Who ever heard of a rookie driver coming into a Menards Infiniti Pro Series, one who had never driven on an oval or even seen the track before practice, winning his first race? Phil Giebler. Photo by Anne Proffit. If that seems like...
Who ever heard of a rookie driver coming into a Menards Infiniti Pro Series, one who had never driven on an oval or even seen the track before practice, winning his first race?
Phil Giebler signed his contract to compete in the Menards Infiniti Pro Series just the Tuesday before his first race and didn't even have the opportunity to go around the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway [in a road car] before practice began last Friday. Obviously, it didn't matter much because this driver's aptitude took over.
Starting from the back of the pack when the Western Union Speed Team fielded by Keith Duesenberg Racing was unable to get his #2 Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone machine started in time for pace laps, Giebler used his race smarts to patiently pick his way to the front.
"I thought it would be a learning experience, that I'd get some laps under my belt," he said of the 67-lap Homestead-Miami 100 race that was his indoctrination to oval competition. "Opening laps are kind of crazy on the road courses but this wasn't as crazy as I thought it would be.
"Of course I didn't have to worry about anybody behind me," he joked. Getting into the Western Union machine Friday morning after a protracted first test at Phoenix International Raceway on February 10th, Giebler thought it was "pretty wild out there. The Homestead oval is about 35mph faster than Phoenix and going 190mph on the high banks was quite an eye- opener," he revealed.
"My goals at Homestead were to win, or at least to show well in my first race. I knew the team had a good shot and I think we've made good strides for the championship. I've spent half my life prepping for this. Racing in the Indy 500 has always been a dream for me but mostly, I've always wanted to compete against the best in the world."
With his road racing background, including FIA International F3000 at the Den Bla Avis team and owner David Sears, Giebler knows there is a different approach to ovals. "You have to be a lot more sensitive to changes in the car and figure what to do look for in the race. Being patient and not making mistakes" is an obvious virtue.
The Homestead-Miami 100 season opener for the Menards Infiniti Pro Series was run in fits and starts. Polesitter Paul Dana and veteran Arie Luyendyk Jr. tangled to bring out a full course caution. Thankfully, with the SAFER barriers in place, damage came only to the race cars, not the drivers.
As he made his way patiently through the field, Giebler learned about his car, the track surface and the kind of race craft he'd need. When the Indy Racing League called all cars to the pits to examine tire wear - practice was minimal and no drivers had run complete race distance prior to the event - Giebler said his rubber was in good condition.
Once the contest went back to green he was in position to challenge Thiago Medeiros for the lead. "My car was OK behind people with the air in front of me. It wasn't disturbing the car too much. I just analyzed what he was doing and where his weak spots were, and how I could get a better run on him."
While Medeiros recognized Giebler "had a better car than I did" for the closing laps of the race, it was up to the Californian to find his way past the Brazilian under circumstances completely new to him. "I just stayed patient," Giebler revealed. And when he asked his team what would be a good time to put a move on Medeiros, Giebler was greeted with a chorus of "now!"
After his victory in the first oval race he'd ever contested, Phil Giebler went back to school, watching the IndyCar Series race for 200 laps in the Toyota Indy 300. "I wanted to see how the guys paced themselves, using patience and moving up." And what did Giebler learn? "Sam Hornish Jr. has great persistence and a really cool head," he said. The same attributes could be applied to Phil Giebler, Menards Infiniti Pro Series race winner.