INDIANAPOLIS – Insomnia has a way of producing thoughts that keep you awake, with your mind stirring, asking so many questions.
And for a day that has no official meaning in the record books – qualifying speeds from the first of two days to set the grid for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil get wiped out – Saturday produced an overflow of emotions, thoughts and queries.
Which, are then produced below:
- Sebastien Bourdais’ shocking crash, from the contrast of the vicious violence of the impact to the immediate outpouring of support from the racing community became the top story of the day. While standing among others in the media bullpen outside victory lane, the impact with the Turn 2 wall occurred with such violent, loud force it was if a bomb exploded. And there is no worse sound at a racetrack than the absence of sound. The inane questions the drivers have answered a thousand times over, the shriek of fans behind clamoring for autographs and the soft allure of the 2.2L V6 turbocharged engines on track behind us are what is normal. Silence is not. Yet in that same moment you are forced to compartmentalize whatever your personal emotions may be about the driver and his or her injury status and press on with the task ahead.
It was in that moment that the overkill of Fernando Alonso hype, attention and coverage was eclipsed – as anyone who comes here is – by the history and story telling of the 100-plus year old lady that is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Alonso was due up in the queue after a couple others, but while he was proceeding with the interviews, the accident occurred. The questions continued, but the care seemed to stop. Indy has a way of determining the story lines more than the drivers itself. The drivers are merely the actors; IMS is the director. IMS reminded us that while one legend was making his arrival on these shores, we instead needed to be paying attention to the legend who does his work here on a regular basis. “Definitely I was doing the interviews when the crash happened. I need to see more precise what happened. It seems the car went loose into one, he lost control unfortunately,” Alonso said.
- Bourdais’ crash then produced the afterwards overflow of emotions, and questions. Thanks, it must be said, have to go to the HANS device, SAFER barrier and chassis structure of the base Dallara DW12, all of which prevented worse injuries. Big thanks must also go to the Holmatro Safety Team and IMS safety team, which were on site almost immediately.
- But question-wise though, the first and most obvious one was asking what his status was. And from time of impact through to his medical update hours later, that was the only one. The fallout from there includes the question of how does team owner Dale Coyne and his dedicated crew press ahead, needing to build up yet another car after two sleepless weeks prepping the road and street car after a first lap crash in Phoenix. Who drives it? How fast can Bourdais recover? Will there be an impact on Bourdais’ sports car commitments? These are the questions that take time to answer, but while they exist in the present, they must not supercede the life angle.
- Bourdais is a husband to wife Claire, father of two and a philanthropist, besides being a damn good race car driver. His integration into the St. Petersburg community has been a story so good and better chronicled of late; his and Patrick Long’s work in putting together the Kart4Kids Pro-Am in the spring helps raise tens of thousands of dollars for Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital, which raises money for children’s medical needs. Being there for his family and the community drives him just as much, if not more so, than what he does on track.
At 38, Bourdais is at an age that is eerily similar to where Dan Wheldon and Justin Wilson both were, in similar family situations to where Wheldon (33) and Wilson (37) lost their lives. Does a crash such as this one push Bourdais, when he recovers, out of IndyCar full-time down the road? Or will it only fuel his motivation to keep going even better and stronger? He’s accomplished all he’s ever needed to in IndyCar and he’s a Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans winner in sports cars. But he’s had a weird year in terms of accidents. It’s worth noting he told me after Long Beach he had to duck his head off the start of that race to avoid getting hit in the head with debris. He got caught up after Mikhail Aleshin lost control on the first lap at Phoenix. The St. Petersburg last-to-first win notwithstanding, Bourdais’ luck – and fortune – has ebbed and flowed this year.
- From an Indy race scenario standpoint, Bourdais’ accident reminded me a bit of James Hinchcliffe’s, which I hate writing because I’m sick of that story line, but it does fit here. Recall Hinchcliffe, like Bourdais, had an early season win in 2015 that he probably had no business winning – in the rain-drenched NOLA disaster – before his massive Turn 3 accident in practice at similar, 200-plus mph. The accident occurs before Indy. It will probably sideline Bourdais for a similar (but we hope shorter) amount of time. This was a weird parallel that hit me like a ton of bricks hours later last evening.
- The Bourdais crash overshadowed other moments of potential danger that could have emerged in qualifying, but didn’t, which in no particular order include the following:
Zach Veach’s crash on Friday in the last 20 minutes of practice was certainly annoying for both driver and team, but as it turned out after Bourdais’ crash yesterday, could have been a lot worse. Veach told me several drivers reached out to him to tell him that his first save of the car at 220-plus after hitting a bump likely prevented him from turning right into the wall directly on his own unabated, and that his hand speed was unlike anything they’ve ever seen. It’s a testament to Veach’s tireless fitness and training regimen that while he may have wrecked a car, he didn’t wreck himself in the process, and got some plaudits from the paddock for doing so.
Spencer Pigot’s faith and determination in his Juncos Racing team was rewarded as he made the team’s first ever IndyCar qualifying run, a four-lapper at Indy, with a car that hadn’t turned an install lap after the crew worked and stayed through the night – including team owner Ricardo Juncos and wife Danielle – following his accident Friday. Pigot, in typical even keel form, took it all in stride. “It was a big effort from the guys. They worked all night. I have to thank them for all their hard work. That was our first time on track; basically our install check. Yeah, it was good. It wasn’t very difficult with that amount of downforce. It was just nice to make sure it was assembled tight,” said the talented 23-year-old, who’s supported by Rising Star Racing.
- Jack Harvey’s confidence to ensure his Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport car was secure in its preparation to complete four super solid, consistent laps, all within one tenth of a mph. After various issues and a steering issue led to a slight bit of wall contact on Monday, then an engine failure on Friday, seeing Harvey have a trouble-free Saturday was a welcome sign of relief.
- Elsewhere, defending Indianapolis 500 champion Alexander Rossi’s mental strength was on display, as the first person to go out after Bourdais’ crash, and after waiting in the car. How fast Rossi went after sitting there, waiting, speaks volumes.
- Ed Carpenter and JR Hildebrand were legit, and despite Carpenter being asked about why they chose the downforce they did, Carpenter knows how to play the game about not revealing any hints.
Rookie Ed Jones had been the surprise of the day prior to his teammate’s accident. It still was quite impressive to see from the Dubai-based Brit nearly making the Fast Nine shootout.
- Interesting timing tidbits: Chip Ganassi Racing, with Honda: 3rd (Scott Dixon), 8th (Tony Kanaan), 11th (Charlie Kimball) and 12th (Max Chilton). Team Penske, with Chevrolet: 6th (Will Power), 14th (Helio Castroneves), 17th (Josef Newgarden), 18th (Juan Pablo Montoya) and 20th (Simon Pagenaud). On a normal day this would have been a bigger story. Saturday, it was not.
So what happens Sunday? We shall find out in a matter of hours.