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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IndyCar 2017 driver review: Ed Carpenter

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MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. The 2017 season behind the wheel was better for Ed Carpenter than either of the last two years, but still wasn’t ideal results-wise in his six oval starts.

Ed Carpenter, No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet

  • 2016: 25th Place (5 Starts), Best Finish 18th, Best Start 5th, 0 Top-5, 0 Top-10, 1 Lap Led, 11.2 Avg. Start, 21.8 Avg. Finish
  • 2017: 22nd Place (6 Starts), Best Finish 7th, Best Start 2nd, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 11.3 Avg. Start, 12.3 Avg. Finish

Ed Carpenter’s 2017 season was largely one of frustration, both behind the wheel and as a team owner.

While a respectable turnaround in results occurred – Carpenter finished between seventh and 12th in five of his six oval races after a nightmare season of ending 18th or worse in each of his 2016 starts – this is still not what he sets out to strive for in the races he does. Lost opportunities loomed larger than any official result he or the Ed Carpenter Racing team achieved.

Carpenter and new teammate JR Hildebrand, in for the departed Josef Newgarden, dominated preseason testing in Phoenix but Hildebrand could only muster third in the race, Carpenter a season-best seventh. Then at Indianapolis, Carpenter (second) and Hildebrand (sixth) flew the flag for Chevrolet in qualifying and practice pace, but they fell to 11th and 16th on race day owing to a front-wing change and late-race penalty for passing before a restart.

Both drivers got collected in incidents at Texas. Hildebrand qualified and finished a season-best second in Iowa but that result came only after the ECR crew rebuilt his car from a crash in practice. Then Carpenter had a practice crash in Pocono and despite a rapid rebuild, they missed the clock to qualify by mere minutes and were unable to do so. Carpenter’s spin on a slick Gateway track at the start of the race sent him over Will Power’s nose assembly in one of the scarier looking incidents of the year, although fortunately he was OK.

In a similar refrain as we often write, it’s not that Carpenter’s lost his ability to drive and he remains one of the series’ savviest and smartest people in the paddock. There have been a lot of extenuating circumstances of late, and it almost felt as though this team had “empty nest” components. Since September, Carpenter has had to secure his team’s future with a move away from its Speedway, Ind. shop, line up Spencer Pigot for a full-time drive replacing Hildebrand in the No. 21 car, find a new road/street course driver in the No. 20 car, and manage both driving and owning himself.