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.

Bourdais cleared to drive; return date still TBA

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Sebastien Bourdais was in Indianapolis on Tuesday and for good reason – not even three months after his devastating accident in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, he received medical clearance that he is cleared to return to racing action.

Bourdais posted late Tuesday night he’d had his final appointment with his doctor and has been cleared to return to action. He’d targeted mid-August as the date to get this clearance, and this lives up to that target. He sustained pelvic and hip fractures in the accident in qualifying.

The Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT team welcomed Bourdais back to the Indianapolis shop on Woodland Drive on Tuesday, in anticipation for what would be Bourdais’ return to sports car competition at the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale, Motul Petit Le Mans, Oct. 5-7.

As for his day job, back in the No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, the team is yet to reveal when Bourdais will be back racing. Bourdais has set Watkins Glen as a target on Labor Day weekend, following the next two races on ovals at Pocono Raceway (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) and Gateway Motorsports Park.

Provided the Coyne team can get through these two oval races cleanly with the rookie pair of Esteban Gutierrez and Ed Jones, that would increase the likelihood of a Bourdais return at Watkins Glen.

Bourdais tested at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the Monday after that race, which was a huge step towards his formal comeback. He spoke to NBCSN contributor Robin Miller during the Honda Indy 200 race telecast.

Montoya refreshed for full year with Penske, Acura after ‘weird’ 2017

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If the worst kept secret in racing the last several months was that Team Penske was running a sports car program with Acura, the second worst kept secret was that Juan Pablo Montoya would be one of its drivers.

With today’s announcement however, the 41-year-old Colombian can now officially talk about his new full-time ride.

Montoya’s been renowned for his career versatility and winning in IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula 1. And now, how he’ll be back in action after an abnormal 2017 season where he’s tested two generations of IndyCars, will have tested two entirely different types of sports cars, raced an IndyCar twice for Team Penske in May at Indianapolis, won the Race of Champions in January, and spent some quality time karting in Europe with son Sebastian, who is beginning to blossom on that front.

It all adds up to a wild year of Juan Pablo that has been part slow, part flat out depending on the month.

“It’s been weird because at the beginning of the year, it was actually really calm until Indy,” Montoya said. “We had a little testing here or there, but it wasn’t much.

“Then two months with Indy and then kart racing in Europe. Since then it’s been non‑stop. I think the next three, four months are going to be non‑stop.

“But I don’t mind that. I really don’t mind. Doing the testing for the IndyCar has been a lot of fun for the ’18 IndyCar.  There’s no pressure. Just go there, you know, drive the wheels out of it with no compromise. That makes it fun.”

Montoya’s three days of testing in that car at Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio and Iowa have been an excellent case study in “JPM unleashed.”

Without the restrictions, as noted, his trademark unreal car control has been on display as he’s been able to push the car – in only its base setup – through all the items the INDYCAR officials want to see. Being able to drive at least seven or eight mph faster on a straight at Mid-Ohio already speaks to a good development path.

It’s a cool place for Montoya to be in, leaving a legacy as one of two test drivers for the new car. And he’ll get that same opportunity within the Penske Acura program, because he’ll have a chance to work alongside one of racing’s most experienced 28-year-olds, in Dane Cameron.

Cameron’s already raced in all four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes and has won titles in two of them (Prototype, GT Daytona), while having driven a variety of cars ranging from this year’s Cadillac DPi-V.R to the previous generation Corvette DP, the BMW Z4 GT3 he won the GTD title with in 2014, a Risi Ferrari F458 Italia (the same team Montoya tested with this spring at Sebring) and more.

That makes Cameron a natural teammate with Montoya in more ways than one; he’s excelled across a variety of cars and series at a young age. Montoya was a CART and Indianapolis 500 champion at 24, an F1 race winner by 26 and a NASCAR Cup race winner by 32.

“I think it’s very exciting for me because Dane is a young guy, is a guy that has run the series, understands the series. I think he has a lot of knowledge,” Montoya explained.

“I’ve been driving all kinds of cars. As you know, I’ve driven everything. I’ve been successful in everything.  I’m excited to bring something to the table, and at the same time as a driver, find something new, learn new things.

“I think we can work together really well and hopefully bring a ton of victories.”

Montoya will handle the bulk of the Acura ARX-05’s initial testing as Cameron won’t be available until after his current contract with Action Express Racing in its No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac ends mid-October, following Petit Le Mans.

Penske Racing president Tim Cindric is optimistic the Penske Acura program, which he expects will see a combination of he, Kyle Moyer and Jeff Swartwout overseeing portions if not all of it, will be on track by the end of the month following the ARX-05’s formal reveal at The Quail in Monterey later this week.

While Montoya would still be a natural to run an extra Team Penske IndyCar at the Indianapolis 500 next year provided the opportunity is there – he said “I would say yes in a heartbeat” to that – he said the sports car focus will be top of mind as he returns to full-time action in what will be a deep championship.

“I think it would be a fun car. From what everybody says, it has a ton of grip,” he said. “I always enjoyed driving the (old) Daytona Prototypes because you could throw them around a lot.  These cars seem to have a lot more downforce and a lot more power, so I’m excited. I just don’t know what to expect.

“I think it’s going to be a lot better and a lot quicker than what I’m thinking.”

John Andretti begins new round of chemotherapy treatment

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John Andretti has started another round of chemotherapy.

The former NASCAR and IndyCar driver used Twitter on Monday to provide an update on his fight against colon cancer: “Same cocktail with an added twist. Only 3 months to go.”

The 54-year-old Andretti made his diagnosis public in early May and has relied on social media to keep fans abreast of his condition.

In late June, he Tweeted that doctors found that his spleen and gall bladder were cancer free. Andretti continues to encourage others to get preventative screenings.

Andretti started 49 consecutive IndyCar races from 1990-92 before moving to NASCAR, where he made 29 or more starts every year from 1994-2003. He was the first driver to attempt the Memorial Day double.

More AP auto racing: http://www.racing.ap.org

Montoya, Cameron confirmed in first Penske Acura DPi

Montoya (Photo: IndyCar) and Cameron (Photo courtesy of IMSA)
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Juan Pablo Montoya and Dane Cameron will share one of the two Team Penske and Acura Motorsports Acura ARX-05 entries, combining one of this generation’s greatest drivers and one of this generation’s rising talents, in the 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season.

Montoya has long been expected as a shoe-in and Cameron’s name has been top of mind for months to fill one of the Team Penske seats.

“We worked together with our partners at Acura Motorsports and Honda Performance Development (HPD) to bring together drivers that we believe will help develop our program and compete for race wins right out of the gate while also serving as great ambassadors for their brands,” said Roger Penske. “Having Juan and Dane join our program brings together two drivers that have extensive sports car racing experience in the prototype class and have already won at the top levels of the sport. This represents a great beginning to our program for 2018.”

Cameron will shift from Action Express Racing, where he won last year’s IMSA Prototype championship co-driving with Eric Curran in the No. 31 Whelen Engineering Corvette DP. Success has been harder to come by in their title defense year aboard the new No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac DPi-V.R.

“Getting a chance to race for Team Penske is like a dream come true for a driver,” said Cameron. “To see all of the effort and resources that Acura Motorsports is putting into this new program to develop and win with the ARX-05, it’s really impressive. I’m so excited for the opportunity to become part of the team and work with a guy who has done all the things Juan has done. It’s going to be an awesome experience to add my name to the list of drivers that have driven for Team Penske. I’m looking forward to a busy off season and coming out of the gates strong at Daytona.”

For Montoya, meanwhile, this marks a return to full-time competition after a year racing in the month of May with Team Penske at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and then testing the 2018 Dallara universal aero kit IndyCar.

“I have really enjoyed working with Roger and Team Penske over the last four years,” said Montoya. “When Roger asked if I’d like to be part of starting this new sports car operation with Acura, it was an easy decision. I’ve always loved racing sports cars. It’s definitely a challenge and it’s going to be a lot of fun to develop a new car with Acura. I’m excited to start the testing of the ARX-05 next week. Team Penske started its winning tradition in sports cars and it’s going to be cool to be a part of a new chapter with the team.”