Target achieved. We got the Honda Indy Toronto car into the Top 12, and have beaten some pretty good car/driver combos like Tony Kanaan and Ryan Hunter-Reay at Andretti Autosport. And considering where we came from in this morning's practice, I think we've got to be content. I was a little worried earlier today. We had started out with some fairly major changes to the car to eradicate the understeer we had yesterday, and the changes we made didn't give us what we needed.
We gained a little bit of time, but others had made a jump, and I think we were 20th. I even started wondering if it's a me problem? I was like, “Whoah! Maybe I really am too old for this sh*t.” But then Yves (my engineer) and myself looked at the data traces and found where I was outbraking Justin (Wilson, my Dreyer & Reinbold Racing teammate) in a couple of areas, but then not getting off the corner quick enough It's all about momentum at a place like Watkins Glen. If you brake a little bit later and harder and upset the pitch of the car more than your teammate, you can't pick the throttle up and straighten out so quick as he can, so you'll lose exit speed. Around here, that's going to cost you all down the next straight. Compared to Justin, I was losing fairly sizable chunks of lap time in two areas. That's the kind of problem you have to correct when you haven't been in one of these cars for almost a year.
Before qualifying we also made some pretty major changes to the car and went out in my group with a fresh set of the hard tires, and in just three laps I could feel the balance was a lot better. Then we did what everyone else did and changed to reds, and we grabbed fifth and transferred into the Top 12. We were pretty happy with that, because our group was quite stout with two Ganassis, Sato's KV car, Hunter-Reay and Will Power in it.
So then we tried to improve on the balance again and reduce understeer, but we didn't really get there. We did go quicker, but not enough, which is a bit of a pity. Don't get me wrong, I knew the Fast Six would be out of reach, but I hoped ninth or 10th might have been possible. Then again, considering the problems of this morning, I think we should be fairly happy with ourselves. If we'd started the day with the setup we ended up with, maybe we'd be looking at eighth on the grid. But hey, I altered my driving style so I guess I improved me, and was able to increase what I bring to the Dreyer & Reinbold table, so gains on both sides.
I was fairly pleased overall though, so even though the competitive animal in me, once he's achieved his target, wants a little more and a little more, to outqualify race-winners who race these cars all season, go testing and have a ton of experience in these cars.
We had to choose our starting tires for tomorrow, and we've decided on a set of used reds; I'm guessing most people will do that. It will make the first few laps interesting, with people finding some extra grip. We haven't decided on strategies yet: I think there are a lot of drivers planning to do the race on two stops but to do that, you'd need to be pretty efficient at your fuel saving or have long periods of yellow. If you decide to stop if there's a yellow in the first 12 laps, there's not really a way of doing the race on two stops. That's pretty much committing you to three. So we just have to stay flexible. Dennis Reinbold, is calling my race and he knows what he's doing, so that's fine.
Overall, I've gotta say I'm getting a good vibe from Dreyer & Reinbold, I've got to say. I had a nice meal last night with Robbie and some of the D&R marketing guys, and Larry Curry the team manager seems a good guy. He's a lesson in not judging a book by the cover: Larry's a rough, tough-looking dude, but turns out he's quite friendly.
The other good thing is that the main man from Motegi Racing wheels who helped make this project possible is here so I was able to introduce him to Robbie, and he's getting pretty high on the IZOD IndyCar Series, so that's a good sign. Check out their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/Motegi-Racing/116089027007?ref=ts
Looking at the grid, I'm wondering if there might be quite a few yellows, to be honest. I'm already thinking I may have a tornado around me on the opening lap with Marco Andretti, Mario Moraes and a rookie Adam Carroll in eighth, ninth and tenth. And then there's that long straight for them all to be slipstreaming on the first lap…
Realistically, a goal for tomorrow would be a solid finish in the top eight. With a mistake-free race, I think there's a good chance of that. Let's hope, huh? I want Dreyer & Reinbold to be as happy having me here as I am to get this chance.