Thrills And Spills Continue In Indy 500 Practices

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 15 2015
Josef Newgarden became the latest driver to flip out at Indy on Thursday.

Josef Newgarden became the latest driver to flip out at Indy on Thursday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Simon Pagenaud returned Team Penske to the headlines Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, as the Frenchman paced the fifth practice leading into the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.

bugindy500Pagenaud’s lap of 228.793 mph was the fastest of 1,995 logged around the 2.5-mile IMS oval, where a driver crashed-and-flipped for the second consecutive day. Josef Newgarden was uninjured when his No. 21 Century 21 CFH Racing Chevrolet spun and hit the SAFER Barrier exiting Turn 1 late in the six-hour session.

Newgarden’s incident occurred in nearly the same spot where Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves, a three-time Indy 500 champion, crashed-and-flipped on Wednesday. Both drivers are competing with Chevrolet’s superspeedway aero kit, which is making its Verizon IndyCar Series debut for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

In light of the two incidents, sanctioning body INDYCAR announced that the chassis centerline wickers added to all cars as a safety device prior to the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis
last Saturday now are optional for the race on May 24.

The rear end of Newgarden’s car came around entering Turn 1, making contact with the SAFER Barrier. The car became airborne and Newgarden landed upside down in the short chute between Turns 1 and 2. Newgarden, who was able to climb from the car, later was cleared to resume driving.

“I got around pretty quick in Turn 1; it definitely surprised me,” said Newgarden, who scored his first series victory on the road-course at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., on April 26. “I knew it happened when it did, so I’m just lucky that everything’s good. The Dallara tub held up pretty well. I’m sure it’s (damaged) bad but we’ll see what we can do going forward. It was a hard bit, (but) I feel fine.”

Newgarden completed 56 laps, with his top speed of 224.023 mph placing him 30th on the chart. Led by co-owners Ed Carpenter, Sarah Fisher and Wink Hartman, CFH Racing was formed in August 2014 via a merger of Ed Carpenter Racing and Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.

Pagenaud’s hot lap edged Carlos Munoz of Andretti Autosport for speed of the day honors. Munoz ran a session-high 102 laps and was second-fast at 228.126 mph in the No. 26 AndrettiTV Cinsay Honda, one day after the Colombian cranked out the fastest lap of the Month of May at 230.121 mph.

“Today was a really good day for the Avaya car,” said Pagenaud, who completed 46 laps in the No. 22 Avaya Team Penske Chevrolet. “We’ve been focusing on understanding what the car does in qualifying runs. Very happy to see the preparation from Penske and how fast the car is. So far, so good.”

Pagenaud is teamed with a pair of Indianapolis 500 winners in Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya, as well as reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power.  Montoya and Power each have won a race this season, while Castroneves has earned two Verizon P1 Awards for taking pole position.

“We’re happy but we can be happier,” Pagenaud said. “At the end of the day we did some pack running and once again we’re very happy so far. What’s difficult is it’s really cold right now, so you get more downforce because the air is so thick. We know it’s going to be warmer in the race, that’s what makes it tricky. You’re trying to understand what the car’s going to do in the race. It’s definitely going to be warmer.”

Castroneves, who returned to practice late in Wednesday’s session in a backup car, logged 31 laps Thursday with a best of 226.084 mph.

“Today was really good,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Chevrolet. “It felt great to get back in the car for a full day. We decided to focus a bit more on qualifying in the afternoon, after running in the race pace. We feel very confident. Now, (Friday) is just going to be a focus on qualifying to be ready for Saturday. I have to say that my Shell guys did a great job in switching over to the backup car. There is no difference in the way the car felt or drove. It’s really amazing how they were able to put everything together. We’re looking good for the weekend.”

Following Pagenaud and Munoz on the speed chart were Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Sage Karam (227.683 mph), 2008 Indy 500 champion Scott Dixon (227.634 mph) and 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan (227.527 mph).

“Fast Friday” is the final day of practice prior to two days of qualifications that will determine the traditional 33-car lineup. All entries will receive an additional 10 kPa of engine turbocharger boost beginning in practice Friday, which should equate to approximately 40 additional horsepower for the Chevrolet and Honda 2.2-liter, turbocharged, direct-injection V-6s. The engine boost bump will continue through qualifying weekend, with the original limit of 130 kPa reinstated for next week’s final two practice sessions and the race.

The No. 91 Wynn Iowa Vision Research Chevrolet driven by 1996 Indy 500 winner Buddy Lazier became the 34th entry to take to the track. Larry Curry is team manager for the Lazier Racing Partners entry, with David Cripps the engineer. Lazier completed 10 systems-check laps with a best of 204.539 mph.

Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport’s Simona de Silvestro returned to practice, two days after her No. 29 TE Connectivity Honda sustained heavy damage from a fire sparked by a fuel leak. De Silvestro was uninjured in the on-track incident and the team rebuilt the car at its Indianapolis shop. “Today we ran mostly in traffic … we learned a lot,” de Silvestro said. “I have a little bit of work to do, and I’m looking forward to going back out there (Friday).”

Pippa Mann spent the day recuperating and watching her No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda being repaired after a crash Wednesday that saw her car hit three different walls. Mann hopes to be back on track Friday afternoon. “I can’t overstate how horrible I feel for these guys,” Mann said of her crew. “Unfortunately, it’s a part of racing. That’s the biggest thing, the amount of work it’s created for these guys.”

Dale Coyne Racing also announced that Tristan Vautier will drive the team’s No. 19 Honda during qualifications this weekend in place of James Davison, who will be competing in a sports car race in Canada. Davison, who finished 16th in his first 500 start a year ago, is expected back in the car for the final two practice sessions at IMS on Monday and Tuesday.

Vautier is scheduled to compete in the Blancpain Endurance GT Series event on the same day as the 500. “It is an interesting tradeoff,” said Vautier, the 2011 Pro Mazda and 2012 Indy Lights champion who earned Verizon IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honors in 2013 with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. “Obviously, we’re not going to get out there trying to break records but work toward the qualifying. It’s an interesting task to be in an Indy car and qualifying it for another driver, but I’m approaching it like I would any other race.”

Vautier completed his refresher program on Thursday and logged 93 laps with a top speed of 225.406 mph. Davison recorded the fourth-fastest lap at 228.043 mph in practice Wednesday before departing for Canada.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 15 2015
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