Indy Notes: Castroneves Off To Great Start

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 28 2010

Tony Kanaan coughs up some tire smoke during pit crew competition on Carb Day at Indy. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer

Indianapolis – If you believe in omens, Helio Castroneves is a shoo-in to win a fourth Indianapolis 500 on Sunday.

A year ago, Castroneves won the pole, the pit stop contest and the race. On Friday, he added the 2010 pit stop championship to his pole victory last Saturday. All that’s left is to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as a four-time Indy champion.

Just for the record, the latest pit stop victory was a record 11th for Team Penske, which also owns a record 15 Indy 500 wins.

“My guys do an incredible job,’’ Castroneves said after beating Newman/Haas/Lanigan’s Hideki Mutoh in the finals of the pit stop competition. “Today is their day. I I just have to sit down and drive the car. But it certainly is great to carry this momentum to the race.’’

Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing, said the winning races, pit stop competitions or anything else is all about execution.

“Roger (Penske) has always given us the resources to do it, but I think there are people who come here with bigger budgets,’’ Cindric said. “You just have to execute and these guys do it every year.’’<

Close Call: Former Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, who will start from the outside of the front row in Sunday’s race, was fastest in the one-hour “Carb Day’’ practice on Friday with a lap of 225.574 mph.

But the Scot was still talking about a near disaster minutes after the final practice ended.

“It was crazy out there for the first 20 minutes,’’ Franchitti said. “Cars were all over the place. I don’t know what he was thinking, but Helio (Castroneves) nearly put me on my head on the backstretch. It was a real close call.’’

Castroneves, who was fifth fastest at 224.753, said there was a mixup by his spotters and he didn’t know Franchitti was near him until he saw a flash of red in his mirror.

“I didn’t know who it was, but I knew it was close,’’ Castroneves said.

Scott Dixon, another former winner and Franchitti’s Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, was second on the speed chart Friday at 225.159, followed by Castroneves’ Team Penske teammate  Will Power at 224.993 and former pole winner Bruno Junqueira, driving for the new FAZZT Race Team, at 224.898. The Brazilian will start 25th on Sunday.

Thirty-two of the 33 starters surpassed 220 mph. The only driver who didn’t was Graham Rahal, whose best of 44 laps was 219.998. Rahal, driving for father Bobby Rahal’s team, was seventh in qualifying, but the team tried a change in the downforce on Friday and it left everyone on the Rahal Letterman Racing team scratching their heads.

Driven Man: Chip Ganassi, who began his career at Indy as the fastest rookie qualifier in 1982 and has gone on to be a three-time winner of the 500 as a team owner, was presented with the Louis Meyer Award on Thursday night for contributions to the sport and to the Indianapolis 500.

The award, named for three-time Indy winner and reknowned engine builder Louis Meyer, was given by the Indy 500 Oldtimers Club,

Ganassi was approached Friday morning at the speedway by fellow team owner Roger Penske, who shook his hand and said, “Congratulations on the Meyer Award.’’

Penske then grinned and added mischievously, “I had forgotten you were ever a driver.’’

Big Boost: The Honda overtake assist system, otherwise known as “push to pass,’’ will be used in the Indy 500 for the first time on Sunday.

The system, introduced last August at Kentucky Speedway, provides an extra 5 to 20 horsepower boost for a prescribed time limit on all racetracks by pushing a button on the steering wheel. It can be used to complete a pass or keep someone from getting past you.

For the 500-mile race, Honda Performance Development has set a duration of 18 seconds for each of the allowed 15 uses of the push to pass. There is a 10-second reset time between uses.

“I really don’t know how we’re going to use it on Sunday,’’ Dario Franchitti said. “Whether we’ll use it on the start or for passing during the race, I’m sure we’re going to be talking about that. But I’m pretty sure we’ll be saving some of (the uses) for the end of the race.’’

– Mike Harris can be reached at mharris@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 28 2010
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