Justin Wilson and Dreyer and Reinbold Racing looked to be on the upswing entering 2011. A solid first year together saw the combination capture a pole and come close to victories at Long Beach and Toronto.
With Wilson resigning with Dreyer and Reinbold, each had secured the continuity both lacked somewhat for a couple of seasons. Given the good start they had the season prior, expectations were high entering this season.
(Read more: "Glimmer appears on Wilson's radar" from indycar.com)
However, until their fifth-place finish in Edmonton, their best result had been seventh (Sao Paulo) in a season marred by crashes and bad luck. “I think there’s room for improvement. I think we can get better. But, at the same, we’ve been very unfortunate on many occasions, just getting hit from behind,” said Wilson, who last won in 2009 for Dale Coyne Racing. “We always seem to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s just frustrating to have had the season we’ve had. But, there’s still a long way to go and hopefully we can make up for it, get a little bit more luck, and get some podium finishes.”
Even though they have suffered some misfortune, Wilson isn’t pinning the reason for their struggles solely on it. “I think it’s equal measures of luck and us not getting it just right,” he explained. “When you’re not quite quick enough, you’re also not quite lucky enough. It’s a combination of everything. Yeah, we’ve been unlucky in places, but sometimes we haven’t helped that, and that’s just the way it goes. We know we can do better and that we can also be a lot luckier.”
To finish in the top five at Edmonton was a huge relief for them. In fact, as Wilson indicates, simply running a clean race without any problems was reason enough to celebrate. “Yeah, that was a relief. It’s not a win yet, but after the season we’ve had, it was a big relief to finally show reasonably well and not get taken out. That was good!”
(Learn about Justin Wilson and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing)
Yet, despite the strong run, there were miscues along the way, specifically in qualifying, which saw Wilson fail to make it out of the opening session. As he explains, it was a case of waiting too long to make their run. “We tried to push the qualifying (in Edmonton) to the limit. We wanted to be on track right at the end. The track is very much like a street circuit and you’re finding that with every lap the grip gets better and better. We pushed that and we pushed it too far. We saw all weekend how long it took to bring tires up to temperature, same in the race, same in practice, but we didn’t take that into account in qualifying as well as we could have. Once that yellow came out, we basically had two timed laps.”
That strategy, along with their pace in cold tires, is something he believes they need to get a better handle on in the future. “That was our weak area, it was the weak area in the race and it was the weak area the whole weekend. It definitely bit us. There are lots of little things that make a difference and we just got to work on it. Last year, we were much stronger on cold tires, but this year we haven’t been as strong.”
The strength for Wilson and Dreyer and Reinbold has been the road and street circuits. But, with Loudon, Kentucky, and Las Vegas still to come, their form on the ovals will come under the microscope again before the year is out. In their two years together, their best oval result is a seventh at the 2010 Indianapolis 500, something they hope to improve on. “There’s no hiding the fact that we’ve struggled on these last three or four ovals,” he said matter-of-factly. “In some cases, we’ve had it harder than last year. We’ve definitely gone back through and questioned everything we’ve done on the car. Larry Curry is working hard at making sure that we get the cars sorted out. I was just with him earlier (this week) and he’s got a list of things that he’s working on to try to improve. So I’m encouraged.”
But, when you look at some of the drivers Wilson has battled with on the ovals, it becomes clear how difficult it is to run up front. “I’m hopeful that our oval package for this next group of ovals is going to be where it should be and we can go out there and race hard. Having said that, the last couple of short ovals we did, we were racing with Helio (Castroneves) and (Ryan) Briscoe at times. Although the car wasn’t fantastic, it wasn’t terrible. But, maybe last year or the year before, this would’ve been fighting for top fives. But, the way it is right now, we were looking to get 12th.
With all of the IndyCar teams raising their game, running at the sharp end of the grid has become especially challenging. “I think people are filling that void,” Wilson believes. “There are a lot more competitive teams between fourth place and tenth place now. I haven’t seen it this competitive ever. To have that many good cars and that many quick drivers means there’s no room for mistakes.”
For the rest of 2011, the goal is to make sure the team is running well, with little focus on the points standings. “The year we’ve had so far, we haven’t even thought about the championship after the second race,” said Wilson. “We’re focused on just trying to win races, trying to prove ourselves, do well on the ovals, do well on the road and street courses and, good results, and try to prove what we can do. And whatever happens in the championship happens.”
If they can manage that and avoid problems, then getting into the top 10 in the standings is within reach. “Yeah, I think (getting into the top 10) is doable. If we stay out of trouble, definitely!” he quipped.
Moreover, if they can keep the good fortune going, a victory is not entirely out of the question. “You’ve always got to have that in the back of your mind that you can win races if you get it just right,” he said confidently. “It’s a lot harder now than it’s ever been, but we got to go in there and get it right and we have an opportunity. Definitely, I think Baltimore, Mid-Ohio, and Sonoma (give us a shot), if we get it right. We just got to give ourselves a chance.”
With the group test at Mid-Ohio earlier this week, he and Dreyer Reinbold had the chance to work through any performance issues with the car. “We got some items we want to evaluate. And, if we get good reads on that, then that’s going to help us race-weekend. It’s very easy to get caught up and treat it like a day-long qualifying session. But, I’m sure that will always happen. But, if we can get some answers on these things, hopefully that will put us in better shape.”
Wilson added, “Hopefully we’ve turned that corner and it’s going to be looking up from here.”
Currently, Wilson sits 14th in points, 26 behind 10th place J.R. Hildebrand.