For Pippa Mann, her third start in the Indianapolis 500 is all about maximizing her opportunity and making the most out of her familiar resources.
She’s in a better place now this time than either 2011 or 2013. In 2011, she made the field in a one-off second car for Conquest Racing and hadn’t ever raced an IndyCar.
Last year, 2013, marked her first race in the new Dallara DW12 chassis, and her first IndyCar start since the end of the 2011 season.
But armed with the same engineer as her inaugural run – the talented Brandon Fry – the crew that most recently worked with Muscle Milk Pickett Racing to service her car, and Dale Coyne’s continued commitment to her development, the 2014 run is clearly a night and day difference compared to the other two for Mann.
“I’m so much more comfortable, but it’s not just having the DW12 experience,” she said Thursday during IMS media day. “It’s my second ‘500 in this chassis. It’s returning to the same team. I know the guys. And with a longer engine program, I’ve done full tank and traffic runs, so it all makes me feel so comfortable.
“I feel as comfortable as I have ever been; it’s almost to where I was in the white Indy Lights car,” she added. “I’m confident you’ll see the Susan G. Komen car heading to the front.”
The white Indy Lights car Mann refers to was her No. 11 entry for Sam Schmidt Motorsports in 2010, a year she made history as the first woman ever to win the pole position at Indianapolis, won her first race at Kentucky, and finished fifth in the championship.
Mann’s the only female driver in this year’s field – there have been at least three or four every year from 2010 to 2013 previously – and is working tirelessly to raise awareness for Susan G. Komen and for breast cancer awareness. She’s also fundraising for the effort. More information on that, and donations, can be found on RaceWithPippa.com.
Her time in the spotlight has also increased this year as full-time radio analyst for the IMS Radio Network, alongside Paul Page. The pair have been a refreshing change of pace compared to past years, and for Mann, translating the analyst role to the cockpit gives her a very different view on how to handle her 32 competitors on Sunday.
“It’s a really interesting question,” she explained. “When you’re always planning to be getting back in the car, thinking that way, it definitely affects me. You can’t throw people under the bus, and you have to be as fair as possible. But it helps give me an overview into driving styles, which guys you’d want to be around and not, before you get back out there.”
Get back out there she will this Sunday, starting 22nd. Her Dale Coyne Racing teammates Justin Wilson and rookie Carlos Huertas start 14th and 21st, respectively. Despite a brief balance issue on Monday across the board, Mann’s confident that the DCR engineering staff will correct course and return to the front on Sunday. Realistically, a top-15 finish would be a good goal for Mann to hit.
“We’ve had a very good car in traffic and dirty air thus far,” she said. “Because I’m on a longer engine program, the Susan G. Komen car and I get to play more … it’s been a great learning experience and a lot of fun! We fell just outside of the window on Monday, but between Brandon, Mike Cannon (Wilson’s engineer) and the crew we’ll get it back.”
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.