By A.J. Foyt
We went into the Long Beach Grand Prix feeling pretty good because Mike Conway likes the track and he drove a great race there last year when he won. We also knew that the Chevrolet teams were getting a 10-spot grid penalty because they decided to change out all their engines before they reached the mileage limit—more on that later.
We took a chance in our setup because we wanted the ABC Supply car to be faster—if you’re satisfied with where you are in this game, you’re never going to move forward. But rainy weather on Friday—our practice day-- really worked against us because we got so little time on track. With just an hour of practice before qualifying on Saturday, we decided to go back to what we know. The car wasn’t perfect but it was more predictable to Mike. We qualified 14th but because of that grid penalty we moved up to start 7th.
The race went downhill from there.
We lost two spots on the start—thanks to a bang from behind (Graham Rahal) in Turn 1 which knocked Mike hard enough that he got sideways. Mike recovered and was running a good pace in the top 10.
We had a problem on our first pit stop – one of our guys was hurting from a fall earlier in the weekend and it affected his performance. I appreciate the tough attitude but I told him next time we need to know because I think it triggered a chain reaction of events.
Or maybe it was just a case of when things aren’t going right, they go wrong in a hurry.
Mike had problems shifting when he was trying to leave the pit box (we did figure out why so I don’t expect that problem to happen again). He ran a couple laps before the yellow came out for the Rahal-Marco Andretti accident. Mike had radioed in that he was having trouble shifting.
Shortly after, Mike called in again that it wouldn’t shift at all so we told him to shut the car off to recycle everything. That didn’t work and he stopped on track. The safety crew got him restarted and when he got to the pit box, the ABC Supply crew replaced the gear cluster and sent him off—six laps down.
Now we just wanted to finish. About 15 laps later, he pulled off course thinking he was out of fuel which wasn’t the case because he wasn’t due in for another 13 laps. Apparently a fuel rail broke and the car caught fire in the back. He got out of the car in plenty of time but he was done for the day and finished 22nd.
The team will go to Brazil without me because I don’t want to spend that much time in a plane and I don’t want to be out of the country. I’m still fighting that infection I got back in January but things are looking good and I want it to stay that way. So come April 29, I’ll be watching the race on the NBC Sports Network TV just like everyone else.
This past weekend there was a lot of talk about the engine rule which said if you change an engine before it reaches the 1850 mile limit, you lose 10 spots on the grid from where you qualify. It happened a couple times in the first two races.
The reason behind the rule is to contain costs because when guys get competitive, they will do whatever it takes. The budget goes out the window.
Knowing that attitude, the officials worked with all of the engine manufacturers – Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus-- to come up with a reasonable mileage limit which would force the engine builders to make the engines reliable. Building qualifying ‘bullets’ (real fast but they don’t last very long) would not be in the team owners’ best interests overall.
When Chevy chose to change out the engines used by all of its teams because of something they saw while testing just before the Long Beach Grand Prix, people started questioning the rule. I am glad that the officials didn’t bow to the pressure and make an exception. The one thing that keeps rules fair is the consistency in applying them. As they say, what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.
There are some rumblings about changing up this rule for the Indianapolis 500 but I think as special as that race is, the officials still need to be consistent throughout the season. It’s the only way to maintain respect from the racers—even if they do complain about it at the time.
They have already said that the cars will all have fresh engines for the race so the mileage on the engine won’t be an issue in the race itself.
The worst case scenario would be if some teams did have to change engines before qualifying and then they end up on the front row. The driver would still get credit for the pole and they still go to the front row party but come race day they would start in row four. Now that would make for an interesting start. And I bet people would be talking about it from Pole Day until Race Day!
When was the last time that happened?