Q: You haven't tested it yet, but what are your thoughts about the DW12 for next year? You last ran a turbo in Champ Car for a couple races in 2006…
RB: 2012 is gonna be a whole new ballgame. There's going to be much more innovation and things to work on, with development happening at a steep rate. It will be a learning experience for everyone, and should take a different style to adapt in setup and engineering. I can't wait to get my hands on it, and I should be testing at Fontana in a couple weeks.
Yeah, I think the feeling of the engine will be like the old Champ Car (LEFT). It might not be the same on horsepower, but I think the car will be a little unique. It's hard to comment too much before driving. The biggest thing going forward is the rate of development and it's gonna be awesome.
Q: You're in a unique position to talk about safety after your spectacular accident at Chicagoland Speedway in 2005. What were your immediate reactions to everything that happened at Las Vegas and, in terms of both the car and fencing, what do you think can be done to improve the safety of the sport?
RB: Unfortunately, sometimes it does take a tragedy as a bit of a wake-up call. Sometimes, we forget the situations we get ourselves into, and how dangerous it is. Even before Las Vegas came around, there were lots of concerns about keeping the cars on the ground and what measures would be taken to prevent them from going airborne. Beyond SAFER barriers and how to race on high-speed ovals but keep it safe, it's hard – I don't think there's any quick fix. The whole motor racing community, since Las Vegas, has said, “Look, we need to change and make sure it never happens again.”
As it moves forward we'll see changes, although I'm not sure what yet. The new car will be safer. That will fix a lot of problems. The biggest thing I don't like on these ovals is the catch fences the way they are, with pylons that won't budge. At the speeds we race, we could always get up, and we have to minimize the possibilities; and if they do it doesn't become a tragedy.
Q: Maybe it isn't an immediate fix, but what are your thoughts on enclosing the cockpit with canopies?
RB: For sure, I threw the idea out right after Vegas and it's something I've thought about for a long time. I'd take the modern day Le Mans Prototype cars as an example. I think the Peugeots and Audis are both state-of-the-art vehicles and awesome-looking cars. If you look at major open-wheel injuries in the past decade, they have come because of an open cockpit. It will take a lot of time, design and testing to make it work because there isn't much room right now. You have to incorporate the cockpit area, driver extraction and the engine cowling; it's a lot more involved than just putting a roof over. But maybe it's just natural that's where we'll end up going.
Q: Finally, how's your mindset going into 2012 in dealing with how 2011 ended, and your opportunity to restart a championship challenge?
RB: I'm already in that ready-to-go mindset. My head's in the right place. I'm as determined and motivated as I've ever been; it's the strongest yet in my career. Getting locked down at Penske was the first step of it, and the confidence and drive it gives me to push harder. I feel like every time I hit the track, or go to the shop, I'm learning something. I need a good year, and we need to get the championship. I just can't wait for it all to get started.