By A.J. Foyt
The Go-Pro Indy Grand Prix at Sonoma race weekend was one of the more frustrating ones of the season for my ABC Supply team.
The team had tested at Sonoma Raceway the week before and while the test went so-so, the team came away feeling that they had learned some things that would be helpful for the race. Unfortunately, we really struggled trying to find the setup that would work the tires—the car was lacking traction. Mike Conway couldn’t put the power down as quick as he needed to.
We did improve the ABC Supply car for qualifying—he qualified 16th which was a lot better than 24th in practice. He started 14th due to a couple teams getting grid penalties for unapproved engine changes. After the race morning warm-up we were second quick which pumped everyone up. He ran a couple laps on the softer compound tire (several teams did) which helped us find some speed.
The weather was beautiful for the race, probably the nicest weather we’ve had at that track. There were 27 cars which was the largest field since the Indy 500, so Mike was starting mid-pack.
You know how it is when you come up to a toll booth and you pick the lane where the guy ahead drops his money or his EZ-Pass doesn’t work and you think to yourself, why didn’t I go in the other lane?
That’s how it felt on the starts and restarts in this race -- it didn’t matter which way Mike went, something happened in front of him and he lost positions where he normally gains. Whether it was the first lap incident when Helio Castroneves punted Ryan Hunter-Reay which forced Mike to go wide and lose three spots in the scramble or on the lap 77 restart when Sebastian Saavedra, directly ahead of Mike, missed a shift and cars vaulted past them both, Mike couldn’t catch a break.
He would get up to 12th or that lucky 13th spot and then something would happen and back he’d drop. We did make a mistake deciding to put on slightly used red tires instead of new blacks in our third stint. We thought we were picking the lesser of two evils but in 20-20 hindsight, we made the wrong choice.
During that stint, he lost track position and about three spots, dropping to 15th. More damaging was going a lap down on lap just before we pitted on lap 61.
We had our first caution in a race since Toronto with the Sebastien Bourdais- Joseph Newgarden accident. Newgarden was fortunate he only sustained an injured finger and bruises. That was a nasty looking accident.
When it came time for the restart on lap 74, it was less than 20 laps from the end so the lapped cars (which was everyone from 11th down) were sent to the back of the field. He got up to 13th and was tagged by Oriol Servia. Mike spun, dropped to 17th and came back to finish 14th. Servia was given a pit lane drive through penalty which gave Mike back that spot. Servia apologized to Mike after the race.
The long and short of it? Mike started 14th, drove hard, passed a lot of cars and finished 14th. The ABC Supply car was better than the results show but we weren’t able to capitalize on the gains we’d made.
Looking at this coming weekend though, I think we’ll be good in Baltimore. We seem to have a handle on what Mike likes for the street courses and he’s really good on them anyway. But he will be starting 10 spots behind where he qualifies because we had to change the engine this week because we are over the 1850-mile mark.
You can change the engine after that without a penalty—unless you go over the five engine allotment for the season. We are on now engine number 6, so we lose 10 spots. That penalty is more costly on the street courses—especially if there aren’t many cautions—because it’s so hard to pass. But hey, if it were easy, anyone could do it right?
One bright spot for me was when Olympic gold medalist swimmer Dana Vollmer and her dad Les stopped by our transporter after the race. I met them when they came to the October IndyCar race at Texas Motor Speedway in 2004—she was the grand marshal because she’d won gold in Athens that year and lived nearby in Granby. The following year they came to Indy and watched the 500 from our suite. We’ve kept tabs on each other and I was so happy for her in the Olympics this year where she won four gold medals and set a new world record! She brought one of the medals for us to see—I was surprised at how heavy it was! She’s planning to compete in the Rio games in 2016. I’ll be watching—if I’m still around. At my age, I don’t plan that far in the future!