Castroneves hits 227-plus to lead Thursday Indy 500 practice

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Helio Castroneves turned in a tow-assisted 227.166 mph in the waning moments of Thursday’s six-hour practice for the Indianapolis 500, easily the fastest lap of the month in the No. 3 Pennzoil Ultra Premium Chevrolet for Team Penske.

“It was awesome,” Castroneves said. “The car is handling really well. Certainly the draft counts a lot here. I feel very comfortable in the Pennzoil No. 3 machine. I don’t know fastest lap but I think it was a (2)26 last year. Conditions are really good. Cool, good for the tires, good for the Chevy engine. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow. Right now we’re looking ahead of the game.”

He had been second prior to that, and his lap beat that set by Ed Carpenter in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for his own Ed Carpenter Racing team. The defending Indianapolis 500 polesitter’s best lap was a tow-assisted 226.257 mph.

Castroneves’ teammate Will Power was third with KV Racing Technology’s Townsend Bell and Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport completing the top five.

Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Tony Kanaan jumped up to sixth with Carpenter’s ECR Indianapolis teammate JR Hildebrand seventh, and the third Penske entry of Juan Pablo Montoya eighth.

Kurt Busch, back after missing a day to focus on his NASCAR obligations in Charlotte, was ninth at 224.739 and Grand Prix of Indianapolis winner Simon Pagenaud completed the top 10.

Elsewhere Carlos Huertas did well to get above 224 mph, and Sebastian Saavedra (223.955) and Martin Plowman (223.495) found speed they’d otherwise been lacking in traffic most of the week.

EJ Viso ran 40 laps in the No. 27 United Fiber & Data car before his engine cut out, and that ended his day. It may have ended his month as well with James Hinchcliffe cleared to drive following a concussion suffered Saturday in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Hinchcliffe’s car was towed out to pit lane near the end of the session but was unable to complete any laps for him to get back on course.

Buddy Lazier completed his refresher program and ran his first 18 laps of the month, with a best in the 218 mph range, while rookie James Davison completed the first two phases of his Rookie Orientation Program in single car runs. He ran his third in traffic, and ran more than 60 laps in total.

Today’s laps were the last with cars in race mode for the next three days. Extra boost will come into play for Fast Friday and speeds should top 230 mph for both single car and tow-assisted runs.

Here’s Thursday’s speeds.

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BREAKING: John Force taken to hospital after Phoenix eliminations crash

Photo courtesy NHRA
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16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force has been taken to a local hospital for evaluation and examination following a wicked crash with fellow Funny Car driver Johnnie Lindberg.

The crash occurred during the quarterfinals of Sunday’s final eliminations in the NHRA Arizona Nationals at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park in suburban Phoenix.

Force was headed for a win when the engine on his Peak Chevrolet Camaro blew up just as it crossed the finish line, destroying the body. Lindberg, meanwhile, lost traction about one-third of the way down-track, but then got back into the gas to try and catch Force.

Force appeared to lose control of the body-less car and went across from the left lane he was in to the right-hand lane, where he hit the retaining wall in front of Lindberg.

Lindberg tried to avoid Force, but couldn’t. To make matters worse, the body on Lindberg’s car then came off and Force’s and Lindberg’s cars got tangled up in Lindberg’s parachute, sending both chassis’ into the left retaining wall.

Lindberg emerged from his Funny Car under his own power and was checked at the medical center before heading back to his pit.

Force, meanwhile, was helped out of his mangled wreck by the NHRA Safety Safari and was transported by ambulance to the hospital due to the severity of the impact.

Even though Force will be credited with the round win, he obviously will not be able to continue for the remainder of the eliminations.

To add insult to injury, NHRA officials charged Force with oiling down the racetrack, his third of the season in just the first two races. That will cost him 15 points in the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series standings and a fine of $4,000.

Here are several posts from social media, including video of the incident from NHRA:

This is the second time Force has had an engine explode and the body blew off in the last two weeks. He also wrecked during the qualifying Feb. 9 for the season-opening Lucas Oil NHRA Winternationals in Pomona, California. Here’s the video of that wreck:

MORE: John Force taken to hospital as a precaution after Funny Car motor explodes.

We’ll update Force’s condition when it becomes available.

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