Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was the fastest Verizon IndyCar driver Saturday morning in the third/final practice session, at 1:07.1348/ This wasn’t as fast as was Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Friday afternoon at 1:07.0800, who is still fastest overall for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend. But Dixon’s time is second fastest overall.
The weather danced around, with a cloud cover appearing and fading. The temperature was mild and favored the cars and drivers, and for awhile the heavily suited-up Pit Fire Marshals and Emergency folks. The lighting was good to the photographers and sight-seers alike, taking in all the pomp and circumstance.
It was colorful immediately behind Dixon. Runner-up to Dixon was Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport in his all-golden yellow Honda, followed by 2016 IndyCar Champion, Simon Pagenaud in his in-your-face electric bright yellow No.1 Menards Chevrolet. Fourth was James Hinchcliffe in yet another variation of the yellow spectrum, No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in metallic gold and green. There’ll be no mistaking those cars on track. Fifth overall Saturday was Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda.
Several drivers cycled through the top spot, including JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Sato, Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud, Dixon-twice, and Hinchcliffe. Sixteen drivers were in the 1:07 range.
Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda was eighteenth overall.
Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda didn’t go out until five minutes to the checkered flag, due to electrical problems. He managed five laps and was philosophical, putting a positive spin on the morning – complimenting the fans and weather.
There was one Red Flag, for 3.15 minutes, caused by Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Trench Shoring Dale Coyne Racing Honda, when he brushed the wall. He cruised to the pits for quick left front wing repair and came back out, immediately getting fourth overall. After losing his fastest lap for the Red Flag, he was credited with ninth position overall.
Otherwise the drama level was low. Some overshooting corners caused runoff area visits and flat-spotting tires. Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports flat-spotted his tires big time in a braking zone. Hinchcliffe made it to another runoff area, while leading the charts. This time there was no time or room to do a fancy U-Turn. He saluted the in-car camera and waited for the tow tether.
Doug Boles, President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway made an announcement Saturday morning regarding the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on 13 May 2017 at the famed Brickyard. In keeping with IMS being considered a test ground for automotive technologies, the Speedway will host the first-ever semi-autonomous car race, pitting current IndyCar team owner and former driver, Sam Schmidt and veteran all-around world Champion, Mario Andretti on the 2.439-mile road course. This innovative shootout will precede the Verizon IndyCar road course race, as part of the May racing activities at the Speedway.
Schmidt, who is paralyzed from the neck down, has already driven a specially fitted Corvette at IMS twice – first at 40 mph, and last year at 150 mph. This is taking the technology to the next level, in a Z06 SAM Car, which Schmidts IndyCar sponsor, Arrow Electronics, has tricked out. He will have a sip-and-puff device into which Schmidt will breath, allowing him to accelerate and brake. His voice commands will switch gears, and turn the SAM car on and off, and steering will be effected by sensors on a high-tech headset Schmidt will wear to connect to infrared cameras mounted on the dash board, and detect his head-tilt motions to steer. Andretti will have similar technology in his Arrow-modified Stingray SAM Car.
Schmidt is excited to finally be able to race against Andretti. “He is a true legend that is world renowned and I appreciate his willingness to participate and showcase the next evolution of this technology.” Schmidt confessed he did bribe Andretti, with an Indy 500 ride in 2018 if he won. Further, Schmidt said “It will be nice to just show up and drive, rather than being there as a team owner. The car is so intuitive, reactive and comfortable, I beat 20 other cars at Pike’s Peak.”
Boles admitted the rules and prize monies scenarios haven’t yet been finalized, but the event will benefit Conquer Paralysis Now, a non-profit foundation set up by Schmidt, which has become a leading authority on spinal cord injury and research and treatment. The length of the race might be up to 15 minutes, as Schmidt joked that while the car is comfortable and quite easy to drive, the drivers’ attention span is not that long. And Andretti joked that he was sure Schmidt would give him driving tips, but only enough to keep him off the wall.
PHOTOS BY PABLO MATAMOROS