The Mayor tops the Leaderboard …

Posted: May 15, 2013 in Uncategorized

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By: Wm. R. LaDow

As reported for the Post-Tribune – A Chicago Sun-Times Media Company

INDIANAPOLIS – Another day, another Andretti Autosport driver tops the Brickyard Leaderboard.

Today it was James Hinchcliffe, already a two-time winner in this young IndyCar season, posting a very quick 224.210 miles per hour lap.

Ironically, “The Mayor” as he’s known in IndyCar circles, did it behind the wheel of Marco Andretti’s No. 25 RC Cola car as car owner Michael Andretti made it a point to switch drivers and cars at one point during the busiest (2,226 laps) practice day this month. The Andretti team posted five of the top eight speeds for the day.

On this warm, sunny and at times moderately windy day, 32 drivers hit the track and treated the six hour practice session as a race, within a race, passing in abundance to the delight the fans.

The DW12 Dallara chassis, regardless of the powerplant, be it Chevy (who posted 18 of the top 20 speeds on the day) or Honda, appears to have come of age.   Last year in its first appearance at the Brickyard, it brought about 34 lead changes, among 10 drivers, setting an all time Indy 500 record.  Now it appears that IndyCar teams are fine-tuning this chassis more than ever.

The “tow” that is generated by these cars running together makes for terrific racing and the drivers know it. They remained guarded however in their comments as eighteen hours of practice remain before the run for the Pole.

Hinchcliffe stated: “It’s good to be up there, but at the end of the day, those numbers don’t mean a lot right now. It’s about the work you do on the racecar and making sure the No. 27 GoDaddy car is going to be good not only on one lap, but over 200 (laps).”

Second fastest of the day, was 2011 Indy 500 runner-up JR Hildebrand in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing Chevy who said: “With the qualifying situation and the added boost for Friday and Saturday, you see a lot of race running these first few days. Besides trying to make the No. 4 National Guard car better and head into Thursday and Friday with some idea of what’s going to happen when you qualify, we spent the entire day running around in some form of traffic. We weren’t trying to put big laps up. We’re trying to understand how the car works behind one car, two cars, three cars, four cars, different speed of cars. It was nice at the end of the day to join the Andretti tow battle that was going on. At the end of the day, you want to figure out how your car is going to work with other cars that you might be able to race with. That’s where the speed comes from, and that’s where the focus is going to be today and tomorrow.” he said.

Marco Andretti put up the third fastest speed of the day in his own car at 223.570 mph, with the top five being rounded out by Helio Castroneves in the No. 3 Shell V-Power/Pennzoil Ultra Team Penske Chevrolet at 223.556 mph and Ryan Hunter-Reay in his No. 1 DHL Chevrolet at 223.332 mph.  Defending IndyCar Series Champion Hunter-Reay summed up the day’s efforts by saying: “It’s certainly getting interesting now with the heat and the wind. Conditions are changing every day, so it’s keeping the team on our toes, and we’re just trying a lot of different settings now. We have five cars, so we have a lot of options, and I think as we work through the week, we’ll work ourselves into a good car. But it’s a work in progress.”

One of the drivers creating the “Tow” for the fast speeds was Graham Rahal in the 15T Midas/Big O Tires Honda. Rahal’s comment on the day’s practice: “Everything went to plan today. Our focus today was just to mileage this engine out and move on. I’m proud of the guys at Honda that we made it there without issue. We’re focused on tomorrow now to see what we get. We’re going to shake down the new car tomorrow with a new engine in it. It might be a whole different beast. The Midas/Big O Tires car will be all new, and I’m excited about it.”

Defending Indianapolis 500 Champion Dario Franchitti driving the No. 10 Target Chip Ganassi Racing Honda explained how some team are managing the engine changeover process and what that means for the final three days of practice: “Our plan was to do somewhere in the region of 140 laps today to mileage out the engine like the No. 9 team did, so we could have the qualifying engine in for tomorrow. Unfortunately, the engine let go before we were able to do that, and we lost a lot of time on track. It was disappointing, but the balance of the car is very good, and we felt we had a really good car in traffic today, which will be important for the race. Hopefully Honda are going to bring a big upgrade for qualifying and the race engines.”

Thursday appears to be the first time teams will be testing in qualifying trim. The Pole number quietly being murmured around the paddock, by the time the teams are allowed to add their engine boost for qualifying, is 230 mph.

In other IndyCar related news – Zak Brown, the CEO of Just Marketing International has withdrawn his name from consideration to join Mark Miles (CEO of Hulman & Company, parent company of the IndyCar Series) newly structured management team at IndyCar.  Brown, widely respected both here in the States and abroad, has been planning to relocate to England for some time to continue to grow his racing interests. At this juncture, Miles will continue to be the driving force of IndyCar, with Derrick Walker, the new President of IndyCar Operations & Competition reporting to him. The only question that remains, is the future role of Jeff Belskus, who had been the IMS and IndyCar CEO.

The final driver to enter the qualifying field, 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Lazier is hoping to be on the track today in his No. 91 Lazier Partners Chevrolet.  Lazier Partners Racing Inc. purchased a 2012 Dallara chassis from Lotus, the car that Jean Alesi drove for Fan Force United in last year’s 500. Lazier has made 16 previous starts at Indianapolis, with five top-five finishes, including his win in 1996.

A total of 42 cars are now at the Speedway, with 41 passing technical inspection. Thirty-two drivers have been on the track to date and turned 5,235 laps this month.

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