Hey, a good long day of running, and overall we’re looking okay. Twelfth might not look amazing, but we spent most of the day working at race downforce levels, and we hardly got a tow and a lot of the people ahead did. We’re reasonably satisfied, I’d say.
When I woke up this morning there was a blanket of fog over the track and it was quite cold. But the track dried pretty early. So we started out where we finished on Tuesday, still with high-downforce, and we made a couple of runs in race downforce, to try and get in some traffic and get used to drafting and until 11 we were sitting up between P4 and P6.
After a break for lunch, and as the cloud cover broke up, and the temperature started rising our plan was to do a longer run again on race downforce but with a little bit of rear wing taken out, because we’d had a little bit of understeer in the morning. We snuck it down a half a degree, and I did a longer, 15-lap run, and ran some good speeds. The bummer was that it seemed like there was no one on the track as I did it, or at least, I certainly couldn’t find anyone. So I couldn’t do a real good simulation of what it would be like in traffic.
Having said that, we were quite happy with the speeds, running solo at 220mph. So then we decided to take a break, go and look over the car and take some more wing out. You basically have three steps of downforce, and that first time we’d taken half a step of wing out to get used to it, and went out and ran okay times. We were monitoring people like Scott Dixon and Dario and everyone was trimming, trimming, trimming doing qualifying runs and trying to catch tows. So the speeds were creeping up, and by then we were like eighth or ninth on the board. So then we took another half a step out but that gave us a little bit of an imbalance so we went back to the pad to make some other changes to counteract that, but take some more downforce off.
When we went back out, about 5 p.m., we ran an older set of tires and were doing 221s, and then we put on a newer set with about 10 minutes to go and I went straight out and my first two flying laps were 222s. The car felt pretty good, but I had a car behind me – Nelson Philippe, I think – that I was pulling around, and I didn’t want to do that. So I backed off, tucked in behind him and thought, “Well hell, let’s lay it to the wood and get a pull off of him and probably run a 223 or even a 224” – but he saw what I was up to and after pulling me around for half a lap, he backed out of it between Turns 3 and 4, and let me back past. So we were back and forth a bit.
When I got back to the pits, Jimmy was a bit annoyed with me: “Hell, we wanted you to do a mock qualifying run, not just pull a big number!” he said. But I think we could have gotten back into the top five or six, and that would still have been representative of our performance, because it seemed everyone else had gotten a tow as well, back in the middle of the day. I mean, Marco Andretti’s time was from getting a quadruple draft down the front straight, weaving in and out of people. I can tell you, the kid’s not 3mph quicker than us, whatever the timing sheets say.
In fact, the more I think about it, I’d say we’re looking pretty good. I don’t think we’ll be on the front row, but we’ve got a couple of stages of drag to still come off, and the team’s telling me they reckon there’s another 1.5mph in the car which would put us into the 224mph bracket. Well, I’m reckoning we need to run 222.8 to 223.1 to get inside the Top 11 on Saturday, that’s my gut feeling.
But we’ve got to get everything right. The track’s rubbering in, so our race setup was a little bit on the soft side. As you pull downforce off, you’ve got to go back down on spring rates because with too stiff a spring, you’ll start to lose grip and start to slide the tire, and that’s when you start scrubbing off speed in the turns. So our plan tomorrow is to start taking downforce off and go down a little bit softer on the springs to keep the grip, and basically work on a qualifying setup.
We really want to make the Top 11 and qualify this weekend. We’re on a limited-mileage program and a limited-tire program so we want to and not run much next week – probably just a little bit on Friday – so we can save our tires for the race. Comfortably we’ll be Top 22, but our goal has to be Top 11, the first four rows.
Right, I’ve gotta split, as I’m off to the airport to pick up my wife Patty. She’s landing any moment, and then we’ll head back to the track for dinner with the engineers.
Speak to you tomorrow.P.T.[Subscribe to RACER before May 26 in order to start your subscription with the July issue, which includes an exclusive, no-holds-barred Paul Tracy interview. - Ed.]
______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________Wednesday, May 7
No track activity today because of the weather but it turned into a fairly full day. That’s good because it takes my mind off the frustration of not carrying on our momentum from yesterday.
It was dry when I got up this morning, and Nelson Philippe, Stanton Barrett and a couple of other people ran today – I guess there was about an hour’s running. I’d been at the Speedway’s gym, working out down in the basement, and I met Danica’s husband and we chatted for a couple of minutes – seems a good guy. But by now it had started raining. So when I came back to the track, me and the KV Racing people went straight into an engineering meeting at 10 a.m. We were discussing what our running plan would be if it dried out. Just as we got to that though, it started looking more and more unlikely, as the rain was really coming down cats and dogs.
At 12:30 we had a drivers’ meeting for all competitors, and that lasted about a half-hour or so. If you’re wondering why we need a drivers meeting on a day when there’s virtually no running, believe me, we cover stuff that can’t be emphasized enough. Watching for yellow lights and yellow flags is an obvious one, but watching your pit entry and exit is another major issue at Indy.
We’ve got to remember that if we’re not up to speed, we’ve gotta use that warm-up lane. The thing is, you may feel like you’re going quick as you come out of the pits, but because of the long gearing we use here, you may only have reached 200mph by the end of the back straightaway. Well, if someone on-track already is bearing down on you at 225, that’s a serious closing rate; you may not see him, but a second later he’s on top of you.
Let’s put it this way: just think how much avoidance you have to do as you’re driving to work, when you’re cruising along happy at 45mph and someone filters into your lane doing 20. Well, multiply that to our speeds and remember what a delicate state our cars are already at when we’re pitching into Turn 3. Suddenly being forced to change line can have a horrendous consequence.
So drivers need to have it hammered home to watch mirrors, use your spotters’ eyes and advice, and basically take care of where other people are on the track. That was today’s kind of message. Afterward, I spoke to Brian Barnhart and he was nice and professional. He said: “Hey, anything you need like extra passes and so on, we’re here. We’re happy to have you, excited to have you back, so just let us know if there’s anything you want.” That was cool, he didn’t need to do that, so I bit my tongue instead of asking, “Okay, how about getting me back in a ride full-time?”
I went back to the garage, and nothing really was happening, so I left the track for a little bit to buy a wireless card for my computer so I could go online and check out my blog from last night.
But before I could check it out, I had a major new issue. By now the rain was hammering down, and when I got back to my bus, I noticed the carpet in the bedroom part of it was all wet, over by the wall where my window is. The window wasn’t open, but there was water coming in from the window sill. Nice start to the month.
So I went back over to the garage, got myself a cordless drill, and some silicone because I was guessing it was a faulty seal, and I spent a good couple of hours basically disassembling the passenger-side wall of my motorhome – and I proceeded to do a cocking good job on the window frame, if I do say it myself.
Still I couldn’t sit down with the computer, because then Jimmy Vasser and me had a fairly long interview with a guy from USA Today
. I think it gets printed up next week after qualifying. Then we had contact with a couple of sponsors that we’ve been talking to, basically to discuss doing some more races. I can’t really say who they are right now, but we’ve got to the stage of firing back and forth with renditions of locations for decals on cars, so keep your fingers crossed.
After that, nothing too exciting: Hung out at Kevin K’s motorhome with Jimmy, but I had to head on back to mine and check out the carpet. Good news: it’s dry. No more leaks. And then the day was over. So let’s look at the positives of a rainy Wednesday at Indy: your favorite driver isn’t going to wake up in a puddle of water tonight, and he’s still got the fastest lap of the month.
One more positive to take from this crappy weather is that we kinda planned for this by taking that refresher course on Tuesday, because we’d seen the weather forecast for these next three days. So to have gotten that extra bit of track time yesterday and not to have to wait until Thursday afternoon or Friday morning is a good thing. Maybe that gives us a small advantage going into the weekend if it continues to rain. We’ve been on track, we know our car’s good, and so we can get down to trimming out right away for qualifying while other guys are still getting used to their cars.
The running in traffic is another thing I’m looking forward to, and that will come soon because there’ll be a lot of cars around now,whenever we hit the track. As soon as we get the green, we’ll do a couple of long runs with race downforce, mix it with traffic, get in the draft and get comfortable. And then our next move will be to start pulling some of the drag off of the car and see how far we can go.
Because of the rain today, they’ve bumped practice forward from 11 a.m. to 8:30 or 9 on Thursday. Hopefully, we’ll get some track time, but if we don’t, I’ll probably still be able to get another update to you before my wife flies in.
I did tell you I wouldn’t run out of things to say, didn’t I? But hey, I won’t pretend: for GEICO’s sake, for Kevin and Jimmy’s sake, and for the sake of my personal sponsors like Monster, CEC Wheels and Whipple Industries (they build superchargers – great ones, too), I’m happy to be a media whore. They have supported me, and that’s something I can do in return.
And anyway, I quite like doing this blog. Gotta say though, the guy in the picture at the top looks like he’s got a bit of an attitude. What’s his problem, huh?
P.T.[Subscribe to RACER before May 26 in order to start your subscription with the July issue, which includes an exclusive, no-holds-barred Paul Tracy interview. - Ed.]
__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________TUESDAY, MAY 5
Pretty good day’s work, huh? It’s good to be back. Actually, it’s great to be back, not just because we’re getting prepared for the Indy 500 but because, at long last, I’m driving a fast, open-wheel racecar again. It’s what I was born to do, and you have no idea how much it’s hurt to feel shut out since last July.
The other thing I was born to do was compete at the front, and that’s what KV Racing Technologies has employed me to do, that’s why GEICO are on board, and why Monster, CEC Wheels, and so on are with me.
The No. 15 car today was everything that Kevin Kalkhoven, Jimmy Vasser and team manager Mark Johnson told me they’d give me. It was quick, well-balanced, and even when we ran race downforce, I was still able to turn a 220mph on my third hot lap. That put us quickest for a couple of hours.
We had a few electronics problems – couple of sensors weren’t working, there was a laser that wasn’t working and a strain gauge that wasn’t working properly, and it took a couple of hours to sort through that, and in the meantime Robert Doornbos went quicker. But we got back out about 4 o’clock and ran that same set of tires, did a longish run in the mid 220s, and came in again. Then we put some more fuel in, a new set of tires, and ran a 223.1 and went to the top of the charts. Pretty sweet.
That was satisfying for the team: it really reflects their hard work and proves we’re solid as a unit. And of course, GEICO are gonna be pleased, because they didn’t make the show last year. Seems like everybody’s over the moon to see me back in a car, so for us to go quickest is a big bonus. It’s not like we didn’t all have faith in each other – none of us would have made our moves to get together if any of us had thought there might be a weak link in the chain. But you still breathe a sigh of relief at the end of the first day when everything’s gone so well.
There’s a long way to go, of course. Track conditions today were about perfect: pretty sunny, light winds, 78 degrees ambient. It’s pretty close to how the weather is being forecast for Saturday qualifying. But still you can’t make a direct comparison or prediction with the weekend situation. There’s not a lot of rubber on the track yet, and this diamond-cut track surface is chomping through the tires pretty quick. You get 24 or 25 laps out of a set right now and as the tires start to wear, the rear-end gets a little bit nervous – the usual stuff. But I’m expecting as the lap count builds up, with more and more rubber going down, we’re going to get more grooves, more lines for us to take, so each session is going to be like an investigation to see how much grip is available and where.
So far I’ve got to say the KV car’s been pretty well balanced. But one of the things we didn’t really try is running traffic, simply because there weren’t enough cars out there today. In fact there were only a handful running at all, and probably a maximum of three at any one time. So that’s another aspect we’ve got to keep our eye on during the days ahead.
But for today, I’m satisfied. Another thing I was grateful for was the reaction from the spectators. I’m not a race driver who people think needs a lot of loving outside of the team, but I’ve got to confess I was pleased to see so many well-wishers and quite a few excited fans. Also I caught up with Dario Franchitti and Justin Wilson and chatted with them a bit, and obviously Mario Moraes as a teammate is someone I’m gonna be dealing with a lot this month.
Apart from that, I didn’t get a lot of time to talk to anyone outside of the team, but that’s fine: this isn’t a social occasion and it feels good to do real work again and get concentrating. Having said that, I’ve gotta run off to the Mari Hulman George reception party now, but I’ll be back with you every day we get on track this month – and maybe some days when we don’t. This is a big deal for me, so you can be sure I won’t run out of things to say…P.T.[Subscribe to RACER before May 26 in order to start your subscription with the July issue, which includes an exclusive, no-holds-barred Paul Tracy interview. - Ed.]