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Things Get Racy During Practice At Indianapolis

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 15 2012

Rubens Barrichello, who is flying two flags on his helmet at Indy this month, prepares to take to the track for practice. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti picked up the pace for Andretti Autosport during practice Monday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where speeds for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 aren’t always what they seem.

With a number of IZOD IndyCar Series teams admittedly using the final hour of the six-hour session to run Race Day setups for the May 27th event, Andretti noted the majority of the hottest laps were the result of an aerodynamic tow in traffic. Andretti said that certainly was the case when he posted the third-fastest lap of the day at 40.6285-seconds and 221.519 mph.

“Yes. They called me in; my fuel alarm came on so they said, ‘Pit this lap,’ ” said Andretti, driver of the No. 26 Team RC Cola Andretti Autosport Dallara/Chevrolet. “I said, ‘What, can’t hear you.’ I knew I was on a good one.”

Rookie Josef Newgarden topped the speed chart for the second time in three days in his No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Dallara/Honda. Newgarden, fastest during Saturday’s Opening Day session, was clocked in 40.4519-seconds at 222.486 mph – fastest of the month. Pole Day qualifications are scheduled for Saturday.

“It looks like everyone was trying race runs, and we kind of jumped in, as well,” Newgarden said of his flyer. “It was a lot of fun. It was good to run out there with the guys, and I think we need to do more of that probably and figure out how the car operates in the draft a little bit. Certainly learned a lot of the way it

Michael Andretti keeps an eye on practice from the pits at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

reacts, and we just got to keep progressing and trying to make it even more comfortable during the race. Everyone’s just creeping up on it and the feel.”

Hunter-Reay, driver of the No. 28 Team DHL/Sun Drop Citrus Soda Andretti Autosport Dallara/Chevrolet, was second-fast at 40.6065-seconds/221.639 mph. Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion, was fourth-fastest at 221.499 mph in his No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda. Andretti Autosport’s Sebastian Saavedra, who paced Sunday’s session, was fifth-fastest among 29 drivers recording laps at 220.785 mph in the No. 17 Team AFS Andretti Autosport Dallara/Chevrolet.

“I would say there was probably one person all day that has an actual time on their own,” said Andretti, referring to Newgarden. “It’s mostly tows. Especially when we all went out to do race simulation running, there was a lot of tag-alongs. We have enough in our stable to simulate a race with five of us. People see what we are doing, and they want to work on the race car as well. That’s when the big times go up is when we all go out together.”

Andretti said the series’ new Dallara DW12 chassis – which is making its oval-track debut at the 2.5-mile Speedway – is proving to be well-balanced in the draft.

“These cars actually really tow-up,” said Andretti, the 25-year-old third-generation star who will be making his sixth Indy 500 start. ”There is a lot of passing now because nobody wants to lead today; they all want to tow. These cars really do tow-up. The last (Dallara) car wasn’t as good. This car seems a bit more lenient on the back-end. With last year’s car before you even turned the wheel into (Turn) 1, you know that the rear is just not there. Something is telling you to back-off, even earlier, where this one you can really drive it in. We can stay flat really close to people.”

Andretti almost won the Indy 500 as a rookie in 2006, when he took the white flag at the start of the 200th and final lap as the leader. But Sam Hornish Jr. of Team Penske got a massive run exiting Turn 4 and passed Andretti only a few hundred yards from the start/finish line to win by 0.0635-seconds for the second-closest finish in race history.

Andretti, who started 27th and finished ninth at IMS last May, said his experience in the draft should

Defending champion Dario Franchitti waits his turn in the pits. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

produce an entertaining race for the fans. “There’s going to be a lot of action,” Andretti said. “What happens is it tows up decently, but once you get somewhat close, it really…that last third of the straightway, it really starts sucking-up. So when it does, people are going to have to do those last-minute moves. That’s what the race is going to consist of. It will be interesting.”

A total of 35 cars are at IMS, with 31 passing technical inspection and six in the process. Thirty-two drivers have been on-track to-date, turning 1,199 laps Monday and 3,030 laps this month. James Jakes, driver of the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Dallara/Honda fielded by Dale Coyne Racing, turned 76 laps Monday, most of any driver. There were three cautions for a total of 31 minutes.

USAC champion Bryan Clauson has been one of the surprises of the first few days of practice, running consistently at the top of the charts in his No. 39 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing/RW Dallara/Honda. The secret to his success? It may have been an early-morning meeting with three-time Indy 500 champion Bobby Unser on Saturday, May 12, before the track opened to all drivers.

“Uncle Bobby took me out for a couple of (Corvette) Pace Car rides on Saturday,” Clauson said. “We had to meet at 8 a.m. and he wasn’t too happy about it, but it was the only time we could fit it in. He took me around and showed me some lines and things around this place that he said he had never showed anyone before. I felt pretty honored; he’s a guy that anything you can learn from him, you have to soak it in. I hope he’s proud that we’re having a good month.”

Asked to enumerate Unser’s sage advice, Clauson said, “One was what he showed me, and the second was not to tell anybody. But that’s Uncle Bobby.”

Indy 500 rookie Jean Alesi is redefining the notion of “seat time” at IMS. A crew member usually sits

Jean Alesi at Indy. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

in a race car and steers when it is towed back-and-forth from Gasoline Alley to the pits during practice. But Alesi – a 13-year Formula One veteran – is staying inside the cockpit of the No. 64 Lotus-FP Journe-Fan Force United Lotus at all times, even during towing.

“Drivers don’t normally do that,” said Ted Bitting, team manager. “In my experience, drivers don’t want to do that. Unfortunately, none of our crew is able to fit in Jean’s seat, so he ends up having to do it. Besides, he needs to break-in his seat so the more time he spends in it, the better. Jean is great to work with and does everything we ask him to do. He has a great attitude.”

Alesi, 47, said it’s all part of his first oval-track experience. “I am enjoying my time here very much,” said Alesi, who is being tutored by 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier. “I am enjoying being able to talk to the fans, to sign autographs and pictures of my race cars from quite a few years ago. Everything here is very much different from what I have experienced, and I am liking it quite a lot.”

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation has acquired various assets from the Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing Collection, including a number of famous racing cars, for permanent display by the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

With seven starts between 1961-67, Parnelli Jones is synonymous with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Jones won the 1963 Indy 500 from pole position in the famed No. 98 Agajanian Willard Battery Watson/Offy, taking the lead from race rookie and Formula One star Jim Clark on Lap 96 of 200. Clark was bidding to give the rear-engine No. 92 Lotus/Ford, fielded by Englishman Colin Chapman, an Indy 500 victory in its Speedway debut but instead settled for second.

Jones was the winning co-entrant, along with longtime friend and business partner Vel Miletich, at IMS in 1970-71. Jones also was the first driver to officially lap the IMS oval faster than 150 mph, in 1962. His pole-winning speed was 150.370 mph en route to a seventh-place finish in a race won by Rodger Ward in the No. 3 Leader Card 500 Roadster Watson/Offy.

Throughout much of the first half of the 1970s, the so-called “Super Team” of Mario Andretti, Al Unser and Joe Leonard ruled both the Indianapolis 500 and the United States Auto Club (USAC)-sanctioned National Championship series. Unser and Andretti were all but unbeatable during that period in USAC’s National Dirt Car series.

Among the famous Indianapolis 500 and other cars acquired from the collection and on display at the Museum are Clark’s 1964 No. 6 Lotus/Ford, the 1968 Lotus “wedge” turbine-powered car, the “Johnny Lightning” P.J. Colt/Ford in which Al Unser won the 1970 and 1971 Indianapolis 500s, the 1972 Parnelli/Offy and the 1974-75 Parnelli/Ford DFV driven by Andretti in Formula One.

Jones will sign autographs and meet fans from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on American Family Insurance 500 Festival Community Day Wednesday, May 23, in the Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing Collection room at the IMS Hall of Fame Museum. Besides admission to the track for Community Day, separate admission to the Museum is required for the autograph session.

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, May 15 2012
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