It all started with 33 cars polished and fueled, gleaming on a grid with the highest of hopes in the air along with with news helicopters, high-wire cameras and balloons. When it ended four hours later, some of the cars were still gleaming, while others had to be pulled from the back of a tow hook.
The 2010 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race was high in spectacle and finished with a dramatic Hollywood flourish. Yet, it was still unmistakably the Indy 500.
As long as the buildup to Indy, the reality is the teams still have to pack up the haulers and head to Texas Wednesday. In between, there is the analysis of what went right and what went wrong.
Here is our own synopsis of the 33 car field by finishing position after sorting through the maelstrom of 500 miles in four hours.
1. Dario Franchitti - First turn outside pass for lead proved to be the key; running out front and stretching a lead made every other team react to what he was doing. Driver + crew both ran a perfect race. Did he have enough fuel to finish? We'll never know for sure. Chip Ganassi said yes, others said no. Best all-around driver in the IRL right now? Probably. His only hiccups during the race were a few run-ins with Graham Rahal and swigging from the milk bottle at the end. Dario v.2010 was older, wiser and at the top of his game.
2. Dan Wheldon - Panther knows Indy, Wheldon drove a strong race although he never led, he stayed out of trouble in some high traffic areas and was in position to win if Dario ran out. Fast enough to stay in the front pack. Moved up +2 in the season points standings to ninth with Texas, another strong Wheldon/Panther track, coming up next week. "I was hungry to win, but the team were getting on my butt about saving fuel those last three laps. Maybe if I was young like Rahal and Marco Andretti, myself back in the day, I would have totally ignored them, tried to run Dario down when I saw him slowing down. I knew it was close. Just one of those things."
3. Marco Andretti - Was charging at the end of the race, another where the heck did he come from suddenly from pack to podium, and very happy the race finished under yellow. "If I would have raced Dan, we weren't finishing the race. Like I said, it was very easy to ends up where Tony did."
4. Alex Lloyd - In my eyes, really the story of the race. Started 26th and finished fourth giving his career a big boost. "About 20 laps to go, maybe 15, when we started making some moves, we were coming through pretty quickly, I tell you, I started shouting in my helmet a little bit, C'mon. I was getting excited. I was really pumped up, ready to go. Not the best thing to do when you're trying to save fuel. The guys don't want that. I felt like I figured something out that I could save the fuel, make positions. I was pumped." So was his owner Dale Coyne.
5. Scott Dixon - Even before his pit road incident in which he lost a tire Dixon was seemingly never a threat to win. Lap times were solid, but unspectacular. Did the veteran decide the car wasn't perfect early and shoot for points?
6. Danica Patrick - Her finish seemed to be more a sigh of relief than a sign of a major turnaround. Patience worked, fuel strategy worked and moved up when a few cars in front of her needed more ethanol.
7. Justin Wilson - Solidly in the Top-10 for most of the race and led laps after his teammate Mike Conway pitted for fuel. Led laps 179 to 190 before a splash and go.
8. Will Power - Probably the Penske driver who looked best in the race conditions. Led five laps. A stop-and-go penalty after a pit stop refuelling incident derailed his run to the front, which was compounded when he missed his pit box later. Maintained his IZOD IndyCar Series points lead.
9. Helio Castroneves - Despite entering the race as the consensus favorite after a dominant pole position, Helio never led a lap in the race. Stalled the car on a late pit stop.
10. Alex Tagliani - The surprise of the qualifying session. Looked to have been caught out on the setup and hot track conditions, as he started fourth and went backwards from there. Still a very successful month and finish from an upstart team and driver.
11. Tony Kanaan - The de facto hard charger of the race. Passed eight cars on the first lap and worked up as high as second before a splash-and-go. Despite starting dead last, salvaged a solid finish out of a difficult month.
12. Graham Rahal - Certainly didn't make any friends with other drivers or race officials and was black flagged for blocking. Was in the middle of the action all day and still posted a solid finish.
13. Mario Romancini - Highest finishing rookie. Showed patience and aggressiveness in equal measure and probably a great boost for his own self-confidence. "The momentum was just taking me throughout the race. I didn't feel that I ran 500 miles. It was quite easy at this point."
14. Simona De Silvestro - The new darling of the female driving contingent. Rookie didn't put a wheel wrong for the whole month, and was spectacular at times in her second career oval race. Another confidence-boosting finish for driver and team.
15. Tomas Scheckter - In the thick of the action from start to finish. Led five laps. Probably off Davey Hamilton's Xmas card list though.
16. Townsend Bell - Ran in the Top-10 for much of the race, but a blocking penalty derailed his one-off Indy 500 effort.
17. Ed Carpenter - Showed speed and consistency, spent time in the Top-5 and deserving of a better finish. Wheldon wants him as a full-time teammate, we'll have to see if Panther puts him back in a car again.
18. Ryan Hunter-Reay - Made the highlight reel after running out of gas and getting vaulted by Mike Conway. Ran in the Top-10 for much of the afternoon, and is still Top-5 in points while meshing well with his Andretti Autosport teammates. Will IZOD really let their poster boy get the hook after Texas? Nobody seems to be saying anything about his status for the rest of the year, which probably isn't a good sign.
19. Mike Conway - Really opened eyes during the race with his driving and led 15 laps, unfortunately it's his spectacular crash at the end that most will remember. Probably out of the season with compound fracture in his left leg, and as bad as that sounds, he's still probably the luckiest driver in the field because he's still alive. The crash was probably the worst in an IndyCar race since Ryan Briscoe's airborne accident in Chicago 2005.
20. Takuma Sato - Struggled and finished two laps down, but still finished with the car in one piece, so the day's driving on the oval will go a long way in building experience. It will be interesting to see what he does in Texas, another track that can bite down hard on impatient drivers.
21. Ana Beatriz - Never really punched through the into Top-20 but drove well and brought the car home in one piece. Consistent through the month and probably merits a full-time ride.
22. Bertrand Baguette - Lost a mirror and spent considerable time in the pits, but brought the car home and had a good experience in his second oval race.
23. Sebastian Saavedra - Didn't make friends with the turn one wall during the month, ending two runs there. Indy can turn one week's fortune into misfortune in a hurry. At 19, he still has plenty of room to grow as a driver, but may have tried the 500 a year too early.
24. Ryan Briscoe - Never seemed to get on track during the month, and was consistently third amongst the Penske drivers, but still managed to lead five laps before ending the race in the wall.
25. E.J. Viso - Out of the race on lap 140 with suspension damage from kissing the wall. Also probably missed on the setup, as the car seemed like a handful.
26. Sarah Fisher - Was a few laps down before retiring with a broken suspension. All the credit in the world for trying but is her team trying to do too much with too little?
27. Vitor Meira - Disappointing end in the wall. Spent some time in the Top-20 early in the race after charging forward with Kanaan, but A.J. Foyt Racing never seemingly came to terms with their cars during the month.
28. Hideki Mutoh - Eye-opening speed during the qualifying sessions, but fell straight back once the race started and pulled out after 72 laps.
29. Raphael Matos - Impressive speed during the race, ran as high as third, but ended up in the wall hard. At some point he's going to have to start posting consistent finishes even with DeFerran in his corner.
30. John Andretti - Never was a factor, race in ended in wall. More ride buyer than Andretti these days, as much as that hurts to say. Will this be his last 500?
31. Mario Moraes - At some point he's going to have to stop crashing. Extremely fast when he's in the car, but suspension damage from a wall brush ended the day very early.
32. Bruno Junqueira - Big hit in turn two wall was second caution of the day. FAZZT team will have to find a way to balance qualifying speed with race setup, but they weren't the only team caught by the 96 degree temperature.
33. Davey Hamilton - First caution of the day as he ran out of real estate in turn two before he looped and ended up in the inside Safer barrier. Called Tomas Scheckter an idiot on national broadcast. Will his car be back together for Texas?
It all started with 33 cars polished and fueled, gleaming on a grid with the highest of hopes in the air along with with news helicopters, high-wire cameras and balloons. When it ended four hours later, some of the cars were still gleaming, while others had to be pulled from the back of a tow hook.
SPEEDWAY, IN (Sunday May 30, 2010) _ Greetings from @Dale_Nixon, Live from Bloggers' Row on the fourth floor of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Media Center for the Greatest Spectacle in Racing...flanked by James Black (16thandGeorgetown.com); Stef Walcraft and Paul Dalbey (Planet-IRL.com). Extra special props to Stef for the computer jumper cable; as my ACER power cord is sitting on the desk in my hotel room.
First and foremost, the crowd is mammoth and continuing to build. Sunshine with a high haze, temperature looking a little bit higher than originally predicted. I left the hotel downtown (the Comfort Suites in the shadow of Lucas Oil Stadium) at 7:02 AM and arrived at the track at 8:43AM...a physical trip of approximately 7 miles that was most spent sitting on 16th street waiting to turn off for the special super mega top secret shortcut given to me by a kind yellow shirt when I was leaving the track Saturday night. It was magic, and probably took another hour off the commute. Thanks, Mr. Gateman.
Also hazy are the recollections of last night's details. IZOD darn sure knows how to throw a party. The one thing I've always felt the Indy 500 lacked a bit was Saturday night downtown action, but there were streets blocked off, live bands playing, celebrities a plenty, and a mammoth red-carpet high dollar party at the Conrad Hotel. At least I think it was the Conrad...totally surreal - I've never seen so many well-groomed folks in the same place at the same time, and that includes South Beach. Better still, despite Jaegerbombs (not really always a good idea at 1:30 AM when you have to get up at 5:30 but c'est la vie). An extra shout out goes to Arie Luyendyk Jr. and his girlfriend, who upgraded us to full VIP status. It was the last days of Pompeii, only with with pop collar attire.
There is much pomp and circumstance at the moment. Celebrities have definitely been upgraded by the IZOD IndyCar connection. The Kardashian-Jenners, Mark Wahlberg, Jack Nicholson, Jewel, Robin Roberts in the pace car and a plethora of Hollywood illuminati. Driver interviews are rolling, introductions are pending. It's more of a Spectacle now for some of the others who aren't hard-core race junkies.
Ryan Briscoe just said "IndyCar racing is on the rise" and he's definitely accurate in that assessment. The crowd is exponentially higher than any I've witnessed thus far and there is definitely a palpable buzz in the air. I'm sticking with my Dario pick, especially with a chance of late showers.
12:39 cars are on the grid; drivers are introduced. Jack Nicholson is saluted by the crowd as he's in the starter stand. Hard to believe Jack made the trip with his buddy Dennis Hopper passing, but the show must go on...Jack's quote “It's good to be here.” But he's mugging for the crowd and kissed the Bricks with Mario Andretti....My favorite Jack role - "Here's Johnnnnnnnnnny..." The Shining. What a movie.
Interesting quote from @CurtCavin today about new IZOD IndyCar Series CEO Randy Bernard: "I like that he spent $20,000 of his own dough to buy tickets and hotels for all his friends and family members. He refused to get comps. I like that."
Jewel belts the national anthem out of the park. Great, great job.
Drivers to their cars. Mark Wahlberg getting a special trip in the two-seater at the back of the field. The drama builds. All wagers must be posted NOW!
Timing and scoring is active. Broadcast is on time delay. Davey Hamilton in the wall. Tony Kanaan past eight cars on the first lap. +1 on the Indy wagers for me; push on first car out with Hamilton. Wow, Franchitti was around Helio before the flag, and leads the Indy 500.
Back to green, Lap 5....Jack won't leave the starter stand and waves it again. Nice.
Scheckter is up to P8 and was savaged by Hamilton in the interview.
Lap 8. Another wreck. Bruno into the wall and there goes a big dark horse choice in the B&W Special. Two veterans who usually bring the car home out, all rookies still in it to win it. Go Figure.
Lap 12 back to green. This ABC broadcast delay is tough to stomach when cars are thundering by me in the tower.
Lap 19 Dario, Power, Helio, Tags, Matos....holy s^%& where did Matos come from?
Lap 23 Sarah Fisher struggling to keep the pace, could be the first car lapped? Some of the red mist out there has cleared and the race pace is very fast. Ryan Hunter-Reay up to 11th.
------pause for computer battery going down-------------
Lap 70 Kanaan up to fourth, Carpenter fifth, RHR in P6...
Lap 81 - Holy penalty boxes - Graham Rahal gets black flagged for blocking. Kardashians weep and make their makeup run. Drive-thru again. Which isn't exactly a black flag. He put the big block on Wheldon and dropped to P24. Bobby is $%R$^#*$( at Barnhart.
Lap 84 - Watching the track feed with the ABC sound is impossible. ABC is on a 19 second delay. Even Milka was closer than that...give me a break.'
Lap 86 - Mad props to Paul for hooking me up with his computer. He's in his seats, photoblogging. Just received a message from IndyCar blogging forefather/legend Money CJ. He would've killed it at the IZOD party last night, because that's how we roll.
Lap 90 - Just received a text from Iannucci with an excellent point: "Dario might be the only one NOT blocking right now." Suffice to say the Franchitti-Judds won't be exchanging Xmas cards with the Rahals. Send some haggis, that will fix 'em.
Lap 95 - The crowd is eating up this battle. No one is making bathroom breaks; after the caution outbreak the pace of the race is picking up considerably.
Lap 97 - Mutoh out of the car. Sato still in. Go frickin' figure part II.
Lap 98 - How can ABC go to commercial heading into the halfway mark? We don't need Ashton Kutcher commercials; it's THE INDY 500!
Lap 100- Dario, Helio, Briscoe, Carpenter (!!!), Kanaan (!!!!) - TK started 33rd after shifting from his T car to his primary. He's playing this track like IRacing. Could it be the day that Indy pays back TK for some misery?
Lap 105 - Yellow - Vitor is slow on the track. Bit the T2 wall. T4 is clean thus far; too bad for Vitor, he was pretty optimistic about today's race.
Lap 109 - Cattle call on pit road. Scheckter stayed out and leads, Kanaan up on the radio - he's too busy passing cars to enter.
Lap 111 - Sato gets a stop and go for hitting pit lane personal. Sayonara to Japan's Indy 500 hopes this year.
Lap 113 - Dario by Tomas into T1 - TK into second, Scheckter dropping like a wheel on pit lane as everyone else has fresh tires. But do they have MonaVie airtime? Townsend Bell up to P8, hustling along and keeping his nose clean (knocks on formica)
Lap 125 - The lap counter is clicking by...track temp announced at 131 degrees - easy greasy. Kanaan & Scheckter are the current stories as Franchitti is rollin'.
Lap 129 - It's almost too remote up here in the Media Center - isolated from the noise and the rumble - I think I'll go out on the deck for a while. I expect to see Dario applying sunscreen as he drives down the front straight.
Lap 131 - Marco is flying, but he's used 10 of his 15 push to passes charges. Maybe he can buy John Andretti's unused ones?
Lap 134 - Sarah Fisher is out, P25, but the car is in one piece and that's important. She just couldn't find the speed this month. Maybe it's time to retire her car "Old Faithful"? Media Center hordes descend on the ice cream bin like Mongols on Eastern Europe.
Lap 140 - Green flag stops. Already had a day's action in the pits. Sixty laps to go. Dario is up by 9.77 seconds and has set the cruise control. No use of the phrase "making fuel" yet, but I can't imagine he is chugging the ethanol. Ana Beatriz hanging in there P19, while Simona de Silvestro is motoring in P13. Rookie of the Year battle looks to be those two ladies. Really impressed with both, considering they were in the fray.
Lap 144 - Helio stalls it in pit lane. Now he can just charge by everyone like all the predictions. As much as Indy is speed, it's also attrition and concentration for drivers; one small mistake like that can totally wreck your day.
Lap 147 - Briscoe stuffs it in the wall. Not a picture perfect day for Roger Penske, not by a long shot. That was a big hit out of turn four, reminiscent of Sam Hornish Jr.'s crash in 2004.
Lap 150 - At the three-quarter mark, Dario leads the procession under yellow, followed by Marco,Kanaan, Scheckter and T Bell. That top five is pretty much the opposite of what we all expected to be a Penske-Ganassi train. But it is amazing how much can happed in such a small window of time; seven cautions already in the books.
Lap 155 - Helio tops off. Briscoe mea culpas. Everyone hits the button on the restart. Speedi Dry flies. Dario is almost making it look too easy. In half an hour, we might have an answer.
Lap 159 - Bell black flagged for blocking Ryan Hunter-Reay. Barnhart means it today.
Lap 160 - Saavedra into the wall. He'd been staying out of trouble before that and doing a pretty good job. It's a long race, 500 miles, not 402...
Lap 162 - Mileage numbers are crunched. Danica in ninth, ESPN's producer is excited.
Lap 163 - Dixon released right into Ryan Hunter-Reay's path. Not good for RHR's car, Dixon probably escapes damage. He's not been a factor at all today, which is somewhat to very surprising, depending on your point of view.
Lap 170 - Mike Conway leads out of the yellow, followed by teammate Justin Wilson. Fuel strategies are thrown in the air. Helio third with Graham Rahal in front of Franchitti yet again. More haggis is ordered.
Lap 177 - Laps are clicked off. Mention Dad's Root Beer, for crissake. Conway has been leading 15 laps.
Lap 182 - Justin Wilson leads; apparently that's not a great story for ABC as they keep cutting to commercials. D&R is flexing their muscle today. Watch out for Dan Wheldon; he's lurking in the typical Panther last 20 laps spot of seventh.
Lap 189 - Fuel is pumped. More numbers are crunched, sorting out the fuel is interesting. Does Helio have enough after that top off? Helio and Dario are abcked way off to save ethanol.
Lap 192 - Helio is in. Dario is winning, both are running in conserve mode, not sure how they can conserve for eight laps.
Lap 194 - I'm going to the window to watch the real deal live. Wheldon has enough fuel, same with TK. It's going to be interesting. Energy efficiency is the mode du jour.
Lap 200 - Dario Franchitti wins the 2010 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race under yellow; Dan Wheldon second, Alex Pink Lloyd with the drive of the day for third place. Mike Conway and Ryan Hunter-Reay in a serious dustup on the white flag lap, with Conway up into the fence. Scott Dixon fourth, Danica with a well-earned fifth. Conway is okay, as is Hunter-Reay.
Franchitti celebrates. Great job by the crew, can't imagine there are more than two drops of ethanol in the tank as the bagpipes blare in the background.
* addendum number one - Latest report is Mike Conway has a broken left ankle from his savage crash. Ryan Hunter-Reay accepted responsibility for the wreck as he slowed suddenly after running low/out of fuel.
** addendum number two - Three cars were ruled to have passed Marco Andretti under the yellow; so move back Alex Lloyd (fourth), Scott Dixon (fifth) and Danica (sixth) in the official running order and put Marco on the podium in third.
If there is ever an IndyCar recasting of the Katherine Heigl romantic comedy 27 Dresses (and why would there be, but stay with me for a second), Vitor Meira would have to be cast in the leading role.
No driver in the modern era has romanced the podium so many times without walking down the aisle himself. Meira has a stellar career record that features 15 podiums and 42 Top-10 finishes but never a trip to the top step in his 98 starts.
A career-defining win at Indy would certainly change his status in the sport and the history books. And that's not to say Meira hasn't been close. He's been very close.
The Brazilian veteran has finished second in the Indy 500 twice (in 2005 and 2008, and has finished in the Top-10 at the big race in five of his seven starts. His 2009 race ended in a spectacular fashion when he locked wheels with a charging Rafael Matos in turn one on lap 174, and the subsequent crash shelved him for the remainder of the season with two broken vertebrae.
Paired again with A.J. Foyt Racing for another shot in the 2010 race, the ever-upbeat Meira has shaken off a disappointing qualifying setup that resulted in the 30th slot. He vows that starting in the back end of the grid won't be a problem, and he figures to be a driver to watch slicing through the field like a lawnmower along with fellow Brazilian Tony Kanaan.
"I can guarantee you that - that's how it worked out and it's going to pay off," Meira said. "Everything's looking good. We're prepared, the car is ready and it will be a big one"
Driving for Super Tex can be a double-edged sword, particularly at a track like the Brickyard where he has probably discarded more information than most drivers learn in their careers. The four-time Indy 500 winner is known to be a particularly demanding
boss, but many longtime fans were shocked to see Foyt reduced to tears when Meira finished third at the season-opener in Sao Paulo.
The operative term for Meira this time around isn't charge, it's patience.
"Patience - it is a big word. Always. It's 500 miles. Patience and attacking at the right time," Meira said with a veteran's confidence. "It all depends on where you're starting and what you want to accomplish. A Top-10 is really realistic. Anything better than that we need things to happen that we can't control, but a Top-10 is pretty realistic."
Of course, Meira would be the last one to complain if he ended up winning. Heck, it'd probably even make the boss shed a couple more tears and certainly earn Meira a lifetime supply of Foyt's famous homemade beef jerky.
Even the bridesmaid has to get married sometime.
While sitting here and scanning driver tweets during the Public Drivers Meeting (yes, we all know you are at the Driver's Meeting - say something interesting!) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, my colleague Paul Dalbey from Planet-IRL.com and I have come up with a brilliant idea - betting on the Indy 500. Super Bowl-style, no-holds-barred sports betting.
We've devised a list of 33 Sports Wagers related to the Indy 500. Hey, if the Super Bowl can have it (can I type Super Bowl without someone suing?), why can't we....it's the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, let's also make it the Greatest Spectacle in Race Betting.
Here are our 2010 Inaugural 33-Bet Indy 500 Field, feel free to post your own picks in the comments section.
1. Winner - Dario Franchitti (DN); Ryan Briscoe (PD)
2. Rookie of the Year - Bertrand Baguette (DN); Simona DeSilvestro (PD)
3. Hardest Charger - Vitor Meira (DN); Bruno Junqueira (PD)
4. Halfway Leader - Scott Dixon (DN); Dario Franchitti (PD)
5. Most Laps Led - Helio Castroneves (DN); Dario Franchitti (PD)
6. Highest Finishing Female - Simona DeSilvestro (DN); Ana Beatriz (PD)
7. First In Class (Highest Finishing non-Penske/Ganassi Car) - Ryan Hunter-Reay (DN); Hideki Mutoh (PD)
8. Fastest Race Lap - Ryan Briscoe (DN); Will Power (PD)
9. First Pass on Lap 3 - Marco Andretti (DN); Tomas Scheckter (PD)
10. Highest Finishing American - Ryan Hunter-Reay (DN); Ed Carpenter (PD)
11. Highest Finishing Full Season Firestone IndyLights Alum - Alex Lloyd (DN): Rafa Matos (PD)
12. Highest Placing Non-Tweeting Driver - Dario Franchitti (DN); Will Power (PD)
13. First Post-Race Tweet - Mario Moraes (DN); Graham Rahal (PD)
14. First Driver to Whitewall Out of Turn 4 - Graham Rahal (DN); Mario Romancini (PD)
15. First Stall on Pit Lane - Tomas Scheckter (DN); Sebastian Saavedra (PD)
16. First Rookie Out of Race - Takuma Sato (DN, PD)
17. First Woman Out of Race - Danica Patrick (DN); Sarah Fisher (PD)
18. First Driver to Be Lapped - John Andretti (DN); Sebastian Saavedra (PD)
19. First Mechanical Out - Mike Conway (DN); Bertrand Baguette (PD)
20. First Driver in the Wall - Takuma Sato (DN); Mario Moraes (PD)
21. Danica's Position After Lap 10 - P19 (DN); P21 (PD)
22. Overly Optimistic Move of the Race - Raphael Matos (DN); Dan Wheldon (PD)
23. Average Winning Speed +/- 152.056 MPH (Under DN); (Over PD)
24. Margin of Victory +/- 1.5 seconds (Under DN); (Over PD)
25. Number of Cautions in Race +/- 7.5 (Over DN); (Under PD)
26. First Caution Lap +/- 13.5 laps (Under DN); (Over PD)
27. Penske & Ganassi Combined Laps Led +/- 190 laps (Over DN, PD)
28. Leaders Green Flag Pit Stops +/- 2.5 (Over DN); (Under PD)
29. Number of Passes by Tony Kanaan on Lap 1 +/- 4.5 (Over DN); (Under PD)
30. Number of Penske & Ganassi Cars in Top 10 (*including Townsend Bell) +/- 3.5 (Over DN; PD)
31. Number of Crashes by KV Racing Drivers +/- 1.5 (Over DN; PD)
32. Lap Number of Marco Andretti Crash (*can be caused by other driver) +/- 124.5 (Over DN; PD)
33. Number of Laps Completed by Graham Rahal +/- 74.5 (Under DN); (Over PD)
To check out what an actual sports book line for the Indy 500 looks like, we found this one on Bodog.com. We didn't really look at this until after completing our own 33-bet field; so the comparisons are interesting.
You can check out Paul's article here at Planet-IRL.com.
The No Sponsor Left Behind Program
Two sponsors who had hard luck stamped all over their Versus airtime on Bump Day have found new homes, as Service Central, who were on Jay Howard's sidepods, have found a placement on the second FAZZT Racing Team entry of Bruno Junqueira (it's a yellow car, so no alterations were necessary to the color scheme). GEICO, the longtime backer of KV Racing's Paul Tracy, are now in the primary spot on teammate Mario Moraes' car. It was a bad week for the insurance giant, as they also missed the field for the Coca Cola 600.
ZZ Top Rocks the Pagoda, Much Beer Consumed
Just got back from wading into the crowd at the Miller Lite concert stage. ZZ Top piloted the good ship buzz over a MASSIVE crowd in the former F1 infield circuit; and the beer bongs were out in force in an episode of IndyCar Fans Gone Wild. The requisite Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers were joined by bad tattoos and future melanoma cases, with the primary attire being sunburn, not sombreros. Asked about the attendance, no one was willing to put a estimate on the record, but most in the Media Center reckoned it was certainly biggest Friday crowd in the last 10-15 years. So "frickin' big crowd" will have to suffice as the official descriptive.
Helio Wins Pit Stop Challenge, Media Center Yawns
Not content being defending race winner and present pole sitter, Helio Castroneves' Penske Racing crew added another trophy to the case with a convincing victory over the upstart Newman-Haas crew of Hideki Mutoh in the Pit Stop Challenge. Penske has won the last five Pit Stop Challenges.
"You saw it out there, they do an incredible job. I do believe all winter work, it’s paying off today. Not only today but every race when we’re out there. Yes, sometimes I overshoot and I make mistakes but they never see that way, they see it as a good practice to be ready for anything. And today in the pit stop it was just an incredible job," Castroneves said. "So proud of these guys, so honored to be working with this organization and these guys. So today is their day. I just have to sit down and drive the car. But it certainly is great to carry this momentum to the race. Because I know when I go out there, I will rely on these guys and normally, I’m sure we’re going to succeed as well."
Isn't That Grandpa's Delta Wing in the Case?
The Daytona 500 trophy made a special trip to the Brickyard for an interview and mutual admiration society meeting of the (only) two Daytona 500-Indy 500 winning owners, Roger Penske and Chip Ganassi. It was set up next to the Borg-Warner Trophy on the media center dais and positively Delta Wing-esque.
"Actually, it's great to be here and obviously the guy sitting next to me is the one that we have to beat every weekend whether it's here at Indianapolis or certainly at Daytona or Charlotte. But I've never seen these two trophies side by side. I just asked Chip which one does he want because I don't care if I get two, I'd just like to have one. Anyhow, it's great to be here, and we've had a great month, very competitive," Penske said. "As I said to a number of people in the last few days that something's different here this year. We have a sponsor, we have four women in the race, the field is probably as tight as it's ever been and the great thing was we had bumping on the second day which I think brought a lot of interest to the sport, a lot of notoriety. So we're going to have a great race. To me this is the guy I know we've got to beat for sure."
There was no talk of who thought who was, uhh, supposedly bending the rules to their advantage, just some back-slapping frivolity between the two biggest check writers in the IZOD IndyCar series.
The migrant racing career of Ryan Hunter-Reay has already taken more twists and turns than a blind man trying to navigate the Long Beach Grand Prix circuit.
Three different teams in the Champ Car World Series, with a pair of wins; a Rookie of the Year award and a race win (Watkins Glen) in the Indy Racing League with Rahal Letterman Racing, followed by a split season last year with Vision Racing and A.J. Foyt Racing.
IZOD factory backing helped Hunter-Reay move to Andretti Autosport over the winter. After a long and sometimes strange trip, he seems to have found a permanent home, in the car and out. Or should it be he hopes to have found a new home? Permanence in racing is about as long lasting as sponsor dollars keep hitting the direct deposit at the bank.
"It's been excellent - we've been on the podium half the time we've worked together and we've already won a race," Hunter-Reay said after Friday's drivers meeting, referring to his emotional victory at the Long Beach Grand Prix.
The 29-year old Florida native is one of a select group of drivers to have won on an oval, road and street course at the elite level of American open wheel racing and is the only active American driver to have done so. Adding an Indy 500 victory would probably raise his status from star to the superstar level.
After a sixth-place finish in his 2008 Indy 500 debut earned him Rookie of the Year honors, Hunter-Reay ran the 2009 race with Vision before replacing the injured Vitor Meira with Foyt. The game plan this time around is to be aggressively patient, if there is such a beast when the red mist triggered by the green flag starts flowing.
"We're going to just go out there and try to be aggressive, but we're going to let it come to us," Hunter-Reay said. "We're right in the middle of the pack so it'll be interesting to see where we are halfway through (the race). We've gotten great (pit) stops so far and the team has given me great race cars."
While Hunter-Reay is content to focus on the big race, it's hard to believe that the spectre of an uncertain future still does not tap him on the shoulder from time to time. The deal with Andretti technically runs through Texas, and despite numerous rumors of a contract extension to finish out the season, nothing has been confirmed.
Andretti has already announced plans to run A1GP champ and Formula 1 test driver Adam Carroll in select races, but no one seems willing to define whether it will be as Hunter-Reay's teammate or his replacement. Winning on Sunday would go a long way toward cementing a future with the team, as it is difficult to imagine IZOD wanting to see their poster driver rideless again, but stranger things have happened in the topsy-turvy world of big money racing.
"It's going to be a heck of a race all the way down to the finish. It's the best race in the world, it's going to be tight."
At this point, it's hard to say whether Hunter-Reay was referring to the upcoming Indy 500, or perhaps alluding to his career trajectory. Some strange trips never end.
Ever had one of those days when you walked into a final exam only to find that it had started an hour earlier and was almost over?
And had the whole class turn and look at you as the door opened?
Dreyer and Reinbold Racing sophomore Mike Conway had that red-faced, pit-of-the-stomach feeling Friday when he arrived well late to the mandatory pre-Indy 500 driver's meeting.
But better late than not at all.
To his credit, Conway didn't blame the traffic, which was prodigious and still building for the Friday Carb Day morning session. He was filled in on the fine points starting etiquette by Professors Brian Barnhart and Al Unser Jr (see photo).
Those admonitions were still ringing in Conway's ears when the door opened. Patience is not just a virtue at the Indy 500, it's mandatory equipment. Conway started 24th and finished 18th in his rookie outing, and says the lessons learned in the 200 laps will go a long way for the second time around. He will start on the outside of the fifth row in the 15th slot Sunday which is either closer to the front or in the middle of a very long accordion, depending on your perspective.
"Obviously, like last year, it's a long race - you've got plenty of time - you just need to make to make your decisions," Conway said Friday morning. "And at the end of the day make sure you're there for the last 50 miles and make sure you're in a good position."
For drivers and crew alike, Carb Day represents a welcome relief to stop answering the same questions for the thousandth time, pull on the gloves and helmet, and get back in the car. Conway said there is separation anxiety for both driver and machine.
"Yeah, it's great. It feels like it's been a long time and it was only Sunday," Conway said. "We've kept busy and we're looking forward to getting out there today."
Carb Day practice starts at 11:00 AM and represents the last time for drivers to get on track before Sunday's race.
#SPEEDWAY, IN. _ I've got to compliment everyone here at IMS on the flawless check-in and credentialing process (as usual); I think I set a new personal record with about 15 minutes total from picking up the passes to parking in the media lot. Heck, it took longer to turn left at the 16th and Georgetown traffic light than it took to get situated.
Thursday at the Indy 500 is probably the best day to just cruise the pits with impunity and get closest to the action. It doesn't have a catchy name, but all of the teams and drivers were in evidence hammering out that last bit of prep work prior to Carb Day.
And what a time to arrive, as Sam Schmidt Racing's Pippa Mann blistered the track for a two-lap average speed of 187.989 mph to claim the first pole of her Firestone Indy Lights career for Friday's 2010 Freedom 100.
Blistered being the operative word, as Lights qualifying saw with an ambient temperature of 92 degrees and a scorching track temp of 126 degrees. If the reaction on pit road was any indication, Mann proved a popular choice as the second-year British driver had to negotiate as many congratulatory pats on the back from other team crew members as she did from the trackside media and fans. In the process, Pippa became the first female pole winner in the hundred year history of the Brickyard.
“I just went out there and did my best to pedal it. This afternoon when it got hot, we went to work on speed. We found some things that really helped," Mann said. "We found some things that made my life more difficult but made the car quicker. For this afternoon, we decided to rein it in a little bit so it would come home all in one piece. Whatever they reined in, they did it perfectly."
For the sake of comparison, Mark Martin's pole winning time in another series-that-shall-not-be-named (this week, at least) was 182.054 mph in 2009. FIL veterans Wade Cunningham (187.742), Charlie Kimball (187.375) and Martin Plowman (187.209) filled out the remainder of the first two FIL rows.
Starting on the inside of row 3 is a familiar name to IndyCar fans, as veteran Jeff Simmons made a welcome return to the series after a sabbatical in 2009 in the Team E Zymol car. Although the qualifying time was a bit slower than Simmons had hoped after he posted the fastest time in the Friday morning practice, it was hard to tell from the smile on his face after the session. A fuel pickup issue was later diagnosed by the team that slowed Simmons' car noticeably on the backstraight in the second qualifying lap, but the contagious grin was there under some new facial hair.
"I'm glad I didn't forget how to drive, it felt great to be out there," Simmons laughed. "As long as nobody calls me old; I prefer experienced. Honestly, I'm having fun out there. The Team E Zymol car is fast in traffic in practice, and that means we should be pretty fast in the race."
Friday is shaping up to be a barnburner at the Brickyard, with the Carb Day festivities highlighted by what promises to be an intense IndyCar practice session as teams rush to make their last bit of track time before the big dance count, followed by the Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 and last, but definitely far from least, a concert by that lil' old band from Texas - ZZ Top.
Guitar slinging ZZ mainman Billy F. Gibbons, a motorhead of the first order and a long-time hot rod freak, actually threw the green flag on the first Freedom 100 in 2003.
Speed, Indycars, beards, beer and rock - does it get any better? Best bring the sunscreen.
The Brickyard is a fickle mistress. And with a centennial birthday celebration in front of her, she took the full nine hours Sunday to remind the 95th Indy 500 qualifying hopefuls that there was still much drama to be written.
It was all there in technicolor, and belying her age, HD television as well.
The joy, the pain, the wheel marks on the walls, and the transporter being loaded up all too early.
There were some who thought they knew her well (Tony Kanaan, Barry Green, Paul Tracy, Milka Duno) and others who had barely made her acquaintance (Sebastian Saavedra, Mario Romancini, Jay Howard) yet somehow their lives intertwined in a drama of Shakespearian proportions that played out until after the final gun sounded at 6:00 PM to end qualifying session and set the 33-car field.
Tony Kanaan got the doctoral thesis lesson in the Brickyard ethos of tragedy. Pain, frustration, hope and redemption all touched the veteran driver who has given so much to the track, but had yet to taste her sweet, 2% fat-free white nectar in victory lane. Kanaan began the day as an improbable second-day qualifier, then in his second practice lap of the day kissed the wall of the short chute between turns one and two for the second time in 24 hours. It was a violent kiss and ended up dangling with the remaining half of his car on the back of the tow truck hook, leaving all to wonder how and if the veteran Andretti Autosport driver could pull it back together and squeeze enough speed out to make the field. He did so barely and without much celebration, having narrowly escaped the track's wrath. In the Brickyard, it seems, the sin of pride and overconfidence exact a special punishment.
"Obviously it was a very emotional day. I'm not the type of guy ‑‑ I don't cry very easy. The other Brazilian does all the time (laughing). But it was a tough day for me. Every time I came out it was very emotional.
"I mean, you have an idea how much the fans like you. And then I hear from you guys because you guys are out there and saying I'm the fans' favorite, this and that. And I never really paid a lot of attention. I always treat my fans really nice. But every time I came out here, it was amazing, driving to Pit Lane to make an attempt or to try my car again, how big the crowd cheered," Kanaan said.
"And that made me very emotional, and, again, it was a long day. Probably lost five days of my life today. Not a lot of hair anyway to lose. But here we are. I'm happy to be here."
Nineteen year-old Columbian rookie Sebastian Saavedra saw his own hopes explode into a festival of carbon fiber (TM), yet somehow was improbably rewarded with a starting berth while being examined in the Methodist Hospital emergency room.
Bruno Junqueira proved the best way to invade the grid was in stealth mode, with a last minute entry that turned into the fastest second-day qualifier. Bruno came late, stayed quiet, and will start from the back of the field in a certified rocket ship from FAZZT Racing.
Takuma Sato, the Formula One veteran who previously only driven on the track backwards through the infield, cobbled together both his Lotus Special and an improbably speedy late qualifying run to bump back into the grid. The gods of the Brickyard apparently still have a fondness for British racing green.
The agony was written on the face of Sarah Fisher Racing driver Jay Howard after his first qualifying session. A post first-qualifying attempt interview had Howard expressing his doubt about the time posted, and when the Brit's team braintrust discarded his qualifying time with Paul Tracy behind him in the chute, the final act of drama proved the most unpredictable of all. With the wings flattened down and the deus ex machina cranked up, Howard rode the ragged edge of his previous qualifying time before falling short after the final gun sounded. Destiny was within his grasp, but instead was handed on a silver platter to to the now car-less Saavedra.
But it was Paul Tracy who merited perhaps the cruelest and most unusual punishment for his hubris. In many pre-race discussions Tracy brought up the possibility of avenging his "lost win" of 2002 (*when an executive ruling upheld Helio Castroneves' victory and sent Tracy to the asterisk zone of Borg-Warner Trophy history). Second quickest until the closing minutes of Friday's practice session, the fall from grace was swift and punishing for Tracy, who caressed the wall twice in a let-it-all-hang-out late qualifying attempt, but ran out of time with Howard on track parrying a counter attack that killed both drivers' hopes. A strangely serene Tracy emerged from the press conference older, wiser, and perhaps even a bit contrite. In missing the field, he had attained some strange form of redemption and perhaps even enlightenment.
"We've had a tough week, KV. The cars have ‑‑ like I said, in certain conditions it had become very difficult to drive. We had three cars hard into the wall. So I was happy that we didn't end up going on the trailer in a box with a bunch of pieces," Tracy said afterwards.
"It's how Indianapolis is, you know? Some of the greatest drivers have not made it."
And for others, important lessons were learned. AJ Foyt learned it's not a good idea to fire your driver on the morning of qualifying, especially when he is also an heir to your throne.
Dale Coyne learned the value of Milka Duno to his team is essentially zero + sponsorship dollars - Indy 500 starting spot dollars. Robbie Buhl learned that it's a great deal easier to enjoy qualifying when Milka is not on your team.
Nine grid spots.
One epic drama.
It's amazing how much of a difference a year can make.
In 2009, the first day of Indy 500 qualifying had little in the way of surprises and excitement, and the tired format was more distinguished by tradition and procession than action.
The tweaks to the Indy 500 qualifying procedure for 2010 were the subject of much speculation, explanation, and for that matter, a bit of derision from some Brickyard veterans.
But judging by the mammoth crowd on hand for the 2010 Firestone Fast Nine Shootout, the resounding success of the new format will be felt far into the future and could perhaps even become the plotline of a Drew Barrymore-ish chick flick -
How the Brickyard Got Her Groove Back.
The feel-good hit of the week had to be Alex Tagliani and his upstart FAZZT Racing team. Sown from the ashes of the punchline Marty Roth Racing operation, the FAZZT crew showed focus, determination and sheer speed, all of which paid off in a well-deserved second-row starting spot for Tags, who proved both affable and ebullient. Riding the shockwave of his qualifying pace, the Denis Lemieux soundalike Tagliani thrust himself clearly into the role of underdog crowd favorite. The only question remaining for the FAZZT crew is if the impressive performance was enough to shake loose the purse strings of the potential sponsor for a rumored second entry piloted by Bruno Junqueira.
Last year, Helio Castroneves was happy to here, happy to not be in Federal custody and generally happy to be on the pole in a loosey-goosey Brazilliant way. But in 2010, Helio took control of the pole shootout on his very first lap and set the bar so high that other swats at it were virtually laughable. Total world domination.
Penske Racing put three cars in the first two rows amid whispers of sandbagging during the week's practice sessions. Whether Penske has an unfair advantage with their "third spring" technology is moot; all teams can and will use anything at their disposal to annihilate the competition. Lost in much of the discussion about Penske's Empire is the fact that the cars of Helio and Ryan Briscoe are still lacking primary sponsors, so credit Roger Penske for at least keeping the checks flowing with no shortcuts that affected performance.
Dario Franchitti shattered Penske's dream front row with a stellar performance, while his teammate Scott Dixon qualified well but was unspectacular in the shootout portion of the show. Indy-only addition Townsend Bell narrowly missed punching his way into the shootout and will be quite content with 10th on the starting grid if he can withstand Sunday qualifying times.
Obviously, Graham Rahal's career trajectory has not gone according to plan. But a solid outing in the Rahal Letterman Racing entry has the one-off one-car team in row three, albeit with Kim Kardashian on the side of the purple car. A finish, and a good one, in the 500 should raise the future demand for Graham's services.
Perhaps overshadowed by his higher profile teammate Dapper Dan Wheldon, Ed Carpenter put the Fuzzy's Vodka Special right into the shootout and squarely in the role of dark horse candidate to win the big show. Carpenter knows every undulation of the Brickyard, and showed no rust from his relegation to part-time status for the 2010 season. Plus, we mentioned his car was sponsored by Fuzzy's Vodka. Can you imagine the clip of Easy Ed mixing White Russians with the victory circle milk?
Bertrand Baguette has flown so far under the radar that Iannucci's interview with the Belgian rookie pops up second on a Google search under his name. But surviving his time on the bubble will allow BB a crucial extra day to work on race setup and generally get some rest. St. Martin Belgian White Ales and DVDs of In Bruges all around.
Andretti Autosport pulled out a mixed bag, with Marco Andretti the brightest spot of what was an otherwise dismal day that began with Tony Kanaan breaking his string of Top-Six Indy starts and his car with a trip into the wall and ended with Danica Patrick throwing her team under the bus, then backing it up over her car. Ryan Hunter-Reay bumped back into the field, which should leaving him feeling about 100% better than he did at 5:59 PM on Sunday qualifying last year, but John Andretti and Kanaan both will have to post times Sunday.
Danica Patrick's lackluster month was punctuated with the 23rd spot on the grid and some choice words for her team and car in a P.A. system interview after the session which led to boos cascading from the stands. Danica's public approval rating seems hovering around the BP level, but that could take off some intense media pressure for the race itself.
Gearbox woes aborted Paul Tracy's first qualifying attempt, and the speed Tracy showed on Fast Friday disappeared overnight. Another qualifying attempt later in the afternoon left the frustrated Tracy pulling out tufts of his remaining hair.
AJ Foyt Racing saw the cars of both Vitor Meira and AJ Foyt IV bumped from the field in the final hour of open qualifying. Not an auspicious sign for a team that is habitually one of the best of the rest at Indy.
Takuma Sato said sayonara to his Lotus in the morning practice session in spectacular fashion that left a trail of Speedy Dry leading out of turn two for the duration of the day. The KV Racing crew will have to Humpty Dumpty the car back together for Sato, if he is indeed cleared to drive.
Tony Kanaan's uncharacteristic shunt punctuated his day in the early afternoon, and as mentioned, ended a streak of Top-10 starts dating back to 2002. While speed should not be a problem for Kanaan Sunday, the margin for error has shrunk considerably.
Milka Duno is going to have a hard road to the field, and as an easy target for criticism, the less that is said, the better.
Tony Kanaan laid down the gauntlet.
And if Penske and Ganassi drivers have left any sand in their proverbial bags, Kanaan's hot lap of 226.775 mph at the very least served notice that the road to the 2010 Indy 500 pole award will at least pass by a 7-11 or two. The affable Brazilian then followed with a little sandbagging of his own, as he simultaneously downplayed his own chances and challenged his Andretti Autosport team to find more speed. Worth noting is the fact that Kanaan has never started an Indy 500 lower than sixth on the grid.
"Right now, I don't see anybody else besides the three Penske and the two Ganassi guys to be on the pole, to be honest with you," Kanaan said. "Unless somebody finds something between now and Saturday; I think we're going to see that they're going to play between themselves."
Paul Tracy posted the second fastest lap of the day at 226.322 mph; while Newman-Haas driver Hideki Mutoh continued his strong showing with the third best lap of the day (226.230 mph), his second straight day in the Fast Five. Tracy cautioned that all of the track time lost to rain (Thursday's session was cut 55 minutes short after another lengthy delay in mid-afternoon) and the new Top-9 pole shootout format could have some teams peeling their cars off the wall Saturday afternoon.
"I haven't been out here as much and gotten used to the downforce levels being trimmed way off and doing the four-lap qualifying runs with the car being super trimmed out," Tracy said after the session concluded. "So asking the driver to go and stick his neck out on the line once is hard enough because the car is free and sliding and dancing to get the speed. To do that multiple times and sticking your neck out, I can predict that someone is going to step over that line."
With more rain predicted for Friday, many drivers were scrambling to complete race simulations while also churning out laps in qualifying trim. On the outside of the 33-car field timewise Thursday were Thomas Scheckter, Sebastian Saavedra, E.J. Viso (in his backup car after Tuesday's hard meeting with the Turn One wall) and the omnipresent Milka Duno. Worth noting was the fact that veteran and former pole winner Bruno Junqueira was able to squeeze some extra speed out of a stint in Saavedra's car.
The new qualifying format, a hybridization of the normal Pole Day format with the Fast Six shootout of road course qualifying (extended to nine for the 33 car field) left the usual suspects wondering how it will all play out.
"Mentally, it requires a lot more. I was playing out a couple scenarios and trying to figure out the new format. I pretty much said, "You used to go out and do the four laps while hanging on for your life, and you put it in the field sixth and think: 'That's it. I'm happy. I'm going to go home.'" Kanaan said. "Now I have the risk to actually lose that spot and start ninth. The people that are going to suffer are the guys at the edge, which you're going to have plenty of because of the tight field, they're going to wonder, 'Can I do it again?'"
Like many IndyCar fans the first time I ever heard Bertrand Baguette’s name was when it was preceded by the phrase “Conquest Racing announced...", and I would bet I’m not alone in admitting my first reaction was wondering who this probable ride-buyer was. It seems there are always a few drivers who pop up out of nowhere (or at least nowhere to American race fans) and even though our buddy Declan had some kind words about him Baguette seemed no different.
But after looking a little further into his bio I can assure you this Baguette fellow demands a bit more attention than he has received. Formula Renault 3.5 is second only to GP2 as a feeder series for Formula One, and last year the now 24-year-old utterly dominated in Formula Renault 3.5 to the tune of 5 wins and 10 podiums in 17 races. Note that this was a season in which current F1 driver Jaime Alguesari (Scuderia Torro Rosso) finished 5th in the championship.
Put this in IndyCar terms: this is a series Will Power finished 7th in 2005, and it's generally accepted that Will Power is a bit North of "OK" as a driver. Baguette is not just another guy who showed up wanting to play race car driver – he's already proven to be one. So let’s find out a little more about about Belgium’s finest export to America since Jean Claude Van Damme.
MNII: After a handful of races, what's your first impression of IndyCar fans and racing here in America?
BB: I really like the atmosphere here. The IZOD IndyCar Series fans are very close to the drivers which I think is really important for the sport.
MNII: How would you describe your first oval race at Kansas? Did you put your left foot on top of your right foot?
BB: Ahaha, kind of, yes. It's a very strange feeling, especially qualifications. You're flat out the whole time and the only thing you can really do is work with your tools to try and go a bit faster. When you start the race it's a completely different story. During the race you are running with other cars which means dirty air. The car starts to move a lot and that's when it becomes interesting. You really have to work with your tools and on your lines to continue taking all of the corners flat.
MNII: Since you’re Belgian: Kim Clijsters or Justine Henin?
BB: It's not easy to answer. They're both very good players and we're really proud of them in Belgium. Since Henin just went back to number one, I would have to say her.
MNII: You raced briefly against Mario Romancini in Formula Renault in 2008 but now he's your teammate. Do you guys get along off the track or are you just teammates?
BB: Mario is a great guy and we get along well on and off track. We're both rookies so we are working together to learn everything and give the teams the best data and feedback as possible.
MNII: Mario has raced on many of these tracks already, albeit in an Indy Lights car. Has he offered any helpful advice to you this year, or has driving the IndyCar been a learning experience for both of you?
BB: Mario was able to give me a few tips concerning the basics of driving on oval, but driving the IZOD IndyCar Series car has been a new experience for both of us.
MNII: Having driven cars in F1, Formula Renault, and Superleague your in a unique position to answer this question: how does the current IndyCar compare?
BB: All of the cars are very different and require different skills. All I can say is that the IZOD IndyCar Series car is really fun to drive on ovals.
MNII: As an accomplished driver who's had no prior experience driving in this series - much less on ovals - what's your goal for this year? A podium? A top 10? Just finishing every race?
BB: Honestly when you're racing you're racing to win, nothing else. I'm not used to being in the position I am now, but the team and I are doing everything we can to bring the No. 36 car to the top of the rankings. I know that this year will be really difficult and that there is a lot to do, but if we can get a top 5 finish this year I will be very happy.
MNII: In your bio on IndyCar.com it says "If a movie was made of Baguette’s life, he says he would like Nicolas Cage to play the role." Considering that Cage has played psychos, drunks and vampires, umm, well, why would you want him to play you?
BB: I don't know really, I think he's a really good actor and I like his films so I said Nicolas Cage.
Ed. Note: Upon further review, any possibility of a racing movie involving Nic Cage needs to be pursued with the utmost vigor, if only for the inevitable "Cage eats a spark plug" scene. Seriously, sign me up for that. It can't possibly be any worse than "Driven".
MNII: Important question for every driver: Do you have a nickname?
BB: Not really, in Belgium people that know me well call me Ber or Beber but that's not really related with racing. I am open to any suggestions if you have one.
MNII: Last question, again related to Belgium: Jean Claude Van Damme - National treasure or embarrassment of the nation?
BB: National treasure for sure. I like Van Damme a lot especially the way he speaks. :-)
Agreed. Van Damme speaks with roundhouse kicks to the face better than any actor ever. Thanks to Bertrand for sharing, as well as to Conquest Racing PR guru Lauren Boyd for facilitating the chit chat.
Photo: TrackSide Online
"If you're in the 500, you have a shot at winning the race. So you don't lose sight of that. But you say 'OK what are the things we need to do to beat them? How are we going to beat them?' That's what you really focus on. Where as (big teams) are focused on 'OK, let's not just beat ourselves.' You have to focus on beating that. And it's doable.
"I tell you, there's no way you ever get in a race car an say 'Well, I don't have a chance.' Because then why get in it? Even if you realistically don't have a chance you you get in it then and you say 'OK these certain circumstances are going to have to happen, but you know what, they can. I'm here and I'm gong to do the best I can to put myself in a position so that if they do happen I'm gong to take advantages of them.'" - John Andretti, who's positive attitude wants nothing to do with any pessimism resulting from that 0 for 48 slump his family is currently experiencing at The Greatest Spectacle In Racing.
In his rookie year with the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson saw, at very close range, a 46 point clinic by the 76'ers veteran guard and playground legend, World B Free.
College superstar, Brian Bosworth, began his debut season in the NFL by signing an enormous contract but he received an even bigger humiliation live on national television when fellow rookie Bo Jackson simply ran over him like a hauler driving over a possum.
These were classic 'welcome to the big league' moments, moments that would shape the careers of both men. In Bosworth's case the shape was sadly, that of a pear.
Randy Bernard may just have had his own rookie beat down today at the hands of Bruton Smith. As Robin Miller explains here, the CEO of Speedway Motorsports pulled the massive promotional rug from under Bernard's feet today as he revealed the plan to make Memorial Day 2011 a hugely interesting affair.
The IndyCar CEO seems to get the fact that auto racing in the USA is generally struggling for media attention and ratings and Bernard fully recognises the potential of such a huge event. “I want to do some things to shake up the world of racing and all boats rise on a high tide,” he told Miller recently.
Smith's comments are evidence that, indeed, no good deed goes unpunished and he does not do anything that is not in the best interests of his shareholders and Bruton Smith. The most egregious part of today's events is the fact that Smith basically did everything he could to make this look like it was his idea and he was facilitating every facet of it.
When World B Free was asked recently about that extraordinary performance against the NBA's newest superstar he explained, "When people are looking somewhere they are not looking somewhere else. So I wanted to catch their attention. I was the underdog at that moment ... and that‘s when I‘m dangerous."
Maybe that mindset can explain Bruton Smith's need to take the upper hand this afternoon? Is it possible that he felt like the underdog and maybe Randy Bernard and the Indy 500 are a bigger threat than he thought?
Pagenaud also believes his time in prototypes will be invaluable as and when the IndyCar Series regulations open up in 2012 and beyond.
“That is what I am hoping for. I think, in a way for me, ChampCar stopped and I couldn't go to IndyCar at the time with a good opportunity, so it was a great thing for my career because then I looked at sportscars and had a fantastic chance with Gil de Ferran and Acura. It was for me the time to polish my driving, but also to work with everybody as a team to improve the car, improve the tires, improve traction control, improve the engine; I got to work on pretty much every part of the car. So I grew up very much as a technical driver. I wouldn’t have been able to develop myself as well if I would have been in spec series.
“I think I was really lucky. Maybe this sounds crazy to an IndyCar driver, but for me, the education with a fast prototype is a lot more than what a driver can get with a spec car in open-wheel. For the future, if IndyCar is looking to go away from spec cars, indeed it could be really, really interesting for me because I've got all these tools with me now and would be a good asset for any team.”
I wrote about the obvious benefits of racing in a state of the art sportscar last year and how Marco Andretti, in particular, could benefit from prolonged exposure to so much power combined with huge amounts of downforce. Pagenaud's opinions about the benefit of endurance racing got me thinking about the real reasons and the potential benefits of Marco's first attempt at Le Mans this June. He has signed to race in one of the Rebellion Lola Judd prototypes in the LMP1 class.
To get a better idea of what he can expect and how the experience can help him as an IndyCar driver, I decided to consult his Rebellion team mate at La Sarthe, Guy Smith, a man with Indy Lights (twice a race winner in 1998) and Champ Car experience which goes along nicely with his victory for Bentley at Le Mans in 2003.
Smith agreed with Pagenaud insofar as the level of technical input is much greater in contemporary sportscar racing than is the case in the IndyCar Series. "[In IndyCar] Right now the adjustments you can make are very small, everything is about fine tuning the car." From the moment he gets to France, Marco will be working with Lola on the chassis, Michelin on the tyres and Judd Engine Developments on the 700HP V10 engine. "He'll will have to develop the whole package and he will have to learn how to get the best from the whole car", Smith added.
Coming from a spec series and, effectively, a spec ladder system means that Andretti has never had to fully develop a whole car as such and has almost exclusively driven cars with less horsepower than grip. Developing a feel for the car is crucial especially as longer stints at Le Mans can see a driver use the same set of tyres for anything from one to four 45 minute stints. "In 2003 we were quadruple stinting tyres and if you went out and did a blindingly fast time in your first stint and 'rooted' the tyres, you had a long way to go before you could change them" warned the Yorkshireman. He stressed the value of tyre management and how it can improve an IndyCar drivers performance, "That is something Dario and Dixon are able to do over the course of a race and hopefully doing [Le Mans] will be a valuable lesson for Marco." A perfect example of this is Marco's aggressive performance in the early laps at St Petersburg in comparison to Dario's charge at the finish.
Tyres are far from the only variable over the course of 24 hours. Smith is heading into his seventh Le Mans and has experienced almost everything the car and track can throw at a driver. "What [Marco] has to learn is how to cope with a changing car. The car is usually a 'bag of nails' by the end. The brakes don't work, you can't see and the engine sounds rough. You get to a point where the car feels like it is at 80 or 90% but you still have to drive it as hard, sometimes you have to drive at what feels like 110%! The car might be mega at night but crap in the day, good in the wet and not so good in the dry, but either way, you still have to drive it!"
The Englishman spends a lot of time in the USA as he is a factory driver for the Dyson Mazda team in the ALMS. Subsequently he gets to spend quite a lot of time with a number of his compatriots in IndyCar. After it was announced that Andretti would be joining the Rebellion squad at Le Mans, Smith sought the opinion of one of Marco's rivals in the series. "Dario loves the prototypes because of the downforce and he reckons Marco's "big cojones" will be a real help to him in the high speed sections [at La Sarthe]. [Dario] also thinks he lacks a bit of feeling on road courses and particularly at street events where there is generally less grip." Smith agrees with that assessment based on seeing Andretti up close in the ALMS in 2008. "Marco was blindingly fast at Sebring but he struggled at Lime Rock where you rely on more mechanical than aerodynamic grip."
If the Lola is reliable, Andretti will gain a colossal amount of race experience and seat time at the event. Smith believes it can only benefit his open wheel career, "he'll do the equivalent of five IndyCar races and come back to the IndyCar Series a complete and more rounded driver." Smith went on to suggest that, "he can learn more in 1 weekend than he did all of last season!"
Much like the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Le Mans is an ongoing itch that the whole Andretti dynasty feel the need to scratch. Realistically however, the Rebellion team have little chance of overall victory. Their petrol powered LMP1 is simply no match for the impending diesel onslaught from reigning champions Peugeot and their German rivals, Audi. Smith stresses that there is a need to approach the event with eyes open and a cool head. "Marco will need to manage his own expectations, we're not going to beat the diesels and we are really fighting against the Aston Martins for a top 5 finish on Sunday."
Andretti is the remarkable position of being able to compete in two of the 'Big 3' global races in the space of two weeks and in doing so will gain an enormous amount of invaluable experience that can only serve to make him a more consistent driver and, potentially, a formidable IndyCar force over the next decade.
"We need to blow up IRL...It needs to be (known as) IndyCar. To the purist, (IRL) is a negative acronym. We need to get away from using it... (we need) some sort of press statement to show that (IRL) is dead. We need to let people understand we're trying to change." - IRL and/or IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard on roses, names, and how sweet they don't smell.
On a side note, "My Name Is IndyCar" doesn't have quite the same je ne sais quoi.
1986 Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby Rahal and his Rahal Letterman Racing team announced today that its entry in the 2010 Indy 500 would be piloted by his son Graham.If anyone has any sponsor suggestions now might be a good time to speak up. Which begs the question: is Red Roof Inns still in business?
Graham, who is the youngest driver ever to win an Indy Car race, will be racing for his father's Ohio-based team for the first time in Indy Cars, although the 21-year-old Rahal has raced with RLR in its sportscar programs in past seasons.
"I am extremely excited to be racing with my father and with this team," grinned the younger Rahal. "I have known a lot of the guys on this team since I was very young and to go after the dream of winning Indianapolis with them means a lot to me and my family. I know we can put together a quality effort and we expect to be competitive."
The #30 Dallara/Honda/Firestone expects to be announcing further details concerning its livery and potential sponsorship for the 500 in the coming week.
Photo: TrackSide Online
Welcome to Kansas where your humble host is glad to not be. Not because I'd rather be at home than at a track - oh, heavens no - but because Kansas seems to be always be place where Mother Nature has her huge hissy fits or meteorological fury.
Last year there were tornadoes all around the track, and this week there's been lots of rain. Might even be a little on the chilly side according to the braintrust at TrackSide Online. Hopefully the track will stay dry for today's race, as the qualifications
(Meanwhile, here in Arizona it's Chamber of Commerce weather. Sunny, clear, high in the 70s. If anyone wants to have an IndyCar race here instead...I know, I'm beating dead horse here.)
But the weather right now looks clear in Kansas, and if qualifications are any indication we might have a fun race, since cars from Panther, Newman-Haas-no Lanigan, and FAZZT (yes, FAZZT) were all qualifying in the front rows. Wheldon however was penalized for going below the white line in quals so he gets to start in the back fully enraged.
But Briscoe is on the pole, Milka is starting in the back, and somewhere Nicole Manske is getting her "#parkmilka" ready for today today. And with that, it's time to start.
0: Marty Reid just said "It is the Month of May". Technically, yes, but "The Month of May" proper doesn't start until Donald Davidson's "Talk of Gasoline Alley" is back on the airwaves. I'm calling today April 31st.
0: Ryan Hunter-Reay is being interviewed. He has some issues about something (contract? car?) but I can't focus because the ubiquitous IZOD Girl is standing behind him smiling encouragingly at me. Yes, me. And I'm suddenly feeling very calm.
0: I miss Jack Arute on these ESPN/ABC broadcasts. Rick DeBruhl just doesn't have the same level of passion or the probability for unintentional comedy. Might was well have a robot out there.
0: Marty Reid just said he was going to introduce us to "Silvester de Simona". Oh, COLOSSAL FAIL!
0: Obligatory Danica interview. ESPN loves the Danicker. However, the interview serves as a transition to a package on...Simona. Har!
0: Vintage Indy 500 footage breaks out. Unsers, Andretti, Wheldon. This is even more re-assuring than the IZOD Girl.
0: Some anonymous woman (to me) commands "Drivers! Start Your Engines!" Nice job, except for the shoulder shrug afterwards.
0: Dan Wheldon is the "in-car commentator". Dan starts talking about the great car and...he stalls it. Note: "in-car commentator" is rarely a good idea.
0: First oval in an IndyCar for Sato, Simona, Baguette and Romancini, although Mario Romancini has race in the Indy Lights. Then again, he also put the car in the wall in practice.
0: John Andretti, sporting classic Petty colors, gets air. Meanwhile Briscoe and Dixon lead them to the line.
1: And we are GREEN! And cars are moving around going three-wide and life is worth living again.
2: Marco Andretti, who started in 26th, ais already up to 19th. Must be that Venom Energy Drink sponsor.
4: Conway and Mutoh are shown battling for 6th. On ESPN. There's nothing real in the world anymore.
5: It's Briscoe, Dixon, Dario, Helio, Vitor. Meira is already winless in 101 races
8: Hyphen-Reay started near the back but he's already up to 13th. Marco is up to 15th. It's a festival of overtaking!
12: Just noticed KVRT teammates Moraes and Viso are 8th and 9th respectively. Wonder if ESPN will mention them.
13: Dixon gets a little lose and loses 2nd to Dario. Franchitti has the Suave sponsorship this week to celebrate his glorious locks.
18: Danica is in 14th with Rafa Matos and John Andretti chasing her for position. How do I say that without making it sound like a double entendre?
21: Dixon gets back around Dario. Meanwhile that Top 5 of Briscoe, Dixon, Dario, Vitor, and Helio have about a two second lead on everyone else. Vitor, hanging with the big boys!
24: Ryan Hunter-Reay is up to 10th. Marco up to 11th. Kanaan in 7th. Andretti Autosport brigade is blaring trumpets and are on the charge.
28: Dixon is trying to go two-wide for the lead while trying to lap Romancini. Racing excitement engaged.
34: Back from commercial and Scott Dixon is now leading. Pass for the lead has to be shown on tape delay. Not quite as exciting.
40: Leaders are lapping plenty of drivers. Wilson, Milka, Simona, Lloyd and Romancini are all a lap down. Next up is Wheldon, who clearly doesn't have the same car he had yesterday.
42: And there goes Dixon by Wheldon.
43: Dixon is starting to make this less than interesting. He leads Briscoe and Dario by over 4 seconds. Helio 8 seconds back. Vitor 9 seconds back.
49: Pit stops for Briscoe, Kanaan, Helio, Dixon. Without incident.
50: Now Dario comes in. Must be saving a wee bit more fuel than the other leaders.
50: Will Power comes in and has an extended stay pit stop. Too far from the middle of the pit stall to get the fuel hose in completely. Crikey!
55: After all the stops it's Dixon, Dario, Briscoe, Helio, Vitor. Kanaan 6th. Hunter-Reay 7th.
58: Penalty of some sort for Viso on the pit stop. Now he's back to 18th. Dammit. So much for that interesting run.
65: Good news - Vitor is getting airtime in 5th. Bad news - he's 14 seconds back of the lead.
68: Mutoh and Sato battling for 11th. And here I am caught without any Godzilla references at the ready.
69: Danica, in 14th, about to be lapped by Dixon.
71: Down goes Danica. Next up is Marco.
72: Scott Dixon is the opposite of racing excitement. There, I said it.
73: YELLOW! Viso, clearly desperate for TV time, gets a little high and scrapes the wall. Manages to get the car into the pits though.
75: Pit stops for everyone. In and out and the leaders are now Dixon, Dario, Briscoe, Helio, Vitor. Hunter-Reay now up to 6th in a demonstrable plea for additional sponsorship to run the full season.
75: Chaos at the back of the field as Duno and Sato touch and drive each other into the grass. No wall contact though so they might be able to continue.
76: Ryan Briscoe is missing a wheel. That ain't gonna work. Has to come in get a fourth, dropping for 11th.
80: Interview with EJ. Poor guy.
82: Something must have happened to Vitor. Dixon, Dario, Helio, Kanaan and Hunter-Reay now lead the field.
84: Back to GREEN!
85: 16 cars on the lead lap. Danica is not one of them. But she's still getting airtime. Go figure.
89: Tagliani in 6th, Vitor right behind him. Hope springs eternal for the underdogs.
96: John Andretti is 9th. He's...not too bad at this IndyCar thing.
98: Hunter-Reay keeps looking to get a run on Kanaan but he can't. So we are lock-steppin' up at the front.
103: Danica, a lap down, throwing a big 'ol block party for Helio all around the track. Even Scott Goodyear calls that "bad etiquette".
108: Helio still struggling to get around Danica. Goodyear says "When he gets beside her he's got to hold her down..." Oh my!
109: Danica finally lets Helio by. And Kanaan as well for good measure. Must have heard from the Iron Hand of Justice.
113: Something must have happened to Hunter-Reay, as he's dropped back behind Tagliani and Mutoh. What it was, nobody knows.
114: And here's Danica making a pit stop. Really ESPN, this is embarrassing. Let go of the Danicker already.
119: YELLOW! Debris on the track. Looks like an endplate on the track so it's legit. Might have been thrown by Brian Barnhart himself, though. Just to keep things remotely interesting.
122: Pit stops for everyone. And on pit exit it's Dixon, Dario, Kanaan, Mutoh, Helio. Mutoh Mania rises to a near fever pitch.
127: So, exactly how long does it take to pick up an endplate on the track? It's been 8 laps, for crying out loud!
128: Finally, back to GREEN!
135: Lots of racing but not much passing, if that makes any sense. The Ganassi cars have already pulled away by almost a second from Kanaan. Try to act shocked.
143: And now it's two seconds between the Dixon-Dario combo and Kanaan. Meanwhile Briscoe is on the charge and working on Mutoh for 4th.
146: P1 just walked out of the room saying "Yeah for races that are boring". I would guess many of you watching this feel the same way.
151: Takuma Sato, reported "road course specialist", is up to 7th. Mutoh still in 4th. Japan is well represented this week.
155: Dixon-Dario ahead of Kanaan by 3.5 seconds. 45 laps to go and it's all over but the crying.
161: Final round of pit stops starting. Leaders not pitting yet. I know, that's not terribly helpful. Sorry.
165: Mutoh on the Push To Pass but he can't get around Kanaan. Insert Japanese swearing here.
170: Dixon now pulling ahead of Dario by two seconds, or so says Marty Reid. I can't verify it because Timing & Scoring is frozen at Lap 148 for me. Not very helpful.
175: Dixon ahead of Dario by almost 3 seconds now. Ahead of Kanaan by over 10 seconds. *sighs*
177: Kanaan and Mutoh both pit. Come out the same way they went in. Not even passing in the pits for those two.
178: Dixon pits and...YELLOW! Jay Howard has made contact with the wall. He seems OK, making hand gestures to the safety crew, but the car is missing the rear wing.
179: Replay shows Jay was behind teammate/boss Sarah Fisher and got a little too high. Or, based on the result, a lot too high.
180: Somehow in all this the leaders are now Dixon, Helio, Dario, Kanaan, Mutoh. Not sure how Helio snuck into second but there he is.
184: Finally, back to GREEN! And now YELLOW as Sato and Mutoh collide ending the proud run for Japan.
182: Ironically, if we finish under yellow it might actually be a closer margin of victory.
188: Still yellow. Big Jamie Little informs us that with 12 laps to go and Dixon has 18 Push To Pass tries left. Feel the anticipation of racing excitement leaving the building.
190: Only six cars on the lead lap. Dixon, Helio, Dario, Kanaan, Hunter-Reay, Briscoe. Pfffft.
193: And we're back to GREE...no, strike that. Waved it off.
194: And this time we're back to GREEN! Look at that Scott Dixon gooooooo!
196: Dario gets his Push To Pass on and gets around Helio for 2nd.
197: Here comes Kanaan up to Helio. Side-by-side (hooray!)
198: Kanaan got 'em.
199: White flag as Kanaan pulls up on Dario's attenuator.
200: And checkers for Dixon, as Franchitti holds off Kanaan for 2nd.
Congrats to Dixon, not for winning but for having a lovely wife who gleefully shares with us what Scott had for breakfast. Listening to her say "ba-nah-nah" is more exciting than watching him race. But that's just me.
Also, nice runs for Dario, Tony, Helio and the two Ryans. Hunter-Reay in 5th, now hanging in fourth place in the standings. I need to make like Scott Dixon and get moving in a hurry today, so with that I leave you all. Thank you very much, friends, and good night.