Marco Andretti Fastest Of The Fast On Fast Friday

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 18 2012

Marco Andretti set the pace on Fast Friday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Next up at Indy is Saturday's Pole Day. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Marco Andretti is poised to rock his world, and add to his family’s star-crossed history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, during Pole Day qualifications Saturday for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Aided by an increase in turbocharger boost pressure, Andretti topped the speed chart on Fast Friday with a lap of 39.5535-seconds and 227.540 mph _ easily fastest lap of the Month of May around the 2.5-mile oval. It marked the second time this week that Andretti’s No. 26 Team RC Cola Dallara/Chevrolet was quickest during practice that began last Saturday. Driving for father Michael’s Andretti Autosport juggernaut, the third-generation star also topped the chart on Wednesday at 40.2367-seconds and 223.676 mph.

All drivers were aided by sanctioning body INDYCAR’s decision to allow a bump in turbocharger boost of 10 kPa (130 to 140 kilopascals) _ equal to about 40 horsepower and four-to-five mph per lap _ that also will be utilized during qualifications.

Marco’s best start in six previous Indy 500s was seventh in 2008. Father Michael never earned a pole nor won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 16 starts at IMS. Meanwhile, grandfather Mario Andretti _ winner of the 1969 Indy 500 _ qualified on-pole in 1966, 1967 and 1987.

“If you’re going to be in the top nine, you might as well be on the pole,” said Marco, voted 2006 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year after a dramatic second-place finish to Sam Hornish Jr. of Team Penske. “It would mean the world to me; I showed up this month to win the race 100 percent. And I still believe I can do it from 33rd, but if we could do it from first it would be fantastic. Especially, it’s been since ’87 that my grandfather (won pole). That was the year I was born, so it would be cool to be able to be on the pole for sure.”

Ryan Briscoe, driving the No. 2 IZOD Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet, was second-quick (39.6764- seconds/226.835 mph) while teammate and three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves was third (39.6973-seconds/226.716 mph) in the No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske Dallara/Chevy.

Three of Andretti’s four teammates, all using Chevrolet V-6 power, wound up in the top 10 on a warm and cloudless day. Ryan Hunter-Reay (226.400 mph) was fourth, James Hinchcliffe (225.974 mph) was sixth and Ana Beatriz (225.653 mph) was seventh.

Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion and driver of the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing entry, was the top Honda V-6-powered driver in fifth at 226.224 mph. Teammate Dario Franchitti, a two-time Indy 500 champion, was 10th.

“Scott and I are the first two of the Honda-powered cars right now, and I think we have some work to do. That’s it, really,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 50 TCGR Dallara/Honda. “It can’t be roses every day, and you just need to keep pushing. We have some work to do and the Target guys are working very hard on this with the Honda guys to come up with something before tomorrow.”

The initial 24 car/driver combinations will be set on Pole Day, with the remainder of the 33 spots to be filled on Sunday’s Bump Day.

“Why not try to go for the pole?” Andretti said. “I think now, all of a sudden, today was a big day for us. I thought we were at a bit of a deficit to my teammates to start the month. But we just kept rubbing on it, we never gave up and we kind of woke the car up. And obviously, with this added boost today, it woke my car up in particular as well. But we’ve been working really hard, too, and finding that every couple of tenths of a mile an hour and it all adds up. So it’s going to come down to a couple of a tenths of a mile an hour, I really believe that. And the four-lap average, I’ve been really working specifically hard on the consistency over the four laps that I think is going to make a difference.”

Andretti started 27th and finished ninth at IMS last May _ a solid end to a whirlwind month. “If we’re knocking on the door for a pole that’d be pretty ironic,” Andretti said, “because last year we were just trying to get into the show. So it’s just credit to the guys. We’ve just been working so hard and I think that Al McDonald, my engineer, and I have been working really well together. He has a lot of faith in me and vice versa, so that’s all you need is that kind of chemistry, and obviously the five of us (drivers) work together as well.

“But there’s only so much that five of us can find. A lot it’s credit to the guys and just rubbing on the cars and every little bit counts, and that’s all we’re doing is attention to detail. We learned that when we were just trying to get into the show. But now all the sudden that we roll off with pace, now all those little things are putting us in the position to potentially run for the pole.”

Andretti’s good fortune, however, didn’t continue during the annual qualifying draw after practice. His primary car will roll off 55th; his backup has the No. 20 spot. Andretti would have preferred to go out in the morning, when conditions are cooler and faster. “There is just more grip on the track,” Andretti said. “The hotter and greasier it is, the slicker it is. We’ve been trying to practice in both (conditions) and the car, so far, has been good in both. Hopefully it doesn’t affect us too much. We’ve put some of our fastest times down in the hottest conditions.”

Team Penske’s Briscoe, meanwhile, tabbed Marco and his Andretti Autosport teammates as the class of Gasoline Alley.

“They are definitely going to be heavy favorites going into (Pole Day), and I would say for the race as well,” Briscoe said. “I haven’t done many long runs with their cars, but I’ve seen them running together and they look pretty good out there. They have done a good job, definitely. I think them, together with our package and Chevrolet; we’re very pleased with how things have been progressing over the last week in practice. It’s going to be close, I think. There are a lot of teams that are really performing well this year at the Indy 500. A lot of small teams as well, really. Sticking it to the ‘big guns.’

“I feel like we’re making progress, for sure. I think we still have some work to do. I’m sort of feeling six-to-seven tenths off of quick time right now going for pole. It is in the car. We’ve just been making big gains today on the balance. It’s tough when you are this trimmed-out; got the extra horsepower today. It’s all about the fine-tuning and getting as little scrub through the corners as possible. I finished with the best run of the day and it will help me go to sleep feeling better. We’re a top-nine for sure.”

A total of 32 drivers took to the oval in preparation for Pole Day. Thirty-three drivers have been on-track to-date this week, turning 1,206 laps Friday and 8,976 laps since Saturday. Dixon turned 60 laps Friday, most of any driver. There were four cautions for a total of 36 minutes.

Meanwhile, Katherine Legge passed the third and final phase of her Rookie Orientation Program, one day after INDYCAR officials allowed Dragon Racing to switch from Lotus to Chevrolet power in her No. 6 TrueCar Dallara. Legge now is cleared to qualify and race in the Indy 500.

Pole Day and qualifying will begin at 11 a.m. (ET) Saturday and be televised live on NBC Sports Network. The Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 27, with the live broadcast on ABC beginning at noon (ET).

Here are the official Indianapolis 500 qualifying procedures:

Order _ A blind draw is conducted before each qualification day.

Warm-up laps _ Each car is permitted two warm-up laps before the timed qualification laps. IZOD IndyCar Series officials may permit three warm-up laps if they deem it necessary.

Green-flag laps _ A qualification attempt consists of four timed laps/10 miles around the 2.5-mile oval. The aggregate time is recorded as the official qualifying time for the car.

On Pole Day, qualifying is broken down into two segments, progressively narrowing the field to determine the pole-winner. The day will begin with two practice sessions from 8 to 10 a.m.

Segment One _ Held from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., to determine positions 1-24 in the field based upon the fastest four-lap averages. Once all 24 positions have been filled, bumping will occur until 4 p.m. Each car has up to three qualifying attempts. The top nine qualifiers advance to Segment Two.

Segment Two _ Held from 4:30 to 6 p.m., the top nine cars will run the Fast Nine Shootout in reverse order based upon Segment One speeds. All cars are required to make at least one attempt in Segment Two. Cars making additional attempts will receive an additional set of Firestone tires. At the end of the session, the cars are ranked 1-9 based upon their four-lap average during the segment.

On Bump Day (Sunday), positions 25-33 will be determined based upon the day’s fastest four-lap average. Once the starting field is set, any qualifying attempt that is faster than a qualified entrant in the starting field will bump the slowest qualifier, regardless of the day of qualification. The “bumping” entrant is placed at the rear of the field while the “bumped” entrant is removed from the field, but has the opportunity to bump its way back into the starting field as time allows. Each car is allowed three attempts.

Indy 500 veteran Oriol Servia never made it to pit lane on Fast Friday. Servia’s Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team discovered a problem with the No. 22 Dallara/Chevrolet prior to leaving the garage area and spent the day in full-thrash mode.

“Obviously, it was not in our plan nor was it our ideal day because we wanted to get a feel of the car,” said Servia, referring to lapping with added turbo boost. “We started the car, and we saw some smoke and thought it was the engine. We rushed to change it to try to get out on-track. When we put in the new engine, it was still smoking just as much, which we then discovered that it didn’t have anything to do with the motor.

“The bad thing is we didn’t get to run, but the good news is we didn’t have the penalty that we thought we were going to have in Detroit (on June 3 for an engine switch). It’s not like we missed a lot. I’m pretty sure we’ll just need to do a couple of runs before qualifying and we’ll have the time to do that in the morning, and I know that we will have a strong car.”

Teams from General Motors and Ilmor Engineering that developed the 2.2-liter Chevrolet INDYCAR V-6 engine were presented the 46th annual Louis Schwitzer Award sponsored by BorgWarner on Friday.

Members of the team receiving the award were Mark Kent and Matt Wiles of GM and Steve Miller and Steve O’Connor of Ilmor. Chevrolet-powered cars fielded by Team Penske have won each of the season’s first four street/road-course races, including three in a row by championship leader Will Power.

The award, presented to engineers by engineers, recognizes individuals with the courage and conviction to explore and develop new concepts in motorsports technology for use in the Indianapolis 500. The award has been presented annually since 1967 by the Indiana Section SAE International in honor of early racing pioneer and past Indiana Section Chairman Louis Schwitzer. Award sponsor BorgWarner provided a $10,000 cash prize to the winners, whose names will be added to the permanent trophy on display at the IMS Hall of Fame Museum.

Sam Schmidt and Davey Hamilton, co-owners of Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports, surprised driver Simon Pagenaud with a birthday cake Friday morning in the garage area. Pagenaud turned 28 before heading out to practice in his No. 77 Dallara/Honda.

“They told me to get ready at 11:30, and I thought, ‘That’s weird,’^” the Frenchman said. “They haven’t told me to be ready this week so far, so I didn’t expect it. It’s really nice from the guys. It is really such a great atmosphere in this team. It’s just a good sense of humor and a good atmosphere. It’s just fantastic. And, we get 50 more horsepower (from added turbo boost), so that’s a good birthday present for a driver. And it’s a good cake, as well.”

The Sam Schmidt Paralysis Foundation (SSPF) hosted its 13th annual Racing to Recovery Gala Wednesday at the Dallara factory in Speedway, where nearly $300,000 was raised to support medical research to find a cure for paralysis. In addition, Schmidt presented three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford of Fort Worth, Texas, with the Legendary Driver Award.

SSPF also recognized the efforts of the Holmatro Safety Team with the Silent Hero award for its skill and efficiency providing trackside support at every IZOD IndyCar Series event. As an expression of gratitude, each member of the Safety Team was presented a new laptop computer donated by HP.

The SSPF was started in 2000 by former INDYCAR driver Schmidt shortly after a crash during practice left him paralyzed from the chest down. SSPF is leading the charge to cure paralysis by funding scientific research, medical treatment, rehabilitation and technological advances benefiting those with spinal cord injuries, stroke victims and people diagnosed with ALS, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Former Indy 500 champion Parnelli Jones visited the track Friday, marking the 50th anniversary of his turning the first 150-mph lap around IMS. Jones won the pole for the 1962 Indianapolis 500 with a four-lap average of 150.370 mph en route to a seventh-place finish in the No. 98 Agajanian Willard Battery Watson/Offy. In 1963, Jones won the pole (151.153 mp) and the race in the same car, dubbed “Ol’ Calhoun.”

Jones said the new Dallara DW12 appears to have addressed many of the safety issues stemming from the season-ending crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16 that took the life of two-time/reigning Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon.

“I think they’re safer than the cars last year. I think that was very important,” said Jones, who made seven Indy 500 starts between 1961 and 1967. “I think they’ve done some great things to make them safer. I think with these cars having so much ground effects that they’re pretty easy to drive. It appears that way to me. Not that it doesn’t take talent to drive these cars in the first place, but I think one of these days we’ll get the car to where you have to back off at the end of the straightaway a little bit and put a little more emphasis into the driver and not so much into the car.”

Jones’ career at IMS spanned the transition from the traditional front-engine Watson roadster to the rear-engine Formula One-based Lotus chassis brought to the Speedway in 1963 by Colin Chapman for Jim Clark and Dan Gurney, powered by Ford V-8s.

“I even drove the ‘Side Car,’ which was the turbine-(powered) car,” said Jones, referring to the No. 40 STP Oil Treatment Special entered by Andy Granatelli in 1967 and powered by a side-mounted Pratt & Whitney turbine engine. Jones led the first 51 laps of the rain-interrupted race and later paced Laps 150 to 196, apparently en route to a lopsided victory. But a broken bearing opened the door for A.J. Foyt Jr. to take the lead on Lap 197 and win the third of his four Indy 500s. Jones, who led a race-high 171 laps, started and finished sixth in the controversial car.

“So, I’ve had it all the way around,” Jones said.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 18 2012
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