Well, that’s been a whirlwind fortnight.
A whirlwind few months really. A whirlwind few years to be honest!
These past few weeks I’ve travelled across the USA – from North Carolina, to both Austin and Dallas in Texas, back to Brisbane, to Tailem Bend, then onto Adelaide, and now I’m back home writing this in Queensland.
There’s been IndyCar seat fittings, IndyCar tests on both a road course and an oval, a Supercars test day at The Bend, plus all of the chaos with the opening to a new season around the Adelaide 500.
To come out on top and go back to back on the Adelaide streets means so much. To start our title defence as well as we did is just huge – I put a hell of a lot of pressure on myself to be right on the pace after the Indy deal – I didn’t want anyone back home thinking I’d dropped the ball.
My initial take from the weekend was how ferocious the pace was. We were at ten tenths the ENTIRE weekend. The racing was so intense – every lap seemed to be a qualifier. It took such a toll physically AND mentally – I reckon you could ask any driver up and down the lane and they’d agree. Tiny margins made a massive difference across the weekend.
Take Saturday for instance. Qualifying was below where we wanted to be – it forced the team’s hand to get me into fresh air with an early stop – but that just ramped up the pressure to go as hard as possible. Second in the end in race one behind Jamie Whincup seemed as good as a win after qualifying seventh.
And then we got lucky on Sunday.
Such was the pressure – everyone was feeling it – from the drivers, to the engineers, to the crews. And in the end, the two best crews in pit lane cracked when the stakes were so high.
Ours was a simple mistake which we’ll address this week – the boys made a small error and took their eye off Shane van Gisbergen and his crew while they were stopping. They leapfrogged us and I knew from that moment the race was probably lost. I was surprisingly calm at the time – my boys have been the best in the business in the lane over the years – and that was just a rare off moment.
In the past, I would have blown up, thrown the toys out of the cot, lost my focus – but my work with mindfulness coach Emma Murray has made me so much more calm behind the wheel. If a pair of seconds was the best we could manage, then so be it.
Then Shane and his team had their issues. All I was told during the race was that they had to pit for a third time which was the best radio message I’d received all weekend. I felt bad for SVG afterward when they explained the fuel issue the #97 had experienced – he had the fastest car that day and he drove the wheels off it. But I’ll take their misfortune – you need luck in this game when you can get it!
To take the win in front of that big crowd is such a buzz. I love racing in Adelaide in front of such a big crowd – it’s the one place we race at where you can hear the cheering over the car noise. I’ve seen some criticism of the crowd being down – but it’s still a brilliant event and there’s not many sports in this country that can sell 60,000 plus tickets daily.
The crowd reaction was awesome as well across the weekend –, especially to our IndyCar test. It feels like everyone – Ford and Holden supporters – are right behind the program and really interested in what’s happening in the USA for me. I’m hearing good things from Fox Sports about a potential Indy TV deal – so hopefully everyone will be able to watch in May when we go racing at Indianapolis.
And just a word on Holden’s big news of last week. I started my career as a teenager in a Commodore with GRM, I won my first race in a Holden and was gutted for everyone to hear the sad news that they were ending at the end of the year. I feel horribly for all the workers who will lose their jobs, and you could really sense on Tuesday at the test day the unease with so many inside the sport with a giant question mark on their futures.
So we leave Adelaide with the championship lead and the Adelaide title. I’m looking forward to a few days off at home with Karly and Chase our dog – just to chill after the busy summer abroad. Just to have a few nights in my own bed will be brilliant – I’ve hardly been home since Newcastle last year!
I’m catching up this afternoon with my good mates Jack Riewoldt & Tim Hodges to record our first episode of Balls and Bumpers for 2020 – it’s been a little passion project we started last year and it’s great fun.
Jack has become a great mate, and I love how our success has coincided these past few years – it’s kind of freaky how we’ve both tasted the ultimate glory since we started our little podcast, with Jack’s second AFL premiership with the Tigers, and my second championship. I urge you to have a listen and let me know what you think.
See ya back in March for the Grand Prix.