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IndyCar’s winter hibernation coming to an end with plenty to come

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The Verizon IndyCar Series kicked off its promotional efforts for 2017 with its “NEXT” video that launched just after the new year, while more concrete “next” items will come here over the coming weeks.

Chip Ganassi Racing Teams got the 2017 testing underway with all four of its cars running on the Sebring International Raceway short course. From what’s been gathered, the test went very well for the quartet of drivers, now running the Honda aero kit and power unit for the first time in road or street course configuration. It remains to be seen what Scott Dixon’s car will look like commercially speaking following Target’s departure, and whether the No. 9 Honda will have a primary partner by the Feb. 10-11 open test in Phoenix is up for debate.

This was Ganassi’s makeup test at Sebring for its lost day on December 9. Dale Coyne Racing will test on January 24-25 for its makeup days, and that test will provide Coyne rookie Ed Jones his first running with the team in a rookie day on the 24th before his formal first test on the 25th.

Silly season has all but come to an end. Spencer Pigot is all-but-formally-confirmed as the road and street course driver for Ed Carpenter Racing’s No. 20 Chevrolet. Schmidt Peterson Motorsports is yet to formally confirm Mikhail Aleshin as its second driver, even though this has been a widely assumed continuation throughout the winter. Meanwhile with staff reductions having occurred at what was KVSH Racing, whether that team makes the grid in any capacity in just over two months at St. Petersburg is now doubtful.

From an INDYCAR future car standpoint, it looks likely that the process of revealing the 2018 common aero kit will begin this week at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. As with most new car rollouts, you’ll generally see a rendering or renderings before the car itself. Forecasting further, from a buzz standpoint, you figure INDYCAR would want to have the kit itself revealed in the month of May when there’s generally the most media attention around the Indianapolis 500. And then the kit’s public track testing would figure to come in the fall.

Speaking of media, an informal media day takes place January 18-19 in Indianapolis for INDYCAR winter meetings. It won’t be a formal media day as it has been the last two years.

IndyCar drivers will be omnipresent at two of January’s bigger race events. At the Race of Champions event in Miami from Jan. 21-22, confirmed drivers include 2017 full-timers Ryan Hunter-Reay, Tony Kanaan, Alexander Rossi, James Hinchcliffe and Helio Castroneves, along with fellow veterans Juan Pablo Montoya and Gabby Chaves.

Conor Daly has been nominated as a finalist for ROC Factor North America to be Hinchcliffe’s teammate, and has worked to achieve votes to make the race as well. The talented young American’s been locked in a fierce battle with underrated Edmonton native Stefan Rzadzinski, who has raced in all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires before shifting into the Nissan Micra Cup ranks.

“RHR,” “TK” and “Hinch” are then three of 11 IndyCar drivers who competed at some point in 2016 who will be a part of the 2017 Rolex 24 at Daytona. The other eight include Scott Dixon, Sebastien Bourdais, Graham Rahal, Spencer Pigot, RC Enerson, Townsend Bell, Sage Karam and Jack Hawksworth.

Then the calendar kicks into February, more testing occurs and the countdown to St. Petersburg March 12 really kicks into high gear.

“Fast Ed” Carpenter takes 3rd career pole for Indy 500; Danica to start 7th

Pole winner Ed Carpenter is hugged by teammate Danica Patrick. Photo:IndyCar
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Ed Carpenter, the king of the front row at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, reigned supreme again Sunday, taking the pole for next Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

It’s the third time Carpenter — nicknamed “Fast Ed” — has started the 500 from the top spot, having also done so in 2013 and 2014, along with starting second in last year’s race.

Carpenter led off with the fastest one-lap speed of the day at 230.088 mph – the only driver over 230 mph – and continued on to accumulate a four-lap average speed of 229.618 mph, nearly a full mph faster than Simon Pagenaud (228.761 mph), who will start second and in the middle of the front row.

Will Power (228.607 mph) will start on the outside of the front row. Team Penske grabbed second through fourth and also the eighth position.

Chevrolets make up four of the top five and seven of the top nine. The only Honda driver in the top five is Sebastien Bourdais in fifth.

The first driver of the Fast Nine to take the track, Danica Patrick – who will make the final start of her multi-faceted racing career in the 500 – qualified seventh with a four-lap average of 228.584 mph.

Here’s how the first three rows stack up (inside driver, middle driver, outside driver):

Row 1: Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power

Row 2: Josef Newgarden, Sebastien Bourdais, Spencer Pigot

Row 3: Danica Patrick, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon

Here’s comments from the Fast Nine:

Ed Carpenter (229.618 mph, 1st): “I’m the 11th to get three (poles), but I want to add my name to the list of winners here. I can’t wait for Sunday. The car was perfect. It was awesome to drive that car. Hopefully, we’ll be able to close the deal this year.”

Simon Pagenaud (228.761 mph, 2nd): “We have good cars, fast cars and I’m just super proud. Obviously, I wanted to get the pole, but it’s racing. Luck is on my side today. We’re in a very good position and I’m thinking positive today.”

Will Power (228.607 mph, 3rd): “Just a couple little bad shifts and little less downforce and it would have been a little closer. It all makes a difference, it all adds up, but that’s Indy for you. You can’t second guess.”

Josef Newgarden (228.405 mph, 4th): “We’re competitive. We want all four of these cars to be up-front. It’s good to be with Chevrolet, they do a lot here at Indianapolis. It was an overall good run, so I’m satisfied. You always feel like you had something to do different after you did it. Hindsight is always 20-20, right?”

Sebastien Bourdais (228.142 mph, 5th): “It was pretty stressful. The car was very much on top of the track, very little downforce conditions. The guys did a good job, gave me a fast car and I really had to wheel it.”

Spencer Pigot (228.107 mph, 6th): “Starting inside the top 9 is a big achievement for us. For me, it’s at least 20 positions better than I’ve ever started here. Now that qualifying is over, we’ll focus on the race. … It’s a massive improvement for me. I like our chances.”

Danica Patrick (228.090 mph, 7th): “It was fairly consistent. All in all, a good feeling. It’s good to have that part done. I was pretty nervous. … Now it’s time for 500 fun miles.”

Helio Castroneves (227.859 mph, 8th): “I was praying for rain but it didn’t happen (he said with a laugh). Congrats to Ed (Carpenter). We took a gamble, had nothing to lose here and that’s what we did. It is what it is. Eighth position, we can win the race from there. Now, I’ve got to think about the big number.”

Scott Dixon (227.262 mph, 9th): “We didn’t run this morning so it was following the conditions. We struggled a little and maybe had a couple things that didn’t pay off. We’ll keep trucking on and see ourselves move up next weekend.”

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As for qualifying for positions 10th through 33rd:

* Defending 500 winner Takuma Sato qualified 16th.

* 2016 500 winner Alexander Rossi qualified a disappointing 32nd. Rossi had a strong run in the first of his four laps at 227.454 mph, and then suddenly dropped off to 224.152 on the third lap and a very disappointing 221.619 mph on his final lap, plunging him from potentially starting on the fourth row to the last row.

* Another disappointing effort came from Graham Rahal, who will start 30th, on the outside of the 10th row.

* Also, Matheus Leist, driving for Indy 500 legend A.J. Foyt, qualified 11th, making him the highest-qualifying rookie.

Here’s how Rows 4 through 11 lineup look (inside driver, middle driver, outside driver):

Row 4: Tony Kanaan, Matheus Leist, Marco Andretti

Row 5: Zachary Claman Demelo, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Charlie Kimball

Row 6: Takuma Sato, Kyle Kaiser, Robert Wickens

Row 7: James Davison, Max Chilton, Carlos Munoz

Row 8: Gabby Chaves, Stefan Wilson, Sage Karam

Row 9: Zack Veach, Oriol Servia, JR Hildebrand

Row 10: Jay Howard, Ed Jones, Graham Rahal

Row 11: Jack Harvey, Alexander Rossi, Conor Daly

Here’s some driver comments on their qualifying efforts:

* Tony Kanaan (10th): “What a great effort as a team. A.J. and Larry (Foyt) put so much effort into this over the winter and gave us everything I’ve asked. They’ve spent every single dime to give us a great car. I told them today our pole was 10, so we’re sitting on the pole.”

* Matheus Leist (11th): “The car was pretty good since the beginning of the week. I’m so happy for the whole team. I love this place. Last year I won my first race in Indy Lights here, so let’s see what I can do in my first Indy 500 here.”

* Marco Andretti (12th): “I thought it was alright. I was chasing balance end to end. It kind of caught me out. … I’m excited about the race, that’s for sure. Yesterday, we wouldn’t have made the Fast Nine, so I just want to go forward and get it done.”

* Ryan Hunter-Reay (14th): “I was hoping for more but I think that’s the speed the car has in it. I had a good balance in the car. I’m looking forward to focusing on the race car tomorrow, and if you have a good race car, none of this qualifying matters.”

* Robert Wickens (18th): “We were able to do a 228 this morning comfortably, and then I go out and do a 226 (in qualifying) and didn’t change a thing. … It’s still cool to start it.”

* Carlos Munoz (21st): “I want this race, I’ve been so close for so many years. I love this race, everything about the 500. I think the most important thing is to have a good car for the race.”

* Jay Howard (28th): “Obviously, I’m just real happy to have the opportunity to go out there to give the car a good qualification effort. The pace is not there, we’re a little disappointed with the speed, but we’re in the race, that’s the most important thing and we’ll see what (the race) brings us.”

* Alexander Rossi (32nd): “It’s the mystery about this place, we don’t know yet. Certainly, that hasn’t been our performance here. We should have been 10th through 12th, but that’s what makes this place what it is. It’s a new challenge and new opportunity to show what we can do.”

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