PracticeAnalysis

2014 Indianapolis 500 Practice Analysis

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It’s been said previously that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

And if you were to look only at the combined results of practice for the 2014 Indianapolis 500, those statistics would pretty much be lying to you.

You see, the fastest speed set this month belongs to Mikhail Aleshin, at 232.917 mph. All 33 cars’ fastest speeds were recorded with extra boost, with an increase from 130 kPa to 140 kPa, which provides more horsepower.

If you want a more realistic description of how the 98th Running will play out, don’t look at those times, but instead look at the order from Monday’s session and last week’s running.

I combined all speeds from the race boost sessions (Sunday, May 11 through Thursday, May 16 and Monday, May 19) into an Excel spreadsheet to get a gauge of how much running everyone’s done this month, and to monitor their progress over the buildup the week.

Note that many drivers took the week doing race simulations and practicing the tow effect. So speeds anywhere from 224 to 227 were frequently done in a tow; speeds less than that would generally be done in single-car runs.

Put this way; if you had a tow, and you still only made it to 223 mph or less, you’re in trouble.

Here’s a breakdown of each driver’s best lap per day, with the field sorted by Best Speed. Most bests were set Monday, the day after qualifying, with boost levels returned to the race.

# Driver 11-May 12-May 13-May 14-May 15-May 19-May Average Best
3 Castroneves 222.373 223.635 222.196 225.34 227.166 225.638 224.391 227.166
67 Newgarden 216.257 222.082 222.652 224.948 224.478 227.105 222.92 227.105
2 Montoya 222.502 223.395 224.115 225.134 224.782 226.532 224.41 226.532
9 Dixon 220.206 223.119 223.235 225.494 223.785 226.433 223.712 226.433
7 Aleshin 223.12 221.316 225.31 223.374 226.371 223.898 226.371
10 Kanaan 220.755 222.635 221.972 224.752 224.836 226.336 223.548 226.336
20 Carpenter 219.899 220.898 224.492 226.257 224.492 223.207 226.257
21 Hildebrand 222.2 221.266 221.737 225.844 224.825 226.232 223.684 226.232
77 Pagenaud 221.862 223.063 226.122 224.655 224.909 224.122 226.122
12 Power 223.057 221.735 221.61 175.729 225.899 226.107 223.682 226.107
22 Karam 217.31 220.543 222.635 222.096 223.903 225.929 222.069 225.929
83 Kimball 221.845 218.229 221.937 224.544 223.344 225.846 222.624 225.845
19 Wilson 223.611 221.184 225.058 223.491 225.771 223.823 225.771
25 Andretti 218.447 224.037 223.605 224.37 224.643 225.769 223.479 225.769
28 Hunter-Reay 222.134 225.025 223.612 225.11 225.45 225.719 224.508 225.719
26 Busch 220.352 222.77 224.159 224.739 225.623 223.529 225.623
6 Bell 220.84 220.307 222.249 225.484 223.617 222.499 225.484
8 Briscoe 219.745 222.132 222.364 225.276 224.371 225.151 223.173 225.276
27 Hinchcliffe 225.255 225.255 225.255
41 Plowman 216.165 218.852 218.38 221.013 223.495 224.855 220.46 224.855
27 Viso 222.105 222.695 224.488 224.731 222.782 223.36 224.731
11 Bourdais 220.116 220.856 224.307 224.655 224.359 222.859 224.655
34 Munoz 220.581 223.172 222.402 223.754 222.522 224.54 222.829 224.54
68 Tagliani 219.557 221.408 220.146 224.384 224.067 224.387 222.325 224.387
33 Davison 217.052 224.33 220.691 224.33
18 Huertas 219.246 219.345 223.651 224.242 223.495 221.996 224.242
5 Villeneuve 220.07 221.101 220.89 221.682 223.536 224.029 221.885 224.029
98 Hawksworth 221.257 224 43.77 222.602 222.62 224
63 Mann 220.206 219.282 223.984 223.441 223.073 221.997 223.984
17 Saavedra 208.985 223.181 223.955 222.48 223.205 223.955
14 Sato 217.84 220.891 222.483 223.329 223.793 222.833 221.861 223.793
15 Rahal 217.454 221.107 219.703 222.152 223.478 222.773 221.111 223.478
91 Lazier 218.277 222.961 220.619 222.961
16 Servia 219.15 221.529 219.674 222.78 222.131 221.272 221.089 222.78

Take that data and sort it by best average speed over the six days, excluding days where drivers only got out for shakedowns, systems checks and installation checks, and you’ll see a slightly different pattern emerge.

# Driver 11-May 12-May 13-May 14-May 15-May 19-May Average Best
27 Hinchcliffe 225.255 225.255 225.255
28 Hunter-Reay 222.134 225.025 223.612 225.11 225.45 225.719 224.508 225.719
2 Montoya 222.502 223.395 224.115 225.134 224.782 226.532 224.41 226.532
3 Castroneves 222.373 223.635 222.196 225.34 227.166 225.638 224.391 227.166
77 Pagenaud 221.862 223.063 226.122 224.655 224.909 224.122 226.122
7 Aleshin 223.12 221.316 225.31 223.374 226.371 223.898 226.371
19 Wilson 223.611 221.184 225.058 223.491 225.771 223.823 225.771
9 Dixon 220.206 223.119 223.235 225.494 223.785 226.433 223.712 226.433
21 Hildebrand 222.2 221.266 221.737 225.844 224.825 226.232 223.684 226.232
12 Power 223.057 221.735 221.61 175.729 225.899 226.107 223.682 226.107
10 Kanaan 220.755 222.635 221.972 224.752 224.836 226.336 223.548 226.336
26 Busch 220.352 222.77 224.159 224.739 225.623 223.529 225.623
25 Andretti 218.447 224.037 223.605 224.37 224.643 225.769 223.479 225.769
27 Viso 222.105 222.695 224.488 224.731 222.782 223.36 224.731
20 Carpenter 219.899 220.898 224.492 226.257 224.492 223.207 226.257
17 Saavedra 208.985 223.181 223.955 222.48 223.205 223.955
8 Briscoe 219.745 222.132 222.364 225.276 224.371 225.151 223.173 225.276
67 Newgarden 216.257 222.082 222.652 224.948 224.478 227.105 222.92 227.105
11 Bourdais 220.116 220.856 224.307 224.655 224.359 222.859 224.655
34 Munoz 220.581 223.172 222.402 223.754 222.522 224.54 222.829 224.54
83 Kimball 221.845 218.229 221.937 224.544 223.344 225.846 222.624 225.845
98 Hawksworth 221.257 224 43.77 222.602 222.62 224
6 Bell 220.84 220.307 222.249 225.484 223.617 222.499 225.484
68 Tagliani 219.557 221.408 220.146 224.384 224.067 224.387 222.325 224.387
22 Karam 217.31 220.543 222.635 222.096 223.903 225.929 222.069 225.929
63 Mann 220.206 219.282 223.984 223.441 223.073 221.997 223.984
18 Huertas 219.246 219.345 223.651 224.242 223.495 221.996 224.242
5 Villeneuve 220.07 221.101 220.89 221.682 223.536 224.029 221.885 224.029
14 Sato 217.84 220.891 222.483 223.329 223.793 222.833 221.861 223.793
15 Rahal 217.454 221.107 219.703 222.152 223.478 222.773 221.111 223.478
16 Servia 219.15 221.529 219.674 222.78 222.131 221.272 221.089 222.78
33 Davison 217.052 224.33 220.691 224.33
91 Lazier 218.277 222.961 220.619 222.961
41 Plowman 216.165 218.852 218.38 221.013 223.495 224.855 220.46 224.855

Although James Hinchcliffe makes it to the top of the best average practice speed chart, his ultimate race pace is likely to be closer to the mark set by fill-in driver EJ Viso earlier in the week. Hinchcliffe had only the one day of practice in race boost, while everyone else in the field had at least two or more.

Note that after the Andretti Autosport pair of Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay, who seemed to struggle in qualifying with the boost increase, and two of Roger Penske’s three drivers, the next two on the average speed come from Schmidt Peterson Motorsports.

I am not too surprised to see Simon Pagenaud running as well as he is – now in his third year on ovals, he has done the methodical growth needed to prepare himself for his opportunity to win the 500 this year. An oval win – which would be his first – would solidify his status as one of IndyCar’s top two or three drivers (if it hasn’t been already).

And rookie teammate Aleshin, while his ultimate one-lap set with the extra boost generated some headlines, has been impressive as well. This will be the Russian’s first ever oval race and if he can run as well in traffic in the race as he has in practice, he appears to have the fearless tenacity to surprise and perhaps take home the Sunoco Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year honors.

Justin Wilson is also a top sleeper. He’s grown on ovals by leaps and bounds the last couple years and has quietly been Honda’s best under-the-radar threat. Driving the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda for Dale Coyne Racing, Wilson is going to stealthily hang around on Sunday.

The teams I worry about, unless they pull a rabbit out of their hat in terms of fuel mileage and/or strategy on Sunday, are Chip Ganassi Racing, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and KV Racing Technology. None of their combined 11 drivers have shown the ultimate race pace needed to stay in contention with the Andretti, Penske, and Ed Carpenter Racing cars in practice.

But if speed is an issue for those three, strategy and guile won’t be. These are three teams who have won ‘500s before – CGR and KVRT are the two most recent winners and RLLR has factored into win contention in two of the last three (2011 with Bertrand Baguette, 2012 with Takuma Sato) – and have the strategic expertise to play themselves into contention even if they don’t have the ultimate pace.

Remember too that defending series champion Scott Dixon is probably the field’s best at saving fuel, and that could play into his advantage later on. Teammate and defending race winner Tony Kanaan is, of course, the restart master and half the price of admission on his own Sunday.

The elements of speed versus strategy should make for a fascinating race on Sunday. But we’ll see if the practice results from the week that was stay true to form, or become a lie of their own.

George Russell joins Mercedes F1 junior program

George Russell
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Mercedes has announced that British racer George Russell will join its young driver program ahead of the 2017 racing season.

Russell, 18, raced in the FIA European Formula 3 Championship last year, finishing the season third in the final standings with two victories to his name.

Russell will move into GP3 for the 2017 season, linking up with ART Grand Prix, a team that fellow Mercedes junior Esteban Ocon and recently-appointed Mercedes Formula 1 driver Valtteri Bottas have both enjoyed success with.

Russell becomes the third member of Mercedes’ young driver program, joining Ocon and Sauber F1 racer Pascal Wehrlein.

“It’s great to be part of the Junior Program. It is an incredible opportunity to have the backing of the Formula One World Champions,” Russell said.

“I’m proud to have been given this kind of recognition for all the hard work that’s gone into my career over the years so far.

“I’ve started doing some work with the team in the simulator and it’s already become clear to me that I’m working with people who are the best in the business, who I know will help me develop as a driver and as a person.

“Of course, my priority is to get the job done over the coming season in GP3 and I’m fully focused on that. But this opportunity is a huge motivation and I’m looking forward to the challenge. It should be an exciting year ahead.”

“George has shown impressive form in the junior categories and we’ve been keeping a close eye on him for a while now,” Mercedes F1 chief Toto Wolff added.

“It’s still early days in his career but we see great potential in him. For 2017, George will compete in the GP3 Series with ART Grand Prix on Formula One weekends, following in the footsteps of fellow Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport Junior Esteban Ocon and, of course, newly announced race driver Valtteri Bottas – both of whom won this championship en route to F1.

“George’s next challenge in GP3 will provide a good test of his credentials for the future. We have already seen with Esteban how effective this series can be as a training ground and, of course, this is the championship which propelled Valtteri [Bottas] into Formula One, so we will follow George’s progress with great interest.”

‘Next year’ is now a quest for Pagenaud to defend IndyCar title

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Throughout his IndyCar career, Simon Pagenaud was the quintessential example of a driver who would give it all, but at season’s end would invariably fall short, likely saying to himself, “Wait until next year, we’ll get ‘em then.”

Well, Pagenaud can’t say that anymore. As the defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion, the French native is now in an all-new position in the open-wheel series: that of the hunted rather than the hunter.

But that’s fine with Pagenaud. He firmly believes there’s still a lot more to draw upon after last season’s career year.

“There’s still a lot to iron,” he said at Wednesday’s Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “It’s only our second year together (with Team Penske), so we still have a lot to improve, so that’s what’s exciting for 2017.

“I think it’s about being disciplined. It’s easy to relax after you’ve won one time, but it’s about being disciplined. Myself, it’s to reflect on ’16 and see how I can improve myself physically, mentally, all the aspects of driving, the craft basically. I can definitely improve on a lot of those things.”

Which is not good news for his opponents.

Pagenaud roared through last season, capturing single-season career-highs in wins (five), podiums (eight) and poles (eight) in the No. 22 Team Penske Chevrolet.

By comparison, coming into 2016, Pagenaud had earned just four total wins, 12 podiums and two poles in his 85 combined Champ Car and IndyCar starts.

Now, after nearly doubling most of those totals in just one 16-race season, Pagenaud can’t wait to get started on this season’s 17-race campaign – and potentially a second consecutive championship.

One of the biggest keys will be not to become complacent.

“One of the big things for us having won is not to rest on our laurels and keep going, keep pushing to get more,” Pagenaud said. “So being hungry is going to be very important for everybody, not just me but the whole team. … But we can do better.”

While it’s hard to say Pagenaud had any marked weaknesses after the season he just had, he admits he needs personal improvement on ovals.

“I think it’s mostly focusing on the oval for 2017 and trying to raise the level there,” Pagenaud said.

Now that he’s won his first IndyCar championship, the next big goal on Pagenaud’s agenda is to win the Indianapolis 500.

In five starts to date in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, success has been mixed for Pagenaud. His best finish was eighth in 2013 for Schmidt Hamilton Motorsports. His second-best finish – 10th — came in 2015, his first season for Team Penske, and that was one where he had a car to contend.

Ironically, even with the overall stellar season he had in 2016, his finish at Indianapolis left Pagenaud with a bad taste in his mouth. A mechanical issue relegated him to a 19th place finish, his worst finish ever at the legendary 2.5-mile Brickyard.

Pagenaud knows that as good as his season was in 2016, he could just as easily have a bad campaign this coming season. But he’s ready for it all and however it turns out.

“It’s a job — it’s endless, this job,” he said. “There’s no limit to improving. … You can always improve. It’s just you being curious about it and trying to find more ways.”

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Franchitti: ‘Exceptional’ Dixon deserves more credit, draws comparison to Alonso

FORT WORTH, TX - JUNE 10:  Scott Dixon of New Zealand, driver of the #9 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, walks on pit road during Star-Telegram Qualifying for the Verizon IndyCar Series Firestone 600 at Texas Motor Speedway on June 10, 2016 in Fort Worth, Texas.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)
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Four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion Dario Franchitti believes that Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Scott Dixon deserves more credit for what he has achieved through his racing career.

Franchitti, who still works with Ganassi in an advisory role, and Dixon raced together as teammates between 2009 and 2013. They shared four of the five IndyCar titles up for grabs through that period, their dominance only broken by Ryan Hunter-Reay in 2012.

Dixon finished in the top three of the drivers’ standings for nine straight years from 2007 to 2015, with his run to sixth in the 2016 championship being his lowest finish since 2005. The New Zealander has four titles to his name, the most recent coming in 2015.

As well as enjoying enormous success in IndyCar, Dixon has won the Rolex 24 at Daytona twice overall and also raced at Le Mans last year in Ganassi’s new Ford GT program, finishing third in class and setting fastest race lap in the GT Le Mans class.

“I think Scott deserves more credit,” Franchitti told NBC Sports at Autosport International last week.

“He’s bloody impressive in what he’s able to do in an IndyCar and what he’s able to do in any car. He went to Le Mans last year and I believe he was the quickest guy in that particular car.

“He just goes about it with such a low-key approach. He’s not a ‘song and dance merchant’ like Helio [Castroneves] for instance. You can’t deny what he’s done.”

Franchitti ranked Dixon as one of his most capable teammates from his time in racing, praising his ability to make the most of a sub-standard car.

“Having been his teammate I know how bloody good he is and how hard he is to beat,” Franchitti said.

“I would say of all the teammates I’ve had, he’s the one who can make the most out of an average car. Part of my job with working with the Ganassi team is helping him to push him to make the car perfect.

“That was always my side of the desk when we were teammates, I was pushing to make the car absolutely perfect. He taught me that sometimes you’ve just got to hang onto it. I taught him that you’ve got to make the car absolutely as spot on as it can be.

“I still do that with him now more so because that’s my job. I love it when I can help him out a bit. He’s an exceptional, exceptional driver.”

Franchitti compared Dixon to two-time Formula 1 world champion Fernando Alonso, who has also carved a reputation for enjoying remarkable success with an off-the-pace car throughout his career.

“He’s also got that thing with Alonso of never giving up. Every lap he’s relentless and Scott’s that way,” Franchitti said.

“I’ve been on the losing side of that! He just keeps going.

“Another interesting thing about Scott: obviously he’s been very successful and won a lot of championships and made a very good living, and has a very lovely family. But his enthusiasm and his passion for it and his commitment hasn’t dulled at all.

“I spoke to him [a couple] days ago, had a quick chat. He’d dropped the girls off at school, and he’s straight to the gym, every morning. Boom boom.

“He gets in that car and he’s still hungry, he still wants to do the job, he still wants to be the best. It’s pretty impressive.”

Jean Argetsinger, pillar of U.S. road racing, dies at 97

WATKINS GLEN, NY - AUGUST 08:  (EDITOR'S NOTE: Image was processed using digital filters.)  A general view of the track prior to qualifying for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International on August 8, 2015 in Watkins Glen, New York.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) Jean Argetsinger, the matriarch of early American road racing and a leader in the creation of the International Motor Racing Research Center, has died at 97.

Argetsinger died Monday of natural causes at her home in Burdett, New York, according to Glenda Gephart, director of administration and communications for the research center in Watkins Glen. Argetsinger was predeceased by her husband, Cameron, in 2008.

The Argetsingers are credited with the rebirth of road racing in the United States after World War II. In establishing Watkins Glen as one of the most important racing venues in the world, Jean Argetsinger was at the forefront in hospitality, publicity and community involvement. She was a founder of the IMRRC, an archival and research library that’s dedicated to the preservation and sharing of the history of motorsports, all venues and all series worldwide. She served on the IMRRC governing council since the center opened in 1999.

“It was Jean’s vision, quiet determination and relentless pursuit that made it all a reality,” John Saunders, president of International Speedway Corp., said Wednesday. “While her spirit lives on, I truly will miss the first lady of American road racing.”

In the first years of racing in Watkins Glen, Argetsinger was at the side of her husband, welcoming drivers from around the world to parties at her house and putting together race event programs. In 1958, she established the Paddock Club, now known as the Glen Club, as “a civilized retreat for drivers’ wives and visiting celebrities.”

“I never thought racing would be my life. I don’t know much about cars, but I do know about the people who drive them,” Argetsinger said in 1999 when introducing a film documentary about the history of Watkins Glen racing. “When Cameron presented the idea of a road race to SCCA (Sports Car Club of America) at a cocktail party in Indianapolis, a distinguished member of the group put a fatherly arm around my shoulder and said, `Don’t do it. You’ll work hard, and nobody will come.’ ”

The Argetsingers were honored in 2009 with a Watkins Glen International Legend of the Glen Award.

“Jean will be missed by the entire racing industry, as the matriarch of racing at Watkins Glen and for her support of the racing community as a whole,” Watkins Glen International president Michael Printup said. “What Jean and Cameron accomplished in our small town will always be relished.”

Argetsinger, who raised nine children, was a founder of the League of Women Voters of Schuyler County and the Burdett Players theatrical group. She also was an 11-year member of the Watkins Glen Central School District board and led the Watkins Glen Public Library board for 24 years.

The New York State Legislature named Argetsinger a Woman of Distinction in 1999, the first class of honorees. She also was a columnist for The Watkins Review, a local weekly newspaper, and wrote a history of St. Mary’s of the Lake Catholic Church as well as several books on county history.

A funeral Mass will be held Saturday at St. Mary’s of the Lake Catholic Church in Watkins Glen.