IndyCar

Helio Castroneves is fastest in first full Indy 500 practice session, Danica is 18th fastest

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If there was any doubt that Helio Castroneves is bound and determined to earn a record-tying fourth Indianapolis 500 victory this year, he quickly put that to rest Tuesday.

Castroneves consistently had one of the fastest cars throughout the first full day of practice Tuesday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 102nd Running of the 500 on May 27.

That included being fastest in the third and final practice session of the day – which for the first time included 34 of the 35 cars entered in the race – with a top speed of 224.665 mph.

“We started right away with a good pace,” Castroneves said. “Good job, everyone, running issue-free.

“We still have a long way to go, but it was a very base test with the new car actually with traffic and everything. Looking forward to another day tomorrow.so we continue to work and pursue that right result.”

Ed Carpenter was second-fastest (224.523 mph), followed by Jay Howard (224.518), Scott Dixon (224.353) and Marco Andretti (224.217).

Carpenter also had the fastest non-tow time of all drivers on-track.

“It was kind of a weird day – I almost feel like this is Day Two for some reason,” Carpenter said. “I was pretty happy starting off. As we always do around here, we made changes to try and get better. We probably got a little worse, then we finally got onto some things at the end of the day.

“That’s why we have to keep working out here and try to get the feel for what we want. All in all, it was a good first day. I need to go talk to my teammates and compare what we all got in to over the course of the day. For Day One, it’s a good start, but I feel like there’s a lot more in the car, too!”

Ed Carpenter during practice for the Indianapolis 500. Photo: IndyCar

Sixth through 10th were Sage Karam (223.998), Charlie Kimball (223.921), Gabby Chaves (223.640), Zach Veach (223.551) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (223.488).

Howard recorded the most laps of practice (69), followed by 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi (68), Jack Harvey (67) and Ryan Hunter-Reay (66).

The three-hour session was interrupted for about a half-hour due to rain, but was able to resume to complete the first day’s activities. Practice on Wednesday runs from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET.

As for other drivers of note in Tuesday’s practice:

* Defending Indy 500 winner Takuma Sato was 13th-fastest (223.305 mph).

* Simon Pagenaud was 14th (223.284 mph) fastest in the final practice. He was also the fastest driver overall for the day, recording a speed of 225.787 mph in the morning session. Castroneves’ afternoon speed was the second-fastest overall for the day.

* Danica Patrick was 18th (222.728 mph).

* Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix winner, Will Power, was 22nd (222.495 mph).

* James Hinchcliffe, defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal all struggled, scoring 25th (221.900 mph), 26th (221.852) and 27th (221.671 mph) respectively.

* Rookie Matheus Leist was the only driver who failed to get on-track during either the morning or afternoon sessions. It’s unclear what the reason was, whether it was illness or something else, but a tweet from A.J. Foyt Racing said Leist will be back at-track on Wednesday.

Speaking of Leist, we thought we’d share this “coaching video” where Tony Kanaan — dressed as Leist (and with hair!) because he was missing — talked about the advice Kanaan “gave” Leist about competing in the Indy 500.

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Podcast: James Hinchcliffe might find a silver lining in disguise at Indy after ‘an emotional roller coaster’

Richard W. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway
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INDIANAPOLIS – No one could blame James Hinchcliffe for going incognito at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend, and he might do exactly that on the eve of the Indianapolis 500.

But it won’t be because the SPM driver is bummed about missing the biggest race of the IndyCar season. Actually, it’s because the crushing disappointment of getting bumped from the field a week ago might have a silver lining.

“I’ve heard all these stories from way back when to the present day of what it’s like just outside the speedway on Saturday night before the race,” Hinchcliffe said during a new episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast that was recorded and released Saturday. “Up Georgetown (Road), in the Coke Lot, you hear all these crazy stories about all these crazy parties and the rest of it.

“And honestly, we’re always isolated in our little bubble inside the speedway in the drivers lot. Part of me is tempted to dress up in disguise and just venture out there and see what it’s all about. I’m very tempted to do that and maybe document some of the exploits out there.”

And if Hinchcliffe lingers well into the night? Well, it’s not as if he has a 500-mile race to worry about Sunday.

“I know the (track’s) cannon is going to go off at 6 a.m. (Sunday) and wake us up, but I have fewer responsibilities tomorrow than most of my colleagues,” the Canadian said with a laugh.

Of course, it still has been one of the longer weeks in the life of a 31-year-old who is ranked fifth in the points standing and seemed on track for a career season. Before Indy, Hinchcliffe’s average finish in the first five races was 5.8, including a third at Barber Motorsports Park.

But the momentum screeched to a halt when his No. 5 Dallara-Honda was knocked out of the field in the closing hour of the opening day of qualifying at the Brickyard last Saturday.

Hinchcliffe gamely accepted the outcome with a series of graceful interviews shortly afterward and has maintained a brave face during a week of promotional appearances

“It’s been an up and down week,” he said. “It’s been an emotional roller coaster. The term good days and bad days doesn’t even apply. You have good hours and bad hours.

“The busier I’m keeping myself, the better I’m feeling. There were times you have that little driver tantrum in your head like, ‘I don’t want to do any of this stuff because I’m in a bad mood! And blah, blah blah.’ But talking about it helps you get over it, and staying busy takes your mind off it a little bit.”

Still, there is no escaping the reality of when the green flag falls on the 102nd running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

“Sunday is probably going to suck,” he said. “There’s no way around that. The start of the race is really going to suck. Then when I see how hard it is out there, I might think it sucks a little less.”

It has been easier to swallow because of “fan support that has just been completely overwhelming,” and Hinchcliffe of course has a perspective about Indianapolis that few have after a near-fatal practice crash in 2015 (“(Missing the race) actually wasn’t the worst day I’ve ever had at Indianapolis Motor Speedway”).

His comeback from the brush with death brought his team closer together, and he’s hoping the latest spate of adversity will do the same.

“One of the hardest parts was just being back with the crew right afterward, getting back to the garage and seeing a group of like 10 grown men literally brought to tears over what just happened,” said Hinchcliffe, whose team misjudged the amount of time left in the session after a tire vibration problem quickly ended what would be his final attempt. “It shows you how much this race means. If we had a really bad crash at Detroit on Saturday morning and couldn’t get the car fixed in time for Sunday. We’d all be like, ‘Man that really sucks. We’ll fix the car and come back next week.’

“But not getting to start Indy, man, is just such a gut punch for these guys and for all of us. But at the same time, it brought us closer as a group. There were mistakes made that we’re going to learn from. There’s no doubt that we come back as a stronger unit because of this. Emotionally, from a preparation point of view, from an execution point of view.”

There was a jolt of positivity from a second-place finish in a pit stop competition Friday. Hinchcliffe’s team, which has posted the fastest pit stop in two races this season, fell to Scott Dixon’s team in the final after pulling out a surprise victory over Will Power’s crew from the non-preferred right lane in the semifinals.

“Even if we beat Dixon in the finals, it wouldn’t have felt as good as that win did,” Hinchcliffe said. “It was such an awesome performance. The guys have been killing it in the pits. It’s definitely a point of pride for us.

“It was fun to get back in the car and do something for the fans and do something for the boys. We won a check at the end of the day. Add it to the beer fund and go have a fun Sunday night.”

Other topics discussed in the podcast:

–How and why he became a popular star by learning how to showcase his affable personality early in his career;

–Why the IndyCar Series needs a driver to play the villain role;

–An expanded explanation of why he believes the Indianapolis 500 should be separate from the championship;

To listen to the podcast, click here for Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play or play the Art19 embed below: