Pagenaud leads on another day at IMS where an incident steals headlines

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Speeds dipped slightly from Wednesday on Thursday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, with Simon Pagenaud leading the way in at 228.793 mph in his No. 22 Avaya Team Penske Chevrolet. Pagenaud also had the day’s fastest no-tow speed of 227.628 mph.

The remainder of the top five overall was Wednesday leader Carlos Munoz, then three Chip Ganassi Racing entries driven by Sage Karam, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan.

In the no-tow department, Pagenaud led Dixon, Will Power, Kanaan and Juan Pablo Montoya – all between 227 and 226 mph.

However the story emerging at the end of the day was Josef Newgarden’s accident in the final hour, which while similar to Helio Castroneves’ on Wednesday was not identical.

Pagenaud was asked in the post-practice press conference whether he thought the cars were still safe, to which he immediately said yes.

“These cars are safe. IndyCar is trying to make it safer,” Pagenaud said. “We’re going past 230 mph on corner entry. If you have a crash it’s gonna be a big crash.

“It’s still early days. I can’t comment for Josef’s crash, or for Helio’s crash either. It’s too difficult for me to say. The car seems plenty safe because both drivers were OK.”

He did have a one-liner about his Team Penske teammate, though.

“I knew Helio was OK because the first thing he did (after the crash), he adjusted his hair in his suit.”

Speeds from Thursday are below. Note James Hinchcliffe sampled Conor Daly’s No. 43 Smithfield Foods Honda for a bit, Tristan Vautier did his first laps in the No. 19 Dale Coyne Racing Honda, as did 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion Buddy Lazier in the No. 91 Wynn Lazier Racing Partners Chevrolet.

Simona de Silvestro returned to the track in her No. 29 TE Connectivity Honda while Pippa Mann was the only driver not to take part in Thursday’s running, as her Coyne crew repaired her No. 63 Susan G. Komen Honda.

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Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds