Indy 500 test spins have drivers and officials hunting a reason for lack of pit lane grip


INDIANAPOLIS – An odd phenomenon developed with three spins during the opening day of Indy 500 testing that left NTT IndyCar Series drivers and officials puzzled while searching for a reason Wednesday.

Three experienced veterans, with six victories and a combined 546 laps led in the Indianapolis 500, were involved in separate crashes on the warmup lane, an access road that connects pit lane with the entry onto the track in Turn 2.

It all started at 12:30 p.m. ET when 2016 Indy 500 winner Alexander Rossi of Andretti Autosport spun after exiting pit road on his slow-speed installation lap. The incident drew some bewildered looks as many believed cold temperatures combined with early morning rain led Rossi to hit the throttle too hard for the conditions.

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The next four hours on the 2.5-mile oval were conducted mostly without incident. That all changed after the clock struck 5.

Four-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves, who has led a whopping 325 laps at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, spun on the pit access road, slid across the grass strip that separates the road for the race track and slammed into the Turn 2 wall with his right front at 5:11 p.m.

“I didn’t do anything strange; I wasn’t even pushing, and the car just spun out,” Castroneves said. “It was a very odd situation unfortunately. It was very strange. The temperatures are a little cooler, but I’ve run in colder conditions than that.

“I wasn’t even pushing. I wasn’t even trying. The car felt good. My reaction was, ‘What happened?’ I wasn’t trying anything different. It’s just strange what happened.”

Though Castroneves won’t return for the second day of testing, he was optimistic Meyer Shank Racing could repair the car that won last year’s Indy 500.

Shortly after the track returned to green, 2018 Indy 500 winner Will Power lost it on the access road and zipped up the track toward Turn 1, directly into the path of a long line of cars running in a pack.

Colton Herta tried to avoid Power’s No. 12 Verizon Chevrolet, spun and headed toward the infield wall in the south short chute area of the track between Turns 1 and 2. Marcus Ericsson, who had to avoid Castroneves’s car a few minutes earlier, barely made it between Herta’s Honda and the infield wall in the third and final incident of the day.

That occurred at 5:32 p.m. ET, and the track never returned to green despite 30 minutes left of running time as series and track officials elected to investigate the problem after consultation with Firestone.

IndyCar race director Kyle Novak along with Indianapolis Motor Speedway director of track operations Jason Pennix surveyed the surface in the pit access area. They were soon joined by IndyCar president Jay Frye and technical director Kevin Blanch.

“The first thing I said all day was I thought the warmup lanes felt slick,” Ed Carpenter Racing driver Conor Daly said. “I didn’t know if I was just being a bit of a weirdo, but then I saw Alex spinning, so it made sense.”

According to IndyCar, track crews began the process of dragging tires on the track and pressure washing the warmup lane. It’s the same group that applied a Rapid Penetrating Emulsion (RPE) treatment on the track in 2018 to seal the surface. The pit warmup lane had that treatment applied over the offseason.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles told the Indy Star later Wednesday night that the application of the sealer last fall likely had caused a lack of grip. IndyCar officials still had been hopeful of an on-time start of 10 a.m. ET for Thursday’s session, which will be televised live on Peacock, but inclement weather had the test on hold Thursday morning.

The drivers remained completely stunned they had lost control of their racing machines. Power said “it’s my worst nightmare. It’s something you always think about as drivers because you’ve seen it.

“Man, it just lit up,” Power said. “I didn’t have much lateral (steering wheel) in it. I was full throttle in second gear, but it has a very tall second gear. I had already done a lap to get rear tire temp, or so I thought. It scared the absolute daylights out of me. The situation where you come up on the track, and there is a whole pack coming at those speeds.

“I feel terrible for Colton. He crashed because I spun. I had zero warning. Zero! Before going out again, I told the engineers, ‘Look at the video; we’ve got to understand what happened there.’ I don’t understand what happened.

“When I spun and I’m going up the track. I thought this was it. This is going to be bad. It grabbed the rear and it headed back in and then I saw Colton crash and I’m causing other people to have wrecks. Scary, scary.”

For the brief moments Power was in his spin, it brought back memories of the horrifying wreck in September 2021 in Germany in which Alex Zanardi lost his legs.

“You saw what happened to Alex Zanardi in 2001, and it’s something you are aware of and you’re cautious of during practice and I can’t believe it caught me out,” Power said.

It was a similar situation that happened to Scott Dixon on Lap 52 of the 101st Indianapolis 500 in 2017 when Jay Howard hit the Turn 1 wall, ricocheted across the track, and Dixon’s Honda slammed into the disabled car. That sent Dixon’s Honda sailing airborne in the worst crash in his career.

“I think any situation like that is not great,” Dixon said. “I think Will was extremely lucky there that the car didn’t roll back any further because it would have been massive.”

Marco Andretti, who is back in an Indy car for the first time since the 2021 Indianapolis 500, believes grinding the track combined with higher temperatures on Thursday should improve the situation.

“If they could grind the track, that would be perfect,” Andretti said. “I don’t know how long something like that takes, what a process that is. I would feel a lot better with that, for sure.

“That’s the scariest part of our business. They probably weren’t pushing until then, right? That’s why they didn’t feel it. I felt it on my first run because I get a lot of feel for that going out of the pits. I said, ‘This is going to claim somebody today. I didn’t know it would claim three or four.’ Hopefully they find a remedy.”

Daly believes it’s a similar situation to last month at Texas Motor Speedway, where an extra practice session was held to work in rubber on the upper lane for more grip.

“I think it’s also cold and it’s Day One,” Daly said. “Just tell everyone, ‘Hey, I think it’s more important for us to get on the track and just continue to keep doing laps.’ Every lap that people are leaving the pits, it’s probably going to get better.”

Power, one of the most experienced drivers in the field, just wanted answers on why he car snapped on him. He advocated a deeper look at the video and a track inspection.

“It was a bad situation,” the Team Penske driver said. “I want to know what I did wrong because I never want that to happen again. I wanted to see if it was something on the track because it felt like water. As soon as I finished spinning, I wondered if there was water there.

“It was such a shock to me. I’ve been out of that pit lane hundreds of times. I had been super careful because Rossi spun. I had been taking it easy on the aprons for that reason. It’s just testing, and you never want to risk going quick on the apron when other cars are at speed. It just surprised me. Normally, you’re ready for that stuff. You’ve had a whole career of this sort of thing, and you get a warning.”

Power understands where all the bumps are located on any given race course. That’s what racers do, and they know where to put their car and use those bumps to their advantage. He noticed something different, though, on Wednesday.

“One thing I have noticed there is more of a bump where you go over the road course,” Power said. “I’m wondering if it just got a spike of boost or something like that.

“It was a surprise to me. I said, ‘We’ve got to understand this. I don’t want anyone else to have to go through this. Or for anything to happen to anybody else or anybody to get hurt because of it.”

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500 

Jett Lawrence wins Hangtown Pro Motocross, remains perfect in 450s

Lawrence Hangtown Motocross
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Jett Lawrence remains perfect in the Pro Motocross series after recording another perfect round at Hangtown in Rancho Cordova, California. In his second start on a 450, Lawrence won his second National with his fourth consecutive moto win. It is getting increasingly difficult to find the right superlatives to describe the exploits on the reigning 250 West Supercross champion.

“The track was so brutal out there,” Lawrence told NBC Sports Jason Thomas. “The bike handles amazing even when it’s not too friendly. You had to be really patient; you couldn’t take too much. I didn’t eat enough before that second moto. I kind of lost energy halfway through, but luckily I could use technique and balance and just keep that flow going.”

Lawrence leaves Hangtown with an 18-point advantage over Ferrandis in the 450 Motocross standings, but perhaps more importantly, he climbed to 19th in the SuperMotocross standings and should he stay there, he has an automatic invitation to the Main events in the SMX Championship.

“On this track, you just have to manage,” Lawrence continued. “If you try to take too much and not respect the track, it will bite you very quickly. It was humbling on the first few laps. I got kicked on the cutout at the start of the third section, the tabletop going to the left. I had to get my focus because the boys were coming.”

Still in his first few races since returning from a concussion suffered at Houston in the Supercross series, Dylan Ferrandis finished second with results of third in Moto 1 and second in Moto 2. While Ferrandis was happy with the result, he remains hopeful that he will contend for victory shortly.

“The first moto was very hard for my physically, Ferrandis said. “I got arm pump and when you get arm pump your body gets tired. But I’m very happy because we made a big change for the second moto. We tried stuff every session today and in the last moto the bike was much better, but unfortunately I wasn’t sure what I could do with this bike because the track was very hard and difficult to pass.”

RESULTS: How they finished in the 450 Overall at Hangtown

With the rash of injuries at the end of the Supercross season, the podium was filled with heartwarming stories. Cooper Webb returned to action last week in Pala and failed to make the podium. He is steadily improving with a third-place finish in Hangtown. after finishing with a 4-2.

“It’s incredible what seven days can do,” Webb said. “Last week I felt like I was going to get lapped in the second moto. This week, I could see the leader. It was nice. I fought hard, learned how to suffer again there and that felt nice.

Moto 2 wasn’t pretty for Lawrence. On several occasions in the opening laps, he nearly high sided as he rode the front wheel through the ruts. The reward was worth the risk. By the halfway point, Lawrence had 4.5-second lead over Webb, who was embroiled in a tight three-rider battle for second with his teammate Aaron Plessinger pressuring him and Ferrandis ready to take advantage if those made contact.

It took 20 minutes for Plessinger to get around Webb and once he did, he trailed Lawrence by four seconds. But then, with three minutes remaining, Plessinger crashed and had difficulty restarting the bike, handing second back to Webb who has seven seconds behind Lawrence. Plessinger fell to fourth with results of third and sixth.

Adam Cianciarulo rounded out the top five with a 5-4.

Last week Hunter Lawrence won the overall with a 3-1. He repeated that feat in Hangtown in an exact replica of his Fox Raceway results last week. In Moto 1, Lawrence got off to a slow start and lost 10 seconds in the opening laps. Forced to overcome a sixth-place position in the race at the end of Lap 1, he once again caught the riders ahead of him when the field hit heavy traffic. For the second week, scored another 3-1 for the Hangtown National win.

“The start was crucial’ I knew I had to go,” Lawrence told NBC Sports’ Jason Thomas. “They laid a lot of water down, so I didn’t want to be behind any longer than [I was]. First hot one of the year, was a bit of a wakeup call, so I’m happy to get out of here safe and healthy.”

Lawrence’s third-place finish in Moto 1 featured a fierce battle for final spot on the podium when he caught Spain’s Guillem Farres and France’s Tom Vialle. With Lawrence hailing from Australia, the international nature of the sport was highlighted.

Lawrence left Hangtown with a 10-point advantage over Haiden Deegan in the Pro Motocross championship battle.

Click here for 250 overall results

Justin Cooper finished second in both motos to finish second overall. Hangtown represented a huge improvement from Fox Raceway where he finished fifth overall with a 5-4 finish in the two motos. Cooper pressured Haiden Deegan in the second half of Moto 1 and he earned the holeshot in the second moto and stayed within three seconds of Lawrence in that race.

“He was following me a little bit, checking out my lines, seeing where he was better,” Cooper said. “It’s disappointing to give up the lead like that but it was way better than last weekend. I will definitely take two seconds. I want to be on the top of the step. I feel like I get close to the top step but I never get it done. That’s building up the frustration – the fire. I really want to get one of these wins, so it’s time to start digging.”

Haiden Deegan earned the first holeshot of his career in Moto 1 and rode away from the field, building a four-second lead in the opening laps. Cooper trimmed the lead at the halfway point and for a while it leveled off at two seconds. Then Cooper made another charge with three to go and closed to within a second. Deegan was biding his time, however.

“I was saving a little. I knew at the end Justin was going to try and put a charge on. I let him get up close and then sent it super hard at the end to break him a little at the end.”

Deegan’s first moto win comes in only his fourth National and he remains perfect in regard to podiums this year.

“This was a dream since I was a little kid, to win,” Deegan said. “And in my fourth race, it’s gnarly. I was just sending it. I was getting a little tired at the end becasue I left my mouth open the whole time. It’s unreal; I’m so hyped. I wanted to win bad and I proved it to you guys.”

Chaos erupted in turn 1 in Moto 2 Jeremy Martin went and another rider ran over his arm. Michael Mosiman crashed further down the track on that same lap. Both riders were helped off course by the Alpinestars Medical team.

2023 Motocross Race Recaps

Fox Raceway: Jett Lawrence wins in first 450 start

2023 Supercross Race Recaps

Salt Lake City: Chase Sexton ends the season with win
Denver: Chase Sexton wins, takes points’ lead with Eli Tomac injury
Nashville: Chase Sexton keeps hope alive; Cooper Webb out
New Jersey: Justin Barcia wins muddy race; first in two years
Atlanta: Chase Sexton is back in the championship picture
Glendale: Eli Tomac wins 51st, breaks tie with James Stewart
Seattle: Eli Tomac wins and ties Webb for first
Detroit: Chase Sexton inherits win after Aaron Plessinger falls
Indianapolis: Ken Roczen gets first win in more than a year
Daytona: Eli Tomac extends Daytona record with seventh win
Arlington: Cooper Webb wins for second time, closes to two of Tomac
Oakland: Eli Tomac ties Ricky Carmichael with 48 wins
Tampa: Cooper Webb gets first 2023 win
Houston: Eli Tomac bounces back from A2 crash to win third race of 2023
Anaheim 2: Triple Crown produces new winners Chase Sexton, Levi Kitchen
San Diego: Eli Tomac, Jett Lawrence double down
Anaheim 1: Eli Tomac wins opener for the first time

More SuperMotocross coverage

Chase Sexton is out for Hangtown
Enzo Lopes re-signs with Club MX for 2024
Record Supercross attendance reported in 2023
SuperMotocross Power Rankings after Pala
Results and points after Pala
Jett Lawrence wins Pala in his first MX start
450 Champion Chase Sexton takes back what he gave away
250 West Supercross champion Jett Lawrence ends dream career
250 East Supercross champion Hunter Lawrence overcomes doubt and injury