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

IMG_8389

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

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!