What is it about me? Now I have a new addition for the list of races that I’m leading legitimately, in control, and something completely out of our hands goes wrong. Other Toronto races, Vancouver, Elkhart Lake in 2000, Montreal in 2003.…
We have to be pretty happy with what we achieved with the No. 34 King Tut car. Brandon Fry, my engineer, told me that he’s pretty curious why there are cars – and drivers – out there that had a half a million dollars spent on them, and little Conquest Racing, with not enough money to do half the races, leaves them all behind! Brandon has been so supportive. He’s been saying nice, encouraging things about how well I’ve adapted to the Dallara’s handling, and how quickly I’ve learned to adapt to the Honda normally-aspirated engine in getting the best fuel mileage from it while still going quick enough to run well.
So why am I sitting here in my hotel room on Sunday night, talking about bad luck? Because like in Long Beach back in April we wer e TOO good at tire management, TOO good at saving fuel! How can this be? Because we ran longer than everyone and then the yellows flew…
Let me explain. We got a nice start to be second behind Dario, and were running fast enough to be just at the limit of those softer red-walled Firestones. So while Dario was pushing like mad early on, I was just letting him go, because I knew he couldn’t do that for the whole stint. And sure enough, when I saw him coming back at me fast, I knew his tires had turned to crap and then he had his problem in the pit.
The Conquest Racing team did a good job for me in the pits. So after my pitstop, we get up into the lead on black tires, and again the car was very good, with really good balance, and I could basically do what I wanted with it. The only problem I had on that stint was a piece of tar that got stuck on my tire. At Toronto there is this kind of gooey tar that they put in the cracks in the pavement, and a lump of it was coming up between Turns 5 and 6, and it gave me a vibration that made me feel like I had a flat tire, but when I realized what it was, I just turned the wheel extra hard for a few corners to scrub it off. That cost me three seconds of my six-second lead, but it was no big deal.
And then it all turned upside down for us. Maybe we need to think about strategy being dictated not just by people in front who you thought you were racing, but also those behind. Because just like in Long Beach, we did more with less – we completed more laps, we saved more fuel, we protected our tires better – so we didn’t need to come into the pits as soon as the others, okay? But when the full-course caution flies, the pits are closed, everyone bunches up together, and it’s only then that the pits are open, and we come back out having lost a ton of places to cars that have already stopped.
Okay, does it sound like I’m whining? I hope not, sincerely, because I know a lot of people can say, “Well, no one can predict when the full course caution is gonna fly: you just suffered bad luck.” I understand that sometimes it works for you, sometimes it doesn’t. But there definitely is a way to protect the unlucky ones from being punished so freakin’ hard!
The IndyCar Series should allow everyone that was ahead of the accident to pit. If it happened behind you – like in this case, because Rahal had hit the wall in Turn 3, I think – then we are past the danger zone where we might hit the crashed car or hurt a member of the Safety Team so we should be allowed to come into the pits. It can still be a full-course yellow but with the pits open, so the leaders – in this race it was myself and Scott Dixon – make our pitstop, we come out of the pits, it’s still a full course yellow, but the Pace Car picks us up.
Sure, the pitbox allocation might mean that Dixie still came out ahead of me. Because Conquest is part-time and low in the championship, we have our pitbox at the start of pitlane, so we can get fueled up, but the guys at the exit of pitlane can see you coming from a mile away, and they will send their driver out with just enough fuel to make sure he is in front of you. But at least you have a chance to pass him once the race restarts because the series insisted on the rule about not blocking – and that is something they got absolutely right. It’s a lot better than the pair of us coming out of the pits behind 11 or 12 cars who haven’t been doing anything like as good a job as us.
I just feel all mixed up with my emotions at the moment, because there are a lot of positives that we can take from the weekend. We can look back and say we did everything we could. And what we achieved was more than what many people expected of us. We had a winning package. We turned up, having not turned a wheel since Texas. We had a good car, although like I said in my Saturday article, we didn’t get a chance to show our potential on Friday. But then we had the team and expertise between us to make the car even better, and we showed it on Saturday. And then on Sunday morning warm-up, we tried some setups using the knowledge from qualifying, to find a setup that made our tires last longer. And again we got it right, and in the race we showed enough to be race-winners.
I guess what I’m saying is, we had everything except luck. It’s such a shame that it slipped between our fingers, because we did everything right and we were so basically good, that almost all the little ideas we tried were fine-tuning the car, making it that little bit better each time. It’s such a cool feeling – and the days when that happens, if you’re not Penske or Ganassi, are pretty rare and we need to take advantage of them.
I suppose I must mention the other incident with Scheckter. But he had squeezed me out to the marbles, despite the rules that were insisted on in the drivers briefing about not blocking. He acted like a clown afterward, and said some dumbass things, but I’m not interested at all. When I look back at this race in years to come, I won’t be remembering battling over seventh or eighth place or whatever. Our weekend was shot to hell by that point of the race, anyway.
No, what I will remember is the fact that we should have won. Conquest should have conquered. And I can only hope and pray that we show that form again in Edmonton – and that luck (and yellows) work for us, not against us.Alex
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