Montoya tops speed chart on busy Opening Day at IMS

INDIANAPOLIS, May 3, 2015 – On a sunny and warm Opening Day, 27 drivers hit the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval for the first time this year to prepare for the 99th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Sunday at IMS also marked the first day for superspeedway aero kits, the bodywork enhancements that allow for easier distinction between manufacturers Honda and Chevrolet and encourage faster speeds. Every race so far in the Verizon IndyCar Series has been on road/street courses, which feature different aero kits.

Faster speeds were the order of the day as 21 drivers, led by 2000 Indianapolis 500 champion Juan Pablo Montoya, surpassed the fastest Opening Day 2014 lap of 223.057 mph by Team Penske’s Will Power. Montoya, also of Team Penske, hit 226.772 mph (39.6874 seconds) late in the afternoon.

“We struggled a little bit this morning with the balance. We made a few changes, a couple of good things,” said Montoya, driver of the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet. “We’re all trying different things. Each car has its own program so we will be trying to make the car better.”

Montoya ran 95 laps on the day, tied with 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion and Chip Ganassi Racing driver Tony Kanaan for the most on Day 1. A total of 1,845 laps were turned on the 2.5-mile oval.

“It’s a new kit. We’re still trying to figure out what to do, every day at the racetrack is a good day,” said Kanaan, who pilots the No. 10 NTT Data Chevrolet. “We had a smooth day, that’s what counts.”

Rookie Gabby Chaves placed 13th on the Opening Day speed chart with a lap at 224.718 mph in the No. 98 Bowers & Wilkins/Curb Honda.

“This was a very special day for me to be out there in an Indy car and to work with the new aero kits. The car felt great, very comfortable,” Chaves said. “This is the first time I have gone over 200 miles per hour. It’s very different. When you’re running 30 miles per hour faster than you have ever gone before, everything comes at you a lot quicker.”

Second fastest behind Montoya was three-time “500” champion Helio Castroneves, at 226.468 mph, in the No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet.

“We feel great. It’s always awesome to be here,” Castroneves said. “The fans are incredible, just to see everyone (is) already excited. It’s a great opportunity to have an extra day to run with the new aero kit.”

When the drivers return to IMS on Thursday, their cars will be in road course configurations as practice begins for the second annual Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Admission is free and gates open at 8 a.m.

Mayor Ballard kicks it off: Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, a frequent visitor to IMS, waved the green flag to start practice on Opening Day.

“It’s really fun to do the things I get to do at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway like wave the green flag to start practice, go into the pits and talk a lot to the drivers,” Mayor Ballard said. “I enjoy the entire month out here and make every excuse I can to be here.”

Street work: The three members of the Indianapolis 500’s most exclusive club are newly honored on streets inside the Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval.

Drive around the infield now and you might find yourself on Foyt Drive, Unser Lane or Mears Way, named, of course, for four-time “500” winners A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears.

Foyt Drive runs north-south just west of the “N” Lot and connects Sixth and Seventh streets. Unser Lane is off of Tunnel 7 and Seventh Street in front of spectator mounds for the IMS road course. Mears Way is off Tunnel 10 on the north end and connects to Shaw Drive just west of the Turn 3 inside parking lot.

Each street is marked with new signage. A photo opportunity to celebrate these new street names is slated to take place later this month.

Justin time: For Justin Wilson, a seven-time Indianapolis 500 starter, simply being in the car on Sunday was a thrill.

The Englishman has a deal with Andretti Autosport to run the “500” and next week’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis in the No. 25 Honda, and Opening Day practice was his first time back in an Indy car since the end of last season.

“It’s been a long off-season, a lot of time thinking about getting back in the car and what it takes and how it’s all going to work. Just pleased to get it started, and so far it seems good. We just got to take it one step at a time,” Wilson said.

Wilson’s prior three seasons were with Dale Coyne Racing, so he’s got a new team to mesh with in addition to getting up to speed with the new aero kit packages.

“At first it’s a little strange because you’re with a new team and there’s a lot of changes obviously with the aero kits and all that that’s going on. So if one is flat-out rushing around, it’s hard to kind of get settled in,” said Wilson, whose best “500” finish is a fifth in 2013. “When you switch teams, it’s never easy that first couple of days and that first time in the car, especially when you’re trying to squeeze in the car and get the seat just right and the belts just right and the pedals and everything else. It’s just nice to get all that done, and then we can start planning ahead and trying to go quick.”

Wilson’s not kidding about that “squeeze” part – he stands nearly 6-foot-4, the tallest driver in the paddock.

Busy Bryan: Despite a three-year absence from the “Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” Bryan Clauson feels on more even footing with the competition as practice began, thanks to the new aero kits.

Clauson, the multiple national champion in United States Auto Club sprint and midget racing, made his only Indy 500 appearance in 2012 as a benefactor of an INDYCAR scholarship that funded his ride with Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (now CFH Racing). Clauson started 31st and finished 30th, retiring after just 46 laps with mechanical problems. The Noblesville, Indiana, resident has had a year to prepare for this opportunity after being named to drive the No. 88 KVSH Racing/Jonathan Byrd’s Chevrolet in May 2014.

He spent Opening Day going through the mandatory driver refresher program to get himself back up to speed at a methodical pace. Clauson, 25, believes the fact that everyone else has little experience with the new aero kits will work to his benefit.

“I guess it’s probably a good year to come in again because everybody is starting, not necessarily from scratch, but not everybody knows what they have when they rolled in here this morning,” Clauson said. “So we’re all kind of starting from the same level to some degree. It’s been too long for me (since driving an Indy car) to sit here and say that I could tell you the difference between it. It seems like the aero kits are definitely more efficient from what we’ve seen and definitely add some intrigue.”

Since he last took on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Clauson has continued with his stellar sprint car and midgets career, racking up 66 career USAC national victories. He spent Saturday night in Pevely, Missouri, where he drove a World of Outlaws winged sprint car to 14th place in the Federated Auto Parts Raceway at I-55 Spring Classic, then high-tailed it to Indy for this morning’s refresher session.

Get your lemonade: A group of young local entrepreneurs met on Sunday with the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers they’ve been paired with to raise funds for charity on Lemonade Day Greater Indianapolis, May 16 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

A total of 10 lemonade stands will be set up on Pagoda Plaza that day. The young business owners selected to operate the stands will sell their individually prepared beverages to fans attending the first day of qualifications for the 2015 Indianapolis 500. Portions of the proceeds from each stand go to charities designated by the driver teamed with each stand. Among the charities benefitting from the day will be: the Julian Center (Juan Pablo Montoya), Susan G. Komen (Pippa Mann), Indianapolis Humane Society (Will Power, Simon Pagenaud) and Indy Family Foundation (Ed Carpenter).

The stand owners and drivers held an introductory session this morning to prepare for the big event. Lemonade Day is an annual national initiative directed at teaching children the fundamentals of starting and operating a business, as well as giving back to their community. Scott Jones, local entrepreneur and founder of Cha Cha, spearheaded bringing the program to Indianapolis in 2010.