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.”

 

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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