Castroneves’ Indy Prep Takes Huge Twist

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 14 2015
Helio Castroneves had a day to forget at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday.

Helio Castroneves had a day to forget at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Wednesday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Less than 24 hours after sitting atop the speed chart, Helio Castroneves experienced the proverbial Day from Hell at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as practice continued for the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.

bugindy500Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion, rode out a spectacular crash in Turn 1 of the 2.5-mile oval that saw the rear wheels of his Team Penske Chevrolet wiggle, triggering a spin that sent the car into the SAFER Barrier and flip end-over-end 45 minutes into the session.

Earlier, sanctioning body INDYCAR hit the popular Brazilian with an eight-point deduction in the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings for avoidable contact with Scott Dixon at the start of Saturday’s second annual Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the track’s road-course.

Meanwhile, fastest lap of the day honors exchanged hands four times among four drivers in the final 30 minutes as speeds continued to rise in anticipation of qualifying this weekend. When the checkered flag flew at 6 p.m. (EDT), Carlos Munoz owned the fastest lap at 39.1098-seconds/230.121 mph in the No. 26 AndrettiTV Cinsay Honda. It was the first lap over the magic 230 mph barrier during the Month of May.

Castroneves returned to the track just before the close of practice, turning a lap of 226.670 mph in a backup car. “You can’t be scared when you go out there,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Team Penske Chevrolet. “I didn’t want to wait to run until (Thursday), and now we’ll focus on Thursday and Friday.” Castroneves logged only 12 laps Wednesday, and stood 15th on the chart.

Team-owner Roger Penske, whose drivers have won a record 15 Indy 500s, praised the hustle in Gasoline Alley that put Castroneves back on-track before the end of the day.

“I think the ability of the team in five hours to put that (backup) car together _ we had to take the engine out of one car and take a lot of the pieces off _ and get out for a few laps says a lot,” said Penske, who is fielding four teams at IMS this month. “It looks like we’re competitive; we ran 226 (mph). To me, it’s a good start (for Thursday).”

Castroneves paced the speed chart Tuesday at 227.514 mph during a run of 72 trouble-free laps. On Wednesday, Castroneves counted his blessings with a bit of humor.

“Unfortunately, I still do not understand what happened,” Castroneves said of the crash sequence. “I got loose in Turn 1 and spun out. The good news is the impact wasn’t very strong and the landing was smooth as well. In all aspects, I have to say I was very lucky there was no big shunt.

“The accident was most impressive, but the good news is I’m feeling very good. This just set us back one day since it’s Wednesday. The good news is we still have Thursday and Friday before qualifying. I’m counting on my guys, my boys, to put the car back together and go back to work.”

Castroneves’ crash was the first major incident involving the superspeedway aero kit introduced at IMS this month by Chevrolet as a complement to its 2.2-liter, turbocharged, direct-injection V-6 engine. Honda’s teams also are sorting out a new superspeedway aero kit this week.

“You’re always concerned when a car gets backwards; it looks a little bit like NASCAR the way the thing went up and went over,” Penske said. “You can only test so much in your simulations and in a small wind tunnel. I think this is something good to know now because we can look at it and see what are the right things to help all the cars that are on the track.”

Pippa Mann also was uninjured Wednesday after her No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda made contact with the inside SAFER Barrier in Turn 4 and the pit wall attenuator separating the track from pit lane.

INDYCAR cited Castroneves for violating Rule 9.3.3 (avoidable contact) with Dixon’s No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet last Saturday moments into the 82-lapper on the 2.439-mile/14-turn road-course.

“With the benefit of additional camera angles during our post-race review of Saturday’s race, the stewards determined actions of the No. 3 car (Castroneves) were the cause of the first-lap incident,” said Derrick Walker, INDYCAR’s president of competition and operations.

Team Penske did not immediately indicate if it would appeal. Castroneves was third in the standings with 161 points, 17 ahead of both Dixon and Graham Rahal of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Munoz earned Rookie of the Year honors after starting and finishing second in the 2013 Indy 500. The 23-year-old native of Colombia was pragmatic about his chart-topping  speed on his 88th and final lap.

“Really, we were not looking for a tow. We just made a change and said, ‘OK, let’s go in the group and see if we can just cop a tow and feel the car in traffic a little bit,” Munoz said. “I went back to the pack and it’s practice, so whoever gets the best tow is the one who is going to finish first. The positive thing is that I feel really comfortable with the car; the car feels OK. In traffic and by my own, I feel fast.”

Sage Karam, 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan and Townsend Bell took turns holding the top spot during “Happy Hour” in their Chevrolets. Bell’s lap (228.969 mph) ranked second followed by Kanaan (228.172 mph), James Davison (228.043 mph) and Karam (227.822 mph).

“We’re staying in a tight little box, being a single-car program, only event of the year so far with the team,” said Bell, driver of the No. 24 The Robert Graham Special Chevrolet entered by Dreyer & Reinbold/Kingdom Racing. “Trying to be pragmatic and just stay focused on the fundamentals.”

Time trials on Saturday and Sunday will determine the traditional 33-car starting grid for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 24.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 14 2015
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