Indy 500 Qualifying Day 1 Notes & Quotes

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With 33 cars, there’s 33 stories to note from the first day of qualifications for this year’s Indianapolis 500. Here’s a breakdown of where things stand after the first round of attempts:

  • Ed Carpenter’s first 2-2: This race marks the first time Ed Carpenter Racing is running as a two-car operation. With Ed Carpenter consistently the quickest since the boost level has gone up from 130 to 140 kPa, and as defending polesitter, he wasn’t a surprise to make the Fast Nine. And the second car? That’s last year’s pole-winning car, driven by a guy who was owed some luck at this track. “[Waiting] was way more tense than running any 4 laps,” JR Hildebrand told TV after his run.
  • Andretti goes in, out, in and 3-5: Marco Andretti became the guinea pig for the new “express line,” or Line 1, when his team withdrew his speed of 229.836 that, at the time, had been enough to slot him P6. He fell outside the Fast Nine to P10 when his time was pulled, he then waved off a third run and on his fourth crack, was quick enough to make it into the Fast Nine. Teammates Carlos Munoz and James Hinchcliffe also pulled it off, Kurt Busch had to leave after his run and Ryan Hunter-Reay came up just short in the second-to-last run of the day.
  • Penske waiting for Sunday: Will Power went to the top of the time sheets after his second run, at 230.323, and that was enough to keep him in the Fast Nine. Helio Castroneves went later and went quicker, to end the day P3. Juan Pablo Montoya, meanwhile, said his car felt slower to his teammates, and only lightly off, at 229.785, he was. The Colombian ended the day a frustrating 13th, although he did bump Busch out of the Fast Nine before going again later and going slower. Saturday paid the points, while Sunday sets the grid.
  • Schmidt, Fisher, BHA star early, then late: Jack Hawksworth put in the early attention-grabbing run for the No. 98 Integrity Energee Drink squad at BHA/BBM with Curb-Agajanian, then it was Simon Pagenaud (Schmidt Peterson Hamilton) and Josef Newgarden (Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing) who starred late. Pagenaud said to TV after his run, “IndyCar’s got it all right. That was the most stressful qualifying I’ve ever lived my whole life, whole career. Three attempts. We finally got it right for the last one and got into the 230s. We may have a shot tomorrow.” Hawksworth ended 12th, which means he can’t start any better than 10th, but it’s still a good result.
  • Eight cars, one combined top-15 for Ganassi, KVRT: Chevrolet squads Chip Ganassi Racing and KV Racing Technology didn’t have the easiest of days. To be fair, circumstances were different. Ganassi’s four cars haven’t qualified that strong here either of the last two years but excelled on race days, albeit that was with Honda. KVRT, meanwhile, just focused on putting together clear runs. Sebastian Saavedra turned in a clean run in his rebuilt No. 17 KV/AFS car; James Davison, who only had Rookie Orientation Program under his belt before qualifying, was last qualifier on the day and was surprisingly impressive at 228.150. The breakdown was 15th (Scott Dixon), 17th (Ryan Briscoe), 19th (Charlie Kimball) and 23rd (Tony Kanaan) for Ganassi; 22nd (Townsend Bell), 24th (Sebastien Bourdais), 26th (Saavedra) and 28th (Davison).
  • Villeneuve 27th: Kinda cool that the 1995 Indianapolis 500, Jacques Villeneuve (pictured above), slotted into the position of the car number he won the 1995 race with. He’s not going for points, so no big shakes that he’s not in a higher position.
  • Last row unscathed: Had there been a 34th entry, Alex Tagliani, Martin Plowman and Buddy Lazier would need to sweat bullets tonight. Because there isn’t, they won’t. They can improve to as high as 10th in Sunday’s running, but that’s not a likely proposition.
  • Fast field, regardless: Speeds and times from Saturday’s qualifying will be wiped out, but it was a pretty fast average. The average of 229.067 would rank close to the fastest, if not the fastest overall. As it was, 29 of the 33 cars qualified over 228 mph for the average, and last year’s pole was only 228.762. Make of that what you will.

SATURDAY’S QUALIFYING TIMES

IMSA: Sebring Day 2 of two-day test notebook

Photo courtesy of IMSA
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Testing across several IMSA sanctioned series continued at Sebring International Raceway on Tuesday as preparations continue for next month’s events during the weekend of the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.

Below are highlights from Day 2 of testing around the 3.74-mile road course.

Eurosport Racing Continues Work with Mazda Prototype Challenge Chassis

Teams in the Prototype Challenge Presented by Mazda championship completed their second day of testing on Tuesday. Among them, Eurosport Racing continued their work with the only Mazda Prototype Challenge (MPC) entries in the field, in the hands of drivers Dr. Tim George (in the No. 24 entry) and Jon Brownson (in the No. 34).

“Right now, I’m driving by myself so we’re trying to make the car comfortable enough to last an hour and 45 minutes with just me in the car,” George said of their preparation efforts. “We’re trying to set up the car where it’s quick, yet it and can last, both the car and for me to make sure we don’t tire out, get fatigued and make mistakes.”

The 1 hour 45 minute window that George referenced represents the race times for the 2018 season, up considerably from last year’s sprint format that featured a pair of 45-minute races across a race weekend.

Though that change represents a drastic shift in driving philosophy, it is one that George welcomes.

“The new rules for the endurance races are great, I enjoy it a lot,” said George. “It gives you a chance to think through things differently with strategy. It also gives you a chance if you blow it…in a sprint race if you make a mistake you don’t get a chance to come back.”

Florida Drivers in Continental Tire Challenge Eager for Hometown Race at Sebring

A strong contingent of drivers from Florida are represented in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge, and next month’s 12 Hours of Sebring weekend will see them compete on home soil.

“I grew up in Tallahassee and I live in Orlando now, so Sebring has been my home track since day one,” said Paul Holton, driver of the No. 76 Compass Racing McLaren GT4, which finished 14th at the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway. “I’ve spent a lot of time down here and really enjoy the place. It’s a nice, quaint little town not far from Orlando so it’s a quick, easy drive down for me.”

Fellow Floridian Ramin Abdolvahabi, a native of Palm Beach Gardens, Florida and driver of the No. 09 Automatic Racing Aston Martin Vantage, revealed that, even though Sebring is only two hours from his hometown, this week’s test was his first time at the track in two years.

“I haven’t been here for two years, so coming back is like coming home,” he said. “It’s a fantastic track and it’s one of the iconic tracks in the world so being at Sebring – a small town, my hometown, welcoming – it’s fantastic. I went on the track a couple of times yesterday and it’s just like wearing an old shoe, it just fits and it’s fantastic. Hopefully, the race will go well and the weather will hold, so anyone who’s out there, come and see us!”

Frank Raso Trades in Airplanes for Porsches at Sebring

Several IMSA drivers boast “day jobs” outside of their racing gigs. Among them, Frank Raso’s work falls outside of ordinary jobs like doctor or lawyer. Rather, Raso flies airplanes for a living.

“I’m an airline pilot for a major airline,” said Raso, who tested the No. 10 Topp Racing Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car at Sebring. “I’ve been flying for almost 30 years, and it’s allowed me, with all my time off and things like that to do this and fall back into racing again. I messed with it a little bit when I was younger, but it was, of course, expensive, so I got away from it for a while. I decided I wanted to get back into it in kind of my last couple of years before I get too old.”

Raso explained that the skills he practices while flying planes are more than transferable to his driving duties in a Porsche GT3 Cup car.

“Flying an airliner or flying any airplane, we have checklists, but everything is kind of done in order. It’s almost in a robot fashion type of a thing where you do this, you do this, you do this and you have to make sure you hit all your marks and fly the airplane with precision.

“So, when you get in these Cup cars, with no anti-lock brakes, no traction control, and no driver assist items, you have to make sure you hit your marks, when you’re accelerating, when you’re turning in. You have to be alert. It keeps your wits about you. The car can step out at any time. They’re a very difficult car to drive, but they’re a lot of fun.”
The 54-year-old Raso posted a best finish of fourth, on four separate occasions, in a part-time schedule during the 2017 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season as a competitor in the Gold Cup class.
Newcomers Get Taste of Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge
A number of new drivers got to sample Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge cars during the two days of testing at Sebring. Among them was amateur racer Scott Welham, who got his first taste of professional racing during the two-day outing at Sebring.
And he had a strong support system backing him up in the Kelly-Moss Road and Race team, the defending Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge champions with driver Jake Eidson.
“Here, you’ve got somebody that actually does coaching, data acquisition, track management – these are all separate people – plant manager, owner, a car-setup guy, you’ve got someone that bills you – which isn’t always a good thing, but you know, you just have that huge, huge support group that enables you to focus on driving,” Welham said of the team’s influence on his development over the two days.
IMSA’s next visit to Sebring will be for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring on March 17.