Looking for an upswing in Canada
Editor's note: This is the seventh installment by three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who'll be writing periodically for ESPN.com throughout the 2011 Izod IndyCar Series season (as told to ESPN.com motorsports writer John Oreovicz).
The IZOD IndyCar Series is halfway through its two-race Canadian swing, and I'm sad to say the Honda Indy Toronto didn't go as well as we hoped for Team Penske.
For the Canadian races, my No. 3 car is painted bright yellow in the colors of Penske Truck Rental and I have a brand-new, yellow driving suit. At Toronto, some people said it reminded them of the yellow suit I wore on "Dancing with the Stars," and I promise to bring my fedora to Edmonton to make the outfit complete!
My car was handling well in practice at Toronto and I ran in the top three in two of the three practice sessions. But in qualifying, we did not capitalize and didn't make it into the Firestone Fast Six. We had a good lap going in the yellow PTR car and unfortunately we went a little too far in what we were trying to do. But I wasn't too discouraged. I knew that we had a car that was faster than our 12th-place starting spot. We just needed to have a good day in the pits, drive smart and let the race come to us.
The Toronto street course is very bumpy, and the race is about not making mistakes. I've raced there like 10 or 11 times, but I guess I still did not learn. I made a mistake trying to pass Alex Tagliani on the 30th lap and crashed into the back of his car. I had to apologize to my Penske Truck Rental crew and especially to Tagliani, because there was no excuse. Unfortunately, I locked the rear brakes when I tried to pass him, but he braked so late it was impossible for me to back up. I was hoping he would see me, just to avoid the crash.
I was very angry with myself. Unfortunately, we bent a front suspension toe link with the contact and we fell four laps down making repairs to the car. After that, the No. 3 was fine. I just tried to stay out of the way because when you are four laps down, there is nothing you can do.
So I came away from Toronto very disappointed. It was a tough race for the team -- Ryan Briscoe got seventh place, but Will Power got spun out by Dario Franchitti and later got knocked out of the race completely by Tagliani. It's a shame for Will but we're all just going to keep fighting.
Prior to the Toronto race, the team made some changes. Tim Cindric, who has been on the radio with me for every race of my Team Penske career since 2000, was moved to Will's car, and John Erickson took over TC's role of calling race strategy for the No. 3 team.
I understand the change. Certainly Will is the guy who has a chance to win the championship this season. TC is not only the guy who called my strategy and my friend, he's also the president of the team. It's tough for me, but it's tough for him, too, and I totally support the team's decision. John is a great guy. He won races with Will, and with us in the ALMS prototype sports cars. He was funny on the radio in Toronto and it's a shame that I couldn't have had a better start with him.
Heading into the Edmonton Indy, I'm not surprised that people want to talk a lot about what happened to me there last year. You probably remember it; I led late in the race, but the officials penalized me for blocking my teammate Will in the Verizon car on a restart, and that allowed Scott Dixon to be declared the winner of the race even though I crossed the line first.
My attitude is that I'm going to Edmonton to defend my race win, to score two in a row. The official record may not reflect that I won last year, but a lot of people believe that, including myself. I plan to drive just as I always have and hopefully we will come away with another victory, without any controversy this time.
Regardless of who won last year, Edmonton is going to be different this year. The track still uses a runway on the Edmonton City Centre Airport, but it's almost a completely different layout. We don't know how narrow it will be, but it looks like there is a new straightaway long enough to allow passing without a problem.
However, the rules are pretty much the same, and you could see that in Toronto there wasn't a lot of consistency in calling penalties when they had a great opportunity to take a stand. With all of the crazy stuff happening out there I think it would have made a statement to the drivers if they were able to demonstrate "Don't do this" or "Don't do that." But it didn't happen and now we just need to move on.
I still don't agree with having the double-file restarts. I think our cars are not prepared to make contact with each other, especially on tight street or road courses. It's hard for us to go from sixth gear down into first gear without any problem. If you touch wheels with somebody, you usually bend the steering or break a nose. If that happens, you have to make a pit stop and you are automatically penalized by that. It's not like NASCAR where you rub a fender and just keep going. The good news is that we are always trying to make things more interesting, the fans are still talking about it and hopefully it will be even better in 2012.
People also remember my reaction after I was penalized last year at Edmonton. I wasn't trying to fight anybody, especially not Charles Burns, the head of security for IndyCar -- he's a big guy! I was just desperate for somebody to give me an answer to what I did wrong and nobody had one. What I did was uncalled for. I expressed my emotions in a negative way and I certainly wasn't proud of my actions. I just reacted when I was provoked. Some people react in a calm way, but unfortunately, I am an emotional person and I reacted that way.
So I'm very motivated heading into Edmonton. These Penske Truck Rental colors are really cool, and I want to redeem myself. Winning at Edmonton would be especially meaningful.
Follow Helio Castroneves on Twitter at @h3lio.
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