IndyCar

Team Penske takes top 3 speeds in opening morning practice for Indy 500

Leave a comment

Indianapolis Motor Speedway is open and the first practice for the May 27 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 is in the books.

Rain briefly interrupted the two-hour session, which ran from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. ET, but cars were back on track in short order once the surface dried and was inspected.

Team Penske dominated the first session with Simon Pagenaud, still searching for his first Indy 500 victory, having the fastest lap at 225.787 mph.

Helio Castroneves, hoping to earn his fourth career Indy 500 victory, which would tie him for most triumphs at the Brickyard with Al Unser, A.J. Foyt and Rick Mears, was second-fastest at 223.445 mph.

Josef Newgarden was third-fastest at 223.229 mph, followed by Marco Andretti in the fastest Honda (223.214 mph), Ed Carpenter (223.124 mph), INDYCAR Grand Prix winner Will Power (222.839 mph), Scott Dixon (222.734 mph), Carlos Munoz (222.584), Zach Veach (222.262) and J.R. Hildebrand (221.620).

A total of 25 of the 35 drivers entered in the 500 took to the track for the first session.

Then, from 1 to 3 p.m. ET, there was a two-hour session for Stefan Wilson, Pippa Mann, James Davison, Oriol Servia to undergo refresher sessions, and Zachary Claman Demelo – who earlier in the day was named to replace the injured Pietro Fittipaldi in the 500 – to complete his Rookie Orientation Program.

Claman Demelo was fastest of the group (220.852 mph), followed by Wilson (218.186 mph), Servia (217.209) and Davison (217.169). Mann did not come out on the track, but is expected to do so for the final practice of the day.

Rain is in the forecast for this afternoon, which could impact the third and final practice of the day, which is slated to run from 3 to 6 p.m. ET. In addition to veteran drivers, others expected to take to the track for the first time include Danica Patrick, Robert Wickens, Jay Howard, Sage Karam, Matheus Leist and Kyle Kaiser.

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”