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Rookie Leads Field As Indianapolis Opens For 500

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 12 2012

Rookie Josef Newgarden got off to a fast start at Indianapolis on Saturday. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Rookie Josef Newgarden topped the timesheets as preparations began Saturday for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Newgarden, who won the Freedom 100 Firestone Indy Lights race at IMS in May 2011, posted the quickest lap around the 2.5-mile oval of 220.250 mph in the No. 67 Dollar General Dallara/Honda for Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

“The team has done it all year,” Newgarden said. “People have seen before that they can produce a good road/street car, and there’s no issues oval-wise. They’ve built really good, reliable, comfortable race cars for me and they’re doing the same for Bryan (Clauson) now. That’s all it is, really. They make our job really easy, and I think that’s what you guys are seeing. It’s not really a big deal to be quick on this day, but it speaks well for the team. I think the team deserves that credit. They do a good job and I’m proud to be with them.”

Interestingly, car No. 67 has been the fastest on Opening Day each of the last two years. Ed Carpenter led the first day of practice on May 14, 2011, while Newgarden followed suit Saturday.

The top three cars of the IZOD IndyCar Series session were driven by American graduates of Firestone Indy Lights. JR Hildebrand, 2011 race runnerup to the late Dan Wheldon and Chase Rookie of the Year, was second-fastest at 219.693 mph in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. Newgarden’s teammate, Clauson, was third in the No. 39 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/RW Dallara/Honda at 219.632 mph.

“It was a good tow lap,” Hildebrand said. “The guys have worked long and hard to figure out what our plan of attack was going to be, and I think that’s what’s going to be what it takes to be successful this

Josef Newgarden on the track. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

year. There’s a lot of new things for us with the chassis and the motors. I think having a methodical approach in how to make the car quicker and the sensitivity to adjustments this year is going to be more important than in years past.

“It’s hard not to feel kind of rushed. But I think one of the things we learned last year was taking your time and feeling out your troubles and let things come to you. I think that’s what made our month easy. Easy in a relative sense. But we saw the advantage in taking things slowly and with the way the weather is going to look, we may be able to take advantage of that this week, as well.”

Clauson, who had team co-owner Sarah Fisher serving as spotter, said his day could not have gone much better. “We were really quick out of the gate,” Clauson said. “The fastest laps can be misleading because of the tow you catch, but even by ourselves, Josef and I were very quick all day. It will be interesting to see as the month goes on where guys end up. It’s hard to tell who’s flat-out at this point and who is not. But I felt really good about our car and the program we have in place for the rest of the month.”

Another rookie, James Jakes (218.286 mph), was fourth overall in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara/Honda while former IndyCar Series champion Tony Kanaan (217.741 mph) completed the top five in the No. 11T GEICO/Mouser Electronics KV Racing Technology Dallara/Chevrolet.

“We were just trying to get everybody into the Indy 500 mood,” Kanaan joked. “We ran the T-car (backup) to make sure everything was all right, and we have no concerns there. It was a smooth day.”

Twenty-six drivers were on-track and turned 693 laps during the six-hour session. Newgarden turned 46

Dario Franchitti keeps eye on practice at Indy. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

laps, most of any driver. There were six cautions for a total of 32 minutes. Drivers will get 36 more hours of track time, weather permitting, through “Fast Friday” before Pole Day qualifications May 19 to test the new engine/aero kit package. Gates open at 10 a.m. Sunday for the Mother’s Day special of noon-6 p.m. practice.

Townsend Bell missed Opening Day but is expected to be at IMS on Sunday. Bell, entered as driver of the No. 99 BraunAbility/Schmidt Pelfrey Motorsports Dallara/Honda, competed in the American Le Mans Monterey presented by Patron race Saturday at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif.

Bell was scheduled to fly to Indianapolis from California on a red-eye, arriving in Indianapolis at 9:30 a.m. Sunday. He will come straight to IMS for his driver physical and plans to turn some shakedown laps and maybe one full fuel run.

Former Formula One regular Jean Alesi is attempting to become the oldest rookie starter in Indianapolis 500 history. Alesi will be 47 years, 348 days old on Race Day, May 27. USAC standout Jack Hewitt is the oldest rookie starter. He was 46 years, 320 days old when he started the 1998 Indianapolis 500.

Alesi completed two of three phases of the Rookie Orientation Program Thursday, and can finish the test during practice this week. The ROP is designed to provide first-year drivers an informal opportunity to get acquainted with the 2.5-mile oval. The three speed phases, which were set by INDYCAR based upon the weather and track conditions, were: Phase 1 _ 10 laps at 200-205 mph; Phase 2 _ 15 laps at 205-210 mph and Phase 3 _ 15 laps at 210 mph-plus.

Dario Franchitti, a two-time Indy 500 winner, has switched car numbers from No. 10 to No. 50 for his Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda at IMS in honor of Target’s 50th anniversary in 2012. Target and team-owner Chip Ganassi have partnered together for nearly half of those 50 years. TCGR was established in 1990, and the 2012 season is the 23rd year of partnership between the two organizations.

Tom Sneva, 1983 Indy 500 winner, was among several motorsports celebrities who served as judges

Jean Alesi on track at IMS. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

of the Celebration of Automobiles Vintage and Historic Car show. “It was good to be on that side; usually I’m in front of a judge,” said Sneva, who recorded the first 200-mph lap at IMS in 1977 and won the ’83 event with veteran chief mechanic George Bignotti.

Asked about the look of the new Dallara DW12 chassis, the driver known as “The Gas Man” said: “We need to develop new race fans, so we have to go after the younger kids. The new car is good to get the new demographic group involved. It’s a swoopy, ‘Star Warsy’-looking type of race car, and that’s good for the younger group.”

Firestone Firehawk race tire facts for the 96th Indianapolis 500:

•An all-new Firestone tire specification with nearly 5,000 total tires is available, with allotments as follows per INDYCAR regulations:

•Each entry receives 33 sets (132 tires) for all of practice, qualifying and the race.

•Rookie Orientation participants receive an additional four sets (16 tires) for that session only.

•Veteran refresher participants receive two additional sets (eight tires) for that session only.

•Pole Day top-nine qualifiers receive one additional set for each qualifying attempt in the pole”shootout” session, but those sets must be returned following the session.

•Tire stagger: A single stagger of approximately 0.33-of-an-inch is available for all teams. Stagger, created by molding the right rear tire with a larger diameter than the left rear, helps race cars turn more naturally and smoothly on oval tracks.

Entry list for the 96th Indianapolis 500, as of May 11 with car, driver, hometown, car name, engine

The Team Penske cars of Will Power, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Briscoe at Indy on Saturday. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

and entrant:

2 Ryan Briscoe, Sydney, Australia, IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske

2T Ryan Briscoe, Sydney, Australia, IZOD Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske

3 Helio Castroneves (W), Sao Paulo, Brazil, Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske

3T Helio Castroneves (W), Sao Paulo, Brazil, Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske

4 JR Hildebrand, Sausalito, Calif., National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet, Panther Racing

4T JR Hildebrand, Sausalito, Calif., National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet, Panther Racing

5 E.J. Viso, Caracas, Venezuela, CITGO/PDVSA KV Racing Technology Chevrolet, KV Racing Technology

5T E.J. Viso, Caracas, Venezuela, CITGO/PDVSA KV Racing Technology Chevrolet, KV Racing Technology

6 Katherine Legge (R), Guildford, England, TrueCar-Dragon Racing, TBD, Dragon Racing

6T Katherine Legge (R), Guildford, England, TrueCar-Dragon Racing, TBD, Dragon Racing

7 Sebastien Bourdais, Le Mans, France, Dragon Racing, TBD, Dragon Racing

7T Sebastien Bourdais, Le Mans, France, Dragon Racing, TBD, Dragon Racing

8 Rubens Barrichello (R), Sao Paulo, Brazil, BMC/Embrase KV Racing Technology Chevrolet, KV Racing Technology

8T Rubens Barrichello (R), Sao Paulo, Brazil, BMC/Embrase KV Racing Technology Chevrolet, KV Racing Technology

9 Scott Dixon (W), Auckland, New Zealand, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Target Chip Ganassi Racing

9T Scott Dixon (W), Auckland, New Zealand, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Target Chip Ganassi Racing

11 Tony Kanaan, Salvador, Brazil, GEICO/Mouser Electronics KVRT Chevrolet, KV Racing Technology w/SH

11T Tony Kanaan, Salvador, Brazil, GEICO/Mouser Electronics KVRT Chevrolet, KV Racing Technology w/SH

12 Will Power, Toowoomba, Australia, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske

12T Will Power, Toowoomba, Australia, Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Team Penske

14 Mike Conway, Bromley, England, ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing Honda, A.J. Foyt Enterprises

14T Mike Conway, Bromley, England, ABC Supply Co./A.J. Foyt Racing Honda, A.J. Foyt Enterprises

15 Takuma Sato, Tokyo, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Rahal Letterman Lanigan

15T Takuma Sato, Tokyo, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda, Rahal Letterman Lanigan

17 Sebastian Saavedra, Bogota, Colombia, Team AFS Chevrolet, AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport

18 Justin Wilson, Sheffield, England, Sonny’s BBQ Honda, Dale Coyne Racing

18T Justin Wilson, Sheffield, England, Sonny’s BBQ Honda, Dale Coyne Racing

19 James Jakes (R), Leeds, England, Boy Scouts of America Honda, Dale Coyne Racing

19T James Jakes (R), Leeds, England, Boy Scouts of America Honda, Dale Coyne Racing

20 Ed Carpenter, Indianapolis, Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Ed Carpenter Racing

20T Ed Carpenter, Indianapolis, Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Ed Carpenter Racing

21 TBA, Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet, Ed Carpenter Racing

22 Oriol Servia, Pals, Spain, Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

22T Oriol Servia, Pals, Spain, Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet, Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing

25 Ana Beatriz, Sao Paulo, Brazil, Team Ipiranga Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport/Conquest Racing

26 Marco Andretti, Nazareth, Pa., Team RC Cola Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

26T Marco Andretti, Nazareth, Pa., Team RC Cola Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

27 James Hinchcliffe, Toronto, Team GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

27T James Hinchcliffe, Toronto, Team GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

28 Ryan Hunter-Reay, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

28T Ryan Hunter-Reay, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Chevrolet, Andretti Autosport

30 Michel Jourdain Jr., Mexico City, Office Depot/RLL Racing Honda, Rahal Letterman Lanigan

30T Michel Jourdain Jr., Mexico City, Office Depot/RLL Racing Honda, Rahal Letterman Lanigan

38 Graham Rahal, New Albany, Ohio, Service Central Honda, Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing

38T Graham Rahal, New Albany, Ohio, Service Central Honda, Service Central Chip Ganassi Racing

39 Bryan Clauson (R), Noblesville, Ind., Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/RW Honda, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

41 Wade Cunningham (R), Auckland, New Zealand, ECat/ABC Supply Honda, A.J. Foyt Racing

41T Wade Cunningham (R), Auckland, New Zealand, ECat/ABC Supply Honda, A.J. Foyt Racing

50 Dario Franchitti (W), Edinburgh, Scotland, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Target Chip Ganassi Racing

50T Dario Franchitti (W), Edinburgh, Scotland, Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, Target Chip Ganassi Racing

64 Jean Alesi (R), Avignon, France, Lotus – FP Journe – Fan Force United Lotus, Lotus – FP Journe – Fan Force United

64T Jean Alesi (R), Avignon, France Lotus – FP Journe – Fan Force United Lotus, Lotus – FP Journe – Fan Force United

67 Josef Newgarden (R), Hendersonville, Tenn., Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

67T Josef Newgarden (R), Hendersonville, Tenn., Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing

77 Simon Pagenaud (R), Poitiers, France, Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda, Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports

77T Simon Pagenaud (R), Poitiers, France, Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Honda, Schmidt-Hamilton Motorsports

78 Simona de Silvestro, Thun, Switzerland, Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HVM Racing Lotus, Lotus-HVM Racing

78T Simona de Silvestro, Thun, Switzerland, Nuclear Clean Air Energy Lotus HVM Racing Lotus, Lotus-HVM Racing

83 Charlie Kimball, Camarillo, Calif., NovoLog FlexPen Honda, Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing

83T Charlie Kimball, Camarillo, Calif., NovoLog FlexPen Honda, Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing

98 Alex Tagliani, Lachenaie, Canada, Team Barracuda-BHA Honda, Bryan Herta Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian

98T Alex Tagliani, Lachenaie, Canada, Team Barracuda-BHA Honda, Bryan Herta Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian

99 Townsend Bell, San Luis Obispo, Calif., BraunAbility-Schmidt Pelfrey Motorsports Honda, Sam Schmidt Motorsports

99T Townsend Bell, San Luis Obispo, Calif., BraunAbility-Schmidt Pelfrey Motorsports Honda, Sam Schmidt Motorsports

Sixty-four (64) cars entered. All cars use 2012 Dallara DW12 chassis and Firestone tires.

(R) _ Denotes Chase Rookie of the Year Candidate

(W) _ Denotes Indianapolis 500 winner

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 12 2012
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