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At Verizon Team Penske, the policy is to always look forward. Roger [Penske] teaches you that and you see it in the philosophy of all team members. What's done is done and you can't change it; you learn on the job and you take that lesson on to the next race. But sometimes you can't help looking back and kicking yourself and that's what I was doing after the IZOD IndyCar Series race at Texas. We were leading and we'd have had a good chance of winning, but I blocked Tony Kanaan as he took a run at me. Our cars made light contact and it broke his car's front wing on the back of my car, so I got a pitlane drive-through penalty.
As soon as I made the move and felt the bump, I thought, “Uh-oh, I'm gonna get a penalty here,” because I had moved in reaction to the move Kanaan was making to draft past me. And I'm annoyed with myself for not either moving to the left earlier or for not just letting him go, because I think we had a strong chance of ending the race in Victory Lane. I'd have had to get past him again, sure, but I think our No. 12 Verizon car was stronger. If TK's wing hadn't been damaged in the impact, Race Control might have just given me a warning on the radio, but as it is, it broke and so I ruined his night and I feel for the guy because he was having a strong run.
Do I agree with the penalty? Well, I've seen drivers going unpunished for bigger misdemeanors, but that's not really an argument, I suppose. If you're stopped by the police for doing 50mph in a 40 zone, you can't argue, “But officer, I saw someone else doing 60 here last night!” That doesn't make what you were doing any less wrong. So as long as anyone pulling similar stunts gets the same punishment from Race Control, I have no issue with the penalty. Although I'm aggressive, I think I'm one of the fair drivers out there, so you won't see me make a wrong move like that again.
I guess I'm mad at myself because we'd already done most of the hard work. We'd had to come back in after a pit stop because there was something wrong with the wheelnut on the right rear that allowed the wheel to work loose. So that double pit stop had dropped us to 20th, but already I was confident that I could get back to the front gradually, picking off people one by one over the whole race. And that's exactly what we did. We were back into the lead and on the right strategy when the incident with TK happened, and the penalty dropped us to eighth.
So in case you haven't seen, we're all – well, most of us – giving major props to IndyCar and in particular the VP of technology, Will Phillips, for how they handled Texas. The drivers approached him about cutting out flat-out-all-the-time racing, and he came up with a technical solution. The Firestone 550 at Texas Motor Speedway was a real oval race, and you could tell that just by the lines we were having to take. It wasn't just about hugging the bottom of the track to get the shortest distance around. You had to take the racing line, starting off wide, coming down to the apex, then easing out wide again. You had to lift off the gas, you had to work the car and you had to look after the tires. We weren't just foot flat to the floor all the way around, where whoever has the freshest engine and the most highly-polished car gets to the front. This was driving. This is what the great oval racers like Rick Mears, A.J. Foyt and Mario Andretti had to do.
There was a small increase in downforce given back to us after qualifying; they gave us a wicker, because some drivers felt the car was just a bit too unstable. But I hope next year that we get that taken away again, because in 12 months' time, everyone's going to know the Dallara DW12 a little bit better, we'll have found a bit more mechanical grip, and suddenly the cars will be a bit easier to drive if we leave the wicker on. Basically, I think if you're pedal to the floor all the way round an oval on fresh tires for more than eight or 10 laps, then the formula's wrong. If it's like that, there's too much downforce, and that would be true whether we are racing at Milwaukee, Iowa, Texas, Indy or wherever. At Texas we were doing 210mph at the start of a stint and 200-202mph at the end because the tires were going off.
At Texas the formula was right and we delivered one of the best races, and the driver who did the best job on the night won the race. Justin Wilson conserved his tires, drove well, hung onto it when it got loose and drove into Victory Lane. The only time you saw a pack of cars was at the start and on restarts, and when drivers lost it, they hit the wall softer and at much less of an angle and they didn't take two or three other cars with them. Everything was right about that race and, as well as praising IndyCar, I think drivers and fans should be giving props to Firestone, too, because they brought exactly the right compound to help make the racing great.
The Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix, the race before that, was frustrating but less so than Texas. At first I was mad at myself for missing the upshift out of the final turn on the run to the line on my final qualifying run, considering we only missed pole to Scott Dixon by 0.044sec. But looking at the data, I don't think getting that right would have tipped the balance in our favor. In fact I'd made a little bit of a mistake earlier in the lap, while watching someone go down a run-off area ahead of me, and I think that's what cost me. Scott got everything right, I didn't and like I've said before, pole positions come from sewing every little detail together on the crucial lap and in this case I didn't do that.
I expect it to be that close at every IZOD IndyCar Series event. There are a lot of very good drivers in very good cars out there, so it's up to myself, Verizon Team Penske and Chevrolet to beat them, to find and use every advantage we can. But you know, that's great. Reacting to increased opposition, improving ourselves, being faster and smarter – those are all things that are right at the heart of what racers do, and Team Penske is made of racers.
On race day in Detroit, when I came into the pit at the end of my first stint, my left-rear tire was down to the canvas, we'd been working it so hard. We were just trying to go as long as possible to make our fuel strategy work so I lost a chunk of time to Dixon before the pit stop. After the race was stopped and restarted, if no one had got between my car and his, I think I had the pace to keep pressure on him. But unless he made a mistake, I wouldn't have been able to pass.
The race was stopped because of the track surface issue, and I was disappointed when they said it was going to restart but run for only 15 more laps…but that we had to stay on the same compound of tires we were on when it stopped. That meant anyone who'd gone onto blacks, the longer-lasting but less grippy tires, was at a disadvantage because effectively we now had a sprint race! The grip difference between fresh red (soft) tires and blacks was so big (that's normally a good thing), suddenly we became sitting ducks.
On the first restart, Dixon went, and I went with him, but when he backed off just before the green flag, I had to as well because you're not allowed to pass the leader before the green flag waves. That allowed Simon Pagenaud to get a good run on me and up into second. Then on the next restart Pagenaud braked so early for Turn 1 with me behind him that Dario Franchitti – on reds – must have been laughing to himself because he was able to drive around the outside of both of us!
So a fourth place was disappointing but not disastrous. Actually, the fact that the race was shortened had another disappointing effect for the fans and the No. 12 Verizon team – just a couple minutes after the checkered flag, it started raining pretty hard. Now that would have made things very interesting. But hey, if you can be disappointed with a fourth place, that's not so bad. Sometimes you've just got to roll with the punches.
We've got to do that again at Milwaukee this weekend because we had an engine let go during testing at Iowa, just 30 miles before it was due to be lifed out anyway. Dixon, the guy closest to us in the championship, also had his engine let go. And so Scott and I each have a 10-place grid penalty. At an oval, that's not so bad and the No. 12 Verizon team has had more challenging situations than that and made our way to the front. But it does mean we want to qualify well and minimize the effect of the penalty.
And then next week, we're back at Iowa and there are heat races to decide the grid order for the main race. It's an interesting idea and it should get quite exciting. I think having (race strategist) Tim Cindric on my side will be a big boost regarding tactics for these heats. He's a good guy to have by your side when you're trying to get the No. 12 Verizon car back into Victory Lane. And every time out, that's our goal.
Thanks for reading.
Follow Will on Twitter at @12WillPower and follow Team Penske at @PenskeRacing and at www.PenskeRacing.com
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