ACING ALONSO AND ANDRETTI

Quiet Pit LaneAnd a great good morning to you all from lovely Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

It’s the second day of practice for the Verizon INDYCAR Series leading up to the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500. It’s not even noon yet and the temperature has already reached 78 degrees F. There is an inconsistent breeze, gusty at times and otherwise not. Gasoline Alley seems pretty quiet although most activity is hidden behind closed garage doors. The Scrutineering Bays have almost no customers and the INDYCAR Scrutineers are relaxed and enjoying the lull. For the most part there’s no worry about dodging the speeding pit carts, which are always on a mission. And in Pit Lane there is no activity at all … yet.

At noon, the track will open for fifteen minutes of private time for two Rookies, Zach Veach/No.40 Indy Women in Tech AJ Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet, and Jack Harvey/No.50 Michael Shank Racing w/Andretti Autosport Honda. Both drivers have passed Phase One of their ROP and have two phases to go.

Rookie Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda completed all his phases Monday. This is his first Indy 500, but he’s been running the full INDYCAR Series. Veach and Harvey are ‘one-off’ Indy 500 drivers.

Oriol Servia's No.16

Completing all phases of their Refresher Sessions were Jay Howard/No.77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda, Oriol Servia/No.16 Manitowoc Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; and Sebastian Saavedra/No.17 AFS Juncos Racing Chevrolet completed all phases of their Refresher Session, and were cleared to compete in the Indy 500.

At 12:15pm the track will open for all drivers.

Marco Andretti

Reviewing Monday’s first day of practice: Marco Andretti/No.27 United Fiber & Data Andretti Autosport Honda was fastest at 226.338 mph. He was pleased that he was again able to be first fastest on Opening Day – repeating last year’s accomplishment.

Second through fifth were Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda; Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet; Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Sonny’s BBQ Dale Coyne Racing Honda; and Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda.

Fernando Alonso

Andretti’s teammate Fernando Alonso/No.29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda was the top Rookie in nineteenth position, and he was fastest in the earlier Rookie/Refresher session. He met with the media after the session ended. “Good day. I will a little bit concerned about the conditions, about the temperature, much hotter today than the test we did here on the 3rd. But no, the car felt good, felt as good as in the test, and I was able to make some setup changes, yeah, without, as I said, losing the confidence in the car. Everything went very smooth.”

When asked what he thought would be the most difficult or dangerous, Alonso said “I think the most difficult thing will be the race itself, you know, all the things that happen in a race like this one, which are the traffic, running in traffic, and learning all the little tricks to overtake, and then to use the performance of your car in which moment of the race, why, you know, and all these little things that only with experience and with races you can learn. And I don’t have that experience, and I don’t have that time, so I know that I will be weaker in some of these aspects. I need to learn as quick as I can in the next 10 days, 12 days, and apart from that, I need to try to use other things that is not experience to try to close that gap that I will have, you know.”

Alonso admitted that running in traffic is part of his program yet to be experienced. Andretti added that “I think as we do these group runs we can almost simulate a race with all the cars we have on our team, almost a fifth of the field.”

Andretti isn’t usually overly emotional, but he seemed genuinely pleased with his top status Monday.”We were sort of trying to check the bigger setup item boxes today, the ones that took — the changes that take long. That’s why we were down for a lot of the day, and we got some good answers. You know, that’s all you can ask for. We’re trying to get the bigger items done now so you can start tuning mid-week and later in the week on the car on the smaller things, so we need to make big changes now, which we’ve been doing, and quite pleased with the starting car.

“Obviously ran good here last year. Car felt good when I tested for Fernando and still feels good, so that’s good. We need to keep it there, if not improve a bit more.”

Holmatro Safety Truck

Monday afternoon’s two on-track sessions went almost without incident. There were twelve cautions, ten of which were for track inspection / debris. Total caution time was nine seconds short of an hour. The Cleanup vehicles probably clocked as many laps as many of the drivers.

One exception was Rookie Harvey, who had a brush with the SAFER Barrier in Turn Two. He hit with the side panel and rear wheel, and spun to the opposite side of the track. He was unhurt and after being checked in the Infield Care Center, Harvey was released and cleared for driving. The crew went to work on repairing the damage. And it was truly a team effort, with crew members from all the six Andretti Autosport teams pitching in. Harvey said “To have that happen, and I don’t know what did happen apart from I went to turn in and it went straight. I was coming out of the pits. I wasn’t even going fast. I was probably not even going 100 mph. So bizarre. We had just done a long run and had pitted because there was a yellow flag and then had that. A random. Hopefully it’s the last time we come to the medical center.”

Not exactly a drama, but causing a caution, to be cautious, was Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak N’Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda who pitted with a smoke trail. He lost an engine. Third one for Honda. Saturday Bourdais and Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Honda each lost an engine in the Indianapolis Grand Prix.

JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand

t only ran six laps, and he was 32nd fastest.

Rookie Jones turned the most overall laps, counting his ROP and Open Practice – 94. He finished twenty-second.

More Indiana students are on campus for a STEAM talk by Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda in the East Chalet. Tuesday the students are all from high schools.

HOT TRACK!

Start waving Yellow Flag

Opening Day for the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 at The Brickyard. It was sunny and hot Monday, and eager fans were in the garages aka Gasoline Alley. It was busy with the teams setting up their cars for Monday afternoon’s practice session. At noon local/ET time, all the drivers were allowed five minutes for installation laps to check out their cars and the track. Then all but a selected few parked their cars until 2pm when the track was open for all. The starter waved the Yellow Flag for the start of the Installation Laps.

The famed race track has had a full conversion, from the 2.439-mile, 14 turn road course circuit to the 2.5-mile, four-turn oval speedway. The work started with a crew of 25 immediately after the Indianapolis Grand Prix Saturday afternoon, and went until 10pm. It started up again Sunday at 8am and went until 4pm, with temperatures in the mid-eighties, and little wind for respite. It took 18 hours over the two days.The barriers, tire walls and fencing has to be removed and replaced, the track cleaned up and swept, and painting done. Lots of equipment was utilized to do the heavy lifting. Job well done!

Start waving Yellow Flag

Firestone color-coded tires

Firestone tires issues three extra sets of the Indianapolis 500 race tires to the Rookies, and two sets to the Refreshers. There is only the one tire for this race, and it has the same compound as last year, with a new rear construction. There are no rain tires for oval racing. The tires are color-coded: Left side tires have a silver rim with a white Firestone F logo; the right side tires have a bright blue rim with a red F logo.

There are but a few taking the ROP – Rookie Orientation Program, required of all rookies who haven’t previously run the Indy 500. It is also a Refresher session for those who haven’t run in a while, which could include the one-off drivers. The three Rookies who went out late were Jack Harvey/No.50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda; Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda; and Zach Veach/No.40 Indy Women in Tech Championship AJ Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet. Those in the Refresher category include Rookie Fernando Alonso/No.29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Andretti Autosport Honda, who passed his ROP in a private test Monday week; Jay Howard/No.77 Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda; Sage Karam/No.24 DRR Mecum Auctions Dreyer & Reinbold Chevrolet; Pippa Mann/No.63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda; Sebastian Saavedra/No.17 AFS Juncos Racing Chevrolet; and Oriol Servia/No.16 Manitowoc Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Mann indicated she wouldn’t participate in the Refresher session.

Fernando Alonso's No.29 Honda

Fernando Alonso in Pit Lane

Alonzo's Car towed back to Garage

Alonso is garnering a fair share of attention and he’s paying back. He was seen at the airport signing autographs when he landed from Sunday’s Formula One race, after flying in with Zak Brown of McLaren, in a private jet. And he stuck around after his F1 race in Spain to do the obligatory bull pen interviews, smiling and grateful to have finished a race. In the Gasoline Alley Monday morning, Alonso was again seen signing autographs.

Alonso was fastest in the Rookie/Refresher Session, at 221.634 mph, on Lap 26 of 35 laps. Then the car went back to the garage for a couple of hours.

Second through seventh during the Rookie/Refresher session were: Servia, Rookie Jones, Howard, Saavedra, Rookie Harvey, and Rookie Veach. Others on the Installation Lap were Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda; Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet; JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Service Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet; Carlos Munoz/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet; Graham Rahal/No.15 Steak N’Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda; and Spencer Pigot/No.11 Juncos Racing Chevrolet.

Mikhail Aleshin's car in Tech

James Hinchcliffe's No.5 Honda in Tech

Buddy Lazier's Car

All but one Verizon INDYCAR field have been through Scrutineering, at least the Safety Check portion. Drivers are allowed to have just the Safety Check portion, and waive going through the Technical Inspection until after they’ve been on track. That portion must be completed before the driver can compete.

The only driver yet to appear is Buddy Lazier/No.49 Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Lodge Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet. He is on a ‘short-short program’ and won’t be on track until Thursday. Lazier is in stealth mode, with no garage sign installed yet.

Graham Rahal

Speedway Middle School Students

Lots of school children were on field trips Monday, ostensibly with a STEM focus. There are small groups of elementary school children with chaperones, and a huge mob of Indiana middle-school students from Speedway, practically the whole student body – 200. They and other middle school students were here with the Perdue University MSTEM3 Initiative. Verizon INDYCAR Driver Rahal spoke to the group before the track opened. Monday and Tuesday Honda’s STEM Connections Tour to promote STEAM – Science, Technology, the arts, and math behind motorsports. On Tuesday 2016 Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda will speak to high school students. After the talks the students were free to roam.

Alonso's Garage Sign

Oriol Servia's Garage Sign

Sebastian Saavedra's Garage Sign

Pippa Mann's Garage Sign

Jay Howard's Garage Sign

Jack Harvey's Garage Sign
Spencer Pigot's Garage Sign

Gaby Chaves Garage Sign

Buddy Lazier's Garage Sign

PROSAIC POWER

Trylon

Trylon. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Day One of the Merry Month of May continued at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for the Autonomous to the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500. The theme is “The Greatest Legends in Racing!” The weather Friday was deceptively sunny, with a frigid wind chill factor, which kept all the Gasoline Alley garage doors shut. Not so much for privacy, but warmth. There wasn’t much to see as the teams were beavering away behind closed doors.

Juncos Racing

A couple of teams had just enough car parts outside their garage to pique one’s curiosity about the so-called ‘one-off’ cars which will be running the Indy 500. Examples were the bright greens and orange of the Juncos team entry for Sebastian Saavedra. Nearby blue and white livery on Harding Racing’s No.88 Chevrolet for Gabby Chaves was being set up. And one can’t miss the Pippa pink pieces outside Dale Coyne Racing.

Carlos Munoz

Carlos Munoz. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Practice Two for the Verizon INDYCAR Series was early afternoon, 61 degrees F and a biting cold 12 mph wind. All cars went on course and for a brief while Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda led the field. It wasn’t long before another new track record was set by Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet – 1:07.7684. As the session progressed, only one driver was faster in the morning session – Carlos Munoz/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. Perhaps it was because he spun out sideways and coasted at speed into the grass, stopping short of the tire wall.

Alexander Rossi

Alexander Rossi. Photo by Nico Matamoros

The 45-minute session was interrupted for a Red Flag when Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda ran out of fuel on the back stretch. Other than that, there was almost no drama in the session. To illustrate how prosaic it was, one of only a couple of talking points seemed to be the brief wheel touch by Simon Pagenaud/No.1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda. Both cars continued, and Rossi moved up to fourth position at that point. Afterwards, Rossi said “He was leaving the pits, and we were on our first lap on reds (the alternate Firestone compound tires). He stayed on my end in Turn Seven. Fortunately, it’s practice. It doesn’t matter. We always try and give each other space, but it was practice, so it doesn’t matter.”

Will Power

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Power’s fast time held, so he was again on top. Second and third were teammates Josef Newgarden/No.2 hum by Verizon and Juan Pablo Montoya/No.22 Fitzgerald Gilder Kits. Fourth and fifth were Rossi and another Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Verizon.

Conor Daly/No.14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Chevrolet moved up to tenth in P2, after finishing last in P1.

Sam Schmidt, Mario Andretti & Doug Boles

Sam Schmidt, Mario Andretti & Doug Boles

There was a verbal preview of Saturday’s Challenge Race between Sam Schmidt and Mario Andretti were the two, who engaged in verbal jousting in the Media Center. At previous Indy 500 weekends, Schmidt, a disabled race driver/team owner, has driven his specially modified Arrow Electronics Corvette Stingray in exhibition laps. This year he will race SAM (Semi-Autonomous Motorcar) on the IMS road course. Schmidt’s Driver Assistant the past two years has been Robby Unser. Not sure who might be with Andretti. Andretti and Schmidt have yet to clarify just what is on the line in their own personal bet – maybe has something to do with a ride in the 2018 Indy 500?

At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum there is “A.J. Foyt A Legendary Exhibition,” celebrating his 60-year involvement in the Greatest Spectacle in Motor Racing. The four-time Indy 500 winner, who has been involved in one form or another in every Indy 500 for the past sixty years, personifies American racing. He is perhaps the only driver who ever has or ever will start 35 consecutive Indy 500’s as a driver. He’s fielded an Indy 500 team for the past 35 years. Foyt is the only driver who has won the Indy 500, the Daytona 500 and the 24 Hours of Le Mans (with Dan Gurney.) In his 21-year IndyCar racing history, he won 67 races. The exhibit includes 35 of his race cars and much, much more.

I continue to have major connectivity issues which plague my posting. Sorry.

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.

SIMON SAYS

Simon Pagenaud

Simon Pagenaud. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Simon Pagenaud/No.1 Menard’s TeamPenske Chevrolet won his first-ever oval race Saturday night at Phoenix International Raceway for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix. He led twice for the most laps – 116, and turned the fastest leader lap of 184.707 mph on Lap 155.

PIR was the tenth career victory for the 2016 IndyCar Champion, and his first at the 1.022-mile oval. Pagenaud averaged 144.058 mph, a record speed for the track which has never before seen a driver average more than 140 mph in a race.

It was the 189th IndyCar victory for Team Penske, which has won more IndyCar races than any other team; and the 450th race victory in all of motorsports for Penske Racing. Penske drivers led all 250 laps, the first time for them since the first of the Belle Isle races last year.

Simon and Checkered Flag

Simon Pagenaud & Bryan Sperber

Simon Sprayed

PHOTOS: Simon Pagenaud; Simon Pagenaud & Bryan Sperber, President of Phoenix International Raceway; and Simon Sprayed. Photos by Pablo Matamoros.

Pagenaud was one happy camper after the race. “I’m so excited. I don’t know if you can see it, but I’m so excited. This win for me has been a long time coming. I had to relearn everything. Oval for me was completely unknown. So, when you are 25-years-old and you have to relearn everything it’s not that easy, but I think now it’s coming.

“I’ve got to tell you, this is just incredible. For me, this is my best win because it’s so strategic to win on an oval. You have to really study what the others are doing, how your car is responding, adjust it during the race to be good at the end; and today was just exactly a perfect day. I couldn’t be any happier. Those were the longest 50 laps of my life. I have a button on the steering wheel to check the lap count, every lap I was pressing the button. It was the most stressful end of the race I’ve ever lived, but the car was just phenomenal.”

Will Power

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Teammate Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was runner-up, and turned the fastest race lap of 186.340 mph on Lap 208. His finish boosted his standings from 14th to seventh. “Yeah, absolutely, it was a fun race and it gave us some points. Yes, we are not out of the game. I mean, come on. It’s so early, yeah; we’ve got plenty of time.” Power led once, for 59 laps.

This was Power’s 56th career podium finish. He was asked about Chevrolet’s resurgence after a seemingly Honda-domination earlier in the season. “Yeah, I think so. I mean, in the oval races this year, Chevy’s had a shot. Obviously some tracks suited the Honda a little bit better. But, you know, I feel like we’re going to be good. I mean, we were good at Barber. I think we’ll be good at Indy road course. Chevy’s been working really hard to have a great engine for the 500, which I’m very confident in those guys because they do such a good job. Between Chevy and Ilmor, I think they could come up with something pretty good.”

JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Third was JR Hildebrand/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, where he started – breaking up the Penske drivers. This was JR’s first race with his new engineer, JR Taylor, and Taylor’s first oval race. “Boom. Podium.”

To elaborate, Hildebrand continued. “Team has been working on the development and that goes a long way. We’re all learning a bit as we go along. It starts with just the development work that the team has done as a whole. We come into these places feeling really confident that if we don’t touch anything and roll the thing out in qualifying or race trim, that we’ll be kind of in the window. That goes a long way.

“But Justin’s been awesome, man. To come into this whole thing and not know the car, we’re at a whole bunch of tracks that he’s not seen. Certainly the oval aspect of it, it’s a lot to get used to.

“It’s obviously my first time back in the car full-time with aero kits and all this kind of stuff. We’re all sort of learning a little bit still as we go along.”

This was Hildebrand’s first race back since his accident at Long Beach in which he shattered his left hand. “It really wasn’t that bad. I think I’ll be dealing with some swelling. Going out for that final stint on sticker tires the first couple laps, it was like, Holy (expletive), the steering was super heavy.

“In terms of my hand actually bugging me, it was no stress. I think we’ll be good to go at Gateway on Tuesday and hopefully be ready to rock and roll for the whole month of May.”

IndyCar has an open test Tuesday at Gateway Motorsports Park.

Will Power, Simon Pagenaud & JR Hildebrand

Will Power, Simon Pagenaud & JR Hildebrand. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Hildebrand’s team owner and teammate, Ed Carpenter started 21st and finished seventh. He said “It was great for JR to break up the Penske sandwich.” Carpenter was all smiles, perhaps for the first time this weekend, after two days of adversity. “It’s nice for JR’s first podium with us. I’ll take it as a small victory.” Saturday’s podium was the second for JR, after his first when he was runner-up in his Rookie Indianapolis 500, which he almost won before he crashed in sight of the checkered flag.

Fourth and fifth were Helio Castroneves/No.3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet and Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, the top Honda. Dixon is now second in the standings, 18 points behind Pagenaud.

Five drivers had their race ended on Turn Two during the first lap. There was an immediate full course caution, which lasted 21 laps. The spinning car of Mikhail Aleshin/No.7 SMP Racing Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda collected two other cars, and two others were unavoidably caught out. All drivers were seen in the Infield Care Center, released, cleared to drive. Aleshin said “Not my day today, I feel sorry for the #7 crew and drivers that couldn’t avoid me at that incident. Unfortunately when we got to Turn 1, I felt the rear of the car went, and I just couldn’t do anything. I was full lock, and I just understood that that was it. I feel sorry for the guys that hit as well, but that’s racing. Very sorry to my Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team and everyone that works on the No. 7 because I think the guys did a fantastic job. Sometimes situations like this happen, but we’ll keep moving forward.”

The two cars Aleshin took out were then-points leader, Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Sonny’s BBQ Dale Coyne Racing Honda, and Max Chilton/No.8 Gallagher Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Caught up with no place to go were Marco Andretti/No.27 Oberti Beef Jerkey Andretti Autosport Honda, and Graham Rahal/No.15 United Rentals Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda. Bourdais fell to fourth in the standings, behind Josef Newgarden/No.2 Verizon Team Penske, who led for two laps and ran in the top five for most of the race, until an brief contact with Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda. RHR retired with 30 laps to go. Newgarden made a quick pit stop for body work and rejoined, further down in the pack. He finished ninth, two laps down. RHR was credited with thirteenth.

There were four race leaders: Pole sitter Castroneves for the first 74 laps; Newgarden for two laps; Pagenaud for a lap; Power for 12 laps; and then Pagenaud for the last 113 laps. The first three lead changes were cycling through pit stops, and Pagenaud who stayed out when a caution came out, and then pitted under that caution and kept his lead.

The only other accident was Takuma Sato/No.26 Andretti Autosport Honda, who hit the Turn Four wall and caused an 11-lap caution. He too was seen in the Infield Care Center and released, cleared to drive.

The weather started out warm with bright late afternoon sun glare, with temperatures dropping to low seventies with 10 mph winds.

Next up after the Gateway test is the Grand Prix of Indianapolis at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday 13 May 2017.

Simon Pagenaud's race car

Simon Pagenaud’s race car. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES UNOFFICIAL RACE RESULTS
1. (5) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 250, Running
2. (2) Will Power, Chevrolet, 250, Running
3. (3) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 250, Running
4. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 250, Running
5. (8) Scott Dixon, Honda, 249, Running
6. (6) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 249, Running
7. (21) Ed Carpenter, Chevrolet, 248, Running
8. (14) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 248, Running
9. (4) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 248, Running
10. (19) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 247, Running
11. (16) Ed Jones, Honda, 247, Running
12. (11) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 246, Running
13. (12) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 220, Mechanical
14. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 180, Running
15. (15) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 141, Contact
16. (18) Takuma Sato, Honda, 135, Contact
17. (7) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 0, Contact
18. (9) Marco Andretti, Honda, 0, Contact
19. (10) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 0, Contact
20. (13) Max Chilton, Honda, 0, Contact
21. (17) Graham Rahal, Honda, 0, Contact

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES POINT STANDINGS
1-Pagenaud 159
2-Dixon 141
3-Newgarden 133
4-Bourdais 128
5-Hinchcliffe 120
6-Castroneves 118
7-Power 91
8-Kanaan 87
9-Hunter-Reay 82
10-Jones 81

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.

SPEED KING

SPEED KING Helio Castroneves

SPEED KING Helio Castroneves. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Verizon IndyCar Series driver, Helio Castroneves/No.3 REV Group Team Penske Chevrolet was crowned Speed King Friday night at Phoenix International Raceway with a record qualifying lap of 194.905 mph. He reclaimed the record, set minutes earlier by his Penske teammate, Will Power in No.12 Verizon Chevrolet, who turned a lap of 194.017 mph. That lap broke the then-existing record of 192.631 mph set by Castro last year. By the end of qualifying, seven drivers had eclipsed Castroneves’ record of last year.

Castroneves’ Team Penske Crew also won the Firestone Pit Stop Performance Award at Barber last weekend.

Castoneves said “People don’t realize that qualifying is extremely difficult. I took it to the limit – I had one eye closed and one eye open. Experience is a big part of this and today was really, really good. The conditions were really difficult today in practice – the gusting winds were horrendous. We worked mostly on the race setup (in practice).

“It’s been tough. Then they call us old. That’s what I tell you. Experience is a big part of this. Today was really, really good.

“The conditions were really difficult today because it changed from last year. Last year, we qualified in the afternoon, practiced at night. Now it was completely different. But the gust winds were horrendous.

We just decided to work obviously most on the race setup, make sure that the car would feel good. Big things that happened here in pre-season, probably it paid off today because we didn’t have to go through a lot of change.

But again, in qualifying, yeah, my engineer did a phenomenal job. We calculated something in the car. It turned out to be a good one.”

Helio Castroneves and P1 Award

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Helio Castroneves and P1 Trophy

Photos by Pablo Matamoros

The two Penske teammates have alternated Verizon P1 Pole Awards for the four qualifying sessions so far this season. And now Power is on a mission to catch up and pass Castroneves. “You know, this year it’s been pole for me, pole for Helio, pole for me, pole for Helio. Let me work this out. Indy road course for me, damn it, pole for Helio. I wanted the 500 pole. But then maybe it works out in the race, so…

“Helio and I are going at it because we’re really close in poles. I think I’m 46 and he’s now 49. He’s, like, really trying to cement that position, but I’m going to take it from him.”

Will Power

Will Power. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Power thought qualifying was better than practice. “Conditions were definitely better. It was just a little tough going second in line because of all the dust that had blown on the track. So, I was very unsure on the first lap.”

Power was asked about tires and wear, whether the track smoothness was keeping the Firestone tires from degrading and it affecting passing. He agreed. “Yeah, you’re right. If it degraded more, it would help passing. But they (Firestone) brought a more durable right front tire. I think they fixed the front tire, had a couple issues last year.

“The tire does degrade a little bit, but not like Iowa. It really degrades, creates some good racing. I think it could be a really good race. I expect it to be a really good race. I mean, it’s a little harder than other tracks to get a run.”

Chevrolet made a sweep of the top five spots, with all four Penske drivers making JR Hildebrand/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet The Man In The Middle, in third position. Fourth and fifth were Josef Newgarden/No.2 and Simon Pagenaud/No.1 Menards.

JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand

Hildebrand said “I’m glad to be up there in the top three. The car has been good here from the test to rolling out today for practice. We had a good, strong run. It’s so difficult to pick your downforce level in these varied conditions. We saw the Penske guys roll out with a little less than where we were at, but frankly, our cars are really good in race trim. Ed (Teammate and Team Owner, Carpenter) and the No. 20 car will be hauling it from the back, but he’ll be someone to watch in the race for sure.”

Carpenter spent much of Practice in the garage working on a fuel leak, and qualified last in the field of 21. “The guys did a great job turning the car back around and having it ready for qualifying. We just didn’t have the balance we needed and we’ll have to make our way forward from the back of the field tomorrow night.”

Newgarden was brief and to the point. “”I’m happy that we have speed & we’re up front, but we wanted more.”

Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing was the top Honda qualifier, in sixth position. He said “I have a strong track record here at Phoenix, so I definitely think we can get around those Chevys tomorrow and win from sixth.”

Kanaan’s Ganassi teammate, Scott Dixon/No.9, who won last year’s Desert Classic, qualified eighth. “The ambient conditions changed a lot from practice to qualifying. We found a lot and learned that we were a bit too conservative in qualifying. We came up a little short and we know we can trim out a bit more for the race in the NTT Data No. 9.”

Points Leader Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Sonny’s BBQ Coyne Racing Honda qualified thirteenth. “Not a bad run in the Sonny’s car, but just not quite good enough. We’re kind of fighting amongst ourselves in the Honda camp, and we’re P5 in that group. It’s OK, it’s not great, but at the end of the day it’s a tough run.”

Post-Qualifying Pit Lane

Post-qualifying Pit Lane. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

CAUTIONARY WINDY PIR PRACTICE

Spotters

It was windy and warm, with the temperature dropping incrementally from the high of 87 degrees F at Phoenix International Raceway for the one and only practice session for the Verizon IndyCar Series. The two-hour session was relatively trouble-free, with no driver drama. There were four cautions – three for track inspections, and one for dust. The inspections were for checking and sweeping after track conditions caused concern for tires. One was for a bolt, and one was for metal car parts. The wind was blowing at 18 mph, flags stiff and fluttering in the wind. It didn’t seem that hot, and the temperature dropped several degrees during the session, down to 79 degrees F by the time the session was over. But it felt colder and windier, and was only going to get worse for qualifying. It must have been really windy on top of the Turn Two Grandstands for the spotters.

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was the fastest at the Checkered Flag, with a lap of 192.108 mph/0.19.1517. He was one of at least six different drivers who took a turn on top. ““I’ve never heard of a ‘dust storm caution,’ but this is Phoenix. It’s the desert so I guess you get that. This is the windiest I have ever seen this place. It makes it difficult. It was a tough practice session. It’s the wind gusts that make it so tricky. You have some consistent wind and then you have gusts of 40 mph.”

JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand

JR Hildebrand/No.21 Fuzzy’s Vodka was on top for a spell and finished up second overall. This is his first race back in the car, after missing last weekend’s race at Barber due to his broken hand. Hildebrand had it braced up, with a variation on the brace he usually wears, but not much in the way of changes in the car. “To change it, we’ve moved things around, remade some steering wheel grips and things like that. But that’s all things that guys do between weekends kind of anyway.”

He was asked about the wind. “The conditions were, like, as crazy as I’ve seen them at a track in a long time. Just the amount of wind that we had, obviously as you guys were I’m sure very clearly aware, like the dust and all that kind of stuff was pretty crazy looking. For tomorrow it’s going to be a guess what downforce level you want to run and those types of things just to get through the race and be good in different types of situations in the race.”

Ed Carpenter

His teammate and team owner, Ed Carpenter/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, spent a lengthy process in the garage diagnosing what appeared to be a fuel leak. JR wasn’t concerned about similar problems with his car. “No. I think it was just an isolated incident. Yeah, no stress on our side.”

Third through fifth were the other three Team Penske Chevrolet drivers, Helio Castroneves/No.3 Rev Group, Simon Pagenaud/No.1 Menards, and Will Power/No.12 Verizon. It was a top five sweep for Chevrolet. Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda was sixth overall, but during the session, he had been on top for the most laps.

Will Power

Helio Castroneves

Scott Dixon

PHOTOS: L-R, Will Power, Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon.

Power turned the most laps of all, 79. Carpenter turned the fewest – 17.

Marco Andretti

Another car which spent time in the garage was Marco Andretti/No.27 Oberto Beef Jerkey Andretti Autosport with Lendium Honda. The team said they were just making some changes, and he went back out with five minutes or less to go. He ended up nineteenth, with 24 laps.

Tony Kanaan anniversary decal

Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda is celebrating twenty years in indycar racing, and Thursday he celebrated with his fellow Brazilian, Castroneves, who also has met the same milestone.

Each team receives nine sets of Firestone tires, all oval-designed for PIR and Gateway Motorsports Park. If by chance a team’s car loses a tire due to something beyond their control, such as a bolt or car metal on the track, the team can opt to replace that tire.

During the practice session, the Firestone Tire Tempers check and monitor the tire temperatures of all four tires of a race car when it is in the pits, and then sharing the information with the team. Susie Jensen is a veteran Tire Technician, working for Performance Tire Service Company , a contractor of Bridgestone, and has worked in the IndyCar Series for years.

Susie Jensen

Susie Jensen

Susie Jensen

PIR LOWDOWN

INDYCAR Garage

It’s Finally Friday! Day One of a low-key two-day Verizon IndyCar race weekend at Phoenix International Weekend. The schedule is about as different from the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach as can be. There are two other groups of cars on the schedule this weekend, with generous breaks in between sessions. And there will be autograph sessions for all three groups.

The weather is warm – low to high eighties, with the breeze alternating between desultory and brisk. the morning heavy overcast long gone.

Dennis Firestone's 1981 AAR Gurney Eagle

Dennis Firestone’s 1981 AAR Gurney Eagle

The feature for the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix is Round Four of the sixteen weekend IndyCar schedule. Also this weekend are the USAC Silver Crown Champ Cars with 17 drivers, and Quarter Midgets running outside the grandstands; and the Vintage Desert Classics, which are IndyCar Legends car – 43 of them on display and mostly on track. And from those 43 are two which will have a ‘shootout’ of sorts, called the Speed Calibration, which will pit former IndyCar driver Dennis Firestone in one of his old race cars, and Desert Classics promotor, Gary Mondschein.

Indy Legends

Gene Nolan Racing Chevy Beasts

Indy Legends

The IndyCar garage is relatively quiet and going about its business, with teams picking up tires, prepping cars, going through Scrutineering, and setting up Pit Boxes in the very wide Pit Lane. Quite a contrast from the narrow street-circuit pits of Long Beach.
No.19 in Scrutineering Bay

Tire Pickup

No.12 in Scrutineering Bay

Elevator Construction

Take a good look at the front straight grandstands, the RV lots and the garages. They are on their way out. The track is undergoing a massive renovation, which will take two years to complete. After this weekend’s race, the garages and front straight grandstands go. Everything which was there will be moved 90 degrees to the left. The Start-Finish Line will move to the left. The infield will be a new fan zone area. New garages will go up where was the RV lot – three covered garage areas. The Bobby allison Grandstand benches will be upgraded to individual wider seats, with cup holders. Access in the grandstands will be via four new escalators and five new elevators in addition to the five existing elevators. Structures for two elevators are under construction already. And something dear to the heart of all race fans – multiple new restrooms, including ADA facilities. Capacity will be 45,000. There will be a new Media Center and buildings to accommodate Race Control, Timing & Scoring, Medical Center which will house a new First Aid station and EMS location, and Guest Services Area. New concession areas are coming. The DC Solar Fan Midway will provide more visual fan access to the Drivers, in their meetings, for autograph sessions, of the garages, and of the Gatorade Victory Lane celebrations. There’s a lot of work scheduled between now and the November NASCAR race.

Kody Swanson, Bobby Santos and Davey Hamilton

Kody Swanson, Bobby Santos and Davey Hamilton

The Silver Crowns had a practice in the early afternoon, and points leader Chris Windom in No.92 Gene Kazmark/Remin Kat-A-Bag-Project Healing Waters/Beast Ford. blew an engine. The car has been withdrawn, but as Kody Swanson said – “Just because Chris doesn’t have a car, don’t count him out.” Kody is tied for second in the current standings, in No.63 DePalma Motorsports/Radio Hospital-Hampshire Racing Engines/Beast/Hampshire. In Qualifying, fastest was Bobby Santos/No.22 DJRacing-Simpson Race Products/Beast/VDS Chevy. Second was Kody Swanson, and third was veteran Davey Hamilton (Sr) in No.99 RPM-Fred Gormly/Guts Wear-Hoosier Tire/Beast/Chevy. They all agreed that the wind wasn’t a problem for their cars, described by Hamilton as “a brick.” To a T, all the USAC drivers are thrilled to be back racing at PIR, so much so that Kody Swanson’s brother, Tanner Swanson, went looking for a ride and he’s in No.201 Gene Nolen Racing/KECO Coatings/Beast/Tranter Chevy.

Symmetry-Ganassi Tool Boxes

Symmetry. Firestone Tires

Symmetry. Team Penske Wings

HINCH CLINCH!

Michael Andretti #27 Honda

Michael Andretti #27 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

James Hinchcliffe

The Mayor of Hinchtown won the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach Sunday in grand style on a sunny day with mild temperatures and brisk breezes. James Hinchcliffe of Canada did the Maple Leaf proud in No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda. He led twice during the 85-lap race, one of three different leaders, which didn’t include pole sitter Helio Castroneves in No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Chevrolet. His Margin of Victory over second place was 1.4940 seconds.

This was Hinchcliffe’s fifth IndyCar win, the first since New Orleans in 2015, a gap of 21 races. NOLA was also the last victory for team owner Sam Schmidt and Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “I feel like I’m back. (His last victory was a month before his horrific crash at Indy in 2015.) The history of this event is second only to Indy, so we love coming here and putting on a show for everyone. Cooler temperatures do help. The blacks were unbelievably consistent, and the reds were incredibly fast. Only one other Canadian (Paul Tracy) has more IndyCar wins than all those famous Canadian contenders. Tough to beat your first win for importance, but this one ranks right up there. Winning is great, but earning it like here is great.

Sebastien Bourdais

Sebastien Bourdais No.18 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Sebastien Bourdais/No.18 Trench Shoring Dale Coyne Racing Honda finished second with a big grin on his face. He now leads the points standings, nineteen points ahead of Hinchcliffe. “Best finish since victory in 2007 at LBGP. We felt off on setups, and I was mostly responsible for it. Stuck with two-stop strategy after pitting for replacing broken body work from the start. Someone lost an end plate or something. It flew by, I dodged it in the car, it went really close and it ripped off the whole left side of the rear wing and rear pod and that’s why we came in so early. It gave us a couple of laps to save fuel, but we played to our strengths. I’ve always been pretty comfortable saving fuel and that one kind of came to us. I was just really surprised that no one played the game. It was feasible fuel wise, for us at least. James (Hinchcliffe) really deserved that one. He looked very comfortable and quick up front and I didn’t really have the balance at the end to go challenge him so I just managed for second place. I don’t know that we’re a contender but we’ll find out. We’ll have stayed up there for two races so that’s not too bad!”

Josef Newgarden No.20

Josef Newgarden No.20. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

James Hinchcliffe

Third finisher was Josef Newgarden/No.2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, the top bow tie. “Our strategy didn’t play out at the end with the caution. A third place is good. I have momentum with a top ten and podium finish in two races with a new team.”

Fourth was Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Honda, who led twice.

Simon Pagenaud No.1 Chevrolet

Simon Pagenaud No.1 Chevrolet. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Fifth was Simon Pagenaud/No.1 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet, who had charged from last place, gaining sixteen places. He started last due to his Qualifying penalty, but quickly moved up the line and by Lap 10 he was up to P10. Pagenaud then executed a smooth pass on pole sitter Castroneves, who was slowly moving backwards. By Lap 29, he was in sixth position. The 2016 Champion moved back a bit during Pit Stops, but was back up to P7 for a run on the last ten laps. With three laps to go after the last caution, Pagenaud had moved up to fifth, running faster than the field at that point. Zero to near-Hero. He was a happy camper, despite his warning and monetary fine for ‘unattended equipment’ during a pit stop.

Rookie honors went to Ed Jones/No.19 Boy Scouts of America Dale Coyne Racing Honda, who finished sixth, after starting thirteenth. The 2016 Indy Lights Champion is the youngest driver in the field.

The last lap was drama-filled. Hinch did his doughnuts, while Aleshin and JR Hildebrand/No.21 Preferred Freezer Services Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet had contact. JR went up and over Aleshin’s left rear wheel and drove off to the runoff, joined by Aleshin. The Stewards reviewed the incident, and penalized Aleshin one position for blocking. This put Aleshin back to twelfth and Hildebrand up to eleventh. Hildebrand was seen by the INDYCAR Medical Director Geoffrey Bellows, who said the driver suffered a broken bone in his left hand, and will be re-evaluated upon his return to Indianapolis. At the moment, Hildebrand is not cleared to drive.

JR Hildebrand No.21 Chevrolet

JR Hildebrand No.21 Chevrolet. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

Hildebrand said “At the end of the race, we all were bunched back up because of that last yellow. I was on reds and had a little bit for at least the handful of cars in front of us. On the last lap, I was making a move on Mikhail Aleshin and I could tell he was struggling. I was out of push-to-pass so I was trying to make a proper, full-out pass down the front straightaway. He had been starting to move over, not a major blocking maneuver but enough to assert his line. He hit the brake a lot earlier than I was expecting and I ended up running into the back of him. In doing so, it ripped the steering wheel from my hand and I ended up tweaking it. At the end of the day, to come home with an 11th place finish isn’t terrible. It is a bummer though as we were certainly on our way to finishing in the Top 10 and now we are in a bit of a jam going forward. Hopefully I can get back to it here before the next race.”

Mikhail Aleshin
Meanwhile Aleshin wasn’t having a good time under the Steward’s watchful eyes. Earlier he’d had a warning and monetary fine assessed for ‘unattended equipment’ during. And then he had wheel-to-wheel contact with Tony Kanaan/No.10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, but no action was taken that time.

The top four drivers were on Reds-alternates tires. The average race speed was 90.845 mph. No doubt due to late cautions, the speed dropped. Earlier in the race the race average speed had been 96.8555 mph. Ten cars finished on the lead lap.

Helio Castroneves

Helio Castroneves. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

It was Off To The Races from the drop of the Green Flag. Pole sitter Helio Castroneves/No.3 Auto Club of Southern California Team Penske Chevrolet was snookered by Scott Dixon/No.9 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. James Hinchcliffe/No.5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda followed the leader, with Ryan Hunter-Reay/No.28 DHL Andretti Autosport Honda in close pursuit. Graham Rahal/No.15 PennGrade Motor Oil Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda and Alexander Rossi/No.98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian Honda slotted in behind, reversing their starting positions. Castroneves fell back to sixth position. And this was on the first part of the first lap, and sixteen cars finished the race.

On Turn Four the first lap, Will Power/No.12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was turned on by Charlie Kimball/No.83 Tresiba Chip Ganassi Racing Honda and both cars hit the concrete barrier. Kimball limped into the Pits with broken parts and retired. Power waited impatiently for the quickly-responding IndyCar Safety Crew and was restarted. He continued and moved up to P18 and soldiered on. He finished thirteenth. Apparently no one heard AJ Foyt’s advice from Friday to his Indy 500 driver, Zach Veach – ‘To finish first you have to first finish. You don’t win it on the first lap.’

The lead changes after the first lap were due to Pit Stops. It was Dixon, then RHR, then Dixon, then Hunter-Reay, then Hinchcliffe, then Dixon, and then Hinchcliffe. Officially, seven lead changes among three drivers. Dixon led three times, for 32 laps; Hunter-Reay twice for 28 laps, and Hinchcliffe twice for 25 laps.

Michael Andretti #27 Honda

Michael Andretti #27 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros

A five-lap full course caution was thrown for Rossi who slowed to a stop on course in Lap 63 with engine failure – while running second. His teammate, Marco Andretti/No.27 United Data & Fiber Andretti Autosport Honda had earlier pulled off in Turn Eight with a blown engine. RHR coasted to a stop in Turn Four on Lap 80 bringing out the last full course caution, victim of electrical problems. Hero to Zero. A lap earlier, Sato had already pulled off course the prior lap. By then team owner Michael Andretti was seen forlornly on the Pit Box. “Why Me?” All four of his drivers were out with mechanical woes.

Alexander Rossi No.98 Honda

Alexander Rossi No.98 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Rossi said “The NAPA AUTO PARTS car was awesome this weekend. We’ll just have to fight back at Barber. Honda has done an amazing job so it’s unfortunate. But congrats to Honda and Hinch on the win.” Ever the diplomat. He was overheard after the race discussing his ‘catastrophic engine failure.’

Cycling through pit stops cause much of the lead changes up front. That’s not to say there wasn’t passing – there was according to IndyCar stats: 199 total passes. Strategy played its part during the race. Near the end of the race, four of the 18 running drivers were on alternate (red) tires.

Spencer Pigot No.20 Honda

Spencer Pigot No.20 Honda. Photo by Pablo Matamoros.

Spencer Pigot

Young Spencer Pigot/No.20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet kissed the wall but maintained his eighth position. He started nineteenth, and gained the second most positions in the race – eleven. He is the second youngest driver in the full-time series, and ran ten races last season.

The race was five laps longer this year – 85.

It was interesting to note that ‘The Captain’ aka Roger Penske was on site in the paddock from Day One, not a usual occurrence.

Except for turning the fastest lap of 104.542 mph on Lap 59, it seemed for awhile that Castroneves couldn’t catch a break. After his less than perfect start, he was assessed a drive-thru penalty for a Pit Speed Violation on his second pit stop, and ordered to the back of the field for another speeding ticket on his last pit stop. By the finish he’d faded to ninth.

It was another glorious day for the 43rd running of the Beach Party, now called the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach. For 38 years Toyota has been the title sponsor, the longest running entitlement sponsorship in motorsports.

VERIZON INDYCAR OFFICIAL RESULTS

1. (4) James Hinchcliffe, Honda, 85, Running
2. (12) Sebastien Bourdais, Honda, 85, Running
3. (8) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 85, Running
4. (2) Scott Dixon, Honda, 85, Running
5. (21) Simon Pagenaud, Chevrolet, 85, Running
6. (13) Ed Jones, Honda, 85, Running
7. (14) Carlos Munoz, Chevrolet, 85, Running
8. (19) Spencer Pigot, Chevrolet, 85, Running
9. (1) Helio Castroneves, Chevrolet, 85, Running
10. (6) Graham Rahal, Honda, 85, Running
11. (15) JR Hildebrand, Chevrolet, 84, Contact
12. (16) Mikhail Aleshin, Honda, 84, Running
13. (9) Will Power, Chevrolet, 84, Running
14. (20) Max Chilton, Honda, 84, Running
15. (11) Tony Kanaan, Honda, 84, Running
16. (17) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 84, Running
17. (3) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Honda, 79, Off Course
18. (18) Takuma Sato, Honda, 78, Off Course
19. (5) Alexander Rossi, Honda, 62, Mechanical
20. (10) Marco Andretti, Honda, 14, Off-Course
21. (7) Charlie Kimball, Honda, 1, Contact

VERIZON INDYCAR STANDINGS

1. Sebastien Bourdais 93
2. James Hinchcliffe 74
3. Simon Pagenaud 71
4. Scott Dixon 68
5. Josef Newgarden 59
6. Helio Castroneves 51
7. Ed Jones 48
8. Takuma Sato 43
9. Ryan Hunter-Reay 39
10. Marco Andretti 36