Justin Wilson knew that he was up against it when he ended up qualifying the Dale Coyne Racing #19 Boy Scouts of America car down in 16th place for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama. The 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber Motorsports Park is known as a hard one to overtake on, and that's even before the storms drenched the track and delayed the start of the race by almost two and a half hours.
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“You couldn't see a thing,” said Wilson of the tricky opening race conditions. “You were getting on the brakes on the straight because you couldn't see where you were going and you were hoping the guys behind you were in the same boat and fortunately they were.
"The spray would die down just enough and you'd accelerate again," he added. "No one could see a thing."
Despite the tricky conditions, Wilson had managed to advance up the running order to 12th place by the time the second full course caution of the afternoon allowed the field to stream onto pit lane on lap 21 for a change from wet to slick tyres. Only in Wilson's case, there was a problem waiting for him when he arrived.
"We had a car stop in our pit box," he reported. "The Dale Coyne Racing guys dealt with it great. We lost a couple of positions because of that."
The car in the wrong place was the #3 Penske driven by Helio Castroneves, who had been caught out by the styling of team uniforms of the Dale Coyne Racing pit crew lined up to service Wilson's car.
"Unfortunately I confused our pit stall with the #19 car of Justin Wilson," Castroneves admitted later. "We were pitted right beside each other and our colours were very similar. I stopped in their pit stall, which was bad, but I also had to serve a stop and go penalty."
Fortunately Wilson is well known for just keeping his head down and diligently getting on with the job in hand, rather than allowing any distractions to phase him or put him off his game.
"We stayed focused and all in all it was not a bad day considering I started 16th and we were up to sixth," he said. "I'm pleased with it. I think this was a good day but obviously, we're already thinking about the next one."
Wilson's rookie team mate Carlos Huertas finished in 16th place, one down on his starting position, after spinning out on lap 31 while battling with Oriol Servia in turn 6. "It was difficult and I spun trying to defend a position," he said afterwards. "I went into the corner a bit deep and went down into first gear and short shifted into second and I spun. Thankfully, I stayed on the lead lap.
"I think my performance was OK, nothing special," Huertas admitted. "The pace was good even when we put on the red tyres. The conditions were tricky on those tyres and the first couple of laps on them were not easy."
By the end of the race, Wilson was the leading British driver to cross the finish line, with compatriots Jack Hawksworth and Mike Conway also having overcome poor qualifying sessions on their way to 12th and 14th places respectively.
"It was an exciting race with a lot going on," said Bryan Herta Autosport's Hawksworth. "We started twenty-second and it was raining at the start. The car was good in the wet and we made some progress. Then we had some solid racing throughout the field.
"think we salvaged something from what was a difficult weekend," he summed up. "To get 12th after the weekend we had was a good result in the end, so a big thank you to the team for working hard all weekend and for their ability to keep believing."
As for Conway, struggling in the back half of the field at a soaked Barber was a stark example of how quickly things change in the Verizon IndyCar Series, given that two weeks ago he was heading to victory under the dazzling Californian sunshine at Long Beach.
"It was a pretty long day for us today, I guess we'll have to take 14th from starting 21st," he said, not sounding at happy about it all the same. "We struggled in the wet with overall grip. I tried to make a few moves in the early portion of the race and they just didn't work out.
"We felt quicker on the slicks, especially on the earlier segments of the runs. But once everyone had their tyres up to temperature, we couldn't get up to make a move. It's frustrating.
"I hope we can improve on the road circuits," he added. "I'm excited to go to Indy for the test this week on the road circuit and race in the upcoming Grand Prix of Indianapolis, but we need to work on the set-up some more to fight for a win there."
While Conway will be competing in the inaugural road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday May 10, he won't be in the cockpit of the #20 two weeks later for the Indianapolis 500. Having made the decision at the end of the 2012 season that he was no longer comfortable racing on ovals, Conway will be handing the keys to the car over to team owner Ed Carpenter for the 98th running of the Indy 500 on May 25.
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