Spins abound in Indy 500 test as Colton Herta averts disaster; Helio Castroneves hits wall

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INDIANAPOLIS — Three Indy 500 winners had spins coming out of the pits Wednesday during an open test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and four-time race champion Helio Castroneves hit the Turn 2 wall with about 80 minutes left in an unusually chaotic session.

Castroneves was taken to the track’s infield medical center where he was checked and cleared to drive shortly after the crash. The Brazilian won last year’s race in the same car that hit the wall.

“Very strange,” Castroneves said. “I wasn’t pushing, I wasn’t even trying. It was very unusual. I don’t know if you guys saw but I was like I can’t believe what just happened.”

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The testing session was delayed early in the day for about 90 minutes following rain. After the track dried, temperatures were in the high 40s (and eventually warmed up into the low 60s) as drivers took to the track.

Castroneves wasn’t the only veteran who had trouble with the chilly, breezy conditions.

Alexander Rossi, who won the Indy 500 in 2016, and 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power also spun in the warmup lane.

While neither hit the wall, Colton Herta looped his car through the first turn to avoid Power.

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Herta brushed the wall but averted major damage to his No. 26 Dallara-Honda while also missing Swedish driver Marcus Ericsson, who barely avoided hitting the Andretti Autosport driver as he came to a stop.

Power couldn’t explain it, either.

“It scared the absolute daylights out of me,” Power said. “I feel terrible for Colton because he (spun) because of me. But I had zero warning. Zero. It felt like water.”

Shortly after the third incident, series officials halted testing for the day so they could give the track a more thorough inspection. IMS, IndyCar and Firestone, the tire supplier for the series, said they were working to evaluate the warmup lane in turns one and two.

The test was scheduled to continue at 10 a.m. ET Thursday (with six hours of coverage on Peacock Premium). Inclement weather had the test on hold Thursday morning.

Herta, 22, quickly was released from the infield medical center and cleared to drive.

“I wasn’t sure how far up the track Will was, but I had to go wide,” Herta said. “I was close to having nowhere to go.”

Six-time series champion and 2008 Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing posted the fastest lap of the day at 227.187 mph. Conor Daly of Ed Carpenter Racing was second at 226.985, and rookie Callum Ilot of Juncos Hollinger Racing was third at 226.308.

“The first thing I said was the warmup lane felt slick and then I saw Alex spinning so it made sense,” Daly said. “I think the more we go, it will get better. It’s unfortunate but I think we can run if we’re just a little bit cautious with it.”

Seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson, driving with a surgically repaired hand in his first IndyCar season driving ovals, was 25th overall at 218.785 mph after recording the eighth-fastest non-tow speed in the first of the three two-hour windows.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Jared C. Tilton / Getty Images
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed their new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with US-based Ford Motors in a press event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Team Principle Christian Horner. They are the only Formula 1 team to launch in the United States, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen had already wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts will inevitably turn to establishing a dynasty – and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his principle rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.