Penske, Castroneves Blast Way To Top At Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 13 2015
Helio Castroneves, looking to become a four-time Indy 500 winner, showed signs that he has the speed to do that on Tuesday.

Helio Castroneves, looking to become a four-time Indy 500 winner, showed signs that he has the speed to do that on Tuesday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

After basically taking Monday off, Team Penske came out to play at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during practice for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.

Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves posted the fastest overall lap of bugindy500the Month of May, as well as the best lap without a tow, during Tuesday’s third practice session around the 2.5-mile IMS oval. Castroneves cranked out a speed of 227.514 mph on his seventh lap after posting a single systems-check lap of 141.897 mph on Monday.

The Brazilian then returned to the track during the final 60-minute “Happy Hour” session to run a lap of 225.315 mph without benefit of an aerodynamic tow from other cars.

“It was a good day,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Team Penske Chevrolet. “The car was super-strong, super-solid, felt comfortable. Now we’ve got to just keep working with this new aero kit. Today was basically the second day that we’ve been working constantly, but I like what I see. Things are looking in the right direction. We’re not focused on just the lap, we’re focused on the performance of it all.”

Verizon IndyCar Series teams are continuing to gather real-time data about the superspeedway aero kits introduced for the May 24 race by manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda. The street/road-course and short oval kits run during the season’s first five events have helped set track records most everywhere the series has competed in 2015.

Castroneves’ hot lap Tuesday already is better than any lap posted through the first five sessions at IMS a year ago. Typically, speeds increase as practice progresses to “Fast Friday” and qualifications on Saturday and Sunday to fill the traditional 33-car field. Castroneves, winner of the Indy 500 in 2001, 2002 and 2009, logged 72 laps Tuesday.

Castroneves currently is third in the championship standings behind teammates Juan Pablo Montoya and Will Power. Simon Pagenaud, Castroneves’ third Penske teammate, was second-fastest overall at 227.382 mph in the No. 22 Avaya Team Penske Chevrolet after a 92-lap stint. The Frenchman was followed by Scott Dixon at 226.769 mph in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet.

“We struggled a bit with the Target car for most of the morning, specifically with the rear of the car and the way I wanted it to be in order to be comfortable,” said Dixon, the Indy 500 champion in 2008. “We worked on a lot of geometry with it and later on it seemed to come around to my liking. I think we made some decent progress and will keep working on things (Wednesday) if the weather holds up for us.”

Englishman Justin Wilson, driving his second race for Andretti Autosport, was fourth overall and the quickest Honda at 226.688 mph. But his V-6 engine appeared to let go on the frontstretch, putting an end to the six-hour session a few minutes early.

“I looked in the mirror and there was a lot of smoke coming out of the exhaust so, yeah, it’s unfortunate,” said Wilson, driver of the No. 25 Honda. “But looking back over the day, I think we’ve had a pretty good day. The car’s been quick. We tried a couple of different setups that the team’s got going on. Both feel pretty good and quick. I really enjoy working with Craig Hampson, my engineer, and there’s more to come. I think there’s a few tweaks we can try for going faster and also dealing better in traffic.”

Power, winner of Saturday’s second annual Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road-course, stood sixth on the chart after a best lap at 226.393 mph. Like Castroneves, Power completed a single systems-check lap on Monday at 137.763 mph.

“It was definitely a productive day, and we found some speed in the No. 1 Verizon Chevy, for sure,” said Power, the reigning series champion. “We also got some running done in traffic and I feel great about the last change we made to the car. We’re in a good spot as we get closer to qualifying this weekend.”

Marco Andretti ran 99 laps Tuesday _ basically half a race _ and increased his top speed from 225.184 mph to 226.354 mph. But the third-generation star fell from fourth to ninth on the overall chart.

“There’s just been this sort of underlying characteristic that we’re trying to work out,” said Andretti, driver of the No. 27 Snapple Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport. “We’re throwing kitchen sinks at it and it’s just there. We’ve ticked off so many boxes for two days _ we’ve done a ton of work in two days and not making a ton of headway yet.”

Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport’s Simona de Silvestro was uninjured when her No. 29 TE Connectivity Honda caught fire on the backstretch, the result of a fuel leak. De Silvestro exited the car without assistance.

“It’s definitely unfortunate because the car is pretty burnt down, and it’s really frustrating that it seems like fire follows me,” de Silvestro said. “Maybe this time is ‘third time’s the charm,’ and hopefully the team can get the car back together as quickly as possible. Until now, everything was working fine and it’s just annoying because it’s a pretty big setback for us.”

De Silvestro suffered second-degree burns to her right hand in a crash during practice at IMS in 2011. In 2010, Simona suffered minor burns to a finger on her right hand in a crash during the night race at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.

De Silvestro, seeking to compete in her fifth Indy 500, had completed nine laps with a top speed of 222.164 mph. She has a best finish of 14th at IMS and earned Rookie of the Year honors in 2010.

Practice resumes Wednesday through Friday for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” Friday’s session again is expected to live up to its nickname of “Fast Friday,” as manufacturers will be allowed to increase turbocharger boost pressure from 130 kPa to 140 kPa to generate more horsepower and higher speeds.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, May 13 2015
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