To find out more about Verizon's FREE IndyCar Mobile app, CLICK HERE. IndyCar Mobile puts you in the driver's seat, with live in-car cameras, driver-pit crew chatter, real-time track maps and leaderboards, and much more.
Anyone who knows me will tell you I felt seriously uncomfortable at some of the things people were saying when our Verizon Team Penske No. 12 car scored three wins back in April. Some people who should know better were saying we'd have the title wrapped up by August! I was thinking, “Jeez, are you new to this sport?”
I have true faith in Verizon Team Penske and all the people who work on my No. 12 car, but it's not in our nature to go coasting into a race weekend underestimating the job ahead. We know how tight the battles are in the IZOD IndyCar Series, we know how strong our rivals can be and going into any event expecting to be on top is just asking for trouble. If you think that way, you deserve to get your butt kicked. Everyone who follows IndyCar knows you can have the fastest car and the quickest pit crew, but something unpredictable can work against you and so you end up failing to execute. Look at our stats: since that third win, our race results have been DNF-4th-8th-12th-DNF, and that's despite our qualifying 5th-2nd-5th-4th-6th! That sort of shows how tough it is even when you're consistently quick, as the the Verizon car has been.
My last blog covered the races through to Texas. Since then we've had Milwaukee, where we qualified fourth, had to start 14th because of an engine-change penalty, and then made good progress through to the top five. In my opinion, it was harder to pass than ever at the Milwaukee Mile this year. The only time you could gain more than one position was on a restart, and even then, it was only if you were lucky enough to start on the inside line. After that, once the field strung out, if you made it past one car, it would take you so long to complete the pass – and lose you so much speed doing it – that the next person you'd want to pass was long gone! So track position became very important, and a couple of tough pit stops and a couple of restarts where I played it carefully meant we got swamped.
Iowa should have been much better. Certainly the racing was awesome; two lanes opened up and people were able to pass. I think we had a decent car, and we could have got a top four that night, but that hope ended when we came together with EJ Viso. It's hard to check your mirrors on turn-in, so as we'd been going down the straight, I looked and he was behind me. Then I'm not sure if he went slightly to my outside and then swooped low – the TV footage afterward didn't show the lead-up to the accident. But apparently my spotter did say, “Inside, inside, inside” as I turned in, and I just didn't hear him, so what happened there, I don't know. Whatever, the result was my left rear made contact with Viso's right front and that tipped us both into a spin.
I tell you, looking at our points tally from the last five races, I'm pretty grateful that we're still leading the championship, even if it's only by three points. What's helped us is that those race wins have been divided up between the Ganassi guys, Andretti Autosport and Dale Coyne Racing. I think in terms of pace, we've been more consistent than them but we haven't been able to take advantage.
Well, I'm sick of this, to be honest – I miss Victory Lane. Mentally, I'm not in conservative mode and I'm not thinking about protecting my points lead. If you've seen the momentum swinging away from you, there's only one attitude to have: it's time to switch from hunted to hunter, and that's how I feel heading to the Canadian races.
At Toronto, we'll have push to pass for the first time with the DW12. I wish IndyCar hadn't lowered the basic boost pressure from 155 to 150kpa in order to give us 160kpa when we hit the P2P button: like most race drivers, I want more and more power, so losing 20hp is frustrating. But the difference of 35-40hp on the P2P should help us pass – although we should remember it can be used in defense as well as to attack. Still, it brings an interesting new dynamic to the race, and I'd expect Toronto to be pretty action-packed as usual, so Race Control could be busy. At least [IndyCar president of competition] Beaux Barfield understands racing, though; his decision to keep the pits open under yellow has shown that. Overall, I'd say he's pretty good at making sure drivers don't have their races screwed up by circumstances and full-course cautions.
As well as the push to pass, the other thing that has increased passing opportunities on road and street courses this year has been the good work done by Firestone to increase the difference between the softer-compound red-walled tires and the harder black tires. This has also increased the importance of a driver's tire management – and it's increased the amount of mental work that myself, my engineer Dave Faustino and Penske Racing team president and my race strategist Tim Cindric (LEFT) go through before the race, plotting what to use and when. Obviously the idea is to maximize your potential on any set of tires, in any set of circumstances, so you have to be prepared...pretty much for anything. Then you have to consider that over the past couple of years, Toronto has been hard on tires anyway, with all its different surfaces and the lateral load you put on the tires on those surfaces. Yeah, as always, we have a lot to think about.
And making no mistakes on your qualifying run is more vital than ever. You know how on other circuits we say that half a second can be the difference between first and 10th? Well, remember, the Toronto lap is only a minute long at qualifying speed, so the difference between the fastest and slowest shrinks even more. One mistake can be the difference between you making it out of your Round 1 group in qualifying and not. If you don't make it, you will be absolutely buried in the pack.
My two closest challengers in the points, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Scott Dixon, are always fast at Toronto, my two Penske teammates Ryan Briscoe and Helio Castroneves are going to be as strong as ever, Justin Wilson and Dario Franchitti were the polesitters in 2010 and 2009, respectively, and then there's James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani on home ground, Graham Rahal who is also good there and Sebastien Bourdais is back. How many's that? 10… 11 if you include me. Well, that's five of us who are going to be left disappointed by not getting into the Firestone Fast Six. But at least when you reach the Fast Six, you know you're competing with the best of the best during that final session, so there's less chance of someone spinning and bringing out the yellow flag during your qualifying run, or getting in your way. The earlier rounds, when there are 12 or 13 cars on a one-minute lap, are pretty crazy. Thankfully, Tim is good at sending the Verizon Team Penske car onto a clear track so I don't hold up anyone and no one holds me up.
I think Chevrolet saw how strong the opposition was at Brazil and Belle Isle in terms of speed trap figures, so they, like the rest of us on Verizon Team Penske, are going to be bringing their A-game. Given that Honda won in Chevy's back yard in Detroit, it would be a pretty sweet deal if Chevy could win the Honda Indy Toronto!
I think outright power is going to be even more important in Edmonton, though. The building work on that airfield gave Tony Cotman a restricted amount of space to work with when he redesigned the track for last year's race, and so we had lots of slow corners and long straights. It's going to be about power, torque and braking more than handling. There shouldn't be problems with the brakes this year, because they're carbon and the hotter they run, the better they are. Takuma Sato was on pole there last year because he's pretty good under braking, so he's another driver we should look at to be a competitor in Edmonton.
It's become a cliché, I know, to say how tough the IZOD IndyCar Series field is in 2012 and it's true; there honestly aren't many drivers I'd rule out on any given weekend. But I'm confident that the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car will be a strong contender, and then it's a matter of taking full advantage of that. It's been two months since we were last in Victory Lane and that is a long time for a team as competitive as this. I love the Canadian events – open-wheel racing has a lot of loyal fans north of the border and I hope that IndyCar puts on a great show for them as usual. But unlike in recent races, I'd really like to be out in front, ahead of all the action…
Follow Will on Twitter at @12WillPower and follow Team Penske at @PenskeRacing and at www.PenskeRacing.com and Verizon Wireless USA at @VerizonWireless
• RACER's latest issue celebrates the spirit of competition throughout motorsports. Click here to learn more.
CLICK HERE to subscribe to RACER at a 30 percent discount rate!