IndyCar: What Drivers Said after Friday’s practices at Gateway

Pietro Fittipaldi was one of the biggest surprises in P2, scoring the third-fastest speed. Photo: IndyCar

Here’s what drivers had to say after Friday’s two practice sessions at Gateway Motorsports Park in preparation for Saturday night’s Bommarito Automotive Group 500:

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): (About if any information from last year’s victory can translate to this year’s race, despite the new aero kit): “Well, we try to use as much as we can. Obviously, last year was our first year back. It was a new track surface. It hasn’t changed much, which is good. The track is not that different from a ride characteristic or really a grip standpoint. It seems similar to last year. It’s just the aero kit change that’s vastly different. So we’re trying to figure that out. I think we’ve drawn the most parallels from Phoenix. Phoenix is probably the most similar place that we can look to to try to make our race setup, but even from there it seems like we need something totally different. So yeah, we’re trying to — we sort of had an OK base to start, but we definitely need some more tuning work to get it just perfect. So we’ve got some good ideas. The guys have been working really hard and I think we’ll have a good game plan for this night session coming up.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We actually had a tough first day. I’m still not feeling very comfortable in the car, so we have to figure out some stuff for the race. Tony (Kanaan) said that his car is good to drive, and he was feeling OK even though he said it was going to be a long race because it’s very tough to pass here. We’ll debrief with the engineers and see what we can figure out for tomorrow and try to do a good race and finish in the top 10.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “A bit of a tough day here at Gateway (Motorsports Park). The track here drives a lot different than a year ago with the aero kit the way it is. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to test here, and after today, we’re really wishing that we had. I think we had decent one-lap pace, but obviously with qualifying being canceled, we start on points. It is what it is. The conditions tomorrow are going to be very different, a lot hotter. I think a little bit of an unknown for everybody, so we’ll just put our heads down, try to come up with a good solution for the changing conditions and try to move the Arrow Electronics car forward tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “I think we unloaded fast and that was a good way to start the weekend here at Gateway. The PNC Bank car started strong – that’s what you need to do when you’re in a championship fight and every spot matters. We only got a little time in first practice and tried as best we could to get the balance of the car right. I think there are probably some people that will complain about not qualifying and that we’re starting first as the points leaders, but I think we can all agree that practice is more important to have than the qualifying session with the situation. But overall, I think we have a good car and it should be a good race.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It’s not the situation anyone wants with the weather, but that’s what we dealt with today. The NTT DATA car was fast and I was really pleased with that given we were one of the few teams that didn’t test here earlier this season. It’s beneficial, obviously, for Scott (Dixon) to have qualifying canceled and start up front and we’ll do our best from P12 to make our way up there with him. In the running we had, the car was really good and we were able to make moves and pass cars. I’m really looking forward to the race tomorrow night.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was pretty good. We still need to find a bit to be better in traffic. We’re going to have a good think about it overnight to figure out what we might be able to change on the No. 12 Verizon Chevy. We need to be a little better with following. I think a lot of guys were struggling with following, so we’re going to work on that. It’s definitely a one-groove racetrack. The heat is going to make it harder tomorrow, but hopefully, it goes our way a bit. We’re definitely going to factor in the temperature difference.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s a shame because I was looking forward to qualifying for sure. We always talked about this race. We had high hopes, the team did well here last year and we have a strong car. I think we had a really good shot for the first three rows, but qualifying by points, we’ll be 15th and we’ll have to do some catch-up. I’m pretty pleased with the turnaround – the car’s fast, we’ve been in the top six all day, so we’ll see. (We’ll) do some TK miracles on the restarts and get back to the front.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “Final practice was good. I have very few complaints, which is the first time in a while. We have a little work to do, just because tomorrow is going to be so much hotter than it was today. We didn’t do a glory lap like some did. Even on that last short run, we went out on old tires and tried to learn. We definitely improved. We have our work cut out for us tomorrow just from the standpoint that is will be a long race, a physical race, and it’s going to be hot. There will be a lot of unanswered questions from today because it was cooler. Overall, I’m pleased. I think you can pass here; it takes some driving. I’m braking into Turn 1 and that’s a nice change. Tomorrow, you’re going to have to be smart about how you drive it, where you drive it, your lines and not make any mistakes. It was the right call to abort qualifying in favor of another practice session. Ultimately, after last weekend when we were pretty short on practice time, I think it’s important that we all get our time out here. I’m sure that the guys who tested here are fine either way, but for many of us this thing is a whole different animal with a lot less downforce.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “We had a good test here a few weeks ago, and this morning I was pretty happy with the SealMaster Honda No. 18. I thought we still had some more in the car and was looking forward to qualifying. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. During the second practice we just tried to do long runs on full tanks to see if we could run closer to people, but it just wasn’t happening. Every time I would get close the car would start to slide. I tried using the tools, we tried different setups, we just didn’t find anything that was, ‘Whoa, that was what I was looking for.’ It wasn’t super encouraging. We’ll sit down tonight go over the data and see what we can come with for the race tomorrow.”

PIETRO FITTIPALDI (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “With free Practice 1 shortened with rain, we didn’t really get many laps, and knowing that we are going to have to start last tomorrow since qualifying was cancelled, we needed to get a lot of laps, especially in traffic, and that’s what we did. We did like, basically, two race stints, which are about 50 or 55 laps each, and it was really good. Initially, it took me a little while to gain confidence in traffic because it’s been a while since I ran in practice. At Pocono, the race was short for me, and when we came to practice (test) here there wasn’t a lot of cars, but at the end of it, I think we were really competitive.”

ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We just haven’t quite got it figured out here, to be honest. I’m disappointed that we didn’t make more progress in the second session. We had an OK car during first practice and it felt like we were gaining on it midway through that last session, but we just can’t seem to get the right balance. We’re kind of chasing our tail back and forth; hopefully, we can put it together for tomorrow.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “The two sessions were pretty different for us. We seemed to be a bit more competitive early in the day. We have a few things to work on after tonight’s session going into the race. I feel comfortable with the car in traffic, we just seem to struggle to get the pace out of it. We’ll look it over, make a few good changes and get the Fuzzy’s Vodka car a bit stronger for tomorrow.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “It was great today that we got two practices.  We didn’t test here, so it is important for tomorrow’s race. With qualifying (canceled) and starting by entrant points, not too bad for us (starting sixth). It has been quite difficult to find speed around this track. We have struggled with it. The balance isn’t bad, but we will see how it is in the race tomorrow. Right now, it is a bit of an unknown. We worked hard on the Menards car and we will work hard to try for maximum points tomorrow. I don’t think it will be a problem if it rains again. I am more worried about finding speed.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “It was a shame that we weren’t able to qualify with the weather today. I think we could’ve qualified better than where we’re starting with entrant points, especially after testing here a few weeks ago. We learned a lot this afternoon and tonight. We’ll just have to figure out what we can do better for tomorrow’s race because at the end of practice, the pace of the No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet wasn’t where we thought it could be or what we were really expecting. We’ll learn from what Max (Chilton) and the No. 59 car did, as well as the data we were able to come away with in both practice sessions, and make sure we’re ready for tomorrow night.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group 1001 Honda): “All in all, a little disappointed we didn’t get to qualify today because I think P8 in the first practice and P5 in this last session really goes to show the speed that we have. We have a great race car – the Group 1001 guys have given me an incredible car. Tomorrow will be a little bit of a long night, but hopefully, we can find our way close to the front. I know I can run with (Scott) Dixon and (Alexander) Rossi if I get up there with them.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “This track is always awesome. It’s an amazing surface and the Firestone tires are pretty great in the sense that you can do your fastest lap at the end of a stint and it just keeps getting better and better.” (About working in traffic): “I think it’s a similar issue we are fighting at all the ovals. You struggle with the washout on the exit when you get close to a car. It’s not as dramatic as we’ve seen on the superspeedways by any means, but certainly a challenge and it’s kind of finding that balance of how aggressive you can be versus where it starts to bite you in other places.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I think the day went pretty good, overall. We were able to make a lot of progress on the night session, running in heavy traffic the whole time. On one side we’ve made the DHL car better, but tomorrow we’re going to have completely different temperatures to deal with, so we have quite a few question marks to cover. It looks like the Andretti cars are good, and hopefully, we can pin the right setup on it for the race tomorrow night.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “We had an issue in the first practice session and the car was not right. In the second session, the car was much better. It was fixed and back to normal, so we were immediately more competitive than the first session. We made reasonable progress, but we still need to find more speed for tomorrow. Today was a relatively cooler day and tomorrow is predicted to be hotter, so it will be tricky and quite challenging, so we will do our best job of course.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “It was another condensed schedule for us on an oval that was affected by weather for the second weekend in a row. Luckily, we tested here as a team a few weeks ago and we felt pretty confident with our test day. The unfortunate thing, though, is that it depends on the track conditions the day you test and what the weather actually does on a race weekend because we’ve been struggling a bit today with the different track conditions. I feel like both Charlie (Kimball) and I extracted the most out of the cars that we possibly could and I think we have the best car that we can have for the start of the race tomorrow with what we’ve got. We’ll just try to keep our nose clean and get a decent result for the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet and the team.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “I had a great time out there today. It was really fun. I’d say after my first day at Gateway (Motorsports Park), it’s now my favorite short oval. We started the day with a good car and we just kept on making it better throughout the day. It’s unfortunate that we don’t get to qualify and show our speed, but I’m confident with the car we’ve had today and I’m ready to go racing tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Curb Honda): “The day ended OK. We were pretty good in traffic, but a little loose on our own, so we just need to make sure we do the right thing for tomorrow. I didn’t really feel weak against anybody, so that’s good. It’s good that the session ended up being pretty in line with race times, but tomorrow will be hotter, so we need to guard against that. I’m sure it’ll be a long discussion tonight to make the right decision.”

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area.

The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full IndyCar season. The team showed improvement at Thermal, and Grosjean (who was fourth fastest on Day 1) said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”