By A.J. Foyt
We started off the Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio IndyCar weekend announcing that Chase Austin will be driving an entry for us in next year’s Indianapolis 500. It’s notable for two reasons: one, I never plan that far ahead when it comes to Indy, and two, Chase will be only the third black driver to run in the Indy 500.
I met Chase and his agent Chris Miles through American Honda which has been a supporter of the motorsports diversity initiative that brought Chase to INDYCAR’s Firestone Indy Lights last year. Chase is a real nice kid—he’s only 22—and he’s driven quite a few different types of cars, including one of my favorites, sprint cars. Our plan is to do some testing with him over the winter before he goes to Indy, but right now our focus is this year’s IndyCar season.
Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course is a track where our ABC Supply Racing team usually comes away with a good result. Going into the weekend, I thought we were going to have another strong finish because Mike Conway was one of the quickest in the 24-car test session the week before the race.
Well, he started 16th and finished 21st so what went wrong?In looking back over the weekend, I can see where we made some errors that had some big consequences for our ABC Supply team. The first mistake was chasing the race track in practice.
When we unloaded the car, Mike wasn’t happy with the way the car was handling—it was pushing. “Push” or understeer happens when the front of the car won’t steer through the corner --the car slides or pushes towards the wall or barrier. We kept making small adjustments and getting further away from the setup that tested well the week before.
We should have been a little more patient because the track had all different kinds of tire rubber on it from the different support series. Unlike the IZOD IndyCar Series teams which can run only on Firestone tires, the American LeMans Series teams are supported by a variety of tire manufacturers -- which means a variety of compounds on the track surface that can affect the car’s handling.
That wasn’t our only problem but I think it was a big factor because by race day we were close to our original set up and he was much more competitive. Of course heavy rain storms the night before and morning of the race also gave us a clean track for the race.
Our next mistake was our two-stop race strategy which we had to change after our first stint. You have to be flexible and be able to take advantage of situations that develop – or in our case—don’t develop. We weren’t getting the fuel mileage we needed in the race to make it to the end of the race on just two stops so we had to add a third stop.
If we had planned it from the start, we wouldn’t have had to save fuel and run as slow as we did in the first stint. Making matters worse, Mike was losing a lot of track position in the second stint when we went from the softer compound (red-rimmed) tires to the tires with the harder compound.
So it became a three-stop race; we got off those primary tires as soon as we could–in eight laps—and Mike began racing hard because saving fuel wasn’t an issue now. We were looking at salvaging a top-10 (maybe top-12) finish.
Without going into too much detail, our third and final pit stop took a helluva lot longer than it should have—nearly 30-seconds longer. It sealed our fate for that race because there wasn’t enough time--or a much-needed yellow-- to allow us to recover the track position we lost from that stop.
Yep, we had another caution-free race—the second one in a row.
We are making changes in our over-the-wall gang which I think will help us avoid the problems we had at Mid-Ohio. It will be a short term fix so we can finish out the season. It’s been something we’ve been thinking about and even though I hate to change during the season, we can’t afford to wait until next year.
We are heading out to Sonoma, California for an IndyCar test on August 17th which is the week before we race at Sonoma Raceway. Mike runs well there so we’re looking for a good result.
With just three races left, it can’t come soon enough.