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Whatever happens over the remainder of the year, I think most of the competitors in the IZOD IndyCar Series are going to look back on 2012 as a strange season in terms of results. It's pretty unusual in Indy car history to have two different drivers winning three races in a row, for example. And then there are the engine-change grid penalties which have mixed up the starting positions on several occasions, push-to-pass coming online midseason, the final race suddenly being extended in length, and so on.
And through it all, the racing has been very good so I hope we've hooked some new fans, 1) because we're putting on a good show, and 2) because I hope Chevrolet have received maximum publicity for what they've done on their return to Indy car racing. Eight wins in 12 races is pretty remarkable and the manufacturers' championship could be settled at Sonoma. I hope the Verizon Team Penske No. 12 team marks it by driving into Victory Lane.
The Toronto race, at one stage, I thought was looking good for us. We started on the front row, and got past Dario Franchitti and into the lead, but – unusual for this year – the pits were closed when the yellow flag came out for a crashed car, so everyone who'd pitted beforehand jumped us when we were eventually allowed to pit. Then when I was tracking Josef Newgarden, I touched my front wing on his rear wheel. It was just the slightest touch, and I didn't even know there'd been damage (you can't see the front wing from the cockpit) but it was enough to break it, at which point it slipped under the wheel and gave me a puncture and an extra visit to the pits.
I've said it before: Team Penske's attitude is not to dwell on the past because you could drive yourself crazy doing that. Instead, you have to think about the fact that, performance-wise, if these events had been straightforward, or everything had gone more smoothly, we could have had two or three more wins and two or three more podium finishes this year and that shows the great potential of the Verizon car. That's what gives us encouragement as we head into the final three races.
Thankfully, Edmonton was a race where we really did show our potential. In the dry, we had an edge in qualifying, but before Q2 there was a shower and we underestimated how quickly the track would dry. I set what I thought would be a good strong banker lap that put us at the top of the times, so I decided to try something different on my second run and it didn't work. Still, I thought the banker lap would hold…but the track was drying so quick that anyone who was still out there was setting faster and faster lap times. And so I ended up bumped down to seventh.
Tim Cindric, team president and my strategist, then took the bold step of deciding to change the No. 12 car's engine. That of course meant we'd start 10 places further back due to the penalty, but I think we'd have made that decision even if we'd won pole. Our reasoning was to get the freshest engine we could before Mid-Ohio, Sonoma and Baltimore, because they're all tracks where, historically, it's harder to pass. You really don't want to have to recover from a 10-place grid penalty at any of them. Edmonton, though, in its current form, has lots of hard braking – potential passing zones, in other words…
So that was the aim – if we could get from 17th on the grid into the top five, we'd be happy. Well, considering there were no full-course cautions to bunch up the cars, I think we can be really pleased to have finished third. It was great fun pulling off passing maneuvers, balancing speed with good fuel mileage and just maximizing everything we had. And then Tim's strategy calls were spot-on, the pit stops were slick and my teammate Helio Castroneves won the race so we got two Penske cars on the podium for the second time this year. A pretty good event.
Mid-Ohio last weekend was interesting as ever. It was great to set that pole position and get within a couple of tenths of Gil de Ferran's lap record there, but with 200 less horsepower. Gives you some idea of the downforce and grip the DW12 has.
In the race, we led from the start, and again you saw that Mid-Ohio phenomenon where the track grips up really quickly. Even though there had been a huge storm overnight that had washed the Friday and Saturday rubber away, our lap times came down pretty dramatically in that first stint. We could all have gone faster, but when a race is just about doable on two fuel stops and there are (again) no yellow-flag periods, everyone has to save fuel.
That middle stint, we held off Scott Dixon but when it came time for our second stop, I came down to the pitlane speed limit a little more carefully than him because I didn't want to take the risk of getting a drive-through penalty – I'd been pinged for speeding at pit entry earlier in the weekend – and then because we were stopping on the same lap and had pit boxes right next to each other, his crew were standing out ready for him so I had to drive around them. So I actually entered my pitbox a little slower whereas he had a clean entry into his pitbox, and it meant my refueler had to stand back as I had to come in at a sharper angle, so he got delayed a little too. And so all these lost fractions of seconds combined got Dixon out in the lead. That's racing.
Even after Toronto, when Ryan Hunter-Reay had a lead of 35 points over me, and Dixie was another 30-something points behind, I never counted him out of the championship, and now he's right back in it. He is always a strong opponent who I respect a great deal.
Same with Hunter-Reay. That's why although we're pleased to be back in the championship lead, no one on the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske car is taking anything for granted. Ryan, Scott and Helio will all be strong rivals to us over the next couple races, and all of us know that there are other drivers who could beat us as well. Sonoma has been good to the Verizon car for the past two seasons, but this year there are changes to three of the corners so we all have a bit of relearning to do.
For everyone on our team, the aim is clear: get back to Victory Lane…and then step and repeat, step and repeat. We've seen how tough it can be, but we've also shown that we are strong contenders.
Thanks for reading. Hope to see you at the track.
Follow Will on Twitter at @12WillPower and follow Team Penske at @PenskeRacing and at www.PenskeRacing.com and Verizon Wireless USA at @VerizonWireless
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