By A.J. Foyt
Let me start by saying I am not going to talk about the huge penalty my team received following the Toronto race because I don’t want to get another fine for speaking my mind about it. I’m angry. Period.
We had our first street race in about a month and as weird as it sounds, I was glad to be back on the streets. Toronto is a circuit where we don’t always start well but we’ve always finished—usually in the top 10. Unlike us, Mike Conway usually started well--in his first two races he qualified in the Firestone Fast Six--but hadn’t finished.
How happy were we when Mike finished third in the Honda Indy Toronto? Pretty damn happy. Third place was his and our best finish ever at Exhibition Place. Mike said the ABC Supply Honda was “awesome.”
I was happy not just because of the result but because everyone on my ABC Supply team did a really good job on race day. Our pit stops were solid and Mike drove like he did at Indy – passing cars with ease.
We made it tougher on him because we wanted to pit with the leaders—hell we were racing with the leaders, having come from 11th to fourth! Yes we started 11th because a couple cars had grid penalties related to engine changes. When Mike qualified 13th (his worst start here), he was more upset with himself than the car.
We improved the car after qualifying and Mike was third quick in the race morning warm-up. It helped that our engineers Don Halliday and Raul Prados had done a shaker rig test on our shocks at a center outside of Toronto last Tuesday. They learned a lot which played into the direction they took this weekend. It’s the kind of information that will pay off the rest of the year.We were feeling pretty good going into the race. We started on the alternate ‘red-rimmed’ tires; usually we get off them as quick as possible because in the past, our car just didn’t handle as well as it did on the primary ‘black-rimmed’ tires.
We took a different approach with the setup and it worked. The ABC Supply car handled so well on the alternates that we kept Mike out there. He had passed Ryan Hunter-Reay during that first stint and was closing in on third place Sebastian Bourdais(who qualified fourth) when the yellow came out.
We pitted with the leaders and that strategy hurt us because a full course caution occurred just before we were to pit. What made it worse for us--and others who had to pit--was that the pits were closed. Normally they don’t close them but the accident was at Pit Out so the officials didn’t want cars racing out of the pits while safety workers were trying to clear the track. Instead of dashing in and out of the pits, we had to wait until the field was packed up and then duck in which guaranteed we’d be stuck behind everyone who had pitted earlier. Frustrating.
We had a good stop but we were 16th when we came out—right behind Will Power, Sebastian Bourdais and Helio Castroneves. We put on the primary tires--you have to run one set of each during the race, per the rules. It took a while for those tires to heat up--being a harder compound--and Mike dropped back to 18th. A lot of others were on the alternates so that put us at a disadvantage – a temporary one though. When the tires did come in, Mike began passing cars again.
Our final stop was under green and we took on another set of the alternate red tires. We pitted the same lap as Charlie Kimball and Power but a lap earlier than Bourdais and Castroneves who were still ahead of Mike. Larry Foyt radioed Mike that he had to conserve fuel to make it to the end which he did. However, with 10 laps to go, we knew we’d make it on fuel so Larry gave Mike the go ahead.
And go he did! He passed two cars the next lap and moved from 11th to ninth. When Josef Newgarden had his crash bringing out a second full course yellow, Mike picked up another spot for eighth. Three cars had to pit for fuel during that yellow but we didn’t so we moved from eighth to fifth. The way the car was handling, we felt we had a chance to win when the race restarted with four laps to go!
Luckily for us, Mike showed some discretion on the restart. Restarting directly behind third place Bourdais, Mike followed him down the front straight as Kimball fought to tuck in behind Bourdais. Only problem was that Mike was already there. Kimball squeezed Mike twice—first on the frontstretch and again going into Turn 1. If Mike hadn’t backed off, it would have been an even bigger bump into Kimball as they entered Turn 1. Kimball bounced into Bourdais who was knocked into the barrier and Kimball continued on to finish second behind Hunter-Reay.
Hats off to Ryan for winning his third race in a row although if we didn’t have a full course yellow just then, I think Mike could have given him a run for his money! But I have to say, I was happy with third after the last month we’ve had.
I was a little sorry that we had our best race of the year outside of the USA because ABC Supply—which brings hundreds of guests to every race in the States—wasn’t there! At least they could watch it on ABC-TV. Judging by the calls, emails and texts (to Larry—I don’t text), many of them were watching.
We did have my good friend Jim Greer there as well as Kurt Westman, president of Alfe Heat Treating, which, along with Greer, is one of our associate sponsors.
Kurt’s son Ryan operated the Deadman valve on the fuel rig—that’s a lever on the fuel tank that’s pulled to start the fuel flowing (and stopping). Kurt told me afterwards that he was so nervous that Ryan might screw up on a pit stop and figured if he did, that Ryan might be a dead man...literally! We laughed about it afterwards—and for the record, Ryan handled his job just fine.
Our next race is in Edmonton, Canada, and I am looking forward to having the momentum continue—even if it is out of the States. We have some catching up to do!