Helio’s Bid For No. 4 Is On Track

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 15 2010

Helio Castroneves has applied for membership in the Four-Time Indy Winner club. He was fastest on opening day at the speedway. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Rather fittingly, it was Helio Castroneves who posted the fastest lap on opening day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Saturday.

Castroneves, the winner of last year’s Indianapolis 500, will be attempting to win for the big race for a record-tying fourth time when the green flag drops in May 30th.

Castroneves, driving the No. 3T Team Penske car, was the beneficiary of a significant tow that allowed him to post the lap of the day of 39.7170 seconds (226.603 mph) on the 2.5-mile oval.

“It’s always good when you start with a positive wave, but there is certainly still a lot of work to go,” said Castroneves. “It was just the right time and the right moment with two cars in front of me. It seems to be very interesting this year even if you are away from another car, the draft is tremendous. It is going to play a lot of tricks during the month of May. So far, the 3T car seems to be where we want it so we won’t touch the car and keep at it.”

Twenty-seven driver/car combinations recorded 451 incident-free laps before yielding to rookies and drivers undertaking a refresher course. The same program, weather permitting, is scheduled for May 16.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Dario Franchitti (226.535 mph) and Scott Dixon (226.237) – who won the 2007 and 2008 Indy 500s – were next on the list. Dan Wheldon, runner-up to Castroneves in the 500 Mile Race last year, was fourth (225.609) in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing car. Ed Carpenter, competing in an IZOD IndyCar Series event for the first time since the ’09 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, was seventh quick (224.592 mph) in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka entry for Panther Racing/Vision Racing.

“Like Helio, pretty solid day,” Franchitti said. “Short day but good. To have the car feeling so good was really encouraging. I managed to do a couple laps and saw (Tony Kanaan) ahead of me and managed to draft off of him. This was a very positive start for our team. It helps that we unloaded off the truck with good cars. We have to take advantage of all the track time we can get in the next eight days.”

Pole Day, during which the top 24 starting positions will be set, is scheduled for May 22. The 33-starting grid will be completed May 23.

Day 1 Notes

Busy guy: Tony Kanaan shook down all five Andretti Autosport cars entered in the Indianapolis 500 before regular drivers Marco Andretti, John Andretti, Ryan Hunter-Reay and Danica Patrick took hold of the steering wheels.

“We just wanted to make sure that all of our cars had the same feel and make sure that we had the same starting point for everybody,” Kanaan said. “So they voted me the guy to do that. They tell me it’s because I’m a veteran, but usually that means you’re old and I definitely don’t see myself that way, so I’m not sure.

“But I’m glad to do it and I think we’ve got a good idea of where we are as a team and where we need to go for the 7-Eleven car.”

ROP: Seven drivers must complete the Rookie Orientation this year: #5 Takuma Sato (KV Racing Technology), #25 Ana Beatriz (Dreyer & Reinbold Racing), #29 Sebastian Saavedra (Bryan Herta Autosport), #34 Mario Romancini (Conquest Racing), #36 Bertrand Baguette (Conquest Racing), #66 Jay Howard (Sarah Fisher Racing), #78 Simona de Silvestro (HVM Racing).

The rookie drivers must complete four phases of ROP in order to be eligible for the Indianapolis 500. At least three of the phases must be completed during ROP Saturday and Sunday. The fourth phase may be completed during practice later in the month.

The four phases of ROP include 10 laps at each of the following speeds: 200-205 mph, 205-210 mph, 210-215 mph and 215+ mph.

Father’s Day: John Andretti’s father, Aldo Andretti, watched his son take to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s famed 2.5-mile oval today as an Andretti Autosport driver. John Andretti finished ninth May 1 at Kansas Speedway driving for his cousin Michael’s team, in association with NASCAR legend Richard Petty, in the Team Window World entry.

“I’ve been waiting for a long time for John to team up with Michael, and this year it was possible,” Aldo said. “Things are looking really good so far. This might be his best chance to do as well as he can out here. He’s got a good, solid team behind him. He says the car feels good. I think he’s quite lucky to have that situation going for him. I’m looking forward to (the race).”

Said John Andretti: “We only did about five laps today, but we did everything we wanted to do with the #43 Team Window World car. I’m really excited about the prospects of it. We came back to the garage, and we’ll make a couple of changes to the car for tomorrow. Hopefully the weather will be good then, and we’ll get some more laps in. I’m looking forward to getting back out there.”

Job searching: Several drivers still looking for rides were at the speedway Saturday. One was Jaques Lazier.

“It’s Indy; it’s the month of May, so there are always opportunities, but I would think they are very far and few between. We were close to getting something done. Unfortunately that fell through. I think at the point more I’m going to be working the suite, trying to build my sponsors for some races this year and for a full-time situation next year. You come here, and you can’t give up. I have been in the race seven times, and you never know what will happen. Someone could struggle and they need to put the car in the show and I’m here if they need it.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 15 2010
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