Strong Run Ends Early for Mike Conway and ABC Supply Team in St. Petersburg

ST. PETERSBURG, FL Mar 25, 2012—Mike Conway’s strong run in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg ended in pit lane as the gearbox broke on the ABC Supply Dallara/Honda in the IZOD IndyCar Series season opener.

“Things were going good and then we had a bad pit stop that set us back a few positions,” said Conway. “After that we just tried to stay out of trouble. The car had pretty good pace on the blacks but we struggled on the red tires.  Then I lost 3rd gear and then 4th and it was a struggle to stay out of people’s way so I pulled in. It’s too bad because everyone on the ABC Supply team did a good job this weekend. We just have to keep learning about this car and keep pushing. We’ll get there.”

Conway qualified 12th but started 11th when Simon Pagenaud’s team was assessed a 10-spot grid penalty because of an unscheduled engine change prior to qualifying yesterday. Running quickest in the final warm-up on race morning, Conway gave the nearly  600 ABC Supply guests on hand something to talk about.

In the race, Conway ran 12th in the opening laps. As the tire wear on the red alternate Firestone tires began affecting his handling, he dropped to 13th but a caution came out on lap 12. Conway ducked into the pits with a handful of cars.

Switching to black tires which seemed to work better with the ABC Supply car’s setup, and after another full course caution on lap 20, Conway passed Dario Franchitti on the restart. As other cars pitted for fuel over the next 10 laps, he moved up on the grid, eventually running second for a good part of the second stint. However, by lap 40, Conway radioed in that the car was starting to understeer. He pitted seven laps later.

A problem on the stop cost him several seconds and some positions. Factoring in the different pit cycles, he dropped to 12th which prompted Team Director Larry Foyt to tell Conway that he was still in the hunt. With slightly used red tires back on, the #14 car didn’t handle as well and 15 laps into the stint, Conway radioed in that the rear tires were getting really worn.

The team pitted Conway as early as they could in their final fuel widow—which was on lap 67. Despite the quick stop, which was under 7 seconds, Conway came out in 17th because of the different fuel strategies. He began working his way up through the field but seven laps later he slowed and radioed in that he’d lost third gear and then fourth gear. He wound up 20th.

“In general it was a good weekend,” said Larry Foyt, Team Director of AJ Foyt Racing. “We thought we were going to be competitive after the pre-season testing but you don’t really know until you come to the first race where everybody shows their full hand.

“I was really happy with the speed we showed in the practices,” he continued (Conway was first in the final warm-up). “In qualifying, we got caught out and missed a little bit on the red tires –the softer compound,  but that’s something that we learned from. I thought we were really good in the race, and the race was going to our plan. We had one of these teething problems on the car which can happen with everything being new. Something broke and we’ve just got to figure out why and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

A.J. Foyt, recovering from a staph infection following knee surgery in mid-January, made it to the opening race. Overall, he was pleased with how well his team worked together.

“I think our new driver and new team did a great job,” Foyt said. “But we had a problem in the race –it’s one of those misfortunate things. Maybe if you start the season like this, you‘ll finish it up real good. We’ve got 15 more races to go. I’m glad we showed we could be competitive and I look for a brighter future for this team this year.”

Helio Castroneves won the race in a Chevrolet powered Dallara. Scott Dixon, using Honda power, ran second. Chevrolet powered the next three drivers: Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Briscoe. Sixth through 10th were Pagenaud (Honda), pole winner Will Power (Chevrolet), E.J. Viso (Chevrolet), Charlie Kimball (Honda), and Justin Wilson (Honda).

The ABC Supply team will head to Barber Motorsports Park near Birmingham, Ala. this week as they prep for Round 2 of the 16-race series which takes place Sunday, April 1. The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be televised by NBC Sports Network starting at 2 p.m. ET.