Photo: IndyCar

Andretti’s Indy pole quest comes up short for Rossi, RHR, and more

Leave a comment

INDIANAPOLIS – Andretti Autosport entered Sunday with four bullets in the gun to fire for pole position ahead of the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. All four came up just short, and a fifth had a qualifying speed which would be good enough to start higher, but never had the opportunity.

Nonetheless, Sunday at Indy was still a great day for the Andretti team, even without the glory of pole position.

Before the running on track even got going there was proper drama in the garage, as it was determined to make a precautionary engine change on Fernando Alonso’s No. 29 McLaren Honda Andretti entry after issues found near the end of pre-qualifying practice.

What followed next was a tour de force by the Andretti crew to get the engine changed in just over an hour to ensure Alonso hit the 4:15 p.m. tech line to be out for the Fast Nine shootout.

Alonso promptly laughed off the concern of a pre-qualifying engine change, given his regular ailments with Honda’s Formula 1 engine at McLaren there.

“As soon as we decided to change the engine, I saw like 20 people around my car changing parts. That was a truly good thing to experience today, how the teamwork plays here. I was extremely proud and happy of them,” Alonso said.

On track, the runs started first when the Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport entry, rookie Jack Harvey in the No. 50 Honda, had a hairy run. Harvey tattooed the wall exiting Turn 2 but kept his foot in it, and completed his run with a four-lap average of 225.742. He’ll start 27th.

After Harvey, the next Andretti driver to run was Ryan Hunter-Reay, who would have had a shot at the pole purely on speed. In fact, his four-lap average of 231.442 mph was the fourth fastest of the day during Sunday qualifying, with only Scott Dixon, Ed Carpenter, and Alexander Rossi eclipsing his No. 28 DHL Honda.

However, struggles during Saturday qualifying meant he wasn’t quick enough to make the Fast Nine shootout (he was 13th fastest on Saturday). As a result, he could do no better than tenth on Sunday qualifying, despite the dramatic increase in speed, and he will start from the inside of the fourth row on May 28.

However, Hunter-Reay has proven he can win from deep in the field. His 2014 triumph came after he started 19th, and he cracked the top ten in the first stint that year.

Hunter-Reay, therefore, is well-versed in working his way through traffic, and is confident he can do the same thing on race day.

“It was a wild ride. Testament to the team that put a good car together; it’s been that way for a good week and one-half. We just had a bad draw in qualifying, going early when the sun was out yesterday compared to a lot of guys who made it into the Fast Nine later in the day with the clouds came out,” he said. “We did our homework on that one. It was close. That was not a nice four laps; it was on edge. Big time, white knuckle, I’m just catching my breath now.”

It then came time for the quartet of Andretti drivers in the Fast Nine. Marco Andretti was unable to break out of eighth place, but it still sets him up decently in the No. 27 United Fiber & Data Honda entry on Sunday.

Next up was Alonso, with the fresh motor. He went out at over 231 mph for his run, and was pleased – but ultimately fell to fifth.

Rossi followed with an even better run, which eclipsed Alonso’s best time. He’ll start third next Sunday as he prepares to defend his shock win of a year ago. While this is the best career start for the driver of the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda in IndyCar – his previous best was fifth at Long Beach earlier this year – it still feels like a slightly missed chance for the native of Nevada City, Calif.

“I’m always disappointed if you’re not in front, but I think it’s a good effort from the team. Seeing Scott’s speed is pretty impressive,” he said. “I know we couldn’t have done that. We’ve got to be content with the front row. It was something that really bothered me last year and for a year actually that we didn’t make the Fast Nine, so yesterday was a pretty big relief, and today was just about trying to go as high up as possible.

“Front row is good. You can win this race from anywhere, so it’s a good place to be, no dirty air, and we’ll just get the race off to a strong start and see where it goes.”

Lastly Takuma Sato, who was second on Saturday, was then second-to-last out on Sunday in the No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda. He nearly hit the wall a couple times on the run but still ended in fourth place, courtesy of his “no attack, no chance” style that sees him with a best Indianapolis 500 starting position to date. His previous best, also achieved with current engineer Garrett Mothershead, came in 2011 with KV Racing Technology when he started 10th.

“We were pushing so hard – Lap 3 and 4 were so on edge and I brushed the wall, but held on. I’m very happy to be in the second row, obviously, the front row would be nicer but this was a great team effort. I am very happy with where we are starting.”

Great qualifying positions are nice to write about but they haven’t even been a complete precursor for Andretti’s four ‘500 wins.

Rossi started 11th last year, Hunter-Reay 19th in 2014, Dario Franchitti 3rd in 2007 and Dan Wheldon 16th in 2005.

With spots of third, fourth, fifth, eighth, 10th and 27th on the grid, Andretti will look for more success next Sunday with its six-pack of drivers – even if a pole evaded them today.

Kyle Lavigne assisted on report of this story

IMSA: Sims, De Philippi deliver first win for BMW M8 GTE in Michelin GT Challenge at VIR

Photo courtesy of IMSA
Leave a comment

DANVILLE, Va. – After coming tantalizingly close two weeks ago at Road America, the BMW M8 GTE is a first-time winner.

Co-drivers Alexander Sims and Connor De Phillippi delivered the new-for-2018 race car’s first victory anywhere in the world in a strong and strategic performance aboard the No. 25 BMW Team RLL machine en route to the Michelin GT Challenge victory at VIRginia International Raceway.

The No. 25 duo combined to lead a race-high total of 32 laps of 88 trips around the 3.27-mile road circuit that comprised the two-hour, 40-minute race. Sims led the final 31 laps and crossed the finish line 1.323 seconds ahead of Jan Magnussen to take the victory.

The VIR victory was redemption of sorts for the No. 25 team after the Continental Tire Road Race Showcase, when De Phillippi appeared on his way to victory only to be forced to pit lane for fuel with two laps to go.

Sunday, the team had to overcome a midrace incident in which Sims tangled with the GT Daytona (GTD) class car of David Heinemeier Hansson. Sims had to serve a drive-through penalty for incident responsibility.

“It’s fantastic,” Sims said. “The team’s done an awesome job. They’ve been working really hard all year. Some races haven’t really gone our way. But they haven’t given up. BMW and Rahal have done a mega job. It’s fantastic to get us this first win for the M8. Connor did a great job at the start of the race to get us up to third.

“He did a flawless stint, despite my mistake at the start of my first stint. I kind of held my hands up. That was my mistake. We deserved the drive through. We got back in the race after the safety car and had mega pace. I was really, really pleased.”

It was Sims’ fourth career WeatherTech Championship victory and the second for De Phillippi. Both drivers’ last victory came at Motul Petit Le Mans last season, Sims in the final race for the BMW M6 GTLM and De Phillippi with the Montaplast by Land-Motorsport Audi team in GTD. De Phillippi became a BMW factory driver prior to this season.

“It was down to the last pit stop,” De Phillippi said. “Obviously, after the contact, we had to rethink what we were going to try to do. We went with a more aggressive strategy and we saw that if we stayed out longer we’d have a clear track and the others would be hitting the GTD traffic. We went forward with that strategy and with that we gained while they were stuck in traffic which was enough to keep us out front.

“The Michelin tires were hooked up and held up so well we didn’t have to put any on the last stop. Alex just drove the wheels off to it for the finish. This win feels amazing. This is a new program, and obviously when you switch to a new brand and a new family you always want to win the first year out. I got one at the Nürburgring, and now to do one with my full-time team in this series, it’s really special to me and feels really great.”

After winning the Michelin GT Challenge each of the past two years, Magnussen came up just shy of a three-peat in the No. 3 Corvette Racing Chevrolet Corvette C7.R along with co-driver Antonio Garcia. It was the team’s seventh podium result of the season and sixth consecutive and it vaulted them into the GTLM championship lead by four points, 269-265, over No. 67 Ford GT co-drivers Richard Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe with three races to go.

John Edwards and Jesse Krohn made it two BMW M8s on the podium with a third-place run in the No. 24 BMW Team RLL entry. In addition to it being the first victory for the M8, it also was the first time two M8s finished on the podium in the same race.

Ford Chip Ganassi Racing saw its GTLM winning streak stopped at four in the Michelin GT Challenge. No. 66 Ford GT co-drivers Joey Hand and Dirk Mueller finished fourth, while the No. 67 entry of Briscoe and Westbrook was forced to retire early from the race with clutch problems. Westbrook started the race from the pole position and led the first 28 laps before pitting to turn the car over to Briscoe, and the problem reared its ugly head shortly thereafter.

No. 912 Porsche co-drivers Earl Bamber and Laurens Vanthoor came back from an opening lap incident with the No. 4 Corvette to finish fifth.

Baumann In Right Place At Right Time As Lexus Wins Thriller At VIR

Dominik Baumann and 3GT Racing celebrate a GTD triumph. Photo courtesy of IMSA

It was an example of being in the right place at the right time for Dominik Baumann in a victorious effort alongside co-driver Kyle Marcelli in Sunday’s Michelin GT Challenge at VIRginia International Raceway.

Running in the fourth position with 30 minutes remaining, Baumann successfully navigated his No. 14 3GT Racing Lexus RC F GT3 through a series of incidents involving the top three ahead of him. Once clear, he went on to lead the race’s final 17 laps, beating the No. 58 Porsche 911 GT3 R of Patrick Long to the stripe by 0.567 seconds in a thrilling last-lap battle for the GT Daytona (GTD) class win.

The race-winning sequence began when the No. 44 Audi R8 LMS GT3 of Andy Lally got a run on the race-leading No. 93 Acura NSX GT3 of Lawson Aschenbach. The two made slight contact allowing the No. 33 Mercedes-AMG GT3 of Jeroen Bleekemolen to pull alongside Lally for the lead. One corner later, Lally and Bleekemolen made side-to-side contact, sending the No. 33 into a spin with Baumann capitalizing to pass both for the lead.

“I saw the Audi and Mercedes fighting in front of me and going off,” said Baumann, who won earlier this year alongside Marcelli at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. “We just stayed out of trouble and just did our race.”

“Thanks to the Mercedes, and the Audi and the Acura coming together, it inherited us the lead, and those closing laps under pressure are tough to drive, and Dominic was a true professional today,” added Marcelli. “I think if you look up and down the grid, we’ve all made a few mistakes, but it’s just minimizing them. It’s a track that’s demanding physically and mentally and easy to make mistakes and drop wheels and fill the radiator full of grass. It was he who made the least mistakes who came out with a victory today.”

It certainly wasn’t easy for Baumann from there, however. In the closing minutes, Katherine Legge made up a nearly 10-second deficit in her No. 86 Meyer Shank Racing w/ Curb-Agajanian Acura NXS GT3 to get to the bumper of Baumann on the final lap.

The two raced side-by-side up the backstretch of the 3.27-mile circuit, but Baumann had the benefit of the inside line. Long took advantage of the battle ahead of him and was able to slip by Legge to finish second alongside co-driver Christina Nielsen.

Legge and co-driver Mario Farnbacher finished third, with Legge making up significant ground in the GTD points race with two races remaining. A midrace unscheduled pit stop for contact for the points-leading No. 48 Paul Miller Racing Lamborghini Huracan GT3 of Bryan Sellers and Madison Snow relegated the team to a sixth-place finish. Sellers and Snow now lead Legge by 13 points, 275-262, heading to the penultimate race of the season at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.

The No. 63 WeatherTech Ferrari 488 GT3 of Cooper MacNeil and Gunnar Jeannette finished fourth, with Bleekemolen and co-driver Ben Keating finishing fifth. Lally was hit with a stop and go penalty for his previous contact with Bleekemolen and finished seventh with co-driver John Potter.

Next up for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship is the penultimate round of the season, the America’s Tire 250 as part of the Continental Tire Monterey Grand Prix at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca on Sept. 7-9.

Follow@KyleMLavigne