Zach Veach

Alonso (29) and Montoya (22) headline Indy one-off drivers. Photo: IndyCar

Different goals, objectives set for 2017’s Indy 500 extra drivers

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This year more than any other in the last four or five years, there are more Indianapolis-only entries than normal as the full-season field is only 21 cars, leaving more than a third of the field for the Indianapolis 500 comprised of likely single-race entries. Once Sebastien Bourdais was hurt, it provided an opportunity in one of those cars as well.

Within these 13 drivers, there’s two past Indianapolis 500 champions (Juan Pablo Montoya, Buddy Lazier), three of the four rookies including that one (Fernando Alonso, Jack Harvey, Zach Veach), the eternally savvy Oriol Servia, fan favorite Pippa Mann, young guns Spencer Pigot, Gabby Chaves and Sage Karam, and the driver making a comeback after six years in Jay Howard. And then, there was James Davison who got the call as Bourdais’ injury replacement.

All of them have different goals and objectives for this year’s race, given their respective team scenarios.

Here’s a look at the dozen drivers who are competing either part-time this year or only at Indianapolis who look to play spoiler on Sunday. The best speeds for all except Davison were done with qualifying level boost (he only drove on Monday) and the lap counts are totaled prior to Friday’s Carb Day activity.

Rolling into Indy has got Fernando Alonso like… Photo: IndyCar

29-Fernando Alonso
McLaren-Honda-Andretti Honda
Engineer: Eric Bretzman
Strategist: Michael Andretti
Best Speed this month: 231.827 (5th)
Total Laps: 452
Starts: 5th (231.300)
Indy 500 Record: Rookie

The man who has dominated the headlines this month since his shock announcement, Alonso’s taken to the Brickyard rather well in all phases. On paper for the race, he’s well positioned because he has been provided an all-star crew around him for a one-off entry. In Bretzman, he has the engineer who guided Scott Dixon to most of his career success; in Michael Andretti, he has a guy calling his race who is renowned for his calls; in Gil de Ferran, he has Andretti’s answer to Rick Mears (Penske) and Dario Franchitti (Ganassi) as an Indianapolis driving sherpa of sorts.

Yet it will be things such as the rolling start, being in the middle of a three-wide launch, coming in for yellow flag pit stops, and aggression on restarts that will define his race. Quoting the old axiom, practice and qualifying is one thing, but how Alonso handles the magic – and the pressure – that comes with race day is his ultimate test, and the primary reason he signed up for this odyssey in the first place.

Photo: IndyCar

16-Oriol Servia
Manitowoc Honda
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing
Engineer: Tom German
Strategist: Tom German
Best Speed This Month: 230.997 (17th)
Laps: 271
Starts: 12th (230.309)
Indy 500 Record: 4th (2012) best finish in 8 prior starts

It seems we write this every year, but Servia is the safest and most consistent bet among the one-off entries. Yet in recent years, he hasn’t had a result to show for it. Servia enters this year with the defending race-winning engineer in Tom German, and the team enters with the determination of bouncing back after a miserable month of May last year and a rough start to 2017. Other than an engine failure on Monday, it’s been a typically smooth, under-the-radar month from the Catalan, who will be one to watch Sunday in his 200th career race start.

Photo: IndyCar

22-Juan Pablo Montoya
Fitzgerald Glider Kits Team Penske Chevrolet
Team Penske
Engineer: Raul Prados
Strategist: Ron Ruzewski
Best Speed This Month: 231.682 (7th)
Total Laps: 216
Starts: 18th (229.565)
Indy 500 Record: 2 wins (2000, 2015) from 4 prior starts

Going into the month, JPM was arguably the best positioned of the one-off entries, as this was announced late in 2016, with a driver who has nothing to lose in now his second start of the year. Additionally, unlike in each of the past three years, there were not multiple extra entries in the INDYCAR Grand Prix – this year, Montoya was the only extra car entered. That gave his crew a leg up among the other one-off crews, having had one extra race to get ready for Indy. While the usual “Penske perfect” and “effort equals results” mantras haven’t yet produced big results, it’d be a shock if Penske – and JPM – aren’t better on race day in traffic.

Photo: IndyCar

77-Jay Howard
Lucas Oil/Team One Cure Honda
Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with Team One Cure
Engineer: Chris Finch
Strategist: Chris Finch
Best Speed this month: 231.255 (11th)
Laps: 349
Starts: 20th (229.414)
Indy 500 Record: 30th (2011) best finish in 1 prior start

For Howard, coming back to the Speedway has gone respectably well to this point. SPM has again prepared a decent third car and Howard, despite being out of the game for six years, has reacclimatized better than perhaps anticipated. He’s a longshot, but has impressed with both speed and patience to this point. Quite possibly, his first career IndyCar top-10 is an achievable result in the car that features Team One Cure support, and NASCAR and IndyCar legend Tony Stewart as part of the entry.

Photo: IndyCar

24-Sage Karam
DRR Mecum Auctions Chevrolet
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing
Engineer: Jeff Britton
Strategist: Dennis Reinbold
Best Speed this month: 230.134 (In Qualifying; Best Practice 228.159, 27th)
Total Laps: 317
Starts: 21st (229.380)
Indy 500 Record: 9th (2014) best finish in 3 prior starts

Perhaps the most polarizing driver in the field who could be IndyCar’s version of Roy McAvoy, “Tin Cup,” Karam boasts the combination of brash fearlessness, pure speed, and determination that often produces either big results or big repair bills. In 2014 he was lucky to get away with a spin on Carb Day without damage, then promptly starred in the pit stop competition and stormed from 31st to ninth in the race. He should have been at least co-rookie of the year, if not outright. But a devastating first lap crash followed in 2015 in a full Chip Ganassi Racing entry, and last year out of the spotlight back at DRR he carved from 23rd to fourth before colliding with another car and crashing out again. The team has opted to focus on race trim this year and Karam’s car appears a rocket in traffic. He’s more relaxed now, yet behind the wheel is so much fun to watch because of his unquestioned tenacity.

Al Unser Jr. and Gabby Chaves. Photo: IndyCar

88-Gabby Chaves
Harding Racing Chevrolet
Engineer: Matt Curry
Strategist: Larry Curry
Best Speed this month: 229.033 (26th)
Total Laps: 322
Starts: 25th (226.921)
Indy 500 Record: 16th (2015) best finish in 2 prior starts

Chaves has a great chance this year that he didn’t quite have last year. Whereas last year he was dumped from a ride he thought he had a fortnight before the season opener and was left scrambling to put a deal together for May with Dale Coyne Racing, Chaves has been working on this program for months and is the focal point around a new team that seems to have greater ambitions beyond just this May. Armed with a crew that includes team manager/competition director Larry Curry and son Matt Curry as engineer and two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Al Unser Jr. as team driving instructor, the sky is the limit here. As Harding is one of several teams making its Indianapolis 500 debut, finishing in one piece is the main goal but with nothing to lose. Chaves is a sneaky good, clean driver who will look to re-establish himself as a force within this series.

Photo: IndyCar

50-Jack Harvey
Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda
Engineer: Zach Eakin
Strategist: Tim Keene
Best Speed this month: 231.433
Total Laps: 379
Starts: 27th (225.742)
Indy 500 Record: Rookie

Andretti’s “other rookie” has his own point to prove after a month where he has had nearly all but the kitchen sink thrown at him with contact, engine failure, and an almost-crash in qualifying he got away with. Harvey’s got a past win on his resume at Indianapolis, with the Freedom 100 victory in 2015, and he knows enough now from the drafting practice he’s had to get comfortable in an IndyCar. Paired with Indy debutantes Shank, the Englishman’s big question is whether he’s race rusty, having not raced anything since his final start in Indy Lights in September 2015, and not having been in an oval race since Iowa in July of the same year. If Alonso is Andretti’s Kurt Busch, that would make Harvey hope to be Andretti’s Alexander Rossi – or at the very minimum, a Carlos Munoz – at Indianapolis.

Photo: IndyCar

63-Pippa Mann
Susan G. Komen Honda
Dale Coyne Racing
Engineer: Rob Ridgely
Strategist: Rob Ridgely
Best Speed This Month: 230.103 (25th)
Total Laps: 247
Starts: 28th (225.008)
Indy 500 Record: 18th (2016) best finish in 5 prior starts

Mann’s sustained Indianapolis 500 presence owes to her tireless work ethic year-round to make opportunities happen. Her fifth straight run with Coyne was set to feature no in-month changes in the driver lineup, but following Sebastien Bourdais’ accident it saw the lead car’s switch. Fortunately for Mann, she’s paired with an engineer she knows and works with well in Ridgely. It’s not been the easiest of months for her but as a consistent 500-mile race finisher in recent years, doing so again will be her now-annual typically solid performance.

Photo: IndyCar

11-Spencer Pigot
Oceanfront Recovery Chevrolet
Juncos Racing
Engineer: Steve Newey
Strategist: Tom Brown
Best Speed This Month: 226.140 (32ndd)
Total Laps: 246
Starts: 29th (224.052)
Indy 500 Record: 25th (2016) best finish in 1 prior start

Pigot’s Indianapolis 500 slot in 2017 wasn’t meant to be here but winds up here nonetheless in a fortuitous, last minute reunion. The thinking when he signed on again to be Ed Carpenter Racing’s road and street course driver for a second straight year was that Carpenter would run him in an extra car for the Indianapolis 500, as the team did for JR Hildebrand the last three years. But it was not to be, with Carpenter citing budgetary restrictions. Pigot, however, will get a one-off reunion with Ricardo Juncos as the two will now be on the grid together for Juncos’ IndyCar debut. Pigot won two straight championships with Juncos on the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires, Pro Mazda in 2014 followed by Indy Lights in 2015, but winning is far from the goal this race. For Juncos, simply staying out of trouble will be key in its IndyCar race debut, and in Pigot, he has a usually safe pair of hands.

Photo: IndyCar

44-Buddy Lazier
Lazier Racing-Stalk It-Tivoli Chevrolet
Lazier Racing Partners
Engineer: Mitch Davis
Strategist: Mitch Davis
Best Speed This Month: 225.198 (33rd)
Total Laps: 85
Starts: 30th (223.417)
Indy 500 Record: 1 wins (1996) from 19 prior starts

The now-annual story of Buddy Lazier’s family-run, shoestring budget, Indianapolis 500-only entry rolls on for a fifth straight year. This makes him both a throwback and the last link to a past generation, which is fun to write about. The 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion is racing against 12 drivers who were born in the 1990s in this year’s field. Lazier is yet to finish a race since this team began in 2013, with early retirements in 2013 and 2014 before last year’s pre-race failure to start then ceding to a loose tire while running dozens of laps down in the final 40 laps, setting up a caution that produced Alexander Rossi’s magical run to the flag. It shouldn’t be as simple as setting the goal of finishing the race, but for the likable, still fit, now-49-year-old, that’s about the only realistic goal he and this small, Vail, Col.-based team can hope to achieve, with anything beyond that a bonus.

Photo: IndyCar

17-Sebastian Saavedra
AFS Chevrolet
Juncos Racing
Engineer: David Cripps
Strategist: David Cripps
Best Speed This Month: 227.889 (29th)
Total Laps: 236
Starts: 31st (221.142)
Indy 500 Record: 15th (2014) best finish in 5 prior starts

The likable Colombian with the spiky hair makes his sixth Indianapolis 500 start, with series debutantes Juncos joining Ganassi, KV, Dragon, Andretti and Herta as teams Saavedra has raced the ‘500 with – and this doesn’t include Conquest, with whom he failed to qualify in 2011. The Herta parallel is an interesting one because that was a debut team as well. Saavedra is race experienced and as such will draw on that for a safe 500 miles of running.

Photo: IndyCar

40-Zach Veach
Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim Chevrolet
AJ Foyt Racing
Engineer: Andy Brown
Strategist: Andy O’Gara
Best Speed this month: 227.082 (31st)
Total Laps: 293
Starts: 32nd (221.081)
Indy 500 Record: Rookie

Veach enters with an unexpected extra race under his belt thanks to his fill-in role for JR Hildebrand at Barber, but while that taught him pit stop practice and got him race ready, Barber and Indy could not be further apart as race tracks. And unfortunately, the same is true for these two events for how Veach has gone. After impressing at Barber, it’s been a tough month for the 22-year-old from Stockdale, Ohio with a heavy pre-qualifying crash in practice providing a setback. Veach never starred in the Freedom 100; he made a mistake with a potential winning car here last year with Belardi Auto Racing and had two midfield finishes prior to that with Andretti Autosport. Realistically, a solid top-20 finish would be an excellent result for him, working with veteran engineer Andy Brown and Josef Newgarden’s old strategist, Andy O’Gara.

Photo: IndyCar

18-James Davison
GEICO Honda
Dale Coyne Racing
Engineers: Craig Hampson/Olivier Boisson
Strategist: Darren Crouser
Best Speed This Month: 223.670 (34th)
Total Laps: 88
Starts: 33rd (No Speed)
Indy 500 Record: 16th (2014) best finish in 2 prior starts

In a last-minute call-up under less than ideal circumstances, Davison will make his third Indianapolis 500 start for Coyne. Davison’s been full-time in sports cars the last several seasons, but doesn’t have a full-time opportunity this year. If he can stay out of trouble both he and his car have enough speed to move up the order.

Recent MRTI grads comprise significant chunk of Indy 500 field

Ed Jones is a dark horse on Sunday. Photo: IndyCar
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INDIANAPOLIS – With the current crop of established veteran Verizon IndyCar Series drivers in their early 30s to early 40s, it’s worth asking when the next generation of drivers will properly emerge in a “changing of the guard.”

It took time for IndyCar to move on from the Andretti, Unser, Rahal, Foyt, Mears, Fittipaldi, Sullivan and more group of names, as most retired into the 1990s. In their place have come the Castroneves, Kanaan, Montoya, Dixon, Power, Hunter-Reay, Bourdais and Pagenauds of the world, having debuted between the late 1990s and mid-2000s.

There’s a distinct feel this Indianapolis 500 though that the next verge of talent is on the horizon, if not this year then in the next two to three years to come.

The Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires presence in this year’s Indianapolis 500 is deep and detailed. Some 14 of the 33 drivers have raced in the series since its formal 2010 introduction, and others have raced in previous American open-wheel ladder championships (namely Formula Atlantic or Indy Lights in its prior iteration) and 24 Mazda Road to Indy alumni in the field all told.

It might, in fact, be easier to count the drivers racing Sunday who don’t have any North American open-wheel ladder experience.

It’s the recent grads though who have a good chance in this race, which for the moment is their only confirmed race of 2017, who otherwise have nothing to lose.

Five of the last six Indy Lights champions are in the field, dating to 2011. Josef Newgarden and Ed Jones are the two full-time drivers, Spencer Pigot races most events as road/street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing while he’s since switched to Juncos Racing for this race only, while past teammates and back-to-back champions Sage Karam and Gabby Chaves are looking to re-establish themselves as full-time IndyCar competitors after only having parts of one full season.

The others who’ve raced in the Road to Indy and graduated from 2010 to 2016 and are in this year’s field include two rookies, Zach Veach and Jack Harvey, A.J. Foyt Enterprises teammates Conor Daly and Carlos Munoz, several-time IndyCar race winner James Hinchcliffe, Ganassi’s Max Chilton and Charlie Kimball, Juncos’ Sebastian Saavedra, and Dale Coyne Racing’s Pippa Mann.

This list doesn’t include two other notables in Matthew Brabham and RC Enerson, who impressed in limited 2016 IndyCar starts, but aren’t in this year’s Indianapolis 500 owing to lack of finances, not lack of talent.

ED JONES AND COYNE LEAD THE WAY FROM P11

It’s been Jones who’s been the underrated, and under-appreciated, star of the month. The Dubai-based Brit may be this year’s only full-season rookie, but has been impressive from the off at Dale Coyne Racing. With several laps turned over 230 mph and both pace and patience in traffic, the defending Indy Lights champion and Mazda scholarship recipient is arguably the top darkhorse Sunday from P11 in the No. 19 Boy Scouts of America Honda. And it’s not like a rookie started 11th and won last year’s race or anything… (Alexander Rossi did, hence the setup).

Jones flies the flag as IndyCar’s lone full season rookie in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

“I guess the heat made the car a bit more difficult to drive because this morning in practice we rolled out and did four laps and were like ‘let’s park it, that’s the perfect car,'” Jones said after qualifying. “But nonetheless, it was a great job by the guys who made some changes from yesterday. Thanks to the team, Dale, my engineers.

“Obviously, it was a tough day yesterday, but the team spirit is so strong. It’s great to be a part of this team. It’s tough, like they say with racing you’re always up and down. Especially around here, a place where you’ve got to treat it with respect. Any tiny mistake or any small difference can cost you a huge amount. I’m just proud to be representing this team, hopefully we can move further up in the race.”

TWO MRTI LEGACY STARS REUNITE; PIGOT AND JUNCOS BACK TOGETHER

Pigot and Juncos are reunited for Juncos’ Indy debut. Photo: IndyCar

Rising Star Racing-supported driver Pigot, inadvertently, gets his start in this year’s ‘500 with a MRTI graduate team in Juncos Racing, thus completing the journey for Argentine team owner Ricardo Juncos into IndyCar. Rarely, if ever, has a story been written where a driver began with a team in karting and the two grew together simultaneously to where now he’s driving for Juncos in its debut. Despite a crash in practice, the spirit of the Juncos team shone through with a rebuild overnight, and Pigot’s return in qualifying spoke volumes.

“I just got a little loose. I exited Turn 1. It was a shame, because we had a decent run going,” Pigot said. “It might have been high-20s, which from Friday, I would’ve been all right with after that crash. All that matters is we’re in the race, and I was able to save the car there in Turn 1. I’ve got to thank the guys. They’ve worked a lot of long hours to get me back out here.”

“It’s crazy! So 15 years ago, coming from Argentina, in karts and he’s 9 years old,” Juncos reflected. “Now we’re living this dream. Without losing the focus on the task, we need to enjoy this, because it’s a great story of the team, of Spencer, and of both of them together. For whatever reason, it’s happening.”

RECENT INDY LIGHTS CHAMPS, WINNERS LOOK TO MOVE UP FULLY

Chaves (88, 2014) and Hildebrand (21, 2009) are past Indy Lights champs in the field. Photo: IndyCar

Chaves has the most official success in IndyCar among the champions from the last few years. The Colombian American parlayed the 2014 Indy Lights title into both the series and Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year honors in 2015, and might have won at Pocono had it not been for an engine issue driving on a shoestring budget for Bryan Herta Autosport. But financial pitfalls hit before 2016, leaving him scrambling for a ride and then left to watch as Alexander Rossi won the Indy 500.

Now with series debutante Mike Harding, Chaves says this is another great opportunity for him to continue and show he – and the team – belong.

Al Unser Jr. and Gabby Chaves. Photo: IndyCar

“It’s huge… it’s what it’s all about, right?” Chaves said. “It’s about keeping the sport going, getting some new faces in it. There are definitely a lot of guys who can stick around and be here for a while.”

Veach, one of Chaves’ closer friends and fellow IndyCar two-seater driver, makes his Indianapolis 500 debut in a third car for Foyt. The journey’s been harder for him and Harvey, perhaps, as they didn’t win an Indy Lights title and the Mazda advancement scholarship that goes with it. But it hasn’t stopped him from pursuing his dream.

Veach looks to impress in third car for AJ Foyt Racing. Photo: IndyCar

“When I talked to AJ Foyt Racing, one of the first things they mentioned was my drive at Road America last year, when I won with a car that wasn’t handling that great, and my dominant win at Watkins Glen,” Veach explained. “I think that showed them a spark of what I can do and that’s what the Mazda Road to Indy has made easy. You have the confidence to walk up to teams because they’re familiar with your past and your lifestyle.”

Harvey, like Veach, came up just short of an Indy Lights title. Chaves beat him to the 2014 title on a tiebreak and then in 2015, Harvey’s fast start faded down the stretch as Pigot and Jones closed stronger. Nonetheless, he’s happy to be back in a seat after it’s been nearly two years since his last start, in Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport’s car.

Harvey and Shank are rolling through the ups and downs of Indy. Photo: IndyCar

“The ladder we all know rewards winning,” Harvey said. “For people like Zach and I especially, we did everything right to win, but the cards didn’t fall our way. It reflects on us as people, how hard we’ve worked to get here. We’ve kept grinding and got the opportunities we have.”

THE FACTORY SPORTS CAR STAR AND YOUNG CHARGER BACK AGAIN

Karam looks to make the most of his one scheduled 2017 IndyCar start. Photo: IndyCar

Karam won both the USF2000 and Indy Lights titles and has been trying to stick full-time in IndyCar for four years. Now a factory driver for the 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, Indianapolis is always a welcome comeback for the 22-year-old out of Nazareth, who prepares for his fourth ‘500 as the youngest driver in the field, with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

“It feels good to have some races under my belt with Lexus and Scott this year including the Daytona 24, Sebring, Long Beach and COTA,” said Karam. “I feel that doing those races has made me more relaxed behind the wheel coming to Indy. Last year, without some racing before Indy, I thought I got too anxious in the 500 when I was towards the front. I really wanted to lead the race.”

Many of the names mentioned in this piece aren’t household names yet. But they are all drivers in their 20s who have potential staying power for years to come.

Supplanting the veterans isn’t something that comes easily, but given what Josef Newgarden has accomplished with time, breaking into the top-five in points and winning multiple races as he’s into his sixth season now, and has arrived at Team Penske at age 26.

None of the other recent graduates have more than three years experience in IndyCar. But they’re working towards that point, and Sunday’s race provides a great shot where an unheralded name or two emerges on a national stage.

DiZinno: Bourdais crash reminds us of Indy’s danger, story dominance

Bourdais' story took over the Brickyard on Saturday. Photo: IndyCar
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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.
  • Alonso’s story was briefly interrupted Saturday –
    for good reason. Photo: IndyCar

    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.
  • Bourdais has more than racing in his life. Photo: IndyCar

    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:
  • Veach avoided worse disaster on Friday. Photo: IndyCar

    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.

  • Pigot and Juncos fought back on Saturday. Photo: IndyCar

    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.
  • It was almost Ed Jones’ day. Photo: IndyCar

    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.

Indy 500 qualifying day one game plan, outline, notes

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INDIANAPOLIS – Rain is expected to hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway later today, which would push qualifying back during the day schedule or into tomorrow.

Practice is underway for two groups this morning, with a guaranteed 20 minutes of run time confirmed for each group. Because the session was on a slight hold to start, that pushed the scheduled times back a bit.

The groups are separated as follows:

  • Group 1 (8-8:30 a.m.): 63-Pippa Mann, 22-Juan Pablo Montoya, 10-Tony Kanaan, 12-Will Power, 77-Jay Howard, 19-Ed Jones, 3-Helio Castroneves, 24-Sage Karam, 28-Ryan Hunter-Reay, 9-Scott Dixon, 1-Simon Pagenaud, 40-Zach Veach, 5-James Hinchcliffe, 4-Conor Daly, 15-Graham Rahal, 29-Fernando Alonso, 11-Spencer Pigot
  • Group 2 (8:30-9 a.m.): 8-Max Chilton, 83-Charlie Kimball, 18-Sebastien Bourdais, 98-Alexander Rossi, 27-Marco Andretti, 26-Takuma Sato, 2-Josef Newgarden, 17-Sebastian Saavedra, 50-Jack Harvey, 16-Oriol Servia, 44-Buddy Lazier, 20-Ed Carpenter, 14-Carlos Munoz, 7-Mikhail Aleshin, 21-JR Hildebrand, 88-Gabby Chaves

All cars are then eligible to participate from 9 to 9:30 a.m. After that, it goes into qualifying, scheduled from 11 a.m. to 5:50 p.m.

In layman’s terms, the easiest way to explain qualifying is that from the qualifying draw, it goes in order from there by primary cars (very few teams will qualify a backup car) and then it will shift into whether teams go into a line to make a second attempt. So although Sebastian Saavedra’s No. 17T AFS Chevrolet for Juncos Racing has the first draw, second-drawn Pippa Mann in the No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda would be the first primary car to make an attempt.

The Fast Nine is meant to be set on the first day of qualifying. Speeds from today don’t count for anything, except who makes the Fast Nine and who will slot in in spots 10-33 thereafter, as speeds are wiped out.

However, if rain arrives as expected, INDYCAR will provide updates on the qualifying status as they become available.

The qualifying draw is linked below, followed by the infographic that explains how qualifying works.

In other notes from around the paddock yesterday and this morning:

  • Per Trackside Online, Pippa Mann is the first woman to turn a lap at more than 230 mph around IMS. Mann, who’s already set a record as the first and thus far only woman to have a pole here (2010 in Indy Lights, then driving for Sam Schmidt), seeks to make her sixth start in the Indianapolis 500, fifth consecutive with Dale Coyne Racing in the team’s No. 63 Honda. She also turned the cockpit of her car pink yesterday as part of her Get Involved campaign. Mann noted the lap of 230.103 mph was tow-assisted but it was a good step forward for her heading into qualifying.
  • A.J. Foyt Racing team director George Klotz confirmed to NBC Sports that Zach Veach’s No. 40 Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim Chevrolet will not be ready to run until Sunday morning. Repairs were coming together on the car after Veach’s accident in the final 20 minutes of Friday’s running, but with weather coming today and a tight window to shake the rebuilt car down this morning, the decision was taken to run Sunday next at the earliest.
  • As for Juncos Racing, team officials and the crew members worked through the night to repair the No. 11 Oceanfront Recovery Chevrolet for Spencer Pigot after his accident. Although Pigot also wasn’t out this morning, it proved a tireless bit of work and meshing by the Ricardo Juncos-led operation to get the car close to being assembled and back ready to go, ahead of the team’s Verizon IndyCar Series race debut.
  • In a weird note, Pigot and Veach were teammates for Ed Carpenter Racing at Barber three races ago, but now had incidents for other non-Carpenter teams on the same day. With Josef Newgarden having an incident on Thursday for Team Penske, the ex-ECR incident roster is long at the moment, while ECR has fortunately – to this point – avoided a repeat of its heavy crash run in practice in 2015.
  • On Friday, the 51st annual Louis Schwitzer Award has been presented to engineers Don Burgoon, James Borner, Darin Cate, Paul Rankin and Mark Wagner from PFC Brakes for the PFC carbon disc brake system. While PFC’s brakes were a story line at the season-opening St. Petersburg race weekend, the overall consistency and improved performance has shown through in the races since – a credit to the work done by the team led by PFC Director of Motorsports Darrick Dong, who was in attendance on Friday as well.

More to follow later today.

Veach sustains heavy impact exiting Turn 1 near end of Friday practice

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INDIANAPOLIS – Another young driver has found the wall in an IndyCar for the first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

In the final 20 minutes of practice, Zach Veach had a tank-slapper in the No. 40 Indy Women in Tech Championship presented by Guggenheim Chevrolet for AJ Foyt Racing. The 22-year-old rookie out of Stockdale, Ohio got too deep below the white line on corner entry into Turn 1.

Veach corrected it the first time but on a second correction, overcorrected and went into the wall on the right side. His car continued down the short chute and made secondary contact with the SAFER Barrier in Turn 2.

“Not exactly sure at this point,” Veach said. “We were a little nervous. Took some front wing out. Got to middle of one and it just turned. I’ve never had anything that quickly before. Right on exit, something happened and I lost the car. Not sure if twas my own doing or something let go. I hate it for these guys. We have made a lot of progress. We’ve got tomorrow, weather permitting.”

Veach has been checked, released and cleared to drive but his crew faces a long night of repairs ahead of them.