We’re fifth on the grid, we’re in Toronto – and boy, we’re happy! Sorry I couldn’t get back to you yesterday but it’s been a crazy couple of days with sponsor commitments and events I had to attend. And somewhere in there, I even managed to have a little sleep.
Yesterday the No. 34 King Tut car was decent but we went the day without getting a chance to put on a new set of tires. It disguised our potential. It was hard for us to say, “We had the car to do this. We should have done this,” because no one believes it until it is reality. Until it is 100 percent done, you’re left with question marks and work to do.
I knew, Brandon Fry my race engineer knew, the whole Conquest Racing team knew we left a lot of potential on the table yesterday, but of course until we got onto the track today to prove it, you have a little bit of anxiety. We haven’t been on a street course since Long Beach and you wonder how much other people are developing their cars. In St. Pete and Long Beach, we learned a lot but we knew we had more to come and it wasn’t until yesterday that we could evaluate the type of car we have. And when we did it was good.
So last night we made some changes and we went back on track this morning hoping to see whether those changes were improvements and it rained so hard that we still
didn’t know! So then at the start of qualifying, after two laps we thought, okay, this is what we have and it’s pretty decent. From that moment, we knew we could compete and give our rivals a pretty good run.
Looking at the grid and seeing who we’re ahead of…am I surprised? Yes and no. Every time we come to a race, we have the desire to beat these guys. We showed some speed in St. Pete, where we outqualified Scott Dixon. In Long Beach we outqualified Ryan Briscoe and Tony Kanaan. And here, we’ve outqualified Dixon, Castroneves, Briscoe and Kanaan! So with the little amount of time we’re working on improving the setup, we are gaining knowledge but if you miss races, you lose momentum because you’re not constantly working on the car. Our rivals were at Watkins Glen and we weren’t, so we have more momentum to pick up than they do.
So we’re not surprised in one way, because it’s what we always expect and always want, but at the same time, I realize we should be very proud about what we have done to beat so many strong teams and strong drivers. Of course then you start thinking about what we might achieve if we were in the IndyCar Series full-time, and had a big budget… I know [Conquest team owner] Eric Bachelart love to capitalize on the fact that we have what it takes as a team and I have what it takes as a driver.
You’re not happy when you’re at the house watching the races on TV, but it means that when we come in and do what we did as a group, as a team, it makes people realize just what a strong unit we are. I was chatting with my old teammate Will Power about us both being on partial seasons. He was saying, “I’d rather have a partial season with Team Penske than a whole season with another team, because at least I know I’ll have the car to do the job – but I keep accumulating different color race suits!” I told him: “You’re lucky. The disadvantage for me is that I have one race suit but I keep needing to add patches at every race because that’s the money that gets us there. The racesuit is just getting heavier and heavier and I look like a freakin’ Christmas tree!”
Anyway, it feels so good to get here and surprise a lot of people and get in the mix. No matter what we have, no matter that it is a partial season, every time we accomplish something, it is a very big reward for everyone.
So let’s talk about the race tomorrow. All our sets of black tires are new, and we have some scrubbed reds, too. The pavement around Toronto seems very hard on the red tires; that was noticeable right away when we put them on, so we’re going to start on them, and see in the first part of the race how they cope, and then we’ll go to blacks for the next two runs. Then we’ll make a decision for our last run. I think the blacks will be good for us. Most of the rubber on the track was washed away from the rain this morning – and I’m talking thunderstorms and heavy, heavy rain. The more rubber that goes down after that, the more it helps the black tires to be more competitive and last longer and that may be the tire to go for. However, it is in the rules that we must run a set of red, so I think that’s the safest to start the race.
The crowd has been very receptive to me, and I’m very pleased. I’ve seen a lot of faces of friends I haven’t seen since 2007 and a lot of people have brought me gifts and got autographs and stuff like that. It’s very cool. And that has pleased my sponsors like Sears and Craftsman which is good. We hope to keep them on board for a long time. And tomorrow… we hope to give them something to really be happy about!
Wish me luck, friends.Alex
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