Graham Rahal was fastest in Thursday's practice. Photo: IndyCar

Here’s What Drivers Said after Thursday’s practice session for the Indy 500

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Thursday’s practice session for the May 27th 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500:

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 United Rentals Honda) — fastest of the day: “Today was definitely a better day, for sure. From the get-go, I knew that yesterday we didn’t put in any effort to actually put in a decent lap. I found myself all day yesterday in the middle of the pack. It’s impossible to put up a number from that position. Then, clearly everybody starts questioning, worried, this and that, so there was a lot of reason and motivation to go and try to put together a decent one today. It was obviously our second lap. I went out, I was trying to do a qualifying simulation. I just went out, a bunch of guys came out. Stefan Wilson came out in front of me. He was at the end of the back straight as I was going out of Turn 2. I thought, ‘For once I’m just going to do this, just stay in it.’ Not normally my MO, but I thought I might as well put a good one up there, at least lower my dad’s blood pressure for the night, Lanigan and everybody. It was a solid run. We tried another qualifying sim. Every qualifying sim I did today, everybody came out in front of me. I didn’t get a qual sim today. Not a single one. Hopefully Mother Nature will be nice to us tomorrow. The good thing about that is we didn’t use very many tires today. A lot of other guys did. We should be pretty tire rich tomorrow if we need to go after it. We’ll see how it goes.”

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “Interesting day with a lot going on. We did qualifying work. We did race work. Hopefully, we can get some time out tomorrow, but it looks like the weather forecast is not so good, so we tried to get most of our qualifying work done today. We’ll see what the weekend holds, but we still need a little work in race conditions. That’s what we were chasing at the end of the day. I think Team Chevy has done a great job. The car seemed quick. We just need to get a little more out of it in race trim.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “I felt like today was pretty good. We established a pretty solid baseline on track today. I’m pretty happy with the car balance. I think that we have a great set up for the race and qualifying this weekend. I’m looking forward to the rest of the month. I believe that we have great potential at this track. Can’t wait to see how Fast Friday goes tomorrow.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “A bit of a mixed day for us. We actually started early with some mock qualifying trims just because we weren’t sure what the weather was going to do tomorrow and wanted to at least get a head start on that. That was decent – I think we learned some stuff there. We went into race running with everybody else, or playtime – group fun as we like to call it – and just kept working on the cars. The track conditions were a little hotter today, which made it a little slicker, definitely tricky out there. The race is going to be a long, tough one; it’s almost driving more like a short track with the way you have to lift in traffic and time your passes. It’s almost like we’re racing at Milwaukee again. It’s fun out there, and the Arrow Electronics car is getting better and better every time we go on track. So, hopefully, we’ll have a fast car over the weekend and a strong car over 200 laps next Sunday.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Today was a lot of fun. We worked a little bit on qualifying because the weather looks hit or miss for tomorrow. The Lucas Oil car feels great, the team, everything… I think we’re making good steps forward. It’s confusing here because it’s so hard to actually read where you are on the times because of how effective the tow is, who’s getting the tow and who’s not. I think we’re going to have to do some homework, see kind of roughly where we are. We still have some improving to do in some areas, but I’m having fun.”

JAY HOWARD (No. 7 One Cure SPM Honda): “Another solid day for the One Cure Honda. Certainly tricky conditions – I think that goes for everybody up and down pit lane. I’m pretty happy where we’re at and we’ll keep battling on tomorrow. Big thanks to the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports boys for the hard work; there’s a lot of changes going on today and I really appreciate everything they’re doing. Always thankful to Honda, One Cure and everyone who’s on board making this happen.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think it was maybe more of just an average day for us today. We did quite a bit of running in the PNC Bank car, but the conditions were just really difficult. When the track temp is hot like it was today, it just makes things tricky. We ended the day with a lot of race running with a number of other cars, to help us get more information for next week.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): 
“Overall we just spent a lot of time working on the balance of the car. It’s not really where we want it to be right now. We made a lot of changes, including a change back to a previous setup we ran here. Every day you learn something new here around Indianapolis, and we’re improving the NTT DATA car each time.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “We learned a lot today. We did a lot of qualifying work today because it might rain tomorrow, so I feel like we are in a good place for that. Still working on the race setup. It’s been a busy day, busy week.”

DANICA PATRICK (No. 13 GoDaddy Chevrolet): “Today definitely didn’t go as well as we’d hoped for the GoDaddy team. The changes we made seemed to help a little bit in traffic, but it just felt worse alone and I had a lot more understeer. We’ll regroup tonight and come back tomorrow focused on trying to find more speed before qualifying.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s been a good week for us. We unloaded pretty quick since the test. Now it’s more about trying to figure out what you’re going to need in 10 days, and it’s quite hard to know what the weather is going to do, so we’re trying to run in any type of weather. We’re recording everything on the books and have all that information for next week, so by Carb Day, you can try to predict what can happen on Sunday and what setup you need. Tomorrow, it’s Fast Fridayand you worry about four laps the first day (of qualifications) and four laps the next day. From tomorrow on, you’ll be making the car as fast as you can for qualifying.”

CONOR DALY (No. 17 United States Air Force Honda): 
“I think today we finally figured out some good stuff on the set up for our No. 17 U.S. Air Force car towards the end of the day, running by ourselves. That’s the only thing we’re concerned about because we have to worry about qualifying. We moved up the no-tow timesheet, which was nice, and that’s encouraging. But realistically, I never got to run in traffic and get a big tow lap like the others on the team. I’d love to try and do that, so hopefully tomorrow we can work on that.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “Overall it was a good day. Yesterday, we struggled quite a bit with the No. 19 Paysafe car and today we made huge improvements, which is really positive. We’re working well as a team and I’m super happy with the result today. I know it doesn’t mean much where we end up on the timesheet, everyone is looking for a tow and a big lap and we did get a decent tow lap, so that was good, but more importantly we have a good race car so far and we’ll keep working on it.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “It was a busy day, but we got a lot done. In some ways, we got better, in other ways, we didn’t – it was a tough day. Track temperatures were probably the highest they’ve been all month and it was a little windier again, so that gave us more to work on. The car has good speed in it, it’s just a matter of getting it right for whatever the conditions are at that point in time. It’s funny, we were fourth on the board tonight and yesterday we were eighth, but I would say yesterday was a better day overall. It just goes to show it’s hard to make much of the timing and scoring on days like this. The day was productive, nonetheless. We tested a lot of things and we need to really dig through everything we’ve done and get reorganized for tomorrow.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Preferred Freezer Service Chevrolet): “Track conditions were a lot more difficult today. We still got in some good work to get ready for tomorrow and also for qualifying. We still have to find some improvements for running in traffic. Overall, I feel like we’re in a good place and we’re moving forward every day. I’m just happy to be out at the Speedway and I’m really enjoying it. Every day, we are making gains.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet): “It was a good day for the team. We were laser-focused today on qualifying setup and making sure that we were prepared for Saturday and Sunday in case the weather throws off practice tomorrow. We focused a little on race setup yesterday, but we’ve made single car pace our priority for the majority of the week. Hopefully, the weather is OK tomorrow and we can see what we really have for qualifying in terms of pace for the No. 23 Fiasp Chevrolet.”

STEFAN WILSON (No. 25 #Driven2SaveLives Honda): “Really productive today after yesterday. I didn’t get much sleep last night, to be honest. I was really concerned with where we were, but today we rebounded. The Driven2SaveLives Intelisys team made some good changes, we hit on a couple things that really brought the car to life. We just made progress all day. It doesn’t really show on the time charts, but I think we’re really happy with the car in both qualifying and race trim and that puts us in a good stead for the rest of the weekend.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “Overall, more progress made today for the No. 26. Obviously, the timesheets don’t really reflect that – we went the entire day without catching a tow and I think pretty much every speed of the day was set in traffic. We’re just focused on the race car and what we can prepare for qualifying. Behind the scenes, I think everything is pretty good – we’ve got a little bit to work on. We’ll just keep trucking along. I’m excited to see what we can show on Saturday, because I think the Relay Group 1001 car is pretty good.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We finished top five on the no-tow list today, which feels pretty good. I think our qualifying car is pretty strong, but we need to work on the race car because there’s still more work to do in that regard.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “It was another day of running through some changes – we learned some things that we want, and we learned some things that we don’t. I think tomorrow the balance will change quite a bit, asking that much more of the tire and going that much faster. I think we’re in for another science experiment tomorrow, so we’ll see. It’s going to be interesting for everyone. We’ll have a good team group meeting tonight with the six teams and put our best foot forward tomorrow.”

CARLOS MUNOZ (No. 29 Ruoff Home Mortgage Honda): “Today went well. We found some things that worked well with the car and we made some good changes. I feel much better in traffic. This year, the car is a little bit different than what we’re used to in traffic, but everyone seems to have the same problem. For tomorrow, Fast Friday, we’ll need to concentrate on making the Ruoff Home Mortgage car fast. It is really important to qualify up front and I think the No. 29 car needs to find a little more speed, but we’ll get there.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack/Panasonic Honda): “We did a qualifying sim, four short ones actually. One was reasonably successful and the other three I had to abort due to the balance of the car. We were struggling to find speed on qualifying simulation. And then, in the later afternoon, we went back to the race trim and carried over the positives from yesterday, and I felt that was good, but today turned out to be a really difficult day. I struggled a lot with grip, speed and balance. We will have a look at the data. Tomorrow will be a completely different day. We bump up the boost, which I’m quite excited about, but before that, I think we need to really understand what happened today.”

KYLE KAISER (No. 32 NFP / Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “So it was another productive day. We made some big strides for our qualifying car, which I am very excited about. We still have some work to do when it comes to running in traffic, but we got to try a lot of different things and we found out some that didn’t work. We are going to try some more things, hopefully, next week. Tomorrow, hopefully, the weather holds off and we can work some more on our qualifying car to qualify for the biggest race in the world. So, I am very excited with the progress we made today and I am looking forward to expanding on that the next couple of days.”

JAMES DAVISON (No. 33 Jonathan Byrd’s 502 East Chevrolet): “It was a much improved day for the No. 33 team. We got in the mix in traffic, and found a reasonable balance that made us racy; something that we didn’t have yesterday. We trimmed the car for the first time at the end of the day and managed to run over 220 mph by ourselves. That was a great sign for us, we believe that we have a decent chunk left. We are going to study all the information tonight, and come out of the box either tomorrow, weather permitted, or Saturday.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “We were really just focused today on getting the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet in setup mode for qualifying. Obviously, for a new team, it’s important for us to qualify and then we’ll shift all our focus onto race running. We’re getting quicker and quicker every day and I think our times today were pretty promising.”

JACK HARVEY (No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM MSR w/SPM Honda): “We had a really solid day. Today we had to shift our plan based on what the weather is going to be tomorrow. Our qualifying simulations were pretty decent and we made good progress in the heat of the day. It was another day of progress, which is what it’s all about here. The team was looking at all sorts of data points and there is lots to look through tonight. We will just keep trying to do our best and try to get our AutoNation / SiriusXM car to the front.”

PIPPA MANN (No. 63 Dale Coyne Racing Honda): “I think today was another reasonable day of progress for the No. 63 Donate Life Dale Coyne Racing car. We felt like we made some good gains with the race car this morning and then we just spent the afternoon trying to find gaps in clean air to get an idea of where we think we want to run the car when we can turn the boost up tomorrow, if the weather cooperates with us. That said, so far, I’ve been happy overall with the car, and hopefully, we can keep that going through the weekend.”

ORIOL SERVIA (No. 64 Scuderia Corsa/Manitowoc Honda): “We really didn’t have the day we planned, in the sense that for the afternoon session we had a lot of things we wanted to try, but we didn’t have a chance to. The morning session went really well. We did a couple of good, solid runs on our own to start getting the setup for qualifying, so that was good. But then, in the afternoon we had a couple of little mechanical issues that kept us from being on track. Luckily, our teammates were out there doing a lot of laps and doing some testing for us, so we should gather all the information with all the engineers and I’m sure we will put the best package together. The important thing is its only Thursdaytomorrow is Fast FridayTomorrow will be a really good indication of where we stand in terms of our own speed for qualifying. I think we should be in decent shape.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Really productive and great day for the Harding Racing guys today. We’ve been steadily making improvements on the car and have been progressing nicely, being in the top 10 the first three days of Indy 500 practice. Tomorrow is Fast Friday, so I’m really looking forward to see what the No. 88 Harding Racing Chevy can do on track with the boost. Hopefully, the rain holds off.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We’re getting better in race trim, which I’m happy with. I’m not completely pleased with the outright car speed – I think we’re running flat at almost three-quarters of a mile slower than (Alexander) Rossi. We’re going to try to squeeze whatever we can out of this U.S. Concrete car to make the Fast Nine – that’s where we’re at speed-wise. We’re just going to keep chipping away at the race car and keep getting happier.”

 

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

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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.”