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If you're reading this, I assume you know we didn't win the IZOD IndyCar Series championship. Personally, I was massively disappointed by that, but almost two weeks later I'm still really gutted for Roger Penske, Tim Cindric, Team Penske and the whole No. 12 Verizon crew. The fact that we missed out by just three points when we have a championship system that gives you 50 points for winning a race and 10 for just starting a race, makes you realize how close it was. Just one thing going our way over the course of the season could have seen the title come back to Team Penske.
The shunt in Fontana was weird, to be totally honest. Given that we had a 17-point lead in the championship heading into the race, and discovering I had a better car than Ryan Hunter-Reay that night, I was just cruising behind him, knowing that's all I needed to do and the championship would be ours. When we decided to pass him, it wasn't like I was having to over-drive; there was no sense of urgency about it. We had just done our fastest lap of the race and our car was working better than Ryan's.
And so I moved down and took a line I hadn't used all night, while Ryan stayed level with me on the high line. I didn't want to drift up and crowd him and I'd been having a bit of understeer up to that point, so I purposely drove over a seam to help the rotation of the car. And, well… it rotated, you could say that…. The strange thing is that I'd touched seams during the night and they give you an immediate moment, a little warning, but this time it just let go so slowly I couldn't believe it. Even as the tail started looping around, I had time to wonder what had happened.
The team did an awesome job of repairing the car so I could complete enough laps to get 12 points rather than 10, but the accident left the title's destiny out of our hands. Hunter-Reay needed to finish fifth to beat us and by the end of the race he'd made his way up to fourth. And no, I'm glad I didn't knock him into the wall during the spin: that is not the way any of us would want to win a championship. So, congratulations to Ryan – I've always rated his driving talent.
Anyhow, the truth is that the championship is never won or lost in a single race. With next season some way off, I'm sure there's some time where all drivers and teams go through the “what-might-have-been” scenarios from the past 15 races. This isn't so that we can beat ourselves up - what's the point in that? This is the opportunity to improve ourselves as a team. I know where I can get better, the team knows where it can get better and so we put systems in place whereby everyone at Team Penske makes a big step forward to maximize our potential. That's the key. We are one of the best teams; if we maximize our potential in more races than anyone else, then we will win the championship.
For next year, on road and street courses, I think the pits should stay open at all times under yellow flags, unless the incident that caused the yellow has actually occurred in pit lane. That gives far less gray area, far less reason for fans and drivers to get upset and for IndyCar's Beaux Barfield to have to justify his decisions. I don't want to see racing go the same route as ball games, where fans and media leave the event talking as much about the officials as they do about the athletes. Beaux did a nice job of revising the rule book this year, and I also like the fact that he has no hesitation in punishing drivers if they try to mess with each other in races or in qualifying. But clarification of the pits being open or closed under full course cautions would allow teams – especially strategists – to know where they stand.
Thinking even further ahead… One of the things you may have noticed at Auto Club Speedway was that although the racing was more in the drivers' hands than ovals used to be, it wasn't like Texas where we took the racing line. At Fontana, if you had a car that worked at the top of the track, that's where you stayed because although it made the oval longer, you could stay flat out there and that became more true as the track cooled and gripped up. So that has got me thinking again about whether we can increase the horsepower on the cars.
Will Phillips of IndyCar has done a great job in creating better but safer racing by reducing the downforce level, and I think we all want him to keep heading in that direction. He's really listened to the drivers. In terms of the racing, I really like where IndyCar is headed but I believe a power boost and further adjustment of the power/grip ratio will be absolutely crucial in 2014 when body kits are allowed. Unless the rule parameters are written in a smart way, we'll suddenly gain a lot of extra downforce and we don't want cars that are just glued down. Let's reduce downforce and have softer tires that go off more, because one of the reasons that the Texas race was so great was that pit stops were dictated by tire degradation, not by fuel load. However, making the cars harder to drive on road and street courses as well as ovals is important too.
Well, the race for the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series championship has started already; I can tell you Team Penske is already working on the cars and I'm already working on me! Thanks to Verizon and all our sponsors for their continued support through the ups and downs of the past season. And for my fans…well, thanks for visiting us at the race tracks and the kind comments on websites, forums and Twitter. I promise you, we intend to come out swinging next year.
PS: In October, be sure to watch a lot of us IndyCar drivers join the stars of the V8 Supercar series in the race on the Gold Coast, Australia. It should be fun.
Follow Will on Twitter at @12WillPower and follow Team Penske at @PenskeRacing and at www.PenskeRacing.com and Verizon Wireless USA at @VerizonWireless.