Penske’s pair highlights those who just missed a top five in Indy

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Behind the top five finishers, Team Penske fell short of its first Indianapolis 500 since 2006 even though two of its drivers had a good shot in Sunday’s Indianapolis 500.

All three Penske pilots led the race, and AJ Allmendinger had the chance to make an off-sequence strategy play dividends as the race evolved. Allmendinger ended seventh, one spot behind teammate Helio Castroneves, and ultimately for both drivers it was a case of what could have been.

Allmendinger, in particular, identified a few first-time Indy deficiencies that he thought hurt him.

“The first issue I was sissy on the start. That might have been worst Indy 500 start ever,” he said. “I went from like fifth to 20th in one lap. But once I calmed down and thought about what I needed to do to get around these guys, the IZOD Chevy was just a missile.”

The Los Gatos, Calif. native made several drives through the field and was in a good position before his seatbelt came loose and he needed a stop on lap 113 to fix it. From there he still had two more planned stops to go, but ultimately would cycle in the 20s and come up after pitting 10-12 laps earlier than the leaders.

Castroneves, meanwhile, seemed relatively happy with sixth – even though he hadn’t had a great race.

“It was very nice; a lot of people behaved, so it was great,” he said. “The race actually went really fast. I was just having issues with the (rev) limiter. We finished top six, which is great championship-wise for points, and that is what we are looking for, as well.”

Simon Pagenaud and Charlie Kimball – who were each in Milwaukee earlier this week for the nationwide media tour of drivers – ended right behind the Penske pair in eighth and ninth. Pagenaud backed up his thoughts about how strong his No. 77 HP Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports Honda was in race trim, while Kimball rallied a day after missing the public driver’s meeting due to sickness. As the Californian described it, it was a better day in the car than out of it.

“I’m not dehydrated but I’m definitely not 100 percent,” said Kimball. “I still have a lot of rebuilding to do. Luckily the car was pretty good, even despite an electronics issue. It took us a few laps to diagnose it but we got it fixed. Then we drove through the field and past our teammates; I think we had a top-five with another 15 or 20 laps.”

Polesitter Ed Carpenter struggled to 10th with a car that fell off in the second half of the race. He had been in the top-five throughout the first 100 laps, and still managed to lead the most laps with 37.

“We were a little conservative early and didn’t have the right amount of downforce compared to some guys, and that did us in the end,” Carpenter said. “But overall, I’m very happy for the team and the month we had.”

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.