The boys stayed until 1 a.m. pulling my car to pieces and putting her back together again. The gearbox was taken apart completely and reassembled, and a new Honda got hooked to the back of the chassis. In case somehow our setup was causing the drag problems and suddenly slowing us down like a dragster's parachute opening up, we had to throw something completely different into play aerodynamically. We had one chance to get it right, so not one stone could be left unturned.
Sunday morning warm-up for Bump Day came – and nearly went without us. The Conquest team was scrambling to try and make it out to give me at least one run before we sent the car back in line to attempt to qualify. I was strapped into the car in the garage and towed out while we were warming the motor. We got four laps with only a moderate amount of aero off, and the results were not promising. For the first time since the ROP regs forced me to lift to keep my speeds down, I was lifting in every corner to keep the car underneath me. We maxed out at only 220mph and at the bottom of the time sheets. My car hadn't necessarily been playing nice with me all week, but on that run “not playing nice” took on a whole new meaning.
Back in the engineering room, things were grim. We didn't have time to put back everything we had changed without giving up our place in line, and with rain coming in, we had to be line to get our shot to make the race. The weather forecasts suggested it was increasingly likely to become a one-shot kind of deal. Sure enough, between rain delays and getting back in line in our original order for our first attempt and with another storm heading our way, the tension mounted. We were pretty sure that this was it, and we weren't going to get another shot at it even if we wanted.
Right before I got in, I looked my manager and my engineer straight in the eyes and told them that I would be going into Turn 1 with no idea what I've got, holding my right foot firmly to the floor. If it stuck, and we were fast enough, we would be going in the show. If we didn't have the speed, I had to accept at that point it was out of my control. If we hadn't cured the back end issues, I was probably going to go in backward with a thunderous hit on my very first green flag lap. I am not the kind of girl who goes down without a fight.
The boys on my car had seen me talking to my manager and engineer, and they had already worked with me long enough during the week to know that I wouldn't be going out there and holding anything back. I was not the only one holding my breath as the green flag waved on my attempt and Turn 1 came into view. The moment the rear end decided it would stick, then I knew it was just about the speed, about staying on top of everything and being as perfect as possible, and if I could just keep it up for three more laps, we might just be OK. I worked my tail off with every tool I had available to me in the cockpit and was rewarded with the lap speeds holding, and then even slowly increasing at the end of my run.
If you had told me on Friday evening that I would be so happy to be back at a 223.936mph average, I would have been worried, and wondered what the hell would make us slow up so much. However, compared to our Saturday woes, we were ecstatic. Plus, with the track not looking fast, it looked like my speed was going to stick.
The next three hours were possibly the longest three hours of my life. We had another rain delay, and I was just praying it would keep raining. However, the track dried out, and I was back on pit lane, all strapped in, ready in case we had to run again. No one looked like they were going to get in. Then, right at the very end, all of a sudden people started bumping, and running faster than us, and our time slipped down the order. I was so tense and nervous I never even heard the gun going off, and it was only when no one else went back on track after Marco that I was certain it was over. We were in the show.
So my personal “once upon a time” story went down with a Walt Disney-style happy ending, despite threatening at times to leave me instead with something written by the Brothers Grimm. But while Indianapolis Motor Speedway was making my dreams come true, in the same breath she was breaking the hearts of those around me, including that of my teammate, Sebastian Saavedra. Real life so rarely follows the movie script, so often leaves us with something bittersweet. I am now carrying the hopes and expectations of our entire team solely on my shoulders.
To me, getting this far has always been my biggest goal. I always knew that simply getting in, this year of all years, would be an achievement. I always viewed anything and everything after this point as a bonus. But now I'm here, and given the circumstances in which I'm here, I just want to get out there and do the best possible job for all these guys who have worked so hard over the past two weeks. This story is no longer about me, it's about them. I will be out there in the centennial Indianapolis 500, representing Conquest Racing and, with all my heart, what I want to do now is make them proud.