Howard Having Happy Return To ‘Magical’ Indy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 19 2017

Jay Howard is back at Indy after a long absence and on Thursday, he laid down some very hot laps in his No. 77 Honda. (INDYCAR photo by Walt Kuhn)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Even Verizon IndyCar Series devotees can be excused today if they need a refresher course on the life and times of Jay Howard.

Absent from Indy car racing for six years, Howard emerged atop the speed chart after Thursday’s fourth day of practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Driver of the No. 77 Honda for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, Howard posted a hot lap of 39.6924-seconds/226.744 mph during the six-hour session.  That lap now stands as fastest of the week heading into “Fast Friday.” Howard finished in front of a trio of Honda-powered Andretti Autosport drivers on the chart _ Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Fernando Alonso.

“This is like a dream right now,” said Howard, whose top speed was recorded on the ninth of his 86 laps. “I don’t know if I’m going to wake up and it’s all gone. I still can’t believe we’re top of the charts; feels good. We all had confidence coming into this, but this is obviously a very good start. We still have a lot of work to do.” The 200-lap event will be run on May 28.

Howard, the 2006 Indy Lights champion, has driven in 11 Verizon IndyCar Series races but none since 2011. His only Indianapolis 500 appearance came that same year, when he started 20th and finished 30th in a joint entry from Sam Schmidt Motorsports and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

The 36-year-old from Basildon, England, has spent recent years instructing young drivers and has returned to IMS with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and sponsorship from retired NASCAR star Tony Stewart’s Team One Cure. Howard credited the chance to test May 2 at the 1.25-mile Gateway Motorsports Park in Madison, Ill., outside St. Louis, with helping him feel comfortable in the car around the historic 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

“Just got back in the groove of things,” said Howard, who has run 231 laps this week. “Kind of like riding a bike, you know, you don’t forget. Definitely, St. Louis was a big help for me, to go out at Gateway and do a few laps there, knock the rust off, just get used to those high speeds again.

“Yeah, this place just as magical as it was last time I was here.”

Team-owner/driver Ed Carpenter posted the fastest lap of the combined 408 turned Wednesday by 21 drivers during a session hampered by wind gusts reaching 40 mph. Driver of the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet, Carpenter recorded a hot lap of 40.3779-seconds/222.894 mph at the beginning of the day’s final hour unassisted by an aerodynamic tow from a car in front.

Will Power and Helio Castroneves of team-owner Roger Penske’s juggernaut stood 1-2 at the close of Tuesday’s six-hour session. Power, winner of Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS road-course in the No. 12 Chevrolet, topped the time sheet with a mid-afternoon lap of 40.0613-seconds/224.656 mph on the 47th of his 71 total laps.

Andretti recorded the fastest speed during Monday’s opening practice, lapping in 39.7636-seconds/226.338 mph in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport with Yarrow Honda. It marked the second straight year that Andretti, grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti, has been fastest on the first day of Indy 500 practice.

Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indianapolis 500 winner, ran a lap of 225.826 mph Thursday in the No. 2 Honda. A day after gusting winds limited track action to just more than 400 laps, Thursday saw a total of 2,362 laps turned by 33 drivers. That total included the first systems check lap of the week recorded by 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier in his No. 49 Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Lodge Chevrolet.

“We’re all pretty happy with the speed,” Hunter-Reay said of the six-car Andretti armada at Indy. “It’s going to be about getting the balance not going off through the run. That’s the key to going fast here at Indy.”

Andretti, son of team-owner Michael Andretti, was third on the sheet at 225.709 mph, just ahead of Alonso, the two-time Formula One World Driving Champion making his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. The Spaniard’s best lap was 225.619 mph in the No. 29 McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda.

“We tested a couple of different trims and different setup options,” said Alonso, whose 272 combined laps are the most run by any driver this week. “The car felt quite OK from the very beginning of the morning, but then I think we did improve it during the day, so I’m quite happy. We worked still a lot on the race situation, keeping other guys out there and running in traffic. I think we found a good balance for traffic. I think (Friday) we will concentrate a little bit more alone on qualifying, but the priority is the race.”

The day’s lone incident occurred early, when Josef Newgarden spun exiting Turn 1 in the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet and contacted the SAFER Barrier. Newgarden was uninjured and, though his car was done for the day, wound up fifth on the speed chart at 225.455 mph.

Meanwhile, Andretti Autosport’s Takuma Sato logged the fastest lap without benefit of an aerodynamic tow from a leading car at 224.734 mph in the No. 26 Honda. Speeds are expected to rise during Friday’s final practice before qualifications for “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.” INDYCAR regulations allow for engine turbocharger boost to increase 10 kilopascals to 140 kPa on Friday, equating to about 30 additional horsepower permitted through the completion of qualifying.

“Fast Friday” practice is scheduled to run from noon-6 p.m. (ET) and stream live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com. Coverage of Saturday’s first day of qualifying will be available on WatchESPN from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and on ABC from 4-6 p.m. On Sunday, Verizon P1 Award qualifying to determine the pole-sitter will be available on WatchESPN from 2:30-4 p.m. and on ABC from 4-6 p.m.


Roger Penske forever is linked with the late Mark Donohue, the driver who in 1972 delivered the first of team-owner Penske’s record 16 Indianapolis 500 wins.

It was a natural for fellow-IndyCar Series team-owner Bobby Rahal to ask Penske to serve as honorary chairman of the newly formed Mark Donohue Foundation, a nonprofit of the Road Racing Drivers Club, of which Rahal is president. When formally named to the position Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Penske took a more active than honorary role, committing to a $100,000 donation to the foundation that initially will support the RRDC’s SAFEisFast initiative of producing free tutorial videos for aspiring young racers.

“Mark was a partner of mine and someone who was dedicated to the sport,” Penske said of Donohue, an early RRDC president and proponent of driver safety who died after a crash at the Formula One Austrian Grand Prix in 1975. “When we talk about technology, I think he’s looking down today and saying, ‘I told you guys.’

“We’d like to leave an imprint ourselves and we do that with our arms around Mark in this particular situation. It’s very important to me and our team.”

Rahal added that the foundation will carry on Donohue’s memory.

“The engineering concepts for which he was famous have become the basis of much of today’s technology,” Rahal said. “We need to help secure the future for this program. The foundation was formed to raise money to honor Mark’s legacy of driver education and safety, and to help make sure that the lessons, technology and skills learned by the best and brightest in racing are available to everyone.”

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 19 2017
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