We'll take that. We didn't get pole, but we put the IZOD No. 37 Andretti Autosport car on the front row, and we've given ourselves a great chance to avoid any Turn 1 incidents. Once that's through, we can focus on going for the win.
We managed to get rid of the looseness from yesterday – but we did pick up a little bit of push as a result. As we suspected might happen, we couldn't quite find that happy medium and it was a case of dealing with oversteer or understeer and not quite hitting that sweet neutral spot. A loose car that's very fast, or a car that you can't quite lean on as much as you want but is still quick. But either way, it was a car that I could drive hard every lap, and that's what I was able to do in qualifying.
I think we could have fought for pole with Will Power, but the priority has to be to advance out of every session and that take tires. As it turns out, we could have sat on our time from the black tires in the first session to get through to the top-12 session, but hindsight's everything, as usual! With a field as tight as this, you never know who might find that special something – whether it's grip, bravery or inspiration – to nail a great time that bumps you out. It's just too close a field to take that risk, and the last thing you want to do is be left in 13th, bumped out of the top 12 and with a new set of reds just sitting there. Missed opportunities are worse than never having the opportunity.
So we ran reds in the first session which meant we had a used set of reds for our first effort in the second session, and then switched to fresh reds to make sure we got to the Firestone Fast Six. So by the time we got to the top six, we only had used ones left. (We couldn't have used blacks in the final session like we did, for instance, in Sao Paulo, because the reds make a much bigger difference on Long Beach's track surface.) The used ones were still good, as we'd discovered already, but Will had only used blacks in session one, so he had new reds for the final shootout. That's why he's four tenths of a second ahead.
Still, the Andretti Autosport team is reasonably content. When we can get two cars in the top six and Ganassi can't, that suggests we're doing something right and that the competition level – especially on street and road courses – has increased hugely in the last season and a half. It's got to be, because Dario and Scott were the last two champions in this series and they stumbled today. One of the keys to Andretti Autosport's improvement, in my opinion, has been the communication between the drivers, both with each other and with their engineers. It's so good to have teammates like this.
My engineer, Ray Gosselin, and I, have very similar work ethic and he's just one of those guys who'll be up at 12:30 at night with the computer on his lap, still looking for extra ideas he can find to improve the car. That means so much to a driver. When you're out there giving it 110 percent effort to go faster, you know that afterward he's going to be doing the same in his capacity as engineer. It's got to work both ways or eventually one of you will feel resentful, but that's never going to happen between Ray and I.
Tonight, I know he's going to be working his tail off to come up with more refinements to the No. 37 car. That's why, even when you're on the limit, pushing for pole, you've got to be absorbing all the information that's coming your way so you can give your engineer the most detailed feedback you can. That, together with the electronic data, is what's going to be key to the engineer making the best judgement calls for raceday. As a driver with plenty of experience in open-wheel racing, I regard it as important to refine that recall skill even more, and differentiate a qualifying car from a racecar. What makes a car fast over a flying lap is probably not going to be the ideal car for a 25-lap stint. A rear end that can snap loose will not work for you in the long haul.
So that's why our Saturday evening debrief is often longer than the Friday, because we're taking the car in a different setup direction. However, there are some fundamentals that won't change, and this weekend we have a car that is comfortable to push hard, which will be good for racing. Tonight, we're only making tweaks instead of pulling it apart, and the focus is on rear traction, because strong exits from 90 degree corners (and a 180-degree hairpin, of course!) are what will give you the best chance to pass on the following straight.
In tomorrow morning's warm-up session, I will be able to tell how successful we've been at refining the car for a race. It's amazing how small a change can be so easily felt by the driver. My car's 1,540lbs and yet I'm going to feel a spring rate change of less than 50lbs. We're dealing with minuscule adjustments that can make all the difference to handling characteristics.
The key to tomorrow will be staying strong on mid-life to end-of-life tires. Anyone can be fast on fresh rubber. Then of course you've got to have slick pit stops, you've got to be on the right strategy, the driver's got to be on top of his game (especially nailing those in- and out-laps) and you've got to be lucky. No one ramming you from behind at the first corner, no one turning your race upside down with a full-course caution at the worst time for your strategy… And so on.
In other words, the 2010 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach is like every IZOD IndyCar Series race in terms of its ideal execution! But it's Long Beach, second in prestige only to the Indy 500. To win here would be something truly special.