IndyCar Notes: Friday morning at Detroit

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I caught up with a number of drivers at Thursday’s Verizon IndyCar Series media availability at a media lunch in Detroit, ahead of the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit Presented by Quicken Loans.

Some news and notes to follow:

  • Will Power in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet was relieved, despite a penalty mid-race, to still end P8 in the Indianapolis 500. “Considering it’s double points, thank God I finished eighth,” he said.
  • Power reiterated his frustration with double points, adding he prefers the doubleheader format. “The good thing about them is that you’ve got another shot,” he explained. “Double points to me is way off. It spreads the championship out, now Dixon is 140 back, it’s insane. Where a doubleheader, at least you can come back the next day if you have a bad day.”
  • Juan Pablo Montoya continues to get more comfortable with Firestone’s red alternate tires, and reckoned he had a shot for his first pole of the season during qualifying for the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. “I felt like in the Grand Prix I had a shot at the pole to be honest,” he said. “I was fastest in my group, but we didn’t put any downforce on later and paid the price.” Montoya qualified on pole in both of his two prior Detroit appearances, on this course configuration, in 1999 and 2000.
  • Ed Carpenter and Mike Conway are stuck in a rut until Iowa, July 12, in terms of their pit positioning in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet. Because a rule in the Verizon IndyCar Series rulebook states that any driver change ahead of the weekend requires the team to go to the back of pit lane, Conway will be at the back here in Detroit (2 races), then Carpenter will be at Texas, Conway at Houston (2 races) and Carpenter at Pocono. Carpenter told me it’s unfortunate given they’ve had their lineup planned, but he’s unsure whether INDYCAR will be able to do anything about it.
  • Although he won’t be racing at Le Mans, Conway will head to the UK on Monday before heading to Le Mans a week later where he’ll be on hand in support of the Toyota Racing team. Conway is the team’s reserve driver.
  • Conway, and fellow defending race winner Simon Pagenaud, both have had extended media work to do this week ahead of the Grand Prix weekend. “It’s a nice boost,” said Conway, who a year ago only found out on the Tuesday he’d be driving the unheralded No. 18 Dale Coyne Racing Honda and then promptly stomped the field in Race 1 of the doubleheader weekend.

Hartley happy with ‘big progression’ on first day with Toro Rosso

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With 69 laps completed (28 in free practice one and 41 in free practice two) and respectable lap times in both sessions, Brendon Hartley quickly acclimated to a modern day Formula 1 chassis in his first run with Scuderia Toro Rosso in Friday practice for the United States Grand Prix.

The Porsche factory driver has been drafted into the team following a convoluted series of musical chairs that sees Daniil Kvyat back after a two-race absence, Carlos Sainz Jr. now at Renault and Pierre Gasly racing at the Super Formula season finale in Suzuka.

Over the time in the car today, Hartley experienced changeable conditions in FP1 before a more normal FP2, and discovered the new F1 cockpit after a day learning in the garage yesterday.

“A steep learning curve today! It all went pretty smoothly and I kept the car on track without making too many mistakes, so I’m quite happy,” the New Zealander reflected at day’s end.

“I didn’t really know what to expect from today because I just had so much to learn! I think I made quite a big progression throughout the day.

“The biggest difference from what I’m used to is the high-speed grip, it’s incredible here in Formula 1…it was quite an eye-opener! Another challenge are the tires, which are also quite different to what I’m used to. On the other hand, the long-run looks quite positive and I did a good job managing the tires there – the biggest thing I need to work on now is the new tire pace, and I’ll get another crack at it tomorrow morning before qualifying.

“All in all, I’d say it’s all coming together. We’ll now work hard and go through plenty of data tonight and hopefully I’ll make another step forward tomorrow.”

His best lap was 1.1 seconds up on Friday driver Sean Gelael, the Indonesian Formula 2 driver, in FP1 (1:39.267 to 1:40.406, good enough for 14th) and 1.1 seconds off the returning Kvyat in FP2 (1:37.987 to 1:36.761, good enough for 17th). Interestingly, the Gelael/Hartley combination in FP1 marked the second time in three races that Toro Rosso had a pair of drivers in its cars without a single Grand Prix start between them – Gasly’s debut at Malaysia was the other, when he and Gelael were in in FP1.

Coming into Friday’s running, Hartley said he was more ready for this opportunity now than he had been as a teenager. He admitted he’d called Red Bull’s Helmut Marko in the wake of Porsche’s LMP1 withdrawal news earlier this year to say he was game for any chance that might come.

“I’m a lot stronger than I was back then, basically. I wasn’t ready at 18 years old. I like to think I’m ready now,” he said.

“I haven’t driven a single-seater since 2012, but I like to think that Porsche LMP1 has hopefully prepared me well.”

As for the rest of his weekend, it’s been made more complicated by Hartley being assessed a 25-spot grid penalty, even though Hartley had done nothing to accrue the penalties.

The roundabout sequence of driver changes at Toro Rosso saw Gasly replace Kvyat, Kvyat replace Sainz, and now Hartley replace Gasly, as is outlined by NBCSN pit reporter Will Buxton below.