Friday, December 13, 2002
My most enjoyable day in an Indy Car
By Sarah Fisher
Special to ABC Sports Online
What an awesome weekend it was at Michigan! Although we came away in eighth place, it feels like we won the race.
It all started on Friday, our first day on-track, and my first time ever at Michigan International Speedway. Before the first practice, I was able to drive around the two-mile oval in the IRL pace car, so I could see the track configuration visually before I got out there in my racecar.
The track is very wide, and there is a lot of opportunity to pass. Brett Shelton, the MIS President, told me the week before that if your car handles well in Turns 1 and 2, you will do well there. And by driving around, I could see that those are the trickiest corners of the track. It's kind of like a diamond shape when you are going through.
During our practices, I just worked on getting comfortable around the track. I was pretty slow at first, but was able to tuck in behind Helio Castroneves for several laps. Helio has a lot of experience and following him around helped a lot, since I was able to see what line he ran and do the same.
Qualifying on Saturday went well. My team gave me a great car and we were happy with an eighth-place starting position. Our final practice was Saturday evening as well, and the car wasn't handling well on full fuel loads, so engineer Mark Weida and I went back and decided to make some changes for raceday. We knew that as long as the weather conditions stayed the same on Sunday, we'd be in good shape.
Raceday dawned pretty gloomy and overcast, like the other two days, and we all watched the skies and crossed our fingers that the race would get off on time. The Infiniti Pro Series race was shortened due to rain, but we were able to grid our IRL cars and start on time.
When the green flag flew, my car was pushing quite a bit. I worked with my weight jacker, which helped a little, and relayed the information back to Mark in the pits. On our first pit stop, the crew put two turns of front wing in the car, which helped a great deal, and I was able to start racing. On our second stop, they took a half-turn of wing out and after that, the car was perfect.
We had run some different lines during practice, both low and high on the track, which was very advantageous for the race. I could drive the car low or high, wherever I wanted, and thanks to the great Infiniti horsepower, I had plenty of speed to pass on all corners of the track.
Michigan is a very busy track, but I have a fantastic spotter in Tony Hirschman, and he helped make my day a lot of fun. With Tony and the great car that Mark, crew chief Dan Miller and all my guys gave me, it was a blast. For the first time in three years I was able to really race with the top guys in the series. I used a little bit of my short-track experience during the race and did a slide job on a lot of them. It really makes it easy on the driver when the car is so good and gives you the confidence to jam out there.
We had a couple of long pit stops, due to the butterfly sticking shut on the fuel nozzle, but by Lap 167, I had moved up from 14th to third and was picking the other cars off one by one. On Lap 180, I was in second place and got by race leader Felipe Giaffone seven laps later. We dueled it out wheel-to-wheel for four laps, and then the car started to get loose. I think I burned too much rubber off my tires, and wasn't able to be as racy the rest of the day. Plus, I got freight-trained by the lead pack on about lap 195 and we ended up eighth at the checkered flag.
But, I can honestly say this is the most fun I've ever had driving an Indy Car. I had an absolute blast out there and I think we showed some people what this team is capable of. I can't thank my team and owners Dennis Reinbold and Robbie Buhl enough for the opportunity to prove what we can do, as well as SmartBlade, Jack K. Elrod and all our other sponsor partners for coming on-board our team.
We are off to test at Kentucky Speedway this Wednesday and Thursday and I think we will be a force to reckon with at the race. I've finished third at Kentucky and I hope to do two spots better when we return in two weeks time!
Car: No. 23|
Team: Allegra/Dreyer and Reinbold
Hometown: Commercial Point, Ohio
IRL starts: 28
Best finish: 2nd (Homestead, 4/8/01)