POWERFUL PENSKE

INDYCARS headed to Pit Lane

Friday morning the Verizon INDYCAR Series race cars queued up and paraded out through Gasoline Alley to Pit Lane at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first session of the month – practice for the INDYCAR Grand Prix. This is the fourth year for the road course race, utilizing various infield portions of the Speedway, making it a 14-turn, 2.439-mile circuit. The weather was mostly cloudy for the 9:15am session, chilly, breezy, a wind chill factor of 55 degrees F. The session got off to an inauspicious start with a very early red flag for debris. The field has 13 Hondas and nine Chevrolets.

Will Power

Will Power. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet led the field Friday in the first practice. He turned his fastest lap of 1:09.3172 / 126.670 mph on his last lap as the checkered flag about to fly, rising to the top for the first time in the 45-minute session. Power edged past Joseph Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet who had been leading and led two other times; and Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, who was running third and had led twice earlier.

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

The qualifying track record is 1:08.6746 / 127.855 mph set last year by Power in the first round of knockout qualifying. Last year’s pole was 1:08.7696/127.832 mph, set by Simon Pagenaud, who went on to win the race. He also won the inaugural GP in 2014, with Will Power the 2015 winner.

Juan Pablo Montoya

Juan Pablo Montoya. Photo by Nico Matamoros.

Juan Pablo Montoya/No.22 Fitzgerald Kits Team Penske was seventh fastest, in his first INDYCAR race of the season, since he left Penske after the end of last season. “I got an idea this morning of what we needed out of the car, and I think it helps. Even though we screwed up in the first session.” Later, JPM joked that he had to come back and lighten things up for the team, as they were getting too serious.

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves. Photo by Nico Matamoros

Helio Castroneves/No.3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was twelfth. This weekend he is running the silver Verizon livery on the road course chassis. For the Indianapolis 500 he will run a new gold livery for Shell Fuel Rewards on the Speedway chassis. Travis Law, the Chief Mechanic for Castroneves’ car said that livery changes are labor intensive. The No.3 car has six different primary sponsors, which means six complete graphics changes for the driver, crew, and all equipment as well as the car. Everything changes. The Verizon car is a wrap, which takes about eight hours. Four of the guys in the Paint Shop help out with some specialized outside hired help. The special gold livery for the Indy 500 is painted on, with PPG help. PPG is one of the team’s sponsor and has been a great help with the technology as well as color design. It takes days to complete.

This weekend there also are three support races from the Mazda Road to Indy Grand Prix Presented by Royal Purple Supporting Lupus Foundation of America Series: Cooper Tires USF2000 Powered by Mazda; Pro Mazda Presented by Cooper Tires; and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires.

Indy Lights has a field of 14 drivers, from six countries and the US. Half the drivers are Rookies.

The Pro Mazda field is 15, with three countries and mostly US drivers represented. Ten are Rookies, and four are in the National Class – which means the driver either has an older spec car, or is older than a kid.

The largest support race group is the USF2000 field, with 23 drivers, including two women – the only group with female drivers. Ten countries are represented, plus the US, and 17 are Rookies. What fun! Five of those foreign drivers commute from home or another country, while the others have more local addresses.

Thursday was a test day for the Mazda Road to Indy Series, the three support races this weekend. Their sessions were run under cool, heavily-overcast skies. The track was wet from the Wednesday late night rain, but it dried quickly.

Friday’s schedule called for practice and qualifying for all four groups and races for the three support groups.

Mega delay in posting due to WiFi problems. So sorry. Universal Frustration.

CRUSIN’ CACTUS … CONCUSSION EVOLUTION … AND IT’S NOT OVER … UNTIL IT’S OVER

Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway for Race Day in the Desert. The sun is shining with a few picturesque clouds, the weather is hot with a nice breeze and all’s well at the track.

It’s a beautiful day to be out and about, taking it all in, cruisin’ in the desert. People are everywhere in the garages of the Verizon IndyCar Series, as well as checking out the IndyCar legends and USAC Silver Crown Cars. Tour guides are leading groups of people everywhere, showing the sights, explaining the intricacies of motorsports, and people watching. Here and there a driver, owner or celebrity might be sighted.

Bryan Sperber & Bill Patterson

Bryan Herta

Dale Coyne

Sam Schmidt

Derek Daly

Lyn St. James

Mikhail Aleshin

Graham Rahal Crew

Carlos Munoz

Dr. Terry Trammell

Dr. Terry Trammell

Dr. Terry Trammell is the IndyCar Drivers Medical Advocate and longtime member of the Indycar medical staff. He’s been providing trackside medical care since 1973 including orthopedic consultant to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and director of medical services for CART. He and Dr. Steve Olvey co-founded the CART Safety Team, and they are credited, among other things, with saving the life of Alex Zanardi when he suffered his horrific race crash. Trammell is a founding member of the International Council of Motorsports Science, and is a founding fellow of the FIA Institute for Motorsport Safety. He lectures on spinal injuries and conditions, and has written numerous articles in professional journals.

IndyCar was the first professional race series to institute baseline testing for concussions. This season Dr. Trammell, along with Dr. Geoffrey Billows, director of medical services at IMS and member of IndyCar medical team, and Dr. Michael Olinger, director of Indycar medical services, are working with and doing research on the latest iteration of this process. The three have been working with Dr. James Hoffer at the University of Miami on the VOMS test, which utilizes iPortalPAS goggles – somewhat similar to virtual reality. An interesting feature of the VOMS test is that it can’t be ‘gamed.’

The team started in January this year, collecting data from all the full-season IndyCar drivers, as part of their physicals. And the equipment, such as it is, now goes to all the IndyCar races so tests can be conducted on new or untested drivers by Trammell or Billows. Soon Olinger will be also conducting tests.

The collected information is compared, current symptoms to SCAT3. The test takes about 15 minutes and can be done on the sidelines. This test uses the goggles, and is not Operator-based, i.e. it is objective data on a computer, rather than subjective operator-based information. It is an extremely sensitive test in looking for prior problems. The results are sent to Dr. Hoffer in Miami for interpretation. It’s a system in evolution. The software and hardware are evolving, and the medical team is helping. Their hope is to integrate it into concussion protocol.

Chris Windom

Chris Windom's No.92

The breaking news of the moment is that the USAC Silver Crown points leader, Chris Windom who withdrew his No.92 Beast Ford car after it failed during Friday morning practice, found another ride. As predicted by outside pole sitter, Kody Swanson/No.62 Beast/Hampshire. Santos’ words were “Just because Chris doesn’t have a car, don’t count him out. He’s done this before.” Windom will start from the back in No.2 Patrick Lawson/Mittler Brothers Machine & Tool-Rebel Smokers/Beast/Wesmar. Lawson had qualified the car in thirteenth position Friday, and Windom will start from the back. The Copper Cup Race is a 100-mile race, starting at 3pm local time/6pm EDT. Stay tuned!

Being geared up

For a fortunate few, Saturday morning was the chance for a hot lap in a 2017 Chevy SS with Jeff Sinden, who runs the IndyCar two-seater drive around program. New this year is the requirement that all passengers be outfitted with a helmet and a HANS device. Who knew! It was quite the experience. Thanks, Chevrolet!

The helmet was tight, so snug that I couldn’t fit my fragile curved metal glasses bow into the helmet. I needed my special, prescription motorcycle glasses. The HANS device was lighter and more comfortable than was the helmet. It attached at the back, and was not a problem sitting in the cushy car seat. I felt no discomfort or constraints from the HANS device.

IMG_9559

Something new this weekend, added for the fan’s enjoyment, is Verizon IndyCar Pit Stop Practice for at 5pm local time, an hour or so before the IndyCar race. The Green Flag is at 6:30pm local time/9:30pm EDT.

The Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix race will be televised live on NBCSN, starting at 6pm/9pm. It also can be followed live on Advance Auto PartsINDYCAR Radio Network, Sirius 212, XM209, Indycar.com, indycarradio.com and on the INDYCAR Mobile app.

MORNING MEANDERINGS

Simon Pagenaud No.1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet

Simon Pagenaud/No.1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet somewhat made up for Saturday’s Qualifying problems by topping the charts Sunday morning for the Verizon IndyCar Series warm-up at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. His time of 1:06.6497 was his personal best of the weekend. Runner-up was Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda, whose time also was his best of the weekend. Third was Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb -Agajanian Honda.

No.10 Pit Stop

Fourth and fifth were NTT Chip Ganassi Racing Honda teammates, Scott Dixon/No.9 and Tony Kanaan/No.10. Those two cars have identical livery, which must make it difficult for the corner marshals to differentiate.

Conor Daly/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet was the only other driver in the morning session to have his personal best time during the half-hour warm-up. Spencer Pigot/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet was the only morning driver to have his fastest time from Practice Three. All the other drivers were fastest this weekend in Qualifying.

Warm-Up isn’t about the speed, it’s about setups, practicing pit stops and scuffing in tires, and getting bugs tweaked out before the race.

The Starting Lineup shows that the top eight cars will start on the Alternate tires, as will Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda in thirteenth position, and Pagenaud, who is starting last due to his Qualifying interference penalty. All the rest of the drivers will start on the Primary tires.

RHR Crew ready for Pit Stop

No.20 Pit Stop

No.19 pulled into paddock

Outside the Convention Center, where used to be the Toyota Celebrity Paddock, is now a wide open Welcome Plaza. It is a welcome change. The whole area used to be confined, blocked off and and fenced in. Now it’s open, inviting, full of comfortable lounges, tables & chairs, a big screen, beer garden, DJ and all kinds of reasons to sit and enjoy the Street Scene. What’s not to like!

Jack Harvey

Andretti Autosport announced Sunday morning the addition of Jack Harvey to its roster of drivers for the 2017 Indianapolis 500 race, with sponsorship from AutoNation. Harvey comes from the Indy Lights Series with six victories. He said “It’s a dream come true to race at this spectacle of racing with Andretti. Everyone knows what a great team it is. For a single team entry into the race one can’t do better than Andretti.” Andretti said “We always plan on bringing five cars to the Speedway. It’s not just an add-on entry. It contributes to the entire program and the last few years show that. We’re really happy to get Jack nailed down. He’s won the Freedom 100 Indy Lights race (at IMS). We’re confident he will contribute to the other four cars. It’s important to have a Rookie in the fifth car. I think he has at least a chance at Rookie of the Year, and last year it was a Rookie winner.” Harvey said it’s just a strong situation’ having Sato and Rossi on the team is excellent. The team has had great success because they do such a good job. We are still working on staffing and Chief Engineer.” Jack’s first time in the race car will be Monday for Rookie Orientation. Harvey said “The Lights is a good learning car. I’m going to try to absorb as much as I can between now and then. Andretti has access to the HPD simulator. Indy Lights feels pure. The people are friendly.” Andretti said he has no problem starting Rookies on the oval, because at Indy, you can take your time building up to things, things like that. I think it’s a much better environment for a rookie. I never have a problem starting a guy at Indy on the oval because of that, because of all the track time you get.”

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES STARTING LINEUP

SP Car Driver Name C/A/E/T Tire

1 3 Castroneves, Helio D/C/C/F Alternate
2 9 Dixon, Scott D/H/H/F Alternate
3 28 Hunter-Reay, Ryan D/H/H/F Alternate
4 5 Hinchcliffe, James D/H/H/F Alternate
5 98 Rossi, Alexander D/H/H/F Alternate
6 15 Rahal, Graham D/H/H/F Alternate
7 83 Kimball, Charlie D/H/H/F Alternate
8 2 Newgarden, Josef D/C/C/F Alternate
9 12 Power, Will D/C/C/F Primary
10 27 Andretti, Marco D/H/H/F Primary
11 10 Kanaan, Tony D/H/H/F Primary
12 18 Bourdais, Sebastien D/H/H/F Primary
13 19 Jones, Ed (R) D/H/H/F Alternate
14 14 Munoz, Carlos D/C/C/F Primary
15 21 Hildebrand, JR D/C/C/F Primary
16 7 Aleshin, Mikhail D/H/H/F Primary
17 4 Daly, Conor D/C/C/F Primary
18 26 Sato, Takuma D/H/H/F Primary
19 20 Pigot, Spencer D/C/C/F Primary
20 8 Chilton, Max D/H/H/F Primary
21 1 Pagenaud, Simon D/C/C/F Alternate
(R) Rookie
(C)hassis: D=Dallara | (A)erokit: C=Chevy, H=Honda | (E)ngine: C=Chevy, H=Honda | (T)ire: F=Firestone

HELIO CREDITS YOUTHFUL PUSHING

Helio Fisted Trophy

Verizon IndyCar driver, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Team Penske Chevrolet, took the Verizon P1 Pole Award Saturday afternoon at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. The veteran driver set a new qualifying track record of 1:06.2254, breaking his 2015 qualifying track record of 1:06.6294, and the earlier record of 1:06.2285 set in Round Two by Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

This was Castroneves’ third consecutive and fourth overall pole at Long Beach and 48th pole overall, fourth on the all-time list, and only one behind Bobby Unser. Team Penske has won 12 pole positions at Long Beach, and 247 in IndyCar.

He said “Today is extra special because Long Beach is a great place. I remember winning here from the pole in 2001 and, the last two years, we were right there. We’re not going to let this escape again.”

Helio with P1 finger

Helio with P1 flag

Helio Kissing P1 Award

Helio Castroneves leading pack

Second through sixth in the Fast Six aka final Round of Qualifying were: Dixon; Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda; James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda; and Graham Rahal/No.15 PennGrade Motor Oil Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda.

Castroneves’ explanation for doing so well: “It’s those kids. They keep coming in trying to steal my thunder. This qualifying says something about this competition in the paddock, it is so incredible. Plus every time you go out for a session, it’s something different. The track changes, the tires change, there is traffic, something. It is absolutely very different. It is a crucial time. Everyone is within hundredths of a second.”

The age range in the Fast Six ranged from sophomore IndyCar driver, Rossi at 25 years to elder statesman, Castroneves at 42. Actually the youngest in the IndyCar paddock is Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda, at 22 years of age. He won last year’s Indy Lights Championship. Rossi said “It was a really good day. It was the NAPA Racing team’s first (Firestone) Fast Six appearance, which is a huge turn around for Andretti Autosport and Honda from last year. I don’t think we maximized all our practice potential, so it was nice to put it out there today in qualifying. The NAPA Auto Parts car has been strong all weekend and now we can look forward to tomorrow.”

The Firestone Fast Six round of Qualifying aka Round Three, was particularly cliff-hanging, as several of the six drivers held off going out until the two minute mark in the ten-minute session. And all afternoon the field was tightly compressed, from top to bottom.

After Round Two, Dixon set a new qualifying track record of 1:06.2285. All 12 of the Round Two drivers dropped into the 1:06’s; and eleven were faster than Castroneves’ 2015 qualifying record. The Round Two dropouts were: Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; Josef Newgarden/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet; Marco Andretti/No.27 United Data & Fiber Andretti Autosport Honda; Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; and Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Trench Shoring Dale Coyne Racing Honda.

Marco getting into car

Andretti thought he was in the Drift Competition as he slid through a corner that had already caught out cars in other events. He said afterwards “We lucked out on transferring into Round 2 – I had a huge moment there and were lucky to not come back on the hook. So, we were lucky to transfer and missed the Firestone Fast Six by half-a-tenth (of a second). To qualify the UFD car 10th and miss Round 3 by half a tenth, it shows you what Indy car racing is all about – it’s super tight. Every hundreth (of a second) counts and it’s going to make for a great race tomorrow.”

Not making the cut, time wise, in Round One Group Two were: Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber & Data Andretti Autosport Honda; Carlos Munoz/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet; Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda; and Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

In that session Pagenaud turned the fastest lap of the weekend (thus far) – 1:06.5026, but it didn’t stick. The Stewards reviewed the incident between Pagenaud and his Penske teammate, Castroneves, and assessed a penalty of losing his two best timed laps for qualifying interference. Pagenaud said that he agreed with the ruling and it wasn’t his job to change the rules. But he explained “It was just one of those unfortunate things. I understand the penalty because I interfered with (Helio) Castroneves’ lap. I backed up a little to set up a second lap on the (alternate tires) and Helio was right there. I was boxed in; there was nothing I could do.”

Three drivers made it down to the 1:06’s in Group Two Round One, first time this weekend. The Pagenaud Penalty moved up Andretti.

Spencer Pigot

Conor Daly

Ed Jones

JR Hildebrand

Dropping out after Round One Group One were: Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda; JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Service Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet; Conor Daly/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Honda; and Spencer Pigot/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet. All drivers were in the 1:07’s. The Stewards reviewed the contact between Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and Hinchcliffe, and took no action.

Hinchcliffe suffered from gearbox problems in morning practice, but the car was better for Qualifying and the Fast Six. “We rolled off the truck with a pretty decent car. In these weekends when it’s so tight, the track time is so limited, that’s huge. Yesterday afternoon, we had a little bit of problems. This morning we had a couple problems but we didn’t panic. Huge credit to Schmidt Peterson Motorsport. Two Firestone Fast Six appearances for two, which is great. It’s just so tight. I think that’s been the topic of the weekend, for sure, is how competitive it is. You got to be, I think, in the top six to have a shot at this thing. There’s a lot of great cars up there. Going to be perfect execution tomorrow, in the pits, on the racetrack.”

Kanaan lacked the track time most of his competitors enjoyed, only able to run 39 laps compared to drivers who ran as many as sixty-nine laps. “It’s been a frustrating weekend for the NTT Data team. We had some electrical issues before the first practice session this morning that only allowed us five laps on track before qualifying. The guys worked really hard to get the car on track to maximize the little time we had left. Starting 11th is going to be a challenge with it being so difficult to pass but we will work on getting the car in the right race set up in tomorrow’s warm up session and be sure we have the best strategy to get back up front.”

Each round is ten minutes inclusive of Red Flag time, with penalties of varying severity assessed to drivers causing Red or Caution Flags.

IndyCar does not allow tire warmers, so all cars go out on cold tires. The drivers take two or three laps, a third of their time, to warm up before going for it.

INDYCAR PHOTOS BY PABLO MATAMOROS

Verizon IndyCar Qualifying Results

1. (3) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 01:06.2254 (106.980)
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:06.4123 (106.679)
3. (28) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 01:06.4401 (106.634)
4. (5) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 01:06.5291 (106.492)
5. (98) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 01:06.5595 (106.443)
6. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:06.7562 (106.129)
7. (83) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 01:06.5404 (106.474)
8. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:06.6074 (106.367)
9. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:06.6145 (106.355)
10. (27) Marco Andretti, Honda, 01:06.6222 (106.343)
11. (10) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 01:06.6262 (106.337)
12. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 01:06.7853 (106.083)
13. (19) Ed Jones, Honda, 01:07.5832 (104.831)
14. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 01:07.3783 (105.150)
15. (21) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 01:07.6931 (104.661)
16. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 01:07.3893 (105.132)
17. (4) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:07.7977 (104.499)
18. (26) Takuma Sato, Honda, 01:07.4699 (105.007)
19. (20) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 01:07.8442 (104.427)
20. (8) Max Chilton, Honda, 01:07.5333 (104.908)
21. (1) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 01:08.0439 (104.121)

FIFTY SHADES OF COOL

Scott Dixon

Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was the fastest Verizon IndyCar driver Saturday morning in the third/final practice session, at 1:07.1348/ This wasn’t as fast as was Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Friday afternoon at 1:07.0800, who is still fastest overall for the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach weekend. But Dixon’s time is second fastest overall.

The weather danced around, with a cloud cover appearing and fading. The temperature was mild and favored the cars and drivers, and for awhile the heavily suited-up Pit Fire Marshals and Emergency folks. The lighting was good to the photographers and sight-seers alike, taking in all the pomp and circumstance.

It was colorful immediately behind Dixon. Runner-up to Dixon was Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport in his all-golden yellow Honda, followed by 2016 IndyCar Champion, Simon Pagenaud in his in-your-face electric bright yellow No.1 Menards Chevrolet. Fourth was James Hinchcliffe in yet another variation of the yellow spectrum, No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda in metallic gold and green. There’ll be no mistaking those cars on track. Fifth overall Saturday was Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Simon Pagenaud

James Hinchcliffe

Several drivers cycled through the top spot, including JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Sato, Hunter-Reay, Pagenaud, Dixon-twice, and Hinchcliffe. Sixteen drivers were in the 1:07 range.

Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda was eighteenth overall.

Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda didn’t go out until five minutes to the checkered flag, due to electrical problems. He managed five laps and was philosophical, putting a positive spin on the morning – complimenting the fans and weather.

There was one Red Flag, for 3.15 minutes, caused by Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Trench Shoring Dale Coyne Racing Honda, when he brushed the wall. He cruised to the pits for quick left front wing repair and came back out, immediately getting fourth overall. After losing his fastest lap for the Red Flag, he was credited with ninth position overall.

Otherwise the drama level was low. Some overshooting corners caused runoff area visits and flat-spotting tires. Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports flat-spotted his tires big time in a braking zone. Hinchcliffe made it to another runoff area, while leading the charts. This time there was no time or room to do a fancy U-Turn. He saluted the in-car camera and waited for the tow tether.

Mario Andretti, Sam Schmidt and Doug Boles

Mario Andretti, Sam Schmidt and Doug Boles

Doug Boles, President of Indianapolis Motor Speedway made an announcement Saturday morning regarding the Grand Prix of Indianapolis on 13 May 2017 at the famed Brickyard. In keeping with IMS being considered a test ground for automotive technologies, the Speedway will host the first-ever semi-autonomous car race, pitting current IndyCar team owner and former driver, Sam Schmidt and veteran all-around world Champion, Mario Andretti on the 2.439-mile road course. This innovative shootout will precede the Verizon IndyCar road course race, as part of the May racing activities at the Speedway.

Sam Schmidt

Schmidt, who is paralyzed from the neck down, has already driven a specially fitted Corvette at IMS twice – first at 40 mph, and last year at 150 mph. This is taking the technology to the next level, in a Z06 SAM Car, which Schmidts IndyCar sponsor, Arrow Electronics, has tricked out. He will have a sip-and-puff device into which Schmidt will breath, allowing him to accelerate and brake. His voice commands will switch gears, and turn the SAM car on and off, and steering will be effected by sensors on a high-tech headset Schmidt will wear to connect to infrared cameras mounted on the dash board, and detect his head-tilt motions to steer. Andretti will have similar technology in his Arrow-modified Stingray SAM Car.

Schmidt is excited to finally be able to race against Andretti. “He is a true legend that is world renowned and I appreciate his willingness to participate and showcase the next evolution of this technology.” Schmidt confessed he did bribe Andretti, with an Indy 500 ride in 2018 if he won. Further, Schmidt said “It will be nice to just show up and drive, rather than being there as a team owner. The car is so intuitive, reactive and comfortable, I beat 20 other cars at Pike’s Peak.”

Mario Andretti & Sam Schmidt

Boles admitted the rules and prize monies scenarios haven’t yet been finalized, but the event will benefit Conquer Paralysis Now, a non-profit foundation set up by Schmidt, which has become a leading authority on spinal cord injury and research and treatment. The length of the race might be up to 15 minutes, as Schmidt joked that while the car is comfortable and quite easy to drive, the drivers’ attention span is not that long. And Andretti joked that he was sure Schmidt would give him driving tips, but only enough to keep him off the wall.

PHOTOS BY PABLO MATAMOROS

Colorful Fence Flags

SLICK WILLY AND THE FAST LAPPERS

Will Power

Will Power

Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet jumped on top of the Verizon IndyCar Series lap chart near the end of the second 45-minute Verizon IndyCar Series practice Friday at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. His time was 1:07.0800/105.617 mph, which was faster than last year’s Verizon P1 lap of 1:07.1246 set by teammate Helio Castroneves. Power and five other drivers went faster than the fastest morning lap set by Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Second fastest, also on a last-minute flyer, was Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber & Data Andretti Autosport Honda, at 1:07.3576. Third through fifth were Simon Pagenaud/No.1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet; Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda; and Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda.

Ed Jones, R, debriefing

Ed Jones, R, debriefing

Dixon was one of three drivers who didn’t go faster in the second session; but he was the first to turn a 1:07 in P2, finishing sixth overall, Fourteen drivers lowered to the 1:07’s. Ed Jones was the fastest, and only, Rookie, in twenty-first position. He also turned his fastest practice lap in the morning session, along with Mikhail Aleshin/No,7 SMP racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Service Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet turned the most laps – 24 in session Two and 45 laps overall – the only driver to hit the forty/forty-plus lap mark.

Ten drivers went to the top in Practice Two. Often, as the faster cars went out later in the session, they quickly moved to the top, including Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda who topped the charts twice. The second time Sato led, he was the first driver to go faster in the Second Practice.

Conor Daly

Conor Daly/No.4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet lost his fast qualifying lap due to a problem on over boost on his fast qualy. Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing also lost his fastest lap for being responsible for the Red Flag of 2.21 minute, when he pulled into a Runoff area. James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsport Honda also ran off in a runoff area, and quickly executed a near-perfect ‘Formula 1 U Turn’ and continued on his way. No Harm, No Foul.

Colton Herta, 16, is one of the new faces in the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires Series, and fresh off two good results at the season’s opener races in St. Petersburg. He came in second in the first race, after starting sixth; and won the second race from the pole position, driving the No.98 Andretti Steinbrenner Mazda. With that victory, he celebrated as the youngest-ever winner in the Indy Lights Series.

George Michael Steinbrenner IV

George Michael Steinbrenner IV

George Michael Steinbrenner IV has a passion for baseball and racing; and yes, he’s from ‘that’ New York family. He has been around racing for quite a while, and had some idea of how it worked before he decided to try it on for size. Last year Steinbrenner’s stepfather, Sean Jones, co-owned a RallyCross team with Bran Herta, and Steinbrenner worked with the team. He is the grandson of New York Yankees owner, George Steinbrenner, and the step-grand-son of the late Chuck Jones, who spent years in racing including as a partner in Mo Nunn Ensign in Formula One 1975-1985.

Young Steinbrenner said “Colton (Herta) seems like a good way to jump into racing team ownership. I knew Bryan (Herta) a few years before Colton. I went to Lime Rock Park back in the day, to watch Colton at Skip Barber and all his other American racing series before he went overseas. And now he’s back in America. I was always more interested in the behind-the-scenes aspect of baseball rather than playing. Driving a car wasn’t as fascinating to me as the management side.”

The young Steinbrenner, from Tampa, FL., grew up as a racing fan. His step-grand father, the late Chuck Jones, had a lengthy racing career which included being a partner at Mo Nunn Ensign in Formula One from 1975-85.”

Colton’s father, Bryan, won the Indy Lights Championship in 1993, and as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 twice – in 2011 with the late Dan Weldon, and last year with Rookie Alexander Rossi.

Colton Herta

Colton Herta

Colton Herta said he’s itching to get back into the car. He lives nearby Long Beach, so to him it’s unfortunate that the Indy Lights Series is not running here this weekend.” Herta said “It was huge to be working with so many big, house-hold names, such as Andretti, Steinbrenner and his dad, Bryan Herta. Being around all of them in one team brings resources in the form of tutoring and mentoring. There’s not a huge pressure to excel, as I grew up around racers. It’s a bit more relaxed here than in overseas. The taking of photographs inside the garage and paddock in F1 is new this year; but here in America, there’s more access. European and American driving styles are not different. But over there it’s more intense; and you can get away with a bit more over there. It’s a little bit more sheltered over there. Our goal is to take Colton to the Indy 500 in a couple of years …or sooner, if he wins the Mazda Road to Indy Scholarship.” Looks like they’re off to a good start!

HEEEEERE’S JOHNNY

Zoom Zoom Sign

Another warm sunny day greeted the Pirelli World Challenge Championships Presented by Nissan Saturday morning at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The day promised to be downright hot, as does the racing. Saturday’s schedule calls for qualifying and races for several groups.

The premier group, GT, had its qualifying mid-morning, and veteran Johnny O’Connell of Flowery Branch GA put his red No.3 Cadillac ATS-V.R GT3 on pole with a lap of 1:23.960/95.960 mph. It was his first PWC pole this season, keeping his streak going for getting one in every PWC season. He’s had 18 PWC pole positions in his career. O’Connell had a trying test day Thursday, being hit leaving the Corkscrew, driving his car off at speed in Turn Nine towards Salinas, and then digging himself into the gravel, losing body parts and causing suspension problems in the process. “Needless to say, I was motivated. It was a total team effort. The Cadillac Racing crew had to build a lot of the race car and actually got me back out later in the day. We are doing what we need to do, get the points for the pole and remain in a fight for this championship.”

No.3 Cadillac

The championship to which O’Connell referred is the PWC GT championship, the premier PWC series. This is the only group which has a single race, on Sunday. So it’s all or nothing for those 16 GT drivers, and their manufacturers. The race is drawing much attention as there are four drivers with a mathematical chance for the prize, and nine points separate the top two contenders. Points leader Alvaro Parente from Portugal has 1554 points driving No.9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3, and runner-up Patrick Long of Manhattan Beach CA has 1545 points driving No.58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R. The two Cadillac drivers, O’Connell in No.3 and Michael Cooper of Syosset, NY in No.6 have 1451 points, but it would take a melt-down of the top two to accomplish that. A win earns 110 points, 98 points for second, 90 for third, etc Last place for this group gets 15 points.. Bonus points add up to a total of seven: for pole, fast race lap and most improved position.

With a single 50-minute race with no pit stops or driver changes, GT racing is, as Long says, “distilled racing.”

Long qualified second, followed by Cooper, Jon Fogarty/No.99 GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Racing McLaren 650S GT3, Austin Cindric/No.6 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S, and Parente in sixth.

The GT qualifying track record set last year still holds: 1:23.734/96.219mph set by Alessandro PierGuidi, Ferrari 458 GT3 Italia.

Patrick Long

Long said “It was fun. Our team’s main priority was to come here and get a race car to be at the front of the field. So we have been backing it session after session. We shut it down early in qualifying and made one last run to see if we could win the pole and steal the added seven points. In a normal scenario, we wouldn’t do that. I gave it one last try and the car wriggled on me in Turn Six and I had to get out of the throttle. So I said let’s get this thing in the show. Johnny is the epitome of never give up. You can never count him out. It’s great to be on the front row with him. And we’re trying to win the first championship in four years since we went head-to-head in 2011. (Ed Note: Long won that title.)

Patrick Long, & Alvaro Parente

Patrick Long, & Alvaro Parente. Photo courtesy Melissa Lepper/PWC

Parente, 32, comes from European GT racing, and has been a factory GT3 driver for McLaren customer teams since 2012. This is his first full season in America. The only previous US race experience was the February 2007 A1GP race at Laguna Seca – when it snowed. So this weekend he’s seeing the track in a completely different setting.

Long is a factory driver for Porsche, the only American in their stable. He has been with Porsche for the past 15 years, and he’s raced at Laguna Seca about 20 times in various series over the years including the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion and the wildly successful Rennsport.

Manufacturer’s have a tight GT battle going on also. McLaren leads with 131 points-five wins, eight poles and six fast laps; Porsche has 130 points=five wins, six poles and six fast laps. Cadillac has 115 points-five wins, two poles and three fast laps.

The first Saturday race is PWC TC-TCA-TCB.Patrick Gallagher/No.54 Atlanta Motorsports Group Mazda MX-5 has pole for the TC-TCA-TCB race Saturday morning, with a lap of 1:35.823. Paul Whiting/No.51 PWR Honda Civic Si is on the pole for the TCA class, starting twenty-third overall, with a fast lap of 1:44.155. Henry Morse/No.14 Hale Motorsports Mazda 2 has the TCB pole position, starting thirty-seventh, with a lap of 1:52.182. There are 44 starters in the 40-minute race.

In the TCB Class there’s another tight race for Driver Champion. The top drivers are P.J. Groenke/No.25 Tech Sport Racing Chevrolet Sonic with 858 points; Morse with 845 points; Tom O’Gorman/No.94 Black Armor Helmets Honda Fit with 796 points; Ted Hough/No.68 Breathless Racing Mazda 2 with 644 points and Jasper Drengler/No.01 Drengler Racing Honda Fi with 636 points; and Will Rodgers/No.65 Hale Motorsports Mazda 2 with 532 points.

There are five other championships on the line this weekend.

During the Saturday lunch break, there were Parade Laps for the Race & Rods Corral cars, an autograph session for all the PWC drivers, and track VIP Parade Laps. The first race Saturday afternoon is PWC GTS followed by more Parade Laps – Cadillac Corral and track VIPs. The last race of the day is the first race for the PWC Sprint X Series.

The Sprint X race is the only race with a mandatory pit stop and driver change – an hour-long event. The other races are sprint races of 40 or 50 minutes – no pit stops, single driver: as GT contender Patrick Long defines it – “distilled racing.”

In the Sprint X, there are two drivers, and a different driver will start each race. The Series determines whether it will be the Amateur or the Pro driver who starts, with it rotating on the two race weekends. After 25 minutes into the 60-minute race, there is a ten-minute break for driver change. High drama. The license determination for the drivers is based on the complex FIA system of Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. This weekend the Friday qualifying session was for the Amateur/Gentlemen drivers (Bronze FIA license). The grid for the second race will be set based on the fastest laps set in the first race, and typically (barring mechanical or other issues) that would be the Pro drivers (Platinum, Gold or Silver FIA licenses.)

David Ostella/No.23 M1 GT Racing Audi R8 LMS Ultra has pole position for the Race 1 Sprint X, with a lap of 1:25.390/94.353 mph. His co-driver is Dion Von Moltke. The fastest GT Cup-X driver was David Askew/No.63DXDT Racing Lamborghini Huracan Super Trofeo with a lap of 1:31.307. His co-driver is James Burke, and their starting position is eleventh – Row 6. Kurt Rezzetano/No.37 Calvert Dynamics Ford Mustang Boss 302 will start first in the GTS-X class, in fifteenth position. His co-driver is Andrew Aquilante. There are 24 cars in this hour-long race which runs at 4pm local time on Saturday.

This weekend and at many previous races during the 2016 staff from the Stephane Ratel Organisation are on site to observe and be helpful in the FIA licensing aspects of the Sprint X Series, and assist in developing the Balance of Power in PWC. SRO runs the Intercontinental Challenge (Blancpain GT Series,) which will run one of its endurance races at Laguna Seca next October. It will be an eight-hour race, and will be open to any FIA homologated GT3 cars, which could include cars from PWC and IMSA.

PIRELLI WORLD CHALLENGE BREAKS RECORDS

PWC GT-GTA-GT Cup Grid

There’s a record-breaking number of drivers for this weekend’s season finale Pirelli World Challenge Championships Presented by Nissan at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca – 127. That’s the highest-ever number for the SCCA Pro Racing Series. The scheduled races, some championship deciders, include GTA-GT Cup, GTS, Sprint X and TC-TCA-TCB. There will two races for each group.

This is the fourteenth time the World Challenge Series has raced at Laguna Seca.

There is cross-over between the various PWC classes, with some drivers and/or cars in more than one event. Makes for some interesting times in the Timing & Scoring area, sorting out all the drivers and cars.

This is definitely a manufacturer-driven series, with 22 different manufacturers and 38 different models.

Although it is an American series with a majority of the drivers being from the US, there are drivers from six foreign countries, with Canada sending ten drivers, two are from Mexico, and there’s one each from Portugal, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

One of the more interesting aspects of the PWC driver lineup is the wide age diversity. There are more than a handful of young teenagers too young to hold street driving licenses, and other competitive drivers old enough to be their grandfathers…all going for championships. Classic Age and Treachery versus Youth and Good Looks. And each has its turns on the podiums.

No.3 Cadillac

No.3 Cadillac

Thursday of the four-day weekend was a test day and one of the top GT drivers took a ride on the wild side in Turn Nine during the morning session. Johnny O’Connell/No.3 Cadillac Racing ATS-V R. GT3 is alright, but his car was brought in on the flat bed truck. The race crew went to work and Johnny O was back out for the afternoon session. O’Connell is third in the standings for the PWC GT class, and made a killer inside pass at the Sonoma race last month in Turn Seven of the last lap to snatch the victory from teenager, Pole Sitter Austin Cindric/No.6 K-Pax Racing McLaren 650S GT3, who had led the entire race to that point. Cindric was 17 years old at the time, and O’Connell is 54 years young, the most successful GM factory driver. Cindric is now 18 and in addition to racing full-time this season in PWC, he also races in a wide variety of other series, including ARCA (with victory at Kentucky), NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski and NASCAR K&N Series.

This weekend there are some tight championship battles ahead. A total sweep of a race including bonus points would garner 117 points, with a victory counting for 110 of those points. Points go down to thirtieth place.

Patrick Long

Patrick Long

In the highly competitive (and feature) GT class, all eyes are on the top four drivers, who still have a mathematical chance at the Drivers’ Championship: Alvaro Parente/No.9 K-PAX Racing McLaren 650S GT3 with 1554 points; Patrick Long/No.58 Wright Motorsports Porsche 911 GT3R with 1545 points; O’Connell and teammate Michael Cooper each with 1451 points. Parente has five wins, six poles and five fast laps. Long has three wins, three poles and two fast laps. O’Connell has three wins. Cooper has two wins, one pole and three fast laps.

The tight GT race extends to the Manufacturer also. McLaren leads with 131 points, with five wins and eight poles. Porsche is second with 130 points, with five wins and six poles. Cadillac has three wins, one pole and three fast laps.

The Zoom-Zoom radar screen over the Start-Finish line isn’t working at this point, so it’s hard to say what the top speed is coming down the front straight, but during Thursday’s test someone on pit wall clocked the GTS cars at 125 mph

The weather has been picture-perfect touristy-type, with no morning fog, blue skies, breezes and lots of warm sunshine. A few clouds roll in in time for beautiful sunsets. What more could you ask for the last PWC races of the season.

Early Morning MRLS

SONOMA SCENE

Sunday Paddock

What a difference a day makes. Sunday dawned warmed and sunny at Sonoma Raceway. By the time the Verizon IndyCar drivers took to the track at 11:30am, it was already mid eighties, with no breeze. The IndyCar paddock was full of fans, checking out the cars, hanging around outside the Drivers’ Meeting hoping for a sight or autograph, taking in all the displays, going on guided tours, listening to live music, riding the Ferris Wheel, eating and quaffing all the local cuisine and enjoying local adult beverages. And that’s not counting the racing. Besides IndyCars, there are races for the Formula Car Challenge Series and two races for Pirelli World Challenge – GT’s and GTS. Talk about sensory overload.

The half-hour Sunday IndyCar practice was a shake-down, warm up exercise. The title contenders took it easy, and no one was going for speeds – nearly two seconds or more slower than qualifying. All 22 cars were on track, and the number of laps per driver were double digit, ranging from 14-20. The session was all green, with no dramas.

Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing was on top for much of the firs half of the session, but in the end the lead changed several times, with Josef Newgarden/No.21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka/ECR Chevrolet was on top at 1:17.6431. Second through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Takuma Sato/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Honda; Charlie Kimball/No.83 Treslba Chevrolet; and the top rookie, Alexander Rossi/No.93 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda.

Championship contenders Simon Pagenaud/No.22 Hewlett Packard Enterprise Chevrolet and Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske each ran 18 laps, with Pagenaud in eighteenth and Power in twenty-first position.As said by their teammate, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Hitachi Team Penske, “Practice doesn’t pay money.”

Overall for the three practice sessions, Marco Andretti/No.27 Snapple remains the fastest driver, and all but Castroneves kept their third Practice time as their fastest.

After he got out of the car, Power said he thinks the Black tires will be the favored tires in the race.

Conor Daly

IndyCar released the Tire Designation List for the race, and all but one driver will start the race on the Red/Alternate tire. The lone driver starting on the Black/Primary tire is Rookie Conor Daly/No.19 Jonathan Byrd’s Hospitality Honda

With Sonoma being the last race of the 2016 IndyCar season, Silly Season is in full swing. Lots of rumors of who is going where. The smart money is on waiting until after Sunday to start serious speculating as most players are unavailable or genuinely not making the decision until after the season. There is, however, one rumor that has gained a lot of momentum – Chip Ganassi Racing moving to the Honda camp next season.

Ryan Hunter-Reay

Michaels Andretti & Parra

One player is now out of the equation. Michael Andretti of Andretti Autosport and his long-time driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay confirmed Sunday that RHR, DHL and Andretti Autosport will be partners through the 2020 season. Hunter-Reay has been driving with DHL as his sponsor since 2010, and it’s been a primary sponsor since 2011 and will continue as such. RHR will be driver and brand ambassador. Andretti and DHL Express Americas CEO, Michael Parra, signed the contracts Sunday in the press conference.

The Sunday schedule started with IndyCar two-seater rides in the several special cars, with drivers Mario Andretti, Davey Hamilton, Indy Car/Indy Lights drivers Zack Veach and Gabby Chaves as pilots with the lucky guests. Some media got rides Friday afternoon in those cars.

Zack Veach & GabyChaves

Zack Veach & GabyChaves

A special IndyCar two-seater driver/ride was with IndyCar driver, James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, driving a tricked-out two seater looking like his race car, gave a ride to Sharma Burgess, his dancing partner on Dancing With The Stars. The video is on YouTube. She loved it.

Hinch has been busy between doing the IndyCar test last week and this week’s season’s finale race, and working on his dance moves. The first round of the dancing was last Monday and the Team Stop And Go (Hinch/Burgess) tied for first place, doing the Fox Trot. The IndyCar community has been very supportive in helping Hinch launch a mock campaign “given the time of the year” with the goal of getting out the fan vote which is part of winning proccess. Round Two of DWST is this Monday and Tuesday on ABC TV at 8pm PT/ET. Check out Hinchtown.com and abc.com for details on how to vote after each show. #VoteHinch. It was the most popular hashtag of the first show.

James Hinchcliffe

Hinchcliffe met with the media Saturday morning, and while racing was part of the conference, much was devoted to his dancing life.

Regarding his 2016 racing season, he said “Coming into here, we don’t have championship goals that we may have been considering two weeks ago. It’s an all-or-nothing weekend for us. Sure, double points are nice, but we want to get that win on the board. We were so close at Texas obviously. Weren’t able to pull that one off. We’re kind of flat out going for the win here at Sonoma.

“We take a lot of positives from this season. I’m still rankling from the penalties (at Texas and Watkins Glen most recently.) Not the championship weekend goals we had two weeks ago after the penalties, so just going flat out for the win. Qualifying is a lottery. The track here is so difficult. The grip is so low. The tires last exactly one lap, maybe even less than a full lap, to be fair. So you’re going to see a very interesting grid.
You literally get one shot. It’s almost like playing roulette. You’re going to go out there, do one lap, and see where it lands on. That’s a huge ask for the drivers certainly.”

This season has been full of changes and challenges for the affable Canadian. Hinchcliffe riffed.

Among the changes this season: “On TV a lot more. On various TV shows, such as Celebrity Family Feud with Team IndyCar Drivers, which they won against the Victoria Secrets Angels. Then the invite to Dancing With the Starts. “DWST snowballed after the Steve Harvey show. It’s a very different kind of nerves for DWST. I’ve been racing 20 years. I have a fair amount of experience. I’ve been through pretty much everything that could happen on a racetrack at one point or another.

“I hadn’t been through anything on a dance floor, good, bad or indifferent. There were a lot of unknowns for certain. Doing it not only in front of a live studio audience, but a live television audience, something I’ve been doing for two weeks versus something I’ve been doing for two decades.

“It was very nerve wracking. But I have an incredible partner in Sharna Burgess. She kept me calm. We were joking literally right up until the count came down. We almost missed the start of the song because we were cracking jokes on the dance floor. I didn’t see the video package leading into it. I don’t remember what we were joking about. We were joking about something.

“I honestly don’t remember much of the dance at all. I just remember ending and thinking, ‘That actually went pretty well.’ I was floored by the scores and the judges’ comments. Couldn’t have gone any better.

“Problem is we set the bar high and people will expect good dances. Not sure we can repeat that.

“I have never danced in any appropriate way before. Other ways but not pretty. It wasn’t even on my radar. I’ve learned its fascinating. Did get tips from Helio, more about process rather than actual dancing.”

Comparing racing to dancing: “What certainly helps, the concentration is a huge thing. In football, plays last about 10 seconds. That’s kind of what those athletes are really trained to be focused on. It’s hyper, super intensive for that short burst of time.

“When you’re getting into dances that are one, one and a half, two minutes long, that’s longer than they’re used to having to concentrate. We do this for three hours. So the concentration side of it is not very difficult for us.

“Running around a dance room, yes, it gets the cardio going. Again, some of these athletes are good over short sprints, but if you do it longer, that’s not what their body is trained for. We do this for three hours. That’s not an issue for us.

“One of the most fascinating things that Sharna talked about is how receptive I am to small inputs. When you’re driving a racecar, the racecar is talking to you. Every part of your body is getting some sort of input from the racecar. Everything that’s touching the car, your back, your bum, your head, your legs, your hands, everything is getting some sort of input. We are making instantaneous, very minute adjustments based on what the car is doing.

“Dance, you can do the same thing. Obviously, I’m leading as the male or whatever. But let’s be real, she’s driving this car. She said that when she does something to try and adjust me or taps me on my elbow or shoulder, she said not only do it recognize it and feel it, I adjust instantly. She said the only other partner she’s ever had that could do that was her partner last year Nyle who was deaf. He was just so much more in tune with his other senses he could make these instant adjustments.

“I explained that’s what you do in a racecar. When you go through a corner, you don’t just go through, turn and come out. When you turn, you’re making miniature adjustments that the human eye can’t see, but we know we’re making. We’re taking every sense we have in our body and adjusting accordingly. That has been a huge asset on the dance floor.

“Focus and travel goes with my lifestyle, so I was prepared. Scheduling and logistics a bit hectic. It will be easier after this weekend. Physical and concentration aspects. Concentration is huge. Ball has very short attention span focus. We do this for three hours on a track. I’m receptive to small going said Sharma. Instantaneous adjustments. But be real – she’s driving this car. We taking all our sensory input and adjusting accordingly Monday we’re doing a Latin dance. Paso Doble.

Why he’s doing this, in his new role showing two faces of IndyCar

“For me, in a lot of ways, doing Dancing with the Stars was to help spread the IndyCar message. That was honestly one of my reasons, bigger reasons, for doing it. I’m such a fan of this sport. I have been since I was a kid. I’m now in a super fortunate position to be involved in it and essentially in a sense be a spokesperson for it. I want to tell the story. I want to show people how cool this sport really is. Any opportunity I get to do that, I’m all in.

I mean, yes, it does end up benefitting me. The better the series does, as a person involved in the series, the better I could potentially do.

Really for me it’s about spreading the message. This is my family. This is my sport. The more that people learn about what we’re doing here, the more people are going to enjoy it because I don’t know anyone that comes that doesn’t enjoy their time here. That just benefits everyone here and everyone that I love and I work with.”

Vote 4 Hinch!

WINNER WINNER CHICKEN DINNER

Indy Lights Second Start Attempt

Indy Lights Second Attempt at Start

Sunday was a very busy day, with seven back to back Mazda Road To Indy races at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The day got off to a late start due to a two-hour fog delay. Lunch was abbreviated, to help make up time, but at least the SFR SCCA volunteer marshals and race officials got to come in for lunch and have a breather to sit down, after starting their day at 7am in the fog and ending at 5:40pm as the fog rolled back in.

There was a lot of driving talent to be seen, with these development/ladder series races, and somewhat sad there weren’t more fans to enjoy the racing and the racers. The paddock was wide open. They could have seen a future Indy 500 or Le Mans winner.

I spotted at least two talent scouts in the paddock, including IndyCar team owner Dale Coyne. Also on site and taking a turn at being interviewed on the PA was IndyCar driver, Max Chilton.

The Sunday afternoon Indy Lights Soul Red race got off to a rocky start and ended with what some consider a controversy. Title contender, Ed Jones of Dubai in No.11 Carlin had the pole position, and title contender, Rookie Santiago Urrutia of Uruguay in No.55 Schmidt Peterson Motorsports w/Curb-Agajanian started third behind Saturday’s race winner, Kyle Kaiser in No.18 Juncos Racing. Zach Veach of OH started fourth in No.5 Belardi Auto Racing and Jones’ teammate, Felix Serralles of Puerto Rico, started fifth in No.4 Carlin. The first attempted start was ragged with the second row jumping the gun, so the starter waved them off. The 15-car field finally took the green flag on their fourth go-around, after two pace laps.

Zach Veach

Zach Veach

Jones led the first lap, but was soon overtaken by a charging Veach who seemingly came out of nowhere, moved right up the line to grab the lead on Lap Two. The dimunitive driver then continued to lead the parade for the remainder of the 38-lap race. Veach admitted afterwards that he used Jones championship against him, saying he knew Jones wouldn’t do anything to risk it (the championship), so “I made myself present and got by.” Jones and Urrutia were side by side until Urrutia got by Jones and then Kaiser, while Jones fell back to fifth, behind his teammate, Serralles. Veach said post race that he has to thank Michael Andretti, who taught him to be the fastest out of the pits. “I was pretty lucky to make that move.”

Rookie Garrett Gris of Canada in No.3 Team Pelfrey spun out on Lap Two in Turn Four, bringing out a one-lap Caution

The top five positions remained in lock-step for most of the race – Veach; Urrutia, and the two Carlin drivers, Serralles and Jones. The Carlin boys raced hard in the final laps, until the last lap. At that point the championship was on the line. Urrutia would win the championship over Ed Jones, despite their equal points because Urrutia had more 2016 wins – four, and that would be the tie-breaker.

Ed Jones No.11

Ed Jones No.11

Then on the last lap going into Turn Two, Serralles did an “After you, Alfonse” move, Jones passed and won the Championship from fourth place. Urruttia finished second, sans championship.

Veach won the race, led the most laps and turned the fastest lap of 103.749 mph/77.6563 sec on Lap 5. It was his third Indy Lights victory this season, and second in two weeks.

It was painful to watch the podium ceremonies. There were some boos, and not a lot of joy – except for race winner Veach who was all smiles. Jones won the 2016 Indy Lights Championship and with it the $1 million for a guaranteed three-races in the 2017 IndyCar Series, including the Indianapolis 500 race.

Ed Jones

Ed Jones

Afterwards Jones was low-key in his Media Center appearance, saying he was glad to win the championship, as he has been struggling with his budget. “It was a tough weekend, and I’m disappointed not to have won more races.” He teased Veach about “his ambitious move.”

Zach Veach

Zach Veach

Veach said he’s had three years in Indy Lights and as he’s not a paying driver, and still without the necessary funding to go IndyCar racing, that’s still his goal and he’s hopeful. If he can’t race IndyCar next year, he wouldn’t mind another year in Indy Lights, and a second year with the Belardi team; as this year he was on a learning curve. Veach drove No.20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet at the IndyCar Sonoma Raceway Thursday, and reportedly was the fastest of the Indy Lights drivers testing that day.

Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is located on Highway 68 between Del Ray Oaks, Monterey and Salinas. The nearby area is still dealing with the Soberanes Fire, with one area still under evacuation and another evac order put out Saturday night, which was expanded Sunday afternoon. The wide-spread forest fire has been going on for 52 days, with wind and heat causing flareups in the rugged, inaccessible regions.

MRLS Firefighters Thank you