Former Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon has returned to Panther Racing for 2009, driving the #4 National Guard Dallara for the team that gave him his break in the series in 2002.
With the first race of the season under his belt, the Briton looks back on St Petersburg, ahead to Long Beach and beyond - and the reasons for returning to John Barnes' underdog operation.
Let's take a quick look back at the race in St Petersburg for a couple minutes. You started eleventh, moved up to seventh right away with the action in the first corner and then were up to second not long after that. Seems like you must have had a pretty strong car.
Yeah, it was certainly an area that we've worked on over the winter. I've always, being a European, thought very highly of the road courses. but had some difficulty. So between the engineering department at the new team and everybody there, we've already made a big effort to step up my performance and step up the team's performance, and that certainly showed over the weekend.
We've still got a little bit of work to do, making sure that we're consistent over a race weekend and making sure that we just had the ability to fine tune the race car rather than make big changes. But I think what you saw is a combination of a lot of hard work from the race team and a lot of hard work from myself.
To be quite frank, I thought it was probably the most confidence I've had in a road course car for a long time, probably ever. So it was a very promising race for us. It was a little unfortunate. I tended to struggle a little bit on restarts. My car, with the pick-up that we seemed to get from the racetrack, it was pretty difficult. It was difficult for everybody, but certainly over the long run my car seemed to get better and better.
Unfortunately on one restart I went from third and dropped back to sixth, and then on the following restart I was able to get a good one, and I tried to out-brake Tony [Kanaan] and just braked a touch too late and wasn't actually able to keep the car on the line I wanted to and therefore ran a little wide and he bumped me back. But unfortunately that bunched everybody up. I actually thought it was Graham Rahal, but it was Robert Doornbos that tried to get down the inside of me, and I tried to give him as much room as I could, knowing that he was pretty committed. But he just ran over my outside front wheel.
So that was a disappointing way to finish what was a very, very good race but, by the same token, I was very happy that we had great pace. I think for a lot of people, including myself, at Panther Racing, we were very excited, and now we're very hungry to get to Long Beach.
You mentioned there kind of the way the tires picked up. A lot of people really said that it was pretty slick at St Pete. Is that something that's pretty common on street courses, or do you anticipate that same type of situation at Long Beach, or was that kind of just unique to this past weekend?