DE SILVESTRO LETS IT ALL FLOW
After a disastrous year spent with the Lotus-powered HVM entry, Simona de Silvestro now looks and talks like a driver who has been freed from indentured servitude. Thanks to her offseason move to the Chevrolet-powered KV Racing team, De Silvestro has been rocket-fast in testing and backed it up in qualifying, taking third.
For those who watched De Silvestro winning races in the Atlantic Championship, the same free and easy speed that flowed then is clearly back.
“It was pretty exciting to make the Fast Six,” she said. “I've never been in this position, and I was pretty nervous before qualifying because I haven't done a qualifying run like this in a long time, so it was kind of a little bit nerve‑racking. But each session went better. We made a few changes every time, and I'm really happy with P3. It's kind of a huge relief to be here. I really have to thank everybody who's supported me through the difficult years we've had so far… Starting third for the first race of the season is pretty awesome.”
RAHAL EMBRACING COACH'S INPUT
Now seven years into his career as an Indy car driver, Graham Rahal has accepted the need for – and embraced the merits of – working with a driver coach. He's not the only one in the IndyCar paddock to use the services of a veteran coach, and with the longstanding relationship between his father's team and coach Michael Zimicki, the 25-year-old is exploring new ways to improve his craft.
“There's no shame in it,” he said. “Rick Mears still helps Will Power and Helio and whoever, there are guys there to give you advice. They're not telling you when to press the brake pedal or hit the throttle, but they give you just some pointers and ideas and things that they can see from the outside you can't. So I find no shame in it. Hopefully, I will improve. And I think you're going to see it improve in me this year just in the sense that I feel at ease with the focus that we have and the objectives for my driving.”
Rahal also admitted that the use of a driver coach goes beyond one-on-one instruction, but the concept of an outside advisor hasn't necessarily been an easy sell within some elements of the team.
“There are a lot of egos in this sport. There are a lot of egos in a lot of sports, because people have pride in saying, ‘I did it on my own.' Frankly, my engineer, Jerry [Hughes], came from Formula 1 and when I told him that Mike would be coaching me, he said, ‘Why do you need a driver coach?' I kind of felt belittled a bit because it's more than that. The driver coach can help you too, as an engineer, because he's going to come back and add to what we do.
“For example, on the last day of testing at Sebring, we tried a suspension setup which was a total disaster. And Mike was out on the corners and he would take pictures of every car and, needless to say, we were the only car running that setup. We also ran full downforce; every other car was trimmed. Mike took pictures of all this stuff and presented it and I said to Jerry, “Look, here's just a couple things to note for you, just so you have it. So driver coaches are much more than just that. And, frankly, I think there's a lot of F1 guys now that are using them.”
MAZDA ROAD TO INDY SUPPORT CONTINUES FOR VAUTIER
Getting 2012 Firestone Indy Lights champion Tristan Vautier into the IZOD IndyCar Series has taken a patchwork approach among a number of sponsors and supporters. Among those who've continued to back the Frenchman is Mazda, albeit without direct funding. Vautier, who won consecutive Pro Mazda and Lights titles on the Mazda Road To Indy, was a late confirmation to join Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, and with connections through Mazda's ongoing promotional partnership with VISIT FLORIDA and the Florida Lottery, the Lottery folks stepped up to sponsor Vautier at St. Petersburg.
“It's great to get that kind of support,” said Vautier, who lives in the state. “The Mazda Road To Indy still helps me a lot, and I'm very happy to have the Florida Lottery supporting me and now that I'm a Florida resident, I need to play it a lot more! I played it a lot when I was back in France, so I want to support it here. It means a lot to me to have the people who helped me in my career stay with me to help me race in IndyCar.”
HOLY TAKU, BATMAN
The social experiment that is Takuma Sato driving for A.J. Foyt continued to deliver surprises at St. Pete with the ex-F1 driver leading P3 and qualifying on the front row next to Power.
For team director Larry Foyt, seeing Sato in the famous No. 14 on the front row wasn't outside the realm of possibilities, but also wasn't necessarily expected.
“You never quite know,” he said. “We came out of testing quite optimistic. Even when you're good, you can be off a little bit and be 10th or 15th, so you can't plan on these things.”
The fast relationship between Sato and veteran engineer Don Halliday has also been an added bonus as the team and driver continue to build a rapport.
“I was glad because we felt like we had a quick car last year, especially on road and street courses. Don's setup seemed to fit Takuma's style, and they have hit it off and work really well together. I know there will be some weekends we don't hit it, but we're encouraged.”
With a prime opportunity to start the season off in style. Sato's reputation for inconsistency is something Foyt will look to manage throughout Sunday's 110-lap race.
“We'll tell him the old ‘To finish first, you first must finish.' If we have a fifth-place car, we want him to finish fifth, you know? Our main goal is to get some good points here and head to Barber with good momentum.”
ON TOP OF THE ACTION
Target Chip Ganassi Racing has raised the bar for client and sponsor entertainment at the racetrack with the addition of a brand-new, custom-built observation stand that rests a matter of feet from where drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti are serviced on pit lane.
“We wanted to give our guests the best seat in the house so we constructed a new stand with almost all of the information we have on our timing stands,” said TCGR general manager Mike Hull. “We expect it will become a pretty popular place to watch the races.”
Never one to be outdone, Team Penske and some of the other leading teams will surely follow with portable condominiums and a variety of impressive structures to escalate the on-site entertainment game.