Friends, I’m back! But I’m sorry if this has to be a shorter blog than normal, because it is Honda Indy Toronto time and I am busy, busy, busy. But no problem – that’s good!
Since I last spoke to you after Texas, I’ve been working on sponsorship, and working on my fitness – I’m really training hard. I’ve traveled a lot, spent quite a lot of time in Montreal making presentations, to potential sponsors, not just for this year but also next year. Got to get started early! It’s work and it’s not as much fun as driving a single-seater at 200mph… but hey, without one, you don’t get the other.
I have a couple of new sponsors here – Sears and Craftsman Tools, and so thank you to my buddies who helped me out with that. We finalized something with King Tut again because of the exhibit happening here in Toronto on 15 November, so they wanted to do something with Sun Media and Canoe. And I’ve been working on the sponsors for Edmonton as well. And…and…. Like I say – busy!
It’s so good to be here in Toronto, and particularly to get back on a street course. You’d think that me and the Conquest Racing team would have four street course setups to go on now – Detroit and Surfers Paradise from last year, and then St Petersburg and Long Beach from this year. But Detroit was more about getting me comfortable in the car and with its handling (in just a couple of sessions, remember!) for my first ever race in a Dallara-Honda. And Surfers is a bit too unique for its setup to be useful in other street races.
So Brandon Fry (my engineer for the No. 34 King Tut/Conquest Racing car) and myself have already done our homework for this, looking at the past, and learning from those races, and working out what we think should work around this track. At Long Beach, the car was good in the race but could have been better for qualifying. We qualified ninth there, and we know we should have been higher. So we’re trying something different here this weekend, and hopefully it’s gonna work out well. If not, we have a couple of backup plans.
Friday is about testing as we try to come up with the best plan for qualifying. The thing is, by not competing at all the races, it is harder for us. As I said in Long Beach, if our car was as good at the start of Friday practice as we are by Sunday morning, then we could achieve great things. At St. Pete we were out to lunch on Friday, and by Saturday we were just 0.05sec from making it into the top six. And then in Long Beach we were start off all out to lunch also, but we end up qualifying ninth, just 0.2 from making it into the Firestone Fast Six. So like I said, it’s catch-up all the time.
But we never stop trying – that’s the great thing about Conquest. We all work as hard as possible, and we have the ability to come up with last-minute solutions if we have to. Even after Saturday qualifying, we make another step for the race. For example at Long Beach, we were doing really good, running in fourth saving massive amounts of fuel – we were going to go one lap longer than Scott Dixon in front of us, and he’s a pretty good guy at saving fuel. Well you can’t do that if the car’s bad because you’re having to drive it harder. So that shows how good the No. 34 car was on raceday… And then me, Dixie and the two Penskes got caught by that yellow and we dropped us to 14th, so I had to charge again.
Sorry, that still bugs me, but what my point is, is that we would love to be in a position where we have such a strong basic setup that everything we do for the rest of the weekend is fine-tuning it. But hey, life’s not like that, so let’s do the best with what we can.
I’m always very, very anxious but also excited about Fridays at race weekends, because that’s the day which kind of dictates what the weekend will be like. If we get out there and discover – boom! – the car is fast, then that means we’re gonna have a great weekend. This isn’t like St Pete: I come to this circuit with plenty of knowledge and so does Brandon. The circuit hasn’t changed…except the surface is maybe more rough.
So let me get back to you tomorrow after our first voyage of discovery! For now, all these PR commitments are at least helping me keep my mind off the tension of tomorrow…Alex
For Alex's previous columns, [click here