A haboob (look it up – I had to) blew over my new hometown of Scottsdale, Ariz., last week, and I'm thinking something similar descended on my old home city of Toronto last weekend. A lot of the drivers were making haboobs of themselves out there and the result was a lot of broken carbon fiber, a lot of broken relationships and dust-ups and some Twitter wars. And, for once, I only had a bit part to play.
The Make A Wish/Honda Canada car was pretty good – thank you Jay Penske and the Dragon Racing team – and it's a real shame we didn't get to see it in our qualifying performance. It looked like we had a 15th- or 12th-place car through practice but, in qualifying, I couldn't get a clear lap. I had some really unfortunate timing with Ana Beatriz – not hers or Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's fault, really. On my out lap, she came flying by so I slowed down as much as I could. I think they'd given her enough gas to run for 12 of the 15 minutes, and I was fueled up for just six. So when I was ready to cut loose and cut a time, she'd already been out for four or five laps, and she was slowing down to give her tires a break. I'd just done one warm-up lap, which was a 60.4 and then I was on my hot lap when I caught her with three corners to go, so I aborted that lap. At that point, Ana took off to do her next flyer, and then slowed down. Of course, my next flying lap was her next cooling-off lap, and so on.
The thing is, none of us could slow down too much because it's only a 60sec lap at Toronto, there are 12 or 13 of us out there at any one time, and so if you try to give yourself too much space, eventually you're going to back up into someone else and have the same problem, back and forth. I stayed out one extra lap to try and get a lap in, and JR Hildebrand ran out of fuel in front of me which screwed that lap…and then I ran out of fuel, too, as the checker came out.
Would we have been on the pole? No. But we were on the cusp of making it into the top 12, and a tenth either way was four or five positions. But getting one complete lap in while the tires were at their best? I don't think I managed it all weekend. Pretty crazy. So we went into the warm-up with our race setup on and, again, felt the car was pretty good. We knew it would be all about making the most of it but steering clear of trouble, while starting 24th. I'm looking at the lap chart now, and lap 1 we were 21st, then 19th, then TK had his run-in with Briscoe so we were 17th. On the restart we got Simona and Marco, but then Simona got back past me and then we went to a slightly different strategy than most of the others.
That looked like it would be just dandy when the next yellow fell, because after that I was battling with James Hinchcliffe for sixth. So we looked good…for less than a lap, and then Hinch and I got together and it was game over at that point. Damage repair put us two laps down. I can't really complain too much; Hinch ran me hard, and I run people hard. He and I had a discussion over text, and he said we'd agree to disagree with what went down. Like I say, I can have a wheel-to-wheel battle with him, but the one thing I didn't like that he did, was when he clearly didn't get off Turn 1 properly and I hit the push to pass and got a run on him down that long straightaway. I was alongside him before halfway point, and he squeezed me over to the inside wall, had his front wheels between my fronts and rears, so he had me pinned there.
We're doing around 165-170mph at that point. I'm ready to rub wheels with the best of them – that's the nature of street racing: it's always gonna be a bare-knuckle fight, especially at Toronto. But pinning guys against the wall on a straightaway doesn't take any skill and no one's gonna be OK with that.
Anyway, the way I see the collision is that I passed him down the straight, he tried to out-brake me from the outside into Turn 3. Well, OK – he's making himself pretty vulnerable, because you either end up on your head like Tag, or you end up inches apart through the next section. And Helio proved he couldn't drive in a straight line through there, two years ago. So I gave Hinchcliffe some room and we went up the hill side by side, but at Turn 5, he stuffed it down the inside, and understeered into my sidepod, bending my rear suspension, and he got a flat tire. That was a shame – for both of us.
I don't think there's any question that if we'd gotten through the race without any trouble, we'd have wound up fourth because I passed Marco in the early laps and never saw him again and he was eventually fourth. Anyway, I came back out two laps down, because we could see it was going to be carnage out there, so you never know where you might end up.
Then I had a really weird incident with Vitor Meira. I wasn't trying to pass him; I was two laps down, and just basically touched the brakes and all four tires locked up and I slid into him, and a couple of guys behind slid into me, so I don't know if there was something on the track, or…no, I genuinely don't have an explanation for it.
I went to apologize to Vitor afterward, and said, “Sorry, I wasn't even trying to pass you,” and he wasn't upset at all. He said, “It was probably the best thing for me, because it meant I missed all the big accidents and ended up fifth.” Meira's comment kinda sums up what a scrappy race it was.
But the IZOD IndyCar Series heading to Edmonton has a firestorm on their hands, with lots of upset drivers. First race back on the street course and everyone's driving like idiots, and there's no consistency from the officials. Driver A gets spun by Driver B, he sees Driver B doesn't get punished for it, so now suddenly Driver A thinks, “Screw it, I'm gonna go and drive like that, too,” and suddenly the whole thing escalates into a NASCAR bump-'n-run but played with much more dangerous toys. The yellows come out, everyone's bunched up again, they've got cold tires and hot heads, and so it goes on.
The problem is the rules seem to be getting reinterpreted mid-race, and then between races, too. The series seems to go from one extreme to another; they'll give penalties left, right and center one week, then let everyone drive like maniacs the next race, and then the race after that, they're back to handing out penalties to drivers like dishing out candy to fat kids.
I think we're all confused heading to Edmonton. I was speaking to Justin afterward – obviously he was upset with what happened to him – and he said he was going to see Race Control. I said, “Why? You might as well take your hand and slam it in the door. You'll get more satisfaction out of it. And if you go down there you'll leave more upset than you already are.”
That's the way it is. For now. Who knows how it will be at the next race? Your guess is as good as mine. Mike Conway got a penalty – and I understand it was for running into the back of Briscoe – but I think Conway was one of the guys who did the least amount of damage out there, wasn't he?! I'm particularly mentioning him, because I felt bad for him. On one of the restarts, he was right behind me, and I was two laps down so I waved him by and then we get to the next corner and he runs right into someone else's accident, and I get slowed down enough to go right by. If he'd stayed behind me, he'd probably have been OK.
The Make A Wish Foundation with Honda Canada had a great weekend and apparently we helped raise $75,000, which was a great showing from the Toronto fans. Thank you. And I know Edmonton folks are generous, too, so I'm looking forward to meeting them.
I had some great meetings with some of the top guys from Honda, and expressed my interest in working with them next year. I think 2012 will be my final year in IndyCar racing, and I'd like to finish out my career with Honda and working with the Make A Wish Foundation (@MakeAWish). I've also been talking with Jody at @MotegiRacing about my plans, and I'd love to keep the support of @ARMAEnergySNX and @RockfordFosgate. If we can bring the right package together, we can be out there for a full season next year.
Anyway, for now, let's go and make money for kids with medical conditions; Dragon Racing and myself will do our best to put the Make A Wish/Honda Canada car in a prominent position in Edmonton. The new track layout is going to be pretty amazing for racing.