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


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.

Ford unveils a new Mustang for 2024 Le Mans in motorsports ‘lifestyle brand’ retooling

Ford Mustang Le Mans
Ford Performance

LE MANS, France — Ford has planned a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with its iconic Mustang muscle car next year under a massive rebranding of Ford Performance aimed at bringing the automotive manufacturer “into the racing business.”

The Friday unveil of the new Mustang Dark Horse-based race car follows Ford’s announcement in February (and a ballyhooed test at Sebring in March) that it will return to Formula One in 2026 in partnership with reigning world champion Red Bull.

The Mustang will enter the GT3 category next year with at least two cars in both IMSA and the World Endurance Championship, and is hopeful to earn an invitation to next year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans. The IMSA entries will be a factory Ford Performance program run by Multimatic, and a customer program in WEC with Proton Competition.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, also an amateur sports car racer, told The Associated Press the Mustang will be available to compete in various GT3 series across the globe to customer teams. But more important, Farley said, is the overall rebranding of Ford Performance – done by renowned motorsports designer Troy Lee – that is aimed at making Ford a lifestyle brand with a sporting mindset.

“It’s kind of like the company finding its own, and rediscovering its icons, and doubling down on them,” Farley told the AP. “And then this motorsports activity is getting serious about connecting enthusiast customers with those rediscovered icons. It’s a big switch for the company – this is really about building strong, iconic vehicles with enthusiasts at the center of our marketing.”

Ford last competed in sports car racing in 2019 as part of a three-year program with Chip Ganassi Racing. The team scored the class win at Le Mans in 2016 in a targeted performance aimed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ford snapping Ferrari’s six-year winning streak.

Ford on Friday displayed a Mustang with a Lee-designed livery that showcased the cleaner, simplified look that will soon be featured on all its racing vehicles. The traditional blue oval with Ford Performance in white lettering underneath will now be branded simply FP.

The new mark will be used across car liveries, merchandise and apparel, display assets, parts and accessories and in advertising.

Farley cited Porsche as an automaker that has successfully figured out how to sell cars to consumers and race cars in various series around the world while creating a culture of brand enthusiasts. He believes Ford’s new direction will help the company sell street cars, race cars, boost interest in driving schools, and create a merchandise line that convinces consumers that a stalwart of American automakers is a hip, cool brand.

“We’re going to build a global motorsports business off road and on road,” Farley told the AP, adding that the design of the Mustang is “unapologetically American.”

He lauded the work of Lee, who is considered the top helmet designer among race car drivers.

“We’re in the first inning of a nine inning game, and going to Le Mans is really important,” Farley said. “But for customer cars, getting the graphics right, designing race cars that win at all different levels, and then designing a racing brand for Ford Performance that gets rebranded and elevated is super important.”

He said he’s kept a close eye on how Porsche and Aston Martin have built their motorsports businesses and said Ford will be better.

“We’re going in the exact same direction. We just want to be better than them, that’s all,” Farley said. “Second is the first loser.”

Farley, an avid amateur racer himself, did not travel to Le Mans for the announcement. The race that begins Saturday features an entry from NASCAR, and Ford is the reigning Cup Series champion with Joey Logano and Team Penske.

The NASCAR “Garage 56” entry is a collaboration between Hendrick Motorsports, Chevrolet and Goodyear, and is being widely celebrated throughout the industry. Farley did feel left out of the party in France – a sentiment NASCAR tried to avoid by inviting many of its partners to attend the race so that it wouldn’t seem like a Chevrolet-only celebration.

“They’re going right and I’m going left – that NASCAR thing is a one-year deal, right? It’s Garage 56 and they can have their NASCAR party, but that’s a one-year party,” Farley said. “We won Le Mans outright four times, we won in the GT class, and we’re coming back with Mustang and it’s not a one-year deal.

“So they can get all excited about Garage 56. I almost see that as a marketing exercise for NASCAR, but for me, that’s a science project,” Farley continued. “I don’t live in a world of science projects. I live in the world of building a vital company that everyone is excited about. To do that, we’re not going to do a Garage 56 – I’ve got to beat Porsche and Aston Martin and Ferrari year after year after year.”

Ford’s announcement comes on the heels of General Motors changing its GT3 strategy next season and ending its factory Corvette program. GM, which unlike Ford competes in the IMSA Grand Touring Prototype division (with its Cadillac brand), will shift fully to a customer model for Corvettes in 2024 (with some factory support in the IMSA GTD Pro category).