Alonso worried about Indianapolis 500 qualifications

INDYCAR Photo by Karl Zemlin
INDYCAR Photo by Karl Zemlin
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INDIANAPOLIS – Fernando Alonso could finally breathe a sigh of relief after running 77 laps in Indianapolis 500 practice on Friday.

Then, the two-time Formula One World Champion was asked if he were concerned that his “No Tow” speed of 226.869 miles per hour in the No. 66 McLaren Chevrolet, 30th in that category, had him concerned he might not make the field of 33 for the 103rd Running.

“I am,” Alonso admitted. “It’s the same for everyone. The order and when you draw the run are a factor. If it’s a hot day, that will matter because the track is hotter. Let’s see how it goes tomorrow, but nothing is guaranteed.

“As we saw in 2017, surprises can happen. Let’s hope tomorrow is a good surprise and not a bad surprise.”

A “No Tow” speed is a lap that is either 10-seconds ahead or 10-seconds behind the nearest car on the track, meaning the speed is not increased by the wake or draft of either car. That is a truer indication of the fastest speeds for a single lap around the 2.5-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

An even better indicator are teams that area able to simulate a four-lap run without the benefit of a “Tow.” That is even harder to achieve with so many cars on track during “Fast Friday.”

Saturday’s qualifications begin at 11 a.m. and run through 5:50 p.m. ET. Positions 10-30 will be locked into the starting lineup for the race.

Saturday’s qualifications will also determine the “Fast Nine” that will battle for the Pole on Sunday and the cars in the “Last Row Shootout” on Sunday.

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Ed Jones was the fastest driver on the “No Tow” list of 230.106 mph. His team owner and teammate, Ed Carpenter was next at 229.879 mph. Both drivers are in Chevrolets.

Alexander Rossi, the winner of the 100th Indy 500 in 2016, was third at 229.878 mph in a Honda followed by defending Indy 500 winner Will Power’s Chevy at 229.751 mph. Power’s teammate, Simon Pagenaud, rounded out the top five at 229.548 mph.

Conor Daly was the fastest driver of the day with a fast speed of 231.704 mph in the No. 25 Honda for Andretti Autosport. That knocked teammate Marco Andretti off the top of the charts after he put up a speed of 230.851 mph earlier in the day.

Both of those speeds came in traffic and had the benefit of a “tow.”

Alonso, the 2017 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year and two-time Formula One World Champion, was able to have a full day of on-track activity for the first time since practice began on Tuesday. Since that time, Alonso’s Chevrolet was sidelined by alternator issues on Tuesday that sent him back to the Gasoline Alley garage. On Wednesday, he crashed his primary car into the Turn 2 wall just one hour and 34 minutes into the practice session.

The McLaren IndyCar team brought out its backup car and began to prepare that with a hope of returning for a full day of activity on Wednesday. That took much longer than expected, and then the team discovered an issue with the Chevrolet engine and had to make an unexpected engine change that was going to take overnight.

A severe storm washed out the remainder of practice around 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.

After three days, Alonso had about a third of a day of practice combined.

That is why his full day of action Friday was finally a good sign for the beleaguered team.

“It was a positive day for us, and we were able to put the car on track and try different directions on the setup and learn a little bit about the track and the day,” Alonso said. “Obviously, the (turbo) boost was up today, so the speeds were higher, and it was more a qually (qualifying) preparation than race setups.

“We had a lot of new tires from the last couple of days. So, we were able to do a lot of runs, and yeah, hopefully that information will give us tomorrow a little bit of confidence into qualifying.”

McLaren’s Sporting Director is 2003 Indianapolis 500 champion Gil de Ferran, who has had to navigate through a maddening array of obstacles just to get a car ready in time for the Indy 500. Unlike 2007, when McLaren was using an Andretti Autosport car with an Andretti crew and engineering staff, this year, it’s a full McLaren effort.

The inexperience at this form of racing has left the team scrambling this week.

“I think we’ve been going through everything together, the whole team,” De Ferran said. “We have a lot of guys with experience, but I think as a crew we’re very new together. Obviously, we have to step through things very calmly, very slowly in a very determined manner, and today was actually all about that.

“We had a nice clean day, as Fernando said. We had a lot of tires. We were working through changes in the setup and slowly trying to trim out the car towards the latter half of the day. I think in the situation we find ourselves, it’s important to stay calm and continue to improve the car little by little.”

Of all of the days of frustration and waiting, Alonso said the worst was Thursday. That is when he admitted a high degree of anxiety.

“It was, definitely,” Alonso said. “I cannot lie to you. I was changed at 11:00. I was with the right suit, and I was supposed to be out at that time, and it was supposed to be at 1:00, then 2:30, then 4:00, and then it rained. Yeah, it was frustrating.

“Nothing we could do at that point, getting ready for today and having that extra time to check everything and to be ready. It was frustrating, but at the same time, as I said before, we saved a lot of tires that we were able to set up the car today maybe in a more — in a better way. And also, the track kept changing.

“Every day the temperature is completely different. Today, tomorrow, then Tuesday, Wednesday, things like that. Maybe things that you learn on Tuesday, Wednesday, they are not necessarily good for the race week. So, I think in a way, it was not too compromised, the performance of the car or how we felt. The more laps you do, better it is, so hopefully in the next couple of days we can run more.”

This is also a new car and aerodynamic package than the Dallara that the driver from Spain raced with at Indy in 2017.

“I think today didn’t feel too bad compared to 2017 Fast Friday,” Alonso said. “Qualifying, I think the cars are light in general, and the downforce you feel always low, with whatever package you put on the car. I think in traffic, what I heard is that it’s much more challenging now than 2017. As long as it’s the same for everyone, it makes a good show, and if the direction is this one, what INDYCAR is taking for the future and more horsepower or whatever, maybe you’ll see a better show.

“As long as you can follow somehow, which I think is quite important at the end of the day because you can remove the downforce, but you cannot follow closely, you miss the action and you miss the overtaking in the race. So, you need to be able to follow to a certain point to have a good show. Hopefully they take into account that.”

INDYCAR PhotoBack in the garage, for De Ferran and his team, the week of practice was turning into “Groundhog Day.”

“I think certainly yesterday, as you said, was a difficult day for everyone,” De Ferran admitted. “We’re a new crew. We respect this place a lot. So, we wanted to make sure that we put the car together the best way possible. Obviously that took longer than we expected, and I guess having been here before, I’m very aware — I was very aware of the importance of being out on the racetrack, both from Fernando’s perspective and for the development of the car.

“Even under those circumstances, I also know it’s very important to keep your cool, you know, so that you don’t make bad decisions going forward. Sometimes you can’t affect certain things, and you’ve got to make sure that you’ve got your game head on when things are ready to go. That’s what we tried to do last night. Obviously as Fernando said, it was frustrating for everyone, but today we’ll go back together.

“Fernando did a great job. The crew did a good job. We’re stepping through it and getting better together.”

IndyCar champion Will Power completes ‘Victory Lap’ at ceremony in Indianapolis

Will Power Victory Lap
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

INDIANAPOLIS – Will Power went on his “Victory Lap” last week to celebrate his second career championship as the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series champion.

It began with several media interviews in Monterey, California, the day after he won the championship with a third-place finish in the Sept. 11 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.

From there, it was off to Los Angeles for more interviews and personal appearances that included a VIP Tour at the Petersen Automotive Museum, several appearances on SiriusXM and lunch at The Ivy, where the Team Penske IndyCar Series driver was treated to Wagyu Beef.

“It was one of the best steaks I’ve ever had in my life,” Power told

From L.A. back to Power’s North Carolina home, near Team Penske’s home base of Mooresville, there was one stop left on Sept. 17 — the Victory Lap Celebration at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, an invitation-only banquet where Power and his No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet crew at Team Penske were honored for the 2022 NTT IndyCar Series championship.

They didn’t even have to check into a hotel and spend another night on the road. Power and his team left on a Team Penske plane from the Statesville, N.C., airport at 4 p.m. ET Saturday to fly to Indianapolis. On arrival an hour later, a limo bus took the team to IMS.

Power led the 2022 season with five NTT P1 Awards for pole, earning the NTT P1 Award as the best qualifier of the season for the fifth time in his career. Power also made history with his 68th career pole, breaking the all-time mark held by the legendary Mario Andretti.

Power and Scott Dixon also became just two of only five drivers to complete every lap of every race in IndyCar Series history.

“What a year,” Power said as he was awarded his personal Astor Cup trophy (the second in his collection after the 2014 championship. “What a phenomenal year coming off one of my worst seasons personally. We came back with a vengeance.

“I want to thank Roger and Kathy Penske for everything they have done for me over the years. I wouldn’t be standing here and have the numbers I have without what Roger has done for me. I’m given a car every week that is capable of winning the pole, races, championships, and Indianapolis 500s. I’m so grateful for that.

“Also, to Greg Penske, you are there every week now at every event and I know we will be in good hands moving forward with the Penske Family.”

There are many on Power’s team and at home, that helped support Power throughout his career. None is bigger than Power’s wife, Liz, who told Power before the season that he would win the championship and break Andretti’s record.

“I must thank my wife. I’m so lucky to have a wife with that crystal ball that can tell me what is going to happen,” Power said. “I can’t think you enough, babe. I love you so much and you have been a big support to me my whole career. We’ve been together 17 years, and I’ve been in the series 17 years. She has been such a huge support to me. The mother of our child and she is a fantastic mother.

“She can’t tell the future. She just had faith in me.”

Liz Power’s premonition came true and that allowed Power and his No. 12 Dallara-Chevrolet team to celebrate Penske’s 17th IndyCar championship and 42nd title in the racing team’s history.

“The 12 crew this year, I’ve never had such a great group of guys,” Power said. “Trevor Lacasse (chief mechanic) is such a calm guy, but he does such a meticulous job on the preparation of the car. He is very, very good at keeping the whole crew happy. It feels as if there is no pressure on us. That’s a huge part in getting the most out of people. It was our first year together with you as a crew chief. What a great year to start our relationship.

“Dave Faustino (Power’s longtime engineer), we’ve worked together for 15 years. He’s almost like a wife to me, a partner … apart from sleeping together. We have a very good working relationship. Sorry Dave, I’m an awkward person and you are not.

“The things we have been through in our years together, it’s crazy that we continually improve and get better. We are standing on the podium after winning the championship and we are talking about the car, the race, and the tires. We weren’t talking about the championship.

“We never stop. The other boys were laughing at us, but I’m already thinking about next year.

“Ron Ruzewski (Team Penske IndyCar Managing Director and strategist) on the radio, always calm. He has actually made me a calm person. I rarely get upset on the radio anymore.”

Power also recognized the fans who helped boost attendance at many venues on the schedule this season as NBC Sports enjoyed its largest IndyCar audience yet.

“This series is growing,” Power said. “With open wheel racing now so popular because of Formula One, it’s really our time to push and put money behind it and go now and take IndyCar to another level because we have the best racing product in the world.

“I have to thank my teammates and (Team Penske president) Tim Cindric. I can’t tell you how hard we push each other. We are ultracompetitive and love each other and push each other hard, so thank you.”

Power won the championship by 16 points over hard-charging teammate Josef Newgarden, who finished second in the standings for the third year in a row.

“Overall, I’m filled with a lot of pride for our team and what we were able to do this year,” Newgarden said in his banquet address. “Any year that you step in the championship, you can easily see the challenges it presents everybody.

“It’s a very difficult challenge for the teams and drivers. To be a part of it, make it through it and for us at Team Penske, to topple it, is a very big deal. We’re all competitive.

“The tough thing about being in a championship fight, especially with teammates is we all want to be the best. That’s how it should be. We are competitive people and want to be the best. But it’s a team sport.

“Will, tremendous season, great, great job. I think the world of everybody on our team. It’s a big group. I’m so happy for all of you on the 12-car crew. There is so much we can take into next year.”

Six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon was unable to attend the banquet because of the Goodwood Festival in England but sent congratulations to Power via a video message.

“I really want to congratulate Will Power,” Dixon said. “You drove a tremendous season this year. Even with some of the lows that you had, some of the mistakes with qualifying, you bounced back tremendously. I know how tough these championships are and to see you do it in the style that you did it in the last race of the season, massive congratulations.”

Power’s championship formula included one victory, nine podiums and 12 top-five finishes. Teammate Josef Newgarden was second in the championship with five wins but only six podiums.

Cindric saluted Power’s season in accepting the championship team owner award.

“Will, you took it to another level this year,” Cindric said. “You are the complete package. You completed every lap, had nine podiums, finished out of the top 10 just four times, broke Mario Andretti’s record, and you did it all without cussing at the officials on national TV.

“One complaint I do has is while most of us think you might be from another planet, you never told us your wife was a fortune teller.”

Cindric also honored the seasons of Penske drivers Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin, who won three times in his second full season (“You are one of only two full-time IndyCar drivers that has driven for us in the past 23 years that hasn’t won an Indy 500 or an IndyCar championship. Your time is coming.”).

Kyle Moyer was named team manager of the year (his fifth time and Penske’s sixth). Pennzoil presented Lacasse with the chief mechanic of the year for the first time, the sixth time for Team Penske. The No. 12 crew also won the Firestone Pit Performance Award for the most pit stop performance award points in 2022.

Power, Newgarden and McLaughlin delivered nine of Chevrolet’s series-leading 11 victories this season, helping Chevy win the Manufacturer Award for the seventh time since it returned to the series in 2012 and the first time since 2017. Jim Danahy, U.S. vice president, Competition Motorsports Engineering for Chevrolet, accepted the award on behalf of his team.

Christian Lundgaard was honored as the 2022 NTT IndyCar rookie of the year. Lundgaard, from Denmark, scored one podium, two top-five finishes and seven top-10s in the No. 30 Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He edged David Malukas of Dale Coyne Racing with HMD by 18 points in the standings for first-year series drivers.

Christian Lundgaard (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

“It’s been a tough season and looking at how it panned out, we struggled so much at the beginning of the season and how we were able to turn it around means so much to me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “It’s the one thing that you only get one shot at. I’m happy to have it.

“Being the first Dane at the Indy 500 certainly helps. Competing here for me is quite important and also special. To win this award and to be here in future years means so much to me. I have a chance to compete for wins and championships.

“This team gave me this opportunity at this track one year ago. We came back and got redemption. We got our first podium here. This year was 40 years ago that Bobby Rahal won the same award. It’s pretty special to keep it among the team.”

Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist was honored as Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champion after a dominant season for HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing. Lundqvist won a series-high five races in the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry and clinched the Lights championship with a race to spare, ending with a 92-point advantage over Sting Ray Robb. HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing owners Henry and Daiva Malukas accepted the team championship.

“I’m very proud of that,” Lundqvist said. “It’s cool to see. We are starting to look to the future, and this might not be doing too bad. It’s been great. As most of you can guess with Henry and Daiva Malukas (team owners), it’s been an incredible journey. So much fun that we’ve had. To be on the grid this year was so much of a struggle for us. I didn’t even know I would be doing this until January.

“To be able to pull out the season that we had, I cannot thank this team enough. We will celebrate this for a long time. I’m so happy and proud about that.”

Outgoing IndyCar Director of Medical Affairs Dr. Geoffrey Billows also was honored as he is leaving that role while battling cancer.

“When I think of Dr. Billows, I think of two words,” IndyCar president Jay Frye said. “One is selfless and the other is tough. He’s gone through a lot these last couple of years, and he didn’t want anybody to know. He’s an amazing man, and we are very grateful for what you have done.”

Dr. Geoffrey Billows with IndyCar president Jay Frye (Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment)

Billows was presented with a framed checkered flag signed by all drivers in the series as well as other IndyCar officials and dignitaries.

“I was not expecting this at all,” Billows said. “This means so much for me to be part of this family for the past 30 years. I’ve been presented with opportunities I never thought I would ever have. I can’t tell you how much I love all of you guys and care for all of you guys.

“Thank you so much. I want to also thank my wife, Tammy, who has been a pillar of strength as I continue on this journey with cancer for the past two years as well. You will still see me as a consultant because I love this too much to quit altogether.”

When the evening concluded, Team Penske boarded a bus to the airport for the short return flight to Statesville. They were home by midnight.

Power’s Victory Lap was complete.

“The best thing about this is I get to sleep in my own bed tonight,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500