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.

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”