When you first go through the tunnel as you enter the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, you feel how much energy and history the place has.
Racing at Indy is always a highlight in any racing series that races there and this year was no different. Well, it was a little different because of the new layout of the race track and the new asphalt.
One of the reasons drivers always complain is due to a lack of grip. In previous years, grip was not only lacking at Indy but it was nonexistent.
Yes, this year was different. The grip level has increased dramatically and the new layout promotes better racing, with more overtaking points. I’m not going to say it’s my favorite layout, but it does promote better racing and that’s one of the key points.
A couple of months ago, Action Express Racing had the opportunity to test at Indy. We felt it was a good test for us and we had found a good baseline setup for the track.
And we were right, even with the track feeling a little different because of the temperature difference, our car was quite good right out of the truck, and with the limited track time we have during race weekends, that’s very important.
Up until the race, it was clear that the P2 cars would be quite competitive at this track. Their top speed is getting closer to the Daytona Prototypes and they qualified among the top-three for the race. We would be starting as the best Daytona Prototype, fourth on the grid, with a great performance by my co-driver Christian Fittipaldi.
And then it was time to go racing.
The Super Weekend at Indy is always exciting as we get to race in front of the NASCAR guys. It is a great weekend with all different types of racing on track.
The start of a race at Indy is always exciting as the cars approach Turn 1, a very tight corner, at high speed. It was a little chaotic as there were some cars fighting for position and going from a wide straight line into a funnel at turn 1.
There was some contact but Christian was able to get out of Turn 1 with only minor damage to the front nose and a missing diveplane.
Most importantly, he was able to make up some positions and he was able to overtake the No. 1 car and got us into the lead on the very first lap.
In the United SportsCar Championship, track position is becoming more and more important, so that was a very important move for the team.
The car was behaving very well and Christian was able to maintain the lead for the entire stint.
After three safety car periods, with the last one longer for track repairs, it was time for me to jump in the car. We used the last caution to do a driver change.
This is a moment where sometimes you can lose more time than expected so that’s why the team decided it was time for me to get in the car and not risk having to do a driver change under a potential green flag stop.
The timing was not very good for the teams as, normally, everyone would need one more pit stop plus an additional pit stop for a splash of fuel in order to make it to the end.
That’s when my Action Express team communicated to me that we were going to run the entire time in fuel conservation mode! For a driver, this is very difficult as you still have to drive fast but conserve fuel at the same time – and these things don’t usually go together very well.
I was still able to do good lap times and maintained the lead for most of my first stint. I lost the lead for a few laps, but our strategy was showing signs that could work. As our competitors started their pit stops, I was able to do a few more laps than they could, and with good pace and excellent pit stops by Action Express, by the way, the best in the business, we were back in the lead.
I asked a couple of times if we were good on fuel and the reply from our engineer Iain Watt was very reassuring. He told me to just keep doing what I was doing and we would be fine.
For the people following the race on television, they were more concerned about the fuel situation than we were. We knew we were good, but everybody else didn’t! That made it more interesting for the fans who were thinking “will they run out of fuel or not?” But we knew we were good!
Crossing the finish line first at Indy was very special, not only for me but for the entire team.
We were somewhat unlucky in the last couple of races but at Indy we proved we are real contenders and we won this race as a big team effort. ECR engines, Continental tires, Chevy, Corvette and Action Express Racing, all worked as a whole and that was the difference. A big team win.
Winning at Indy and kissing those bricks is a feeling I will remember forever! Sharing that with the whole Action Express Racing team made it even more special!
We entered the race with a deficit of five points, and we are now leading the championship by two points! The championship is very tight. The competition is strong but I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead.
It will not be easy for sure, but, if it was easy, anyone could do it and the rewards wouldn’t be as satisfying!