In a race, the DW12 is very different from the last Indy car chassis that I drove at IMS in 2011. You feel the effects of the cars in front of you from a long way behind them, both in terms of the tow pulling you to them, and the understeer that kicks in from their wake. I started learning that I needed to adjust my tools as far as four car lengths back to be able to carry more throttle through the corners while following another car. I started trying to learn where I needed to get out of the throttle to be able to make the pass cleanly before the turn, so there was no argument who's corner it was when we got there. One by one, I started to pick people off and make my way up the order. As the stint went on, I knew cars were also starting to pit around me, but it was only when I watched the race back on my DVR that I realized that for a couple of laps I was running P2 at IMS, in the Indianapolis 500 under green, as the pit stops started to cycle through.
Unfortunately, at the end of this stint came the first contentious moment of my short race. I caught up to lap Buddy Lazier, and was unable to get around him on the way into Turn Three, unlike the two cars ahead of me. So I eased off the throttle and elected not to pass him until the front straight, not wanting to try and force the issue in the short chute. Given how my race would end only a few laps later, it's somewhat ironic that the whole reason I did not want to go around the outside of him in Turn Four was because I know that is a bad place to get in the gray.
However, Buddy was a lot slower than I had bargained for (I later found out this was because of a fuel pressure issue), and I ended up having to check up even more than I had been expecting, despite already being down in fourth gear as I entered in Turn Four behind him. At the exact same time, Sebastian Saavedra, who was a lap down on me, must have decided we were both going too slow, and the DVR replay shows him putting his nose inside of me right as I started to turn down to take my line into Turn Four behind Buddy.
We drivers do rely on our spotters for information, and my guys did an amazing job the entire month long. I knew someone was closing, but the angle of view or the closing rate that Seb had on Buddy and I, given how slow we were both going, must have caught everyone out. I never knew he had tried to put his nose there until I watched the race replay on DVR. I have expressed this to both Seb in person and his Dragon crew, but I am genuinely sorry that their race ended this way. It was a tough break, and a tough deal.
I pitted during the caution period and as I rejoined the track, immediately came the second big contentious moment of my race. Cars coming out of the pits were ignoring the blend line at pit exit, and just trying to accelerate up to whereever they wanted to be in the pack! There was mass confusion, and I asked several times for clarification from race control as to where I was meant to line up. I got the answer and moved into line; however I don't know whether race control didn't tell Graham Rahal and James Jakes this information, or whether they ignored it. I do know that coming down the back straight, under yellow, there was some extremely aggressive passing going in the pack, and assuming that the perpetrators would get penalized for their actions I was furious, but I elected to drop a couple of places back from where I should have restarted to avoid getting into something stupid under yellow. Inside my helmet, I was fuming.
After the restart I started picking off cars one at a time again, and I quickly caught up to Graham, who was meant to have restarted behind me. I watched his line through Turn Four, and knew there was a hole where I could get clean air the next lap. I timed my lift through Three, aimed my car at the clean air down low on the inside in Four, but that time Graham kept coming down in front of me, and I was about a half-car length too close given his different line. As my car took off up the track, Graham was releasing his car out of the corner in front of me. No clean air. No clean air. No clean air. Smack. I whacked the wall with my right-side tires. I'm sure you can imagine the fine stream of choice language that was escaping me at the time.
I drove the car down into Turn One, and caught a big snap, drove it through Two with no issue, and wondered whether it was just paranoia, or whether I had knocked it hard enough to bend something. Another big snap and catch in Turn Three unfortunately confirmed that my day was done, and I headed back down to pit lane.
The guys checked the front of the car, and told me what I already knew – one bent toe link, and one bent wishbone. We had to shut her off, and we were done.
My initial reaction after thanking the Cyclops Gear guys for all their hard work was frustration and fury. I was furious at race control for allowing the shenanigans before the restart, furious with Graham for restarting in front of me when he was meant to be lined up behind, and furious with myself for making a rookie mistake when trying to line up the pass on Graham, that I shouldn't have even had to make.
Race control did eventually fine Graham and James Jakes for “blend line” infractions, but that didn't help me, and didn't put my car back on track. I did later speak to race director Beaux Barfield, and he told me that after the incidents under that yellow were reviewed they did later announce to all the teams that any more of the nonsense we experienced under yellow would get people drive-through penalties under green. While I'm glad a harder line is going to be taken, my initial reaction was obviously that I wish this decision had been taken before my race ended, trying to pass a car that should have already been behind me.
However, a day after the race, and a good night's sleep to help settle down and reflect on things, I realize that we still have a huge amount to be proud of this month of May, despite things not finishing the way we wanted in the race. With our small but determined crew, and amazing help from my teammates, we had a great month overall considering the car had never run before we first took the track two weeks ago to start testing, and with a driver who had last driven an Indy car 18 months ago. We had a great racecar, and despite not really getting any running in traffic before the race, by the time I went out I was plus seven from my starting position (one of the top five highest "movers" at the time), and still comfortably going forward. My two first pit stops back in the car went smoothly, and I spent laps under green flag conditions running in P2, at the Indianapolis 500.
Overall I'm incredibly proud of our effort. The Dale Coyne Racing crew did an amazing job for me this May, and I was thrilled to bring Cyclops Gear to their first Indy 500. The final thought, however, obviously has to go to Tony Kanaan. If there was one good thing about not being in a car at the end of this year's race, it was getting to experience and hear first-hand the metaphorical roof getting raised at IMS when the crowd realized that he had finally won the Indy 500. TK's personal story at Indy has involved some pretty hard luck, despite always being fast, and if you've ever spoken to TK and mentioned the three magic letters “IMS” you will have no doubt how much this means to him. They always say that you don't choose to win Indy, she chooses you. This year I think, ranks up as one of her best choices ever. Congrats TK!