Ganassi Teams Rule Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 27 2023

Two-time Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato led the Ganassi Racing charge during Carb Day at Indy. (Photos courtesy of Chip Ganassi Racing)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is for sending messages. And the results of Friday’s traditional, two-hour practice reiterated that Chip Ganassi Racing is the team to beat on-track _ and in the pits _ during the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Two-time Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato emerged atop the Miller Lite Carb Day speed chart after a hot lap of 39.4988-seconds/227.855 mph in CGR’s No. 11 Honda. The 46-year-old native of Tokyo, Japan, will start eighth in Sunday’s 200-lapper around the 2.5-mile IMS oval brimming with confidence.

“We had a beautiful Carb Day today,” said Sato, favorite son of Honda Performance Development who is making his first start for team-owner Ganassi. “The No. 11 car is just getting to a nice feeling, which is exactly what I really wanted. My boys did a fantastic job the entire week.

“All four (CGR) cars are in really good shape. What’s most important is that the car reacted the way we expected. We will get together and discuss it, but I think we have a good package. The organization did fantastic, so I’m happy.”

“Taku” won the 2017 Indy 500 driving for Andretti Autosport and the 2020 race with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Teammate Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion, was second-fast at 227.285 mph in the No. 9 Honda during a session conducted in breezy conditions under sunny skies and air temperatures in the low 70s. Dixon _ a six-time NTT IndyCar Series champ _ will start sixth Sunday, when the ambient air temp is forecast to reach the high 70s.

“(Carb Day) didn’t start very well, to be honest,” said Dixon, a 42-year-old native of New Zealand and CGR’s longest-tenured driver. “The car was definitely off on balance. We had to work on it a bit. Definitely some strong competitors out there. But it was fun to run with the No. 21 (Rinus VeeKay/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet), Pato O’Ward (No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevy) a little bit and then the No. 10 (of teammate/pole-sitter Alex Palou).

“Where we ended was a big improvement, so good on that side of things. Again, I still think we’ve got more to find.”

Palou placed fourth at 226.945 mph in his No. 10 Honda in a bid to add victory in the Indy 500 to his series championship in 2021.

Scott Dixon appears to be in good shape to win his second 500 on Sunday.

“The No. 10 American Legion Honda has been fast since the Open Test, but we’ve always wanted more,” said Palou, a 26-year-old native of Spain. “We’re trying to be a bit more comfortable and get even more speed and we got that today. We’re really happy with how we ended. Can’t wait for Sunday.”

Palou secured his first 500 pole _ and first in the event for a Spaniard _ via a four-lap/10-mile average speed of 234.217 mph/2-minutes, 33.7037-seconds during a dramatic Firestone Fast Six session last Sunday. Palou delivered CGR’s third consecutive Indy 500 pole at the record-erasing expense of teammate Dixon, who set the previous mark of 234.046 mph last May. CGR is the first team to win three consecutive Indy 500 poles since Team Penske secured four in a row from 1988-91.

In addition, Palou is positioned to sweep INDYCAR’s two-race schedule this month at IMS. Palou won the GMR Grand Prix on the IMS Road-Course on May 13 after starting third in the season’s fifth event.

Meanwhile, reigning Indy 500 champ Marcus Ericsson was almost an afterthought as all 33 starters combined to turn 2,355 laps/5,887.5 miles during an incident-free session before an estimated 75,000 fans.

“There were a couple of things that I wanted to change on the car,” Ericsson said in reference to his No. 8 Honda. “I was really happy with where the car was when we ended things. It worked really well in traffic and it’s exactly what you want and need in traffic.”

A 32-year-old native of Sweden, Ericsson will start the race 10th in his effort to become the first repeat winner since Brazilian Helio Castroneves went back-to-back in 2001-2002 for Team Penske.

“It’s been a great couple of weeks here,” said Ericsson, who has thoroughly enjoyed the perks of returning to IMS as the defending event-winner. “We’ve prepared ourselves very well and can’t wait to get to the race and see what we’ve got when it matters.”

Two-time/reigning series champion Will Power led Team Chevy in third at 226.953 mph in the No. 12 Team Penske entry. The native Australian, who won the Indy 500 in 2018, will start 12th Sunday.

Second-year series regular Kyle Kirkwood completed the top-five at 226.872 mph in the No. 27 Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood, who scored his first series win on the famed Streets of Long Beach last month, will start 15th in the car owned by former series star Michael Andretti.

Pre-event coverage on Sunday will begin at 11 a.m. (EDT) on NBC, Peacock, Telemundo Deportes on Universo and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Additionally, SiriusXM listeners will have access to a live call of the race beginning at 11 a.m. on SiriusXM INDYCAR Nation (SiriusXM Channel 160) and NBC Sports Audio (SiriusXM Channel 85). Both channels are available to subscribers nationwide in their cars and on the SXM App.

Green flag for the traditional flying start of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is set to wave at 12:45 p.m.

Scott Dixon’s crew was fastest in the pits Friday.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s Carb Day dominance continued after practice, when Scott Dixon and his No. 9 team won the annual Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge and its $50,000 payday.

Dixon and his CGR Honda team, led by crew chief Tyler Rees, beat Will Power and the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet crew in three rounds during the best-of-three final. It was the fourth Pit Stop Challenge win for Ganassi and Dixon, who also prevailed in 2012, 2014 and 2018.

Power’s crew will share $25,000 for finishing runnerup in the annual contest, which featured a record purse of $150,000. Teams are required to change all four tires and simulate fueling during the fan-favorite contest staged along pit road.

Dixon edged Power, 11.561-seconds to 12.047-seconds, in the first round. Power turned the tables in Round 2 during an 11.829-11.947 victory. But Dixon and his crew _ nicknamed “The Wolfpack” _ rebounded solidly in the final, 11.012-12.552.

“It’s all about the details, and there’s a huge amount of effort that goes into our Human Performance Program,” Dixon said. “There’s a lot of practice and training behind what they do and this competition was straight-up, nowhere to hide. It’s a big deal. There’s a lot of pressure and it’s huge for the team to pull this off.”

Indeed, in a race that typically features anywhere from eight to nine or more pit stops _ including some under green flag conditions _ the orchestrated movements along pit road can be a difference-maker. Last time the Pit Stop Challenge winner also won the Indianapolis 500 in the same year was 2009, when  Helio Castroneves became a three-time race-winner with Team Penske.

Super-sub Graham Rahal turned his first hot laps in the No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold/Cusick Motorsports Chevrolet Friday, advancing through a learning curve involving a new team, new crew, new car and new engine.

With team-owner Dennis Reinbold on his radio, Rahal made a variety of progressions during a 77-lap stint featuring a best speed of 223.491 mph while simulating traffic conditions he likely will face Sunday from the 33rd starting position. For the record, Rahal started 29th and finished third in the 2011 Indy 500 driving for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, the team co-owned by father and 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal. 

“It was a really solid day in the No. 24 DRR/Cusick Motorsports/CareKeepers machine,” said Rahal, 34, who will be making his 16th Indy 500 start. “For the first outing with the car, you have to be conservative with the new (backup) chassis. There are a lot of new things for me here with the team _ crew, car and engine. These guys are pros and they’ve done a great job to get the car ready for me. 

“We were able to turn up the heat in the second outing. And ultimately it felt really good. We made some really good changes with the car today. I think we ran more downforce than other teams, so you don’t see the outright speed on the charts. Ryan (Hunter-Reay, Rahal’s teammate) and I had similar feelings about our cars. I’m excited about our chances here on Sunday.”

Wilson, a 33-year-old native of Sheffield, England, qualified DRR’s No. 24 car in the 25th position Saturday with a four-lap/10-mile average of 231.648 mph. However, Wilson’s participation in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” ended at 2:11 p.m. on Monday, when his car was struck from behind by Katherine Legge’s No. 44 Hendrickson RLLR Honda and forced into the outside SAFER Barrier in Turn 1. Wilson suffered a fracture of the 12th thoracic vertebrae and was declared ineligible to compete in Sunday’s 200-lapper.

Wednesday night at IU Health Methodist Hospital, Wilson underwent surgery with a T10-T12 Posterior fusion and internal fixation of the fracture. DRR reported the surgery was successful, with Wilson in “good spirits” and ready to start recovery.

Rahal was bumped from the 33-car field last Sunday in the RLLR’s No. 15 Honda. On Tuesday, Rahal was introduced as Wilson’s replacement in a one-off drive.

Reinbold, an Indianapolis Chevrolet dealer and longtime Indy 500 participant, indicated the session could not have gone better.

“We just wanted Graham to get accustomed to our car, engine and the crew today,” said Reinbold, whose team has fielded 48 cars in the Indy 500 dating to 2000. “He did an excellent job working with the car and the crew. Everything is new to him. He has never driven a Chevrolet engine previously, and he did a great job in the Pit Stop Challenge, too. We almost beat Will Power’s team in the first round. It was close. Graham is a real pro, and he’s worked well with Ryan also this week.”

Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 champion with Andretti Autosport, will start 18th in the No. 23 ROOT Insurance/DreyerReinbold.com Chevrolet. “Captain America” ran a handful of laps Friday before a gearbox seal leak ended his Carb Day. Despite his early exit, RHR posted a 224.519 mph lap running in traffic in the morning portion. That lap moved Ryan into the top-10.

“Unfortunately, we had a minimal gearbox leak and INDYCAR officials sidelined us for it,” said Hunter-Reay, who won the 2012 NTT IndyCar Series title in a Chevrolet-powered car. “Aside from that, I was pretty happy with our race car. We were doing different fuel tests, saving fuel and tuning the balance of the car. But we did miss a valuable hour of practice that we needed. I would have liked to have finished the session, but I feel good about the car we ran today.”

Crew chief Greg Senerius of Abel Motorsports was presented the prestigious Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award as top Chief Mechanic at this year’s Indianapolis 500. Senerius is working with rookie R.C. Enerson, who qualified the No. 50 Abel Motorsports Chevrolet 29th in the 33-car field. 

Senerius was selected as the crewman who “best exemplifies the mechanical and scientific creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, dedication, enthusiasm and expertise of Clint Brawner.” Brawner was chief mechanic for 51 National Championship (INDYCAR) victories, including 17 by the legendary Jimmy Bryan and 29 by open-wheel icon Mario Andretti, winner of the 1969 Indy 500.

Team Manager John Brunner recruited Senerius two seasons ago to serve as leader of Abel Motorsports’ flagship INDY NXT entry. Abel Motorsports’ single-car NTT IndyCar Series organization is based in Louisville, Ky., as well as Speedway, Ind.

“This whole Indy effort, we’ve been so blessed,” Brunner said. “The support of our team has been tremendous. Greg was the first person I brought on when I joined Abel in 2021. The expression on his face was awesome when we told him he’d won. He’s so deserving of the honor.  We know what we have in Greg, it’s the reason we brought him here. He’s worked a tremendous amount of INDYCAR races, and to win this award with us is just very cool and very well earned.”

Team Principal Bill Abel added, “For Greg to win that award, I’m so happy for him. He’s the most unassuming, laid-back guy. It’s his 18th Indy 500. For him to be recognized for all the talents we know he has is such a great honor. Our car is good evidence of what he’s capable of. It’s well-deserved and we’re super-proud of him.”



Winners (9) _ Helio Castroneves, Takuma Sato, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, Alexander Rossi.

Rookies (4) _ Agustín Canapino, R.C. Enerson, Benjamin Pedersen, Sting Ray Robb.

U.S. drivers (13) _ Marco Andretti, Ed Carpenter, Conor Daly, R.C. Enerson, Santino Ferrucci, Colton Herta, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Kyle Kirkwood, David Malukas, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal, Sting Ray Robb, Alexander Rossi.

International drivers (20 from 14 countries) _ Agustín Canapino, Helio Castroneves, Devlin DeFrancesco, Scott Dixon, Marcus Ericsson, Romain Grosjean, Jack Harvey, Callum Ilott, Tony Kanaan, Katherine Legge, Christian Lundgaard, Scott McLaughlin, Pato O’Ward, Simon Pagenaud, Alex Palou, Benjamin Pedersen, Will Power, Felix Rosenqvist, Takuma Sato, Rinus VeeKay.

Engines (33) _ Honda 16, Chevrolet 17 (all cars use Dallara chassis and Firestone Firehawk tires).

Point Standings (top-15): 1, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 174; 2, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren, 168; 3, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 155; 4, Romain Grosjean, Andretti Autosport, 134; 5, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 133; 6, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 131; 7, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 127; 8, Will Power, Team Penske, 122; 9, Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 111; 10, Alexander Rossi, Arrow McLaren and Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport, 108; 12, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport with Curb/Agajanian, 107; 13, Felix Rosenqvist, Arrow McLaren, 97; 14, Callum Ilott, Juncos Hollinger Racing, 92; 15, Graham Rahal, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, 86.

Official NTT IndyCar Series entry list for the 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by Gainbridge at the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, May 28, with car number in parenthesis, driver, hometown, car name with engine supplier and team entrant:

  1. (2) Josef Newgarden, Nashville, Tenn., Shell Powering Progress Team Penske Chevrolet/Team Penske
  2. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Christchurch, New Zealand, Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet/Team Penske
  3. (5) Pato O’Ward, Monterrey, Mexico, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet/Arrow McLaren
  4. (06) Helio Castroneves-(W), Sao Paulo, Brazil, AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda/Meyer Shank Racing
  5. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Varnamo, Sweden, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet/Arrow McLaren
  6. (7) Alexander Rossi-(W), Nevada City, Calif., Arrow McLaren Chevrolet/Arrow McLaren
  7. (8) Marcus Ericsson-(W), Kumla, Sweden, Huski Ice Spritz Chip Ganassi Racing Honda/Chip Ganassi Racing
  8. (9) Scott Dixon-(W), Auckland, New Zealand, PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda/Chip Ganassi Racing
  9. (10) Alex Palou, Barcelona, Spain, The American Legion Chip Ganassi Racing Honda/Chip Ganassi Racing
  10. (11) Takuma Sato-(W), Tokyo, Japan, Deloitte Honda/Chip Ganassi Racing
  11. (12) Will Power-(W), Toowoomba, Australia, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet/Team Penske
  12. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Woodbury, Conn., Homes For Our Troops Chevrolet/A.J. Foyt Enterprises
  13. (15) Graham Rahal, New Albany, Ohio, United Rentals Honda/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  14. (18) David Malukas, Chicago, Ill., HMD Trucking Honda/Dale Coyne Racing with HMD
  15. (20) Conor Daly, Noblesville, Ind., Bitnile.com Chevrolet/Ed Carpenter Racing
  16. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Hoofddorp, The Netherlands, Bitnile.com Chevrolet/Ed Carpenter Racing
  17. (23) Ryan Hunter-Reay-(W), Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
  18. (24) Stefan Wilson, Sheffield, England, DRR Cusick CareKeepers Chevrolet/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
  19. (26) Colton Herta, Valencia, Calif., Gainbridge Honda/Andretti Autosport with Curb-Agajanian
  20. (14) Kyle Kirkwood, Jupiter, Fla., AutoNation Honda/Andretti Autosport
  21. (28) Romain Grosjean, Geneva, Switzerland, DHL Honda/Andretti Autosport
  22. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Toronto, Canada, Sodexo Honda/Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport
  23. (30) Jack Harvey, Bassingham, England, Kustom Entertainment Honda/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  24. (33) Ed Carpenter, Indianapolis, Ind., Bitnile.com Chevrolet/Ed Carpenter Racing
  25. (44) Katherine Legge, Guildford, England, Hendrickson Honda/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  26. (30) Christian Lundgaard, Hedensted, Denmark, Hy-Vee Honda/Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
  27. (50) R.C. Enerson-(R), New Port Richey, Fla., Abel Motorsports Chevrolet, Abel Motorsports
  28. (51) Sting Ray Robb-(R), Payette, Idaho, biohaven Honda/Dale Coyne Racing with Rick Ware Racing
  29. (55) Benjamin Pedersen-(R), Copenhagen, Denmark, A.J. Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet/A.J. Foyt Enterprises
  30. (60) Simon Pagenaud-(W), Montmorillon, France, AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda/Meyer Shank Racing
  31. (66) Tony Kanaan-(W), Salvador, Brazil, Arrow McLaren Chevrolet/Arrow McLaren
  32. (77) Callum Ilott, Cambridge, England, Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet/Juncos Hollinger Racing
  33. (78) Agustin Canapino-(R), Arrecifes, Argentina, Juncos Hollinger Chevrolet/Juncos Hollinger Racing
  34. (98) Marco Andretti, Nazareth, Pa., KULR/Curb Honda/Andretti Herta with Marco & Curb-Agajanian

Note _ All cars use the fourth generation NTT IndyCar Series chassis (Dallara IR-12) with universal IR-18 aerodynamic bodywork, Chevrolet or Honda twin-turbocharged V-6 engines and Firestone Firehawk tires.

(W) _Denotes Indianapolis 500 winner

(R) _ Denotes Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year candidate


Sunday, March 5 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.: Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing

Sunday, April 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske

Sunday, April 16 _ Streets of Long Beach: Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport

Sunday, April 30 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala.: Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske

Saturday, May 13 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course: Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing

Sunday, May 28 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Oval, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, June 4 _ Streets of Detroit, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, June 18 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis., USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, July 2 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio. USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, July 16 _ Streets of Toronto, Peacock

Saturday, July 22 _ Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, July 23 _ Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Aug. 6 _ Streets of Nashville, NBC/Peacock

Saturday, Aug. 12 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, Aug. 27 _World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill., NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Sept. 3 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Sept. 10 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif., NBC/Peacock

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 27 2023
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