Carb Day news and notes

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One of the greatest IndyCar drivers of the last 20 years – and a hero to countless thousands for his recovery after losing his legs in an accident – finally had his day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

On Friday, Chip Ganassi presented Alex Zanardi with the car that Zanardi used to complete “The Pass” on Bryan Herta at Mazda Raceway – then called Laguna Seca Raceway – in the 1996 CART season finale. The pass to Herta’s inside going into the Corkscrew entered iconic status mere moments after he pulled it off, and is widely considered one of the best finishes in racing history.

“It is really difficult to put it into words,” said Zanardi, who admitted he’s rarely speechless. “Laguna Seca in 1996, of all the highlights of my racing career, was probably the most emotional one and the one that actually changed my life. I was very lucky that day, don’t get me wrong, but had I not tried that move, who knows what my racing career would have been?

“For sure, it changed a lot of things. The perception of all the people watching was that, after that day, I was a different guy, I was definitely a guy to keep an eye on. I’m sure I won a lot of fans that day and caused come controversy, as well. But, hey, this is what keeps us alive, and I was definitely alive that day.”

Zanardi, who raced in CART from 1996 through 1998 and 2001, never had a chance to race in the Indianapolis 500. His CART career included back-to-back championships in 1997 and ’98 after winning series rookie-of-the-year honors in 1996.

His 2001 accident in Germany cost him both his legs, but with prosthetics, Zanardi has become an inspiration as a Gold Medal-winning Paralympic bicyclist.

In a battle of three-time “500” winners, Helio Castroneves and his No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet team defeated Dario Franchitti and his No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda squad in the finals of today’s Indy 500 Pit Stop Competition. Castroneves’ team rattled off a 10.1-second pit stop en route to a total time of 14.475 seconds, which was enough to best Franchitti’s team (pit stop: 11.017 seconds; total time: 14.854 seconds).

The No. 3 side, which earned $50,000 for their efforts, had earned a first-round “bye” before ousting Tony Kanaan’s No. 11 KV Racing Technology crew in Round 2 and then Oriol Servia’s No. 22 Panther DRR group in the semifinals to set up their finals match-up with Franchitti’s No. 10 team.

IndyCar is hoping to help bring future engineers, mechanics and fans to the sport with a new initiative that takes lessons in science, technology, engineering and math and applies them to the 220+ mile per hour world of open-wheel racing.

Together with Project Lead the Way and Jostens, the IndyCar “Future of Fast” project will feature an at-track program for eighth graders that takes them through five learning pods (car, engine, fuel, safety and tires) related to IndyCar racing. After going through each pod, the students will then put their newfound knowledge to use in a virtual setting.

The program begins with this year’s Indianapolis 500 and will go to the upcoming IZOD IndyCar Series events at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park, Texas Motor Speedway, the Grand Prix of Baltimore, Houston’s Reliant Park and Auto Club Speedway outside Los Angeles. Future expansion of the program to other IndyCar markets in the United States is planned.

“Our sport is deeply rooted in science and engineering, so it’s important for us to create opportunities for students to see the connection between what they study and real-world situations,” said Mark Miles, CEO of Hulman & Co. (IndyCar’s parent company).

“This is another way for us to reach youngsters to help ignite their interest in math and science, and it’s a way for us to become more involved in the communities where we compete.”

Lazier Partners Racing chief mechanic Dennis LaCava has earned the 2013 Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award after guiding 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Lazier into his 17th start at the Brickyard last weekend.

LaCava, who worked with Lazier in the past as part of Hemelgarn Racing, joined the team less than a week before practice for the “500” began. Lazier’s No. 91 Chevrolet didn’t run any timed laps until last Friday, but LaCava led the crew in helping him get into the show on the inside of Row 11.

“I figure us mechanics are kind of like Minutemen or something,” LaCava said in a statement. “It always works out at the last minute and off we go.”

LaCava will receive $5,000 and a plaque, and will also have his name etched on the permanent Clint Brawner Award trophy that is housed at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame Museum.

INDYCAR Preview: Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama

Photo: IndyCar
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Three consecutive race weekends in the month of April for the Verizon IndyCar Series come to a close this weekend with the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, the series’ ninth race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama.

IndyCar’s annual trek to the “Alabama Rollercoaster” – as Barber has been referred to in the past – began in 2010, and the venue has quickly become a favorite for teams, drivers, and fans, and while concerns existed that passing would prove too difficult prior to the first race in 2010, every race has featured more than its fair share of overtaking, and the track has seen thrilling late-race battles in each of the last three seasons.

Graham Rahal put on one of the greatest drives of his career to finish second here in 2015, passing Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Helio Castroneves, and Scott Dixon in the final laps to do so, but he could not quite catch Josef Newgarden that day, with Newgarden taking his first career IndyCar win.

Rahal dueled Simon Pagenaud for the win in 2016, with Pagenaud getting the upperhand after Rahal damaged his front wing following contact with the lapped car of Jack Hawksworth.

And in 2017, Josef Newgarden benefited from teammate Will Power suffering a punctured tire to assume the lead late in the race, and held off Scott Dixon to take his first win for Team Penske.

In summary, Barber has developed a habit of creating late-race drama, and given how the first three races of the 2018 season have gone, it could easily happen again.

Key talking points ahead of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama are below.

Championship Picture Beginning to Take Shape

Alexander Rossi leads the championship three races into the 2018 season. Photo: IndyCar

Though it is admittedly very early in the season – only three of 17 races have been completed – the championship picture is beginning to come into focus, and Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winner Alexander Rossi is currently at the head of the table.

The Andretti Autosport driver sits in the lead on 126 points, 22 ahead of of Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Graham Rahal sits third with 93 points, with Dale Coyne Racing’s Sebastien Bourdais in fourth on 88 points. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe rounds out the Top 5, with 83 points through the first three races.

That’s five different teams represented in the Top 5 at the moment, and a few faces have emerged as potential favorites.

Points leader Rossi is the only driver to finish on the podium in each of the first three races, with finishes of 3-3-1.

Team Penske has had somewhat of a quiet start to 2018, though Newgarden did win the Desert Diamond West Valley Casino Phoenix Grand Prix at ISM Raceway, and his results at St. Petersburg and Long Beach – seventh at both races – could have been much better if only a couple small things went differently.

Rahal has been a title contender in each of the last three seasons, even going into the 2015 season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma with a shot at the championship. And his 2018 season, highlighted by finishes of second at St. Petersburg and fifth at Long Beach, could be even better if not for miscues and contact in both races that hampered his efforts.

Throw in Bourdais and Hinchcliffe as well, who like Rahal, compete with smaller teams – Bourdais with Coyne in a venture with Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, and Hinchcliffe with SPM – and more legitimate players are emerging in the title hunt.

And with big names like Scott Dixon and Simon Pagenaud stumbling out of the gates so far – Dixon is sixth in the championship while Pagenaud sits 16th – there’s a lot of room for championship drama to develop in the coming races.

Will Power Seeks Barber Redemption

Will Power started on pole last year at Barber, led a race-high 60 laps, and looked set to take his third win at the Alabama road course before suffering a cut tire, and the Penske squad was left no choice but to bring Power’s No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet into the pits.

It was a heart-breaking result for a driver who, at the time, needed to right the ship after finishes of 19th and 14th to open the season.

One year later, Power again heads to Barber looking right the ship after a troublesome start to his season, with finishes of 10th and 22nd in the opening two races.

He took the first step by finishing second at Long Beach, and now looks to avenge last year’s Barber disappointment to get his first win of 2018.

“Long Beach was really great for the whole No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet team after we finished second. It was our best finish so far this season, so it’s done a lot for team morale going into this weekend at Barber,” Power explained. “Road courses are always a lot of fun and I’m really looking forward to racing one with the new car. My team has been really working hard over the past several weeks with back-to-back races and they have a really strong car ready to go. Barber is such a cool course and the fans there are always really excited to be there. It’s just a really fun event for everyone and I can’t wait to get on track.”

Power

Misc.

  • There have been five different winners at Barber: Helio Castroneves, Will Power, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud. Power, Hunter-Reay, and Newgarden are the only ones with multiple wins at Barber, though, with each sitting on two wins apiece.
  • Scott Dixon and Graham Rahal have also been successful at Barber. Rahal has two second place finishes, while Dixon has five. However, neither has been able to break through for a win, although that could easily change this weekend.
  • Marco Andretti sits tenth in the championship, with finishes of ninth and sixth the highlights of his early season. However, his race pace has been very impressive, and if he can get his qualifying up to a similar level, Andretti could be a darkhorse.
  • Ed Jones and Zach Veach look to build on finishes of third and fourth at Long Beach, their best results of the 2018 season.

The Final Word…

From Josef Newgarden, winner of the two of the last three races at Barber Motorsports Park, including last year:

“We had a decent finish at Long Beach but we’re definitely hungry for more. Barber is one of my favorite tracks we visit – not just because we’ve won there – but because it’s a cool track and it’s only a few hours away from where I grew up (in Nashville, Tennessee). That just makes it even more special when I’ve won there. Barber is going to be interesting since it’s the first time we’re racing the new car on a road course. I think it could lead to some really exciting racing for the great fans at Barber and the fans at home. The whole No. 1 Hitachi Chevrolet team and I are ready to take the strong car we have ready for this weekend to the track and run a great race.”

Here’s last year’s top 10:

1. Josef Newgarden
2. Scott Dixon
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Helio Castroneves
5. Alexander Rossi
6. James Hinchcliffe
7. Tony Kanaan
8. Sebastien Bourdais
9. Takuma Sato
10. Mikhail Aleshin

Here’s last year’s Firestone Fast Six:

1. Will Power
2. Helio Castroneves
3. Simon Pagenaud
4. Scott Dixon
5. Ryan Hunter-Reay
6. James Hinchcliffe

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