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"There's a lot of junk out there today. If you want it straight, read Kirby." -- Paul Newman

The Way It Is/ Justin Wilson's superb win for Dale Coyne

by Gordon Kirby
The weather could not have been better at Watkins Glen last Sunday. After weeks of on and off rain we were greeted with a cloudless sky which drew a nice little crowd to the track to witness Justin Wilson drive a superb race and score Dale Coyne Racing's first win in 558 starts and 25 years of trying. Coyne's little Chicago-based team has just sixteen fulltime employees.

"It's fantastic to get Dale's first win and also (his wife) Gail's," Wilson remarked. "The two of them have put a lot of heart and soul into this. We all do. It means a lot to me to get Dale's first win. I think this is the most important victory of my career and I'm looking forward to enjoying it tonight.

"I got here early and was down in Watkins Glen walking around. You see all those names on the pavement down there of guys who have won here and it's pretty cool to get your name up there on the board of winning at Watkins Glen with some of the best.

"The key for me today was being able to go quick through the last two corners and carry the speed through turn one so I could open up a gap and they couldn't draft me going up the hill. That's what I focused on doing and my car was great through those corners."

© Gary Gold
Coyne started his career as a driver in Super Vees and then Indy cars. Coyne moved his little team into CART's Indy Car World Series running an outdated, Chevy stock-block-powered car for a number of years before retiring from driving.

"I remember being here in, I think '78, racing a Super Vee and being in a trailer with a lantern helping Geoff Brabham change gears," Coyne recalled. "Bob Lazier was the winner of the Super Vee race that weekend. It was a long time ago but if you have a passion for this and you love it you just keep fighting and going forward. We had lean years and bad years when we didn't have a sponsor and that just makes you try harder.

"I think that's paid off. The last few years we've tried to do a better job with what we've put together. We've put some top quality drivers in the car from Oriol (Servia) to Cristiano (da Matta) to Bruno (Junqueira) and I can't thank Bruno enough. I think he helped us a lot over the last couple of years.

"This year Justin became available and some higher quality engineering staff became available. My wife and I talked about it and the financial requirements to do it and we did it. We decided we were going to make this thing work and try to win races and try to keep moving forward. We've worked hard putting our pieces together because we have a lot of passion for the sport.

"We really focused after Long Beach to move forward on our pitstops," Coyne added. "We worked on our pitstops a lot and our guys did a good job today. They've worked hard. We usually have less people than most and we're usually one of the last ones here at the track each night.

"All our guys have a love for the sport and work hard at it. They realize to be at the sharp end of the grid we've got to be at the sharp end of the pitstops. We've worked at it. We've studied it and worked on our technique to make us better. We've got a little but farther to go. We could still do a little better than we were, but it's pretty good right now."

© Gary Gold
Coyne's chief engineer Bill Pappas, new to the team this year, praised Wilson's abilities as both a racer and test driver.

"Justin is very much used to these types of racetracks and we just worked on getting the best balance from the car," Pappas commented. "We tuned-in on a couple of things that he wanted from the car and just kind of chipped away at it. There were no big swings. We just worked really hard at making him comfortable in the car when we here for the one-day test and this weekend it was just fine-tuning. He was very, very happy with the car yesterday in qualifying. Unfortunately, we didn't get to put on our second set of red tires but it worked-out because we were the only guys with two sets of reds for the race.

"This morning we went out and ran fourteen laps on the set we ran in qualifying and he came in and said, 'Don't do a thing.' In the race he knew we had to conserve fuel and once the last yellow flew we knew we were good to go to the finish. So we turned it up and it was awesome at the end. A great day for Dale and a great day for the series. It shows that a little team can win."

Wilson expanded on Pappas's observations.

"At the start of the year with the limited testing you're allowed in IndyCar we said that for budget reasons let's focus on the road courses," Justin said. "We tested at Sebring for a couple of days and we tested here two or three weeks ago and it's paid off. We've been putting the miles in on the road courses, working on the setup and getting closer so that when we get to the track for the first day of practice the car is very close.

"We didn't need to do much here. Just a couple of small changes and we were there on the pace or very close to it. And that's what it's all about. It's about preparation before you get to the racetrack. So I'm hoping that's also going to translate to Toronto and Edmonton and the rest of the road courses after that."

Added Coyne: "We knew how exceptional Justin was as a road course driver and we know the top teams are pretty good aerodynamically on the ovals. Our goal this year was to try to podium on the road courses and finish in the top ten on the ovals. We had a win in our grasp at St. Pete and it slipped away and a podium in our grasp at Long Beach, and here were are, we've got a win already. So we're very encouraged. We've worked hard with our engineering and on our pitstops. We lacked on pitstops at the first couple of races and we were much, much better today than we were then. We really look forward to the next few road courses."

Wilson said the team's ultimate goal is to win the championship.

© Gary Gold
"We're slowly picking things up," Justin remarked. "We know where the next improvements are going to come from and it's just a matter of being patient to make those steps one at a time rather than trying to do everything at once. I've seen teams try to do that and it's just a disaster. So it's one step at a time, one foot in front of the other, and just keep learning and improving. The only thing that's going to taste sweeter than this win today is our first win on the oval. That's what we'll work towards and we'll get there. Our goal is to win the championship and we'll keep working away toward that goal."

Coyne has confidence that the IRL will be able to rise above its many shortcomings and grow into a healthier series in the coming years.

"For this series to be strong we need more teams," Coyne said. "We need not to have subsidised teams. We need all those things to happen in this economy to make this series work and grow and I think us winning a race helps to show that. Teams from Grand-Am, ALMS or wherever they might be from can come here and get the pieces they need, get the drivers they need and do the job. I think that's very good for the sport. This sport is going forward for a long time, despite what some people say."

On Saturday at the Glen the IRL's commercial and competition vice-presidents Terry Angstad and Brian Barnhardt discussed the state of the IndyCar series in the wake of Tony George's ouster as the boss of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Angstad said Barnhart and he will report to Jeff Belskus, the new CEO of the IMS Corporation.

"Our reporting structure is through Jeff to the board," Angstad said. "That's the way it will work and I think we all have a pretty high confidence level in Jeff and look forward to that transition. We met with every team owner this weekend and I think it was a very positive meeting. Actually, it exceeded my expectations. I think it was a very good flow of communication and I think everyone left very positively.

"We don't expect Jeff to be real hands-on with the IRL. You will continue to see Tony at every race as a team owner and board member. So for us we don't anticipate may changes."

Added Barnhart: "It's not like Tony's disappearing. He's still on the board and we are still very much responsible to the board. As Terry said, we submit our plans to them and every year they approve it. Our progress towards that plan is what's going to dictate our future. They've given us their support and the whole family is dedicated to growth and the future of the IndyCar series. They've stated that to us and stated that they've got faith in us. If we keep moving in the direction we are, we're going to be in good shape.

"I was just wishing what's the best for Tony on a personal level. I've known him for a long time and I think Tony had a great peace of mind. He seems very comfortable with his decisions and very excited about the challenges he faces with Vision Racing as well some additional business ventures that I think he wants to take home on a personal level.

© Gary Gold
"The other aspect of it is that Tony has been in this position for nearly twenty years. I think he's done a great job and certainly enjoyed it to that point. But I think that while he's no longer CEO in the positions he held before, the fact that he signed on to be a steward of open-wheel racing in the future is a lifetime job for him. It's going to be ongoing, no doubt."

Angstad insisted the IRL was in good financial shape and is destined to get better.

"I won't get real specific on the actual financials," Angstad said. "But I want to reinforce that we have taken on the challenge--and this started three years ago--to make this a very viable and sustainable entity on its own and we are well on our way to achieving that. There is no question I don't think in anyone's mind, certainly internally at the IRL, that we do not have that financial support to continue to execute our business plan and deliver the results we've committed to.

"The confidence comes from the fact that we are going to exceed the plans that were signed off on by our parent organization. I think you will see a continually improving financial picture next year and the year following. From the stability standpoint I would really like to erase that from anyone's mind or concerns about not having an Indy Racing League. Everyone knows the history of the tremendous investment made by the entire Hulman-George family. We absolutely think it will be a very improved financial picture from this year forward."

Barnhart discussed the new IRL formula for 2011 or '12.

"We had previously confirmed that five engine manufacturers had expressed interest in participating in the IndyCar series in the future, including Honda, Audi, Fiat Powertrain, Porsche and Volkswagen," Barnhart said. "They continue to show great interest and plans for introducing a new engine spec while maintaining the series' position as a leader in the use of ethanol biofuels which remains an ongoing process with considerable OEM input. We're expecting to finalize the car and engine specifications in the next few months.

"On the chassis side we've pretty well narrowed it down to two directions to go with two parallel path programs that are significantly different from each other. We will continue in that direction and make a choice in deciding which one of those chassis we're going to choose, probably within the next couple of months with the primary focus being on a reduction in the cost of participation. We really need to find a way to allow the team participation in a cost-effective manner."

Dale Coyne's chief engineer Bill Pappas said he believes the new Indy cars could be made more cost-effective if most of the major components were made separately by individual vendors.

"I think they should have one company build the tub and everything else should go out to bid," Pappas suggested. "That would keep costs down and encourage more people to get into the business to build parts and it would stop the monopoly on parts that currently exists. I think that would really help the series out."

Barnhart said it's unlikely the new formula can be introduced before 2012.

"We're not ruling-out 2011, but I think one of the biggest challenges we face is that we're down to two designs that we're leaning towards," Barnhart observed. "They're significantly different from each other and significantly different from what we have and because of that I think the challenge of making it by 2011 is a little bit of the fear of the unknown.

"But it's also doing your due diligence because it is so radically different from what has been in open-wheel racing over the evolution for the last thirty years. You have to build a prototype. You have to be able to run them and you're going to have to learn how to race those cars.

"Equally, if not more important, we're going to have to learn how to crash those cars. It's hard for me to say without getting into too much detail, but the database that's been created from the safety aspect over the evolution of the current type of car, a significant portion of that doesn't apply because the potential new cars are so radically different. With the importance and priority on safety I'm just not sure time will allow for a prototype to be built and tested and all the work to be done and in place.

"We're seventeen or eighteen months from January of 2011 and I'm not sure that's a comfortable time-frame to be able to do what we feel needs to be done. If it can, we're not ruling-out 2011. Our focus is on 2012 but if we can go to it quicker then we'll get it in place for 2011. If not, it'll be 2012."

Finally, I enjoyed another Rick Mears book signing on Saturday afternoon at the Glen. This was the seventh signing Rick and I have done over the past fourteen months and it's been a great pleasure to meet so many appreciative fans who have enjoyed or are enjoying the book. Rick and I thank you for your enthusiasm and support. It's what the sport is all about.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2009 ~ All Rights Reserved

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