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.”

IndyCar: Which drivers need to start or continue comebacks in 2019?

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With the 2018 IndyCar Series season already far back in our rearview mirror, it’s not too soon to start looking ahead to the 2019 campaign, which begins on March 10 at St. Petersburg, Florida.

When you look at how 2018 ended up, several drivers either didn’t have the season they had hoped for and are looking to make big comebacks in 2019, or perhaps began comebacks in 2018 after prior difficult seasons.

Let’s take a look at who is due – or in some cases, overdue – for an even stronger season in 2019:

RYAN HUNTER-REAY: RHR isn’t overdue by any stretch, having started his “comeback” of sorts in 2018. His fourth-place season finish was his best in the series since winning the championship in 2012.

He also earned two wins – Belle Isle II and the season finale at Sonoma – his first visits to victory lane since winning twice in 2015.

Had it not been for three DNFs in the second half of the season, Hunter-Reay likely could have finished in the top 3 at season’s end.

It was good to see him come back into prominence after frustration the last two seasons (12th in 2016 and 9th in 2017).

Hunter-Reay still has several more good years in him and it would not be surprising to see him finish even higher in 2019 – and potentially once again being a championship contender.

SIMON PAGENAUD: After winning the championship in 2016 and finishing second in 2017, Pagenaud definitely had an off-season by his usual standards in 2018, finishing sixth in the IndyCar standings.

The French-born driver failed to win a race for the first time since 2015 and had just two podium finishes (also the most since 2015).

One of the most telling stats from what was a frustrating campaign is Pagenaud and the No. 22 led a total of just 31 laps across the 17-race 2018 season, the fewest laps led in a single season in his entire IndyCar career.

He also had the second-worst average per-race finish of his career (8.6), after having average finishes of 6.1 in his championship season and 5.3 in 2017.

Of course, looking at things from a glass half-full viewpoint, Pagenaud went from a winless and disappointing 11th place finish in 2015 to become champion in 2016. Could history repeat itself in 2019?

By all measures, 2018 was definitely an off season for Pagenaud. Look for him to make a significant comeback in 2019.

Or, to borrow a line Pagenaud said to teammate Josef Newgarden during their early 2018 season “autograph battle,” it’s your move, bro, for 2019.

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS: The French driver had perhaps the best comeback season of any driver in 2018.

When former CART champ Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan joined forces with Dale Coyne Racing just prior to the start of the 2018 season, Bourdais was the hand-picked driver to carry the DCR with Vasser-Sullivan banner.

Bourdais did not disappoint. He started the season with a win at St. Petersburg and enjoyed his best overall season finish – seventh – in an Indy car since capturing the fourth of four straight CART/Champ Car World Series championships in 2007.

It was also Bourdais’ best career IndyCar finish, topping his previous best season finishes of 10th in both 2014 and 2015.|

Bourdais, who turns 40 in late February, finished the season strong with two top 5 and two other top 10 finishes in four of the last five races. That’s a good harbinger of even better things to come in 2019.

GRAHAM RAHAL: It was a tough season at times for Rahal, who turns 30 in early January.

Not only did he have his worst season finish – eighth – since 2014 (19th), he failed to win even one race (also for the first time since 2014) and had just one podium finish (2nd at St. Petersburg).

As if to add insult to injury, Rahal had two of his three season DNFs in his final two races (4th lap crash at Portland and a battery issue at Sonoma).

Rahal is overdue for the kind of season he had in 2015, when he won two races, had six podiums and finished a career-best fourth in the overall standings.

While Rahal has the equipment and personnel to do better, something just didn’t click in 2018. Will things turn around in 2019?

MARCO ANDRETTI: The grandson of Mario and son of Michael Andretti continues to be a work in progress – with emphasis on the word “progress” when it came to his 2018 performance.

Although he remains winless since 2011 and hasn’t had a podium finish since 2015, Marco Andretti still showed overall improvement in 2018, including earning his first pole (Belle Isle I) since 2013.

With a fifth-place finish in the season-ending race at Sonoma, Andretti jumped from 12th in the standings to finish the season tied for eighth place with Graham Rahal, Andretti’s best overall showing since finishing fifth in 2013.

Andretti had a strong second half of the 2018 season, with a top 5 in the season finale at Sonoma, as well as three top 11 finishes in five of the last eight races.

Don’t be surprised if he closes in on a top 5 finish in 2019. Andretti Autosport continues to improve overall as a team, particularly with Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay and now Andretti, as well.

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE: It was a strange season for the Mayor of Hinchtown.

He failed to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, had just one win and two podium finishes, yet ended up with a 10th place overall finish in the standings, his best performance since finishing 8th in both 2012 and 2013.

The Canadian driver went on a hot streak early in the second half of the season, winning at Iowa and finishing fourth in his hometown race in Toronto.

But DNFs at Pocono and Portland, as well as three other finishes of 14th (Mid-Ohio) and 15th (Gateway and Sonoma) likely cost him a chance of potentially finishing as high as eighth.

There was also the emotional, gut-wrenching crash involving Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammate and longtime best friend, Robert Wickens, at Pocono. While Hinchcliffe tried to put on a happy face and showed support to his fallen mate, it wouldn’t be surprising if Wickens’ injury constantly dwelled on Hinchcliffe’s mind.

With the Indianapolis 500 heartbreak, the firing of engineer Lena Gade (who lasted just five races before her ouster), the injury to Wickens, and the overall second-half season struggles, Hinchcliffe is to be commended for finishing as high as he did in the final standings given the overall circumstances he had to endure.

At the same time, it’s likely a season he wants to wipe away from his memory bank and turn a forgettable season in 2018 into what Hinchcliffe and his team hope is an unforgettable season in 2019.

TONY KANAAN: A new team, new outlook and racing for legendary A.J. Foyt offered a great deal of promise for Tony Kanaan in 2018.

Unfortunately, the Brazilian native suffered through the worst season ever in his IndyCar career, finishing 16th in the overall standings.

Prior to 2018, Kanaan had experienced just one other season outside the top 10 (11th in 2013, the same year he won the Indianapolis 500).

Admittedly, TK, who turns 44 on December 31, is the oldest full-time driver on the circuit. But it doesn’t look like he’s lost much with age.

Rather, three DNFs and a career single-season low of having led just 20 laps over 17 races took its toll on Kanaan.

He will return for 2019, driving a second season for Foyt. But things need to dramatically improve for Kanaan, who hasn’t won a race since 2014.

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