting there in line and a couple of cars – Rahal and my teammate Bia – pull their times and go re-qualify, and then the rain comes. So then we have to wait and wait some more and we've drawn the last number in the line and the weather's closing in…
Our one piece of good fortune is that Danica's car flunks tech, so Andretti Autosport has to go get modifications done. That puts me up one place in the line. Just as I'm pulling down my visor, a big blob of rain lands on it, and the clouds are dark as doom, you know? But I get out there and the car's handling just right and we lay two straight 225s.
On the third lap, though, I'm going down the back straight and there's water gathering on my visor. These drops are fairly big, and I could hear them tick-tick-ticking on my helmet, so I think “Oh @#$%! I can't freakin' believe this,” but Race Control hasn't thrown a yellow yet, so I keep my foot in it through Turn 3, it slides just a little, Turn 4, it slides a little again, and then down the front straight I make a couple of adjustments on the front anti-roll bar and the weight-jacker. The last lap is just a case of hanging on and hoping the spots of rain haven't turned into drizzle by the time I get back to Turns 3 and 4.
The sliding through the last six turns scrubbed a little time off so our average ended up 224.9, but the WIX Filters car was the fastest qualifier of the day and I think my time would have put us 18th. Of course, a 225.4 yesterday would have put us a little higher than that, as well, but still only 14th. But everyone's got a story of what might have been. (BELOW: Note the rain on the ground when P.T. returned to the pits at the end of his run.)
But, you know, it's an amazing fine line; Danica should have been on track when I was, and then it would have been me sitting waiting for the track to dry. More stress. More frustration, even though I knew the car was plenty quick enough. But hey, it was a crazy weekend. With one of the Penskes having to wait to Bump Day – by the way, I'm quite proud we out-qualified it – and my old teammate Pat Carpentier coming in to give Dragon Racing some direction – and then having his accident which ended Jay's hopes altogether. And then the rain. Then two Andretti cars DNQ. Really wild. Just thankful we were on the good end of the luck this year.
Dennis, Robbie [Reinbold and Buhl, co-owners] and Larry were pretty emotional, and I'm not surprised. Davey, Justin, Bia and myself are starting the Indy 500. In the team meeting after we were through, Larry was saying, “We put everything we have into this so, as a small team, to put four cars in the field when you see some of the struggles that the giant teams went through despite all their sponsorship dollars, and despite this being so deep a field…that was pretty impressive.” And I have to agree; there was good team spirit. We were all down at the line supporting Bia in case she had to run again.
While I'm here, I also want to give out a verbal fist bump to Alex Lloyd. I'm telling you, when the chips were down, he stood on the gas in that Dale Coyne car after all his struggles over the previous couple of days. That was impressive.
So now we've got just one more hour of practice, on Carb Day, before the race, just to get the WIX Filters car decent in traffic – and with a bit more accurate forecast on the weather we're likely to have on race day. We're pretty confident that we'll be OK, though, because we did a lot of running in traffic on medium-downforce settings last week and were pulling up on cars in the draft. I think we have a good chance of running strong on Memorial Day. We know how good D&R cars are on race day. Remember, when we got the cars off the truck, they had that setup from last year and it was just easy to drive but fast, too.
By the time you're reading this, I'll have caught a 5:30 a.m. flight to Toronto with Tag and Hinchcliffe to meet the Canadian media. I'll be back for tomorrow night, though, and I'll get a chance to chill for a few days. Not sure the Dreyer & Reinbold team will get much rest, but not sure they need it, either. I think the adrenaline will keep them going. We're all pretty pumped from a crazy weekend that had a great outcome.