Thursday night's practice was very important because the conditions were the most like the race. The temperature was still really hot even though the hour long practice started at 6PM. In the first few laps, I knew the car wasn't perfect. The team and I made lots of changes to the car and ended the session in 10th place. I was pretty sure we finished the session with a better car than what we started it with. Then it was time for a quick debrief, dinner and an early night back at the hotel. We had a nice early start on Friday with another practice at 8AM.
Morning practice went well and we did a new tire run that confirmed we had made significant progress with the car in the evening practice. My time on new tires was done completely on my own and with no tow. When I did the time, it was good enough for 7th and I was confident we could be within the top-6 in qualifying. Since most people went quicker at the end of the session running in a pack, I dropped to 12th by the end of the session.
Going into qualifying, we were pretty confident with our set up and as a result, we went reasonably aggressive. It really paid off! My warm up lap was pretty quick and my first timed lap was exactly the same. On my second lap, I had felt the car scrub the front end in turns 1 and 2. I made a small adjustment in the cockpit coming up to 3 and 4. As I got to the exit, the car moved at the rear and I had to slide up the track to catch it. As a result, my second lap was just over a tenth of a second slower. I still ended up 5th on the grid, my best oval qualifying and the team's best oval qualifying position as well. It also equaled my best qualifying from Watkins Glen.
I was pretty excited for the race as I knew that if I could convert my qualifying position to a top 6 result, I had a good shot at 8th in the championship. And for it being my first year with a new team with the added challenge of ovals thrown in, I would have been pleased with a top-10 in the points. Anything higher would just be a bonus. Then the race started and I got really busy trying to keep the car under me! The set up wasn't good from the green flag and while I worked really hard with the tools I have in the cockpit, I couldn't make it too much better. I did get in front of the set up for about 5 laps and I passed a couple of cars. Then the tires were done and, as my spotter said, I had my dancing shoes on and started doing the moonwalk! I ended up finishing the race in 13th place which was very respectable considering the car and how hard it was to drive. I still ended the year 10th in the points standings and with a huge amount of experience.
On Saturday morning, I spent a couple of hours starting the Miami-Dade ADA Step Out to Fight Diabetes. It was a lot of fun and a great event. I really enjoy the chance to meet kids with diabetes, their parents, friends, and other supporters that help them fight diabetes day in, day out. It helps to remind even me that I am not alone in this!
Then it was back to down to the track to watch the Indy Car season finale. Heading into the last race, there were three drivers who could win the championship and they had qualified 1-2-3. It was going to be a very interesting race. And believe it or not, but it stayed green the whole race! It turned into a very exciting battle between pit strategy, on track speed and the ability for the top-3 to work through traffic because by the end of the race, everyone but the championship contenders had been lapped. When the checkered fell, it was Dario Franchitti who won the race and the championship. He didn't take the lead until 4 laps to go as he had been saving fuel the whole race so he didn't have to make a final pit stop for a 'splash' of fuel! Standing in pit lane watching the race and seeing the two different strategies develop was very neat and a lot of fun to watch. As I told someone later- it was a true barnstormer. And congratulations to Dario, Chip Ganassi and all at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. With Dario's win and Scott Dixon's third in the race, they finished 1-2 in the championship. I think that's the first time in IRL history.
Here are links to two articles from the last week:
To wrap this last race recap up, I want to thank my team for all of their hard work this year. Kane Williams, Dave, Dave, Don, Mike, Chris, Trey, Tracey, Daren, Bob, Cuz, and everyone else at Palm Beach International Raceway. And my spotter, Chris Wheeler, for keeping me out of trouble on the ovals. Without your endless hours, this year would not have happened let alone be successful and fun. I also have to thank your families, wives, girlfriends, fiances and friends for being so understanding and supportive. My 2009 season was great for me in so many ways and I can't wait to get back on track in 2010. There are lots of things happening behind the scenes and I hope to be able to announce things in the coming weeks- so stay tuned!