Well, a day of mixed feelings that sort of ended on a positive note after the doom and gloom of yesterday. As usual we made a good start and went from 24th to 18th in the first couple of laps. Once I got to the front when everyone else pitted, I needed it to go green and string the field for a while if I was going to make a stop under green: that would have meant I could come in and get out in 10th or so. Or, because I had 17 laps of fuel left when I hit the front, if it had gone 16 laps before a yellow, maybe the others would have stopped too and I'd have been in among them when I came out.
Those would have been the perfect ways for it to play out for us. But you know, miracles don't happen often, so what we got today was the result of hard work and a strategy that worked as far as it could. No one would have predicted that many yellow-flag laps: even by Toronto standards, it was a bit nuts, to be honest.
It was also a bit of a shame that when I dived past Simona, I sent the car over a bump which was enough to make the car go light and lock the rear brakes. I couldn't get them to unlock, and obviously that stalls the motor. So I slid kinda sideways into the entrance of the escape road and had to get a bump start. Without that, I'd have gotten at least eighth. We had the pace.
When we got the next green flag, I flat drove past Ryan Briscoe, and I was freaking flying. I was pretty happy with my pace at the end of the race. I think I was setting times that were faster than the leaders at that point, and my last four laps were quicker than my qualifying lap!
Afterward, Jimmy was asking me, “So where the hell did that come from?!” and to be honest, it was a case of the track rubbering up, my black primary tires hitting their sweet spot – and a change in technique. At the very end of my red-tire segment – my middle segment – I had such bad understeer, I changed the gears I was running in a couple of spots on the track. I changed down an extra gear, partly because I was going slower, but also because that meant I could control the understeer better by neutralizing it by pushing the tail out with the gas pedal.
So then, once I got the blacks on, I continued to do that and my lap times were much quicker and I was running 62.5sec until the yellow, and after that, I was getting 62.1sec. Even Will Power's fastest lap was a 61.4. So I think it's fair to say we closed the pace gap to the front runners from Friday to Sunday. It's one of those times when you accept that just because you've been around Indy cars for 20 years, you haven't seen it all yet. You've got to be open to new ideas. Next year, if I have a ride, I'll experiment some more with that technique whenever a car has bad understeer on low-speed turns.
So we ended up finishing 13th, a good improvement on our grid slot, although it could have been even better. But given our circumstances at the start of the day, we did the right thing: we took a brave gamble, put the Honda Canada/Make A Wish and Motegi Racing car at the front of the field, led 14 laps, made the crowd go crazy, made the sponsors happy as we got a ton of TV time on an ABC broadcast and we got out of there with no damage to the car. That's kind of important for KV Racing, because they're going through a spell of leaving each circuit with at least one car wadded up.
That last stint has left me chomping at the bit for Edmonton. I think the team will be having a major think over the next few days, because they know what's got to be done now. We can't spend two-and-a-half days chasing our tails again. We need the cars to roll off the truck somewhere close to good, so then we can go about our business fine-tuning it. Like I say, our car was set up pretty well for the end of the race today but we need to arrive at that destination a lot quicker. I think we can because we had the top non-Penkse/Ganassi car at Edmonton last year and beat people like Rahal and Justin.
This year, we need to really hit the right spring/damper combination (because Edmonton's a real bumpy circuit) and the right gear strategy, and then I believe we can start in the top 10. If we don't start off the weekend with major understeer like last year, I reckon we can get the balance tweaked up pretty well for qualifying.
Going back to today, I was sorry for Dreyer & Reinbold and Justin that one little error had such a big effect, because they'd been taking the battle to the top teams all weekend. And I'd also like to point out that although most of the big dogs screwed up in some way through the day, the two girls out there drove smart, clean, fast races and came out with good finishes.
Finally, as well as thanking my usual bunch of sponsors – Motegi Racing, Kicker Car Audio, CEC, AlpineStars, Oakley and Monster – I also want to say that Honda Canada has done a great job again: I'm hearing the Make A Wish deal has raised $70,000 already and we've still got a race to go. So thank you to all those fans in Toronto over the past three days. Those kids who are going to get help from this effort…well, they really sort of put my weekend's troubles into perspective.
I'll get back to you on Friday. Or Thursday if I have any news or gossip.P.T.