DAILY DRAMA

Spencer Pigot & No.21 Chevrolet Crew. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Spencer Pigot & No.21 Chevrolet Crew. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

NTT IndyCar driver, Spencer Pigot/No.21 AutoGeek Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, turned the fastest four-lap average of 230.083 mph Saturday morning, for the first day of qualifying for the 103rd Indianapolis 500; and it held all day. He was the second driver out, and no one was ever faster. This makes him the provisional pole sitter … until the Fast Nine has its shootout Sunday, weather permitting. If not, today’s times will prevail. Pigot’s closest contender was 2018 Indy 500 winner, Will Power/No.12 Verizon 5g Team Penske Chevrolet, the only other driver to make the 230 mph mark. Pigot’s two Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet teammates, Ed Jones/No.63 Scuderia Corsa and team owner, Ed Carpenter/No.20 also made the Fast Nine.

Pigot is the only one of the nine who hopes for Sunday rain. “Obviously if I had to pick one wya or another, it would be nice to just kind of relax and not have to go again and be on pole, but if we get to go again, I’ve got all the confidence in the world that we’re going to be able to challenge for the pole.”

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ECR Team Owner, Ed Carpenter said “If there were team orders, I would have been first today.”

It was a day of drama, excitement, elation, sadness, hope and fear. The weather played a key role, getting warmer early on, with changing wind patterns, cloud covers playing hide and seek with the sun, and one big crash. No drivers were hurt, per se, but one will feel the effects Sunday.

The Fast Nine on Saturday are Pigot, Power, Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, Josef Newgarden/No.2 Shell V-Power Nitro Plus Team Penske Chevrolet, Rookie Carlton Herta/No.88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda; Jones, Carpenter, Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Pagenaud came to the post-conference with birthday cake in his hair. He’d been ‘caked’ by his Penske teammates.

Spencer Pigot.

Will Power

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Josef Newgarden

Colton Herta

Ed Jones & No.63 EC Chevrolet team. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ed Carpenter

Alex Rossi & No.27 Andretti Honda Crew.

Sebastien Bourdais & No.18 Coyne Honda Crew

Left to Right: Spencer Pigot, Will Power, Simon Pagenaud & his No.22 Menards Penske Chevrolet team, Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta, Ed Jones, Ed Carpenter, Alexander Rossi and his No.27 Andretti Honda team, and Sebastien Bourdais and his No.18 Coyne Honda team. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

The top thirty slots were filled by early afternoon. Then the bumping began, and it was fast and furious all the way to the final gun at 5:50pm, with cars still left in line. There were 73 attempts by drivers to qualify, by the 36-driver field. Some drivers made multiple attempts, qualifying and being bumped and re-qualifying and some bumped again.

The top 30 of 33 are locked in for the race. Sunday six drivers will try to bump their way back into the field. They are only eligible for the last row, and three will not make the show. They are: Fernando Alonso/No.66 McLaren Racing Chevrolet; Max Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Carlin Chevrolet; James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet; Sage arem/No.24 DRR Wix Filters Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet; and Patricio O’Ward/No.31 Carlin Chevrolet.

Pippa Mann. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Pippa Mann. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Pippa Man/No.39 Driven2SaveLives Clauson-Marshall Racing Chevrolet made te cut. It was emotional for her, having gone through her heartache last year of being bumped at the very last moment. The Fast Nine each will get a single run, like single-file qualifying, to determine the Pole and other eight positions.

The schedule calls for, weather permitting, half-hour Last Row Practice starting at 10:15am; followed by half-hour Fast Nine Practice starting at 10:45am; an hour of Last Row Qualifying starting at 12:15pm; and then an hour for Fast Nine Shootout Qualifying. This ends with Pomp and Circumstance – Pole Awards Ceremony. After all is said and done, it’s one last Sunday Practice 3:15-6pm. All times EST. NBC, which is televising the race and many of the other Indy 500 sessions, will be live 12-3pm EST for qualifying. The post qualifying practice will be aired live on NBCSN. Those lucky enough to have Gold coverage get non-stop video and audio commentary from some very interesting people. Danica Patrick made her first appearance in the TV booth for color commentary, and insider qualifying commentary.

James Hinchcliffe No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda crashed hard on his first run at 1:23pm. He spun and flew hard into the Turn Two wall. He was unhurt and was cleared to drive. He did a similar maneuver that previous crashers executed, only his hit was harder faster. He flipped up on his side, balancing on one wheel, and then came down. Hinch did not go all the way over. No driver has yet. He said “I got to Turn Two, and it just sort of suddenly snapped on me. I don’t know if it was a gust of wind or what. Worst-case scenario is doing it again tomorrow. I feel fine. I whacked my knee a little bit. That’s what happens when you hit a wall at 230 mph.” The right front wheel tether worked. Hinchliffe spent some time in the pit box, and then went back to the garage, where the team was working on setting up his backup car. By 4pm the car was back in the Tech Bay, and soon after he went back out. It wasn’t fast enough. His way of resetting his mind after the crash – “Honestly, it’s part of our job. It’s what we do. it’s not the first time we’ve crashed. Probably won’t be the last. So you just ave to be able to put these things behind you and close the visor tomorrow and do it again.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL & NO.23 CARLIN CREW

Charlie Kimball & No.23 Carlin Chevrolet Team. Phot by Pablo Matamoros

As Charlie Kimball/No.23 Fiasp Carlin Chevrolet said and was requoted often – “There are two kinds of drivers: those who have crashed and those who are going to crash.”

Two-time F1 World Champion, Fernando Alonso/No.66 McLaren Racing Chevrolet didn’t make it into the top 30 the first time. The crew tweaked and worked on the car, and he tried again. Still it wasn’t fast enough, so he got back in line again … and again … and again-staying in the car for three hours. Five tries. Give that man an E for Effort.

And, despite his frustrating day, he did pay the media a post-session visit. “It’s definitely been a difficult day again, difficult week in general, but difficult day. We need to try again tomorrow,, and now stay calm. Obviously it’s a difficult moment or everyone in the team and for me but there’s not much we can do now.” When asked what he thought of Indianapolis 500 qualifying, he responded honestly “Not much.”

Fernando Alonso. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Fernando Alonso. Photo by Pablo MatamorosFernando Alonso. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alonso had interesting comments about his signing autographs after having a rough week, a rough day and being tired after getting out of the car – hopped out and went running. He was asked why he did still have time to sign autographs- why did he do that when most people would have just kept going. Alonso responded, “Well I didn’t sign all of them.” Laughter. “You know, I stopped, a few, but they are everywhere. You open the motor home, they are there; you go out to the garage, they are there; you go in the bathroom, they are there. So sometimes you stop, sometimes you don’t. But yeah, they are out of the emotions and out of the environment that you are in on that moment. Maybe you jump out of the car, but for them it’s like you were walking there. They didn’t see what you were doing the last ten minutes. So it’s not something that they can control. You try to be nice with most of them, but I understand that a lot of them, they are not happy at the end of the day. So you try to do the best you can.”

Other drivers had multiple tries, including Sage Karem/No.24 DRR Wix Filters Dreyer Reinbold Racing Chevrolet.”I’ve been struggling all month. I guess we under-estimated the wind. I skimmed the wall. The car’s in one piece. It just won’t go quicker. It’s not that much different from our teammate (JR Hildebrand) who just got it in the show. It’s not looking good for us right now.”

The teams were concerned about Sunday’s weather curtailing qualifying and everyone was trying for his/her best time Saturday. There were 36 drivers making 73 tries, and for every try there’s a story.

Qualifying Pit Lanes 1 & 2. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Qualifying Pit Lanes 1 & 2. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Lane Two is the slow lane and long and/or filled. Your current time isn’t in jeopardy. Lane 1 is the fast lane and it goes first. But running from that lane negates any previous times. Lane Two cars can’t run until there are no cars in Lane One. After each run, a driver is expected to meet with media in the Bull Pen.

Qually Crowd.

Qually Crowd.. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

INDIANAPOLIS 500 DAY 1 QUALIFYING

1. (21) Spencer Pigot, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.4655 (230.083 mph)

2. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.4666 (230.081)

3. (22) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.6210 (229.854)

4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.6924 (229.749)

5. (88) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda, 2:36.8779 (229.478)

6. (63) Ed Jones, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.9035 (229.440)

7. (20) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 2:36.9658 (229.349)

8. (27) Alexander Rossi, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.0217 (229.268)

9. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.3427 (228.800)

10. (98) Marco Andretti, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.3729 (228.756)

11. (25) Conor Daly, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.4688 (228.617)

12. (3) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.5337 (228.523)

13. (7) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.5415 (228.511)

14. (30) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.6874 (228.300)

15. (33) James Davison, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.7057 (228.273)

16. (14) Tony Kanaan, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.8116 (228.120)

17. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.8226 (228.104)

18. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.8256 (228.100)

19. (77) Oriol Servia, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.9009 (227.991)

20. (23) Charlie Kimball, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.9535 (227.915)

21. (48) JR Hildebrand, Dallara-Chevy, 2:37.9584 (227.908)

22. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Dallara-Honda, 2:37.9799 (227.877)

23. (19) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Honda, 2:38.0815 (227.731)

24. (4) Matheus Leist, Dallara-Chevy, 2:38.0911 (227.717)

25. (60) Jack Harvey, Dallara-Honda, 2:38.1063 (227.695)

26. (42) Jordan King, Dallara-Honda, 2:38.2402 (227.502)

27. (81) Ben Hanley, Dallara-Chevy, 2:38.2542 (227.482)

28. (26) Zach Veach, Dallara-Honda, 2:38.3523 (227.341)

29. (10) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Honda, 2:38.3834 (227.297)

30. (39) Pippa Mann, Dallara-Chevy, 2:38.4203 (227.244)

31 Colton Herta 88 39.1869 39.2732 39.3191 39.4036 – 02:37.1828 229.033
32 Alexander Rossi 27 39.2116 39.2801 39.3881 39.4518 – 02:37.3316 228.816
33 Marco Andretti 98 39.2083 39.4134 39.6596 0.0000 – 01:58.2813 228.269
34 Marco Andretti 98 39.3436 39.5281 0.0000 0.0000 – 01:18.8717 228.219
35 Helio Castrone 3 39.3339 39.4492 39.4705 39.5304 – 02:37.7840 228.160
36 James Hinchcl 5 39.4461 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000 – 00:39.4461 228.159
37 Conor Daly 25 39.4065 39.4404 39.5280 39.5745 – 02:37.9494 227.921
38 Scott Dixon 9 39.4031 39.4315 39.5284 39.6109 – 02:37.9739 227.886
39 Graham Rahal 15 39.3793 39.6078 39.5751 39.7530 – 02:38.3152 227.394
40 Fernando Alonso 66 39.4738 39.6072 39.6613 39.6916 – 02:38.4339 227.224
41 Zach Veach 26 39.4838 39.6490 39.6460 39.6705 – 02:38.4493 227.202
42 Felix Rosenqv 10 39.4707 39.6126 39.6845 39.6841 – 02:38.4519 227.198
43 JR Hildebrand 48 39.3756 39.4908 39.8213 39.7751 – 02:38.4628 227.183
44 Jordan King 42 39.5432 39.6040 39.6720 39.6980 – 02:38.5172 227.105
45 Graham Rahal 15 39.6161 39.6358 39.6115 39.6605 – 02:38.5239 227.095
46 Patricio O’Ward 31 39.5351 39.6360 39.6156 39.7585 – 02:38.5452 227.065
47 Fernando Alonso 66 39.5100 39.5596 39.7772 39.7435 – 02:38.5903 227.000
48 James Hinch 5T 39.5843 39.6441 39.6938 39.6990 – 02:38.6212 226.956
49 Sage Karam 24 39.4864 39.6450 39.7297 39.7637 – 02:38.6248 226.951
50 Max Chilton 59 39.5426 39.6306 39.7471 39.7160 – 02:38.6363 226.934
51 Patricio O’Ward 31 39.6065 39.6441 39.6835 39.7279 – 02:38.6620 226.897
52 Sage Karam 24 39.4393 39.6974 39.7884 39.7551 – 02:38.6802 226.871
53 JR Hildebrand 48 39.2651 39.6658 39.6522 40.1247 – 02:38.7078 226.832
54 Felix Rosenqvi 10 39.5616 39.7418 39.7241 39.7456 – 02:38.7731 226.739
55 Matheus Leist 4 39.5514 39.5246 39.6225 40.0829 – 02:38.7814 226.727
56 Ben Hanley 81 39.5568 39.6378 39.7259 39.8856 – 02:38.8061 226.692
57 Jordan King 42 39.7900 39.4961 39.8554 39.6850 – 02:38.8265 226.662
58 James Hinchc 5T 39.6008 39.6904 39.6559 39.9725 – 02:38.9196 226.530
59 Max Chilton 59 39.6466 39.7373 39.7990 39.8600 – 02:39.0429 226.354
60 Max Chilton 59 39.6954 39.7075 39.7335 39.9297 – 02:39.0661 226.321
61 Kyle Kaiser 32 39.7538 39.7301 39.8555 0.0000 – 01:59.3394 226.245
62 Fernando Alonso 66 39.3935 39.7859 40.2490 0.0000 – 01:59.4284 226.077
63 Ben Hanley 81 39.5982 39.7666 39.9345 40.0282 – 02:39.3275 225.950
64 Kyle Kaiser 32 39.6294 39.7515 39.8126 40.1565 – 02:39.3500 225.918
65 Sage Karam 24 39.8197 39.8402 39.8712 0.0000 – 01:59.5311 225.883
66 Sage Karam 24 39.5567 39.7184 39.9054 40.2065 – 02:39.3870 225.865
67 Kyle Kaiser 32 39.7532 39.8687 39.9364 0.0000 – 01:59.5583 225.831
68 Patricio O’Ward 31 39.7380 39.7721 39.8650 40.1098 – 02:39.4849 225.727
69 Fernando Alonso 66 39.6527 39.9934 40.0639 40.2100 – 02:39.9200 225.113
70 Fernando Alonso 66 39.6191 39.6813 39.7358 41.3816 – 02:40.4178 224.414
71 Sage Karam 24 39.8961 39.7744 41.0345 46.1755 – 02:46.8805 215.723
72 James Hinch 5T 39.7604 39.7930 39.9814 51.5065 – 02:51.0413 210.475
73 Jordan King 42 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000 0.0000 – 00:00.0000 0

FREAKY FAST FURIOUS FRANTIC FINAL FIFTEEN FRIDAY

Friday was hot and bothered. The temperatures at Indianapolis Motor Speedway reached 78 F ambient, with track temps as high as 107 F, with wind of 5mph. Earlier the wind had increased, but then slowed. The Indy 500 drivers went faster Friday, as they were given 30 more horsepower for the day. The session was stopped for two hours mid-afternoon for “lightning in the area.” The protocol dictates that the half-hour clock starts every time there is a lightning strike within ten miles. There are apps which can show/indicate just how far the strikes are from IMS. The clock counts down, and if another strike hits within ten miles, (such as the 4.2-mile strike which occurred after the clock was nearly wound down), the clock starts over. People were advised of the situation via the PA and many exited the metal grandstands; and then they were advised when the warning had lifted. By then the track temperatures ramped up to 117F.

Conor Daly

Conor Daly/No.25 United States Air Force Andretti Autosport Honda ended up fastest overall Friday afternoon after The Fast and Furious Final Fifteen. A late-session caution for track inspection after tires were cut brought everyone to the pits. Once activity resumed, a mob of drivers went out for one last chance to better times. That’s when Daly ran 231.704 mph on Lap 54 of his 57, and pipped his Andretti teammate, who had been leading most of the day. Marco Andretti/No.98 U.S.Concrete/Curb Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb-Agajanian Honda had held the top slot at 230.851 mph, set on his second of 26 laps. The four drivers behind him varied a bit, but not so much. It was most mostly were the same drivers … until the last half hour, when it got fast, furious and frantic. Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda was the first to break into the top five, jumping into second place, and then joined by another Andretti driver – Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.DHL Honda. At one point, all three of the Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolets were in the top five, and two of them took turns having the fastest No Tow time.

Daly attended a post-session Media Conference. He was so excited he was trying to do an Instagram story, and Marco kept calling him, so Daly put him on Facetime to join the conference. Daly said “I’m just super thankful to be here, honestly. It’s incredible to be a part of this team. Obviously super successful here. The U.S. Air Force, that’s the group that made it happen for me, and that’s awesome. We’ve just been working away at it. It’s certainly interesting tomorrow to see what’s going to happen. I think no-tow wise, everyone is closer than we expected really manufacturer wise. I think there’s a little bit of a difference there for sure, but the Honda guys are working super hard, and I’ve been super happy with my group and our engine and our car. We’re just step by step, one change at a time, trying to make this thing go as fast as possible, and we’ll see what happens tomorrow, obviously.”

During the conference, Daly got the news that he was first out of the box Saturday for Qualifying. The order draw took place during the conference. There are 68 cars, including all the T/backup cars.

No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda

Crew Chief Ziggy Harcus & Team Owner Michael Andretti

Conor Daly No.25 Andretti Autosport Honda

Left to Right: Conor Daly No.25 Honda; Crew Chief Paul ‘Ziggy’ Harcus & Team Owner Micheal Andretti; and Conor Daly No.25 Honda.

At the end of the day, the top five overall were Daly, Andretti, Sato, Spencer Pigot/No.21 AutoGeek Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, and Ryan Hunter-Reay. Sixth through tenth were Ed Carpenter/No.20 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Charlie Kimball/No.23 Fiasp Carlin Chevrolet, Josef Newgarden/No.2 Shell V-Power Nitro Plus Team Penske Chevrolet, and Ed Jones/No.63 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet. The top Rookie was Santino Ferrucci/No.19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Dale Coyne Racing Honda, in nineteenth place.

Mario Andretti and grandson Marco Andretti/No.98 Honda

No.30 Takuma Sato RHLL Honda

No.28 RHR Andretti Autosport Honda

Left to Right: Mario Andretti and grandson Marco Andretti; Takuma Sato No.30 Honda; and Ryan Hunter-Reay No.28 Honda.

The top drivers with No Tow speeds were Jones, Carpenter, Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda, 2018 Indy 500 Winner-Will Power/No.12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet, and Pagenaud. Sixth through tenth were: Graham Rahal/No.15 United Rentals Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Andretti, Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Newgarden, and Rookie Colton Herta/No.88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda.

Graham Rahal/No.15 United Rentals Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda has been playing chicken with the wall this week, narrowly missing it by micro-measurements. He finally grazed it Friday afternoon with about an hour plus left in the session. He kept going and pitted, finishing 22nd, with a best lap of 229.449 on Lap 8 of his 41.

Sage Karam’s No.24 DRR Wix Filters Dreyer Reinbold Racing Chevrolet got a workout Friday. Both DRR drivers had a go in it, with JR Hildebrand shaking it down for for five laps. Karam ending up thirteenth overall at 229.932 mph on his last of 43 laps.

Juncos Garage

Juncos  Salvage Yard

Not surprising that every drive, save one, turned his/her fastest times Friday. The one exception was Kyle Kaiser/No.32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet, who only turned one lap.

Kaiser hit the Turn Three wall and performed an aerobatic spin and flip, similar to that of yesterday’s crash by Rookie Patricio O’Ward/No.31 Carlin Chevrolet. Kaiser was unhurt and cleared to drive. His car was not, and after assessment, the team decided to rebuild its backup car, the one Kaiser drove at COTA earlier this year. It is a painted, not wrapped car. After being checked out in the Medical Center, he said “I’m fine. I’m grateful for the technology and safety that’s built into these cars – that was a big hit; I felt it.” He was 26th overall at the time of the accident. The car gouged the track, which needed quick fix. No doubt a more lasting repair will be done overnight.

Team Owner Ricardo Juncos said “We are very grateful that our driver Kyle (Kaiser) was not injured and safely walked away from the massive hit he experienced today at IMS. As everyone knows this has been a very intense month for our NTT IndyCar Series program. Despite off track set backs, that has not stopped this team from going out and performing during practice this week. We have been up to the Top-5 in no tow speeds and have consistently improved our times each day. Now we are faced with the challenge of getting our back-up car on track and set for qualifying tomorrow, but I am completely confident in this amazing group we have here at Juncos Racing to make it happen. This group will not stop working until we get our #32 back on track. We want to thank all of the teams who are willing to help out with parts, Chevrolet, and the fans who have stopped by to express their well wishes. We will be working hard all day and night.”

Nearly all the NTT IndyCar Series teams have offered help and parts, said a team spokesperson. “That’s what is so nice about the IndyCar family.”

McLaren Garage

Another rebuilt car which is painted, not wrapped, is the No.66 McLaren Chevrolet for Fernando Alonso. The team admitted the paint was still wet when they bolted on parts this morning. Alonso was one of the first cars on course Friday morning, after missing all day Thursday while the team built/rebuilt its backup car. Alonso was 24th overall, with 77 laps, with his fastest speed of 228.328 mph on his last lap. He was 30th for No Tow, at 226.869 mph. He turned the second most laps of any driver, right behind Rookie Ben Hanley/No.81 10 Star Dragon Speed Chevrolet, who ran 81 laps. He finished last.

Frnando Alonso

Gil de Ferran

Fernando Alonso

Left to Right: Fernando Alonso; Gil de Ferran; and Fernando Alonso.

Alonso attended the post-session conference, along with McLaren Sporting Director, Gil de Ferran. Alonso made light of having so many tires at his disposal. “Yeah, it was frustrating”, not being able to get out at all on Thursday. But yeah, nothing we could do at that point; yeah, having that extra time to check everything and to be ready. It was frustrating, but at the same time, as I said before, we saved a lot of tires that we were able to set up the car today maybe in a more — in a better way.

“It was a positive day for us (Friday), and we were able to put the car on track and try different directions on the setup and learn a little bit about the track and the day. Obviously, the boost was up today, so the speeds were higher, and it was more a qually (qualifying) preparation than race setups. But we had a lot of new tires from the last couple of days. So, we were able to do a lot of runs, and hopefully, that information will give us tomorrow a little bit of confidence into qualifying.”

De Ferran said ” I think certainly yesterday, as you said, was a difficult day for everyone. Like I said earlier, we’re a new crew. We respect this place a lot. So we wanted to make sure that we put the car together the best way possible. Obviously that took longer than we expected, and I guess having been here before, I’m very aware — I was very aware of the importance of being out on the racetrack, both from Fernando’s perspective and for the development of the car. We had a few guys in the crew that have done Indy car before. Dallara was very helpful throughout. But still, there’s a lot of things that we had to learn, and we’re still learning. Certainly not being a team that does this full-time, we’re in a very steep learning curve despite all the support that we’ve been getting from many different places.”

De Ferran was non-committal about plans going forward, such as what would happen to the IndyCar. “We haven’t made that decision yet.”

This year’s Double Duty will be performed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. The retired NASCAR driver and current NBC Sports motorsports analyst will drive the 2019 Grand Sport Official Pace Car for the start of the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. He will drive the Pace Car and then be in the booth for the television broadcast, being aired by NBC for the first time. Earnhardt has practice on the track, as a Cup driver in the Brickyard 400 and last year as Pace Car for said race. It will be his first time in the booth for an Indycar race. Corvette has been the Indy 500 Pace Car fifteen times, more than any other brand or vehicle.

2019 Corvette Pace Car

103rd INDIANAPOLIS 500 presented by Gainbridge Qualifying Order
Driver
#25 Daly
#21 Pigot
#27 Rossi
#30T Sato
#20 Carpenter
#18 Bourdais
#22T Pagenaud
#77T Servia
#14 Kanaan
#98 Andretti
#23 Kimball
#32T Kaiser
#12 Power
#88T Herta
#5T Hinchcliffe
#81 Hanley
#59 Chilton
#19T Ferrucci
#48T Hildebrand
#60 Harvey
#2T Newgarden
#19 Ferrucci
#21T Pigot
#66T Alonso
#60T Harvey
#7 Ericsson
#33 Davison
#18T Bourdais
#25T Daly
#33T Davison
#4T Leist
#9T Dixon
#63 Jones
#30 Sato
#22 Pagenaud
#14T Kanaan
#39 Mann
#24T Karam
#66 Alonso
#7T Ericsson
#24 Karam
#26T Veach
#42 King
#3 Castroneves
#2 Newgarden
#77 Servia
#9 Dixon
#81T Hanley
#5 Hinchcliffe
#31 O’Ward
#39T Mann
#15 Rahal
#10T Rosenqvist
#4 Leist
#48 Hildebrand
#28T Hunter-Reay
#15T Rahal
#12T Power
#3T Castroneves
#20T Carpenter
#28 Hunter-Reay
#32 Kaiser
#10 Rosenqvist
#98T Andretti
#27T Rossi
#88 Herta
#63T Jones
#26 Veach

HERE WE GO AGAIN!

Thursday was off to a warm and sunny start. There was a thin opaque haze everywhere, but it was 71F ambient and 91F on the track. The breeze was just waking up. As the afternoon progressed, it got darker and windier. The temps reached 79F ambient, with 100F on track. At 4:29pm the Lightning alert came and everyone was told to evacuate and excute one’s own personal plan. Ten minutes later the rain came down. At 5:26pm power went out in the Media Center. Fortunately, not for long. Welcome to Indiana – all four seasons in one day.

Patricio O'Ward's backup car

Patricio O’Ward’s backup car

Track wise, an hour and 17 minutes into the seven-hour practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there was yet another crash, in Turn 2. Patricio O’Ward/No.31 Carlin Chevrolet is unhurt, but the rookie will probably have some down time while the Carlin crew goes to work on the backup (road course) car. O’Ward said he’s OK, a bit sore and really disappointed. He has been cleared to drive, as have the other two/Wednesday accident victims. The 19-year old was quite shaken when the TV crew showed him the crash video for the first time.

Patricio O'Ward's No.31 Carlin Chevrolet - BEFORE

Patricio O’Ward’s No.31 Carlin Chevrolet – BEFORE

The accident was spectacular, with him spinning and hitting the right side concrete wall hard left side and flipping up. He was air borne and teetered in the air balancing on the left front wheel, before the car landed hard on all four wheels. It didn’t do a complete flip, but nearly. The good news is that the well-build IndyCar held up and did all that it was designed to do, safety-wise. The team quickly went to work preparing teammate Max Chilton’s road course car for Pato.

McLaren Garage

Scott Goodyear

Meanwhile, back in the garages, the McLaren Racing team were working away on their backup car. At 1:10pm, McLaren Team Owner, Zach Brown, it would be another two hours or so. He said driver, Fernando Alonso, is in great spirits. Earlier in the day, seven-time NASCAR Cup Champion, Jimmie Johnson, visited with his buddy Alonso, and they did some filming. Scott Goodyear, former IndyCar driver and TV motorsports broadcaster, is working with the team this month as a consultant. Goodyear said Alonso seemed quite fit and fine this morning – not sore. Goodyear will spot for Alonso. Spotters are used in Practice, in Turn One and in Turn Three.

McLaren Garage - mid afternoon

Later, Tim Bampton, Group Communications Director for McLaren Technology Group, said that the car was still being prepped, and the plan was to get out today, although he wasn’t sure when. The team doesn’t have a US base, per se, and are working out of a shop in Brownsburg IN and the track garage. The team brought over crew from England and hired locals, so it’s about a 50-50 mix at this point, with team members coming from England, New Zealand and America. Bampton did draw a connection to his (one-off British-based) team to the full season, Indianapolis-based Ganassi team working on the damaged car of Rookie Felix Rosenqvist/No.10 NTT DATA Honda, saying it wasn’t as easy for his team as Ganassi’s team to repair in a timely fashion.

The No.10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda of Rookie Felix Rosenqvist was repaired after Wednesday’s crash. The crew worked long into the night and it was ready Thursday for track time. He turned 41 laps and was thirty-fourth overall out of 35 drivers, and his best lap was near the end of his run.

Ed Jones

Ed Jones/No.63 Scuderia Corsa Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet was fastest most of the day. His best speed was 227.843 mph on Lap 8 of the 37 he ran. He also had the fastest No Tow speed of 224.957 mph. He said it was different driving on a team where the owner is also a driver. He said “It was a great day! To be quickest in overall and no-tow is a goal. More importantly, I think we made more gains with the handling of the car. As the conditions have changed, we’ve been able to keep up. We just have to keep adapting to the track changes for tomorrow and for qualifying. With the rain, the grip level may come down a bit, so it’s all about optimizing the car for the track conditions.”

Thirty-five of 36 drivers were on course. Alonso was the only one who missed the Thursday session.O’Ward has turned the fewest laps of all drivers-94. Having run only two (one 1/2) days of the three, Alonso’s total is 96.Those two were the only drivers with double digit totals. Everyone else reached triple digit numbers. Spencer Pigot/No/No.21 AutoGeek Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet turned the most laps – 302.

The overall top five drivers were Jones, Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Zach Veach/No.26 Gainbridge Andretti Autosport Honda, Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda, and Top Rookie Colton Herta/No.88 Harding Steinbrenner Honda. Of those, Sato and Bourdais had led very early on, for a short while, before Jones took the top slot.

Will Power/No.12 Verizon 5G Team Penske Chevrolet remains the top driver overall, with a speed of 229.745 mph. The overall top Rookie is Santino Ferruci/No.19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Dale Coyne Racing Honda. Power sad “We tried some qualifying stuff, so we’re definitely narrowing in on what we need for setup. We still need to make the racecar a bit better. We’re going to go completely for qualifying stuff tomorrow and see how we run.”

There were four cautions, two for drivers and two for track inspections/debris. Total yellow time was . 40.57 minutes. The day effectively ended when the last caution was called for lightning near the track at 4:29pm. O’Ward’s caution was and the one for Pippa Mann/No.39 Driven2 Save Lives Clauson-Marshall Racing Chevrolet was so brief ithardly counted. She stalled on course but restarted before the emergency crew reached her. She experienced a vibration and was concerned. The team was still diagnosing but was hoping it was just a bad wheel weight.

Jack Harvey/No.60 AutoNation/Sirius XM Meyer Shank Racing Honda narrowly avoided any aftermath from Rosenqvist’s accident. Despite graphic TV footage showing debris heading his way, Harvey was able to avoid the flying missiles. Only one piece hit a rear panel, making a small dent.

AFP on No.3 Team Penske Chevrolet

AFP on No.3 Team Penske Chevrolet. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

According to NTT IndyCar Series Technical Director, Kevin Blanch, aka ‘Rocket’- no driver has had his or her AFP tested since they were first installed on the race cars at the Open Test last month. The Advanced Frontal Protection device is now mandated on all cars, until the next iteration of driver safety has evolved. IndyCar has promised the AFP is just in its first stages, and something new is coming soon. Maybe we’ll have some news on Carb Day. The mission of the AFP is to protect the driver from low, broadside projectiles. The current device is a 3 inch tall titanium deflector built by Dallara and bolted onto the leading edge of the chassis. It’s thinner than the Halo, which is mandated in F1 and FE. The Halo wouldn’t work on the current IndyCar. All IndyCar teams buy their deflectors from Dallara, who makes them according to IndyCar specs.

AFP

Max Chilton No.59 AFP

Zach Veach No.26 AFP

It’s been great to see IndyCar driver Robert Wickens whipping around in his manually-operated wheelchair.

Robert Wickens

Robert Wickens
He’s quite often seen in the Pit Lane, with the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team. Sometimes he hitches a ride with a traveling golf cart. He said he’s up at 5am for rehab and then goes to the track in time for practice, which is getting a bit tiring. He’s helping out his four teammates.

Robert Wickens hitchin' a ride

WELCOME TO INDIANAPOLIS! FOUR SEASONS IN ONE DAY.

Thunderstorm

OOPS!

NO.66 MCLAREN

Fernando Alonso/No.66 McLaren Racing Chevrolet had the first accident during practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500. He hit the Turn Three walls at 12:34pm while he was running sixteenth of 36 drivers, behind Graham Rahal/No.15 United Rentals Rahal Letterman Linage Racing Honda. Alonso is not hurt, he got out of the car on his own power, with a smile; but, as per protocol for anyone who hits the wall, he was checked out at the Medical Center. The car came back on the rollback truck, looking worse for the wear.

Alonso said “It was understeer on the car, and even if I lifted the throttle on the entry of the corner, it was not enough, and I lost completely the front aero. The wall came too close and too quickly. Unfortunately it happened today. We will lose a little bit of running time again. I’m sorry for the team, but we will learn and hopefully we will come back stronger tomorrow. I’m disappointed and sad for the team and for the guys.

“We worked quite a lot on the car and definitely now it’s quite damaged, so I feel sorry for the team and for my mistake. We will learn from this and hopefully tomorrow we’re back on track and back stronger.”

Alonso said the car wasn’t loose. “No, I think it was just pure understeer that I didn’t expect. I was running a bit close to another car and suddenly mid-corner I lost completely the front grip. I tried to lift off and avoid the wall.”

After the car was parked in the garage, McLaren Sporting Director Gil de Ferran said that the team would make a decision in an hour or so as to rebuilding their primary McLaren-built car or go to a backup car from Carlin, which isn’t finished yet.

It took less than an hour for the team to indicate they would be rebuilding their car.

The ongoing track session stopped for cleanup, and there was a mass exodus from the pit lane to the garages. It was a natural break for lunch. The track was down for 25 minutes. It was about 70 degreesF with track temperature of over 100. There wasn’t much of a breeze.

Alonso said his Wednesday progress “felt much better than yesterday. Definitely we were moving in the right direction. Small steps that we learned today that hopefully we can bring for next time. I’m sorry for the guys.”

Alonso was philosophical about his mindset now that there was a lot of work to be done. “Nothing you can do. These things happen in motorsport. Better today than on the 26th. Let’s see what we can do tomorrow.” He had run 46 laps before the accident.

Garage Crowd Control

NTT IndyCar Tech Crew observing

It was a crowd scene in the garages, even before the tow truck arrived. People started running to the McLaren garage as soon as the accident occurred. Many media hot-footed it through Gasoline Alley, and all the TV folks arrived on their golf carts. The ubiquitous Yellow Shirts with whistles showed up to direct traffic, keeping everyone on the opposite side of the garages. In true F1-fashion, as soon as the race car was off-loaded, the garage doors immediately came down. McLaren is the only team with a privacy screen, which is so common in F1. Meanwhile, down the road from McLaren, all the NTT IndyCar Scrutineers were closely observing the whole scene.

Perhaps it was a bit ironic that a loose dangling body panel said “A whiter smile faster.”

MCLAREN LOGO

WARMING UP

This is May Wall Art

“This is May” Wall Art. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Although it was only 57 degrees F at Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday mid-morning, it seemed warmer than Frigid Friday … at first. Then the wind kicked it up a notch. With the sun full out and shining brightly, it was deceptive. By the time for the half-hour NTT IndyCar Series warm-up on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course, there were clouds moving in over the front straight grand stands. One popular place in the sunshine was posing in front of the big “This is May” wall art hanging at the base of the Pagoda, near Victory Circle.

Rookie Colin Herta/No.88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda was the fastest in the morning warmup session, at 1:09.2003/126.884 mph. He was among several leaders, but held the position the longest and to the end. Other fast drivers included Helio Castroneves/No.3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet, Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda, and Max Chilton/No.59 Carlin Chevrolet. All drivers were faster in the second practice than Saturday’s warmup.

Second through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda teammates-Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic and Graham Rahal/No.15 Mi-Jack, and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 GEICO Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

Graham Rahal

Max Chilton

Sebastien Bourdais

Left to Right: Graham Rahal, Sebastien Bourdais, and Max Chilton. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Carlin Racing cars, No.31 Patricio O'Ward and No.59 Max Chilton Chevrolet

All but one of the drivers went out. Chilton’s Rookie teammate, Patricio O’Ward/No.31 Carlin Chevrolet was suited up in the pits but didn’t go out. He has consistently turned the fewest laps. The team said there were alternator issues, they were being fixed and O’Ward would able to race. O’Ward told NBC TV “It’s been a crappy weekend.” His Carlin teammate has been out for every session, turned more laps, and was fastest for a bit Saturday. For the Indy 500 there will be a third driver joining Carlin – another part-timer like O’Ward. That would be Charlie Kimball, who will drive No.23 Flasp Carlin Chevrolet.

O’Ward has joined the Red Bull Junior Team, a driver development team formed in 2001. From it have come several F1 drivers including Pierre Gasly, Christian Klein, Daniil Kvyat, Daniel Riccardo, Max Verstappen, and Sebastian Vettel. Red Bull sponsors the drivers in lower formula series. There currently are ten drivers on the team. O’Ward will continue out his partial IndyCar season with Carlin Racing. He said he joined the RBJT with “the intention of keeping the possibilities open to expand his racing portfolio in the future.” Reportedly, Christian Horner, principal for Red Bull F1 Racing team, confirmed O’Ward has enough points to qualify for a FIA Super Licence, which is required to race F1. Carlin said O’Ward earned 15 of the required 40 points by winning the 2018 Indy Lights Championship. The whole handling of Super Licences is governed by Appendix L of the FIA Sporting Code, and Supplement 1. Stay tuned.

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport has been battling an awful case of food poisoning this weekend. However, he was well enough to run as high as second before finishing 12th in the session. He said he was feeling a lot better.

Robert Wickens

Robert Wickens and friend

A welcome sight in the garages was Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport driver, Robert Wickens, who was in a wheelchair. He was engrossed in a convo, so I was unable to ask him about the special exo suit he was using in his rehabilitation.

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Garage

Chip Ganassi Racing Garage

A.J. Foyt Racing Garage

This year another team has adopted the sideways garage format for the race cars, emulating the style started by Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports last year. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing now is using it. They also are adopting what all the F1 teams have been doing for awhile – decorating the back wall of the garage mural style. Other teams doing it are Chip Ganassi Racing and AJ Foyt Racing, as well as Clauson-Marshall Racing.

One of the busiest garages Saturday morning, in the bright sunshine, was Firestone’s. They were busy prepping rain tires for the teams.

Firestone Garage

Firestone Rain Tires

Most of the Gasoline Alley garages have their signage up and displaying. However, Garages 14 and 15 are noticeably bare, for the time being. They belong to Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, who have one more driver to announce, for No.77 Honda. That announcement is scheduled for 5pm Monday at Gate One at the track. Some people reckon it might be Oriol Servia, who was seen at the recent Honda test at IMS, in a team suit. As they say – film at 11.

Garage 14

Inside Garage 14

The weather started changing early afternoon, with a total cloud cover in place before the afternoon festivities started. Maybe the weather is responsible for the Internet poltergeists who have been jijacking bandwidth, leaving folks without email for hours on end and otherwise disrupting valuable media functions.

Pagoda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Pagoda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

ROOKIES RULE!

Colin Herta. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Colin Herta. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Rookie Colin Herta/No.98 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda grabbed the top spot for the second NTT IndyCar Series practice Friday noon for the IndyCar Grand Prix, turning a 1:08.0393 for 129.049 mph. He said “I’m super happy!” And again it was breezy and cold-53 degrees F. Ask any photographer who was out for the 45-minute session. Brrr.

Rookie Felix Rosenqvist/No.10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was second fastest, followed by Spencer Pigot/No.21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 GEICO Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan Honda, and Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.All but Dixon led the laps at once time or another, with Herta holding on the longest. Also fastest at one point early on was Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

Sebastien Bourdais

Scott Dixon

Takuma Sato

Left to Right: Sebastien Bourdais; Scott Dixon; and Takuma Sato. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

All but two of the drivers eclipsed the morning fastest time, and all 24 were fastest in the second practice than the first. Again, it was double-digit laps, from 13-23. Rosenqvist turned the most laps in each session, for a total of 46.

Ed Jones. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Marcus Ericsson

Santino Ferrucci

There was one brief Red Flag for Ed Jones/No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Scuderia Corsa Chevrolet when he ran out of gas and didn’t quite make Pit Row. Otherwise the session was uneventful.

Four of the five Rookies were in the top 11 drivers: Marcus Ericsson/No.7 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda was ninth, and Santino Ferrucci/No.19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Dale Coyne Racing Honda was eleventh.

Helio CastronevesToday is the big 44 for Helio Castroneves/No.3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet. Happy Birthday, Helio!

Next up is qualifying and the Firestone Fast Six.

ROSSI ROCKETS … and OTHER RESULTS

IMG_3158

Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda has the pole for Sunday’s Acura Grand Prix at Long Beach with a 1:06.4811/106.569 mph, a flyer lap he’d started when the Checkered Flag flew. Rossi is last year’s winner, from the pole. This is Rossi’s fifth career pole, and three of those five poles ended up with a victory. This was the fortieth IndyCar pole for Andretti Autosport. Rossi said “This pole was exponentially harder to win than last year’s … so this one was more special.”

Rossi nosed by Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda who was looking to be on pole. While the top four of the Firestone Fast Six ran in the 1:06’s, the 2017 record of 106.2254/106.980 mph set by Helio Castroneves still holds.

The top six qualifiers are: Rossi; Dixon; the three Team Penske Chevrolets of Will Power/No.12 Verizon, Josef Newgarden/No.2 Hitachi, and Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology; and Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. So it’s three Hondas and three Chevrolets on top. They all went out on the Red/Optional Firestone tires. Rossi ran two sets of reds in the Firestone Fast Six.

Alexander Rossi

Scott Dixon

Will Power

Josef Newgarden

Simon Pagenaud

Graham Rahal

In the Fast Six Presser, the drivers were all in such good moods and joking among themselves that it was questioned. Such camaraderie is not prevalent in other top tier series. They all seemed surprised by the question. “Of course we’re happy. We made the Firestone Fast Six.” It’s become a trite, but true, opinion that the IndyCar Series is such a competitive series with so many top drivers, that with such tight racing, any number of drivers could win – unlike F1 for example. So when drivers make the Fast Six, they are happy.

The fastest Rookie was Patricio O’Ward/No.31 Carlin Racing Chevrolet, in ninth position. He made it to Segment Two, where he was in early on and then was bumped.

There were two Red Flags in qualifying, both for drivers hitting a wall. The first one was for Tony Kanaan/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet, in the first Segment, in Turn 6, and the second was Rookie Felix Rosenqvist/No.10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda in the second Segment. Each lost their two fastest laps as penalty. Both drivers admitted it was their fault, apologized, and are working to make up for it in tomorrow’s race.

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda was one of those who missed out of making the cut at the very last. ‘It was a bummer – definitely scratching our heads over that one.”

Felix Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa

Felix Albuquerque and Joao Barbosa

Felipe Albuquerque/No.5 Mustang Sampling Racing Cadillac won the BUBBA burger Sports Car Grand Prix at Long Beach race Saturday afternoon. His co-driver is Joao Barbosa. They ran the 73-lap race. The duo won last year’s race at Long Beach, and this is their first victory since that.

Dane Cameron & Juan Pablo Montoya

Dane Cameron & Juan Pablo Montoya

Second and third in class were the two Acura Team Penske Acuras, with pole sitters Ricky Taylor/No.7 and co-driver Helio Castroneves as runners-up, and Dane Cameron/No.6 and co-driver Juan Pablo Montoya coming in third.. There were eleven DP1 cars, and six finished on the lead laps. Nine of the 11 finished, with two out early on due to accidents. No one was hurt.

Winning the GTLM class was Earl Bamber/No.912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR with co-driver Laurens Vanthoor. Second and third were Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R teammates Jan Magnussen/No.3 with co-driver Antonio Garcia and No.4. Tommy Milner and Oliver Gavin. There were eight cars, with the three podium cars finishing on the lead lap, one lap down from the overall winners. One GTLM car retired on the last GTLM lap due to an accident on the white flag lap. Dirk Mueller/No.66 Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT was hit by a Corvette and hit the wall. Mueller’s co-driver was Sebastien Bourdais, loaned from the IndyCar Series to fill in for ailing Joey Hand.

Earl Bamber & Laurens Vanthoor

Earl Bamber & Laurens Vanthoor

In the Pirelli GT America Series, Spencer Pumpelly/No.66 TRG Porsche 718 Cayman CS MR has the pole position with a lap of 1:25.916/132.75 kph. Second and third were Team Panoz Avezzano GT4 drivers Ian James/No.50 and Matt Keegan. All drivers are from North America – 19 American men and one Canadian female. Several of the drivers are also running in the Historic IMSA GTO Race.

Matt Keegan, Spencer Pumpelly & Ian James

L-R: Matt Keegan, Spencer Pumpelly & Ian James

WHISTLIN’ DIXIE & HAVING FUN

Scott Dixon

NTT IndyCar Series driver, Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda topped the chart in the second practice Friday afternoon at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, with a time of 1:07.7940. The weather was sunny and warm, nearly 70 degrees F. “I think it was only an average run. I think I missed the timing line when I went to get the fast lap out of it. We ran long, and the grip felt high, but I made a pretty big mistake in the first two laps.”

Dixon was one of four drivers who broke into the 1:07 area in the final five minutes of the 45-minute session. They were: Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda, Rookie Felix Rosenqvist/No.10 NTT Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, and Joseph Newgarden/No.2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet were the other drivers. Of those four, all but Felix, the top Rookie in the session, were at the top once during the session.

Rounding out the top ten were: Rookie Patricio O’Ward/No 31 GESS Carlin Chevrolet; Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda; Graham Rahal/No.15 Total Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; Simon Pagenaud/No.DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet; James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; and Marco Andretti/No.98 U.S. Concrete/Curb Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb-Agajanian Honda. Say that fast five times.

Patricio O'Ward

O’Ward practically ran into the post-session media conference. RHR was asked if he was smirking at it. He said “He’s enjoying himself. You got to love it. He’s got that talent. He’s got the fire to do it. That’s what it’s about. It’s cool to see, for sure. Yeah, the more you go to press conferences, the slower the entrance becomes, I’m not sure how that goes.” O’Ward was then asked if he was actually having fun out there. “You have to be having fun doing this. I mean, I feel like if you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it, right? You have to enjoy it. You have to have fun where you’re at.

But I think it’s just a place that everybody likes to come to because of the energy around this place. I’ve never been here, but today is a Friday, man, and the paddock is full. The stands are, like, packed. I’ve never seen a Friday so full in my life.

It’s cool. It’s really cool. I wonder what it’s going to be like Sunday. So, I mean, I think Ryan knows better than I do, but I’m super excited.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay

Hunter-Reay responded” Yeah, it’s excellent. Don’t mistake what he’s saying. He’s not out there giggling while he’s on the track. He’s enjoying it because it ticks every box off for a driver that you want. You have the passion; you have the energy from the fans. The track is challenging you as a driver. It has that aspect to it that you really enjoy, you can’t wait to get back in the car.”

Mathew Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet was one of those drivers who found the 1.968-11-turn street course challenging. He drove into the Turn 9 runoffs area early on in the session, bringing out a Red Flag, for which he received a five-minute penalty – for causing the Red Flag. “We had a great Practice 1 here, but unfortunately in the second session, I think the higher temperatures and the setup that I had didn’t work well together. I had too much oversteer on turn-in, which doesn’t help you to go faster.” That was the only drama in the session, although Dixon admitted he probably hit the wall three-four times ‘just lightly’ during the session. He said “The course is very difficult. It’s quite a technical circuit, hard to piece it together. I think any street course, it’s very easy to get caught out. You’re constantly just rubbing the walls or getting close.”

Leist and two other Rookies – Colton Herta/No.88 Harding Steinbrenner Racing Honda and Santino Ferrucci/No.19 David Yurman Dale Coyne Racing were the only drivers who were faster in the morning session. Everyone else went faster in the warmer afternoon.

Sebastien Bourdais, who races No.18 Sealmaster Honda for Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser-Sullivan in IndyCars is also racing the No.66 factory Ford GT for Chip Gannassi Racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship this weekend. He is filling in for Joey Hand, who is ill. Dixon was asked in the post-session conference if he would have taken the opportunity if Ganassi called him. Dixon paused, and said “Chip did call.” Big stunned silence. “You said no?” Dixon – “I said, Call me back if you get stuck.”

In the Historic IMSA GTO qualifying session, Craig Bennett of Wixom MI got the pole in No.3 1990 Chevrolet Beretta. Second was Joel Miller of Oakbro IL in No. 62 1991 Mazda RX7 and Pieter Baljet in his 1990 Chevrolet Beretta. These cars are required to have run five races at five different tracks in a single year, and be outfitted with the original livery as it was period run. They have a 20-minute race Saturday at 5 pm.

IMSA GTO Podium Qualifiers

Left to Right: Keith Freiser, Craig Bennett and Joel Miller.

RHR & DIXON WIN!

RHR Champagne shower/Nico

Confetti:Cup:Champion/Pablo

Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda won the race, and Scott Dixon/No.9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing won the Championship. It was 18th career win for RHR. It was the fifth career Championship for Dixon. It was the 14th and last Verizon IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

Scott Dixon & Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Scott Dixon & Ryan Hunter-Reay. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Neither driver was seriously challenged for his particular victory, and both only lost their particular positions when cycling through pit stops. Pole sitter Hunter-Reay never ran lower than third overall. Dixon ran comfortably in second for most of the race, save for a brief spell early on when he ran fourth, and for several laps when he ran ninth after a pit stop 25 laps from the end.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Ryan Hunter-Reay

RHR led three times for 80 of the 85 lap race. He said “To end this way is unreal. I dedicate this win to Robby Wickens. We’re all with him. We wish he were here today. He would have made my race harder for sure. Today was great. I felt like the race just didn’t want to end. I guess that’s what happens when you spend the whole day out front. Any time I needed the pace to put it down, we leaped out to a lead. I was able to maintain that. Hats off to this team.”

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon

Dixon has won all five championships for Chip Ganassi Racing and with Mike Hull as his strategist. He said “It’s all about the people. I’m just the lucky one who got to carry the car across the line today. I can’t believe that it’s actually happened. I can’t thank everybody enough for this, it’s so cool! This doesn’t come without a lot of hard work. We had a lot of grit. We had a lot of things that could’ve gone wrong today.”

Chip Ganassi

Chip Ganassi

Chip Ganassi said “He’s the guy on the track, off the track. If you take a piece of stone, inject some brains into it, chisel it out, it’s Scott Dixon. He’s just the man.”

“I’m so, so lucky to have the group of people I get to work with every day, show up on the weekends, be a part of this team. I can’t tell you what the team means to me, what it means to be a part of a team.”

“When you talk about records – A.J., Mario, all these guys – obviously Scott’s name is in that group now.”

Mike Hull

Mike Hull

Mike Hull said “When you win a race, it validates who you are. When you win a championship, it defines the culture of not only the people that all of you saw today at the racetrack, both for the 9 and 10 car team, they fully support each other, but all the people in the building, then all the partners.

“That culture continues to grow. It never gets old. It just feeds on itself. As you go through time, we’ve gone through 12 of these championships now, there’s very few of us left that were here in 1996 at Laguna Seca when we won our first championship. But some of us still are. Now the millennial group that’s coming in to work for us are well-mentored. We had a few of them working for us today on the 9 car. That’s really gratifying.”

Alexander Rossi and pack. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Alexander Rossi and pack. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The start didn’t go well for Contender Alexander Rossi/No.27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Andretti Autosport Honda, who had the best chance of beating Dixon for the Championship. Rossi was running behind teammate, Marco Andretti/No.93 U.S. Concrete/Curb, who appeared to brake check. Rossi rear-ended him, damaging his front wing and punctured a tire. Rossi shortcut the course at Turn 7 on his way back to the pits, where his crew changed his wing and tires. He said “I don’t know what happened on the first lap. After the mistake I made the crew worked hard to get me on my way.” He rejoined the race in last place, and worked his way back onto the lead lap. This started his slow path and then accelerated charge through the field. Rossi ran as high as fifth near the end of the race, before his worn tires slowed him. He finished seventh overall, 53 points behind Dixon for second place in the standings.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi

Rossi said “It’s very unfortunate what happened in Turn 1 on Lap 1. It’s a situation I’m sure we’ll all replay a lot of times but, at the end of the day, it’s been a good 2018 and I am very appreciative for all the support we’ve had this year. We came pretty close and we’ll work on the things we need to be better on and come back stronger next year.”

Andretti said ” I would’ve liked it to have gone a bit better. Rossi was amazingly quick and we tried to make it easy on him out of the pits and give him a shot. It was pretty cool of them; they knew I gave them the position, and they gave it back there at the end, so we were able to come out with a top five.”

Dixon’s reaction to the the Rossi-Andretti incident – “I don’t know. With IndyCar racing, you think somebody that has a problem in the first corner, they tend to go on and win the race. (as Dixon did at the last race in Portland.) I’m like, Oh, no. I’ve been in that situation. I’m like, Please, let that not be today.”

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Contender Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet started seventh and worked his way up to first by Lap 17 when the leaders pitted. He fell back when pitting, never further than sixth, and mostly ran third-fifth overall. Power led twice, for four laps. He finished third overall. He said “”It was a really good race for the No. 12 Verizon team. We had a really, really fast car. I think if we would have started farther up front, we would have had a chance to win. It was a good year though. Roger (Penske) got his 500th win today. (Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski/No.2 Autotrader Ford won the NASCAR Cup Playoffs race in Las Vegas.) We won the Indy 500. We won the 200th INDYCAR race for Team Penske. We won the Brickyard 400. Just couldn’t get the championship here. But overall, it was a good year for Team Penske.”

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Josef Newgarden. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Contender/Defending Champion Josef Newgarden/No.1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet didn’t fare as well as is fellow Contender/teammate. He started third, and led once for a lap, but mostly ran between seventh and ninth. Newgarden finished the race in eighth position. He said “”It was not a great day. It really all started with the first pit stop. We just had a mistake in trying to get out and I stalled it. It kind of ruined the whole day from that point there on. It was tough to recover after that. I think we had a lot of potential today and we could have contended for the win, but it was too hard to come back.”

Finishing fourth through sixth were Simon Pagenaud/No.22 DXC Technology Team Penske Chevrolet, Andretti, and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 SealMaster Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

Patricio O'Ward

Patricio O’Ward

Patricio O'Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Patricio O’Ward. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The top Rookie was Patricio O’Ward/No.8 Harding Group Chevrolet, in ninth place. He started fifth, but fell back early on, which he said was due to tires. “It’s just really hard when you first go on those reds, they’re so soft, you really have to know how to manage them. For the second reds that I got, I did a way better job. Like I say, it’s just things that you have to learn in the moment. I learned a lot of things today. I know a lot more than what I came into the weekend with.” The young Mexican driver slowly worked his way back to the top ten by Lap 60, where he ran for the rest of the race.

There was only one five-lap caution to retrieve a stranded Graham Rahal/No.15 TOTAL Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. “The car just quite on me” he said. The battery exploded. Once towed to the pits, the team determined it was battery-related and got him back on course. He finished twenty-third, 19 laps down.

Two drivers retired with mechanical problems – Rahal’s RLL teammate, Takuma Sato/No.30 Mi-Jack Panasonic Honda – mechanical failure; and Spencer Pigot/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet with gearbox issues. Both Sato and Pigot have re-signed with their respective teams.

Four drivers were assessed penalties. Matheus Leist/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet got a Drive Through penalty for avoidable contact with Carlos Munoz/No.6 Arrows SPM Honda in Turn 11. Rookie Zach Veach/No.26 Group 1001 Andretti Autosport Honda had to yield a position to Rookie Jordan King/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing. Two drivers will receive post race monetary fines for Pit Safety infractions – Carlin Racing teammates, Matt Chilton/No.59 Gallagher Chevrolet and Charlie Kimball/No.23 Tresiba Chevrolet. Chilton hit equipment.

There had been a “brief delay” to the IndyCar start, due to the NASCAR race in Las Vegas still running its final laps. Then, the IndyCar coverage started on CNBC while NASCAR finally finished its beleaguered playoffs race. Once NASCAR was done, IndyCar reverted back to NBCSN. Must have wreaked havoc for those recording one or both, and/or keep watch both.

UNOFFICIAL RESULTS

1. (1) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 85, Running

2. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running

3. (7) Will Power, Chevrolet, 85, Running

4. (8) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running

5. (4) Marco Andretti, Honda, 85, Running

6. (11) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running

7. (6) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 85, Running

8. (3) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running

9. (5) Patricio O’Ward, Chevrolet, 85, Running

10. (14) Ed Jones, Honda, 85, Running

11. (20) Santino Ferrucci, Honda, 85, Running

12. (18) Tony Kanaan, Chevrolet, 85, Running

13. (25) Jordan King, Chevrolet, 85, Running

14. (10) Zach Veach, Honda, 85, Running

15. (15) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running

16. (13) Pietro Fittipaldi, Honda, 85, Running

17. (16) Jack Harvey, Honda, 85, Running

18. (22) Carlos Munoz, Honda, 85, Running

19. (23) Matheus Leist, Chevrolet, 85, Running

20. (19) Colton Herta, Chevrolet, 85, Running

21. (21) Max Chilton, Chevrolet, 84, Running

22. (24) Charlie Kimball, Chevrolet, 76, Running

23. (9) Graham Rahal, Honda, 66, Running

24. (17) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 38, Mechanical

25. (12) Takuma Sato, Honda, 15, Mechanical

Ryan Hunter-Reay & Scott Dixon

Top photo of Ryan Hunter-Reay by Pablo Matamoros. Top photo of Scott Dixon by Nico Matamoros. Bottom photo of RHR and Dixon by Nico Matamoros.

SUNNY SATURDAY

Wayward Wafting Fog

While the fog blanketed Highway #68 leading to WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, inside the track it was all sunny and bright. Except for a brief fog delay in the second session when a wayward belt of fog hit the Corkscrew, it was all systems go for the first of the two-day Pre-Reunion, gathering of vintage and historic race cars. More than 300 cars are gathered here for the run-up to next weekend’s four-day Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion. The race groups run the gamut, from cars dating back to 1947 through cars racing in 1984.

John Morton

This year the featured marque for the Rolex Reunion is Nissan and its illustrious racing history that dates back to its Datsun heritage. No one personifies this more than the venerable John Morton. He is racing No. 46CP 1970 Datsun 240Z in Group 5 for 1973-1981 FIA, IMSA GT, GTX, and GTU cars, alongside 38 other cars. His car has a place of honor in the paddock, all by itself near the gas pumps. It displays the race car, with the trailer insides set up as a mini-museum containing Morton Memorabilia – posters, helmets, driver suit, and more posters. The Stainless Steel Carrot written by Sylvia Wilkinson years ago, recently updated and reprinted, chronicles Morton’s racing odyssey.

Morton Helmets

John Morton #46 Datsun 240Z

Morton Memorabilia

Morton is also listed as the driver in No.51A 1973 March F5000 in Group 4. But, as those two races are back to back, he had to decline the F5000 ride. To his dismay. Although he is often thought of a sedan driver, Morton raced a F5000/Can Am car in the mid 1970’s.

F5000 Paddock

In the middle paddock there is a large gathering of F5000 cars, from all over the US as well as a large contingent flown and shipped from Down Under – New Zealand and Australia. There are 41 cars entered to celebrate their fiftieth anniversary. Here to help them celebrate is Ken Smith from New Zealand, long-time F5000 driver. Though his race career spans 60 years and he’s been to the track before, Smith has never raced it. He has an unbroken record of competing at a national level since the 1960’s. The only other driver with that distinction is West Coast driver, Eric Haga/No.8 1970 Lol R140. Smith’s last visit was in 2004 with then Indy Lights driver and fellow Kiwi, Scott Dixon.

Ken Smith

Ken Smith

Smith is racing No. 11 1975 Lola T332. After the Saturday morning session, Smith said he found the course interesting, and it will take him a bit of time to learn it. Some drivers have been here before and one of them pinged the radar gun in Turn 1 at 145 mph. Smith laughed that it wasn’t him.

Ken Smith's 1975  Lola T332  F5000

Michael Collins from New Zealand piloted his No.94 1972 GM McRae to victory, taking the lead on the penultimate lap of the 8-lap race. He bested fellow Kiwi, Steve Ross/No.5B in No.1972 Macrae GM1, who led the first six laps. A field of 35 took the green flag, and 29 finished the race.

During the Saturday afternoon F5000 race, Seb Coppola/No.12 1970 Lola T192 had an unfortunate meeting with Martin M. Fogel Jr/No.11T 1969 MCLaren M10A, and hit the Turn 11 exit wall, necessitating assistance from the SFR Emergency Crew. The drivers are alright, but Coppola’s Lola will need some TLC.

The Safety Car won more than one race Saturday afternoon. In Group 7 for FIA Manufacturers Championship Cars, Neil Alexander/No.1964 Porsche Platypus spun out in Turn 1 hitting the tire wall hard, dislodging the tires and rubber banding. Roger Cassin/No.256 1964 Elva Mk7S spun out evasive. That effectively ended that race. The drivers are alright. Heavy duty track equipment helped the SFR Course Marshals repair the damage.

The drivers were definitely eager to show their stuff this weekend. More than one group started racing before the green flag, sometimes three wide.

William Connor No.15 1971 Ford Mustang

William Connor No.15 1971 Ford Mustang

Group 6 for 1966-1972 Historic Trans-Am cars was lively, with three different leaders, with Chris Liebenberg/No.16 (116) 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 the winner of the nine-lap race. Other leaders were Jim Hague/No.16T (16) 1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302 John Hildebrand/No.49 1964 Pontiac Tempest/GTO and No.16T. This was a small field – only 14 of the 20 entries competed. It was a bit confusing as the two butterscotch-colored Mustangs had identical numbers. The only difference was the color of their wheels. A third butterscotch 1970 Mustang was No.15 raced by William Connor, who finished third in the race.

Sunday’s schedule calls for morning practice and afternoon races for al ten race groups.

F5000 Pack