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

Merhi confirmed for WEC return with Manor at the Nürburgring

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CEFC Manor TRS Racing has confirmed that Roberto Merhi will return to the FIA World Endurance Championship for next month’s 6 Hours of Nürburgring, replacing Jean-Eric Vergne.

Merhi previously raced for Manor in both Formula 1 and the WEC, making his most recent appearance with the British marque at last November’s 6 Hours of Bahrain.

Merhi’s last racing outing came in the Formula 2 double-header in Spain and has flirted with a move into Formula E, but was confirmed on Wednesday to be making his racing return at the Nürburgring on July 16.

Merhi will deputize for Vergne in the No. 24 Oreca 07 Gibson while the Frenchman is in New York for the city’s inaugural Formula E event.

FIA to re-examine Vettel/Hamilton Baku clash

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The FIA has confirmed that it will re-examine the clash between Formula 1 title rivals Sebastian Vettel and Lewis Hamilton in Sunday’s Azerbaijan Grand Prix to see if further action is warranted.

Vettel and Hamilton made contact twice behind the safety car in Baku, with the second incident deemed to be an act of dangerous driving on Vettel’s part.

The FIA stewards in Baku handed Vettel a 10-second stop/go penalty for the clash – the harshest available penalty besides disqualification – but faced calls to issue a stricter punishment post race.

Hamilton said that the incident set a dangerous precedent for F1 and wider motorsport, but Vettel believed his rival deserved a penalty for allegedly brake testing him.

On Wednesday, the FIA confirmed that it would be re-examining the incident in a meeting on July 3, with a verdict set to be delivered ahead of the Austrian Grand Prix.

More to follow.

Wickens not interested in full-time IndyCar switch despite practice run

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Robert Wickens is not interested in making a full-time switch to the Verizon IndyCar Series in the near future despite his practice run-out at Road America last weekend for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

Mercedes DTM driver Wickens was called up for Friday practice at the KOHLER Grand Prix in the No. 7 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda after Mikhail Aleshin was unable to make it in time due to immigration issues.

Aleshin was able to return to the United States in time for Saturday’s final practice and qualifying at Road America, with Wickens stepping back down.

The Canadian got his first taste of an Indy car in a car swap with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports’ James Hinchcliffe in March, paving the way for his practice appearance at Road America.

However, Wickens is not looking to make a full-time move over to IndyCar anytime soon despite enjoying his run-out, with his focus lying with DTM.

“Not really, to be honest,” Wickens said when asked if IndyCar was something he would like to move into in Mercedes’ ‘Tales from the Paddock’ press newsletter.

“I just want to race cars. That’s the main thing. I have no urge to leave the DTM at the moment.

“Everything is going well, and I’m really happy with Mercedes.”

Wickens also went into detail about how rapidly things moved with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, having only been told the day before practice that he was required for the running.

“I planned on having a relaxing weekend at home, but on Thursday afternoon I got a call from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, which is the team that we did the ride swap with involving James Hinchcliffe back in April,” Wickens said.

“They asked if I could go to Road America and fill in for Mikhail Aleshin who had immigration issues. Fortunately, Toto [Wolff] was happy for me to do it and I was able to jump on a plane and get to Wisconsin.

“We didn’t get to the hotel until about 10pm on Thursday, and Free Practice 1 was on Friday morning very early. It took some getting used to.

“The practice itself was fun. The track was really good. It would be amazing to have a DTM race there one day.

“I definitely wanted to do the full weekend, but the full-time driver got his immigration stuff sorted and he made it to the race track by Friday night. My duties were finished, but it was still a really fun Friday.”

Force India’s Celis gets FP1 appearances in Austria, Hungary

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Force India youngster Alfonso Celis Jr. will make his first Formula 1 race weekend appearances of the season next month, taking part in first practice for the grands prix in Austria and Hungary.

Celis, 20, joined Force India as a development driver ahead of the 2016 season, enjoying six FP1 run-outs across the course of the year.

The Mexican driver returned for 2017, taking part in pre-season testing and the running following the Bahrain Grand Prix in April.

Force India confirmed on Wednesday that Celis will return for FP1 in Austria next week, before also featuring in practice in Hungary at the end of July.