Archive for May 15, 2012

By: Wm. R. LaDow

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Speedway, Indiana

Every morning before the Indianapolis Motor Speedway opens to the public; my first order of business is to walk the IndyCar garages in Gasoline Alley.

Since I arrived here last week, activity in the garages has been as it always has, teams working on their cars, examining parts and preparing their entries for the upcoming 500.

You can usually gauge the level of preparation by the pace in which team members seem to be working. The Penske and Ganassi garages always seem laid back and controlled. Most of the other teams though run through periods of start and stop, hurry up and wait.

But one set of garages here at the Brickyard had been silent. Those belong to Jay Penske’s Dragon Racing.

This season the son of Roger Penske once again made the commitment to campaign entries in the IndyCar series and hired two talented drivers. The first is former four-time Champ Car World Series champion and once the cornerstone of Newman-Haas Racing, Frenchman Sebastian Bourdais. The second driver is Katherine Legge, a Brit with over a decade of auto racing experience with two of those seasons also driving in Champ Car.

These drivers and their cars have been sitting idle because a partnership forged before the season began between Jay Penske and IndyCar supplier Lotus has turned dreadfully contentious leaving Dragon Racing without an engine suppler and Lotus defending itself against a $4.6 million lawsuit brought by Penske for “breach of contract” for openers. Marshall Pruett’s stellar report here tells the entire story.

Jay Penske has been scrambling to obtain another engine supplier since his team’s return from competing in the IndyCar race inBrazil in late April. It’s generally believed that Roger’s relationship with Chevrolet would be the likely source, but it appears that the Lotus contractual issue has to be cleared up first.

Other teams using Lotus engines reported that their speeds were non-competitive due to lack of power and began asking out of their contracts. Both Bryan Herta Racing Autosport and Dreyer & Reinbold were successful in extricating themselves from Lotus in the past few weeks and have aligned their teams with Honda and Chevrolet respectively. This leaves two teams here at Indy running the Lotus engines. HVM Racing who campaigns the No. 78 car for Simona de Silvestro and Lotus’ own entry the Tyce Carlson/Lotus–FP Journe Fan Force United No. 64 with former F1 driver, Jean Alesi behind the wheel.

The change to the new IndyCar Dallara chassis and three differing engines has drawn a smaller Indy field. This was to be expected in the first year of the transition. That’s why it’s understood by all those close to the situation that the presence of Dragon Racing’s two entries would go a long way to filling out the traditional field of 33.

So as every day dawns here at theSpeedway, my first stop is at the Dragon Racing garages looking for signs of new life.

Today was the first sign of something brewing.  Crew members were moving tools and it appeared that there was a chassis waiting to be prepared. I was also able to catch Sebastian Bourdais for just a moment as he was entering the garage. Recognizing that he was reluctant to be interviewed, I simply wished him the best and told him many of us hoped to see him on track soon. With a brief smile he replied … “Me too.”

If Jay Penske and Dragon Racing are going to make that happen, an announcement will have to come soon.

Very soon.

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Photo by: Wm. LaDow

By: Wm. LaDow

SpeedwaySightings.com

Published in the Post-Tribune, a Chicago Sun-Times Media Publication — May 14, 2012

Under sunny skies and 70 degree temperatures, the second day of Indycar practice for the May 27 Indianapolis 500 started off at 12 noon with traffic ratcheting up quickly as 25 cars completed 342 laps by 2 pm, roughly half of the total laps run the entire day before.

With the sweet sound of the Borg-Warner turbochargers back in force with the newly designed IndyCar engines, “Happy Hour” turned into a race car rush hour at this storied speedway Saturday.

On the day, 33 cars (including Charlie Kimble’s “83T” backup car and the No. 8 Rubens Barricello entry going through some shakedown laps by teammate Tony Kanaan) completed 1,139 practice laps, besting yesterday’s effort by 446 laps or 1,115 miles.

Sebastian Saavedra, late into his 44 lap run, laid down the quickest lap of the day at 221.526 mph driving the No. 17 AFS Racing/Andretti Autosport Chevrolet-Dallara. Saavedra set the fast lap while working in tandem with Andretti Autosport teammates; James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay in an effort to establish the car’s setup with traffic. His efforts were clearly successful.

For the second day in a row, Bryan Clauson ran with leaders finishing 2nd on the time sheet at 221.173 mph in his Sarah Fisher Hartman Honda-powered entry.

With the weather forecast calling for partly sunny skies and temperature in 70-80 degree range, it is clear that race teams are taking differing strategies preparing their cars for Saturday’s run for the Pole.

The Target Chip Ganassi team was controlled in their approach on the afternoon with former Indy 500 winner Scott Dixon admitting that his No. 9 team was waiting until a little later in the week, and in the meantime preserving tires. It should also be noted thatDixonran a 220.829 mph lap before pulling in his car for the day.

The Penske team also was very methodical in running their three cars with Castroneves, Power and Briscoe running speeds 216.961, 217.762 and 217.987 mph respectively.

What all of this mean?

It means that there is still plenty of speed to be had here at the Brickyard for the next five days of practice.

And to top that off, IndyCar teams are going to be allowed to increase of the “boost” levels on their turbochargers on “Fast Friday” and when they run for the Pole on Saturday.

Teams return to the track for more practice Monday from 12 noon to 6 pm

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Photo by John Cote — Courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway

By: Wm. LaDow

SpeedwaySightings.com

Published in the Post-Tribune, a Chicago Sun-Times Media Publication — May 13, 2012

IndyCar practice officially began at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday as all of the Roger Penske entries for the 96th running of the Indianapolis 500 crossed the finish line together in a three-wide formation. With Penske Racing having won four of the previous IndyCar races with their new combination of Dallara DW-12 chassis and Chevrolet engines, it was appropriate that Ryan Briscoe, Will Power and Helio Castroneves ran the first official laps of the month.

Saturday’s 26 car, 693 lap practice session was an important beginning for the “Month of May” as it marked the first real opportunity for extensive testing of the new chassis/engine combinations at IMS.  There had been only one IMS test day this year and it involved only nine drivers running a combined 495 laps. That April 4th test utilized the new Dallara chassis, powered only by Honda and Chevrolet engines, as Lotus was unable to provide equipment for that day’s testing due to engine production constraints. With Pole Day just a week away and the first four IndyCar races this season run on only street and road courses, quality high-speed oval testing here at the Brickyard is at a premium.

Teams began running shakedown laps early in the afternoon with speeds climbing during a very active “Happy Hour” session, the last hour of the day.

Three American drivers led the way as the fastest lap of the day was 220.250 mph registered by rookie Josef Newgarden in the No. 67 Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda-Dallara. Next fastest at 219.693 mpg was 2011 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year; JR Hildebrand, in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevrolet-Dallara. Rounding out the top three spots on the leader board was another rookie; Bryan Clauson, running 219.632 in the No. 39 car, another Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda-Dallara.

Engine supplier parity was apparent as there were 11 Honda and 9 Chevrolet powered cars in the top twenty speeds for the day.

Both Penske Racing and Team Chip Ganassi teams showed considerable constraint during the course of the day with seven cars (three of them back-up or “T” cars) completing a total of only 92 laps, running speeds in the range of 215-217 mph.

Teams return to the track for more practice Sunday from 12 noon to 6 pm.

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(Photo courtesy of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway)