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Bourdais, Honda Are Fastest On Fast Friday

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 20 2017

Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing headed into qualifying weekend at Indianapolis with the honor of being the fastest driver on Fast Friday.

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Despite over two hours of track time lost to mid-day rain, speeds peaked during “Fast Friday” at Indianapolis Motor Speedway _ especially for drivers from the Honda camp.

Four-time Indy car champion Sebastien Bourdais capped the final day of practice heading into qualifications this weekend for the 101st Indianapolis 500 by posting the fastest lap of the day _ and week _ at 38.6087-seconds/233.116 mph.

“There’s never a bad day when you’re at the front,” said Bourdais, winner of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ season-opening street race in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda. “The car felt good. We tried a couple of things and finished the session really happy with the speed and the car balance. Hopefully it stays that way. It’s pretty exciting just to be in the mix, knowing that we seemingly have a chance to do well in qualifying.” Bourdais ran his hot lap on the 11th of 30 he logged Friday.

Twenty-two of the 33 entries recorded a lap in excess of 230 mph on a day that saw 1,040 laps completed. Half of the six hours of available track time was interrupted by rain and other cautions, including two separate incidents in Turn 2 that involved Team Chevy drivers Spencer Pigot and Indy 500 rookie Zach Veach. Both were checked at the infield care center and cleared to drive.

Bourdais, a 38-year-old native of Le Mans, France, drew the 19th qualifying position among primary cars for the 33 drivers slated to make four-lap/10-mile runs

Sebastien Bourdais circles the track at Indy en route to posting the fastest lap in practice on Friday.

in Saturday’s first day of time trials around the 2.5-mile IMS oval. Each car is guaranteed one attempt through the qualifying line and teams may make additional attempts as time permits. The fastest nine cars at the conclusion of Saturday’s qualifying are locked into Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout to determine the pole-sitter for the May 28 race.

Bourdais, who earned $10,000 for being fastest of the day, ranks sixth all-time in Indy car history with 36 wins. However, Bourdais never has qualified or finished better than seventh in six previous Indianapolis 500 starts.

“It’s a tricky place,” Bourdais said. “When you get any sense of consistency through different conditions _ sunny, shade, different track temps, humidity, wind _ it always gives you confidence. You never know what’s going to come at you the next day. I think (Saturday’s) going to be another example of that, so Sunday might be pretty tricky, as well. We’ll just hopefully be able to deal with those conditions very well and make it happen when it matters because this is obviously awesome.

“I can’t thank Dale (team-owner Coyne) and Craig (Hampson, engineer) and Olivier (Boisson, engineer) and all the mechanics and everybody. Craig was the first one to tell me, ‘Yeah, let’s do it when it matters on Saturday and Sunday.’ Every other time I’ve been there, I’ve never been in contention to really be any kind of factor, and that’s just boring. When you’re in that position where you know there’s going to be something you can do to actually play at the front, then hopefully it happens, because it’s a heck of a lot more fun.”

Drivers spent most of the available track time trimming-out the downforce in their cars to conduct qualifying simulation runs. Following Bourdais atop the speed chart were a trio of Andretti Autosport drivers _ 2014 Indy 500 champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, series veteran Takuma Sato and high-profile rookie Fernando Alonso.

Hunter-Reay’s best lap was 232.132 mph in the No. 28 Honda. The 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series champion also racked up the fastest lap of the week without an aerodynamic tow from a car in front at 231.273 mph.

Hunter-Reay, Bourdais, 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan and reigning race-winner Alexander Rossi all exceeded 231 mph on no-tow laps. All teams benefited from an INDYCAR regulation upping turbocharger boost equating to about 30 added horsepower, which will continue through qualifying.

“We had a good run today, found some things that worked and found some things that didn’t,” Hunter-Reay said. “It was definitely one of the most on-edge couple of days this whole year. It’s nice to be done with the day and we’re looking forward to tomorrow. Hopefully the weather cooperates and we can put this (No.) 28 DHL Honda at the front.”

Juan Pablo Montoya was fifth-fastest at 231.682 mph in the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet. The two-time Indy 500 champion was the only Chevy driver among the top 12 on the time sheet.

“We didn’t do a lot of laps, but we accomplished enough,” said Montoya, who is running a Month of May schedule for team-owner Roger Penske. “We’ll see what the weather does (Saturday). If the schedule starts getting shuffled around, then we need to be ready to go when we can. Hopefully, it won’t affect us that much. I like where the car is, but we’ll find out for sure tomorrow.”

Three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves, also of Team Penske, was 13th on the chart via a hot lap of 230.982 mph on the third of his 44 laps run.

“I’ve been coming here for a long time and handling the weather is part of the mix,” said Castroneves, driver of the No. 3 Chevrolet. “We tried to anticipate what was going to happen the rest of the day and tomorrow morning to formulate our plan. It would’ve been great to get a full day in, but none of us can control that. We did as much as we could do.”

Separate incidents late in the afternoon damaged the cars of Pigot and Veach, but neither driver was injured. Pigot, looking to qualify for his second Indianapolis 500, made hard contact with the Turn 2 SAFER Barrier in the No. 11 Juncos Racing Chevrolet. Veach, rookie driver of the No. 40 Chevrolet fielded by A.J. Foyt Racing, made initial contact with the Turn 1 SAFER Barrier before coming to a stop in Turn 2.

James Hinchcliffe of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports won the Indy 500 pole a year ago with a four-lap speed average of 230.760 mph. The popular Canadian and his No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda will be 13th in line to qualify Saturday. Pippa Mann, driver of the No. 63 Honda, is scheduled to make the day’s first qualifying attempt. Reigning Series champion and 2017 point-leader Simon Pagenaud is in line to qualify 11th and defending Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi is 20th.

“We used the rain delay to our advantage and found some speed in the car,” said Rossi, driver of the No. 9 Honda. “I feel like we may be 95 percent of the way there, so we just need to really make sure we get everything right tomorrow with there being a very good shot that it will just be one run due to weather. So, we have to really do our homework overnight and make sure all the pieces are put together, because we have a car to be at the front.”

Alonso, a two-time Formula One World Driving Champion prepping to make his Indy 500 debut, sits 15th in the primary car qualifying order. “Today was obviously a little bit stressful with the rain coming and we tried to fit as many laps as possible (before the rain),” said Alonso, a 35-year-old native of Spain. “Yes, we managed to fit another two (qualifying simulation) runs late in the day. We’re quite happy. It was another day of learning those extra speeds, and hopefully we have a good (qualifying run).

Tomorrow is about doing a good four laps, hopefully (qualify) in the first nine and wait for Sunday for the real final classification. Tomorrow is another day, but for me, it is another learning day. We’ll see what we can do, but there’s not much pressure for tomorrow.”

All five days of practice were led by different drivers. Absent from Indy car racing for six years, Englishman Jay Howard emerged atop the speed chart after Thursday’s fourth day of practice. 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 stood as fastest of the week heading into “Fast Friday.”

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 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. Carpenter’s best Friday lap of 230.712 mph was good for 17th on the chart.

“At the end of the day, I’m happy we even got to run today and get some time on the boost since it could have been a wash,” said Carpenter, a two-time Indy 500 pole-sitter. “I wish I could say I feel more confident going into qualifying, but we’ve got our work cut out for us. It’s going to be really hard to make the Fast Nine right now, but we’ll keep doing what we can do on our end to make the best of it. The longer I ran today, the more focused I am on race running for the next day of practice to make sure the car is the best it can be, just because qualifying is going to be a struggle right now.”

Will Power and 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.

Marco Andretti recorded the fastest speed during Monday’s opening practice, lapping in 39.7636-seconds/226.338 mph in the No. 27 Andretti Autosport 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.

A final pre-qualifying practice is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. (ET) Saturday and will be streamed live on RaceControl.IndyCar.com . Qualifying runs are set from 11 a.m.-5:50 p.m., with live coverage on WatchESPN from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and network coverage on ABC from 4-6 p.m. Coverage of Sunday’s climactic qualifying day airs from 2:30-4 p.m. on WatchESPN and from 4-6 p.m. on ABC.

The 101st Indy 500, sixth race of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season, will be run May 28 with live coverage commencing at 11 a.m. ET on ABC and the Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network.

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Don Burgoon, founder of Performance Friction Corp., and engineers James Borner, Darin Cate, Paul Rankin and Mark Wagner were awarded the 51st Louis Schwitzer Award Friday for their work on developing the PFC carbon disc brake system used on Verizon IndyCar Series cars in 2017. Burgoon, who died in 2015, received the award posthumously along with his fellow-engineers during a ceremony at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The Schwitzer Award recognizes engineering excellence in racing technology at the Indianapolis 500. PFC’s braking system has made its mark on the series using technology that “consists of a carbon disc and pad assembly made from single continuously wound strands along with a patented mounting mechanism.” With a more balanced assembly, the PFC system helps INDYCAR teams by reducing unwanted vibration and tire wear, giving drivers a more consistent braking feel and wear.

“The spirit of innovation drives progress,” said James Verrier, president and CEO of BorgWarner, which sponsors the award. “If you glance in the rearview mirror, you’ll see that past award winners have improved performance, efficiency and safety for generations of race car drivers. The engineers we acknowledge today will take their place in history, inspiring new innovations in the future.”

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Funeral services for Indy car veteran Jim McElreath, who passed away Thursday at the age of 89, will be conducted Tuesday beginning at 11 a.m. (CDT) at the Moore Funeral Home, 1219 North Davis, Arlington, Texas. Visitation will be held at the funeral home Monday from 6-8 p.m. 

McElreath, a five-time Indy car race-winner who posted six top-six finishes in 15 Indy 500 starts, died Thursday in his sleep in his hometown of Arlington. The 1962 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, McElreath was one of the top Indy car/open-wheel racers in the 1960s and ’70s.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions be made to Speedway Children’s Charities Texas in honor of McElreath. Checks can be sent to Speedway Children’s Charities Texas, 3545 Lone Star Circle, Fort Worth, Texas 76177.

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 20 2017
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