THE CAPTAIN WINS!

Roger Penske and the No.2 Newgarden Team

Roger Penske and the No.2 Newgarden Team, Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Verizon IndyCar Team Owner Roger Penske was a double winner Sunday at Sonoma Raceway’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, with the race winner Simon Pagenaud and 2017 Champion, Josef Newgarden. Pagenaud led the last 24 laps of the 85-lap race, with Newgarden hot on his heels. The crucial turning point of the race came on Lap 64 with the last lead change between Newgarden and Pagenaud, with the Frenchman coming out ahead. They raced hard after that stop. It was the eleventh career victory for Pagenaud, and his second straight win at Sonoma Raceway. His Margin of Victory was 1.0986 seconds. Pagenaud completed every single IndyCar race lap, the only driver to do so. He was cheered by his peers in the Sunday Drivers’ Meeting on his performance as the Defending Champion all year.

Simon Pagenaud, Race Winner

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Pagenaud had already depleted two-thirds of his Push to Pass, whereas Newgarden had only used three seconds of the allotted 150. Pagenaud kept Newgarden at bay, finishing with only 7 seconds PTP, while Newgarden never used any more. The Frenchman was on a mission from the get-go, turning the fastest time of 109.575 mph – 1:18.3576 on Lap 13. Pagenaud said “I would rather be hunted than in the hunt.”

Josef Newgarden, Champion

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Newgarden’s race strategy was called by Penske President, Tim Cindric, who kept coaching him to keep focused on the goal – the Championship. Newgarden did and finished second, to become the youngest Championship since the unified series. He and Pagenaud swapped the lead six times, each leading for 41 laps. Newgarden won by 13 points, in his 100th career start. Newgarden said “It’s too awesome.” And “It was hard not to win, but Tim kept coaching me to be smart.”

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden photos by Pablo & Nico Matamoros.

Finishing third through fifth were other contenders: Will Power/No.11 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet.

Will Power

Power said “Obviously, you want to be the one that wins it, but it’s very tough these days, and you’ve got to have a very solid year to get it done, and when I look at this year, no one made mistakes. You see the top six there, top six or seven are the top six or seven almost every race. We had some ups and downs with the No. 12 Verizon Chevy team, but it was a good year. We won some races and some poles. We’ll give it another go next year.”

Scott Dixon fueling

Scott Dixon fueling. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Dixon said “”It just seems like the No. 3 car covered us. Every time we short-pitted they followed us and he was just a massive roadblock. Once we got into clean air, we were able to make up ground, but every time we got into traffic we got real loose. Huge credit to everyone on the NTT Data crew obviously not the way we wanted to finish. A big congrats to Penske and Josef (Newgarden) on a job well done.”

Castroneves said “I’m always going to focus on the positive thing. The (Championship) P4 is not what it represents because we were in a battle a lot more years than that. And that’s what I look at. I look because each year that’s what kept me motivated to come back and push hard, and that for me was hard. But to keep up like I’ve been doing all these years, I think it’s the hardest thing to do. But it doesn’t just happen. It comes with a great team. It comes with great dedication from your guys, great trust, and obviously, myself to keep motivated, finding ways to keep pushing and having teammates like I have today, no question, helped me to become a better driver.”

The other championship contender, Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda fell out of contention early on, after pitting with mechanical problems. The crew labored for 25 laps and got him back on track to finish in P21. “It was a pretty disappointing day, to have a mechanical issue after the first stop. I think we were in a pretty decent position to possibly get in the top five after our opening stint but it wasn’t meant to be today. A huge shout out to the NAPA Auto Parts team and the Andretti-Herta boys for the hard work back in the garage to get us back out there, we picked up another spot.”

There were only three leaders – Pagenaud, Newgarden and Conor Daly/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, who led once for three laps during leader pit stop rotations. He finished tenth. “I have to thank the boys for keeping faith in the strategy. It was a bold move to make the three-stop call.It was a good consistent race. It was tough – there were a lot of moments of flying through the air and banging wheels with people. It was wild, so I’m just happy to come back in one piece and have another consistent finish to end the year.”

The top Rookie was Israeli driver, Zachary Claman DeMelo/No.13 Paysafe Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, who finished 17th after starting 21st. “Jack Harvey and Tony Kanaan came together and they got stuck and slowed down a bit more than I anticipated. I just clipped Harvey, who was really close, and unfortunately, I broke the front wing which forced us to make an early pit stop. After that, the pace was really good. I ran with some quick guys like Will Power and Helio (Castroneves), and drove away from Helio. It was a good day. I learned a lot and want to thank Paysafe for the opportunity.”

Roger Penske, Simon Pagenaud & Tim Cindric

Roger Penske, Simon Pagenaud & Tim Cindric

All kinds of stats came with this caution-free race: Newgarden is the first American IndyCar Champion in five years, the youngest since the unified IndyCar. Newgarden finished with more Push to Pass remaining than any other driver, including those who retired. This was the fifteenth indycar Championship for Roger Penske, and his 197th indycar win. This was the first caution-free IndyCar race in Sonoma Raceway’s 14-year year history. This was the fifth Driver’s Championship for Chevrolet since joining IndyCar in 2012.

Simon Pagenaud.

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Nico Matamoros

There wasn’t much in the way of incidents – some banging and blocking, and good racing. Pagenaud was teased about his shortcuts through the turf, and he joked that he wanted to try some dirt racing. There was only one penalty – Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing got a speeding ticket. Twelve of the 19 finishers were on the lead lap. Three retirements were due to mechanical problems.

It was announced during the broadcast that Tony Kanaan is going to AJ Foyt Racing next year. Musical Chairs begins.

Hinchcliffe didn’t have the best of luck this weekend, including the race. “After a good start, we made up a couple spots and then I was trying to set up someone going through Turn 3, and I guess Spencer (Pigot) just went for a gap that was closing and hit us, spun us out and put us to the back of the field and did some damage to the car. From there on it was tough just hanging on to the No. 5 Arrow Electronics machine. Like I said, we don’t give up, and we kept digging, trying to make up whatever spots we could, but ultimately some damage was done to the electronics on the car and the gearbox electronics stopped working so I was stuck in gear. Very unfortunate, but still a lot to be proud of this season.”

Rookie of the Year, Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda retired after 69 laps with technical failures.

Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda retired on Lap 62 with mechanical problems. Early on he had a shredded right rear tire which he nursed back to the pits.

American Flag Parachute Jump

The Push to Pass stats were interesting. Newgarden only used three, while Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber &Data Andretti Autosport Honda and Pigot used up theirs. Along with Pagenaud, other drivers with only seven seconds left were Chip Ganassi Racing Honda teammates, Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher and Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba.

UNOFFICIAL GOPRO OF SONOMA RACE RESULTS

POS Car# Driver Car Laps Status

1. (3) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
2. (1) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
3. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (6) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
5. (4) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
7. (11) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running
8. (7) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running
9. (10) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
10. (13) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 85, Running
11. (15) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 85, Running
12. (14) Max Chilton, Honda, 85, Running
13. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 84, Running
14. (20) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 84, Running
15. (22) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 84, Running
16. (12) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 84, Running
17. (21) Zachary Claman DeMelo, Honda, 84, Running
18. (19) Jack Harvey, Honda, 84, Running
19. (18) Ed Jones, Honda, 69, Off Course
20. (5) Takuma Sato, Honda, 62, Off Course
21. (8) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 60, Running
22. (16) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 52, Electrical

Unofficial Points Standings:
Josef Newgarden 642
Simon Pagenaud 629
Scott Dixon 621
Helio Castroneves 598
Will Power 562
Graham Rahal 522
Alexander Rossi 494
Takuma Sato 441
Ryan Hunter-Reay 421
Tony Kanaan 403

First Lap

First Lap. Photo by Nico Matamoros

LET THE GAMES BEGIN!

Sunday at Sonoma Raceway, it’s mild and sunny, with hazy blue skies and a moderate breeze. The Verizon IndyCar drivers got to sleep in a bit as they’re not on track until 11:30am for their half-hour warm-up. Other activities were ongoing as the weekend wound up its four-day schedule. There were five two-seater IndyCars giving VIP rides with drivers Mario Andretti, Gabby Chaves, Davey Hamilton, Arie Luyendyk Jr, and Zach Veach. The morning race schedule included Pirelli World Challenge GT and GTS races, as well as another Pirelli Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge race. It was fascinating to watch the transition between the various series, which are paddocked in various reaches of the elevated road course, including the World Challenge cars which are parked outside Turn Seven. So all three ‘lanes’ on the front stretch are a maze of activity with the various cars going in different directions simultaneously. They snake up one lane, down another, and around the course up to Turn Seven, or into the pit lane and paddock behind the IndyCars.

IndyCar Pre-Race Ceremonies began at 2:20pm local time, and the Green Flag set for the 85-lap GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma IndyCar race at 3:30pm. It will air live on NBCSN. By 6pm there will be a race winner and 2017 Champion – one or two different drivers. The excitement mounts.

For the race, nine drivers including the top three drivers, will start on Black Primary Tires. The other 13 will start on the softer red Alternative tires. Of the four Penske drivers, three will start on Primary, with only Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Chevrolet out on Alternatives, as will the other two contenders, Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda. Let the games begin!

Tony Kanaan

IC Autograph Crowd

Sebastien Bourdais

Saturday morning the IndyCar drivers got up early and sat in the chilly morning air to sign autographs for a huge, orderly crowd of fans.

Paul Blevin

Ever wondered what it takes to be an IndyCar Starter? I asked Paul Blevin of Riverside just that. He was asked 18 years ago by the then-current starter to come on board as an assistant, and that it would take some travel. Blevin came from flagging off road and Mickey Thompson events. He found open wheel and road racing was a bit more complicated. With larger fields and all those pits stops, blue flagging is more complex. Experience over the years has helped. And now there is technology to assist. In the Starter Stand, Blevin has a computer and monitor which keeps him apprised of the running order. There is also a screen resembling the video game, Centipede. It has a track outline showing the position of each race car – diamond icon for the leader, circles for the field, and a yellow box for those a lap down.

The job has grown over the years and just this year the crew has added its third Starter – Brad Hackaday. He joins Tom Hansen who’s been a starter for more than five years.

Among the duties on their job description now comes working with the IndyCar Timing & Scoring crew, helping with setup and breakdown. There are eight TV monitors to run just for Race Control, and “miles and miles of cable.”

Marcia Ulise

At an IndyCar weekend, Blevin will be on the stand for the IndyCar race and any other race under the IndyCar umbrella. This includes the three official series in the Mazda Road to Indy: Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda; Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires; and Indy Lights. There also could be the occasional Mazda MX-5 Cup Series, part of the Mazda Road to the 24 Series.

This weekend Blevin is working with Hackaday and local starter, Marcia Ulise.

Honda’s Art St. Cyr met with the media and discussed the 2017 season. Honda had seven wins this season and all of its five teams won a race, including the Indianapolis 500 with Takuma Sato from Andretti Autosport. Last year AA won with Rookie driver Alexander Rossi. St. Cyr said he was pleased that Honda had its team line-up for 2018 set, although not all the individual drivers. The teams are (again) Andretti Autosport, Chip Ganassi Racing, Dale Coyne Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. And St. Cyr wouldn’t be drawn into any speculation on the musical seats. “Driver lineup might be a little bit different, but having those teams set right now gives us a chance to really put our plan in place early on to make sure that the offseason testing will go well, especially with this new universal aero kit, make sure that the information that we can provide for the teams gives them a good foundation for them to launch off next year. Hopefully next year will be even more successful.”

Klay Thompson

Klay Thompson, Golden State Warriors All-Star and points guard for the last two recent NBA Championships, is the Grand Marshal for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma. He got a two-seater ride in an IndyCar with Mario Andretti, and was awed by the experience, saying he was impressed by how the drivers put it on the line every time they get in the car.

The IndyCar Series Manufacturer Championship was determined before this weekend’s events, and the huge trophy was presented by Jay Fry, IndyCar President of Copetition and Operations to Chevrolet’s Jim Campbell, Vice-President of Performance Vehicle an Motorsports and Mark Kent, Director of Motorsports Competition.

Chevrolet Manufacturer's Trophy

Also present were the three Chevrolet team owners whose drivers earned the championship: Ed Carpenter, AJ Foyt and Roger Penske. Points were earned by drivers and teams based on finishes on the first four engines they ran. This put a premium on reliability and performance. Going into the weekend, Chevrolet had nine wins and ten poles this season. It became 11 poles by Saturday afternoon. Currently there are eight Chevrolet drivers, approximately 40 percent of the field. Campbell hinted there could be more drivers next season, but refused to be drawn into any further elaboration.

Left to Right: Team Owners TonyGeorge, Larry Foyt, AJ Foyt, Roger Penske, Ed Carpenter, and Chevrolet's Mark Kent & Jim Campbell. Back Row Ilmor: Steve O'Connell, Wayne Bennett, Paul Ray & Steve Miller.  Photo by Mike Levitt/GM.

Left to Right: Team Owners Tony George, Larry Foyt, AJ Foyt, Roger Penske, Ed Carpenter, and Chevrolet’s Mark Kent & Jim Campbell.
Back Row Ilmor: Steve O’Connell, Wayne Bennett, Paul Ray & Steve Miller.
Photo by Mike Levitt/GM.

HERE’S TO THE KID!

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Josef Newgarden and his No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet team gambled on red tire choices and won, taking his first Verizon Pole Position since 2015 and broke the qualifying track record with a blistering lap of 1:15.5205. He had run his sticker reds in the first qualifying round and took the pole on red “scuffs.” This stretches his points gap to four points ahead of closest contender, Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Honda.

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Newgarden was so excited, he had to be reminded what he said when he was told he had the pole. “Are You Kidding Me?”

The pole position doesn’t change his attitude going into the race. “No, this is IndyCar racing. Anything can happen. So, we’ve checked one thing off the box this weekend. We’ve got one big one to check off tomorrow. And then, if everything goes according to plan, we’ll see where we end up at the end.”

It was a nail biter of a Firestone Fast Six, with the lead changing a couple of times between Newgarden and Castroneves. The Penske Posse prevailed for the top four: Newgarden, Will Power/No.11 Verizon, Simon Pagenaud/No.1 DXC Technology, and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi.

Fifth and sixth were Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda, the only non-contender in the Fast Six, and Dixon.

It was the tenth pole for Team Penske this season – the only team to win any poles in 2017. Now all Penske drivers have at least one 2017 pole on their respective resumes. All in all, Roger Penske’s team has 256 indycar pole positions, more than any other team.

The post-conference was brief and full of levity. While one driver would speak, the others closely perused the T&S monitor.

Penske Posse Paying Attention

Regarding his thoughts on the Championship, Newgarden said “You always think about it. If you tell me not to think about it, I’m going to think about it. So, it’s difficult to not envision it, but I think for us, we’ve got to get through the race. We’ve got to have a good race car. Qualifying is one thing. Having speed is one thing. Winning the race is a whole other deal. So, we’re going to work hard with this Team Penske group. We’ve got four guys very capable of getting it done. For the Captain and for everyone at the factory, we want to make sure one of these Team Penske cars wins the championship. So, that’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.”

Will Power

Power was asked how frustrating to be so close, three and a half hundredths off pole. “Yeah, well, I mean, you start going back through the lap in your head. I could have just hit the throttle a little earlier there, yeah. Would have helped me braking actually, push back.

Yeah, it’s tight. It’s just like that sometimes. I mean, gave it everything I got. That’s the situation.”

Simon Pagenaud

Pagenaud said “That was really close. I can’t be unhappy with the DXC Technology Chevrolet. I thought we had as good a chance as any at the pole, but Josef (Newgarden) and Will (Power) were a little bit faster. Third is not a bad starting position at all. We’ll be right there if they make a mistake and right there to apply some pressure. We’ll continue to work on the car this evening and tomorrow morning in final practice then put together our race strategy. We plan for it to be a great day for the No. 1 team, but expect it to be a great day for Team Penske.”

Helio Castroneves

Castroneves said “The talent of our group is incredible. Great job on Josef Newgarden winning the pole. Our team is really strong and we work really well together. It’s really exciting for Team Penske that we will start in the front tomorrow. I’d rather Josef get the pole and we get the victory. For us with the No. 3 Hitachi Chevrolet, we wish we had a little more speed during qualifying. We have a great spot up front but wish we had a little more. It’s going to be quite a battle tomorrow with my teammates and Scott Dixon and we are ready for the challenge.”

Roger Penske

Roger Penske.Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Castroneves summed up the Penske Posse philosophy. “But in the end of the day, we still got to deliver this championship to Roger. We understand what we need to do. That’s what we’re going to do tomorrow.”

He elaborated. “Yeah, well, you know the top four today here is Team Penske. It made a lot of sense. We planned that at the beginning of the year. We’re surprised actually people did not decide to join Team Penske. I’m not sure how the rules were, if they’re allowed or not. But the point is, they were allowed, right? I don’t understand why.

“As mentioned, a hundred points (for winning race.) Team Penske, we’re throwing everything out there. We wanted this championship as bad as anybody. We do have a chance. We going to obviously try to execute. That’s our goal.

“So we did learn a lot, not only as qualifying but also as race pace. Certainly this place, the weather change quite a lot. So even that we came here, it was one way, but at least that day, we checked that box. We knew what to do. But it was a progress toward the entire weekend for us, to keep improving our cars. Today it showed very well in the qualifying. Now we got to continue finishing the rest of the job.”

Sato said “It was a fantastic feeling. Obviously, the fifth position isn’t pole position, but I think looking at the speed of the competitors, we achieved what we could do. I think certainly, the entire Andretti Autosport and No. 26 guys did a enormous, fantastic job so I’m really happy with them and we got it done all together.”

Scott Dixon

Dixon was philosophical after the session, in which it was down to the wire if he or Rahal would make the cut. “As a team, I think this is always one of our most difficult circuits that we come to. This morning, we made some good gains, but the conditions this afternoon, we just didn’t have the grip. It was kind of strange. The balance felt good. The car was kind of decent to drive, but just couldn’t carry the speed through the corners.

“Kind of interesting. We almost didn’t make group one. Then just squeaked through in Q2. Good to make it through to where we did. It was definitely hard work. A big credit to the team.

“Sixth position, you can definitely make lots happen from there. I think in ’15 we started ninth when we won that race. Definitely you’d want to be a little further up. But that’s the way it goes.

“We’ll make the most of the starting position and see what tomorrow brings.

“We’ll just have to see how the car is on the long run. We always know that the Penskes are going to be strong here. The other manufacturer’s aero kit is going to be strong at this track. We know the deficits that we have. But we can still as a team overcome those, whether it’s strategy or a car on the long run that’s hopefully going to be good.”

His team owner, Chip Ganassi, said he wasn’t going to beat up Dixon.

Takuma Sato

GOPRO GRAND PRIX OF SONOMA QUALIFYING

POS CAR# DRIVER CAR TIME SPEED

1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:15.5205 (113.691)
2. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:15.5556 (113.638)
3. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:15.6356 (113.518)
4. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:15.8032 (113.267)
5. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:16.2208 (112.646)
6. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:16.3978 (112.385)
7. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:16.1815 (112.705)
8. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:16.1934 (112.687)
9. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:16.1968 (112.682)
10. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:16.5811 (112.116)
11. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:16.8221 (111.765)
12. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:16.9718 (111.547)
13. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:17.1016 (111.360)
14. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:16.7581 (111.858)
15. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:17.1417 (111.302)
16. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:16.9539 (111.573)
17. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:17.2662 (111.122)
18. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:17.0231 (111.473)
19. (7) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:17.2722 (111.114)
20. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:17.1602 (111.275)
21. (13) Zachary Claman DeMelo, Honda, 01:17.2814 (111.100)
22. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:17.2507 (111.145)

PENSKE POSSE POWER PLUS DIXON

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The Penske Posse dominated yet again in the third and final practice for the Verizon Indy Car Series at Sonoma Raceway Saturday morning, with another contender – Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda splitting them up. In a run-up for qualifying for Sunday’s GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma, the 22 drivers ran 247 laps during the 45-minute session. There was almost no drama during the green-flag practice. I said almost. Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing did a gentle spin early on, but no harm, no foul, and he continued to finish fifteenth for the session. James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda had a couple of spins – first in Turn 2 from which he recovered; and later, a spin in Turn 7 about two laps from the end of the practice with a mega tire burnout, and stall. Traffic got around. He was able to run eleven laps before his misstep. He finished seventeenth.

This time the Penske lads mixed up the order, with 2016 IndyCar Champion, Simon Pagenaud/No.1 DXC Technology Chevrolet leading the pack at 112.925 mph/1:16.0329. He was fastest on his third of his eight laps. Dixon pushed his nose into second place, 0.1125 seconds behind.

Third through fifth were Will Power/No.11 Verizon, Josef Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon, and Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi.

Sixth was Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport, followed by Sato’s 2018 teammate, Graham Rahal/No.15 United Rentals/Soldiers Strong Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber & Data Andretti Autosport Honda, and Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, in his last race with Ganassi.

JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Of the top eleven, only Newgarden and Rahal drove ten or more laps. All the rest turned single digit laps. JR Hildebrand/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet ran the most laps – 20.

Ed Jones

Jones has captured the 2017 Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award, the second Rookie for team owner, Dale Coyne. The previous driver was Alex Lloyd in 2010. Jones was the 2016 Indy Lights Champion which earned him three starts in the IndyCar Series. He has run the whole season with DCR and is hopes of continuing on next season. When pressed, Coyne was coy about how close was his brokering his 2018 driver lineup with Jones, but said “Just about. We’re very, very close. I would love to have Ed back next year, so..”

Ed Jones & Dale Coyne

Coyne said “When you take a rookie to his first test, you usually know right away what you’re going to get. That’s been pretty straightforward everywhere we go. Ed was that way. The biggest surprise with Ed was his race craft. When we got to the tracks, he’s never crashed this year, he’s had a couple little spins but never crashed. So that’s very welcomed on our team because we crashed plenty with the other car.”

Ed Jones. PM

Ed Jones. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Jones said it was difficult to pinpoint one specific thing Coyne told him in terms of best advice. “It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of advice that Dale’s given me. But, you know, he’s always been very supportive of learning everything step by step, learning from Seb (teammate, Sebastien Bourdais.) Every time I get to every weekend, even every session, I remember early on it was try to learn as much as you can, take it step by step, there’s no need to overdo it early on.”

Other IndyCar Rookies of the Year currently racing include Alexander Rossi/2016, Carlos Munoz/2014, Simon Pagenaud/2012, James Hinchcliffe/2011, Ryan Hunter-Reay/2007, Marco Andretti/2006 & Will Power/2006, Sebastien Bourdais/2003, and Scott Dixon/2001.

Jay Frye , Fred McConnell, Ed Jones and Dale Coyne

Jay Frye, IndyCar president of competition and operations; Fred McConnell, Sunoco Director of Fuels Marketing, Ed Jones, and Dale Coyne.

WINNING PRACTICE

Josef Newgarden. PM

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Friday afternoon the weather conditions were the closest they could be to replicating Saturday’s qualifying session at Sonoma Raceway for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The temperature was 79 degrees F with 12 mph breezes. The skies were blue and all 22 drivers took to the track.

Josef Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was the fastest driver, at 1:16.2485. This lap is unofficially under the official track record set by Penske teammate, Simon Pagenaud last year in the first round of Qualifying with a time of 1:16.2530. He was pushing the car to the limits and it paid off.

“You don’t get anything for winning practice, but it goes a long way to build confidence,” said Newgarden. He’s topped the first two practice sessions at Sonoma Raceway

Simon Pagenaud

Helio Castroneves

Will Power

Left to Right: Simon Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, and Will Power. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Second through fourth were the other three Penske Posse drivers: Pagenaud/No.1 DXC Technology, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi, and Will Power/No.11 Verizon. Power’s overall fourth place time was set in the morning. He might have gone faster, but he had a late-session spin on his alternative tires.

Josef Newgarden carrying Will Power

Newgarden & Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Two of the four Penske drivers are fighting physical ailments. Power showed up Thursday with a sore left leg incurred body surfing in Santa Cruz when he got knocked back by a wave. He can drive OK and even left brake. He just can’t walk easily, which is why Newgarden carried him into the Thursday Media briefing. Castroneves has a bad cold for which he’s being treated, gotten when he was fleeing Hurricane Irma and was trapped in the Atlanta humid, crowded airport for hours on end waiting out rescheduled flights.

Nine of the 22 drivers were faster in the morning practice, including Power.

Ryan Hunter-Reay NM

Scott Dixon NM

Marco Andretti. PM

Alexander Rossi. NM

Takuma Sato. NM

Graham Rahal. PM

Fifth through tenth were all four of the Andretti Autosport Honda drivers, Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL, Contender Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Honda, Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber & Data, Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb, and Takuma Sato/No.26. Photos by Pablo & Nico Matamoros.

Jack Harvey. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Jack Harvey. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Top Rookie was Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda in seventeenth place. The other Rookies were Jack Harvey/No.7 AutoNation Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in a dazzling purplish vinyl wrap; and Zachary Claman DeMelo/No.13 Paysafe Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda in twenty-first and twenty-second.

After the afternoon practice, the IndyCar teams had Pit Stop Practice.

Power's Pit Stop . NM

Power's Pit Stop. NM

Castroneves Pit Stop. NM

Pit Stop Signaler. NM

All Pit Stop Photos by Nico Matamoros.

TESTY THURSDAY

Team Penske Contenders

Team Penske Contenders. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Thursday was an open test day for all 22 of the Verizon IndyCar drivers at Sonoma Raceway. Yes, I said 22 drivers. Rookie Zachary Claman DeMelo, of Canada, has joined Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing for the weekend in No.13 Paysafe Honda, adding one more car to the usual 21.

The weather was sunny and breezy, with mild temperatures. Fourteen drivers were on course in the morning session, with laps varying between four by three drivers to the 32 for Rookie DeMelo. Those who held back said they were waiting for the warmer afternoon temperatures which would be more ideal – more closely resemble the Saturday mid-afternoon Qualifying session or the mid-afternoon Sunday race. Among those who didn’t run in the morning session were four of the five Championship contenders Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; and three of the four Team Penske Chevrolet drivers, Josef Newgarden/No.2 Hum by Verizon, Simon Pagenaud/No.1 DXC Technology, and Helio Castroneves/No.3.

Four sets of tires were allotted to each driver for the six-hour test, and of these three must be returned to Firestone at the end of the day. One set can be carried over as scuffs for the rest of the weekend. For the weekend, the teams are given seven sets of tires,

The primary and alternative tires Firestone brought to Sonoma are the same as for this year’s Barber race, which Firestone Chief Engineer Cara Adams said is more durable than last year’s primary compound. The 2017 Sonoma alternative tire is similar to last year’s primary tire. The drivers often characterize Sonoma as an abrasive surface, tough on tire degradation.

Josef Newgarden carrying Will Power

Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

The contenders joined the media for brief availability during the lunch break, with Dixon coming first, followed later by the Penske Posse.

Dixon said that the tire carryover rule was changed, which shortened the teams’ allotments even further. He waited out the morning, while his three teammates ran. Dixon said they would gather data, and prep during the lunch break, for the afternoon session. “Today is just about trying to understand the car as best as possible, try and get some data for the weekend. But, you know, as far as the race goes, it’s going to be more about trying to eliminate silly mistakes and situations that we can control.”

Castroneves said “We’re just waiting for the weather to be at least closer to what it will be in qualifying or tomorrow’s practice or race. As we all know, the track is very challenging, plus abrasive, which is difficult when you trying something with the tires after about five or six laps, already going to the next level. So you always got to keep that on mind. Right now I think not only ourselves but everyone, at least 10 other cars thinking the same way. As we going to go out, the track going to get better, even with the weather. It will be interesting to see this afternoon for sure. But it’s a lot of time.”

Pagenaud said “The goal is to go for the championship, especially with a great Team Penske that we’re all on. The goal is to come back and win another championship.”

Josef Newgarden carrying Will Power

Newgarden & Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

It was variations on a theme when the four Penske drivers were asked about going for the win vs the championship. Basically go for the win and the championship will sort out, and it’s important that the Championship go to Team Penske. And Power and Newgarden proved they have each other’s back. Newgarden said “Oh, it’s business as usual. I think that’s the way Team Penske operates. It’s also what’s helped us have so much success this year, is that’s the way we operate. It seems to make us better every weekend. I think we’re going to need to work together if we want to be better than the field. It’s not going to be, in my opinion, straightforward or easy to be better than everyone this weekend.”

Despite only running four laps in the morning, Will Power/No.11 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was the fastest in the test, at 109.922 mph/1:18. Seven drivers turned laps of 109+ mph.

By mid-afternoon, a couple of drivers went on course, and then the course went Red to rescue Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Autosport Honda, who had stalled on course. It was 71 degrees F ambient and 108 F on track at 3pm, for the few drivers on course. More were waiting it out in pit lane, umbrellas and all. The second Red Flag was to tow in Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Honda.

In other news, JR Hildebrand/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet and the team have confirmed that Hildebrand won’t be returning full time to the team next season, although he could run a third team car in the Indianapolis 500. Spencer Pigot will race the No.21 full-time next season.

Zach Veach was announced this week as the newest member of Andretti Autosport in No.26. His teammates will be Marco Andretti, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Veach progressed up the Mazda Road to Indy ladder with Andretti Autosport and drove for AJ Foyt Racing at this year’s Indy 500, finishing 26th.

There are other seats in flux,

Also on track Thursday for testing were the young lions in the Formula Car Challenge presented by Goodyear Series. Sixteen drivers – fifteen fellows and one sixteen-year old gal, mentored by Lyn St James, took to the track.

Everything starts in earnest Friday, with two IndyCar practices, and an IndyCar Pit Stop practice. Also running will be Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge, World Challenge, and Formula Car Challenge. The track will be busy non-stop from 8:15am to 6:10pm, ending with the two-seater IndyCar rides. The weather is forecast to be warmer.

SATO SHINES!

Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda held onto the past six laps of the 200-mile race to take his first win at the 101st running of Indianapolis 500 presented race. He took the lead for the second time on Lap 195 and held off the charging Helio Castroneves/No.3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet for his first oval victory. The Margin of Victory was 0.2011, the sixth closest finish in the history of the legendary race. He said “It’s such a privilege to win here. So whether it was the first attempt or eighth attempt or you had a drama in the past, it doesn’t really matter. Winning today, it’s just superb.”

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves

Castroneves tried and tried after Sato’s last pass on him, but just couldn’t get around Sato, and finished runner-up – for the third time at the Indy 500. He said “This place is unbelievable! I really thought we had it. Unfortunately, I just couldn’t do it.”

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves. Photo by Nico Matamoros.

The veteran Brazilian driver, in his twentieth INDYCAR season, has finished runner-up three times. He’s won the Indy 500 three times and has been chasing his fourth victory since 2009. “It was so close. We’ve got to keep going. I take my hat off to Takuma (Sato) for having a strong car today. He really seemed to be getting better as the race went along. I say, ‘great job’ to my guys. They worked their tails off. We saw it all today. We were in the back and we led some laps. We avoided disaster and we almost got number four.”

Ed Jones

Ed Jones

Top Rookie was Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda, who finished third – the highest Indy 500 finish for the team. He congratulated Sato. “I didn’t really have the pace for him and Helio at the end.But we did the best we could. I think those guys were trimmed out quite a bit. Even in the draft, I was struggling to stay up with them. He was still pulling away.

Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato. Photo by Nico Matamoros

It was Sato’s second career victory, the last being Long Beach 2013. Sato San, as his teammates call him, is the first Japanese driver to win the Indianapolis 500.

Sato turned the fastest race lap of 226.190 mph on Lap 150.

Sato said “Unbelievable feeling. I cannot thank this team enough. Look at these guys. Fantastic. It was obviously a tough, tough race. But Helio really drives fair. I can trust him. I can really trust him coming from the outside. What a race. Hopefully the crowd enjoyed it.” In terms of knowing at what point he would win, “Until three laps to go, you really didn’t know. Me and Helio went side by side with three laps to go. You’ve got to go for it, run it flat. And we did it, and we pulled away. Fantastic.”

For Andretti Autosport, it was its fifth Indy 500 victory and third in the past four years. Andretti has had 65 career wins. Four of its six drivers led laps in Sunday’s race: Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28, seven times for 28 laps; Rookie Fernando Alonso/No.29, four times for 27 laps; Alexander Rossi/No.98, six times for 23 laps; and race winner Sato twice for 17 laps. That’s 19 lead changes of the 35 recorded, and Andretti drivers led 95 of 200 laps.

Takuma Sato & Michael Andretti

Takuma Sato & Michael Andretti. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Team Owner, Michael Andretti said “He (Sato) is awesome! Oh, my God; I can’t believe it. We work really really hard on this race. We focus on it a lot. Having all those cars out there, gaining all that information helps a lot. And we have great people on this team, and they’re the ones who got this win, as well as Takuma. He drove unbelievable.”

The Verizon INDYCAR Series has had six different winners in six races this season. The race had a record 15 different leaders, nearly half the field. Nineteen cars finished the race, 16 on the lead lap. There were 11 cautions for 50 laps, one-fourth of the race.

Race Start

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ed Jones was the top finishing Rookie in the race, but he never led a lap. Another Rookie got the lion’s share of attention all May long. McLaren F1 driver, Fernando Alonso skipped his Monaco Grand Prix to do something he’d always wanted to do. “I came here basically to prove myself, to challenge myself. I know that I can be as quick as anyone in an F1 car. I didn’t know if I can be as quick as anyone in an IndyCar.”

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alonso was more relaxed, spontaneous, accepting of his new race environment, and willing to learn than anyone ever expected from an elite athlete from a supposedly more sophisticated and sheltered race environment. He met with the media one last time, immediately after the race – which he didn’t finish due to engine failure on Lap 180. He was credited with a P24 finish. “Obviously disappointed not to finish the race because obviously every race you compete, you want to be at the checkered flag. Today was not possible. anyway, it was a great experience, the last two weeks. It was nice to have this competitive feeling, even leading the Indy 500, you know. One lap you put on the lead there, it was already a nice feeling. I was passing, watching the tower, saw the 29 on top of it. I was thinking of that moment if Zak or someone from the team was taking a picture because I want that picture at home.

“Thanks to IndyCar, amazing experience. thanks to Indianapolis. Thanks to the fans. I felt at home. I’m not American, but I felt really proud to race here.”

Fernando drinking the milk

Fernando drinking the milk

He captured the heart of the Media Sunday with his farewell. “Last thing. Thank you for all media. I didn’t won, but I will drink a little bit of milk.” With that he brought out a small carton of milk he’d been hiding and drank it all, and waving it to the media as he left. “You follow me for two weeks every single minute, but I really enjoy. Thanks for the welcoming. See you in Austin.”

The race was marred by three big accidents, both causing downtime for cleanup and track repair. All drivers were taken to the infield care center, checked and released, cleared to drive. The same could not be said for any of the race cars. There also were two minor accidents, in which no drivers were hurt; and one accident where a driver was transported.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso. Photo by Nico Matamoros

The first accident was terrifying in its ferocity and and destruction, and it brought out the Red Flag for 19 minutes and 40 seconds. It is incredible and a testament to the safety of the race cars and the SAFER walls that pole sitter Scott Dixon/No.9 Camping World Chip Ganassi Racing Honda wasn’t injured. On Lap 53 Dixon’s car went airborne after being hit by Jay Howard/No.77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. Dixon hit the catch fence and came down cockpit first on the SAFER wall before flipping away and landing on the ground. While airborne Castroneves drove under Dixon trying to escape the wreck. Castroneves said his winglet was hit by Dixon causing some damage which needed repairs. “I just shut my eyes and ended up in the grass.” Howard had hit the Turn One SAFER wall and came down the track and collected Dixon. In the history of the Indianapolis 500, there have only been nine red flags for reasons other than rain. Rookie Fernando Alonso/No.29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda was leading at the time, followed by Rossi, Sato, Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Dixon said after getting out of the infield care center: “I just got a little beaten up there. It was a bit of a rough ride. I’m bummed for the team and for Camping World. We got a little loose on the first stint there, but they dialed it in, and we started to make some progress. Overall, I think we were a little bit light on downforce but for later on in the race that would have been the right move to have. I’m just bummed for them and glad everyone is OK. It was definitely a wild ride. Thank you for Dallara and the safety of these cars. It’s tough. I was hoping Jay (Howard) would stay against the wall. I’d already picked a way to go and there was nowhere else to go. I’m glad he’s OK too. It makes you believe in the safety of these cars and the progress they’ve made.”

Max Chilton

Max Chilton. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Another big accident was multicar, on Lap 184. James Davison/No.18 GEICO Dale Coyne Racing Honda and Oriol Servia/No.16 Manitowoc Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda hit, which in turn collected Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet and James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Honda. Josef Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske spun to avoid them but hit the SAFER wall. Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was leading when the Pace Car came out, followed by Sato.

One of the lesser accidents involved Conor Daly/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, when he hit the Turn Three SAFER Wall, and Rookie Jack Harvey/No.50 Michael Shank Racing w/Andretti Autosport Honda spun and hit the SAFER wall. Sato was leading at the Caution, followed by Rossi, RHR, Alonso, and JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Service Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet.

Another big accident involved Buddy Lazier/No.44 Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Lodge Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet on Lap 122. He spun on the short chute between Turns One and Two, hitting hard into the Turn Two SAFER wall and bouncing back on track. He got out of the car by himself, but was transported from the infield care center to IU Health Methodist Hospital for evaluation of chest discomfort. No further word on his condition has been received.

Pace Car leading Alonso and field

Pace Car leading Alonso and field. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

OFFICIAL INDIANAPOLIS 500 RACE RESULTS

1. (4) Takuma Sato, Honda, 200, Running
2. (19) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 200, Running
3. (11) Ed Jones, Honda, 200, Running
4. (15) Max Chilton, Honda, 200, Running
5. (7) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 200, Running
6. (18) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 200, Running
7. (3) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 200, Running
8. (8) Marco Andretti, Honda, 200, Running
9. (25) Gabby Chaves, Chevrolet, 200, Running
10. (24) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 200, Running
11. (2) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 200, Running
12. (14) Graham Rahal, Honda, 200, Running
13. (13) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 200, Running
14. (23) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 200, Running
15. (31) Sebastian Saavedra, Chevrolet, 200, Running
16. (6) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 200, Running
17. (28) Pippa Mann, Honda, 199, Running
18. (29) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 194, Running
19. (22) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 186, Running
20. (33) James Davison, Honda, 183, Contact
21. (12) Oriol Servia, Honda, 183, Contact
22. (17) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 183, Contact
23. (9) Will Power, Chevrolet, 183, Contact
24. (5) Fernando Alonso, Honda, 179, Mechanical
25. (16) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 166, Mechanical
26. (32) Zach Veach, Chevrolet, 155, Mechanical
27. (10) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 136, Mechanical
28. (21) Sage Karam, Chevrolet, 125, Mechanical
29. (30) Buddy Lazier, Chevrolet, 118, Contact
30. (26) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 65, Contact
31. (27) Jack Harvey, Honda, 65, Contact
32. (1) Scott Dixon, Honda, 52, Contact
33. (20) Jay Howard, Honda, 45, Contact

UNOFFICIAL INDYCAR POINTS
1-Helio Castroneves – 245
2-Scott Dixon-234
3-Simon Pagenaud-234
4-Takuma Sato-234
5-Alexander Rossi-190
6-Tony Kanaan-188
7-Will Power-186
8-Josef Newgarden-186
9-Ed Jones (R)-185
10-James Hinchcliffe-170
Max Chilton-170

Helio Castroneves

Photo by Nico Matamoros

SUNDAY SUNRISE SOUNDS AND SIGHTS

Pagoda

Sunday morning at 4am it was dry with a 20 percent chance of rain, 74 percent humidity and wind at 3mph. It was already starting to bustle and the queue outside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 16th Avenue Gates was two blocks long. Fans were seen on the street walking to the track in the dark. Inside the track, the Pagoda was all lit and Media Center was filling up. Everyone who was awake was waiting for the 6am cannon to go off. It would be a wakeup call for the Verizon INDYCAR drivers who mostly stayed at the track in motorhomes. Welcome to The Brickyard, Fernando!

Cannon fired!

Cannon fired!

>

Fox TV Crew

Local TV Crew

Broadcast crews from the various local TV, radio stations, and networks were already setting up their vantage points to begin live broadcasting. While the locals may not get to see the race live, their local TV stations will have plenty of color and pre-race coverage. The anticipated attendance estimates for Sunday predict upward of 300,000.

Sunday Schedule

Sunday’s schedule is all about history, pomp and circumstance and tradition. There will be lots of marching bands and parade laps for Festival Princesses, drivers, Historic Cars and Military Silverado as well as the Red Carpet. By 9:30am the race cars will be moving to Pit Lane and then for at least half an hour they will be gridded. Getting around the Pagoda Plaza, Gasoline Alley or Pit Lane will become very problematic. Good luck in getting around. The congestion will be mega!

Sunrise!

Sunrise!

Friday night some lucky folks were treated to the American premiere of the new documentary, ‘McLaren.’ The producer, Matthew Metcalfe is at IMS this weekend starting his latest project, a feature-length documentary on INDYCAR driver, Scott Dixon. The movie, yet to be named, will be co-produced by GFC Films and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Group (UPHE). It will be shot in the US, New Zealand and France, directed by Bryn Evans. The expected worldwide release date is scheduled for 2018.

Matthew Metcalfe

Matthew Metcalfe

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon

Metcalfe description of the project: “A powerful and inspirational story of dedication, fear and one athlete’s will to defy personal limitations, the documentary will blend cutting-edge race footage, intimate observational filming and unparalleled access to Scott, Chip Ganassi Racing and those who know the driver best to present a seminal study of one of the greatest race teams in the United States.”

Pagoda

Photo by Pablo Matamoros

SATURDAY COLLAGE

Autograph Mob

Saturday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway was a day of several disparate events, strung together throughout the day. They included the on-track laps by the Indy Legends, autograph session for the Verizon INDYCAR Series drivers followed by their the open Drivers’ Meeting, two autograph sessions for the Indianapolis 500 Legends, Chevrolet Corral Laps, and three concerts: Clayton Anderson, Dustin Lynch, and Keith Urban.

Chevrolet had a fan session with six Indianapolis 500 Legends: Four-time Indianapolis 500 winners A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears, three-time winner Helio Castroneves, two-time winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Al Unser Jr., and 1996 winner Buddy Lazier. They had to have a police escort back from the downtown Indy 500 Float Parade in order to make the mid-afternoon session. The drivers were the celebs, riding in cars.

Some fans sat basking in the grandstands despite a distinct lack of on-track activity. Others wandered through Gasoline Alley as the teams do their final race preparations.

The hour-long INDYCAR drivers’ autograph session was an organized mob scene. Everyone was queued up nice and orderly according to driver preference. It was heavily monitored by IMS Yellow Shirts, IMS staff, and all the team/driver reps and handlers. Mingled in, especially in the vicinity of Fernando Alonso, were gendarmes of various ilks.

Autograph mob scene

This line is closed

Autograph queues

Tony Kanaan

Scott Goodyear & Alan Bestwick

Fernando Alonso

Brian Barnhart

Brian Barnhart. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Curt Brunz/Jostens & Jeffrey Dean Morgan

Curt Brunz/Jostens & Jeffrey Dean Morgan

The Open Drivers’ Meeting was held in Pit Lane in front of the Grand Stands. There were awards presentations, giving of Starter Rings to all 33 Indy 500 Drivers, and the Race information given by Brian Barnhart.

Among the guests at the Drivers’ Meeting was this year’s Pace Car Driver, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, of TV fame. The heart throb is best known to some as Denny Duquette from Grey’s Anatomy, others remember Jason Crouse on “The Good Wife.” Others know him as the villain on The Walking Dead. He looked anything but at the meeting, in his spiffy leather Pace Car jacket. He’ll be driving the three Parade Laps and one Pace Lap in a 2017 Corvette Grand Sport. Each lap will increase by 10 mph. That should warm up cold tires.

Bryan Herta & Michael Andretti

Alexander Rossi & Milk Award

Michael Andretti & Alexander Rossi

Scott Dixon

JAR Hildebrand & Fernando Alonso

James Davison

Left to Right: Bryan Herta & Michael Andretti with Baby Borgs; Michael Rossi with ‘Milk’ Award; Michael Andretti & Alexander Rossi with Baby Borgs.

Left to Right: Pole Sitter Scott Dixon; JR Hildebrand & Fernando Alonso; and James Davison.
Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

James Hinchcliffe's No.5 Honda

James Hinchcliffe’s No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda made it through Tech Saturday morning after an overnight engine change. He’d lost his engine in Carb Day practice Friday afternoon.

This is the 14th time Corvette has paced the Indy 500, more than any other marque, and 28th time for a Chevrolet. Several previous Corvettes are on display in the Chevrolet display area across from The Pagoda. And I’m told that all the Pace Cars are stored in a vault below the Speedway Museum, along with a whole lot more of the Museum’s vast treasure trove of memorabilia. It takes special permission to see those exhibits.

Saturday afternoon Chevrolet hosted a fan-driven Q&A with six Indianapolis Legends: Four-time Indianapolis 500 winners A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears, three-time winner Helio Castroneves; two-time winners Juan Pablo Montoya and Al Unser Jr., and 1996 winner Buddy Lazier. It was a lively exchange of barbs, one-liners and war stories among the six.

AJ Foyt

Buddy Lazier

Juan Pablo Montoya

Rick Mears

Al Unser Jr

Helio Castroneves

Left to Right: AJ Foyt, Buddy Lazier, and Juan Pablo Montoya
Left to Right: Rick Mears, Al Unser, Jr., and Helio Castroneves
Photos by Pablo Matamoros

Friday night had been another mixed bag of weather – warm and nice, then cooling leading up to mid-evening. Friday night, while I was blissfully enjoying the American movie premiere of the ‘McLaren’ documentary, a big thunder and lightning storm occurred. It blew away and was nice again by movie’s end. Word was a bigger storm is due to hit Saturday night. Gotta love Indianapolis weather in the month of May. Not boring.

Shameless plug here for the McLaren movie. It is wonderful and well worth a watch, so be sure and catch it when it becomes available. An added treat at the premiere was having an introduction by the film producer, Matthew Metcalfe, and then a Q&A afterwords with Metcalfe and McLaren’s daughter, Amanda. A good time was had by all.

And word comes now that Metcalfe will now make a documentary on Scott Dixon.

McLaren road car

JR Rutherford's Indy 500 car

And in the foyer of the Indiana State Museum, where the movie was shown on the really big screen – two original McLarens were on display: the very first McLaren road car, and the indycar in which JR Rutherford won the 1974 Indianapolis 500. And outside the museum were two current McLaren road cars. And how sweet they sounded when they drove off.

Security has been tightened and awareness heightened since the announcement was made that Vice President Mike Pence will attend Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. Changes have been made in some entrances and traffic patterns. Pence, formerly Governor of Indiana, has no official role in the weekend.

Mark Miles

Mark Miles

Mark Miles, INDYCAR President, announced Saturday the addition of China to a list of broadcast partners. Three outlets will air The Indianapolis 500, and in some cases, other INDYCAR races, and otherwise promote the series. The agreements were aided by Mitime Group, a sports organization and subsidiary of Geely, a Chinese auto manufacturer.

Miles said “Someday we hope to race internationally, and possibly in China, which is very important to us. The signing of this partnership is a terrific first step in presenting INDYCAR racing to the Chinese people.”

Stephen Starks, INDYCAR vice president of promoter relations said “It’s a big step toward the development of the sport in China, of which we have for a long time wanted to play an important part.”

INTERNATIONAL BROADCAST LIST – live/on delay
Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands – ESPN
Austria – Sport 1
Belgium – BeTV
Brazil – BAND
Canada – Sportsnet and TVA Sports
Caribbean – ESPN
Czech Republic – Nova Sport
Finland – Elisa Viihde Sport
France – Canal +
Germany – Sport 1
Greece – Nova Sports
Hungary – Digi Sports
Israel – One Sports
Italy – Sky Sports
Japan – Gaora
Latin America (excluding Brazil) – ESPN
Netherlands – Ziggo Sports
Middle East and North Africa – OSN
Romania – Digi Sports
Portugal – Sport TV
Russia and CIS – Viasat Sport
Serbia & ex-Yugoslavia – Arena Sports
Slovakia – Nova Sport
South Africa – Supersport
Spain – Movistar
Switzerland – Sport 1
Sub-Saharan Africa – Kwese Sports
United Kingdom – BT Sport

CASTRONEVES CARB-ED OUT

NALBERICO4

It was sunny, 71 degrees F/22C for the start of Carb Day practice. The track was 82 F/28C and there was little wind.

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves/No.3 Shell Fuel Rewards Team Penske Chevrolet was first in the hour-long session. He was a happy camper. “I think today it was just a great way to finish practice like this, show that we have a good car, a good balanced car, and we’re going for the big one on Sunday.”

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves. Photo by Nico Matamoros

In answer to what he will do in the first 50 laps, starting from an unaccustomed P19, he said “Well, normally you’ve got to check those boxes that we in the past we didn’t have to. We’ve got to pay attention with the people that surround you, make sure that, you know, you control everything on your own, put yourself in a good position so that if somebody makes mistakes, you don’t be part of it. And be patient, obviously, is always a good thing at this place. And, you know, take your time. Obviously when you have a good car like that, you don’t want to rush into things because it’s a long race. That’s probably what we’re going to do.”

Takuma Sato

Takuma Sato. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Second was Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda, at 226.802 mph. He was all smiles. “And come to today with Carb Day, is kind of really shakedown of the car because car was spitting off all the things and put everything back together with new engine. Install and then feel it out. Car felt really good. So that was a great sign because it’s just no surprise. You don’t want to have any surprise on Carb Day because all the work you’ve done in the last week, this is the result. We have a car and be ready for Sunday.”

Third and fourth were Chip Ganassi Racing Honda teammates, Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip and pole sitter Scott Dixon/No.9 Camping World.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso

Top Rookie, in fifth position, was Fernando Alonso/No.29 Mclaren-Honda-Andretti Honda at 226.608 mph. He was happy with the session. “It was great. I mean, it was very smooth. You know, the car felt the best so far in the last two weeks. So extremely happy with the car. I was there making some moves, some different lines, just to try what I saw in the last three or four days in different medias from different years, so I was practicing that. I also did in the simulator in the last two or three days, I was putting it in place there.

Fernando Alonso

Fernando Alonso. Photo by Nico Matamoros

“It was a lot of action today in a one-hour session. You have a lot of things happening. Everything is compressed on those 60 minutes. So we had some yellow flags; we had some laps to test different things on the car. And just even, you know, very normal things that for everyone else will be straightforward. For me, I don’t know where, you know, if we change something on the car, where to find it, you know, on the steering wheel and things like that. So simple things that I am still running behind a little bit, but today I think we put all the ticks in all the boxes and extremely happy.”

All thirty-three Verizon INDYCARs took to the track Friday morning for the hour-long Carb Day practice, the last opportunity to check out the car before the race. It went well for most. One exception was James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. He blew an engine.

The session was busy and who was the fastest driver changed often. Among those were: Josef Newgarden, Ed Jones, Alexander Rossi, Castroneves, Pippa Mann, Rossi again, Jones again, Conor Daly, Fernando Alonso and then a Caution – all in six minutes. Then Scott Dixon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Alonso again and another Caution. Then Castroneves, another caution for Daly, and quickly another Caution for Hinchcliffe.

Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda turned the most laps – 41. Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet ran the fewest-21. What was interesting to some and amazing to others was how many drivers drove so many laps and so fast, for a Carb Day. The total laps run was 960 in a session which was only half long due to cautions.

There were four cautions, for 31.29 minutes. Two were for track inspections. One was briefly for Conor Daly/No.4 AJ Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet having slight contact with the front straight inside wall. Shortly after the track went Green, it went Yellow again, for Hinchcliffe leaving a trail of smoke into the pits. As the car sat waiting for the tow, oil dry was put down. Hinch was P 14 at the time with 29 laps. He immediately got on his Pit Box in Pit Lane to debrief. He was upbeat, “The good news is the No. 5 car was as strong as it was all month. We are very thankful that it happened now and now 20 minutes later, because that would have been five laps into the 500,”

When Alonso was asked if he was concerned about his car after Hinchcliffe’s engine failure, he said “As long as it’s in practice, it’s OK. You know, I mean, if you put it in another way, you know, if the practice today was 10 minutes shorter, that could happen on the parade lap. So I think it’s a good thing that these things happen in practice like this. We can make sure that we learn and we save engines for the race. So no concerns, not thinking on that problem, and I’m 100 percent will be OK.”

Copious amounts of oil dry had to be laid in Hinch’s path. The track session was extended five minutes to 12:05pm due to the length caution to clean up the track.

The only penalty assessed during the session was to Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, for making contact with pit personnel.

JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet was the fastest car without a tow, at 220.881 mph. Most drivers had a tow, but six drivers were able to get out in clean air. For a long time, Jack Harvey had the fastest NT time of 220.744 mph. Some others were James Hinchcliffe, Sebastian Saavedra and Charlie Kimball.

With Hinchcliffe’s blown engine, the total for Indy, according to Honda, is eight, including the Grand Prix. Five were lost at Long Beach, and eight at Phoenix. “It hasn’t been unexpected as we’re pushing the envelope. They’ve been for different reasons and it’s being looked into.”

Chevrolet lost an engine earlier in the year, and they’ve changed two engines at Indy due to crashes.

Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet won the Pit Stop Challenge contest, making it seventeen wins for Penske Racing. He beat Hinchcliffe in the finals. Power’s best time was 11.619 seconds and Hinchcliffe’s was 13.223, total time Green Flag to Finish Line. Crew Chief Matt Jonson has now won three times, as have three other Crew Chiefs: Chuck Sprague, Rick Rinaman and Owen Snyder.

Will Power

Will Power

Power spoke highly of his crew. “These guys, all the teams, all the crews on all the cars at Team Penske work very hard in the offseason practicing pit stops, you know, and working out. They’re all fit, and they’re all ready to go. That was an example of four or five perfect pit stops, no mistakes.

“You know, when you think about the “500,” that’s what wins races. Mistakes like no mistakes on pit lane, quick pit stops under yellow, and I have absolute faith in these guys every time I pull in the pit box”

Jonsson, addressing the practice regimine, said “It varies with the schedule, obviously depending on how much we’re home and so on to get ready. We spend a great deal of time and to answer the question there, when you pick a pit crew, honestly it’s done per event. You may not be in that spot for the rest of the year if you don’t perform. We do have backup guys. If backup guys start performing better than the ordinary guy, if you so will, there will be a trade-out on that position. But that’s how we go about it.”

The lads were so quick, they fled after the presser before a nice group photo could be taken.

Other contenders were Sage Karam/No.24 DRR Mecum Auctions Dreyer & Reinbold Partners Chevrolet: Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; James Hinchcliffe who used the Honda of his teammate, Jay Howard/No.77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure, as his No.5 was having an engine change; Castroneves; Carpenter; Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak N’Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda; and Dixon.

Other awards were presented Friday.

Adam Rovazzini, the chief mechanic of the No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda driven by Jack Harvey, was named recipient of the Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award. This honor goes to the Indy 500 chief mechanic who exemplifies the mechanical excellence, ingenuity and perseverance of its namesake, the legendary mechanic, Clint Brawner. Rovazzini received $5,000 from Firestone Racing and his name on a plaque which is in the Speedway Museum.

Holly Cain & Bill Marvel

Holly Cain & Bill Marvel

The Bob Russo Founders Award went to Holly Cain, a much-respected and popular motorsports journalist for the past 25 years, who has shown courage and provided inspiration in the face of personal adversity. Cain is the first female as an individual to receive the award in the 13-year history of the award. She has worked for several newspapers, AOL, Foxsports.com, NASCAR.com and written a book on NASCAR driver, Rusty Wallace. She has gone public with her breast cancer diagnosis and been a strong advocate and fundraiser for the disease.

Andy Hall

Andy Hall

Andy Hall received the annual Jim Chapman Award for excellence in motorsports public relations. He currently works for ESPN and has worked for NASCAR and INDYCAR in the past.

In keeping with a new custom, IMS President, Doug Boles, unveiled the logo for next year’s Indy 500. He spoke of the design challenges, looking forward and yet incorporating parts of the existing logo. And he put in a plug for the 500 hours of Reservations – time to renew Indy 500 tickets at this year’s prices. “In an evolution from the logo for the 100th Indianapolis 500, the design for the 102nd “500” includes the iconic IMS “Wing and Wheel” logo and its spirit of speed. The “500” is underlined with a segment of the world-famous 2.5-mile oval, designed to represent the exit of Turn 4 down the main straightaway and into Turn 1. The typeface represents the athleticism, competition and cutting-edge technology that are hallmarks of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. Every part of the logo leans with a 20-degree shear, symbolizing the relentless forward motion of the race’s competitors and the Indianapolis 500’s second century of competition. The color scheme features red, white, blue and steel, which together represent the American spirit and tenacity that has formed the core of the Indianapolis 500 since the inaugural race in 1911. These colors also were included in the logo for the 101st Indianapolis 500 that is taking place this Sunday, May 28, maintaining continuity between the two events.” So now you know.

INDY 500 2018 Logo