Luck clearly was not on Andretti Autosport’s side today in a rain-soaked qualifying session for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
In hindsight, that became obvious early when all five Andretti drivers – full-timers Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, Marco Andretti and Carlos Munoz, plus one-off Franck Montagny – were listed as part of the first group of qualifiers. Only two of them, Hunter-Reay and Hinchcliffe, advanced to the second round.
Then, Hinchcliffe was unable to get into the Firestone Fast Six, leaving Hunter-Reay as the sole Andretti competitor to battle for the pole. For a moment, it looked as if it would turn out alright as Hunter-Reay leaped to P1 with just a couple of minutes left.
But shortly after doing that, Hunter-Reay lost control of his No. 28 DHL Honda coming out of Turn 14, spun out, and had a long slide into the front-stretch wall.
Luckily, Hunter-Reay hopped out of the car intact. Unluckily, his crash brought out the red flag, which cost him his two quickest laps in the Fast Six per IndyCar rules and gave the pole to KV Racing Technology’s Sebastian Saavedra.
“In the wet, you have to go for it,” said Hunter-Reay, who officially qualified third after having his best laps scratched. “We did a good enough time for P1. There’s a very fine line before you step over it. It’s just part of the game.
“I dinged up the right rear there. The most work is going to be done with the exhaust and things like that. It was just one whack. I had some time to head backwards for a while. It wasn’t a hard hit. The standing water was a pretty big issue.”
But at least Hunter-Reay will still be starting toward the front in tomorrow’s 82-lap race around the revamped, 2.4-mile road course at IMS.
The rest of his teammates will have to climb from mid-pack. Hinchcliffe qualified 11th, followed by Andretti in 13th, rookie Munoz in 19th, and Montagny in 21st.
Andretti’s best lap in Group 1 was less than one one-hundredth of a second off of sixth place, which would have gotten him into the second round of qualifying.
“I think it was a team decision to go out because we were worried about the weather,” he said after that excruciatingly close call.
“We plateaued too early and the car got better at the end, so we’re sitting on the outside looking in on this hundredth of a second…I’m losing sleep over this.”
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.