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Late-Comer Chaves Tops Indy Charts

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 20 2016
Gabriel Chaves started the month of May looking for a ride. On Thursday, he laid down the fastest lap in practice for the Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Gabriel Chaves started the month of May looking for a ride. On Thursday, he laid down the fastest lap in practice for the Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

Gabriel “Gabby” Chaves’ abbreviated Month of May began seven days ago, when the 2015 Indianapolis 500 and Verizon IndyCar Series rookie of the year was hired by team-owner Dale Coyne for a two-race stint at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

bugindy500Chaves finished a lead-lap 17th in the third annual Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Speedway’s 2.439-mile road-course last Saturday _ a decent result considering the 22-year-old native of Colombia had not wheeled an Indy car since last August’s season-finale.

Fast-forward to the close of Thursday’s third practice for the 100th running of the Indy 500 on May 29. Chaves sat atop the speed chart with a tow-assisted lap of 227.961 mph around the 2.5-mile oval _ and a healthy infusion of confidence.

“I’m really stoked just to be here,” said Chaves, driver of the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. “And then to be out there and I think pretty competitive, it just feels pretty good. It’s my first time at the top of the charts here at IMS in an Indy car. Just pleased with the work the team has been doing, very pleased with the performance that Honda has been putting out as well. Overall I think we’ve got a pretty strong package.” Chaves finished 16th in the Indy 500 last year driving for Bryan Herta Autosport.

With “Fast Friday” set to close-out the week’s practice sessions, the terms “NTS” and “kPa” took on added significance in Gasoline Alley. NTS stands for “no-tow speed,” or the lap speed a car achieves around the relatively flat oval without help of an aerodynamic tow. The second term is short for “kilopascals,” the unit of measurement used to gauge turbocharger pressure on the 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged V-6 engines supplied by Honda and Chevrolet.

Speeds are expected to increase Friday when INDYCAR officials raise the turbocharger boost level by 10 kPa to 140. That should equate to approximately 30 additional horsepower.

With just one more day of practice booked before two days of qualifications this weekend, Will Power paced the “no-tow speed” list at 225.381 mph in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.

“We had some good runs out there today,” said Power, the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series champion and 2015 Indianapolis 500 runnerup. “We definitely made some gains and have a little bit more to go, as we’re still making adjustments for the coming days. I’m pretty confident that the Verizon Chevrolet will be in good shape for qualifying.”

Chaves, the 2014 Indy Lights champion, was followed on the overall speed chart by Townsend Bell in the No. 29 Andretti Autosport Honda at 227.593 mph, Carlos Munoz in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda (227.589 mph), Conor Daly in the No. 18 ShirtsForAmerica.com Honda (227.524 mph) and Charlie Kimball in the No. 42 Tresiba Chevrolet (227.477 mph).

“At the moment, we’re focused kind of from today moving forward into tomorrow to see what we get when the boost level changes, at least for qualifying, because it’s a whole different package,” said Kimball, whose car is fielded by team-owner Chip Ganassi. “We did a little bit of qualifying work at the end of the day, and that was enough. So we’ll focus on that tomorrow. But we spent a lot of time earlier in the day working in the packs, working in traffic, and pretty happy with it.

“I think everybody at Chip Ganassi Racing, we’re sharing data. We’re learning a lot kind of following each other’s leads when they’re promising, and learning from each other’s mistakes, as well. That’s the greatest thing about having four cars like that that are solid. Max (Chilton) is doing a great job, and then Scott (Dixon) and Tony (Kanaan) are always forces to be reckoned with around here.”

Despite that happy talk, Honda drivers now have topped the leader board after all three days of practice, with Tuesday’s session rained-out.

“I think the Andretti team has done a good job to come prepared, as has Honda,” said Bell, a one-off competitor at the Indy 500 who serves as an NBCSN analyst at most Verizon IndyCar Series races. “I’m in the television media a good part of the year, and it’s almost weird because two months ago it was all about, ‘Oh, my gosh, Chevy is just dominating.’ Honda, you know, has just done a phenomenal job to keep their heads down, keep working, and they’ve come here very well-prepared. I’m super-proud to be in one of their cars. It’s been neat.

“I told somebody earlier for as long as I’ve watched the television, which is since I was probably 5, Honda has always won. They’ve won in Supercross. They’ve won in Moto GP. They’ve won in Formula One. So in the back of my head, even when things might not look so good at the beginning of the season, I just knew that they would come back, especially for this race, with a strong program.”

All but one of the 33 cars entered for this year’s race turned laps Thursday. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing spent most of the day rebuilding the No. 16 RLL/Mi-Jack/Manitowac Honda that rookie Spencer Pigot crashed in practice Wednesday and completed just an installation lap in his repaired car. A total of 2,563 laps were turned.

Following Power on the “no-tow speed” chart were Graham Rahal in the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda (225.321 mph), four-time/reigning IndyCar Series champion Dixon in the No. 9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevy (225.237 mph) and two-time/reigning Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevy (225.156 mph).

“Ultimately we ended up second-fast on the ‘no-tow list’ which was good since we only really did one qualifying simulation,” Rahal said. “I was pleasantly surprised at the pace of the car because we’re nowhere near fully trimmed-out, so to see the speed of it was definitely a good thing.

“I’m really pleased with where we stand at the end of the day because today we were 24th and the last couple of days we’ve been in the top-10. But this was by far the best car we’ve had the entire time so I’m pretty excited about it.”

Practice is scheduled to run from noon-6 p.m. (ET) Friday and will be streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. The draw for qualifying positions is set for 6:15 p.m.

Two hours of final pre-qualifying practice are scheduled from 8-10 a.m. Saturday. The first day of qualifications to set the provisional 33 positions and lock-in the Fast Nine Shootout competitors is scheduled from 11 a.m.-5:50 p.m. Group 1 qualifying to determine race starting positions 10-33 takes place from 2:45-4:45 p.m. Sunday, with the Fast Nine Shootout to decide the Verizon P1 Award pole winner and the starting order of the first three rows from 5-5:45 p.m.

Saturday’s coverage takes place on ESPN3 (11 a.m.-3 p.m. ET) and ABC (4-6 p.m. ET), with additional on-track action that day streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Sunday coverage is again on ESPN3 (2-4 p.m. ET) and ABC (4-6 p.m. ET), with practice sessions from noon-2 p.m. streaming on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Coverage of the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 will begin at 11 a.m. (ET) May 29 on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Few drivers loved the Indy 500, IMS and race fans like Dan Wheldon. Anecdotes about the late Englishman’s passion for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” endure even though the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion has been gone nearly five years.

Those stories, and many more, live on in a new book entitled Lionheart – Remembering Dan Wheldon, by Andy Hallbery and Jeff Olson. The book is on sale at the IMS Museum and various gift shops around the Speedway for $74.99, with proceeds benefitting the Dan Wheldon Foundation and Alzheimer’s Association, two causes close to Wheldon’s family. After the 100th Indianapolis 500, the book will be available worldwide via amazon.com.

Wheldon family members, former teammates Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan and Scott Dixon, fellow competitors, motorsports journalists, photographers and many more friends share their personal and emotional stories in the book, which paints a full picture of the Brit from childhood. Dan’s career included the 2005 IndyCar Series title and wins in the ’05 and ’11 Indianapolis 500. Wheldon died on Oct. 16, 2011 from injuries suffered in a fiery accident at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. He was 33-years-old.

“One thing he always cared about was his fans; he did a lot better job than the three of us combined here,” Kanaan said with a nod toward fellow-champs Dixon and Franchitti. “Taking more time, leaving the garages earlier to sign, to interact. He liked that stuff and he always said he loved the attention.”

Dixon shared memories from when he and Wheldon were teammates at Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The “Iceman” had the more relaxed approach to racing while Wheldon was the one writing pages upon pages of debriefing notes after practice. “There were so many different things about Dan that were so likable on and off the track,” Dixon said. “Going further into our relationship, with having young kids together and spending family time together, it was fun to see how he changed.”

The contributions in Lionheart come from outside the INDYCAR world as well, including former Formula One drivers Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber and current NASCAR superstars Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson. For more information on the book, visit Lionheartbook.com.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 20 2016
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