Carpenter, Castroneves to chase history in qualifying for 99th Indianapolis 500

INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, May 15, 2015 – The pole at the Indianapolis 500 is one of the most coveted starting positions in motorsports. For Ed Carpenter and Helio Castroneves, history will also be on the line this weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in two days of qualifying for the 99th Running of the 500 Mile Race.

Eleven drivers have won back-to-back pole positions but none has won three in a row. Carpenter, in his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka CFH Racing entry, has an opportunity for that after winning the pole in each of the past two years.

“That’s what everyone has been asking me all week: ‘Are you going to win a third pole?’ I don’t know. If it happens, it happens,” Carpenter said.

The 11-time “500” starter vows that his focus remains solely on winning the race despite the qualifying history that is also on the table. Castroneves is in a similar position, owning three “500” wins and gunning on May 24 for the ultra-prestigious fourth title to join A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as Indy’s all-time winningest drivers, but also in contention for some pole history of his own.

Castroneves, with No. 1 qualifying efforts in 2003, 2007 and 2009-10, is one of three drivers with four poles, alongside Foyt and Rex Mays. A fifth this weekend would put him second among all-time pole winners, one behind Mears’ six.

The Brazilian, driving the No. 3 Shell V-Power Nitro+ Team Penske Chevrolet, could also give car owner Roger Penske a record-extending 18th pole position.

If the week’s speed charts are any indication, however, another Team Penske driver may have the inside track for the top spot. Simon Pagenaud clocked the week’s best speed on “Fast Friday” at 230.698 mph in the No. 22 Avaya Team Penske Chevrolet.

“I don’t feel like I’m the favorite. I feel like I have a great race car and the whole Team Penske is doing a great job. The car is amazing and really fast,” Pagenaud said. “There’s so many outside factors that will come into play tomorrow. … The decision that we make with the aero level may be too low or too high for the temperature. It’s going to be really tough for the engineers. I hope my engineer Ben (Bretzman) still has some hair at the end of the day.”

The pole position cannot be won on Saturday but drivers must be among the nine fastest in full-field qualifying in order to run in the Fast Nine Shootout for the pole on Sunday. Qualifying will be held from 11 a.m.-5:50 p.m. on Saturday.

Previous pole winners Tony Kanaan (2005), Scott Dixon (2008) and Alex Tagliani (2011) will try to join the group of 18 drivers with multiple Indy poles.

The four-lap qualifying record is 236.986 mph by Arie Luyendyk in 1996.

New team for 2016: The Indianapolis 500 Mile Race has seen nine different women compete as drivers, but an initiative announced today at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway would see participation expanded in 2016 to the first all-female team focused on drawing women into all areas of the sport.

Grace Autosport is the brainchild of Beth Paretta, former marketing director for SRT Motorsports/Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. She has formed a core group that includes driver Katherine Legge, a two-time Indianapolis 500 starter, aerodynamicist Catherine Crawford, race engineer Lauren Elkins, junior design engineer Jessica Rowe and motorsports public relations veteran Barbara Burns.

“This is a very visible campaign for women’s empowerment,” said Paretta. “Motor racing is one of the few sports where men and women can compete side by side and win.”

The initial plan, Paretta said, is to have the team ready to race in the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 in May 2016. Longer-term goals include a full-season entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series and eventual expansion into other forms of motorsports.

“We will work hard to compete at the highest level,” Paretta said, “and our goal is that, by the end of the decade, a woman’s face will grace the Borg-Warner Trophy (for winning the ‘500’).”

Just as important, Legge added, is developing a path for young women interested in any area of motorsports – driving, engineering, mechanics, management and more. Legge has been a proponent of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education as a spokeswoman for the Girl Scouts of the USA.

“What we’re trying to do is make it a positive thing, get rid of the stigma of being a woman in motorsport and make it something that everybody is very proud of,” Legge said. “It’s going to be very successful. So I’m very much looking forward to the challenge to seeing it from the beginning, from an idea, kind of turn out and bloom into something very special.”

Paretta said a sponsor is lined up and will be announced at a later date. She expects the team to pair with a current Verizon IndyCar Series team for next year’s Indianapolis 500 before eventually becoming its own entity.

Resurgent Rahal: Graham Rahal comes into the 99th Indianapolis 500 on a roll, with runner-up finishes in his last two Verizon IndyCar Series starts including the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road course May 9.

Now, the driver of the No. 15 Steak ‘n Shake Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will chase the same prize that his father Bobby has – a “500” title.

“I’ve always had confidence in myself, obviously certain years more than others. I’ve never doubted that guys like (Simon) Pagenaud are winning races and (James) Hinchcliffe and (Will) Power and (Scott) Dixon, and I’ve always felt like I could compete with them,” Rahal said. “While the results maybe haven’t reflected as many wins as those guys have, I knew from my past and racing wheel-to-wheel with them on Race Day, as Dad says, I feel like I could be right there with them.

“This year I think we’re finally getting to that point. I think we’ve shown in the last couple of races that we can be up there. You know, you get a good car underneath you, you get a team that’s full of confidence. And it’s not just the driver, obviously. The team has a huge effect. … I think in our case the team is really clicking.”

Rahal finished 33rd in last year’s “500” with electrical problems. His best finish is a third in 2011 with Chip Ganassi Racing.

Colts rookies visit: David Thornton, Indianapolis Colts director of player engagement, escorted the team’s 2015 rookie class to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Friday. The players took a tour of the garage area and gathered on the start/finish line to kiss the Yard of Bricks before first-round draft pick Phillip Dorsett waved the green flag to start Friday’s practice session.

“They were flying,” said Dorsett, a wide receiver from the University of Miami. “I’m not that fast. It definitely is cool.”

The rookies took plenty of pictures and soaked in the atmosphere on Fast Friday.

“It’s pretty fun being here and seeing these cars move that fast. We’re all definitely pumped to be here,” said Henry Anderson, the team’s third-round pick from Stanford University. “A day like today where you get to come out and see such a big part of the Indianapolis culture is really fun to do. Just getting to know the town a little bit better is definitely exciting.”