IndyCar

What Drivers Said after Friday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix qualifying

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Here’s what drivers had to say after their qualifying runs Friday for Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 INDYCAR Grand Prix winner, 2018 pole winner): “We did have to dig deep. I mean, that was everything I had. We made a downforce adjustment after the first round when we saw how fast the other guys were, and kind of got close to them, and on used tires, the car was really good. So stoked, man, really, really stoked.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda) — qualified 2nd: “Great job by the SPM guys – we got both cars in the Firestone Fast Six. I’m a bit gutted with P2… We’re obviously in the front row, but when you lead the whole qualifying, you want to finish like that. It was close. I ended up losing a few hundredths (of a second) in the end, but I can see why – it wasn’t the tidiest lap. You have to do the perfect job to get the pole here, but I’m happy to be back in the Fast Six; the last time we made it was in St. Pete. Tomorrow’s a whole new can of worms – let’s go play.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda) — qualified 3rd: “I think qualifying is always very important, but obviously, we didn’t really know what the SealMaster Honda was going to have for us, and we started off a little bit, which I really wasn’t expecting. I thought we had a good test, and I really was hoping to hit the ground running, and we didn’t. The car was OK, but just kind of average, and then we put the Firestone (alternate) red tires on, and it definitely came to life. You also look at the gaps, and you’re like, man, that’s just going to be really, really tricky to make it. I really had a very strong first run in Q1, and ust kind of positioned ourselves to be there. After that, I almost threw it away in Q2. Q3 was really strong, I just made a mistake and was able to put it together. We’ll see what we’ve got tomorrow, but I think it’s going to be if you can get yourself out at the start, and if we can avoid the punches. The car is pretty quick. It’ll be cool to make it kind of a trouble-free race here. We haven’t been able to do that. So looking forward to tomorrow, and we’re just going to try to keep it at the front.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda) — qualified 4th: “Huge credit to Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to get the Lucas Oil car and the Arrow Electronics car in the Firestone Fast Six today. It was a bad day to have a bad day with the compressed schedule, and we had a really bad Practice 2. We had some braking problems… we couldn’t develop the car at all. Luckily, we have a solid teammate in Robbie (Wickens), and he was quick in that second session. We were really able to lean on him and it shows. We ended up a tenth (of a second) apart, both in the Fast Six which is awesome. I was still kind of relearning the car in the first few laps; you don’t get a whole lot of laps in qualifying, so like I said, I’m really proud of the whole team.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) — qualified 5th: “The added time I got to practice here before the INDYCAR Grand Prix definitely helped me. We did a whole day of testing beforehand and the first lap this morning, I was straight up to speed where normally it takes a couple of runs to really get into the circuit and learns it’s characteristics. I didn’t need to do that today! It was a good start, really. I wouldn’t say I’m surprised on where we qualified. I’ve been focusing on doing my job and doing it at my own speed!”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader) — qualified 6th: “I think the big thing was getting in the Firestone Fast Six for us. Unfortunately that was kind of my goal. We’d been in the top 10, just kind of hovering in it. We haven’t been super strong this weekend, been kind of tentative throughout. So (Will Power) put in a good lap, so congrats to him. That was a good lap he did at the end. I think we would have been OK. I think we probably had third or fourth potential, I don’t know. We ran out the one lap, had a huge lockup in Turn 1 with the rear, and then just didn’t really get to finish it. Not ultimately where we would have landed, but I think we were in that third or fourth range, so happy to be in the Fast Six. I think that’s good for us tomorrow. We can work with that. We’ve just got to keep trying to chip away and find our speed, and we’ve just been missing it this weekend for whatever reason. I think we’re getting there. We made some progress in qualifying, we just have to keep going and make it last for tomorrow now. Everyone has done a good job. It’s good to have a good Verizon Indy car, and hoping to have a good weekend tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) — qualified 7th: “The Menards team this weekend has made major improvements with the race car. I’m quite happy. I feel like we’ve made such a big improvement. Coming back, I’m a little disappointed. I think the car has more pace and I think we can challenge for the pole. We managed to save a lap on the first set of red Firestones (alternate tires). For the Firestone Fast Six, we would’ve been really good. It is what it is. It’s going to be good racing tomorrow and we’ve got a fast car.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) — qualified 8th: “I think we honestly missed it for qualifying today, which is disappointing. We were in the top three in both practice sessions, so I expected a lot more. We’ll just have to figure it out. We can pass pretty easily here, so I’m not worried about that, but it’s just pretty disappointing. We’re trying to fit in a lot in two days, but it’s the same thing for everyone and they just did a better job than us.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet) — qualified 9th: “Starting inside the Top 10 is nice! We can definitely race from there, hopefully staying clean throughout the first lap and pick up a few positions. I’m happy with the Preferred Freezer Services Chevy. We had a good first round of qualifying. Once we got to Round 2, it felt like we picked up a bit too much understeer. That cost us, but overall, the car is good and we should have a good race!”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) — qualified 10th: “It’s been great to be back. It is definitely a different car, but my Verizon Chevy machine is looking strong. We did a lot of adjustments in one session to try to capitalize. We have nothing to lose. So, instead of being conservative, we just took a chance, unfortunately, it wasn’t the right direction. Good job from everyone to keep pushing. Now we have a race tomorrow. Starting in the top 10, it’s not that bad. We started ninth and finished on the podium (in the past). So (starting) one position back might get us a victory.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) — qualified 11th: “The first session was quite encouraging. The car felt better than at the test, and at that moment, it looked like we would have a good weekend. And then in the second practice, we started to struggle with a balance of grip. In qualifying, I tried really hard. It was a good feeling to get through the first round, but then we missed out getting to the third round by less than two-tenths. That shows how competitive it is these days. We just need a little more speed.” (About his outlook on the race): “It’s always challenging to overtake, but you can actually overtake here. There are two good opportunities per lap. We will try to make the most of it.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) — qualified 12th: “Today was a big improvement from our performance at Barber. They are quite similar racetracks, so I’m quite pleased with the performance of our car today. On the last qualifying run, we tried something different. I made a little mistake that cost us two-tenths of a second. I didn’t match my lap time from Q1 (qualifying round 1). You cannot afford to lose two-tenths in this series. We have a good car and I believe that we can fight to the front tomorrow.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) — qualified 13th: “We’ve just been struggling with the balance all day – we call it disconnected – the car is loose in and understeer through (the turns). Unfortunately, we just missed the balance today in qualifying. The two cars in front of us were two-hundredths of a second quicker, and two-hundredths of a second faster would have put us up to P5 and that’s all we needed to advance. It’s unfortunate that it fell that way, but it is what it is. We’ll have to come through with it tomorrow for the DHL team.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda) — qualified 14th: “Unfortunately, I don’t want to start 14th, that’s not our aim in these races, but to know we were just outside the top six by half a tenth, it hurts. You go through your head and there’s a million things you could have done, but I had (the car) pretty wrung out. I wanted more for the U.S. Concrete boys. We practiced better than we qualified, so that’s unfortunate, but we can draft, we can easily pass at this place. Honestly, I think we need to find that out in the morning if we have a good race car. I don’t think we know enough right now about the tire degradation, nobody does.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) — qualified 15th: “Not the result we wanted, obviously, in the NTT DATA car today. The conditions were a bit tough with the temperature, but for whatever reason, we still need to get the balance of the car a bit better. We have tonight to prepare and then put that to the test in tomorrow’s warmup before the race.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet) — qualified 16th: “Considering we’ve never been here before, and other teams who were testing here last month on the road course finished behind us, I’d say we’re doing OK. I really thought we had a little chance of scraping through to the top 12, especially with my last lap time, but it’s hot and windy out there, and I didn’t get a perfect lap with the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. Unfortunately, I don’t think many people got a perfect lap, though, so everyone is going to be saying that they had a little bit left. Regardless, I’m really happy with the progress we made in such a short period of time.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) — qualified 17th: “Clearly, I’m disappointed. It was frustrating to go out there and to lock up the right front like that. I’ve never had it where I went into Turn 1 and I couldn’t read the brake markers because the car was vibrating that badly. It’s disappointing because I think that we probably had a car that was quick enough to maybe advance. Was it a top-six car? No. But should it have advanced? Yes. We’re just going to have to work hard tomorrow and stay out of trouble. Turn 1 is going to be hectic tomorrow. Luckily, I’ve got Scott (Dixon) by me. Hopefully, he and I can take care of each other and go race.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) — qualified 18th: “The PNC Bank car actually wasn’t too bad earlier this morning in cooler conditions. We took a pretty hefty swing at it for qualifying, but the car didn’t feel like it had speed – it was just sort of on top of the track. That condition got worse as it got hotter and hotter, unfortunately. We’ll get back to a setup we know and then try and take it from there. Today, it just seemed like the heat made everything worse for us.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda) — qualified 19th: “The pace isn’t really where we want it to be right now. We rolled out of the box pretty good with the Paysafe car and we had a decent first practice session this morning, but then we ended up struggling in Practice 2. Despite making changes after that session, we didn’t quite have the pace we’d like in qualifying. We’ll look over everything tonight and get ready for tomorrow. I’m confident my Dale Coyne Racing crew will give me a good car for the race tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda) — qualified 20th: “I think we are struggling as a whole. It seems like my teammates are fighting the same issues that we are. We’re all taking different stabs at it right now to try and figure out what the big piece is that we’re missing. It’s tough being where we’re going to be starting on merit, but that’s one nice thing about having my other teammates and a team as good as this – everybody works together, and you get faster overnight. We have a little bit of work to do tonight for sure, but tomorrow is a long day.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) — qualified 21st: “Qualifying was a bit difficult. We’re still struggling with the setup of the car. I am looking forward to tomorrow’s race. It’s a long race, and I am hoping I can move forward from where I am starting. Hopefully, the entire team has a great result tomorrow. We are struggling while on black (Firestone primary) tires. When we have black tires, the car feels loose. If we can figure out this issue, we should be in a good place for the race tomorrow.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet) — qualified 22nd: “It’s an obviously disappointing qualifying session to end up where we did. We did improve the car a bit and I think the good thing is that came from this session. We’ve taken a step towards the right direction and now we are getting ready to go over some data to see how we can make it even better for the race.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet) — qualified 23rd: “We just missed the mark a little bit today. I was struggling with finding grip and balance and we just couldn’t get the lap times that we needed out of the No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet to move onto the second round of qualifying. We definitely have some work to do tonight to get ready for the morning warmup and green flag, but we know what we need to do to get to where we need to be.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet) — qualified 24th: “So obviously, not the result we were hoping for in qualifying, but overall, I’m happy with the progress we made today. We didn’t get a chance to test here, so it was our first time rolling out here. From where we started to where we ended today in qualifying, we made huge strides. We tried stuff we have never tried before and got really good data, which will be useful the rest of the season. I’m happy with the overall effort and all of the work the team has put in with the changes, so we can get a good read on the car. I think come race time, we will have a pretty good race car, and hopefully, we can work our way through the field and come up with a good finish. I know it’s important to log in as many laps and get as much experience as we can, so that we just get better.”

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne