A welcome, different Firestone Fast Six occurs for 2016 Indy GP

Photo: IndyCar

INDIANAPOLIS – There aren’t too many trends you can pick out in a three-year race, but an abnormal and perhaps welcome, jumbled grid for the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis is one of them.

In 2014, Sebastian Saavedra and Jack Hawksworth were perhaps the perfect front row starters for the inaugural GP race, with no disrespect to either of them. Neither was particularly experienced or highly rated at the time but both maximized the slick, tricky conditions to their benefit.

Frankly, it was weird seeing IndyCar race a road course event for the first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and it was weird seeing two guys who had a combined zero front row starts in IndyCar between them share the front row.

Two years later Saavedra isn’t in a seat although he is here this weekend, and Hawksworth is now in the No. 41 ABC Supply Co. Honda, and only in the Firestone Fast Six for the first time since qualifying third for Detroit race one in 2014, some 32 races ago, after qualifying sixth for Saturday’s race.

“Seems like an eternity since I’ve been in the Fast Six. Nice to be up here again,” he quipped during the Firestone Fast Six press conference.

Hawksworth’s presence in the Fast Six – along with fellow participants Charlie Kimball, James Hinchcliffe, Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal (polesitter Simon Pagenaud came in later, separately) provided a needed spice of life to something that’s become a Penske and Ganassi benefit since the debut of manufacturer aero kits at the start of 2015.

Sure, Pagenaud took Team Penske to the Verizon P1 Award for the team’s fifth in as many races.

But behind him, there were five other teams represented – so a perfect six different teams in six spots, with Kimball (Ganassi), Rahal (RLL), Hinchcliffe (Schmidt Peterson), Newgarden (Carpenter) and Hawksworth (Foyt) all flying the flag for their respective teams.

“We’ve been kind of knocking on the door of the Fast Six for the last couple rounds,” said Hinchcliffe, who’s qualified eighth, seventh and eighth in the three previous road and street course races in the No. 5 Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda.

“It was nice to finally break into that. Not really full of the of the usual suspects. Charlie and I were joking, probably the youngest median age, six different teams.”

Rahal, driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Rahal Letterman Lanigan with Theodore Racing Honda added, “It’s crazy to me, you look at this, Hinch touched on it a second ago, if anybody were to dispute the thought that IndyCar racing is the most competitive form of motorsports in the world, you just need to look at the time sheets this weekend. It’s not like this is easy. You slide a 10th in practice, it’s like five, six, seven spots. It’s crazy right now.”

Also crazy is how well Rahal is getting on despite battling arguably his worst cold he’s dealt with on a race weekend.

And how random has it been since there were last six different teams in the Fast Six?

This is the first time it’s happened in the aero kit era.

For reference, prior to today only six teams total (Penske, Ganassi, RLL, Carpenter, Andretti and KVSH) had a Fast Six appearance. Hawksworth and Hinchcliffe bring eight of a possible nine full-time teams into the Fast Six; the only team that hasn’t is Dale Coyne Racing.

It didn’t happen once last year where there were six teams in the Fast Six; Team Penske got at least two of its four cars into the Fast Six every single qualifying session.

Today, they didn’t; behind Pagenaud, Juan Pablo Montoya, Will Power and Helio Castroneves qualified eighth, 12th and 18th.

It’s been since Houston race 1 2014 – ironically, when Pagenaud was also on pole – that six teams last graced a Fast Six. Pagenaud then drove for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and qualified ahead of Castroneves (Penske), Dixon (Ganassi), Luca Filippi (RLL), Hinchcliffe (Andretti) and Takuma Sato (Foyt).

Kimball, in second, has a career best start. The driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet had a best of fourth on two prior occasions (Fontana 2013, Phoenix 2016) as he heads into his 89th career start.

“Kind of the first session that really counts here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May,” he said. “Nice to start up front. Although a couple of people have reminded me since qualifying that I think last year in the melee, second place was not the place to be. But I can’t control what happens behind me, I can only really look forward.”

Newgarden, driver of the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Chevrolet, then outlined the goal the non-Penske five have going into tomorrow’s race (3:30 p.m. ET).

“Hopefully we can make it through Turn 1; that’s going to be the hot spot. Hopefully we don’t have a car that goes off very hard, race up front, take on Pagenaud who has been on a tear lately,” he said.

Three-time W Series champ Jamie Chadwick joining Andretti in Indy NXT Series for 2023


Jamie Chadwick, the three-time W Series champion, will drive for Andretti Autosport in the Indy NXT Series next season.

Chadwick will make her debut in an American racing series in March, driving the No. 28 for Andretti Autosport with sponsorship from DHL. The 24-year-old will become the first female driver in 13 years to compete full time in the Indy NXT championship.

Chadwick joined the female free-to-enter W Series in its inaugural 2019 season, winning two races and the first of three consecutive championships. She has been a reserve driver for the Williams Formula One team and will continue in that role in 2023. She also has driven in the Extreme E Series.

Despite her success, Chadwick hasn’t landed a bigger ride in F3 or F2, and her break didn’t come until Michael Andretti contacted her and offered a test in an Indy NXT car.

The final three races of this year’s W Series schedule were canceled when funding fell through, but Chadwick still believes the all-female series was the right path for her.

“W Series has always been and will continue to be an opportunity to be racing for every female driver, so for my side, I looked at it while perhaps I would have liked to step up maybe earlier, at the same time being able to have that chance to race, get that experience, have that development, seat time… I was constantly learning,” Chadwick told The Associated Press.

“In that sense, I wasn’t frustrated at all. But on the flip side of it, now I’ve had that experience testing in the United States in Indy NXT and this is something I’m really excited about.”

Chadwick also is expected to have an enhanced role as a development driver next season with Williams, which chose American driver Logan Sargeant to fill its open seat on next year’s F1 grid.

“Andretti Autosport is proud to be supporting Jamie alongside DHL,” said Michael Andretti. “Jamie’s successful career speaks for itself, but Indy NXT gives Jamie the opportunity to continue her development in a new type of racing.

“We’ve turned out five Indy NXT champions over the years and look forward to continuing our role in developing new talent.”

Indy NXT is the new name of the rebranded Indy Lights Series, the final step on the ladder system before IndyCar.

Andretti will field two drivers next season in IndyCar that were developed in Indy NXT: Kyle Kirkwood, the 2021 champion, will return to Andretti after one season in IndyCar driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco is back for a second season.

Chadwick will be teammates in Indy NXT with Hunter McElrea and Louis Foster. She becomes Andretti’s second full-time female driver alongside Catie Munnings, who competes for Andretti United in the Extreme E Series.