Indy Notes: Dixon Fastest During Carb Day Tune-up

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 27 2011

IndyCar team owner Sam Schmidt and driver Alex Tagliani had a solid Carb Day Friday. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Indianapolis – Carburetion Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is for sending messages, and the word from pole-sitter Alex Tagliani is that his car is “very racey.”

Tagliani posted a speed of 224.739 mph during the traditional one-hour session that marks the last time the 33-car starting field will be on-track before the start of Sunday’s 100th anniversary edition of the Indianapolis 500. Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing topped the speed chart at 225.474 mph, with teammate and two-time/reigning Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti third at 224.658 mph.

Vitor Meira of A.J. Foyt Racing was fourth-fastest at 224.480 mph and 2005 Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, driving for Bryan Herta Autosport, rounded out the top five at 224.439 mph. The 33 drivers combined to turn 1,406 laps during the final session. Drivers have logged 10,265 laps – a distance of 25,662.5 miles – overall this month.

According to Firestone Racing engineers, ambient temperature was 58 degrees with track temp at 69 degrees. The forecast for Sunday is for temps in the low 90s after nearly a week of solid cloud cover.

“It’s obviously very cold  and probably not very close or in line with what we’re going to run in on Sunday,” said Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion and driver of the No. 9 Target Dallara/Honda. “All in all, it was pretty decent.”

Tagliani qualified on-pole last Saturday at an average of 227.472 mph, becoming the first native Canadian to earn P1 at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” And Tags reiterated he and his Sam

Target Chip Ganassi Racing drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.

Schmidt Motorsports team are ready to capitalize.

“Today it was nice to be back on-track,” said Tagliani, driver of the No. 77 Bowers & Wilkins SSM Dallara/Honda. “Obviously, we have a very different car that we’re going to drive in the race. And I feel the car is very racey. I love it in traffic. I got some consistency out of the car on the older tires. So I don’t know. It seems to me to be unreal and too good to be true sometimes. But I want to think that we deserve it. We did everything better than everyone else, and hopefully it will continue.”

For fans of minutiae, Tagliani said this is the same chassis he drove here last year to a 10th-place finish after starting fifth. “All winter long, the team fine-tuned the car,” Tagliani said. “They just put their love into it, brought it back this year. Same car, same aerodynamic package, same track and the car did better.”

Earlier Friday, Tagliani and fellow Row 1 starters Dixon and Oriol Servia listened as Brian Barnhart, INDYCAR’s president of competition and racing operations, discussed several areas of driver etiquette. As pole-sitter, Tagliani’s first job is to lead the field into a clean start entering Turn 1.

Tagliani joked that he expects “a very high heart rate” when he takes the green flag. “I’ve been very appreciative of what’s happened to me as a driver,” said Tagliani, who started from the 33rd and last spot in 2009 as an Indy 500 rookie. “But what we don’t want to forget is that we have the chance to participate in an historical event. And to just have the chance to qualify in it is already a big thing. Leading the field, I think it’s going to be something I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Team Penske extended its domination of the IZOD Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge Friday afternoon, when Ryan Briscoe and his crew defeated Dario Franchitti and his Target Chip Ganassi Racing boys

Team Penske's Rick Mears, left, Tim Cindric and Ryan Briscoe.

in the side-by-side final. Team Penske and Briscoe prevailed with a simulated stop in 7.882-seconds. Franchitti’s crew completed the stop in 8.481-seconds.

Team Penske celebrated its record-extending 13 victory in the contest, while Briscoe earned his first win. Chief mechanic Matt Jonsson won for the second time, having led Team Penske to victory in 2005 with Sam Hornish Jr.

Briscoe was eager to share the accolades with his crew, who lined up behind him and Tim Cindric, Team Penske president, during a news conference/photo op.

“This event is really about all these guys and all the work they put in these couple of weeks here, practicing every day,” said Briscoe, driver of the No. 6 IZOD Dallara/Honda. “But year-round back in Mooresville (N.C.) they’re practicing every single week and putting in the hours so that we can come here and try to win this and win races with good pit stops. Certainly for me today with all the fans, it’s a day for them to showcase themselves in front of everybody and really, all I can do is screw it up for them. I just try to be consistent, hit my marks and try to treat it as though I’m in the race.”

Team Penske and Briscoe earned $50,000 for the win, while TCGR and Franchitti collected $30,000.

American Honda and its Honda Performance Development subsidiary has tapped Target Chip Ganassi Racing as its “anchor” team as engine manufacturer competition returns to the IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012.

Under terms of a multi-year agreement, HPD will provide its new, turbocharged 2.2-liter V-6 engines

Driver Dario Franchitti and Chip Ganassi.

to Ganassi’s championship-winning organization. Designed at HPD’s Santa Clarita, Calif., facility, the new engine is under development with initial track-testing scheduled to start in August. As Honda’s anchor, TCGR will serve as Honda’s primary test team.

“I can tell you that I feel honored that they’ve chosen us,” said Ganassi, whose drivers have won the last three IndyCar championships with Scott Dixon (2008) and Dario Franchitti (2009 and 2010). “There’s a bit of testing that needs to be done, and I think that, and again I don’t want to speak for them, but they need someone to try these things out. This is a partnership.”

Honda scored its first Indy 500 victory with Buddy Rice and Rahal Letterman Racing in 2004 and added Manufacturer championships in ’04 and 2005. The company has supplied V-8 racing engines to the full 33-car Indy 500 field every year since 2006. For a record five consecutive years there has not been a single engine failure during the race.

In addition to Honda, Chevrolet and Lotus will supply engines to the series beginning in 2012. Dallara Automobili will supply the basic “Safety Tub” beginning in 2012, with the engine manufacturers encouraged to design distinctive “aero kits” within INDYCAR specifications.

Chevrolet Racing’s return to INDYCAR will ramp-up next month, when the manufacturer’s twin-turbo V-6 is scheduled to fire-up for the first time.

“Development of the Chevrolet IndyCar engine is on schedule, and we have reached all of our development plan milestones to-date,” Mark Kent, director of GM Racing, said during a news conference. “The initial design of the major components has been completed, and all of the components are currently in the process of being manufactured. The first fully-functional Chevrolet IndyCar engine is scheduled to fire-up in June, and we plan to begin track-testing in the third quarter of 2011.”

Chevrolet announced on Nov. 12, 2010 that it would produce a new twin-turbocharged, direct-injected V-6 racing engine powered by renewable E85 ethanol fuel to compete in the IndyCar Series in 2012. The purpose-built 2.2-liter powerplant is being developed jointly by GM and Ilmor Engineering.

“This is not an exercise in badge engineering,” Kent said. “Chevrolet is an active participant in the development of the IndyCar engine. To enhance technology transfer, Chevrolet is incorporating components and engineering resources from its production engine component supplier base on the IndyCar engine.”

Chevrolet previously competed in Indy-car competition as an engine manufacturer from 1986-93 and 2002-05 with V-8s, winning 104 races, powering six driver champions and scoring seven Indianapolis 500 victories.

Team Penske, a former Chevrolet partner, has recommitted to the manufacturer in 2012. Kent said Chevrolet officials currently are in discussion with other IndyCar teams for next season. As per INDYCAR regulations, the Chevrolet IndyCar engine will be available to up to 40 percent of the total field.

Sam Schmidt Motorsports continued its domination of Firestone Indy Lights races at IMS Friday when Josef Newgarden won the crash-marred Firestone Freedom 100 under caution. Newgarden, of

Josef Newgarden and his team celebrate after the Firestone Indy Lights race Friday.

Hendersonville, Tenn., is the first American driver to win this event since Ed Carpenter captured the inaugural in 2003.

SSM has won three consecutive Firestone Freedom 100s, an event record. And Esteban Guerrieri’s runnerup result gave SSM the first 1-2 finish in event history. Victor Garcia was third.

“This is a wonderful achievement for my team, and it means so much to me and Sam Schmidt,” said Newgarden, one of 15 rookies in the 18-car field. “This race means a lot to Sam, and I’m grateful to give him the victory. I have to thank Esteban Guerrieri for helping me the whole race. He is a great teammate to work with.

“To win this Firestone Freedom 100 in front of this crowd at this famous racetrack is incredible.”

Newgarden led three times for 30 of the 40-lap distance in an event that featured four crashes, including a grinding accident involving the cars driven by Anders Krohn and Jorge Goncalvez on Lap 35. Krohn’s car did a three-quarter spin to the left into Turn 1, hitting the SAFER Barrier with the front of the car. Goncalvez, meanwhile, slammed into the SAFER Barrier flush with the right side of the car exiting Turn 1. The car slid across the track and hit the inside retaining wall in the short chute between Turns 1 and 2 with a fiery impact. The car slid on its side and hit the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2 with the left rear.

Incredibly, Goncalvez tossed the car’s steering wheel within seconds after stopping. He was placed on a stretcher and into an ambulance by the Holmatro Safety Team, giving a thumbs-up signal to the crowd. Transported to IU Health Methodist for further evaluation, he was released late in the afternoon.

NHRA Funny Car champion John Force is visiting IMS for the first time this weekend and is determined to drink it all in.

“I have a shop in this town, in (nearby) Brownsburg,” Force said. “I’ve raced here my whole career, 30 years, but I’ve never been to the Indy 500. This year, because it’s the 100th, I’m excited about that. I’ve driven around it. I came here for a press conference 10 years ago, but it wasn’t during the race, for the

John Force wandered over to Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Christa L Thomas)

U.S. Nationals. And then the Hulman-George family invited me to come to their suite. It was nice that they called us.”

Force has brought his John Force Road Show of three 18-wheelers and his three drivers to IMS. It’s Force’s effort to introduce IndyCar and NASCAR fans to the NHRA’s Full Throttle Drag Racing Series. Force has been joined by daughter Courtney, an aspiring Funny Car driver; son-in-law Robert Hight, the 2009 NHRA Funny Car champion and Mike Neff, the current NHRA Funny Car points-leader.

“I wanted them to see something a little bit different,” said Force, driver of the Castrol GTX High-Mileage Ford Mustang. “It’s pretty cool. I got to see (Chip) Ganassi. I hear (Don) Prudhomme’s here walking around. I spent time with A.J. Foyt – went over and saw him. I can relate to old school, know what I mean? If I get to see Mario (Andretti), I’ll be in heaven.

“All those years I wanted to come here. Always heard about the Brickyard, that they actually raced on bricks. I’m going to walk here at night and hear the sounds. People don’t understand that, maybe unless you’ve been a racer – the sound of the speedway. I always heard there’s an echo here, and I wanted to come hear it. I look for the echoes of the motors. That would be awesome.”

Force, who has won a record 15 Funny Car titles, also was accompanied by Tom Compton, NHRA president.  Compton spent the day in Indianapolis before heading to Charlotte for this weekend’s NASCAR schedule. NHRA has been a major supporter of the John Force Road Show.

In addition to conducting an autograph session Friday at 16th Avenue and Georgetown Road, all four drivers will be signing at the John Force Racing Brownsburg shop on Saturday.

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 27 2011
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