By A.J. Foyt
Racing is a sport of highs and lows and the trick is to not get too high or too low or it will drive you nuts. I speak from experience.
My driver Mike Conway knows all about the highs and lows of racing; he had a roller coaster ride this weekend in the Baltimore Grand Prix.
Our ABC Supply Honda was fast right from the start—a combination of a fresh engine (we took a 10-spot grid penalty because of it) and a street course setup that suits Mike’s style. Confident in qualifying, Mike advanced to the Firestone Fast Six for the second time this year (the last time was at Alabama in April).
With less than a minute to go, he popped up to second on the chart and was on his fastest lap when the chicane on Pratt Street—which by the way claimed a lot of victims this weekend—caught him out. Trying to get the pole from Will Power, Mike said he knew when he hit the first part of the chicane that he’d be in trouble on the second half of it. His car flew into the concrete barrier, knocking out the whole left side of the car.
I was upset but I always say, I won’t be as upset as long as my driver is going to the front when he crashes. What really tees me off is crashing when running 20th. The good news was that his previous lap time stood because the checkered flag was already out. The bad news was that my ABC Supply crew had a lot of repairs but at least the car wasn’t so bad that we needed to use the backup car. If that were the case, we would have started last instead of 12th.
As it turned out, we ended up there after Helio Castroneves took Mike out on lap 14, sliding into him in Turn 6 and never letting off the gas. The officials didn’t penalize Castroneves for that move, but he ended up back there with Mike a couple laps later after an incident with another car. I think that’s called poetic justice.
Mike came back from that spin and was running ninth when a caution came out with just nine laps to go for Charlie Kimball’s engine problems that caused him to stop on track. Had the race stayed green to the end, we were looking at a top five finish because several cars ahead of Mike needed the yellows to make it to the end – they were going to run out of fuel.
On the restart, Mike got a good run and when some cars got jammed up leaving the hairpin, Mike and Rubens Barrichello snuck by on the inside. Mike and Barrichello drag-raced to the next corner but Mike came into the corner too fast—and too politely for my taste. He should have used more of the track but, live and learn. It’s a fine line between a brilliant move and one that lands you in the wall…or in this case, the tire barrier.
Justin Wilson joined him by sliding underneath his car so that the ABC Supply Honda was suspended between the tires and Justin’s car. Fortunately no one was hurt. It took two laps to get the cars apart, but both cars were able to restart and run the final two laps. Mike’s yellow allowed three of the top five cars to finish without pitting for fuel—including the winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, who drove a helluva race. Mike finished 16th.
Again, Mike was going for it and going to the front when he crashed so I can’t be too upset. I like that he doesn’t give up and doesn’t settle.
The race overall pointed out the shortcomings of the track, which, if we return next year--and I hope we do--they will have to fix. The bumps on Pratt Street were even worse than last year. In fact, a chicane was added on the first day of practice. By slowing the cars down with the chicane, they didn’t fly quite so high when they hit that big bump further down the street. Some cars were a foot off the ground before they put in the chicane! But that makeshift chicane created problems in qualifying for us and quite a few other cars.
While the track had some major problems, I thought the Andretti group did a good job organizing the event. There was much better access in and out of the track, especially after the race.
I do have one complaint though. My pit box was directly below the exhaust vents for one of the restaurants that flank the ballpark. When they fired up their grills to cook every day, it was like a smoke bomb went off in my pit! It’d make your eyes water it was so bad. There was nothing we could do to avoid it because even our fans couldn’t keep it from blowing our way.
So while they’re working on that bumpy track next year….maybe they can take a look at those exhaust vents—or at least arrange for some free hot dogs and burgers for the poor team that has to put up with the smoke. I guarantee it won’t be mine.