Speed Encouraged By Race Pace
May 8, 2006 | 1:47 P.M. EST
"It was our best race so far this season on pace," said Speed, America’s only active F1 driver.
The races are counting down to Speed’s home event – the United States Grand Prix on July 2 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The European GP was round five, while the USGP is round 10.
Speed drove from Austria, where he is based between races, to Germany’s Nürburgring that plays host to the European Grand Prix. The trip took six hours. Sections of Germany’s autobahn highways still don’t have speed limits, and Speed found out that the top speed in his Maserati Gran Sport is 168 mph.
At the end of the first day of practice on Friday, May 5, Speed had set the 23rd-quickest time in his Scuderia Toro Rosso.
"It’s difficult to say where we are today," he said afterward. "The track is still quite dirty so it is hard to judge where we are in terms of our pace, although you don’t have to look too closely to see it’s not looking too good. But we did get over the worst of the problem early in the afternoon session."
In qualifying on the following day, May 6, Speed missed the cut and did not proceed into the second heat of the knockout session.
"That was really frustrating," said Speed, who qualified 19th. "In Imola (the San Marino Grand Prix) we were unlucky with traffic, and exactly the same thing happened today in qualifying.
"I think our pace was good but, once again we did not get the chance to show it. Hopefully, some time soon, I’ll get a clean qualifying lap and someone else will get blocked. This time I had to pass (Takuma) Sato on my quick lap, and then I got held up by a Midland in the last chicane as he came into the pits. The red flag didn’t really affect me."
Partially through the first qualifying session, an electronic glitch caused a message to display on the teams’ TV screens indicating that a red flag was out to halt the session. It was a false alarm quickly rectified, but not before some drivers had aborted their qualifying runs.
While disappointed not to make it through to the second round, Speed was philosophical about the new knockout qualifying system.
"That’s what this qualifying format is about this year," he said, "so hopefully, we’ll get lucky one time."
While he qualified 19th, Speed started 17th as Williams-Cosworth drivers Mark Webber and Nico Rosberg had been demoted 10 places each because of engines changes in their cars.
The Nürburgring places a premium on chassis handling over pure horsepower, and for that reason Speed said the European Grand Prix was one of the best opportunities of the season for his Toro Rosso team to score points.
But in the race on May 7, Speed’s teammate, Vitantonio Liuzzi, crashed out just after the start when he collided with David Coulthard, who drives for sister team Red Bull Racing.
"I avoided it all," Speed said of the confusion in first turn.
After that, Speed settled in for the 60-lap race. He ran 15th in the opening stages, moved up to 13th and eventually finished 11th. While he missed getting into the top eight and into the points, Speed was pleased with his race."The race was awesome," he said. "We were quite a bit quicker than (Nick) Heidfeld (BMW Sauber) and (Jarno) Trulli (Toyota.) That says enough for Toro Rosso, race pace-wise. So for us it was a very good race. We made another step up the learning curve.
"Our pit stops are a place where we are lacking a lot on all sides. And we are suffering in qualifying. The qualifying we are not going to be able to really change, but the pit stops we will be able to improve as the team gets better."
After a post-race debriefing with the Scuderia Toro Rosso engineers, Speed climbed into his Maserati for the drive back to his base in Austria. He planned to spend a couple days relaxing and training before flying to Barcelona, Spain, for the Spanish Grand Prix on May 14.