BAD TIRE CHOICE PREVENTS SPEED FROM STRONG RACE DRIVE IN CHINA INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Oct. 2, 2006 - Scott Speed, America's only F1 driver, wanted it to rain in the Chinese Grand Prix. And it did rain. It rained long enough for Speed to qualify...
BAD TIRE CHOICE PREVENTS SPEED FROM STRONG RACE DRIVE IN CHINA
INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, Oct. 2, 2006 - Scott Speed, America's only F1 driver, wanted it to rain in the Chinese Grand Prix. And it did rain.
It rained long enough for Speed to qualify 11th, his best starting spot in his rookie F1 season, and it rained long enough for him to run as high as eighth in the race. He ended up placing 14th.
With no testing duties between the races in Italy and China, Speed had some time off at his base in Austria.
"I did a lot of training and am feeling really good," he said after arriving in Shanghai.
Speed won a Formula Renault race, held in conjunction with the Chinese Grand Prix, in 2004 at the Shanghai International Circuit. But he found things to be very different in his Scuderia Toro Rosso F1 car.
"I drove this track two years ago in Formula Renault," California native Speed said after the first day of F1 practice Sept. 29, "but honestly today felt like my first time here as I don't remember anything, and of course it is different in a F1 car.
"But the track is not hard to learn. I am not sure if I would describe it as fun to drive, but it is definitely interesting and understeery."
Rain in the afternoon hampered the teams' work in getting their cars dialed in.
"Getting through the usual Friday program was tricky today - trying to get enough running in the dry in order to analyze everything properly," said Speed after setting the 19th-fastest time. "But I think we are on the right track."
Things certainly were on the right track for Speed the next day, when, thanks to the rain, he set the fifth-fastest time in the morning practice session.
That afternoon, again with a wet track, Speed ended up qualifying 11th. That beat his previous best qualifying performance, which was 13th for the United States Grand Prix in July at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Speed easily made it through the first round of qualifying. In the second session, he clipped the wall because of the slippery conditions, but he managed to get the car back to the pits.
"I had a big aquaplaning moment on my first lap," he said, "then I spun and hit the wall coming into the pits, and the guys had to push the car into the garage to check for damage, so just getting back out there was a surprise."
With just a few minutes to go in the second qualifying session, Speed was ninth in the times. But then Michael Schumacher and Robert Kubica improved their times, and that dropped Speed to 11th.
"The track was very wet," Speed said, "but the intermediate tires were definitely the quickest choice except that the slightest bit off line, and you were aquaplaning. There were like two little dry tracks appearing on the surface, and you just aimed for them as you were braking. If you missed them, you did what I did and went off the track."
Speed missed the final qualifying session shootout because he was outside the top 10. Still, he was ecstatic with his outstanding performance.
"It is a great result for the guys in the team and a strong start position for tomorrow," Speed said. "We always said we wanted a wet race to give us a chance, and so I'd like it to rain again tomorrow."
Speed got his wish, and it rained on the morning of the race. With a wet track, Speed was able to combine his driving skill with the Michelin rain tires to vault to eighth on the opening lap.
The track was still damp when Speed made his first pit stop. His crew fitted a new set of intermediate rain tires, and that proved to be a mistake. The ideal tire for the conditions was a worn down intermediate rain tire rather than a new one. Speed struggled for traction.
As the track dried even more, all the drivers pitted for dry weather tires. Speed did so, as well, and after that his pace improved. But he had lost too much time earlier in the race, and so he headed for a 15th-place finish. Later, when Takuma Sato was disqualified for a rules infraction, Speed ended up being classified 14th.
The Japanese Grand Prix is on Oct. 8, just one week after the race in China. So Speed is heading for Japan. But where in Japan?
"The team wants to send me to the Suzuka circuit to hang out for three days in the middle of nowhere," Speed said, "and I am trying to convince them that I need to go with (my teammate) Tonio (Liuzzi) to Tokyo!"
2007 USGP tickets: Three-day "Season Passes" for the 2007 United States Grand Prix, June 15-17, are on sale for $60 to all customers. All other reserved seats will go on sale Wednesday, Nov. 1.
Ticket information can be found any time at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com or by calling the IMS Ticket Office at (800) 822-4639 or (317) 492-6700. Ticket Office hours are from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (ET) Monday-Friday.