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.

Daniel Ricciardo frustrated to crash out of home F1 qualifying

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Daniel Ricciardo made no secret of his frustration after crash out of Formula 1 qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix, resigning himself to a 10th-place start for his home race on Sunday.

Ricciardo entered the Melbourne weekend aiming to become the first Australian to finish on the podium at his home race since the event became part of the F1 world championship in 1985.

Despite struggling with the setup on his RB13 car on Friday, Ricciardo looked poised to claim a top-five grid slot for Sunday’s race, only to lose control of his car at Turn 14 in Q3 and end the session in the wall.

“That was a tough one today. I don’t crash into the barriers often and the last place I want to do that is at home,” Ricciardo said after the session.

“But I feel I crashed for the right reason, as I was basically pushing and trying to find the limit and these things happen, so let’s say I’m not disappointed by the approach, it was just more of a frustrating outcome, starting 10th instead of being under the top five.”

Ever the optimist, Ricciardo said the difficult qualifying will only serve as greater motivation to fight back up the order and give his home fans a result to celebrate on Sunday.

“I knew the crowds would have also preferred to see me further up the grid and it would have been nice to put on a better performance than that but tomorrow is where the points are,” Ricciardo said.

“It’s a chance to create a bigger headline if I have a good race so that’s what will motivate me to do better tomorrow. I made it a bit more difficult for myself but it’s going to be alright.

“To get a good start in the race will be the key. I saved a set of ultra-softs in Q2, I know that not everyone in front of me has, so maybe that gives me a chance.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Valtteri Bottas disappointed with P3 start for Mercedes F1 debut

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Valtteri Bottas came away from qualifying for the Australian Grand Prix feeling disappointed despite securing third place on the grid for his first Formula 1 race as a Mercedes driver.

Bottas joined Mercedes over the winter following world champion Nico Rosberg’s decision to retire from racing, and made his first official race weekend appearance for the Silver Arrows on Friday.

The ex-Williams driver made a splash in qualifying by running teammate Lewis Hamilton and Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel close, but was left to settle for third on the grid after finishing three-tenths of a second off the pole time.

“Third position is not ideal. In general I’m not happy with the result,” Bottas admitted after qualifying.

“But what I’m really happy about and proud about [is] what the team has done again with this car. I only saw a very small part of the preparation with the new car and the new era of Formula 1, and it’s really nice to see that all the work has paid off and we’re fighting at the very front.

“It seems to be very close this year, especially here. Myself I didn’t get any perfect laps in, so not that satisfied.

“Tomorrow’s the day that matters. It seems like in the race starts we’ve been quite strong. If we can keep that form I had in practice, and have a nice and clean race and get some really good points.”

Bottas’ best finish in Australia currently stands at fifth place in 2014 with Williams, with the Finn never qualifying any higher than sixth at Albert Park in his four previous attempts.

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET.

Vettel: Front-row grid slot for Australia proof of Ferrari’s progress

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Sebastian Vettel believes that his charge to second place on the grid for Sunday’s Australian Grand Prix acts as proof of the progress Ferrari’s Formula 1 operation has made over the winter.

Vettel arrived in Australia as one of the favorites to take pole following an impressive showing in pre-season testing, prompting three-time champion Lewis Hamilton to name Ferrari as the leading team.

Hamilton rallied in qualifying to take pole position for Mercedes, beating Vettel by two-tenths of a second, but the Ferrari driver managed to fend off Valtteri Bottas in the second Silver Arrow and clinch a front-row berth.

The result marked Ferrari’s best qualifying result since the 2015 Singapore Grand Prix – Vettel’s and Ferrari’s last pole and victory in F1 – and the German was encouraged by the result.

“I think we have a good car. I think we are working well as a team,” Vettel said.

“Things are improving. Obviously it’s nice to see that things are working, the car is working. I had a mixed day yesterday, but the confidence in the car was there from testing and I think we showed that again today.”

Vettel conceded that he felt his final lap in qualifying could have been faster, but doubts it would have been enough to catch pole-sitter Hamilton.

“In the end I was not entirely happy with my lap. I was pretty happy with the end, maybe not so much with the opening of the lap where we lost a bit too much,” Vettel said.

“But I think Lewis did a very good lap. I would have loved to, but I don’t think pole was up for grabs. Tomorrow I think we can do something in the race. The car feels good, we’ve improved it so the pace should be much better than it was yesterday when we had practice.

“It’s been a big winter for us, lots of change we’ve gone through as a team in the last 12 months, and for the better. I think the team is getting stronger.

“Obviously everyone is pushing very hard and it’s not so easy to come here with a long journey to get to Australia, but I think people are fired up and we are motivated for tomorrow.

“I think it’s the first good opportunity.”

Hamilton buoyed by sixth Australia F1 pole, ready for tight race

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Three-time Formula 1 world champion Lewis Hamilton was buoyed by his charge to pole position in Australian Grand Prix qualifying on Saturday, but is braced for a tight race at the front of the pack.

Hamilton saw off a challenge from Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and new Mercedes teammate Valtteri Bottas to capture his sixth pole at Albert Park, and the 62nd of his F1 career.

Hamilton had doubts over Mercedes’ advantage over Ferrari heading into the new year, making his charge to pole all the more meaningful as he paid tribute to the team members after qualifying.

“It’s been a fantastic weekend so far. It’s quite amazing to come here for I think the 11th time, and it feels like it was only yesterday that I came here and had my first race here in 2007,” Hamilton said.

“I’m just incredibly proud of my team. This rule change has been huge and such a massive challenge for everyone. The guys have just worked so hard to make this car what it is today.”

Despite taking pole by almost three-tenths of a second in Q3, Hamilton is braced for a close fight on Sunday with Vettel and Bottas, the latter starting his first race for Mercedes from third on the grid.

“Valtteri did a fantastic job given it’s his first qualifying session with the team. He did a great job and it’s great for Mercedes,” Hamilton said.

“Looking forward to the race, it’s close between us all. As you can see, there’s going to be a tight race this year I think.

“I think tomorrow is about putting all the work that’s gone in over the winter, all the work that’s gone through testing and this whole weekend and really put it to work tomorrow.

“I’ll make sure I get a good night’s sleep and come back tomorrow stronger than ever.”

The Australian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and the NBC Sports App from midnight ET on Sunday.