Indy 500: Barrichello enjoys safe oval debut
28 May 2012
"I have raced a lot, but nothing like this," said Rubens Barrichello on Sunday evening. "It's impressive!"
Just four months ago, the one thing that no one could imagine - not even the driver himself - was former Williams F1 driver Barrichello racing on an oval. And not just any oval, but the biggest and most celebrated of them all, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. But that's what happened on Sunday, and the best thing about the story is that it all went really rather well for the Brazilian.
Most of all, it had been incident free: no crashes or major scares as he diligently worked his way around 200 laps to pick up 11th place by the chequered flag. The watchword for the whole endeavour was clearly "safe".
"I was safe, the team played safe with me," said Barrichello. "For my first experience, at the beginning I had to play safe.
"Everyone that play with me this month, they play me safe," he continued. "We had fun this whole month, I'm pretty sure that tomorrow when I leave this place, I'm going to miss it."
Being safe meant running increased levels of downforce to give Barrichello confidence in the amount of mechanical grip the car would give him through the corners, and while that worked for the majority of the race, he paid for it at the climax.
"There are points in the race that you wish that you could compete because the car is too loose, too pushy. It's a very long race," he said.
"Unfortunately for that last 20 laps, I had a little bit too much downforce in the car because then you could see people were not on the same level. Maybe they dropped the downforce or something," he mused. "If you think on the penultimate start, TK [Tony Kanaan] was able to carry a little bit longer into 1 because he was able to run on the outside. I think that's when you got the lead there, I was right behind him, but unfortunately I had to lift.
"I was okay. I could overtake people. I had fun all afternoon. But right at the end, even though all the way flat, trying to stay on the draft, they were too much for me. I'm glad I was able to still finish," he said. "A lot of respect on the last 20 laps, man. That's when the race starts."
But the safety-first approach had its merits - completing 200 laps at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is no mean feat.
"I think I drove quite well for the whole month," agreed Barrichello. "It was much more positive than anything else. I want to thank, again, the whole team. I want to thank TK for the help. It was a good month for my birthday. It was a good everything. So I'm really pleased.
"This is the very first one. I like it. I think that it couldn't have been better because the whole month, you might think, okay, this place changes a lot, everybody told me it changes a lot," he explained. "One day the car is good, the next day with the same setup the car is not good. The wind changes. I've seen that many times in my life. This place is really special."
Race Day itself hadn't been entirely glitch-free for Barrichello, however.
"I had a problem with the fuel pressure as soon as I went out, there was alarms for my fuel pressure," he revealed. "When the race started, when I pushed the throttle, I had a big cutoff. When I changed gears again, it was people going bang, bang, bang. I was dealing with that the whole race."
Barrichello also found the starts challenging and unlike anything he'd experienced. After a three-wide start to the race, the restarts were meant to be single-file - but more often than not broke out into a multi-wide free-for-all instead.
"The first start, I had really to be careful," said Barrichello. "I saw people trying here and there. I also tried on the outside.
"But the restart, so many other occasions, it depended who was leading. They started in a different way. I was in between like P5 and P15 all the time. I started accelerating in different areas. That's the question. By the time we got to the line, it was four-abreast. That for me was more impressive than the actual start of the race!"
So was that it for Rubens and oval racing at Indianapolis? Not a bit of it. Like almost every racer who has dabbled with an Indy 500, it has proved an instant addiction.
"I'll be back!" he insisted. "In my life, whatever I do, whatever is right or wrong, I have fun. I have fun. If I am sitting on this car, it's because I'm having fun. I've already proved to many people that I could have quitted. I have a wonderful wife and kids. I could stay home in Brazil. But I still love this too much. I honestly do this because I was made to do this."
But after the heights of the Indy 500, it's back to the "day job" and life as an IZOD IndyCar Series regular - with normal service resumed as early as this upcoming weekend. He was hoping to take some of the lessons from Indianapolis forward with him into the rest of the 2012 season.
"I tell you, I think that my experience here on the oval will help me have at least more feedback from the cars. You run on such a light downforce that I think it will help me," he said. "I look forward for Detroit next week. Actually, I'm testing Milwaukee on Tuesday. It's everything happening so fast. But I'm a pretty fast learner, as well, and I'm enjoying my time."
And having experienced and mastered the basics of oval racing, he's now determined to master the advanced skills as well and learn how to move off that inside line when he needs to.
"By next May I will try outside, outside, outside!" he said. Sounds like fun - and should be a sight to see.