Here’s What Drivers Said after Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway:

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, 2018 INDYCAR Grand Prix winner): “It’s been a slow start for us, so it’s just fantastic to get the win. But 200 wins in IndyCar just shows Roger’s determination and the way his team works and his passion for winning. It’s a real pleasure to drive for him. You’re given equipment week in, week out to win, and yeah, I have to say it’s amazing to be a part of that history of Penske Racing because it’s such a deep history. So yeah, I’m so grateful to be able to drive for this team.

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 2nd: “It was a great result today for the PNC Bank car and the whole team. Everyone on the Ganassi team never quits, never gives up and we were able to make up a lot of spots and finish second. I think that was the worst I’ve ever qualified without crashing or having a technical issue. Good day in the points for the No. 9 team. I love having this race open up the month for us here at Indy.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda) – finished 3rd: “I have to work on my fuel save game a little bit (laughter). Hats off to the Lucas Oil guys – we had a great first stint. We had an even better second stint, and then Will (Power) and I had a great little battle when I was on the blacks (Firestone primary tires), he was on the reds (Firestone alternate). I guess I’m not as efficient at fuel saving as they are, but we made it. Scott (Dixon) got behind me on push-to-pass, and I was instructed not to do much because of fuel save. In the end, I’m really happy to be on the podium. It’s frustrating because it feels like you’re driving so slowly because it feels like you’re lifting for what feels like an eternity before the corner, but then the team was reassuring me that (Alexander) Rossi and (Sebastien) Bourdais had to do the same thing. It wasn’t comfortable by any means. It was the first time in my career I’ve had to save fuel like that, but in the end, happy with the podium. Would have liked to be a bit further up, but hard to complain.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda) – finished 4th: “Really good points there for the SealMaster Honda No. 18. I just didn’t feel like I did the best job to maximize the result. At the end, we got another fourth place and honestly I didn’t know what we were gonna get. We were loose for most of the race, which made for a very tough run. I thought the track was going to finally come to us and it didn’t. The balance was only good when we put the brand new red (alternate) Firestone tires on. The guys (other drivers) were really aggressive at the start of that last run and I didn’t know whether I should say screw the fuel number and go with them. I was already not making the number and under a lot of pressure from behind, so I thought maybe we just don’t have the pace and had to give up some positions. After that I was kind of a lonely wolf out there doing my thing and trying to make the fuel number a bit better. Next thing you know the leaders are backing up big time to us. Wickens didn’t want to give up on Rossi and Rossi was being aggressive, so by the end of that stint we had saved enough fuel to use the push to pass and he couldn’t and we recovered fourth. Overall, not super happy with myself. I feel like I missed on the balance a little bit. I feel like I didn’t get it quite done. Ultimately all that matters is we got the points from the fourth place and we’re looking pretty strong in the championship. Hopefully it keeps on happening.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda) – finished 5th: “I was pretty concerned after this morning’s session. For some reason, the No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda was losing pace through nothing more than just car balance as each run went on, so it was a little bit of a mystery to us. We’re very fortunate to have a four-car team. We were able to better the setup for Ryan (Hunter-Reay) on his car, and the No. 28 DHL car probably saved our weekend. Big shout out to them on the team effort. It was a good recovery – just disappointing that we couldn’t finish fourth. I think we had the opportunity to save fuel in that stint and we just didn’t make it happen, so we need to look into that, but overall a good recovery by the whole team. I’m very excited to get to work on Tuesday – we’ve been very fortunate with such good cars here so looking to fight and go two out of three.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 6th: “It’s just like I never left, you know? It was great strategy from the team. We started with the blacks and took a gamble. It wasn’t worth it to try to fight because I kind of knew it would have come back, and it did. The team did a phenomenal job staying cool. All my guys did phenomenal pit stops. This is a group that we’re going to have for the 500. So, imagine when you have the guys just showing up and doing the job is incredible. I feel sorry about Simon (Pagenaud). (Takuma) Sato hit me on the back. I lost control on that part of hitting the No. 22 of Simon, but he made a phenomenal comeback. Again, it’s great to be back in Indianapolis and I’m ready to get going.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda) – finished 7th: “Long day at the office for us. I think there was decent speed in the Arrow Electronics car on reds (Firestone alternate tires), but the black (Firestone primary tires) stint was hard for us. Then, on the last stop under caution, (Ryan) Hunter-Reay pulled into his box right as we were heading out and we had to check up for that. I think we lost two spots in the pits after that, which is unfortunate because it was a fuel save race after that. Nobody was really passing anybody, so we probably should have been top five, but still a solid day. No major mistakes anywhere just trying to keep it clean and keep raking in points. Congrats to Robbie (Wickens) on the podium – another good showing for the team and we will just carry this momentum into the 500.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet) – finished 8th: “What a day. I can’t believe my luck so far this season. Maybe that is good for Indy 500. I keep saying it. It’s coming up now. Hopefully I get all the luck in the world for the 500. It was an awesome car today, fantastic. I think we could have challenged for the win. It is what it is. We recovered from the first lap incident. They opened the pit and we pitted, then they threw the green flag that next lap so we couldn’t get back to the pack. The car was very good and the Chevy power was awesome. We managed to finish the race with good fuel consumption and was able to pass Graham Rahal just before start finish because of fuel consumption. Awesome heading to 500. Congratulations to Will (Power) – he made it three here now. So, I have to catch him next year. Also, it is the 200th win for Team Penske in INDYCAR. It is phenomenal. What a team. It is an honor to be part of it.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) – finished 9th: “We had a pretty good car on the reds and were able to get the United Rentals machine up to the front but ultimately on the blacks we really struggled. Everybody did but the time in which we put them on hurt us. And then on the last fuel run, I was hitting the fuel number I was told to hit and came up short. Luckily I ran out in the last corner. If it was before that I would have been a lot more upset. I lost eighth place and finished ninth. That’s the way things go sometimes. We didn’t have quite Dixon’s pace on reds, which is how he got that big gain over us but my guys did a great job in the pits. The got me positions when we needed to and we were able to pass a lot of cars in the race. Overall I can’t complain too much. I’m tired of starting in the back. If we can start in the top-three or top-five even we can make these guys lives really tough. We make it tough for them now but we’re doing it from 17th. We need to start up front and make it really tough on them. I’m confident in that, confident in my team. We just have to get the job done in qualifying.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda) – finished 10th: “I made quite a good start. I overtook four cars minimum at the end of Turn 1. I was probably P6 in Turn 2 or 3. However, we were side-by-side with (Spencer) Pigot in Turn 4, which was good, and then we went to the first chicane Turn 5 still side-by-side and unfortunately he tried to go too wide and he ran out of road. Instead of avoiding the curb inside, he just launched it by himself and basically hit me while airborne and that was it, I went to the back. After that I think we had a good car on the red tire (Firestone alternate) but on the black tire (Firestone primary), I think we probably made a mistake and went backwards significantly. Then, we had a good fight back in the end on red tires. In the end, I think tenth is not the best, but I think it’s good for the team that our two cars just made the top 10. It was an OK weekend.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader) – finished 11th: “We had a podium car, for sure. It’s tough to throw it away. I think I got too greedy. I had two or three runs on (Sebastien) Bourdais. I just got frustrated and too greedy. I thought he was going to give me a little more room. He gave me some, but it wasn’t enough. It is my fault, I think I ruined a podium finish for the No. 1 Verizon Chevy team. But, we recovered what we could. The Chevy power helped. The 200th win for Roger (Penske, team owner) and Team Penske is a very big deal. I am happy for Will (Power) and his team. Now we go on to preparation for the 500.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda) – finished 12th: “It was a really fun start. A few people had incidents, so I saw a few open holes and I just took them. It’s just unfortunate about the small issue we had before our first pit stop that cost us some time. Without that issue on our in lap, we probably could have been in the top 10 easily at the end. We’re not quite sure what the issue was so we’re looking into it. We’re really happy with how the race went, our pace was strong, it was great to be out there. Overall, I’m happy with the result, it’s good for me, I learned a lot and I’m happy for the team.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda) – finished 13th: “After an issue in warmup this morning, we had to bring in a new engine – so we started the race on a fresh one, which meant we literally went to the back, just waiting for the engine to get run in. With the lost time on the engine change before the race, there were some other car changes we weren’t able to make, so we were stuck with a mechanical change that we knew wasn’t going to be good all day. We just sort of hung in there and did what we could to get through the day. It was more of a salvage than anything, but a big thanks to the U.S. Concrete boys for hanging in there.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 14th: “We actually had a good race going, but our pit stops were just not up to par. All we gained on track we lost in the pits. We need to address that before the next race.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet) – finished 15th: “It was a tough start to the race, I arrived at the chicane pretty much side to side with Takuma (Sato) and at that point, there wasn’t much space. I tried to miss the curbing, but obviously didn’t and got airborne then spun. It didn’t help our race right there, it kind of ruined it with that incident. After that, we went a lap down and just tried to stay close to the leader so that if there was a yellow, we could take advantage of it and get a lap back. That happened towards the end, and we were able to pass a few guys in the last restart to move up a little bit. Overall, frustrating day, it felt like we had a pretty good pace. The guys did a great job in pit lane and the engineers gave me a good car. Hopefully, we can get the Preferred Freezer car up front for the 500 and move on after this.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet) – finished 16th: “Up until the final stages I was really enjoying our race – it was probably the most competitive I’ve ever been in a Verizon IndyCar Series race racing-wise. I was making some quality moves and I think we got some quality time on air for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet. Unfortunately, today we just lost some time in the pits I think; in particular, we had an issue when everyone was pitting under yellow which cost us quite a few spots.  It’s a real shame, as we had great pace and I think if we’d started further up the field we would have been there the whole day because our pace was definitely top five.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet) – finished 17th: “That was a long race with a lot of green time. I was pretty happy with the changes we made, especially on the red tires. We really struggled for pace on the black tires, so that’s something we’ll have to look at the data and figure out how we improve that aspect of our race. I thought that if it wasn’t for a few mishaps in the pits, we’d probably be inside the top ten. Now we make a few improvements and I’m really looking forward to the best part of this month.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda) – finished 18th: “It was a rough day. We were running seventh and eighth and then we had an electrical issue that caused a misfire. It cut power on the bottom and top ends. We tried a couple on-track fixes, but they didn’t work and a fix in the pits would have taken too long. So, we were running all day about half of the horsepower and had to save fuel. It was pretty much a full nightmare scenario and certainly not what we hoped for today. The DHL team did a good job toughing it out during a very frustrating race, and we’re all looking forward to getting onto the oval Tuesday.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet) – finished 19th: “So awesome job by the team. We finished our second race now after Long Beach, so I am really happy. Overall, it was a really physical and really tough race. It felt like it lasted forever. At the end there we had to save fuel, and that was my first time actually saving fuel in the car, so it was a really good learning process. We made a lot of progress and the car felt great. I feel like we have a lot of positive momentum heading into second half of May. I am looking forward to getting on the big oval. Now that we have this behind us, we finished the race, and got the car back in one piece, I am ready to go for the big one.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet) – finished 20th: “That’s a real shame. We must’ve hit a piece of debris and we ended up cutting the left rear tire on that last stint, so we didn’t get the opportunity to race for the top 10. We worked our way and the guys were awesome in pit lane. We had really good stops all three stops and we had the strategy right. We really improved the car from yesterday to today. It’s disappointing not to get the result, but the performance doesn’t show how good the team and the No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet was today. I’m ready to move and we’ll take any extra we can get for the next few weekends.”

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet) – finished 21st: “Today was a tough race. I had a difficult car, dealt with a few issues. Unfortunately, it was not our day again. On to the next one.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) – finished 22nd: “Not the result we wanted, obviously, today with the NTT DATA car. I think we had good pace in the beginning and we got a good start and moved up several positions. Late in the race we must have just run over something and the tires went down. The car behind us had the same problem too.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda) – finished 23rd: “It was definitely one of the toughest weekends we have had. It seemed like anything that could have happened, did, in the race… we had to change a front wing, we got a cut tire. We rebounded from the damaged front wing pretty well, I think we were running around 13th – right with our teammates. Then, we started having a tire go down and that basically ended our story for the INDYCAR Grand Prix. I just want to thank everybody – especially my engineer Garrett (Mothersead) for working so hard to figure out what our problem has been all weekend. I still think we missed the balance overall just a tad, but we came a long way from where we started, that’s a plus. I’m happy to have this out of the way and be able to focus on the Indy 500.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet) – finished 24th (last): “Unfortunately, we got caught up in someone else’s accident. There really was not anywhere for me to go. Wrong place, wrong time, which put an end to our race, really. The pace was good as it has been for the last four races. It all comes together eventually, this is just one of those days that is a bit annoying at the moment.”

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The Thermal Club wants an IndyCar race, and series executives liked its initial impact at test

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THERMAL, Calif. – Many teams in the NTT IndyCar Series questioned the relevancy of having a two-day preseason test at The Thermal Club.

The team owners, drivers and engineers believed the 17-turn, 3.067-mile race course that winds and twists its way through a gated private community (about 45 minutes southeast of Palm Springs) had no relevance to any track on the 17-race schedule.

To the leaders of IndyCar, however, there was plenty of relevance to hosting its “Spring Training” at a sort of motorsports country club that caters to extremely wealthy residents who also are automotive enthusiasts.

“Both with our stakeholders and the media that covers IndyCar, we wanted them to know that we are going to do things differently,” Penske Entertainment CEO Mark Miles told NBC Sports from the private VIP viewing area that overlooks the long straights and twisting turns of the course. “This is going to be a year when we expect our growth to go to a whole new level.

“What better way to send that message than to be at a place we have never been that is exceptional?

“The quality of this place; the facilities are off the charts. The customer service, the welcoming feeling you get from the staff here. The track itself is fast. The drivers are having a great time on it.

FRIDAY SPEEDSThird session l Fourth session l Combined

‘AN AMAZING PLACE’: IndyCar and its big plans for Thermal

“It really sent a message to our other promoters and our drivers and team owners that something is up. We want fans around the country and the sports industry to know that something is going on with IndyCar this year.”

The Thermal Club is a concept driven by Tim Rogers, who made his fortune by supplying gasoline to 7-Eleven stores in 36 states. He wanted to create a private community that mixed multimillion-dollar homes and luxury villas with a high-speed race course.

The two-day IndyCar “Spring Training” was the most ambitious motorsports project yet for The Thermal Club.

Rogers wants it to be the first step in a long-term goal for the community.

“Our endgame is we want to host an IndyCar Series race at The Thermal Club one day,” Rogers told NBC Sports as IndyCar hit the track again Friday morning. “This was a good trial to see how the facility can handle it and if the facility works for them.”

Felix Rosenqvist makes laps in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Dallara-Chevrolet during the first day of NTT IndyCar Series testing (Andy Abeyta/The Desert Sun / USA TODAY Sports Images).

The two-day test was closed to the general public. It was open only to credentialed news media, members of the Thermal Club and a limited number of their guests.

With the spectacular backdrop of the Coachella Valley that is rimmed with snow-capped mountains, The Thermal Club could provide a great setting for an NBC telecast of an IndyCar Series race (and possibly line up a big sponsor for a return on its investment with a larger than normal audience during a ripe time such as the first weekend of February).

NASCAR is using that same model Sunday at the Los Angeles Coliseum by hosting the Busch Light Clash. The National Football League’s AFC and NFC Championship games were last weekend and next Sunday is the Super Bowl.

“That could work, but we have room where we could separate the public and the private members area, too,” Rogers said. “We could accommodate 4,000 or so of the general public.

“This would be a premium event for a premium crowd.”


Rogers’ dream of The Thermal Club began 11 years ago. He will talk to IndyCar about a return for Spring Training next year with hopes of getting a date on the schedule for 2025.

“Whatever fits,” Rogers said.

Miles and Penske Entertainment, the owners of IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and the Indianapolis 500, realize Rogers has an ambitious dream of getting a race on the schedule.

Miles, however, isn’t ready to indicate that a race at Thermal is part of IndyCar’s future (though drivers seem open to the concept).

“Tim and everybody at The Thermal Club have done a phenomenal job of being hosts here for this test,” Miles said. “Everybody is very happy we are here, and I expect we will find a way to continue to be here. Whether that means a race and when is really a bridge we aren’t ready to cross yet.

“We really like opening the championship season each year in St. Petersburg, Florida. We’ll have to see. But it’s a great way to start the season in this way, and right now, we are happy to be here.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Defending IndyCar champion Will Power takes laps at The Thermal Club during the first day of the track’s first test (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

On track, it was a successful two-day test session with 27 car/driver combinations that will compete in IndyCar in 2023. It’s the largest field for IndyCar since the 1990s. There were a few spins here and there but no major incidents across 2,560 laps.

Kyle Kirkwood led the final session Friday while getting acquainted with his new No. 27 team at Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood has replaced Alexander Rossi at Andretti, whom Kirkwood drove for in Indy Lights.

His time of 1 minute, 38.827 seconds (111.721 mph) around the 3.067-mile road course was the fastest of the fourth and final session. But the fastest speed over two days was defending Indy 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing in the Friday morning session (1:38.4228, 112.182 mph in the No. 8 Honda).

Callum Ilott of Juncos Hollinger Racing was second in the final session at 1:38.8404 (111.707 mph) in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Rookie Marcus Armstrong of New Zealand was third at 1:38.8049 (111.707 mph) in the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing was fourth at 1:38.8718 (111.672 mph) in the No. 10. Defending NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske rounded out the top five at 1:38.9341 (111.602 mph) in the No. 12 Chevrolet.

Ericsson was the fastest in combined times followed by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard at 1:38.5682 in the No. 45 Honda, Kirkwood, Ilott and Armstrong. Positions 3-5 speeds were from the final practice session on Friday.

Indycar Series Test - Day 1
With members’ houses in the background, Romain Grosjean navigates the turns of The Thermal Club in his No. 28 Dallara-Honda (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

Drivers didn’t know what to expect before hitting the track. After the two-day test was over, NBC Sports asked several drivers what they learned from The Thermal Club.

“I think it’s a first-class facility, no doubt,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske said. “I think the entire facility here at Thermal really rolled out the red carpet for us. They did a tremendous job.

“It was a fairly flawless test, I would say, for two days. I think the great thing about this was we had a two-day test, which was fantastic. You got to have this warmup; this preseason build. That was the biggest positive for me, is that we were here, we were running cars. It was a great facility to do it at.

IndyCar Thermal Club test
Josef Newgarden said his No. 2 team (which has a new lead engineer) used The Thermal Club test as an opportunity for building cohesion (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).
Indycar Series Test - Day 2
Josef Newgarden (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

“I think the track was a lot more fun than we anticipated. It was challenging, definitely technical. I don’t know how relevant it is. For us, it wasn’t really relevant to anywhere we’re going, but that’s OK.”

But even though the track has no sector particularly similar to any road or street course on the schedule, there still were benefits.

“In a lot of ways, it is relevant,” Newgarden said. “For us it was relevant for building the team up, trying to work in a competitive environment, be competitive together. That’s everything. So regardless of is the setup going to apply to a certain track or another, (it) doesn’t really matter.

“For us, it was applying the principles of how we’re going to work together. From that standpoint, it was very productive for everybody. Raceability-wise, it’s hard to say. It was chewing tires up. Big drop-off from run one to two. I think from a race standpoint, that would be quite positive. You’d have big tire deg here.

“You’d have to do more work on runoff areas if we wanted to race here, but it’s possible. I don’t think it would take much effort to do the things to run an actual race.”


Indycar Series Test - Day 1
Will Power (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Kirkwood found speed in his Andretti Autosport machine, but he used the test to create a smooth working relationship with his new crew.

“I wouldn’t say that we found something here that is going to translate to anywhere, right?” the 2021 Indy Lights champion said. “This is a very unique track, although it was a lot of fun to drive, and it kind of surprised me in the amount of grip that it actually produced.

“It was quite a bit faster than what we expected.”

Many of the NTT IndyCar Series teams will test later this month at Sebring, Florida, as they prepare for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg to kick off the season March 5.

“It’s a very nice facility, a nice area, it’s pretty cool to have two days of testing here with a lot of high-profile people,” two-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Will Power of Team Penske told NBC Sports. “It’s a very technical, tough track.

“It’s pretty good.”

Indycar Series Test - Day 2
IndyCar drivers turns laps on the second day of testing at The Thermal Club, which is nestled in the Coachella Valley that is ringed by mountains in Southern California (Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images).

The Thermal Club received rave reviews, welcomed IndyCar and provided exposure to the movers and shakers of the business community that own the luxury villas and homes in this ultra-rich community.

Could it be a venue of the future for a series that sells lifestyle as much as on-track competition?

“This is a fantastic facility and the circuit is a fast circuit,” team owner Bobby Rahal told NBC Sports. “It’s pretty exciting to watch the cars run around here. I think it would be attractive to people.

“I’ll leave that up to Mark Miles and (IndyCar President) Jay Frye and everybody else whether we have a race here, but why not?

“It’s a great place.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500