Paul Tracy walks down the qualifying line as his car is pushed for his last attempt. (LAT photo)
Can you believe it? Because I can't. The GEICO No.15 car is going to miss the biggest race in the world. Somewhere out there is a setup sheet with all the details of how to make an Indy car handle well around Indy whatever the track conditions and ambient temperatures. And, unfortunately, it's Penske that owns it and he's not likely to send photocopies our way.
I'm sorry for my personal sponsors – Kicker Car Audio, Monster Energy, Ridetech, Oakley and CEC Wheels – and I'm real sorry for Doug Barnette whose PMI company put GEICO and myself together. It was a great deal but, in the end, Mother Nature needed to give us a miracle to overcome our deficiencies.
And that's what really sucks: we'd have been in the field if it had been a cool day. I think I can say that completely honestly, because we were quick all through practice week, including even this morning. We set the third-fastest time of the day, a 225+, all by myself in the morning. That was just after 9 a.m., before the track heated up. We went back to the garage and went through tech inspection, rolled it back out about 90 minutes later, the track temperature had risen about 20 degrees and the car slowed down by about 1mph. And then it slowed down some more. It was all over the track.
All week the car was fantastic; we were thinking we'd definitely match our grid position from last year – 13th – at the very worst, and likely be fighting for a place in the Fast Nine. And then in the heat of the day it was like we were on ice. You'll have seen it on TV. The car was sliding all over the place, barely missing the wall. You can't have it like that and expect to be in the Indy 500, because all the time you're going sideways, you're wasting momentum that should be used to make the car go forward. You're just scrubbing off speed. The only thing keeping it off the wall were steering corrections.
I know KV Racing will get a bad rap for this, and in hindsight, we should have just held on to the time and we'd have been the last car in, but we thought Jay Howard was going to bump us out. He was one of only two cars that were quicker than us Sunday morning. And that's just one of those twists of fate: Howard and me set the first- and third-fastest times of the day, and we both got beaten to grid slot 33 by a kid in Methodist Hospital with a smoking wreck of a car. The magic of Indy, huh?
It was a team decision to run again, but I'm part of the team and I'm never one to go down without a fight, so if they say, “Go on, let's do this freakin' thing,” then I'm there 110 percent. Unfortunately, the car was only there 80 percent. It was so sideways it felt like an accident waiting to happen every couple of corners and I barely missed the wall a couple of times. I guess if there's one thing that can give me any spark in this sorry mess is that the doubters who thought I was too old for this saw that I had the cojones to take the car beyond where it wanted to go. I can still pedal an Indy car. In an all-or-nothing situation, I gave it all and came away with nothing.
I suppose also I can say that I was the only KV Racing driver not to wad his car up at some point in the last few days – but when you're also the only KV driver not to make the field, that means squat. They get to go racing next Sunday, I get to sit on my hands.
It's easy to look back on that software glitch that meant we had to abort our Pole Day run in ideal temperature on Saturday morning, and say, “That's what cost us,” and, yeah, in retrospect it actually killed us. But that trouble wouldn't have been such a big issue if we'd had a car that had some grip in hot weather. We had plenty other chances to get it right and we never did.
It makes me think back to last year, where I got up off the couch and came to Indy and KV gave me a car that was easy to drive. It wasn't as fast as this year's car had the potential to be, but it at least gave you some positive messages. It was dependable and solid and we put it on the fifth row. Unfortunately, this year's GEICO No. 15 KV car swung between two extremes of being quick and being lousy, and the weather caught us in our weak spot. And what's weird is that we started out with virtually the same setup that we had on last year's car, but it only worked in temperatures between 50 and 75 degrees.
It wasn't just me: Tony Kanaan went through a similar thing at Andretti Autopsport and demolished two cars. And in both cases we're in multi-car teams, so we should benefit from having teammates. Well, I think I tried all my teammates' setups – and every freakin' point in between – to fix it. We were all over the map and it made no difference to the No. 15's handling in warm temperatures on a qualifying setup. I tell you, I feel sorry for EJ, Taku and Mario if it's warm on race day, because there's only a bit of practice on Friday to sort things out if they're still having similar problems. On the other hand, with race-level downforce on, they may be OK. I was second quickest on Friday with that setup.
A few people have wondered if I'd do what's been done in the past and try and buy a ride from one of the drivers already qualified, but that's just not my style. Not at all. You live and die by the sword, and we just didn't earn our way onto the grid, so I'm not gonna bump someone out of his or her ride. Too much pride for that kinda game.
So, I'm heading up to Toronto to announce some sponsors for the Canadian races, and that at least is a bright spot in the dark right now. I'm gonna stay lean, stay mean and wait for the green. I'll keep you posted.
Thanks for everyone's support since we announced this deal at Long Beach. I promise you this: it isn't the last you've seen of me at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. My last time there will not be a day when I'm walking out with my tail between my legs.