By A.J. Foyt
Bumps in the road. At the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix this weekend, there were a few of those but as racers everywhere understand, you don’t give up and you don’t give in.
The race returned to Belle Isle for the first time since 2008 and once again the island was changed from a park into a race track. The peaceful setting seemed at odds with the roar of the race cars which claimed at least one unlucky squirrel who wandered onto the track during a practice session.
Hats off to Penske Group for bringing the race back to a city that has definitely taken the brunt of the country’s economic troubles on the chin. It gave those folks something to look forward to and cheer about. The sold out crowd welcomed us back and fans seemed really happy to have the race in their city.
For our ABC Supply team, it was the first race we finished since April 1st! When Mike Conway has finished, he’s finished in the top 10. He has driven the wheels off our Honda-powered No. 14 car but a series of misfortunate things happened so he hasn’t had the results to show for it. His ninth place in Detroit doesn’t sound like much, but it gave us something to cheer about too. Actually anytime you can roll your car onto the transporter after a street race, I think you have to count yourself lucky.Even though we didn’t have the fastest car at Detroit, Mike drove a smart race, keeping in mind that we need to start finishing races. He took care of his Firestone tires, not pressing too hard in the beginning, and was watching his fuel consumption too.
That became important later in the race.
Starting 15th, he was cruising around there for the first half of the race which was stopped at the halfway point for two accidents that happened at different parts of the course on the same lap.
James Hinchcliffe, running 12th, crashed because the track surface was breaking down. Asphalt seams began peeling up and Hinchcliffe hit the seam which was missing a large chunk of asphalt and it pitched him into the tire barrier. The track had a variety of cars running non-stop over the weekend and by the time the headliners took the stage, the toll was too much. The downforce from the Indy cars sucked up the asphalt patches used to fill in the cracks in the track that come from the harsh Michigan winters.
The cars ran under yellow for seven laps while IndyCar and track officials evaluated the situation. They red-flagged the race after 45 laps. Because the race was at the halfway point, they easily could have called it a race and sent everyone home—disappointed. But racers never give up.
Instead, they used a quick setting concrete mixture to repair about 20 asphalt patches in three different turns. Nearly two hours later (and much to my surprise to be honest), the drivers were back in their cars, ready to race.
The double file restart meant it would be a new race--a sprint really because the race was shortened to 60 laps from 90. At 7:00 p.m. we would be fighting darkness if the race were to run its full distance and I think there was some concern about how long the repairs would hold.
Mike restarted 14th and a lap later he was in 10th because both Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe spun and Mike gained two more spots in the scramble that followed. On the restart, he was passed by Marco Andretti who then punted E.J. Viso who spun. Those two yellows were lucky for us because we were tight on fuel but now Mike could race hard to the finish.
Under green once again, Mike passed Andretti with six laps to go and set out for Charlie Kimball. All over Kimball in the corners, Mike would lose to him on the straights. He settled for a ninth place finish with the emphasis on finish.
Bumps in the road can either send you into a concrete barrier or set you in a direction where you can zip past the competition. It’s all how you handle it. The big bump in the road for IndyCar recently was the complaining about new car costs and the management of the series. The owners were not happy. That’s nothing new for IndyCar—that’s been going on for as long as I can remember. At 77, that’s a damn long time. The difference this time is that the owners got together and met with management about the problems. We talked, they listened, really listened.
There will be some good changes to come out of this. Some of the ambitious plans we had for this new car have been delayed – we voted down the aero kits for 2013 that were supposed to give the cars different looks. I think the fans will understand that until the “acquisition costs” of all brand new equipment are absorbed by the teams, we don’t need to be spending money on new pieces, unless it’s related to safety.
The owners and officials came out of that Saturday meeting with a renewed energy to work together to make this sport work for all of us: the owners, the drivers, the series, the promoters and the suppliers. While we don’t agree on everything, there’s one thing we all agreed on, we have to work together.
We love this sport and we can’t give in to the outside pressures, economic or otherwise. After all, racers never give up and never give in.