Notes: Honda Feeling The Power At Indianapolis

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 25 2013

Simon Pagenaud showed that Honda engines are closing the gap at Indy. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is for sending messages, and the word from Simon Pagenaud is that Honda Performance Development apparently has closed the horsepower gap on rival Chevrolet heading into Sunday’s 97th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Pagenaud, who will start from the outside of the seventh row, topped the Coors Light Carb Day speed chart with a hot lap in 39.8536-seconds/225.827 mph during Friday’s one-hour practice session. It was the final opportunity for teams to fine-tune their cars around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway before Race Day.

Running a refreshed version of Honda’s 2.2-liter turbocharged V6, Pagenaud was joined in the Fast Five by Andretti Autosport’s E.J Viso (39.9461-seconds/225.304 mph); Andretti teammate and reigning IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay (39.9906-seconds/225.053 mph), 2008 Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing (40.0232-seconds/224.870 mph) and Sebastien Bourdais of Dragon Racing (40.2070-seconds/224.848 mph).

“The car is really good in race trim,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda. “We’re really happy with the way it used up the (Firestone) tires, the way it goes through its stints.

“Honda has done a lot of work before qualifying and after qualifying, and Honda’s racing mentality is to go racing and that’s exactly what they’re doing. They provided us with an engine that is clearly a lot better, so it’s a good sign for the race. The car is up there. It’s good for HP, and it’s good for Honda. I’m really happy for my guys. For them, it’s great to go into a race with such a positive note.”

Viso, Hunter-Reay and Bourdais are powered by Chevrolet’s 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged Chevrolet V6. Led by pole-sitter Ed Carpenter, Chevy-powered cars swept the top 11 spots during Pole Day qualifying last Saturday. Included in that group is three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves of Team Penske.

Alex Tagliani of Team Barracuda-Bryan Herta Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian is Honda’s highest-starting driver in the 33-car field at 12th. Dixon and Target teammate Dario Franchitti – who scored his third Indy 500 win last May _ also shook down refreshed versions of the Honda V6 on Friday.

The cars driven by Castroneves, Penske teammate Will Power and Marco Andretti of Andretti Autosport have been fitted with new Chevy engines for the race. In the Honda camp, the following cars have been fitted with new Honda engines: Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ryan Briscoe (engine run on Bump Day last Sunday), Takuma Sato of A.J. Foyt Racing, James Jakes (engine run on Bump Day) of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, Ana Beatriz and teammate Justin Wilson of Dale Coyne Racing, Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing, Charlie Kimball of Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing and Tagliani (engine run on Bump Day).

The 33 qualified drivers turned 1,305 laps Friday and 15,221 laps this month. Bourdais ran 52 laps Friday, most of any driver. There were three cautions for a total of 11 minutes.

Pole-sitter Ed Carpenter’s week in the spotlight in his home state will continue Saturday morning during the public driver’s meeting at IMS, and during the annual Indy 500 Festival Parade downtown in the afternoon. Carpenter, winner of the most recent IndyCar Series oval race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., last September, enjoyed a workmanlike Carb Day.

“We were going to run 20 to 25 laps,” said Carpenter, driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka/Ed Carpenter Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. “But the car felt good, so we did a couple of pit stops and parked after 18 laps. It would have been fun to go out and play longer, but it isn’t necessary. The smart thing to do is just put the car away and prepare for Sunday. We’ll continue to go with our plan right now. It worked last week for us. We ran race setup all week until Friday when we trimmed-out the car for qualifying. I feel we have a fast car. We think conditions will be similar on Sunday, too.

“This week has been pretty crazy but fun. We had 16 appearances Thursday, so it was busy. But you have to enjoy it. You never know when this situation will happen again. I feel super-confident that we have the tools and the team to win this race. We won the last 500-miler in Fontana, so we know we can do it. We just have to execute and go with the game plan. It’s easy to get excited with this kind of car. I just need to remain calm and be ready to run a strong race.”

Team Penske and Helio Castroneves continued their mastery of the Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge, winning the annual competition to determine the fastest Indianapolis 500 pit crew. Castroneves and his team beat Dario Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, 14.475-seconds to 14.854-seconds, in the final round. It was the 14th victory for Team Penske and sixth for Castroneves in the Pit Stop Challenge, both event records.

Team Penske earned $50,000 while TCGR received $15,000 for its runnerup finish. “We do have the best guys in the business,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Dallara/Chevrolet. “What impressed me most, it’s overcoming those unexpected scenarios, and that’s why they won today because I should have stopped on the mark, and I didn’t. But I guess they got used to it now. So now there is no excuse in the race.”

Teams changed four tires and performed a simulated fuel hookup during each round of the competition, which started with 12 teams. Castroneves left the starting line late and overshot his pit box by about three feet, momentarily falling behind Franchitti and the Ganassi team. But Team Penske crew members compensated with a stop nearly one second quicker than the Ganassi crew, which was slowed by a problem with the right-rear tire change.

Castroneves is the last driver to win the Pit Stop Challenge and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year, in 2009. Crew members for Castroneves are chief mechanic and right front tire changer, Sean Hanrahan; left front tire, Doug Snyder; right rear tire, Shaun Rinaman; left rear tire, Mike Brown; airjack, Gary Yingst and fueler, Gary Prall.

“We practice a lot at the shop when we can,” Hanrahan said. “It doesn’t always happen when we want it to, but we work hard at it, and we’ve got a dedicated car for it. Shaun Rinaman is actually our pit stop manager, so we do what we can and, luckily, today everyone just kept digging.”

Castroneves and Team Penske advanced to the final by beating Oriol Servia and Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the semifinals. Franchitti and TCGR ousted reigning IndyCar Series champions Ryan Hunter-Reay and Andretti Autosport in the other semifinal.

Veteran chief mechanic Dennis LaCava, lead wrench for Lazier Partners Racing, was presented the 2013 Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award sponsored by Firestone Racing. LaCava became chief mechanic for the No. 91 Lazier Partners Dallara/Chevrolet driven by 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier less than a week before Opening Day of the 97th Indy 500.

The Brawner Award has been presented annually since 1987 to the Indianapolis 500 chief mechanic who “exemplifies the mechanical and scientific creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, dedication, enthusiasm and expertise” of its namesake. Brawner oversaw 51 race wins and six IndyCar national champions.

LaCava received a $5,000 check and plaque. His name will be inscribed on the permanent Brawner Award trophy housed in the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum. “I figure us mechanics are kind of like Minutemen or something,” said LaCava, 49. “It always works out at the last minute, and off we go. Clint Brawner is a legend at this place and there are some great past recipients.”

Lazier said LaCava’s meticulous work ethic was a key factor in contacting him to oversee his car. “It was like, ‘Dennis, you’re not going to want to believe this, but we need your services,’^” Lazier joked. “Immediately, he was all-in, like he’s always been. He’s a lot like me in that we both really enjoy this place (IMS). It’s very special to both of us. We respect it very much. For a race car driver, a guy like Dennis is your best friend. I’m really proud of him.”

Peter Dempsey emerged from fourth place on the final corner of the final lap to overtake Gabby Chaves, Sage Karam and Carlos Munoz and win a thrilling Firestone Freedom 100. Exiting Turn 4 Munoz, Karam and Chaves were racing side-by-side to the start/finish line. Suddenly, Dempsey found a seam close to the outside wall on the 50-foot-wide frontstretch and decided to make it four-wide.

A 27-year-old native of Ashbourne, Ireland, Dempsey immediately felt he had won the marquee race of the Firestone Indy Lights season, although it was a photo finish. The margin of victory was 0.0026-seconds _ closest on an oval in the 100-plus-year history of IMS. Chaves was second and pole-sitter Karam was 0.0280-seconds behind the winner in third. Munoz, who led Laps 13-39 of the 40-lapper and will compete in his first Indy 500 Sunday, was 0.0443-seconds behind the winner.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 25 2013
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