Archive for May, 2012

By: Wm. R. LaDow

Friday, May 25, 2012

Published in the Post-Tribune — A Chicago Sun-Times Media Publication

May 26, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS – Carb Day got off to a blistering start with IndyCar teams getting in their last hour of practice before Sunday’s 500 mile race.

Thirty-two cars hit the track with Dario Franchitti and Target Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon running the quickest at 222.360 and 222.274 mph respectively. The only incident during practice was with the No. 64 Lotus-FP Journe-Fan Force United Car driven by Jean Alesi (R) with a front brake issue. Both right and left front carbon brakes were smoking profusely when Alesi pitted. Brake problems developing on the slowest car in the field do not bode well for Alesi, as he is likely to be mired in lap traffic for most of the day Sunday during the 500.

Following IndyCar practice, the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 got off to an ominous start as several drivers expecting the green flag, were instead yellow-flagged, as cars had already begun passing each other before the field even made it to the start/finish line. Drivers showed little patience running four wide when the race finally went green.

Driver judgment was dicey early on when on the seventh lap, Oliver Webb, moved down into the groove making contact with Brandon Wagner pushing both of them back up into the turn two wall, taking three other cars with them. The wreck also damaged the SAFER barrier, red flagging the race for 12 minutes. All drivers were unhurt, with three of them being checked and released by Speedway medical staff.

Sensational racing ensued for the next 29 laps with lead changes involving four drivers: Victor Carbone, Tristan Vautier, Esteban Guerrieri and pole sitter Gustavo Yacaman.

It was Guerrieri who made the most of a late pass on lap 38, while Jorge Goncalvez was going into a spin hitting the wall, bringing out the yellow flag to end the race.  It was Guerrieri’s fifth career win, and the fourth consecutive Freedom 100 victory for Sam Schmidt Motorsports.

In addition to Target Chip Ganassi Racing being the fastest in practice, Scott Dixon’s No. 9 team also won $50,000 by defeating Oriol Servia of Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in the Indy 500 Pit Stop Competition. It was the first-ever win for Ganassi in the pit stop contest. In what could be a good omen for the Ganassi team, the winner of the competition has gone on to win the Indianapolis 500 six times.

Firestone Indy Lights Action & IndyCar Pit Stop Competition Winners

Photos by Eric McCombs

Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

By: Wm. R. LaDow

Published in the Post-Tribune, a Chicago Sun-Times Media Publication — May 24, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS — The Firestone Indy Lights (FIL) Series has become the “window into the future” of IndyCar racing.

This year’s Indy 500 features 11 veterans of the INDYCAR-sanctioned Firestone Indy Lights competition in the field. They are Marco Andretti, Ana Beatriz, Ed Carpenter, Bryan Clauson, Wade Cunningham, JR Hildebrand, James Hinchcliffe, Charlie Kimball, Josef Newgarden, Graham Rahal and Sebastian Saavedra.  There are also five other drivers: Townsend Bell, Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Oriol Servia who had competed in Indy Lights before INDYCAR sanction.

The race here Friday is the Firestone Indy Lights series marquee event on their twelve race calendar.

On Friday, nineteen entrants will battle through the 40 lap-100 mile race that has catapulted several winners into the top-echelon of American open-wheel racing; IndyCar.

Ed Carpenter, Wade Cunningham and last year’s race winner (and season Champion) Josef Newgarden have all taken the Firestone Freedom 100 checkered flag and will now take the green flag on Sunday, for the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

With a three-hour practice Thursday followed by qualifying for the Firestone Freedom 100 to be run on Friday, at 12:30 pm (Indianapolis time), the excitement for the race weekend is beginning to build.

What started as a controlled three-hour practice for Indy Lights cars to ready themselves for qualifying, quickly became unleashed, as cars began racing in packs of six, most of the time running two and three wide. Fastest during practice was the sole driver running both IndyCar races this weekend, Sebastian Saavedra of AFS/Andretti Autosport.

Gustavo Yacaman took the Pole in his No. 2 Team Moore Racing entry at a speed of 187.517 mph. This is Yacaman’s best start here at Indianapolis in his fourth Freedom 100.

This race comes at a critical time in the schedule as the teams are just coming off a six-week break. Saavedra of AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport leads the point standings by a point over rookie Tristan Vautier of Sam Schmidt Motorsports, with his teammate at Schmidt Motorsports; Esteban Guerrieri, who is just two points behind.

In the case of Saavedra of AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport, his Sunday race will be behind the wheel of Michael Andretti’s fourth car entered in this year’s 500. Should Saavedra be able to complete the two races, he would be the first driver to have raced both on the same weekend, twice. He completed the task in 2010 when he drove for Bryan Herta Autosport

Whether its Saavedra, Yacaman or some other young driver — racing in the heat of day Friday will be likely be some of the future stars of IndyCar.

Firestone Indy Lights Pole-Winner Gustavo Yacaman at speed at the IMS.

Firestone Indy Lights drivers mixing it up during practice at the Brickyard

Photos Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

By: Wm. LaDow

Published in the Post-Tribune, a Chicago Sun-Times Media Publication — May 24, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS — Over the course of the last decade, IndyCar had evolved into a single source engine racing series.

It was not by design.

Several driver safety engineering chassis improvements and an effort by series officials to contain engine costs led to what had developed into a “spec” racing platform.  But soon IndyCar fans demanded change and series officials responded with a complete overall of IndyCar’s chassis and the development of a new, 2.2-liter, turbocharged V-6 engine that generates 550-700 horsepower, now being produced by three separate suppliers.

The most talked about change has focused on the engine war that has developed between the new, multiple suppliers. The stakes are so high that we’ve already had a legal opinion settle the ongoing acrimony. Retired Indiana Supreme Court Justice Ted Boehm was brought in to rule on Chevrolet’s appeal against allowing Honda’s utilization of an upgraded compressor turbocharger cover.

Currently IndyCar is being supplied by Chevrolet (in a partnership with Ilmor Engineering), Honda-HPD (through their Honda Performance Development subsidiary) and Lotus (through their partnership with Judd Engine Development).

The three suppliers all have rich racing histories. Chevrolet has dominated stock car racing for years and Honda supplied racing engines to the full, 33-car Indy 500 field from 2006-2011. For a record six consecutive years the Indianapolis 500 ran without a single engine failure.

Lotus, whose legendary Indy cars over the years were driven to the checkered flag by the likes of Jimmy Clark, has been suffering of late. It started the IndyCar season with a handful of teams, only to see an exodus occur based on its engine’s poor performance, leaving it with only two cars in this year’s race driven by IndyCar regular Simona di Silvestro and F1 Jean Alesi (R), who are several miles per hour off the pace and are unlikely to finish the 500.  The “Black Flag” likely looms for the seriously slower cars.

Chevrolet, with 15 entries — and eight of the first nine spots on the grid — along with Honda’s 16 entries, leaves the last two cars in the field powered by Lotus. Penske Racing & Andretti Autosport will lead the Chevrolet contingent, with Target Chip Ganassi Racing being the cornerstone of the Honda effort.

What has always made the Indianapolis 500 the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” has been its unexpected finishes. Last years race being decided in the final turn of the 500 mile race a classic example.

This year look for the new, powerful Indy engines, relentlessly pounding up against their 12,000 rpm limit, on the brink of failure, as one of the keys to another astonishing Indy 500 finish.

Photo courtesy of Honda Performance Development.

By: Wm. LaDow

Published in the Post-Tribune, a Chicago Sun-Times Media Publication — May 23, 2012

Indianapolis 500 Pole-winner Ryan Briscoe is the epitome of a  survivor.

Since the soft-spoken, 30 year-old Australian began racing in his teens in his native country and in Europe, Briscoe has overcome a myriad of challenges that would have ended most race driver’s careers.

Beginning his open wheel career in Formula Renault in 2000, Briscoe was always running with the leaders.  His promise as a young driver led him to being signed as a test driver for Toyota’s entry into F1, while eventually racing the likes of Australian V8 Supercars, Grand-Am sports car prototypes, Le Mans sports car prototypes and A1GP.

In 2005, those successes brought Briscoe to the United States to drive for one of the best in the IndyCar business; Chip Ganassi.  A bright future was clearly evident as he finished 10th in his first Indy 500 and was on a path to become the IndyCar series Rookie of the Year.

Then in September, while racing at the Chicagoland Motor Speedway, Briscoe was involved in one of the most horrendous IndyCar crashes in recent memory.  His Target-Ganassi car was split in two, erupting into flames. Briscoe’s  accelerometer in his helmet registered in excess of 150g’s on impact, resulting in a severe concussion and substantial disk damage to his back.

When he returned to racing in 2006, his seat at Ganassi had already been filled by Dan Wheldon, sending Briscoe on an odyssey of IndyCar test opportunities. He first found a ride in the 24 Hours of Daytona. That led to driving a handful of races for IndyCar’s Dreyer & Reinbold and RuSport in Champ Car, all without earning a full time ride in racing.

In 2007, Briscoe inked a deal to drive for Roger Penske‘s Racing’s Porsche LMP2 car in the American Le Mans Series giving him valuable “seat time.”  He was then entered into the Indianapolis 500 by Jay Penske’s Luczo Dragon Racing Team, finishing with a remarkable career best finish of fifth.

By 2008, Briscoe had earned his way onto Roger Penske’s IndyCar team, beginning a stellar chapter in his racing career. He’s finished in the top-five of the IndyCar season’s championship three consecutive years from 2008-2010 and gained six race victories.  In six Indianapolis 500 starts, Briscoe has amassed earnings of over $1,901,980.

When the field of the 33 takes the green flag for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500, it will be Ryan Briscoe’s number atop the legendary scoring pylon signaling his return to the top of his profession.

Ryan Briscoe at Chicagoland Motor Speedway 2005

Ryan Briscoe — Pole Winner for the 96th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

(Photos courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway)

By: Wm. LaDow

Published in the Post-Tribune, a Chicago Sun-Times Media Publication — May 21, 2012

Overcoming an intense crash on Saturday, Ed Carpenter, the sole Owner/Driver in the Izod IndyCar series, became the 33rd and final qualifier Sunday, for the 96th running of the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on May 27.

On the day, Sebastien Bourdais (223.760), Wade Cunningham (223.258), Oriol Servia (222.393), Carpenter (222.324), Mike Conway (222.319), Katherine Legge (221.624), Bryan Clauson (214.455), Simona de Silvestro (214.393), and Jean Alesi (210.094) all qualified without incident, to earn spots on the Indianapolis 500 grid.

With the Indy 500 field filled a little after 2 pm on Sunday, race teams made the most of open practice, trimming out their cars and establishing their race day setups.

Thirty-three cars took to the track with only one incident with Charlie Kimball in the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Honda-Dallara, drifting below the white line long enough to break free, spin and slam into the first turn wall. Kimball, who qualified Saturday in the middle of the fifth row at 223.868 mph, will be able to start from there, as long as his team is able to repair his primary car.

Track activity for the final three hours became an intense session of IndyCar “drafting”, ending with 2,007 laps turned, the most by far in a single day since the track opened for business for the 2012 race. Fastest on the day was Oriol Servia in the No. 22 Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet-Dallara at 223.752 mph.

With the first 10 rows of the grid averaging over 220 mph, much discussion here at IMS has focused on the lack of speed being generated by the two cars powered by Lotus engines.  Both the No. 78, Simona di Silvestro Lotus-HVM and the No. 64 Jean Alesi (R) Lotus-FP Journe cars are over six mph off the pace and will likely be mired at the rear of the field during the course of the 500 mile race, becoming “moving chicanes” as Alesi has put it.

The third car in the last row, the No. 39 Honda-Dallara, driven by rookie Bryan Clauson, qualified quite slowly due to concerns from yesterday’s wreck during qualifying that team General Manager Andy O’Gara described as a “$200,000 hit.”

Clauson’s Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing team lightened the mood by placing a Band-Aid decal on his repaired car as Clauson went out to qualify.

Clauson’s car has run fast all month and won’t be in the last row very long come race day.

Posing the question — Will the use of the “Black Flag” end the Lotus-powered car’s raceday prematurely?

Photo by: Mike Young – Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway