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Helio On Top As Teams Set Sights On Time Trials

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 16 2014

Helio Castroneves heads into qualifying weekend at Indy on a rapid roll. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Today is “Fast Friday” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and on cue, Helio Castroneves is on the gas and atop the speed chart for the 98th running of the Indianapolis 500.

A three-time Indy 500 champion, Team Penske’s Castroneves cranked out a lap in 39.6186-seconds/227.166 mph during Thursday’s fifth day of practice for the race on May 25. Castroneves’ speed is 1.044 mph faster than the previous hot lap of 39.8016-seconds/226.122 mph set by Simon Pagenaud Wednesday in the No. 77 Schmidt Peterson Hamilton Dallara/Honda.

Friday’s scheduled six-hour session will serve as the final tuneup for teams trimming for speed heading into the qualifications Saturday and Sunday that will set the traditional 33-car field.

“At Indianapolis, (qualifying) is always very stressful,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Platinum Dallara/Chevrolet. “I always repeat myself because it’s true. (Team advisor) Rick Mears always said there are two types of races, and it’s true – it’s qualifying and then the race. Now we definitely have to go for Saturday and for Sunday, so that’s going to be nerve-wracking, I will tell you. To go four laps at this place, I know how tough it is. So, to do two days in a row, it will be really tough. I don’t think I will or I don’t think my guys will have much sleep.”

Castroneves said a single qualifying lap at 229 or 230 mph still is possible, depending upon weather conditions. At noon Thursday, ambient temperature was 50 degrees with winds from the north-northwest at 4 mph. Track temperature was 67 degrees, according to Firestone engineers.

“We will keep working,” Castroneves said. “The weather (temp) dropped a lot today, but right now the car is handling really well. Certainly the draft counts a lot here and I feel very confident in the Pennzoil No. 3

Helio Castroneves could become a four-timer next weekend.

machine, so right now we’ll keep going and keep working. Right now the conditions are really, really good. It has cooled down, which means that it’s good for the tires, it’s good for the engine and downforce as well. So we don’t know what is going to happen. They’re calling for rain, but right now we are looking quite happy.”

Thirty-three drivers – including the debuts of rookie James Davison and 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier – combined to log 2,516 laps. Four different teams were represented in the top five as drivers and teams began ramping up for “Fast Friday,” when lap speeds are expected to climb as engine boost levels are increased for all competitors.

Owner/driver Ed Carpenter, the 2013 Indy 500 pole-sitter and oval-track specialist, was second-fast at 39.7777-seconds/226.257 mph. “It’s going well,” said Carpenter, driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Dallara/Chevrolet. “It’s really been fun working with JR (Hildebrand) and we make a little progress every day. Helio nipped us in the end, but it was a good day at the Speedway. It was nice to get a little running in finally and have some more track time available especially since (Friday) kind of doesn’t look so great again.”

Meanwhile, Verizon IndyCar Series championship leader Will Power was third (39.8408-seconds/225.899 mph) in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet. Davison’s KV Racing Technology teammate, Townsend Bell, was fourth (39.9142-seconds/225.484 mph) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (39.9449-seconds/225.340 mph) was fifth in the No. 28 DHL Dallara/Honda for Andretti Autosport.

Castroneves’ Chevy-powered car is one of many that has or will receive a fresh engine for qualifications, which will be televised by ABC. Full-season IndyCar Series entries are allotted four, 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V6 engines to cover the 18-race season, with a threshold of 2,500 miles between changes.

Davison, who competed in two IndyCar Series races last year, completed two of three phases of the formal Indy 500 Rookie Orientation Program.

“I can go to bed resting easier knowing we got through our first day at IMS smoothly and completed ROP,” said Davison, driver of the No. 33 KV Racing Technology/Always Evolving Racing Dallara/Chevrolet. “We now know what to expect; any anxiety has dried-up and I‘m excited to continue working on our program. We got up to speed conservatively. In the end, we trimmed the car one stage and I was happy with the balance. In terms of speed, we know where we’re at since we didn’t run in traffic or with a tow.”

Lazier scraped off the rust in his return to IMS by registering 11 laps with a best of 218.277 mph in the No. 91 Wynn Institute for Vision Research Dallara/Chevrolet.

“For me, (shaking off the rust) was much easier than last year when I had never been in the car,” said Lazier, who started 32nd and finished 31st at IMS last May after completing only 44 laps. “It feels really good. We have some continuity from last year. We have some of the same guys back. I’m enjoying starting the process. I would have liked to start earlier, but I’m enjoying starting the process with our engineers and with the car. Bottom line is that I’m thrilled to be here. Happy to be part of this group of drivers. It’s a great group of drivers and I’m looking forward to advancing our car as quickly as possible.”

Thirty-four drivers have been on-track to-date and turned 7,611 laps this month. Takuma Sato, driver of the No. 14 ABC Supply Dallara/Honda fielded by A.J. Foyt Racing, turned 150 laps on Thursday _ most of any driver. There were nine cautions for a total of 1 hour, 4 minutes and 21 seconds.

Andretti Autosport’s James Hinchcliffe, who was diagnosed with a concussion resulting from an incident during Saturday’s Grand Prix of Indianapolis, was cleared by INDYCAR to resume driving Thursday. Hinchcliffe’s No. 27 United Fiber & Data Dallara/Honda underwent a mid-afternoon engine change, limiting the Canadian to one installation lap late in the session.

“It’s been a long couple of days sitting at home and not even really watching,” said Hinchcliffe, who was replaced by E.J. Viso during the first four days of practice. “I was banned from electronics and I was getting little updates and snippets here and there, and that made it tougher because you don’t know exactly what’s going on. But I knew everyone was running and I was sitting at home. Getting better was the No. 1 goal and the effort we put into that is paying off because we even surprised the doctors with how quickly we’ve been able to come back. All of the testing has been good and everything we’ve done is pointing in the right direction, so I’m feeling good.”

Hinchcliffe was hit by a piece of flying debris on Lap 56 of Saturday’s event on IMS’ 4.239-mile/14-turn road-course. “I woke up Sunday with a little bit of a headache, but other than that, not bad at all,” Hinchcliffe said. “I did a really intense day of resting, which is kind of an oxymoron, but a lot of sitting around. By Monday, I was feeling myself. I felt 100 percent. I got permission on Tuesday to get back in the gym and Wednesday just went lightly to make sure my head was fine with the heart rate coming up. Yesterday, no sorry, this morning _ I swear my memory is fine _ I got back in the gym and working a little harder and got that heart rate threshold up to where it would be in the car.

“I did some reaction training and I was on the upper end of average of the previous runs and then came here for the ImPACT Test. That was the toughest thing knowing it was kind of make-or-break and seeing everyone driving. It was the first time I’d been here for any on-track activity and it was tough to watch but it’s all come good. Looking forward to getting out there.”

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

Information about 2014 Indianapolis 500 activity on Friday, May 16 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

DAY: Fast Friday Practice

SCHEDULE (all times local):

9:30 a.m. Indy Racing Experience Begins

10:00 a.m. Public Gates Open

IMS Midway Open (Kids Zone Closed)

11:00 a.m. Indy Racing Experience Concludes

Event Car Rides Begin

11:30 a.m. Event Car Rides Conclude

Noon Verizon IndyCar Series Practice Begins

6:00 p.m. Verizon IndyCar Series Practice Concludes

IMS Midway Close

Public Gates Close

6:15 p.m. Qualifying Draw – Pagoda Plaza Stage

TICKETS: $15, children 12 and under free.

HONORARY STARTER: Fan of IMS (TBD)

PUBLIC GATES OPEN: 10:00 a.m. (local time). Pedestrian gates open are Gates 1, 1B, 2, 3, 4, 6, 6A, 7 South, 9, 9A, 10, 10A, 12.

STANDS OPEN: B Stand (As needed GA – Sec. 22-25), B Penthouse (As needed GA-Sec. 22-25), E Stand (Open-GA), North Vista Wheelchair (As needed GA, Sec. 21), Northwest Vista (As needed GA, Sec. 1-4), Northwest Vista Deck (Open-GA), Paddock (As needed GA, Sec. 9-18), Paddock Pressbox (Open-GA), Paddock Penthouse (As needed GA, Sec. 9-30), Pit Road Terrace (Open-GA), South Terrace (Open-GA), Tower Terrace (As needed GA, Sec. 37-42), Tower Terrace Wheelchair (Open-GA), Wheelchair Accessible (Inside-Open GA), Backstretch Mounds (Open-GA), Backstretch Family Mounds (Open-GA), Turn 2 Mounds (Open-GA), Turn 3 Mounds (Open-GA), Gasoline Alley Roof (Open-GA)

MUSEUM HOURS: 9:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. Admission is $5 for adults and $3 for fans 6-15 years old, with children under 6 free. Gate admission to the Indianapolis 500 is not included in Museum admission and must be purchased separately.

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 16 2014
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