Marco Slips, Pato Rises At Indy On Carb Day

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 22 2020

Pato O’Ward was the king of Carb Day at Indy on Friday. (Photos courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Carb Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is about sending messages. And while Indianapolis 500 pole-sitter Marco Andretti experienced a “semi-difficult day” in his Andretti Autosport Honda, optimism abounds in the Team Chevy camp for Sunday’s 104th running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

Rookie Pato O’Ward turned the fastest lap during Friday’s final, two-hour practice around the 2.5-mile IMS oval, followed by three former winners. A native of Monterrey, Mexico, O’Ward completed 84 laps with a best speed of 225.355 mph in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet in anticipation of starting 15th on the traditional 33-car grid.

“I think we’re ready for the challenge ahead,” O Ward said. “It was a very positive day in terms of how we were feeling in traffic, passing cars and playing around in five-, 10-, and 15-car trains. I think it’s going to be very interesting to see how the cars will behave on Sunday in 10-15 degree hotter temps. I think we’re ready and we ended the day very happy with how everything fell and felt.”

O’Ward is teamed with fellow-rookie Oliver Askew and Formula One superstar Fernando Alonso for this event. “I think it’s just been really important to try and get the best car under us for Race Day,” O’Ward said. “I think traffic running is going to be key. It’s going to be my first 500. From just feeling out practice and everything, it’s so important to have a car that’s able to follow closely and be able to get runs on people, ultimately move forward instead of moving backward.”

That is exactly what happened to Andretti. A fixture at or near the top of the speed charts during the “Month of Marco” since practice opened on Aug. 12, Andretti placed 28th overall Friday at 221.314 mph in the No. 98 Honda.

Scott Dixon looked primed to win his second 500 during Carb Day.

“Today we found a few things we didn’t like in the car, which is good and bad because we found it out before Sunday,” said Andretti, the 33-year-old grandson of 1969 Indy 500 champion Mario Andretti. “We ticked a lot of boxes on a semi-difficult day, but I think we’re still in a good position for the race on Sunday.“

Marco earned his first Indy 500 pole during last Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout with a four-lap/10-mile average of 231.068 mph. The son of team-owner/16-time Indy 500 starter Michael Andretti, Marco scored his family’s first Indy 500 pole since Mario claimed P1 in 1987 and the first pole for a car carrying the No. 98 since Parnelli Jones qualified on-pole en route to victory in the 1963 Indy 500.

Scott Dixon, the 2008 Indy 500 winner and five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion, was second-fastest at 224.646 mph in the No. 9 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Dixon will start second Sunday when the green flag drops at 2:30 p.m. (EDT) on NBC. The network’s live coverage will start at 1 p.m. with additional coverage on the Pennzoil INDYCAR Radio Network.

“We had to go through our front wings today just to make sure they’re all close in case we need one in the race,” said Dixon, who logged 59 laps. “We lost some front grip, and we’re trying to see if the teammates had the same situation. Apart from that, the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda felt really good and really fast. It pulls up wicked fast. Hopefully, that’s true when it comes to the race.

“It definitely looks like there are some good cars out there and some not so good cars, so hopefully we’re on the right end of the grid. I think there has always been, especially these last few years, an underlying tone of ‘it’s hard to pass,’ which it was in that camp last year. This year’s been a lot easier for us. I think a lot of credit goes out to HPD (Honda Performance Development) and Honda. We’re proud to be powered by them. They’ve done a lot to help that, but also I think we’ve made a lot of changes on the team and the car and that’s helped that, as well. It’s good to see.”

Former Formula One champions Fernando Alonso and Mario Andretti got together in the pits at Indy on Friday.

Rossi, who won the 100th anniversary Indy 500 as a rookie in 2016, was third overall at 224.599 mph in the No. 27 Honda. Rossi, who completed 58 laps, will start ninth.

“It was a pretty good day,” said Rossi, Marco’s teammate at Andretti Autosport. “We got through everything we wanted to, and I think we’re in a decent place with the car. This place is tricky _ the track conditions change from day to day. I think from where we ended Sunday afternoon to today, we kept a pretty similar car, so if we can go there in 48 hours, I think we’ll be pretty happy.“

Takuma Sato, winner of the 2017 Indy 500, placed fourth at 224.580 mph in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Sato will start third Sunday, on the front row with Dixon and pole-sitter Andretti. “I think it was a nice Carb Day,” Taku said. “We tried a couple of things we wanted to double-check, and we got what we want. I believe we now are ready. The three of us will now debrief and check the data. The guys did a great job. I can’t wait until Sunday.” Sato is teamed with Graham Rahal, son of team co-owner and 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal and Spencer Pigot.

Team Penske’s four-car Chevrolet-powered juggernaut was led by Josef Newgarden, the two-time/reigning series champion. Newgarden was seventh on the chart after running 68 laps with a top speed of 223.764 mph. Team Penske is looking to redeem itself after failing to place anyone in last Sunday’s Fast Nine.

“You don’t want to be overconfident, but I feel cautiously optimistic,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 1 Team Penske Chevy. “It’s been fast in traffic and felt really fast today. I think Team Chevy has a really good package for us for the race. So, feeling very confident with what they are bringing.

“Carb Day is one of those days if you need it, you use it all. If you don’t, you take it easy and not use the car up. It felt like the second of those for us. I’m optimistic. I think we have a shot. It would be amazing to win this race. It’s so special; you just grow to love it more. I’ve been so fortunate. This is my ninth 500. I would love to win this race. But you can’t force her. If it is going to happen, it is going to happen. But to win one for ‘The Captain’ (team founder and new IMS owner Roger Penske) in these trying times, we’re going to do our best to make it a great race.”

Simon Pagenaud, who gave Penske his record 18th Indy 500 win in May 2019, was 14th on the chart after running 89 laps with a top speed of 223.419 mph. The Frenchman said Sunday’s race will again be about finding the right balance.

Frenchman Simon Pagenaud is looking to repeat at Indy.

“Chevy has got it tremendous in race trim,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 Team Penske Chevy. “We are equal to the competition, and we have plenty of speed in race trim. It’s going to be all about finding the balance in your race car the entire day. The wind might change, and when the wind shifts, you might find yourself good in (Turn) 2 and bad in (Turn) 4. The cars are very sensitive this year, much more than last year. So, balance is going to be everything.

“It’s also going to be about downforce, no question. We are going to have to run close to people, and we need downforce. So, the question is going to be how much. For me, it’s going to be about balance. We are going to have to be aggressive from the start to pass people to get clean air.”

Helio Castroneves ended up 17th at 223.093 mph in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet in his bid  to become the fourth four-time winner of the Indy 500. Castroneves will start 28th. If he wins Sunday, it will tie the all-time race record for the deepest starting spot of a winner at IMS, a mark set by Ray Harroun during the inaugural race in 1911 and matched by Louis Meyer in 1936.

Good, strong finish here at Carb Day,” said Castroneves, the popular Brazilian who logged 93 laps Friday. “We definitely have great pit stops. Everybody seemed to be in sync, and right now we just have to play the game, stay clean and go to the front.”

Will Power, who won the Indy 500 in 2018, was 24th on the chart at 222.578 mph after running 81 laps Friday in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevy.

“We were quite far off at the beginning of today,” said Power, who will start 22nd. “I was worried that we weren’t going to find anything. Then we found some stuff late in the session, and hopefully we have the Verizon 5G Edge Chevrolet in the window where it needs to be. Obviously, we’re starting back in the pack, so I tried to run around cars and see how it’s going to be. We have really good pit stops, great guys on the car. I think that’s going to be our game, with strategy and our pit stops is where we’re going to make time up. But it’s every man for himself. It is the Indy 500, but if we can be mistake-free, we can get ourselves to the top-five.”

Arrow McLaren SP placed two cars and rookie drivers in the top five, as Oliver Askew was fifth at 224.128 mph in the team’s No. 7 Chevrolet. Askew will start 21st _ five spots ahead of Alonso, the two-time F1 World Driving Champion. Having previously won F1’s Monaco Grand Prix and endurance sports car racing’s 24 Hours of Le Mans, Alonso needs a win Sunday to join Great Britain’s Graham Hill as the only winners of the “Triple Crown” of international motorsports.

Alonso was 23rd Friday at 222.680 mph in the No. 66 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet. The 2017 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year while driving for Andretti Autosport, Alonso will start 26th Sunday.

“It was the last opportunity to test the last few items we had on our list,” said Alonso, a native of Spain. “Some of them were OK, and some of them we will not be keeping for the race. Now we have a more or less clear idea of what we want. Sunday is a completely different thing, and it’s supposed to be a bit hotter, so we will try to adapt to the conditions. There’s nothing more to test on the table, so it’s race time.”

Carb Day _ typically second in attendance only to Race Day _ was run without fans due to health concerns amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The massive grandstands also will be empty Sunday.

“Well firstly, I just want to say we miss the best fans in racing. It’s not the same,” said Charlie Kimball, driver of the No. 4 A.J. Foyt Enterprises Chevrolet. “It’s a very different energy here on Carb Day. It was nice to get a good two hours of running. The No. 4 Tresiba Chevrolet came out pretty good this morning. We kept making it better, making it better. I’m pretty happy with the race car. I think we’re going to clean it and let her sleep until Sunday because we’ve got a lot of work to do starting 29th _ but there are 500 miles.”

Kimball’s top speed Friday was 223.491 mph after 79 laps in a car owned by the 85-year-old Foyt, first four-time winner of the Indy 500. “I’m looking forward to Sunday’s race,” said Kimball, teamed with 2013 Indy 500 champion Tony Kanaan and rookie Dalton Kellett. “There’s something special about being in those 11 rows of three starting ‘The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,’ being a part of the 104th running. It’s just an incredible feeling even if the energy is very different.” 


| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, August 22 2020
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