And I was trying so hard not to get my hopes up.
The first practice session wasn’t until 1:30 today, allowing us to sleep obnoxiously late. Of course this meant we missed the free breakfast at the hotel. So we dodged 4 lanes of fast moving Miami traffic to get to the Starbucks across the street. It was one of the largest Starbucks I’ve ever been in and only one person was working there. But at least they spoke English.
Miami is a third world country. Based on our experiences yesterday and today, there is a less than 50-50 chance that any clerk (fast food, convenience store, etc.) will speak passable English. I guess the ability to count money is the only real job requirement. Any conversation you overhear in a store or restaurant is more likely to be in Spanish than English. Obviously there are a lot of native Spanish speakers in Phoenix as well, but it doesn’t seem nearly as pervasive as it does here.
The traffic in Miami pretty much sucks. Part of this is due to the sheer volume of of cars and part of it is due to the lousy drivers. There are the usual problems such as cell phone users that seem to permeate every large city now. Then there are the retirees who drive like they’ve already been embalmed. Then there seems to be a subset of the population that drives unusually slow for no apparent reason – I secretly suspect they are trying overly hard not to get pulled over because they either have outstanding warrants or lack proper documentation.
The racetrack here is like no other we’ve ever been to. A long road lined with palm trees leads you to a grandstand painted in Art Deco colors. Small artificial lakes dot the perimeter. It’s a little surreal. It’s also obnoxiously humid. Walking around outside is like getting hit in the face with a damp towel. I am having bad flashbacks to Texas in June.
The first practice goes well. Scott is second fast and Dario is fourth. Unfortunately, Will Power is first. Goddammit. Qualifying starts at 4:45. We have drawn positions 21 and 23. Normally, qualifying late is a disadvantage, since the track tends to heat up and get more slick as the session progresses. Today the late draw is an advantage, as the track should actually start cooling off towards the end. Ryan Briscoe takes the pole after his run. He is topped by Will Power. Double goddammit. Then it’s Dario’s turn. He smokes Will’s time, going more than 1/2 mile per hour faster. In a sport where the first 10 qualifiers are often separate by two tenths of a second, this is huge. Scott follows Dario. This is tough, obviously we want Scott to do well but he is out of the championship race at this point, so the pole point means more to Dario. Scott qualifies second. No other significant contenders follow, so the order sticks.
This is the best possible qualifying outcome at the most critical point in the season. Dario gets the pole and the extra point with Scott starting at his side. As a teammate, Scott can provide a tremendous amount of support in helping Dario achieve a win tomorrow. He can also lock up second place. Finishing in the order we start will guarantee the championship. Any other scenario requires a poor performance from Will Power, something that hasn’t happened too often this year. Starting first and second also provides a tremendous psychological boost to the Target team and a corresponding deflation of hopes at Penske. We are the fastest. Nyah, nyah, nyah. The head game is an important part of the sport.
So, just as I am trying so hard not to get my hopes up, we pull out an amazing performance in qualifying. Tomorrow will be elation or heartbreak, there is no more middle ground.
I love this sport.