Today's IZOD IndyCar Series and Firestone Indy Lights headlines
1. In Her Own Words - Danica Patrick
2. In His Own Words - Graham Rahal
3. In His Own Words - Marco Andretti
4. In His Own Words - E.J. Viso
5. Stewart honored with award
1. In Her Own Words - Danica Patrick: It's hard to look back at 2009 and not feel a little bit frustrated or just want to shrug your shoulders and wonder why or how things went the way they did for us this year.
That's not to say that it was all bad. I finished fifth in points, which is the best finish I've had in the points in my career. So that's a good thing and it's not something you want to take lightly. But let's face it - at the end of the day you want to be contending for wins every weekend and battling for the championship until the last lap of the season, and we just weren't at that level this year.
There's no question that our team knows what it's like to be in that position. AGR has obviously won a lot of races and has three championships to show for its time in the IndyCar Series so far. We have talented drivers - all of us have won races and Tony Kanaan has a championship on his resume, so we all know how to get it done. But, in the last couple years, we've just not been doing that like we used to.
In general, I think one of the bright spots for me this year was having Michael Andretti call my races and run my pit. Mike has seen just about everything during his career as a driver and now as an owner, and having that insight is really a plus. He made some good strategy calls this year and helped us make up for some of whatever we missed in qualifying at some races. Long Beach comes to mind, specifically, and Toronto, too. The street circuits and road courses this year were particularly tough for us in qualifying, and we really made the best of those two specifically with strategy.
We finished third at Indy, which was my best career finish there and, of course, the best finish ever there for a woman. But the nice thing about it this year - as strange as this sounds - is that people didn't make that big a deal of it. I kind of appreciated that because it made it clear to me that people expected me to be there and weren't shocked by it. I certainly wasn't satisfied with third; I go to Indy every year with the idea of winning it. That's all I want to do. Third is a decent day in the biggest race of the year, but it's not a win.
Indy was also part of a good stretch for us early in the season and that's when we really put ourselves in a good position in the championship. We had four straight top fives between Long Beach and Milwaukee and had eight top 10s in nine races there. It's by far the best stretch I've had in my career so far. But we needed a couple wins in there to stay with the Penske and Ganassi guys and we just didn't have the pace to do it. That's when we kind of lost touch with them for the title and had to focus on holding on to fifth.
All in all, I'm happy with the season. We've got a lot of good people on the team and have a lot of work to do. But I know everybody at AGR is ready to dig in and do what it takes.
2. In His Own Words - Graham Rahal: The 2009 season was both an up and down one for both myself and the McDonald's Newman/Haas/Lanigan Racing crew.
We started with two extreme highs in St. Petersburg and then shortly after in Kansas by getting poles in both places, but what we quickly learned was starting up front was the easy part. It seemed as though through only the first few races that we knew our luck would challenge us through the entire season, which became oh so true.
In St. Pete, we got hit from behind at the very start. Perhaps this was slightly my fault as I was very careful due to the fact it was my first pole in my IndyCar Series career and I didn't want to screw it up. Well, when Tony Kanaan hit me, I quickly realized maybe I was too cautious. We struggled for the remainder of that day, but again our luck would strike us in Long Beach. We ran a fantastic race, staying out of trouble, running fast laps, saving fuel, and found ourselves in second place with only 20 or so laps to go. Well what happens then -- a freak incident where I got waived out of the pits too early and pulled the fuel tank with me.
This is something that our team hasn't seen in years, and hopefully will never see again. But as mentioned before, you can see luck would challenge us all along.
I don't need to bore you with race-by-race stats, but everyone knows that NHLR had lots of ups and lots of downs this year. I am, and was, very proud of my guys for all their effort this season, and especially over the 2008-09 inter when we made most of our strides.
During the off-season, the team hired Martin Pare as my race engineer. He came from Andretti Green Racing and he had a wealth of experience in this series. I think we can give him credit for a lot of the gains we made, but as a team we did a great job adapting to the new rules package, and updating our cars to reach the maximum performance for our experience level. Few people realize this but our team did not enter into a single test this season. We ran off a more limited budget and I think when people take that into consideration, what we accomplished is even more impressive.
We came to every race weekend flying blind in some sort of manor, and after a lot of hard work we always seemed to do alright. I think when you do look at the stats we qualified outside the top 10 only once - in Texas, and then our worst qualifying sessions other than that were when we were rained out in Iowa and Kentucky. That shows the strength of this team, and the efficiency in which we worked this season. Especially considering it was only our second one in this series.
As the season went on and slowly came to a close, I think everyone could clearly see that the McDonald's car was always the best of class. And when I say best of class I'm speaking about non-Ganassi and Penske teams. We really had a lot of strong runs, and if I had limited my mistakes at both Mid-Ohio and Indy and if the driveshaft wouldn't have broken at Sonoma, we probably would have finished fifth if not better in the championship.
I think for the entire team to at least say we ended on an upswing gives us a lot of high hopes and strong feelings toward the 2010 season. We remain very positive that with the crew, engineers, and ownership surrounding the NHLR group, that we as a team should expect a very strong and competitive championship fight in 2010.
We have shown the speed and pace during qualifying and gradually made our race cars better. And now that we will have another off-season to test and prepare, we ought to be a contender on every race weekend. We did a great job closing the gap of five years to the Ganassi and Penske boys, and I think as the years roll on we are a team that can provide them with some major headaches.
3. In His Own Words - Marco Andretti: It's easy to get down on the season we had, especially with the way it ended in Homestead, but it's over with and we can't go back. So that leaves us with having to find the good and learn from where we've been.
We didn't win races, but out of 17 starts we had 11 top-10 finishes. We finished eighth in the points - still inside the top 10. It wasn't a great season, but made we progress throughout the year.
It was a frustrating season, for sure, and it was a strange feeling. People would congratulate us for a sixth-place finish. We got pats on the back for mediocre results, and the team was working so hard for it. There's no getting used to bad luck and low results. And, for us, it was twice as frustrating because we used to be able to compete with Penske and Ganassi - and not just that - we were able to beat them not that long ago. I think we just have to stick to it and keep some faith that we'll come back from whatever low point we've fallen into. We might be down, but we're not out.
I don't know how to do it though. I don't know what we need to make that jump back to the top. This season, guys like Scott Dixon and Ryan Briscoe were in a race of their own most weekends. We were lucky if more than three cars finished on the lead lap. The league helped by changing some aero options and the push-to-pass helped with overtaking, but there's still such a big gap from the front of the field to the back. How do we fix that? Again, I don't know the answer. I'm not sure many people really do. All I can do is keep working hard with my team and my engineers, and hopefully things will turn around next season.
A lot of good things are happening at AGR. I have great hopes for 2010. By now, everyone knows about the changes coming at the team and we're all really positive about things. I think Kim Green and Kevin Savoree are going to continue putting on great events, and dad can be focused on the team and what we need to be on top again. It's really the best option for everyone involved.
I can't be 100 percent certain what the future holds for me, but I've said before that in IndyCar right now there's nowhere else I'd rather be than with this team. But it takes more than just me. Of course, the biggest step is funding to run the car. We hope to have that taken care of soon, so with funding out of the way we can really focus on making the car better. On top of that I have a great crew. I think we have all the right pieces, we just have to get them to fall together in the right way, and that's what we'll be working on all winter.
4. In His Own Words - E.J. Viso: I'm very happy that I made the decision in early 2008 to come to this great racing category. I've had a great time; I think among the best years of my career. Maybe not talking about success, but it's been a great challenge to be working really hard to get up to speed with this very competitive category. There are so many good drivers.
It's been a big challenge to be on a small, new team in this category, so the work that we did was twice as difficult as everybody else because we needed to get up to speed with them.
I think we've done a decent job. In 2008, we had a great year - better than 2009. This season has been difficult. We had some mechanical problems, also some accidents. But we can never forget that it's from these types of years that we learn the most. And I'm sure, as a team, we learned a lot and we will improve ourselves as human beings and as professionals. That's all that matters.
I'm sure we are all in a much better position for 2010. Hopefully, in the coming year I am going to achieve everything that I'm looking for after these two years of preparation.
This year we had a nice mix of races. I really need to thank the series for adding some more street and permanent road courses because it's on those tracks that we can achieve our best results. This year I had a blast going back to Japan. It's such a nice place. The people are very respectful and very nice, and it's a beautiful racetrack. I spent some time with my sponsors over there - Herbalife and Arai. I also spent some time with Honda. I would definitely look forward to going back there.
All the other places we went in Canada and the States, they were also very nice. Some challenging tracks like Indy, and Miami is also a very tough place. I think the series is making the right decisions and I'm very happy to be part of it.
5. Stewart honored with award: Firestone Indy Lights team owner Brian Stewart was honored by Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs - Ontario Region with the Wayne Kelly Memorial Trophy.
The award is named in honor of Kelly, a respected driver and constructor who lost his life in a racing accident, and is awarded to the Ontario region member who has brought recognition and prestige to Ontario Motorsports.
The award had an added meaning to Stewart, who also was close friend with Kelly though they were racing rivals.