Finally back to speed, P.T. found some new issues to work through. (LAT photo)
Well, obviously the big story of the day was Simona de Silvestro's shunt. I didn't see it too clearly, because I was in my car, and just saw a replay. It looked like something broke, then it hit the wall and went airborne once and then a second time when she hit the fence. She's really lucky it didn't dig into the fence and start cartwheeling around, like Conway's accident last year or Kenny Brack's at Texas back in '03. Simona's been real lucky twice in the space of a year, with the fire at Texas last season and then this wreck. It wasn't a good accident at all, not for her or for HVM Racing, but in the circumstances, it was about as good as bad could be, if you know what I mean. I hope they can all bounce back from this.
Thankfully it was less dramatic for us, but it was still an interesting day for everyone who works on the WIX Filters No. 23 car – in fact, for the whole Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team. The main thing is that we had six hours of rain-free practice. Everyone up and down pit lane was happy about that. But for us, it has also thrown up a handling quirk that we're working on getting ironed out.
We were never completely where we wanted to be with the car's handling and spent the day chasing rear-end stability. I wouldn't go as far as to call it loose; it was just moving around more than we wanted. And when the rear of the car is unsettled, it kind of unsettles the driver at 220-plus mph. We counteracted it by dialing in some understeer, but then on the corner exit, the rear would still get a little nervous.
When you're adding some understeer, though, you can't allow it to alter the lines you take to the corner too much, because there isn't much of a variety of routes around a track once you're at these speeds. You have to dive down to the apex and want to drive hard off without the front or the rear giving up on you, but we were in that zone where we were teeter-tottering back and forth, trying to hit that fine line between push and loose.
The positive spin to put on it is this: even though we weren't happy with the balance, we had decent speed – and we have the potential to go faster because we weren't trimming it out because of the rear-end situation. I got a couple of decent tows, stuck in some good laps and we wound up 12th. But like I say, there's real room for improvement; we're just not quite ready to go all the way with it yet until we get the mechanical grip.
My teammate Justin Wilson went down a different route, an alternate setup, and I don't think he was crazy about it. Davey Hamilton, one of my other teammates, found his car a bit rear-endy, too, and he and I were pretty similar in setup, so he didn't get going too strong. Of course, they're old hands at this, but I've been interested in Bia's feedback, too, which I think is fairly good. She's a pleasant girl, and she qualified well here last year. She definitely seems to have a good feel for what's going on with the car.
By the end of the day, when most of the big times went up from the guys ahead of us, we were on race setups, we were pretty near the end of the life of the set of tires and we weren't hunting for a tow off of other cars. So I think the 223mph laps we were clocking were pretty respectable for running outside the draft. Some of the other teams were throwing new tires on their cars and trying to get big drafts, and that's why we dropped from seventh to 12th in the closing stages. When we find that last bit of mechanical grip, that's when we'll start laying the wings flat, not before.
That's the thing about Indy; even with restricted track time because of the weather, you still have to play it patient. You can't just hang your balls on the line and think you can carry the car. You may get away with it for one or two laps, but then you're chewing concrete on the third. So we're being sensible, building up to the car's natural limit. When we do, I expect the WIX Filters car to be able to run 225s without a draft. That should lock us in the field on Saturday.
We have enough sets of tires to really work on our qualifying setup on Friday, but it's going to be a pain in the ass trying to run solo. There will be a lot of cars out on track at any given time, so it's going to be hard to avoid getting a tow and to really simulate a qualifying run. The other thing is, we won't be putting on our best aero bits until Friday night, so the Saturday morning lap times will be more representative of what we can do in qualifying.
After practice, I went for a bike ride, to give myself an hour or two to really digest everything that happened today, while my engineer Yves Touron got a chance to dive into the data and examine the shock traces and steering traces. My feedback kind of confirms what he's seeing now and he and I talked late last night. He has some good ideas on what to change and I'm looking forward to trying it out; he's a smart guy. This Dreyer & Reinbold team is a pretty switched-on operation, and I think WIX Filters, Motegi Racing and my personal sponsor Rockford Fosgate realize that, too, and they're pretty happy with the progress the No. 23 car has been making.
Talking of sponsors, my manager Brian Marks at Top Speed Management has landed another one for me, which we'll be announcing today (if you're reading this Friday). And the other great thing about Friday is that my wife Patty will be arriving. Can't wait!
So on track and off, lots to look forward to. It's gonna be Fast Friday and Damn Fine Friday.