I don’t know what to say about the Indy 500 race, because circumstances made the result for us a bit of an anti-climax. A different decision with the setup or not having the car damaged by Tony Kanaan’s debris would have seen us in fourth and battling Danica for third, I reckon. But having both the No. 15 GEICO car set up too conservative and having a hole punched in its underwing just put the ball-and-chain on us. That’s Indy, I guess.
On Carb Day, the car was really loose because we had a couple of little things wrong on the setup. So bearing in mind it was going to be hot and sticky on race day, KV Racing went a safe route on setup and took off the rear anti-roll bar that the other guys were running, because we felt if we had it on, our car might be too loose. So that was probably a mistake, because I just had too much understeer for the first half of the race, and we kept having to put more and more front wing in it.
That was working, gradually. I was hovering between eighth and 10th and I could always see the leader on the straights, but I’d say the added drag was making us about 1mph too slow on the straights.
Then Tony Kanaan had that huge hit before half-distance, and I weaved through all these parts and debris on the track – which gets pretty interesting at 200mph – but I ran right over his engine management box which pulled the skidplate down, put a hole in the nose and knocked a hole in the underwing.
Well after that, the car felt strange and very draggy. These cars are so fine-tuned, and the whole underwing/skidplate combination provides so much of the downforce. We had a really good pitstop after Kanaan’s wreck, and I came out in fourth and I was licking my chops and thinking, “Okay, I smell the blood now! I’m gonna get a good finish.” But then I discovered on the restart that the car was just slow: I couldn’t catch the cars in front, and I couldn’t even maintain my position. The car was understeering and oversteering after that, and my straightaway speed had been dragged down some more. I was just hanging on the best I could for the second half of the race.
The car was sliding around so badly that we made one more change on the last stop, took some wing out of it, to balance it at the rear, and that worked and got our straightaway speed back up to where it was just 1mph slow again, but that still left us back fighting for eighth to 10th. I think we got fifth or sixth quickest race lap, but I couldn’t get close enough to people in the tow, because I didn’t have enough front end bite to hang on in their slipstream in the corners. This gave us another issue: when someone got a run on me, the car would slide so far across the track that I’d start picking up marbles off-line so someone else could get by.
It’s a pity because I could make some really good passes on people on the first or second lap after a restart, because I’m pleased to say one of my strong points – finding the grip limit on cold tires – hasn’t gone. But over the course of a long run, the car was an eighth to 10th-place car, and that’s where we ended up, and that was just behind the two Ganassi cars.
Unfortunately, on a long oval, Indy car racing becomes very like NASCAR – it’s all about track position, and by the time we got track position, our car was damaged and so it wasn’t fast enough to stay there.
I think if we’d had the same setup as my teammate Townsend Bell, things could have looked a lot better, because his car was really strong. He had just a little bit of a difference in the rear springs and the rear anti-roll bar. That was the difference between having a car that could turn, and not. We were burning off the right-front tire with understeer, and once it starts to go, you can’t stop it, and it gets worse and worse.
I had a good race with Townsend: he said that we were like two kids on video games, and I do know he wasn’t having any of my moves, and also I didn’t have the car to fight back. And Danica drove a great race and said some nice things, too, about our battles. Not too sure her teammate, Hideki Mutoh would be so nice: I had to run him down near the grass to protect my position at one point. In my defense, every time I tried to pass somebody, they’d block so when I’d switch to the outside, they’d then move up and put me in the marbles, so this time I thought I’d do what every one else had been doing. I feel kinda bad for Mutoh, but hey, it’s the biggest race in the world, and others had been doing what they felt they could get away with.
So what can we take from this month, despite the anti-climax? Well, I was able to show I could still run up there with these full-time IndyCar guys and make moves. It wasn’t the end result we wanted, but we finished the race. I believe I did everything the team could have asked of me, and although we’re all a little bit disappointed, that’s actually a good sign because we expected a better result from our combined forces. We have faith in each other’s ability and we know we could have gone better and it shows we weren’t just in it for the sake of an appearance, like some old boxer struggling back into the ring for appearance money for himself and his sponsor. We were ready to fight and I think I showed that I should be out here. I’m not satisfied with a ninth. I never remember my results unless I’m on the podium, so I don’t expect others to.
Someone asked if there’s a chance whether Jimmy will give me Milwaukee anyway, but I don’t think so. It’s all dependent on sponsorship. Townsend did a great job and his sponsor was very fired up, so maybe he’ll do more races. But I’m not sure if KV Racing has the necessary manpower or parts to run three cars full-time: it would mean they had no spare car.
I think I’ve shown I should be in this series for another reason, too: I generated a ton of media not just for myself but for the IndyCar Series and for the Indy 500, and hopefully they’ll see I’m an asset to them.
I want to thank Kevin Kalkhoven and Jimmy Vasser for giving me the ride at Indy. Team manager Mark Johnson and my engineer John Dick and the whole KV Racing crew for doing their best by me. I must say thank you to GEICO for being such a fantastic sponsor for this race – and without Doug Barnette doing that deal, it wouldn’t have been possible. And thanks to Hard Rock in Vegas, and Fordahl for adding their backing to the No. 15 car. And, as ever, I’m continually grateful to my personal sponsors: Monster, CEC Wheels, Kicker Car Audios, Oakley and Whipple Superchargers. Thanks for keeping the faith.
Well, unless we have a sudden lottery win, our next race will be Toronto in July, and Racer.com has invited me to do more blogs then. They know a good thing when they see it. Hope others do too…