Here’s ‘What Drivers Said’ after Tuesday’s first full day of Indy 500 practice

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There were some expected performances and some surprises — as well as some disappointing showings — in the first full day of practice Tuesday for the May 27th Indianapolis 500.

There were three sessions Tuesday: a two-hour late morning/early afternoon practice that saw 25 of the 35 drivers entered into the 500 on-track. Then there was a four-car, two-hour session for rookie Zachary Claman Demelo, as well as three other drivers that needed refresher sessions to make sure they could get up to speed.

And then came the third and final session of the day, a three-hour practice that saw 34 of the 35 drivers entered take to the track. Only Matheus Leist did not take to the track in that session.

Here’s What Drivers Said after Day One was in the books:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It is fun to be back out here. It was a busy day. Had a couple of weather issues, but we got a lot of laps. I think it was a good start for us in the Verizon Chevrolet. All of us did our own thing today, which is a good thing. It means we can all come together tonight and pick apart everybody’s problems and hear everyone’s proposed solutions. The more we can put our minds together, the more we can fine-tune it, but the better we will be at the end of the week. Good start to build on.”

HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Pennzoil Team Penske Chevrolet): “We started right away with a good pace. 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.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “Productive first day. We got a lot accomplished and certainly a lot left to accomplish. That’s the benefit of this event: we have more track time than anywhere else. We had a pretty good day weather-wise, which is nice. We had to stop for a little bit for lightning, but ultimately, we got through most of our program. We still have a lot of things that we need to figure out to get the Arrow Electronics car running a little bit smoother in traffic, but quite a few days in the week still to go. We’ll get there – we’ve just got to keep our heads down.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “First official day of the Indy 500 is done. It was interesting. We had a little bit of everything: running in no traffic, running in traffic, some delays for weather, some high winds. We’ll go back and crunch the numbers… I think we have some big areas to improve on, but we have all week to practice in the Lucas Oil car.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think it was a good first day in the PNC Bank car. Opening Day here at Indianapolis is always such a cool deal. The track gets turned over from the road course to the oval, and then you know it’s time to go to work for the 500. We spent the majority of the time today making changes, going out, coming in, and working on the balance of the car.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “So far, so good here over our first few runs today. Of course, qualifying is important, but you need to have a really good race car for the following week. This car drafts up very well to the other cars, maybe even better than the car we had last year. Over the next few days, we’ll work on how that plays out with the NTT DATA car, and have things ready to go when it’s time for the race.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We went through a lot of big stuff, zeroing in on what we need. We’ll make some changes overnight and continue down the path to try to make it good in traffic.”

DANICA PATRICK (No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet): “I’m glad the test ended up getting moved to two weeks ago instead of six weeks ago, just to be a little bit more fresh from that. I felt pretty good. I’m still not completely confident in traffic. They’re trying to encourage me to use my tools and the bars, you know, the weight jacker and things. I need to feel the traffic first; before we create another variable as to what’s going on, I need to familiarize myself and get sharp again with the traffic and just the tendencies of the car. I felt like it was a really solid day. We tried a handful of things and found some stuff that worked. I feel like the car has a lot of good natural speed in it. It was very smooth.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Today was a slow day for us. We have a brand new car that we’ve been ‘massaging’ this entire season just to bring it out here. First days are always slow like this. We did a couple runs, then you go back to the paddock and examine the car. Then, the rain came and we decided to end our day. The boys (on the No. 14 car) have been working very hard, so we decided to give them a few hours off so that they can rest and we can begin fresh tomorrow. All in all, it was a good day for us. I’m happy with the car. The balance of the car is pretty good. We will see what happens tomorrow.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda): “It was a decent day. We had some ups and downs like you always do at the Speedway. We’ve got some work to do. By no means am I overly concerned, though. This morning the United Rentals Honda was the quickest on the no tow chart and that was a good sign. There was a lot to be positive about after that. This afternoon, we weren’t great, but everyone will continue to work hard and we’ll be just fine. It’s a long week; hopefully, we will get a lot of running in and see how it goes.”

CONOR DALY (No. 17 United States Air Force Honda): “It was nice to finally get out in the No. 17 U.S. Air Force car. We’ve been through many hours of work to turn the car around and get everyone on the same page and out onto the track, and that’s what we did at the end of the day. It’s nice to at least get out on Day 1. We didn’t do as many laps as we would have liked, but at least we were out there and turned some laps.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “I was speechless heading out on track for the first time aboard the No. 19 Paysafe car on the oval here at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It’s quite impressive. It was extremely fun and completely different to what I was used to in Indy Lights. It was an amazing experience and I’m happy I got to do it. Getting through the Rookie Orientation Program was quite easy, and it went really well. I was excited to finish it and to be able to get up to speed and to keep learning my craft. I was just really enjoying myself out there.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It was kind of a weird day – I almost feel like this is Day 2 for some reason. 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 1, it’s a good start, but I feel like there’s a lot more in the car, too.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “It was a pretty good day. We made a lot of changes and got a lot of reads on different things we wanted to test. We got a fair amount of running in traffic, behind a couple cars, then behind a dozen cars, so lots of information for me to think about as well as the team. Overall, it’s a pretty solid start and hopefully, we can get a lot more done tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “The No. 22 Menards car is looking really, really fast. It was a very productive day. So, yeah, felt pretty happy. We obviously are still learning a lot about the aerodynamics of the car. It’s quite different to what we had the past few years. There’s still a lot to learn for everybody, I believe. But we’re on the right track. I tell you what, feel pretty confident already, which is a big step forward. It’s definitely important to be already ahead of the game if we have some weather this week. I think that could be very important.

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet): “It was a solid first day, despite dodging some weather and a couple of things here and there. We made some really good progress with the No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet and I have a lot of confidence going into the rest of the week. We still have a long laundry list of test items to work through, but we seem to be addressing the big concerns. Now we’ll start focusing on the smaller things and start trying to find some lap time.”

SAGE KARAM (No. 24 WIX Filters DRR Chevrolet): “Car wasn’t too bad. It has a really good balance when I ran by myself. So, we started with that and then tried to trim out and gain more speed by myself. Once I felt comfortable there, I ran with traffic. This was the first time I ran in traffic with the new car and it’s interesting. It looks like everyone is dealing with the same issue, which is the lack of front grip. These new cars, when you don’t have clean air, you lose a lot of front grip. That’s the battle for everyone right now is to find front grip. Overall, first day back and P6. We’re in the ballpark. Speeds or times don’t mean anything yet, but it’s good to see us high on the pylon, it is a good feeling. But, it’s early so hopefully, we keep it up and we’ll see what happens.”

STEFAN WILSON (No. 25 #Driven2SaveLives Honda): “It feels great to get the first day of practice done. There is so much anticipation before you get in the car after being out for a while. You just want to get those first couple of runs out of the way and get familiar again with running 220 mph around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It feels like we got a lot accomplished today. We got through the refresher course pretty quickly and we were able to focus on the group running towards the end of the session with the rest of the team. I feel like we made a lot of good changes that I liked. I’m excited to come back tomorrowand try some new things.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “I think for our first day, we couldn’t have asked for more. The car is in a pretty good window, so now it’s just tweaking the balance for each individual driver on the team. It’s a high contrast between my first Indy 500 (2017) and starting my second already. I’m just excited to see what we can do the rest of the week with Andretti Autosport. So far things have been great, and I think they’ll keep progressing that way.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “Overall, I think it was a very good day – a lot better than we had here a few weeks ago at the test, so it’s a big improvement for the team from that standpoint. We finished the day the top Honda on the no-tow list, which is a good starting point for Day 1. We ran some good group runs at the end of the session and we’re starting to understand the car better on this course to know which direction we need to go. We still have a lot of work ahead of us, but I think it’s a pretty respectable starting point.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I think we made some good strides today. We started out – really our first day on track with this car. We had an issue in the open test so today was really our first day with this car on track. The DHL team did a good job giving me what I needed, and by the end we were able to run very competitive in traffic. We just need to keep working on it, get better and better in traffic and I think if we do that, we’ll be ready.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 29 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda): “I’m really happy to be back in the car. I think the goal today was to feel comfortable with the car again after being out of it for a long time – I think we accomplished that goal. We were not looking to do any particular speed, but we did some traffic runs in the afternoon. So I think we accomplished our goal as a team. We didn’t have any mechanical or electrical issues with the car, so I have to thank the Ruoff Home Mortgage guys who did an awesome job. We were able to run a lot of laps today, but we still have work to do, so I’m looking forward to getting back in the car tomorrow.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It was really nice to get back in the car on the legendary oval. We had an open test a few weeks ago and we just continued the work and learned quite a few things today. It was quite productive, but having said that, the day didn’t go as well as we expected. Hopefully, the weather cooperates and it stays dry for the rest of the week, because I think we need to work really hard to get this car to go faster, because it’s definitely a different type of car due to the aero kit. But I think it was a good, productive first day with three cars gathering data.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 NFP / Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “So it wasn’t the perfect first day, but I am glad we got to go out and run some laps and get a feel for the car. The car felt fairly different from what we ran a couple of weeks ago because the conditions have changed, so it’s going to take a little bit of work to get the car back to where we like it. Overall, we got to log some laps and collect some data. I know this is going to be important in qualifying for the race and then running the race. Overall, I am happy, but there’s some work to be done. I am very happy the team got the NFP car together and there were no issues on track. I am looking forward to getting back out on track the rest of the week and getting ready for qualifying.”

JAMES DAVISON (No. 33 Jonathan Byrd’s 502 East Chevrolet): “I think the No. 33 AJ Foyt/Byrd/Hollinger/Belardi team has a lot to be pleased with. For the majority – or all – of the one-off Indy entries, it’s been a mad scramble to get everyone’s cars together. Then, of course, you have a whole new crew that have got to gel together and build chemistry. These first days provide opportunities for gremlins to pop up, with the build of your car and so on, and we had none of that. I’m very pleased with that, and any performance that we were able to show was just going to be a bonus. We ended up getting a good speed there, improved the car constantly through the day. I was holding on to do a 217 (lap speed) if I was lucky to begin with, when I first got in the car. Then, I was much more comfortable with it and went a few miles per hour quicker straight away. Very proud of the team and looking forward to building on it again tomorrow, leading up to qualifying.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “I’d say it was a productive first day of Indy 500 testing for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet and really the whole Carlin team. We worked through a lot of things today that we wanted to check off our list and we ended the day in a good spot heading into tomorrow. Charlie had some quick times throughout the day, so we’ll sit down now and work through what worked and what didn’t and get ready to get back on track tomorrow morning.”

PIPPA MANN (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “It felt great to be back in an Indy car today. The Donate Life Dale Coyne Racing No. 63 car has started the month in a really great place. Despite being late to get on track, we were able to get through the first part of the veteran refresher today, which was our goal. The crew has worked extremely hard to get this car ready for today in the little time we had to work on it, but I also need to thank INDYCAR for allowing us to complete our first phase of the refresher because we were not quite ready to go out at the scheduled time.”

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 64 Scuderia Corsa Honda): “It was an interesting first day. We actually had a bit more issues than expected to go through the refresher, to our surprise. It was just some small little installation issues, but better to get them out of the way on the first day and have a smooth sailing for the rest of the month. Actually, I finished the day really happy. We were able to put in a couple of solid runs. I didn’t get to run much in traffic, but the No. 64 Scuderia Corsa Honda has decent speed in each zone and I cannot wait to start running in traffic with my teammates tomorrow. It looks like the weather will let us do the laps that we need, so I can’t wait.”

JR HILDEBRAND (No. 66 Salesforce DRR Chevrolet): “I felt good today with the car. We got up to speed quickly. There are a lot of familiar faces for me here at Dreyer & Reinbold. I made my Verizon IndyCar Series debut with DRR back in 2010. We have a lot of the same guys I have worked with the last few years, too, at ECR (Ed Carpenter Racing). I felt good with how the car rolled out of the gates and it went from there.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Just finished up the first day of practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We had a good time and we ended up eighth overall. It was a pretty decent session for us, just going through our checklist and working on a few things. It’s only our first day, so we can’t read too much into it, but we’ve had a good start and showed good potential. I’m happy to continue our progression and looking forward to what tomorrow will bring.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “To be honest, we still have a lot of work to do on the No. 98 car. The car has an imbalance at the moment. We need to resolve that issue before we can be satisfied, but I have a good crew behind me and I know they’ll be able to listen to my feedback and give me a more comfortable car tomorrow. Luckily it’s only Day 1 and we have three more days of practice before we qualify.”

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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