Carb Day Notes: Ganassi Guys On Target For 500

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 26 2012

Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing. (INDYCAR / LAT USA)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is for sending messages, and the word from Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon is that Target Chip Ganassi Racing is good to go for Sunday’s 96th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Franchitti, the Indy 500 champion in 2007 and 2010, topped the speed chart during the final, one-hour practice around the 2.5-mile oval in 40.4749-seconds at 222.360 mph. The four-time/reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion, Franchitti also led the final practice in 2010.

Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 champion, was second-fastest on the chart in 47.4906-seconds at 222.274 mph, and then steered his crew to a win in the IZOD Indy 500 Pit Stop Competition.

“The car is real good. We’ve got a good setup for Race Day,” said Franchitti, driver of the No. 50 TCGR Dallara/Honda. “It would have been nice to have had that motor for qualifying.” Franchitti qualified 16th in the 33-car field on Pole Day last Saturday, one spot behind Dixon.

Winless during the season’s first four races, Franchitti and Dixon uncharacteristically have run under the radar during the Month of May at IMS, as Ryan Briscoe of Team Penske qualified on-pole with a four-lap/10-mile average of 226.484 mph in his No. 2 IZOD Dallara/Chevrolet.

Franchitti ran a total of 42 laps Friday while Dixon logged 51 laps in his No. 9 TCGR Dallara/Honda. Appropriately, Franchitti recorded his hottest lap at 11:35 a.m., when the track temperature was 109 degrees, according to Firestone Racing engineers.

“The forecast has been running in the high-90s,” said Franchitti, anticipating the first oval-track race of the season. “We’ve known that for weeks, so we know what we’re going to be setting up for. It’s definitely going to be slippery. We’ll deal with that (heat) on Sunday, but it’s going to be hard work behind the wheel in those conditions; hard for the pit crews to keep their focus in that heat.”

Andretti Autosport’s Marco Andretti, driver of the No.26 Team RC Cola Dallara/Chevrolet, was third-fastest at 221.702 mph. “Obviously, the goal today wasn’t to be the fastest. I think the car is ready,” said Andretti, voted 2006 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year when he finished second to Sam Hornish Jr. of Team Penske. “I think we’re definitely in it. I think it’s going to be our race to lose.”

Takuma Sato was fourth overall at 221.078 mph in his No. 15 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Dallara/Honda, while Briscoe rounded out the Fast Five at 221.025 mph.

“There’s still a lot of unknowns,” said Dixon, referring to the series’ mix of 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engines from Chevrolet, Honda and Lotus. “Previously we knew what to expect because we knew everybody had the same (Dallara/Honda V-8) stuff. I think our car seems good. I think we can expect to see a very tight race with a lot of passing.”

Dixon and his crew then earned the day’s second biggest headline when they knocked off Oriol Servia of Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the championship round of the Pit Stop contest. Dixon’s team earned TCGR’s first win in the event, worth $50,000 from a $100,000 purse. Winner of the competition has gone on to win the Indy 500 six times, most recently by Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves in 2009.

Dixon’s team changed four tires while simulating refueling and entering and exiting the pit box in 13.769 -seconds. Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold and Servia trailed at 17.194-seconds.

“It’s nice to have days like this and moments for the guys because they go on forgotten sometimes but work harder than all of us,” said Dixon, who advanced to the final for the first time. “It’s not about me, it’s about them. I’m so proud of them. I’ve been with a lot of these guys for many years. To actually win it, we’ve never done it and I think it’s a huge achievement; right at the top of a lot of things we get to do.”

Target Chip Ganassi Racing previously had finished second three times in the event. “It’s an amazing feeling,” said Ricky Davis, longtime TCGR crew chief. “I just told the guys I’ve been trying my hardest to win this competition for over 20 years. Although I wasn’t over the wall today, I work with these guys every day. They do some of the most ridiculous things I ask them to do. They’ve busted their butts. I’m as proud as if I was going over the wall.”

The Dallara DW12 chassis making its oval-track debut in the Indianapolis 500 underwent a modification this week designed to improve its safety. Personnel at the Dallara Automobili facility in nearby Speedway, Ind., cut three slots in underwing supports of the chassis to lessen lateral and maintain vertical stiffness.

Testing by Dallara earlier this week found that the stiffness of the underwing supports could be a contributing factor to the car slightly lifting off the racetrack in three instances over the Indy 500 qualifying weekend when it impacted the SAFER Barrier with the car’s centerline parallel to the wall.

“Dallara’s response has been immediate to try and make sure all improvements possible could be implemented in time for the race _ all credit to them,” said Will Phillips, vice president of technology for INDYCAR, sanctioning body of the IZOD IndyCar Series. “Feedback from observers, safety officials and drivers enabled Dallara to have the data very quickly, and their solution and response is a great example of how safety comes first.”

The “simple modification” was completed before Miller Lite Carb Day practice Friday on all 33 cars in the field. Through nine days of practice and qualifications, five crashes were recorded. All competitors _ Josef Newgarden, Bryan Clauson, Oriol Servia, Ed Carpenter and Charlie Kimball _ were uninjured.

The 2.5-mile IMS layout is the first oval test for a chassis designed and manufactured with safety features not incorporated in the Dallara that had been in use from 2003-11.Crash computer modeling and sled testing of the monocoque, roll hoop, attenuator, side and bottom intrusion panels and nose box was part of the design and development process at the company’s Italy headquarters.

Susie Wheldon was presented the Champion of Champions ring Thursday that her late husband, Dan, earned for his unforgettable victory last May while driving for Bryan Herta Autosport in the 100th Anniversary Indianapolis 500.

Dan Wheldon, who also won the Indy 500 in 2005, suffered fatal injuries in a multiple-car crash during the season-ending race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16. He was 33-years-old.

Jeff Belskus, Indianapolis Motor Speedway Corporation president/CEO, and Ken Keltner of Herff Jones presented the ring featuring 1 carat of diamonds and 14-karat gold to Mrs. Wheldon.

“I just want to take a moment to thank everybody for the outpouring of love and support over the past several months for me and my family,” said Mrs. Wheldon, a resident of St. Petersburg, Fla. “Everyone from Indianapolis, around the country and the world, my racing family and Dan’s fans. It has been so comforting to have the support of so many during such a difficult time.

“I am honored to be here to accept this Champion of Champions ring on behalf of my husband. Dan loved the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and what it meant to win here, and I am proud to be here to represent him as a two-time winner. I’m proud to be here with my children, Sebastian and Oliver, to celebrate their father’s life and legacy and him as a great champion and ambassador of the Indianapolis 500. Thank you again for all of your love and support.”

Brad Larsen, lead mechanic for the No. 39 Sarah Fisher Hartman/Curb-Agajanian Dallara/Honda driven by rookie Bryan Clauson, was presented the Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award Friday. Larsen, 30, will receive a $5,000 check and a plaque with his name. He led the effort to rebuild Clauson’s car after he crashed during Pole Day qualifying on May 19.

“When we first unloaded the car this month, it was fast,” Larsen said. “It ran pretty good all week, then we spooked ourselves a little bit on Friday, got a little lost. We looked pretty good Saturday, until he hit the wall.”

Brawner was renowned for his mechanical wizardry, serving as chief mechanic for six national champions and 51 race victories. The Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award is in its 26th year and sponsored by Firestone Racing.

Esteban Guerrieri overtook race-leader Tristan Vautier and Gustavo Yacaman in Turn 1 on Lap 38 and went on to win Friday’s Firestone Indy Lights Firestone Freedom 100 under a yellow flag. A close final two laps were expected, but the No. 4 Belardi Auto Racing car driven by Jorge Goncalvez made moderate contact with the Turn 2 wall on Lap 39, bringing out the yellow flag.

Guerrieri pumped his fist as the No. 11 Pistas Argentinas/Sam Schmidt Motorsports with Curb-Agajanian car crossed under the checkered flag. It was the record fourth consecutive year that a Sam Schmidt Motorsports driver won the race.

Carlos Munoz, who got around Vautier and Yacaman before the caution, finished second with Vautier settling for third place.

“I’m really, really happy,” said Guerrieri, a two-time winner this season. “It was one of those weekends that I trusted I was going to finish well even though I qualified bad. I’m overjoyed. From last to first, I’m really happy.”

Guerrieri, who also won the previous event on the Streets of Long Beach, scored his fifth career series victory. He is the first Argentine driver to win at race at IMS. Guerrieri has a 14-point lead (177-163) over Vautier in the driver’s championship.

Sebastian Saavedra finished fifth and sits third in the championship with 159 points. Saavedra also will race in the Indianapolis 500 for Andretti Autosport on Sunday, only driver performing the Indy 500/Firestone Freedom 100 “double” this year.

Firestone Indy Lights officials plan to debut a new race car for the 2014 season. A request for proposal was distributed to potential manufacturers and development firms earlier this month for both engine and chassis, and series officials will begin reviewing and evaluating submitted applications after the due date of June 30. Desired attributes of the 2014 Firestone Indy Lights car include:

•New chassis to reflect current contemporary race car design with a forward-thinking, sophisticated and exciting formula. Chassis must be adaptable to compete on road, street and oval circuits with a minimum of facility-specific parts.

•New chassis to surpass all current FIA static and impact regulations while having the flexibility to accommodate a broad spectrum of drivers and seating positions.

•Improved aerodynamic performance that must also allow for enhanced sponsor placement opportunities on the car.

•Improved technological package to include but not limited to: paddle-shifting, data systems and sensors.

•Potential to integrate an alternative fuel source.

The project will be under the supervision of Will Phillips, INDYCAR’s vice president of technology, and Vince Kremer, Firestone Indy Lights technical director.

Firestone Indy Lights is the official stepping stone to drivers/teams striving to reach the IZOD IndyCar Series, and is the third rung on the Mazda Road to Indy driver development ladder system.

Indianapolis 500-winning drivers will take ceremonial laps in classic Indy 500 vintage cars from decades ending in the number “2” during pre-race ceremonies Sunday morning before the 96th Indianapolis 500. The lineup of drivers and cars:

Buddy Lazier, 1912 National (Joe Dawson, winner); Mario Andretti, 1922 Duesenberg (Jimmy Murphy, winner); Bobby Unser, 1933 Ringling & Henning Wonder Bread Special (Joe Russo, 17th); Parnelli Jones, 1952 Kuzma (Troy Ruttman, winner); Johnny Rutherford, 1962 Watson-Offy (Rodger Ward, winner) and Kenny Brack, 1972 McLaren (Mark Donohue, winner).

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 26 2012
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