Pagenaud Out To Pull Off The Indianapolis Sweep

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 15 2014

Simon Pagenaud already has one victory at Indy this month. He will go after a second on Memorial Day Weekend. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

With one victory at Indianapolis Motor Speedway already on his Month of May check-list, Simon Pagenaud is looking to complete his own/historic version of “The Double.”

Pagenaud emerged as winner of Saturday’s inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on IMS’ revised 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course. On Wednesday, the Frenchman cranked-out the fastest lap of the month during practice for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500 on May 25. Pagenaud ‘s lap at 39.8016-seconds/226.122 mph led a session limited to 56 late-afternoon minutes because of rain and cleanup of the month’s first on-track incident _ a crash by rookie Jack Hawksworth.

Pagenaud started 21st and finished eighth in last year’s Indy 500. “I’m very happy, very comfortable,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Dallara/Honda. “Third year in Indianapolis is a big change compared to the first two years. I feel a lot more comfortable. I have a better vision of what I need for the race. So yeah, I really enjoy it and am having a great time.

“Conditions are very good for a fast lap. The density of the air is a lot stronger so you can run in a little less wing for the same amount of downforce (as Tuesday) and that creates lap time. And the engines work better with a stronger density in the air. That’s why you see big laps. It’s always enjoyable to get close to 230. Hopefully we can break that in qualifying. So, so far, so good.”

JR Hildebrand, runnerup to the late Dan Wheldon as a rookie in the 2011 Indianapolis 500, posted the second-fastest lap at 39.8488-seconds/225.854 mph in the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by owner/driver Ed Carpenter. Three-time/reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and ’08 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon was third-fast at 39.9123-seconds/225.494 mph in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Chevrolet.

“Obviously, we’d rather be on the sharp end of the stick than not,” said Hildebrand, whose crash in Turn 4 on the final lap in 2011 opened the door for Wheldon’s second Indy 500 win. “I don’t care about putting up a big lap time; I care about how the car feels. It’s great to see the car has speed in it because at the end of the day you rarely go through practice with guys that are capable of setting those fast times; they end up being the guys that have the quicker cars.

“Certainly our focus is trying to make sure not that we can put in a big-tow lap, but that we can catch up to that guy and pass him, and leapfrog through the next few guys ahead of him. So that’s what we’re working on right now. I think with myself and Ed, we’ve both had experiences over the last few years that make us realize that the priority really is Race Day and that’s it. Glad we were able to get out today; we definitely learned a few things with the conditions being quite different than they were over the last few days, and we’ll continue plugging away.”

At 5 p.m., ambient temperature was 60 degrees and track temperature was 74 degrees, according to Firestone engineers. Pagenaud turned his hot lap at 5:45 p.m. The session was extended past the normal 6 p.m. checkered flag, but light rain began falling at 6:06 and practice was called-off at 6:29.

Twenty-nine driver/car combinations totaled 1,044 laps, with nine topping 225 mph. Midway through the session, the No. 98 Integrity Energee Drink Dallara/Honda driven by Hawksworth _ who qualified second for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis _ made contact with the Turn 3 SAFER Barrier. He was checked at the track by Dr. Michael Olinger, INDYCAR medical director, and cleared to drive.

Three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves was fourth at 39.9369-seconds/225.340 mph in the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Team Penske. Rounding out the Fast Five was rookie Mikhail Aleshin at 39.9449-seconds and 225.310 mph in the No. 7 SPM Racing Dallara/Honda.

Thirty-one drivers have been on-track to-date and turned 5,095 laps this month. Juan Pablo Montoya, the 2000 Indy 500 champion, completed 61 laps Wednesday in the No. 2 Verizon Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by Team Penske, most of any driver. There were three cautions for a total of 33 minutes and 1 second Wednesday.

Practice scheduled Thursday from noon-6 p.m. (EDT), will be preceded by James Davison starting the three-phase Rookie Orientation Program in the No. 33 KV Racing Technology/Always Evolving Racing Dallara/Chevrolet.

Qualifying will be televised Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. on ABC-TV and via live timing and scoring at racecontrol.indycar.com.

Anticipating a rainy Wednesday in Indy, Kurt Busch departed Indianapolis Motor Speedway and returned to Charlotte, N.C., for preparations with NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing. Busch, who will attempt to complete “The Double” by racing in the Indy 500 and the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 25, was scheduled to return to Indianapolis for practice Thursday and Friday before qualifying his No. 26 Suretone Dallara/Honda on Saturday morning.

Saturday evening, Busch will fly back to Charlotte Motor Speedway for the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race before returning to Indy on Sunday for additional qualifying and practice.

Busch, who is driving for Andretti Autosport at IMS as a rookie, stood a surprising third on the overall time chart after three days of practice.

“It definitely wasn’t on my radar,” said Busch, the 2004 Cup champion. “But what I’ve been able to do as a student is each day progress at a strong rate, and progressing is being able to digest the information and then being able to apply it the next day. Each day out, the Andretti Autosport team has helped me with a game plan on what’s next, so it’s nice when you can have a solid forecast of what to expect.

“As far as guys getting tows and posting those good laps, some of my drafting experience helps from what I’ve seen at Daytona and Talladega; Indianapolis has a little bit of Darlington characteristics into it. What I mean by that is you have to be single-file and you have to know which corner you’re approaching at all times, and it’s a matter of give-and-take with the other drivers out on the track. I haven’t been around many guys, mostly the Andretti guys, but it’s been thumbs-up right now. It’s been nice to continue to find speed and to feel more comfortable in the car in the traffic.”

Asked about his biggest surprise as an IMS rookie, Busch said, “Honestly, just the open arms that everyone has had here and supportive of me being here and just kind of rooting me on. It’s nice to talk to Rick Mears or to bump into Juan Pablo Montoya and we’re talking NASCAR and the crossover to INDYCAR. Then again Michael (Andretti) has been amazing. He’s a great owner to drive for and even the camaraderie with Ryan (Hunter-Reay) and Marco (Andretti); it’s just been neat to experience it all.”

NASCAR’s Stewart-Haas Racing has tabbed Parker Kligerman to serve as backup driver for Kurt Busch in the No. 41 Haas Automation Chevrolet SS during the Sprint All-Star Race and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Busch has 25 career Cup victories, the most recent on March 30 at Martinsville Speedway. That victory all but assured Busch a spot in the 16-driver Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Kligerman has 10 Cup starts, 51 NASCAR Nationwide Series starts, 50 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts and 23 ARCA Racing Series starts. The 23-year-old from Westport, Conn., earned a Truck Series victory in 2012 at Talladega Superspeedway and has nine ARCA wins, all in 2009 when he finished second in the championship standings.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity and want to thank everyone at Stewart-Haas Racing for entrusting me with the Haas Automation Chevy,” said Kligerman, who has competed in eight Cup races in 2014. “For these next two weeks, my sole focus is to help the No. 41 team compete at a high level, no matter how big or small my role might be.”

Friday’s practice at Indianapolis Motor Speedway conflicts with practice for the All-Star Race at CMS. And Indianapolis 500 qualifying on Saturday lasts until 6 p.m., creating a short turnaround time for Busch to be back in North Carolina for the 7:10 p.m. qualifying session for the All-Star Race.

The Indianapolis 500 is scheduled to begin at 12:15 p.m. on May 25, with the Coca-Cola 600 set to get underway at 6 p.m. The Indianapolis 500 should be completed at approximately 3:30 p.m., allowing Busch two-and-a-half hours to get from IMS to Charlotte before the green flag waves for the Coca-Cola 600, longest race on the Cup schedule.

In the event Busch does not make it back to CMS on time, Kligerman will start the Coca-Cola 600. Upon Busch’s arrival, Kligerman will yield the No. 41 to Busch.

“Parker and I were teammates a few years ago when we were together at Penske and his feedback was always really good,” said Busch, who is in his first season of driving for the NASCAR team co-owned by three-time Cup champion Tony Stewart and businessman Gene Haas. “Plus, we’re built about the same, and that’s really important as we don’t want to have to adjust seats or pedal positions inside the race car. I’m confident in Parker’s abilities.”

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

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 15 2014
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