While all the attention in the GoPro Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma was on the battle between the Penske team mates at the front and on the frightening crash between Sebastien Bourdais and Josef Newgarden, a certain Rubens Barrichello was diligently finding his feet and working his way forward from 11th on the grid.

In the top ten throughout and always the fastest of the three KV Racing Technology cars at Sonoma Raceway, by the time a series of late race cautions and incidents had played out Rubens found himself staring at the back of Dario Franchitti's rear wing for the final laps of the race. Franchitti was bound for the podium: so that meant that Barrichello was in fourth place, by far his best result since switching to the IZOD IndyCar Series at the start of 2012.

"It was a good day ... My first top four on a track," smiled Barrichello. "Obviously we had a car that was solid. I don't think we had the quickest car out there. We could see that on the restart with Dario and the two Penskes, because they opened up quite a big gap on us. But it was solid.

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"I think that we deserved to be probably, in terms of speed, sixth or seventh," he admitted. "But I was lucky I got away on the first crash and overtook a few people."

In a race full of incidents and more than a few mistakes by some of the series' most experienced and talented stars such as Helio Castroneves, Oriol Servia, Sebastien Bourdais and Ryan Hunter-Reay, Barrichello shone by keeping his head down and delivering the goods.

"As soon as you went offline a little bit, the cars were a bit shaky," he said. "It was a pretty fast race. With a fast race it meant that we were pulling some marbles on the track. I think the pace was getting better and better. The tyres were holding up very, very well."

There had been one brief moment of panic, however: "The only problem I had was in the middle of the race when I thought Ed Carpenter saw me coming, but he didn't. When he closed the door, we touched. Luckily my car was okay and I was able to continue. Apart from that it was trouble-free."

In a series of recent media interviews during IndyCar's August break, Barrichello has given the impression of being frustrated by his performance in the series since joining at the start of 2012 after being ousted from F1 The F1 veteran has admitted that he's been struggling more than he expected in his maiden season but says that's mostly down of a lack a familiarity with the circuits. Sonoma was at least a track he'd been to before, and was one of the very first he ran on in an IndyCar after deciding to switch to the series for 2012.

"I have tested here, although not last week. It was a good track, I think I could use a little bit more of my knowledge of the car to improve it," he said. "I kept on saying I've been struggling with some of the tracks this year just because I haven't got the knowledge.

"On an Indy weekend, the car evolves a lot, the track evolves a lot, it changes a lot," he continued. "When you start the race, at least this year, I didn't know if we made the good choices or not. By the end of the day, the track grips up, sometimes it doesn't. So it moves a lot.

"But I still haven't got the balance that I wish to have. I think I had a good car today, solid, but there was a little bit of understeer. I was able to just push, push, push. But I think it's more to do with the fact that I knew the track a bit more."

Confirmation that he can put in a strong performance once he has the familiarity with a circuit gives Barrichello a major confidence boost for when he looks forward to his likely sophomore year in the IZOD IndyCar Series.

"It's the way forward to come back next year," he agreed. "I think it can be just a better year just for the fact that you have experience on it. I take my notes, my memory and everything.

"I thought that I would get familiar quite easily with things," he admitted. "But it's quite a lot different. Just the driving: some of the tracks are very, very different from Europe. If we had eight races, I said that before, on new tracks, then eight races again on those tracks, I think I would have done much better."

But before he can start reaping the rewards of his increasing knowledge of US venues, there's one more new street course to get to grips with - next weekend in Baltimore.

"I watched [last year's Baltimore] race a couple times already, but it's the first time I go there. I don't know if it's slippery. I don't know how it is. So it's difficult," he admitted. "Just the fact that you know where you're going to brake."

A lack of testing opportunities has certainly been an issue for Rubens in his transitionary year.

"I think the fact there is not a lot of tests on those tracks is tough on a rookie," he said. "You just don't have the practice. If you take the young kid which is very fast and bright, like Newgarden, he has done so many laps on Indy, so he has some knowledge of what to expect.

"For me, it's been quite tough. I'm happy: I'm looking myself, when I go back and review, I gave my very best - but the results were quite poor," he conceded. "I thought we would have been a bit more competitive."

"I didn't think I was going to come here and just all of a sudden win," he added. "I think there are plenty of really good drivers on a series that is very well competitive. It's amazing."

One area that's been a surprise is how well he's done on the oval tracks. When the idea was initially floated that Rubens might transfer to the IZOD IndyCar Series for 2012, it was almost a given that he would sign up for road courses only given his prior experience, and his promise to his wife that he'd never run on speedways.

"I'm pretty satisfied with what I achieved in the ovals. That's first time. Every time I start on an oval, I can see the last 20 laps as a completely different race, so I'm pretty satisfied with that," he said, indicating that the season finale at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana could be strong outing for him, especially since it's a track that had been absent from the series since 2005 making it virtually new ground for everyone.

"But I wasn't [satisfied] on the street courses," he went on. "In Europe, Monaco, for example, has been one of my strengths. It was good. It was so tough on me, Detroit. We had problems adapting the car. But not to be able to qualify, the car was sideways on the bumps."

Barrichello's comments between the Mid-Ohio and Sonoma races were taken by many to be rather critical of his IndyCar team, KV Racing Technology, and Rubens was asked whether there had been any change in how he and the team had worked together coming into this weekend's Californian race.

"It was one day that the strategy didn't mean a lot, I was able to play basically the numbers that the team were telling me to play, consistently fast," he said. But he admitted that he and the team as a whole had spent more time preparing on that front coming into the weekend.

"We talked more about it. I called for a change on all the strategy meetings. There was one for TK, one for EJ, one for myself. We got everybody in the room and talked lively about it. There were more ideas ... Strategy plays a big, big thing on how the end result will be."

Overall there was a definite sense that Barrichello had turned a corner and was finally adjusting to his new environment - and moreover that he was starting to mould the team around him to what he needed by way of support from them in return.

"It's getting more familiar," he agreed. "But every time, you know, you change the track, you know, you get new numbers, it's a totally new thing. But I'm getting there ... It's a different altogether series."