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TSO Feature – More detail on ripKurrent, Charlie Kimball and Carlin. It will be the first time in 138 races that Kimball will have a different primary sponsor

By Steve Wittich

After a 138 straight NTT IndyCar Series races with a very familiar partner, Charlie Kimball will take to the 1.25-mile World Wide Technology Raceway At Gateway oval with a new partner and a different look for the No. 23 Carlin Chevrolet.

Kimball and Carlin are introducing a new company, ripKurrent, to the NTT IndyCar Series.

“It’s neat because you get to introduce people to IndyCar racing with a fresh perspective,” said Kimball about the new partnership. “They come in, and maybe they’ve been fans, or maybe they’ve worked in the industry. Coming as a partner with a team like Carlin is such a different experience. They get excited about it, and you can share that with them.”

Jason Clark, ripKurrent Director of Strategic Accounts, worked with Kimball to put the one race program together. Clark’s previous role was as Senior Manager of Partner Strategy for the NTT IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. A role that made him keenly aware of the value that Kimball and Carlin bring to their partners.

“They (ripKurrent) are really excited for the weekend,” explained Kimball. “They’ve got 20 or 25 guests coming, from clients to business partners. We’ll have associates that they work with on the car. I think they are really excited. They are doing a reception on Friday night and coming out to the race on Saturday.”

Led by a pair of Hoosiers and long-time race fans, the company offers disruptive, climate-conscience, innovative technologies aimed at saving their customers in high energy consumption environments between 30% and 50% on energy costs.

The Boca Raton, Fla. based company is a one-stop-shop for companies looking to lower their energy costs; from energy audits and modeling to the design of mechanical, electrical and plumbing solutions, to the manufacture and installation of thermal technologies.

“The Bommarito Auto Group 500 marks ripKurrent’s first foray into motorsports. Both Justin Dye (ripKurrent CEO) and I have been passionate about INDYCAR for many years, dating back to our childhood in southern Indiana,” stated Jade Culbertson, ripKurrent President. “We grew up watching open-wheel racing on small dirt tracks and, of course, the Indianapolis 500. To have ripKurrent partnered with an NTT IndyCar Series team is special to us. Also, being associated with Carlin and Charlie Kimball is extremely exciting. Charlie is a very accomplished and well-respected driver – he’s the first licensed driver with diabetes in the history of Indy car racing, which is significant to me, having lost my mother due to complications with diabetes two years ago. Speed, innovation, technology and efficiency have always been synonymous with INDYCAR and that aligns perfectly with our brand and energy services business at ripKurrent. We’re serious about reducing energy consumption for our clients, resulting in a reduced carbon footprint, a healthier planet and significant cost savings.”

More and more companies like ripKurrent are starting to understand that potential business-to-business benefit of being involved in the NTT IndyCar Series. There are dozens of companies partnered with the series and other teams who ripKurrent could help save money. What better way to meet them, then at the race track.

“More and more, partners understand that it’s about the relationships that they build, not just with teams and drivers, but with other partners involved,” explained Kimball when asked if sponsor prospects understand the possible business to business potential in the NTT IndyCar Series. “That networking is something that is only going to get stronger and stronger within IndyCar partnerships.”

Kimball will look to build on the momentum from a top ten finish at Pocono Raceway last week. The Camarillo, Calif. native will be in a race car for two consecutive races for the first time since the final two races of the 2018 season.

You can watch the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 Presented by Valvoline on the NBC Sports Network at 8 pm Eastern.

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ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway – Sunday – More on the biggest question of the weekend

By Steve Wittich

Will the NTT IndyCar Series return to Pocono Raceway next year is the most common question being asked by the fanbase as the series prepares to take on the “Tricky Triangle” for the 26th time.

“Recently? No,” said Pocono Raceway President Ben May, when asked about negotiations between the track and INDYCAR this morning, adding, “Our status remains the same as we reported last week with our CEO Nick Igdalsky. We want the event back, and the hope the decision INDYCAR makes is favorable for our facility.”

ADDENDUM – INDYCAR and Pocono Raceway did have a conversation after I talked to May this morning.

The 2.5-mile oval located in Long Pond, Pa. is 90 miles from the largest and fourth-largest television markets in the United States https://mediatracks.com/resources/nielsen-dma-rankings-2019. The combined television numbers of New York and Philadelphia include 9,917,150 homes, which is 8.97% of the entire television audience in the United States.

TSO talked to a pair of team owners, who both said they would ‘hate’ to see this track drop off the calendar.

It’s a very unique race track,” said Andretti Autosport principal Michael Andretti, who grew up just south of the track in Nazareth. “It’s one that has a lot history. We’re up here in the North East, which is important. I would hate losing it.”

Larry Foyt, President of A.J. Foyt Enterprises, echoed Andretti. With the son of four-time Pocono Raceway winner A.J. Foyt telling TSO:

“There is a lot of history here. It is a great race track. It’s a shame it is a little overshadowed by the last few years, having some bad things happen. But, that is a part of racing. It’s a beautiful facility and a place Indy cars can stretch their legs.

“I like this track. I like big race tracks. I think having a good mix of tracks like we have is good. Having a couple of superspeedways, not just the (Indianapolis) 500, is important. This is a fun and challenging race track. I would hate to see it go.”

Both owners also mentioned the importance of having a race in the Northeastern United States for their sponsors and potential sponsors.

Over 20%, 106 companies, in the Fortune 500 are located in Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts

“It’s similar to what I said regarding different types of tracks,” said Foyt to TSO. “Covering the Continental U.S. is important, and hitting all of the markets is great.”

Andretti agreed with Foyt regarding the commercial considerations for current sponsors, adding “It’s always nice saying that we race in the North East,” in regards to potential sponsors.

We also had a chance to talk to several drivers.

Tony Kanaan told us:

“I love this track. I think every driver that comes here, we look at each other and go “oh my God” you have to be careful here. It’s a track that intimidates a lot of us. I don’t get intimidated too often anymore. I like it. Look at how many fans we had here today. They are here and they keep asking for autographs. I think a lot is the nature of the track. I know we’ve been trying extremely hard with the track and IndyCar to promote this race more. In my opinion, it should be back.”

Pocono Raceway winner Alexander Rossi said:

“Yeah, no, I think you’re proud of any race win in this series just because of how hard they are to come by. This track is no exception. It’s obviously the second 500-mile race we do. Those are very hard to win with all the different variables that come with that, that length of race. Yeah, it’s definitely one you’ll cherish.

“Fingers crossed we can work something out and we’re all back here next year.”

Pocono Raceway winner Scott Dixon agreed with the others, saying:

“I love this track. We haven’t probably had the best runs in the last couple years, but that’s what makes it so good when you do get it right. It’s very difficult to get the combination with one and three correct, feel comfortable around the circuit.

“I hope we do come back. We just have to wait and see, I guess.”

Double Pocono Raceway Will Power is also a fan of the “Tricky Triangle” saying:

“I love the track. I love it. Obviously, it’s always a proud moment when you win a race. If you win back-to-back 500-milers, it’s a big deal.

“It’s a cool track. I feel like the more ovals, the better for me. I really enjoy them. It would kind of be disappointing if it went away. Obviously, I had nothing to do with that. It’s obviously INDYCAR negotiating.”

Are there team owners, drivers, and others in the paddock that would be happy if the NTT IndyCar Series never came back to Pocono Raceway, absolutely, but they were not willing to go on the record.

Steve’s opinion. Not returning would be a shame. It’s a track that wants the NTT IndyCar Series. A large portion of the fan base wants to be here. It’s an important market for the series and team’s sponsors. Superspeedways are the foundation of the NTT IndyCar Series. More ovals are better than fewer ovals. I could go on, but you get the point.

I’ll echo the others. I would hate to lose this race.

TSO Feature – Just the facts version of the Lap 18 pack-up / non pack up issue with INDYCAR’s response

On Lap 13, with just over 50-minutes remaining in the 75-minute race, Marco Andretti was the first driver to come to pit road to put on slick Firestone Firehawk Primary (Blacks) racing tires.

The third-generation driver had an adventurous out-lap with multiple ‘crazy hands’ moments, but was able to keep it off the concrete walls.

The Andretti Herta Autosport with Marco and Curb Agajanian driver’s first lap at speed was 107 seconds; his second hot lap dropped to 104 seconds and his third at 101 seconds. That was the same pace as the leaders, and much quicker than the drivers Andretti was chasing.

Five other drivers, Santino Ferrucci, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Spencer Pigot, Zach Veach, and Josef Newgarden, came to pit road for slicks before the caution flag came out for Ed Jones on Lap 18.

Pit road opened and the 16 drivers that had yet to pit headed to pit road.

The running order after everybody had cycled through was: Newgarden, Rossi, Dixon, Hunter-Reay, Rosenqvist, Sato, Pagenaud, Hinchcliffe, Pigot, Herta, Veach, Bourdais, O’Ward, Ferrucci, Ericcson, Kanaan, Chilton, Leist, Andretti, Power, and Jones.

The pits opened before the field was fully able to pack-up, negating an advantage for the five drivers who pitted, who ended up:

  • Newgarden -1st
  • Hunter-Reay – 4th
  • Pigot -9th
  • Veach 11th,
  • Ferrucci -14th
  • Andretti – 20th

The pit road delta on The Raceway at Belle Isle is shortest of the season at around 22 seconds, but if the pack-up had occurred as is standard, the above drivers would have still restarted first through sixth.

The response from those surrounding the No. 98 entry came quickly after the first Chevrolet Dual I ended.

Mega thanks to Jim Ayello from the IndyStar for getting Michael and Marco on the record after the race.

Post-race quote from Michael Andretti to Jim Ayello:

Link to tweet


Post race quote from Marco Andretti to Jim Ayello:

Link to tweet


Marco Andretti tweet:


Link to tweet

Link to tweet

Bryan Herta also said in a later tweet that the call to pit for slicks was Marco’s himself.


Those affiliated with Andretti wern’t the only ones that were upset. So far, we’ve heard from Dale Coyne Racing’s Santino Ferrucci who said:

“We had an OK start, you can’t really pass in the rain at the start because you can’t see, so we weren’t really able to move up. Then, we pit early for dry tires and we thought that we’d be able to move up the field when the yellow came out, but the cars in front of me didn’t pack up and that set us back in the field. Nothing really went our way today, there’s nothing we could really do other than now prepare for Race 2 tomorrow and hope for a better result aboard our #19 Cly-Del Manufacturing Honda.”

and Zach Veach, who said:

“It was a rollercoaster day. Qualifying was good – we lined up eighth, but then I made a mistake on the pace lap and spun with the wet conditions. We went back to 22nd for the start and worked our way up. Great strategy from the team to get me back towards the top 10 and then I passed cars one by one on restarts. [Colton] Herta and I, I think, put on a good show together for three corners – it was hairy. I think we could have been higher; we kind of got hurt by conditions. We should have restarted third or fourth, but they didn’t pack the field up, so we got hurt there. But, all-in-all to come away with a top 10 after starting 22nd – I’m pretty happy with it.”

If we hear from the other drivers or teams, we’ll update this story.


The response from INDYCAR

Race control was reviewing data and closing rates and based off the information the pack-up was developing. The goal was to get the pits open as quickly as possible for the competitors and fans, but given the circumstances that included cars on different tires and a cold track it did not occur as expediently as was envisioned.

Denise Titus honored with 7th Annual ‘Lone Star J. R.’ Johnny Rutherford Award

From our friends at the IndyCar Ministy

The winner of the 2019 “‘Lone Star J.R.’ Johnny Rutherford Award” is Denise Titus. She is the RN, Medical Liaison/ co Ordinator for officials, team members and drivers at Indy Car.

Denise was one of 4 finalists selected by the IndyCar community and voted as the winner. Anyone who holds a ‘hard-card’ in IndyCar is eligible. Including teams, drivers, IndyCar, and safety crew.

This award was created by the IndyCar Ministry to honor the IndyCar participant who best exemplifies outstanding character, integrity and leadership in the home, at the track and in the community.  The Award is named after Johnny Rutherford who has won the Indianapolis 500 three times.  In 1987 he was inducted into the Auto Racing Hall of Fame at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and in 1998 he was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame, and the Motorsports Hall of Fame in America.  J.R. is an individual of great character who has served his family and community faithfully through the years and is a role model for drivers and business people alike.

The award is on permanent display in the IMS Museum and Denise also received a $1,000 check.

TSO Feature (no sub. required) — INDYCAR partners with Red Bull Advanced Technologies to push driver safety forward with the next generation of cockpit protection

INDYCAR partners with Red Bull Advanced Technologies to push driver safety forward with the next generation of cockpit protection   By Steve Wittich For over a century the Indianapolis Motor Speedway has led the way in safety innovations in racing. From today’s announcement about the next evolution in driver cockpit protection, through the I-PAS goggles…

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TSO Feature – Long time TSO Subcriber, who started coming to the Indianapolis 500 in 1948, previews this years 103rd Indianapolis 500

Note from Steve: Once again, we welcome Butch Welsch to TSO. Butch is our favorite guest writer during the “Month of May,” and his yearly previews are a must read. Butch has been to every Indianapolis 500 since 1948 – this year will be his 72nd in a row.. He has been sitting in the front row of the Paddock Penthouse near the start/finish line since those seats were added in 1961. Butch is in the heating and cooling business and Welsch Heating & Cooling has sponsored Robby McGehee in the past and also owns a 1937 midget. 

By Butch Welcsh

It appears that every year it becomes more difficult to handicap the field for the Indy “500”. The reason is that every year IT IS more difficult because the quality and the closeness of the field means that there is a possibility of 20 or so different drivers taking the checkered flag first. Compare that to Formula 1. I’ll pick two and give you the other 18 and take my chances. Not in Indy Car. That said I am committed to pass along my thoughts regarding this year’s field of 33.

First a few general comments. We have no pre-500 oval races to provide us with information on how the teams will react to an oval. This year I am not really taking into account whether a driver is powered by a Honda or a Chevy. This really seems to be a non-issue. They both seem to be very close in speed and reliability issues have not surfaced either. It appears that the key to this year’s race has to do with the team’s ability to get the right balance in the handling of the car. We’ve heard multiple statements in interviews about how different the four turns are to drive, with the emphasis on the difficulty in turn 2. For us old timers, it seemed like turn 3 was always the trickiest one, but that has seemed to have changed to turn two.

In fact, the accidents which have occurred, except for Alonzo’s where he just drifted high in turn 3 and pancaked the wall, have all occurred in turn 2, and starting at about the same position on the track. I will now share a real concern I have about this year’s race. The cars which have spun in turn 2 did do with apparently very little or no warning to the driver. I am concerned that if cars are running in the 10 to 15 car packs which we have seen in recent years, if someone loses control like that, with many cars behind him or her, it could be a very serious situation. I hate to be an alarmist but I do think it is something that we will have to watch for.

To summarize, the team which has the ability to make the right changes and improvements to the car’s handling is going to be the one which can pass anywhere and therefore has the best chance to be in front at the end.

So on to my thoughts about this year’s field. I have split them into 3 groups again. Group 1 The most likely; Group 2 the group that if luck falls their way they might do it and finally Group 3, the group that is not going to be drinking the milk on race day.

Starting with the front row. Simon Pagenaud, who a month ago seemed to be in a tenuous position in his job, now is coming off a win in the Indy Grand Prix and his first pole win at the Speedway. Momentum and confidence are an important motivating factor in any sport and that includes auto racing. With his new found confidence, not to mention his Penske team there to make adjustments, certainly puts the Frenchman near the top of the favorites.

Ed Carpenter has shown year in and year out to have speed at the Speedway. Since he grew up at the place, I have wondered if he sneaks out at night and practices racing around the track – he is that good at the Speedway. He is coming off of a close second place finish last year and would love to finish that one place higher. I’m not sure that his team can produce the lightening like pits stops of a Penske, but am sure that an Ed Carpenter win would produce a crowd reaction rivaling that we heard when Tony Kanaan won in 2013.

For my next top group pick, I have gone to fifth starter, Will Power. Will obviously got a big weight off of his shoulders by winning last year. There is no reason to assume that he has slowed down any, and he still has the Penske team making those important pit stops. The only asterisk for Will is that it is very uncommon for there to be back to back winners at the Speedway. Helio Castro Neves was the last in 2001 and 2002 while the previous one before that was Al Unser, Sr. in 1970 and 1971. The odds are not with Will this year.

Keeping with the Penske theme is last year’s Series Champion, Josef Newgarden. This youngster is fast and has obviously shown his consistency by winning the Championship. His luck has not been great at the Speedway with an 8th, 19th, and 3rd the last three years. I truly believe he eventually will be a multi-time winner as he matures. Again, he has the Penske knowledge to help keep up with the car’s handling. Being almost a local boy, since he is from Nashville, a win would be extremely popular.

The 2016 winner. Alexander Rossi, is the highest starting driver from the Michael Andretti stable. After some of the outside passes which Alexander pulled off in 2018, in order to wind up fourth, and since he is in the same car from the same team he definitely has to be high on the favorites list. A first, seventh and fourth in his 3 starts is also impressive. A win would not be surprising.

Marco Andretti has compiled an excellent record at the Speedway, but has just never had that little bit of luck needed to be the winner. Will we ever forget in 2006 when Marco was trailed by his dad at the head of the straightaway coming to the checkered flag and then they both got passed by Sam Hornish as they came to the line. Since he is usually near the front, if Marco can shed the Andretti jinx, a win would be possible.

The Penske driver starting the furthest back is surprisingly Helio Castro Neves. His credentials need no explanation. He is a 3-time winner who would love no more than to join that small club of 4 timers. His concentration is now on sports cars and I wonder if the same intensity and drive are still there? It would, however, be really neat to see him climb the fence for the fourth time.

Tony Kanaan carries the AJ Foyt racing colors from the inside of row 6. Tony is still probably the most popular of Indy Car drivers and the fans would love to see him drink the milk again. The question here is not skill or motivation but whether or not the team can make the changes necessary to stay up with an ever-changing track to keep the car handling to Tony’s satisfaction.

Last but certainly not least in the top group is none other than 18th starting Scott Dixon. It is a real shock to have Scott starting that far back. However, Scott didn’t become a five-time series champion without possessing the ability to overcome adversity. After all, this is a 500-mile race, with around 8 pit stops, and plenty of time for his excellent Chip Ganassi team to make the necessary handling adjustments to put Scott up near the front.

So this completes my group 1. You will note it has only 9. It was extremely difficult separating some of the Group 2 drivers from Group 1 and I could have just added 2 from Group 2 into Group 1. However, I have to go with what I feel are the realistic chances keeping in mind not only the driver but the ability of each team to perform flawlessly. So, on to Group 2.

It may not seem right to put the drivers who are starting 3rd and 4th into Group 2. However, Spencer Pigot and Ed Jones are both out of the Ed Carpenter team. While they have shown good speed at the Speedway, there is still the question of whether or not the team can deliver the pit stops and handling changes necessary to send either one of them to victory lane. It’s true that Jones should have been Rookie of the Year in 2017 when he finished 3rd in a Dale Coyne car, only to be out politicked by Fernando Alonzo. However his performance in a Ganassi car last year was less than stellar. Pigot’s record of an 18th and 19th in the last two “500” are not representative of a challenger. It would be fun to see a car from Ed Carpenter’s team take the checkered flag first, but the boss has the best chance.

The surprise of 2019 has been the performance of Colton Herta and the Harding Steinbrenner team. They have outperformed far and above expectations. That said, however, Colton is a young rookie and the Harding Team is still really in its early stages. While they have a win at The Circuit of the America’s, this is a 500-mile oval track race, and a top ten finish would be an excellent day for this driver and team.

Sebastien Bourdais has an excellent third-row starting position and his Championships in the CART Series are certainly testimonies to his ability. However, I don’t feel that the Dale Coyne Team, even with Vasser and Sullivan, have all of the ingredients to avoid the mistakes which can’t happen for a driver to win over this closely bunched field.

It was with a considerable amount of thought that I have put Takuma Sato and his Teammate Bobby Rahal in Group 2. For Sato, when it all came together under the Andretti Autosports banner in 2017, there was Tako in Victory Lane. However, the Rahal Team is not the same team as Andretti and while they have made steps to improve, they haven’t shown the ability to consistently be a winner in a race as long as the 500. Graham has experienced a mediocre record at the Speedway and the fact that he qualified all the way back in 17th position, makes one wonder if the team has the track figured out this year. An All-American boy from a great pedigree would make a good story but I don’t feel that they are in that position at this time.

Oriol Servia comes to the Speedway each year and typically shows speed. He is a driver who, if everything fell his way could be a surprise. This year he is with the Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team and this is a “one-off” race for him. If Oriol had a full-time ride with one of the top teams I believe he might be challenging for the season’s championship. In his current role, a top 10 finish would be a good day for him.

I am delighted to see Dreyer and Reinbold back at the Speedway again this year. Every year they step up to the plate and bring one or two cars. Since they only run at the Speedway, experience has shown that their odds of a top finish are not very good. In Group 2 we have J. R. Hildebrand. I feel J.R. deserves to be in Group 2 because he has shown an ability to be competitive at the Speedway. If anyone should feel the Speedway owes him one – especially the fourth turn – it’s J.R. Hildebrand. While I’m not sure the one-off team can carry him to the win if everything fell into place he is a driver who could definitely race his way home and you can be sure he would make sure he made it through the 4th turn without incident. We’ll get to the D&R second car in group 3.

Next up is a guy who is probably one of the 3 most popular guys at the Speedway, with Tony Kanaan and Ed Carpenter. He is James Hinchcliffe. Hinch had to battle his way into the field through the last row shootout because of his Saturday morning crash. This is a guy who is the type that is the heart and soul of the Speedway. If a guy could be
“willed” into the winner’s circle it would be the Mayor of Hinchtown. Unfortunately, a 31st starting spot is not conducive to a win, so hopefully next year all of the pieces will fall the right way for him to take home the big prize.

The nest Andretti Autosport’s driver was one of the biggest surprises and disappointments of qualifying this year. Ryan Hunter-Reay and his team just never seemed to get their arms around the handling of the car this May. As a result, he is mired all of the way back in the 22nd starting position. While it isn’t impossible to win from that far back in the pack, with the quality of contenders ahead of him, coupled with their inability to get an understanding of their car’s handling, I’m sorry to say that I think this previous winner is in for a long day on Sunday.

Starting way back in 25th position, Jack Harvey has been one of the real pleasant surprises of this young 2019 season. The driver of the Meyer Shank with SPM Racing entry has been very consistent and competitive. We also can’t forget that Jack was running second last year a few laps from the end when he had to make a “splash of fuel” pit stop. My note: I thought either he or the front runner Oriol Servia would take a gamble and go as far as their fuel would take them. A yellow flag around that time might have put one of them into the winner’s circle. But I digress. The point is, that while it is unlikely there is always a possibility of Jack Harvey being the surprise of the day.

That takes us to Group 3. One of the disadvantages of having 33 cars in the field when only 22 are running on a regular basis is that you have several cars and drivers that have only limited experience working together. It appears that today, more than ever, it is a team sport where the driver needs to be able to communicate with the crew and the crew needs to be able to translate those communications into the proper adjustments to the car. It just isn’t as easy when you are only working together for one race.

Conor Daly happily got a ride this year as part of the Andretti Autosports team. He is a great young kid with talent as his 11th starting spot would attest. Unfortunately, his past experiences at the Speedway have been less than stellar and this is essentially his deal for the year. Given a full year with one of the top three teams it would be interesting to see how Conor would fair. However, this year, given the circumstances, he is another for whom a top ten would be a very successful day.

Another Schmidt Peterson car has former Formula 1 chauffeur, Rookie Marcus Erickson, behind the wheel. Hopefully, he will get some laps in and we will get a chance to see what this road course racer can do on an oval. Charlie Kimball is another runner who is in a one-off ride with Carlin Racing. Charlie campaigned with Carlin previously and also had a stint with Chip Ganassi Racing. He has been a competent mid-pack racer but has seldom shown an ability to run up front.

For another year James Davison has managed to get a ride out of the Dale Coyne stable. This year there is additional support from Byrd Racing and Belardi. Byrd is a continuation of Jonathan Byrd Racing whose participation at the Speedway goes back many years. Their initial contact with racing was through midgets and they are to be commended for bringing several of those open wheel young Americans to the Speedway. Belardi meanwhile has been a very strong supporter of the Indy Car Road to Indy program. It is nice to see them get their feet wet by participating in the “big show” as well. They have limited on-track experience together, but it would be nice to see Davison complete the 500 miles somewhere in the top 15.

Rookie Santino Ferrucci is here compliments of Dale Coyne Racing and is running the full season with DCR. He is another driver with very limited experience on an oval and will hopefully stay in the race long enough to get some laps and experience under his belt.

The second car in the A.J. Foyt team is handled by Marcus Leist. This is Marcus’ second year in the Series with the Foyt team. Last year he recorded a 13th place finish at the Brickyard. A.J. is working to help this young man gain the experience to feel comfortable on ovals.

Jordan King is in the 3rd car on track from Rahal, Letterman, Lanigan. Jordan is another driver with very limited Speedway experience. He like several of these young drivers needs to run a bunch of laps at the Speedway to get a full feel of the 2 ½ mile oval.

Ben Hanley is a new driver with a completely new-to-Indycar team named DragonSpeed. Hanley did an excellent job of working himself up to speed on the oval.
The first couple of practice days he was the slowest on the speed charts. As that first week of the practice continued, he got a little faster each day to the point where on Saturday he was able to qualify in the top 30. That was one of the biggest, unheralded accomplishments of qualifying. Unfortunately, a rookie driver with a brand new team is not likely to challenge for the lead, but he is another one who, with some experience under his belt may be one to keep an eye on.

Zach Veach is in one of the other Andretti Autosport’s entries. Zach has worked extremely hard to get to this position in racing and deserves some success. So far, however, despite being with the strong Andretti team he has not produced the high finishes one would expect. Perhaps this will be the race he will stand out and his star will shine. I believe a top 10 finish would be just what the doctor ordered.

Another one of the big disappointments of the earlier part of May was the plight of Felix Rosenquist. Felix had shown good speed at previous tracks and was sometimes quicker than his Ganassi teammate, Scott Dixon. Unfortunately, he got a little low in turn 2 during practice resulting in a hair raising ride and significant contact with the outside and inside walls. While his team was able to put a car back together for him, in the limited amount of practice remaining before qualifying, he didn’t show the spark of speed he had shown earlier. This resulted in a 29th starting place following qualifying. Hopefully, with the Monday practice and Carb day, he will regain his confidence and be able to move up to a position closer to where he was expected to run.

One of the feel good stories of this and any year at the Speedway is the fact that Pippa Mann successfully qualified in the top 30 and thus avoided the Sunday 6 car shootout. The emotion and tears she showed at the conclusion of Saturday qualifying is a beautiful testament as to how much just being in the 500 means to this young lady. No one helps promote the sport more than Pippa. She is continuously on social media doing or saying something that is positive about the sport of auto racing and the Indy 500 in particular. The other thing that makes this accomplishment special is that the team for whom Pippa is driving is owned by Clausen Marshall racing. For those not aware, Tim Clausen is the father of open wheel champion and previous Indy 500 starter, Brian Clausen, who unfortunately was killed in a midget race at Belleville, Kansas. Since then, Tim Clausen and the Clausen’s close friend Richard Marshall have campaigned midgets in the USAC National Midget series providing excellent drives and equipment for up and coming drivers. They wanted to take it a step further and move onto the Indianapolis Speedway and chose Pippa, I believe for her dedication to the sport which coincides with theirs. It is of note that Clausen and Marshall were also part of the very successful BC39 midget race held inside the third turn at IMS last September. The BC39 is for Brian Clausen and his favored number 39. While my heart would love to see Pippa do well, my head says I hope she has a good safe race and completes the entire 500 miles. By the way, her car number is 39.

Starting on the inside of row 11 and one of the successful drivers at the shootout is Dryer and Reinbold driver Sage Karem. Sage is driving as a teammate to J.R. Hildebrand. Sage is from the Nazareth PA area, the home of the Andrettis, and is another driver who has paid his dues to get into the 500. Unfortunately, this too is a one time ride, but hopefully Sage will be able to show off his talent sufficiently enough that it will lead to other opportunities.

The 33rd driver on the list is another one of the exceptional feel good stories from this year’s Indy 500. The driver is Kyle Kaiser and his team is Juncos Racing. Juncos has been a supporter of the “Road to Indy” who is also working to break into the big show.
They are not a well-funded team and, in fact, were running their Speedway car with a blank white paint job – not a sponsor name in sight. Unfortunately, Kyle was a victim of the turn 2 issues which have been a problem and substantially tore apart his blank white car. Fortunately, Kyle was uninjured in the accident, but there was concern following the accident as to whether or not Juncos had the resources to put a replacement car back together for Kyle.

Ricardo Juncos was not to be denied. Under his direction, the team worked 48 hours in a row putting together pieces from spare cars to make a competitive speedway machine. They even avoided the brief Sunday morning practice session in order to make sure everything was as safely and properly put together on the car as possible. When the track had been dried and prepared for the 6 car shootout for the last three positions, there was the car number 32 in its proper place in line. A little editorializing here. I saw the car and got some pictures of the car going through tech, just prior to them pushing it out into the qualifying line. I’ll be polite and say it didn’t look like a Penske masterpiece. It was clear that pieces had been gathered from different cars and the mix of various paint schemes was obvious. It did appear that they had been very careful in the areas of safety and aerodynamics.

Now it is time. The other 5 cars have made their qualifying attempts and posted their speeds. Who is on the bubble but none other than two-time world champion Fernando Alonzo. Kaiser took to the track and a short 4 minutes later returned with a qualifying speed that was, in fact, quicker than Alonzo’s. The cheers from the crowd and the tears from the team were overwhelming. If there was ever a case of a little team proving that it could succeed at the Speedway this was it. I’m not sure where Kyle will end up after 500 miles, but in my eyes, he is already a champion. I just hope he has a safe race.

There you have it. One person’s thoughts regarding what I believe is going to be an exciting 500-mile race.

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TSO Feature Blogger – J.R. Hildebrand – “That was a little more drama during qualifying weekend than we wanted !!”.

TSO would like to welcome J.R. Hildebrand as our guest blogger for the “Month of May.” The eight-time Indianapolis 500 starter is back with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for a second year with software as a service provider Salesforce.com returning to sponsor the Sausalito, Calif. native. We’re looking forward to Hildebrand’s insight on what goes on behind the scenes in Gasoline Alley between the driver, his crew and engineering staff.

“That was a little more drama during qualifying weekend than we wanted !!”

A relieved J.R. Hildebrand is interviewed by NBC Sports after safely making the field for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Jones)

Hey there. It’s JR again. And I wanted to fill all of you in on how the qualifying weekend went for myself and my teammate Sage Karam in the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team. Well, all I can say is that qualifying wasn’t exactly how we had planned it but I’m happy that we are both in the 33-car field.

I’ll start 21st and Sage will start 31st after some very wild weather and track conditions on Saturday and Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. We had good setups on Friday when Chevrolet gave us more horsepower for qualifying. But the weather changed significantly for Saturday.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a good draw number for qualifying and we had to wait until 2 p.m. in the heat of the day to make our first run. We saw the faster guys go out in the first hour before the heat and wind picked up around the track. And the winds were unpredictable too.

My engineer Erik Petersen and I worked on Friday night to develop a car that could handle a lot of the variables during qualifying. We started to take some downforce off the car late on Thursday’s practice, but we didn’t get serious on our qualifying setups until Friday with the added horsepower.

The biggest thing for Saturday’s qualifying setup was we didn’t have enough data points on that kind of heat (the high 80s). We don’t have a big history of that type of weather here. And you can’t just throw the kitchen sink at the setup. We knew we had another run for that day. We ran a 229 lap on my first qual lap and then the car fell off with the heat and the wind in the corners. We just couldn’t maintain that pace at that point in the day. Actually, the wind wasn’t that big of a factor in the first four-lap run. But we couldn’t maintain the mid-corner speed we wanted. That erodes the lap time.

The team decided to make the changes for the elements and we went right back in the qualifying line. Unfortunately, there was no one in the line and we didn’t allow enough the car to cool down. We probably needed an hour to sit for everything to sit and cool. The car was faster in the second qual run, but we lost a little horsepower for going out so quickly. We don’t use the cooling tubes as the NASCAR boys use with the stock cars. It runs cold water back in the systems and cools the engine and car faster.

Now with hindsight, we saw how the weather affects the car in those conditions. Had we cooled for another 45 minutes, we would have been better, but not as good as later in the day when everything cooled down.
We knew we could go quicker again if the conditions improved just slightly. And when we went out at the end of Saturday, the car was good with two 228 laps. On the third lap, I hit a wind gust entering turn three and that pushed the car towards the wall. I had to feather the throttle and it cost us some speed. That is why the last two laps were off a bit. I was happy we got a cloud cover for our final run. That definitely helped the conditions for a four-lap average.

We could have had another turn of the front wing for grip but the car was grippy immediately at the start of the final run just that a little gust on the third lap hurt us. But I knew we would be good for the top 30 after the first two laps. I would have like to have averaged over 228 on Saturday but we were close at 227.908.

We knew we had the speed for a qualifying performance, but the conditions were just so tough. And getting that late draw number put us in a tough spot from the start.

And Sage had to do the same on Sunday, but he drove an excellent qual run for the fastest of the Last Chance qualifying.

I am happy for the Salesforce crew because they work hard all week to get our No. 48 car prepared very well. And the runs we had earlier in the week were good in race setup too.

J.R. Hildebrand and the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing crew that helped him qualify for his ninth consecutive Indianapolis 500 (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR – John Cote)

The DRR team has always had good race setups. I knew that when I was at ECR. It was tough to stay with Sage in the race. So, we feel pretty confident going into Sunday now.

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TSO Feature Blogger – J.R. Hildebrand – “The first day of practice was a good, solid start towards our team’s overall Indy 500 program.”

TSO would like to welcome J.R. Hildebrand as our guest blogger for the “Month of May.” The eight-time Indianapolis 500 starter is back with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for a second year with software as a service provider Salesforce.com returning to sponsor the Sausalito, Calif. native. We’re looking forward to Hildebrand’s insight on what goes on behind the scenes in Gasoline Alley between the driver, his crew and engineering staff.

 

Hi, this is J. R. Hildebrand and thanks for keeping track with us this May. I returned to the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team for the 103rd Indy 500 and I’m excited to drive the No. 48 Salesforce Chevrolet. This year’s Salesforce machine is running the No. 48 in tribute to one of my heroes, the late and great Dan Gurney. Many of Dan’s Indy cars over the years campaigned the No. 48, so I thought it would be a great tribute to Dan. We are running the same script 48 as Dan’s All American Racers team.

J.R. Hildebrand get ready for the first day of practice in preparation for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR- Joe Skibinski)

Coming back to Indy is always special since it is the most significant auto race in the world and my passion to compete here is always strong. So, I thought I would give the TSO readership an idea of what goes on in the garages with our engineers and our crew.

Tuesday was the first practice on the famous 2.5-mile oval track, and I was excited to get back on the racing surface after we ran a few laps in the Indy 500 testing last month. After getting through our refresher laps at the test, I was able to run in the morning session with the NTT IndyCar Series regular and veterans.

We did a lot of running of the car Tuesday including 113 laps. There were a lot of new items on the cars with the various aero setups and we wanted to see how those pieces worked. Early on, we ran our laps alone and went through the list of changes with my engineer, Eric Petersen, and Sage’s engineer, Jeff Britton. Jeff has been at IMS for decades and knows this place. Eric is new to DRR but not IndyCars and racing in general. Jeff and Eric worked together back in the 2000s with the Rahal Letterman team. And I have the 2004 Indy 500 champion Buddy Rice as my turn one spotter, as well. Buddy brings a great perspective to the overall DRR team, from his past driving career as well as watching the action from high above turn one.

We ran a full range of aero pieces today and collected a lot of data. So, we ran many laps on Tuesday. We didn’t want to run in big packs until the end of the day. Once we had tested out what we had done with the new stuff on the car, we decided to get in the mix with some packs. And we ran with a full fuel load too. We ran a pretty decent number and the car felt good for the end of the first day of practice.

After 113 laps, I feel good in the car. Not tired. It always good to out and just run laps. The weather was a little warmer than predicted. And, with the new sealer on the track surface, it was a good chance to really see how the track would be throughout the day. With a longer day, it conditioned your vision and body to being back at IMS after not being in a car for some time. Especially when you are not fulltime.

The DRR guys have done an outstanding job with the race car. It looks great and I feel we are on a trajectory and direction that will keep us getting more out of the car. I feel comfortable in the car after the first day and that we have a grasp of what we need from it. Last year, at the end of the first day, we and everyone else had no idea what was going on right now with this new car. But this year, it feels pretty good.

There were some big numbers put up on Tuesday and it didn’t really surprise me. These guys are pros. They are going to get out there and get with the program right away. For me, you have a few nerves wanting to get out there on the track. We got a little taste of what it was going to be like at the end of the test. And I felt there were some things we needed to improve to feel really racey.

The No. 48 DRR Salesforce on track during the first day of practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Owens)

After the test, that sits with you for a few weeks and then you get antsy to want to work to make the car better. I feel better at the end of the day on Tuesday, then the end of the day yesterday when I was getting ready and thinking about practice runs.

Eric and I worked together well on Tuesday and we’ll continue to communicate. And I think we’ll get to understand each other’s language as we move along. But right now, it seems very good. We are on the same page.
I look forward to the rest of the practice week.

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Penske rediscovers their St. Pete mojo

By Brant James

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – The driver lineup has expanded and contracted and morphed. The race car has evolved in a multitude of ways. The downtown streets and airport runway on which the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is contested has even been paved in the previous 14 iterations of the race.

But each spring when the IndyCar series reconvenes here, Team Penske establishes itself as the benchmark. And the latest installment suddenly appears much the same, despite Will Power’s and Josef Newgarden’s frustration over the first two days of the season-opener.

Will Power celebrates his first pole on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn street circuit in 2010 (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

It’s hard to argue otherwise too profusely after Power on Saturday won his eighth pole in 12 tries here – 11 with Penske – and has Newgarden starting beside him on the front row.

Power, whose best lap time of 1:00.4594 was best among his foils in the Fast Six – and the speediest IndyCar lap of the weekend – coyly attempted to credit his Saturday performance on a nap he snuck during the afternoon as his young son, Beau slept in his motor coach. But there had been no nap in the case in the previous seven, or his wins at the track in 2010 and 2014, or the two runner-up finishes. Granted, Power qualifies well broadly, as his 55th career moved him within 12 of Mario Andretti’s record.

Will Power celebrates the NTT P1 Award with his nap mate, Beau, and wife Liz. (INDYCAR Photo by Chris Owens)

But the nap certainly had nothing to do with Helio Castroneves winning on the 1.8-mile circuit a series-best three times, Juan Pablo Montoya twice and Ryan Briscoe once.

“I was kind of fresh,” Power asserted. “It’s been a tough weekend. We were tenth in practice and we just slowly worked on the car and got it better and better and better and even in qualifying we were making some kind of big changes. By the time we got to the Fast 6 we had a reasonable car, a good car, obviously.

“I was over the moon. I really didn’t think I would get pole. I knew Josef had really good tires and he had a similar car to me. Just happy for the team. We were on the back foot starting this weekend.”

Penske resources certainly allow the team to work on numerous areas of improvement during the offseason, likely giving it an advantage no matter where the season starts. Its damper program is purported to have made much to do with its early success when St. Petersburg joined the schedule in 2005 and Castroneves won two of the first three races.

And resources also allow Penske nimbleness when flaws are discovered and improvements are needed in a race weekend. Such, Newgarden said, was this case by qualifying because he, Power, and teammate Simon Pagenaud were denizens of the mid-pack on Friday. In the process, Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay went from dominating the speed charts to again chasing Team Penske.

“We got a good group. I mean it comes down to the people,” Newgarden said. “We didn’t have the best cars yesterday. We just didn’t. We were scrapping to get in the top ten yesterday. We made a big leap today, and it takes people to do that. You have to be able to put good people together, and you have to be able to work through it every weekend and I think we do that. I would say we do that the best. So that’s what made the difference today, going over everything last night and making the jump and that obviously includes Chevy.

“The way they integrate with us is a big part of it. But it’s people. Roger preaches it, but you have to have the right people around each other and you have to have the right mindset and I think that’s why we got good cars around here. I think that’s generally why we have good cars on qualifying day and we figure it out.”

Wickens seeking a little normalcy in his return to IndyCar paddock

TSO was very fortunate to be able to bring Brant James on to help us out on this super busy weekend. I (Steve) and Patrick will never pretend to be feature writers, but Brant is one of the best in the business. Exhibit A. is below.

By Brant James

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Robert Wickens rotated eagerly to his left and pulled in selfie-close with friend and teammate James Hinchcliffe. He was already smiling.

As the girl in the gray “Wickens 6” t-shirt snapped her souvenir and threaded the theater ropes to exit the IndyCar drivers autograph line on Friday, Wickens resumed scrawling his signature on anything placed on the table before him. Hero cards, t-shirts, hats.

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver Robert Wickens takes part in the NTT IndyCar Series autograph session at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR- Joe Skibinski)

It might not have been a completely banal day at the office for any of the drivers assembled in the midway inside the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg circuit. A season-opener incites a certain eagerness, especially with such a welcoming throng. But Wickens seemed to smile more than most and relish this more than most. He was different because he was lone among them in not wearing a fire suit in preparation for practice in less than an hour.

And then there was the wheelchair.

Two hundred and one days since Wickens sustained a thoracic spinal fracture, spinal cord injury, neck fracture, tibia and fibula fractures to both legs, fractures in both hands, fractured right forearm, fractured elbow, four fractured ribs and a pulmonary contusion after crashing into a catch fence at Pocono Raceway, the 29-year-old Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports driver was back at a race track for the first time. One year ago at this race course, Wickens had been a veteran rookie of sorts, given his breadth of experience in sports cars, who announced his intentions in IndyCar by winning the pole and battling Alexander Rossi for the win on the final lap. He was sixth in the driver standings before the crash with Ryan Hunter-Reay began a comeback from paralysis marked with surprising progress recently that he hopes will eventually allow him back into a race car.

This year, though buoyed by what has admittedly looked and felt like incredible progress – “sexy steps,” he calls them – Wickens’ race weekend activities included almost every normal item except driving. Hinchcliffe knew it could not be normal at all.

“I think coming into it he thought it was going to be a normal day,” he said of Friday. “I saw him [Thursday] night and I was like, ‘Man, you haven’t been out in public yet, really. And I know how often I get stopped just getting asked about you. The fact that you’re going to be there, this is not going to be a normal day at the race track for you.’”

A spate of inaccurate and unauthorized reporting about his condition prompted Wickens’ family to release the full extent of his injuries. He chose to document his recovery on social media, Hinchcliffe said, partly because so little was available online to guide him. In doing so, he became a rarity for athletes in general and race car drivers particularly in revealing such vulnerability. Wickens learned the result of that in very personal proximity after arriving at the track.

“He’s seen the messages online and the messages he’s gotten and all the rest of it, but to be in a big group, to be in public and really see that human connection is a special thing,” said Hinchcliffe, whose every move was mobbed at St. Petersburg in 2016 in his first race since a horrific crash practicing for the Indianapolis 500. “And it’s a bit overwhelming. You don’t realize how many people are paying attention, and in his case, especially, taking inspiration from what he’s done.

“It’s not just the casual fan. It’s the people who are injured and people who are sick that are really getting inspiration from Robby, and that’s an element that he didn’t realize. And I experienced some of that as well and that’s the most rewarding thing. You’re just trying to get yourself better but at the same time inspiring other people to get better and motivate them to stick with it in a bad situation, that’s something that’s a knock-on bonus of the whole thing.”

Hinchcliffe marveled at his friend’s schedule this weekend. He’d not been nearly as ambitious when he visited his hometown race in Toronto just a few months after his life-threatening internal injuries.

Friend and teammate James Hinchcliffe in his firesuit, interacts with Robert Wickens in his return to the NTT IndyCar Series paddock (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR- Joe Skibinski)

“I was still probably a bit premature. Robbie is Robbie and Robbie is happy and healthy in a lot of ways,” Hinchcliffe said. “I was still a little premature, probably to be at the track, so I did nothing. I walked from my bus to the grid and the only appearance I did was with Make-A-Wish and Honda Canada.

“I kind of kept my schedule clean. He has a busier schedule than any driver here this weekend. He’s really filled it up. He’s so appreciative of what he’s gotten from everyone he’s trying to give back now. He’s on a much more noble program than I was my first day back.”

Wickens said he “100 percent” intends to work hard enough to return as a driver, but he’s cognizant that at some point his progress will plateau. He is already contemplating a return using hand controls like Alex Zanardi, who lost both legs in a 2001 CART crash. He seems more bothered by the notion that however, not whenever, he returns, he’ll have to cope with the reality of not being the same driver who raced with such daring and success in 2018.
“Anything is possible,” Wickens said. “I know I’m a hard worker, analytical. I think I could get on top of hand controls. My only fear is that I always wanted to get back into racing as I left off, on the same level that I left off. I don’t want to be just a driver in the field. I want to be one competing to win the podiums like I was when I went out. That’s kind of the main thing for me.”

Robert Wickens address the IndyCar media for the first time since his incident at Pocono Raceway (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR- Joe Skibinski)

The autograph session over, Wickens whisked himself through the theater ropes and out into the midway, where his progress was stopped five times by well-wishers and autograph-seekers. A few related to Wickens how his attempt inspired them. Out of the bustle of the fan zone, the new routine continued in a secluded spot near where the race course curls right past Pioneer Park. After a pause, Wickens vaulted himself from his wheelchair into the passenger side of a waiting golf cart before his fiancée, Karli Woods, folded it as she has innumerable times and positioned it securely on the back.

A gate opened and Wickens was on to his next commitment, finding the new normal, still searching for the old one.

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