HORNISH LEADS FINAL PRACTICE; CUNNINGHAM WINS FREEDOM 100 THRILLER; CASTRONEVES TAKES PIT STOP CONTEST
INDIANAPOLIS, Friday, May 26, 2006 -- Marlboro Team Penske's domination of the Month of May continued on Miller Lite Carb Day.
Sam Hornish Jr., the WorldPoints Visa Card pole winner for the May 28 classic, topped the speed chart for the final practice session, the final opportunity for teams to fine-tune their cars before Race Day.
Hornish, driving the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone, posted a fast lap of 220.698 mph during the one-hour window on the 2.5-mile oval.
Delphi Fernandez Racing's Scott Sharp (220.316 mph) was second, Target Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon (219.992 mph) and Dan Wheldon (219.847 mph) were third and fourth, respectively. Tony Kanaan (219.611 mph) rounded out the top five.
Also on Miller Lite Carb Day, Helio Castroneves hopes that winning the Checkers/Rally's Pit Stop Competition is a good omen. There is precedent.
Castroneves, driving the No. 6 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Toyota/Firestone, defeated Andretti Green Racing's Dario Franchitti in the championship round. His pit crew received the $50,000 first prize for its speed and accuracy.
The winner of the competition has gone on to win the Indianapolis 500 five times, most recently in 2004 (Buddy Rice). Penske Racing teams have won the pit stop competition a record nine times, the last with Castroneves in 2002. The race winner? Castroneves.
Also on Carb Day, Wade Cunningham out-dueled rookie Jay Howard over the final three laps to win the Freedom 100.
Cunningham led all 40 laps, but the statistic doesn't tell the entire story. He led Howard by .0007 of a second at the start-finish line at the start of the final lap but was overtaken in Turn 1. Cunningham moved to the outside entering Turn 3, hoping to get a run. He overtook Howard in the short chute between Turns 3 and 4 and held on for a victory by .6889 of a second.
"It was a tough day," Cunningham said. "Even though we led all 40 laps, it wasn't that easy. The first 20 went really smooth, and we had everything covered. But I don't know, with 15 laps to go, I developed a pretty bad gearbox problem in fifth gear, which is the gear I needed to run in.
"So I had to shift to sixth and run around in a gear, which wasn't suitable for a few laps, and that really allowed Jay to catch back up and make a race of it. I didn't know if I had him covered because I didn't know if fifth gear was going to last those last few laps. But the team told me to keep my foot down, and I did and everything held out, so I'm super-happy for that."
The B-52's and Third Eye Bling headlined a concert to conclude the busy day.
MILLER LITE CARB DAY NOTES:
On this date in 2002, Helio Castroneves became the fifth driver to win back-to-back Indianapolis 500s, winning the 86th Running of the Indianapolis 500. On this date in 1996, Buddy Lazier claimed his first Indianapolis 500 victory, a two months after sustaining a broken back at a race in Phoenix.
In celebration of the 90th Running of the Indianapolis 500, various personalities associated with "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing" will give their favorite "500" memories. Here's today's memory:
JOHN LEWIS (IRL Vice President of League Development): "In 1998, I was the director of facilities and Al Michaels was broadcasting on ABC from the scoring pylon on the front straightaway. He was on a 10-foot by 10-foot stage that straddled pit wall. We had to tear it down in three minutes because he had to get from there to the broadcast booth before the start of the race. I wasn't in charge of Al Michaels, but was in charge of the facilities. We tore the stage down, and I had to hustle up to race control because I was also calling the race with Brian (Barnhart). I was running up the frontstretch and the National Anthem started, so I stopped next to Eddie Cheever's car and stood for the Anthem. When I was standing on the straightaway with all the cars and the Anthem started and the fighter planes went overhead, I was almost in tears."
Did you know?: Only two drivers have won the pole position, the pit stop competition, and the Indianapolis 500 all in the same year. Bobby Unser swept the all three events in 1981 Buddy Rice accomplished the feat in 2004.
Rahal Letterman Racing announced a partnership with St. Pauli Girl Beer and Barton Beers, Ltd., the exclusive importer of the German beer May 25. The program will see the brand's logo appear on the No. 16 Argent Mortgage Honda/Panoz of Danica Patrick for the 90th running of the Indianapolis 500.
BOBBY RAHAL (Co-owner, Rahal Letterman Racing): "We are pleased to establish this partnership with St. Pauli Girl. St. Pauli Girl is just the latest example of an established brand incorporating Danica's RLR program and the Indy 500 into their marketing initiatives."
FRED GRAEFENHAIN (National Brands Marketing Vice President, Barton Beers, Ltd.): "St. Pauli Girl Beer is thrilled to support Danica Patrick and Rahal Letterman Racing in their quest to win the Indy 500. Both Danica and the Indy 500 appeal to St. Pauli Girl consumers, so it's a great partnership for our brands."
Selected quotes from today's availability with Rahal Letterman Racing:
DANICA PATRICK: (On having fans in her native Illinois): "I know that there's a lot of friends and family coming, not only from Illinois but from Arizona and all over the place. I think that in Illinois there's a lot of them. I think that everyone gets to choose their own favorite driver to cheer for. It's kind of like football or basketball or any of those sports. Cheer for your state, right? If you're from Chicago, you cheer for the Bears or the Bulls. A lot of fans cheer for drivers from their own state." (On this year versus last year): "It's not as easy as last year. This year has been, I suppose, a little bit more rewarding in the sense that we've had to work so hard to make the car as good as it has been. I would take last year over this year from a standpoint of speed. There year has been much more difficult I would say just because there's much more work on the track. As well as the fact that there's still a lot of media. It's still continuous, there's a lot of it." (On the weather this year): "I'd like to think that from last year to this year one of my biggest improvements has been on keeping up with the race car and making sure it handles well from the beginning of the race to the end as well as from full fuel to no fuel and tires from when they're new to the end. Hopefully that helps in the race, but we'll see about the changing conditions. Definitely one of the things is that you don't know what happens to the race car when it gets hot." (What is it like to be a veteran this year?): "Last year I showed that I had speed and that I could race." (Do you feel more established now that rookies like Marco Andretti are gauging their rookie performance by you?): "I'm flattered that people compare themselves to me. I think it shows that everybody is a rookie at some point. These rookies right now are going to be great at one point."
BUDDY RICE: (Plans for today and Race Day in regards to the weather.): "We'll have to do a fairly long run this morning just to make sure everything is right. I still don't think the weather is going to be exactly how it's going to be Sunday. It's going to be at least 10 degrees hotter. So we are still going to have to see the humidity and see what the motor's going to be like." (On the expected heat and how that will affect the race): "I think our cars are competitive in racing. They were not set up for whatever it takes for the pole. I think we've obviously picked up the pace throughout the month. We're the only team on the Panoz the full time up to this point, and I think we've done a pretty good job. I think what's going to happen during racing is really different. One, it's going to be sort of a shock just for the fact that we don't know how the cars are going to react in and out of traffic, and it's going to be whatever's most efficient to keep up with the changing weather all day throughout the race. Obviously, it has rained a bunch of times since the last time we were out on the track, as well, so the track is definitely going to be different again."
BOBBY RAHAL: (Which of your drivers do you want to see win?): "I don't care, specifically, who comes to the podium on Sunday afternoon between the three. I'd like to see one of our three, and we're going to do everything we can."
The Make-A-Wish Foundation has joined PDM Racing as an associate sponsor for the team's effort for the Indianapolis 500. The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy.
JEFF MATTHEWS (Associate Partner, PDM Racing): "We are extremely proud to have the Make-A-Wish Foundation a part of this journey. It is our goal to promote the foundation well this weekend, and we will display Make-A-Wish on our car."
Ethanol is presenting $2,500 to the driver who records the fastest lap on five practice days during the Month of May. The "Ethanol Fastest Lap" is presented May 10, 11, 17, 18 and 26. In addition to the ethanol awards, Cholula Hot Sauce awarded $15,000 to Sam Hornish Jr., who completes the Fastest Lap of the Day on May 19.
ETHANOL FASTEST LAP WINNERS:
Date Driver Speed
May 10 Sam Hornish Jr. 226.056 mph
May 11 Sam Hornish Jr. 226.789 mph
May 17 Sam Hornish Jr. 224.381 mph
May 18 Sam Hornish Jr. 224.951 mph
CHOLULA HOT LAP OF THE DAY WINNER:
Date Driver Speed
May 19 Sam Hornish Jr. 227.925 mph
Jim Beam awarded Philip Keeney of Mechanicsburg, Pa., and three guests the unique opportunity to do "double-duty," by attending both the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 on May 28. Keeney and his guests will receive VIP treatment the entire weekend. They will watch each race from a VIP suite and will travel from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the Indianapolis International Airport via helicopter following the race and fly on either Michael Andretti or Robby Gordon's private jet to Charlotte for the NASCAR event.
Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage, applauding Michael Andretti and Al Unser Jr. coming out of retirement to compete in Sunday's Indianapolis 500, would like the sport's legendary names to take it a step further.
Gossage announced today that he is offering a $100,000 sponsorship fee if Andretti and Unser would "un-retire" one more time and participate with the rest of the talented Indy Racing League IndyCar Series field in the Bombardier Learjet 500k on Saturday, June 10 at Texas Motor Speedway.
Should Andretti and Unser both participate in the Bombardier Learjet 500k, the sponsorship would be activated and each driver's team would receive a $50,000 check. Both drivers must compete in "America's Original Nighttime Indy Car Race" to activate the $100,000 sponsorship. The cars also would be required to carry a "Texas Motor Speedway 10 Years Strong" decal on each side, but both drivers would be allowed additional sponsorship on their respective cars.
EDDIE GOSSAGE (President, Texas Motor Speedway): "Michael Jordan 'un-retired,' championship boxers do it all the time, so why not Michael and Al Jr. one last time for the great fans at Texas Motor Speedway that have supported and embraced the Indy Racing League over the past 10 years? Running in the Indy 500 this weekend proves the competitive juices still flow in both of them, so we thought providing the necessary sponsorship support would give them sufficient reason to compete in Texas."
Former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL standout Eddie George is at the Speedway.
EDDIE GEORGE: "From my days with the Titans, this was like my second home. I feel welcome here. (About his experience at the Speedway): "It's been amazing. This is my second race. I've been to NASCAR (races). But this is unlike anything else."
Willy T. Ribbs, the first African-American to start the Indianapolis 500, is visiting the track today.
WILLY T. RIBBS: (How is your shooting these days?): "Shooting is going great. In fact, I have the U.S. Open coming up next weekend in Columbus, Kan., but coming back to Indianapolis, is the biggest race on the planet. I don't care where or what it is; this is the biggest." (Here to see any drivers this year?): "Here to see my old friend Mike Andretti, Al Unser Jr., and some of the guys I use to work with, is like coming home." (Any predictions?) "Michael (Andretti) is tough. Michael knows how to run 500 miles. He's been there. He's probably got more laps led than anybody around here. But he's got to deal with the Penske Panzers. The Penske Panzers are tough baby. Both (Helio) Castroneves and the 'Horn' (Sam Hornish Jr.) are going to be tough to beat, especially if they hook up. But I think Michael (Andretti) has what it takes to take them on. But I think this is going to be an awesome show, and I'm going to witness it."
Brad Brewer, chief mechanic for the #18 PDM Racing Panoz/Honda/Firestone, was named the winner of the the 20th Clint Brawner Mechanical Excellence Award. Presented annually since 1987 by the Clint Brawner Foundation and underwritten by Firestone Racing, the award pays tribute to the memory of the late Clint Brawner, chief mechanic on six national champion cars in AAA- and USAC-sanctioned series. It rewards a chief mechanic at Indy each May who "exemplifies the mechanical and scientific creativity, ingenuity, perseverance, dedication, enthusiasm and expertise" of Brawner.
BRAD BREWER (Chief mechanic, PDM Racing): "Paul (Diatlovich) called and asked if I was ready for a challenge. We didn't get the tub until 6 o'clock Friday (the eve of pole qualifying). We worked until 2 a.m. that night and until 3 a.m. Saturday night to get it all together. I have no idea how we did it, but everybody pitched in to get it done. And we could not have done it without the help of everyone in this garage area."
PAGE MADER (General manager, Race Tire Development, Firestone Racing): "Firestone commends Brad on the dedication and perseverance necessary to keep the crew focused on the task of getting Thiago's car into the race. Brad joins a long list of great mechanics to win the Brawner award and is a most deserving addition to this prestigious club."
Selected quotes from Vision Racing press availability:
TONY GEORGE (Co-owner, Vision Racing): "I am very pleased with the way things have gone so far. Certainly, it has met my expectations. Over the offseason, we made the decision to drop our Indy Pro Series program so we could concentrate on the second car for the full season from a number of onsets and points of view. I think the planning and preparation that we put into the offseason has proven successful. I think we should really see some results. I said from the beginning I wouldn't make any predictions on how we would do this year, but we would let the results speak for themselves. It was always my expectations that come Indy, we would add a third car to our stable. It would most likely be a second-weekend qualifier. We would be in a position to fill the field. I had a number of drivers calling me about a third car, and one of them was Townsend (Bell). He presented an interesting opportunity. For one, he is a very qualified driver with a variety of experiences under his belt. He had an opportunity to provide us with a really strong third effort. He also introduced us to the gentleman on my left (Michael Ball) on the way back from Japan and really made it possible that we were able to turn the second-week effort into a full run program. I think it has really added a lot to our team from the fact that they he came right in and worked with a number of people from Panther (Racing). He seemed to fit right in and allowed us to develop a very cohesive month of May plan. He was certainly a front-runner all week long. That has really helped the team evolve with a number of issues. Having Michael (Ball) coming on board has been a blessing. He is engaged as an individual and has been very hands-on and very creative. He is very much focused on image and doing things right. He has made it possible for us to do this program right. All credit to Michael and his organization. I just wanted you all to have the opportunity to meet him because he has created a lot of fun. He has certainly made it possible for a lot of people to sit up and take notice of Vision Racing this year in addition to what the drivers have done."
MICHAEL BALL (CEO, chief designer, and founder, Rock & Republic): "I pretty much grew up with the Indianapolis 500. We had a tradition on my family. It's a pretty big family, as well. Coming to the hallowed grounds has been spectacular. It's even hard to explain. It's so cool. I've been around motorsports for a while, there's so many sights and sounds, but there's something about the fresh-cut grass or that this track wasn't designed on a computer that makes it very special to be here. From the perspective of what we're doing as being a part of this team in May, it's not necessarily anything we're looking to do for an advertising issue, it's really for an image and who we are as a company. Open-wheel motorsports, the IRL and the Indianapolis 500, in particular, is something that we want to be a part of, and we would like to see something like this go forward and for us to become stronger and build a team and continue this. It's been real positive for us." (Would you like to have future involvement with this racing team?): "I would love to see this relationship grow and turn into something long term soon. I definitely want to be in racing." (Are you looking to use this as a marketing test, too?): "We intend to use this as a bounce if you will ,in the men's market and create a little for the women, as well. But yes, we'll get something done in regards to what we're doing this weekend." (Do you have any plans to create your own brand of race wear?): "That's always an option. Nothing on the drawing board right now, but I'm a huge fan of racing, so that wouldn't be a far stretch."
ED CARPENTER (No. 20 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "That was kind of the whole plan coming into this season. We grew a lot over the winter. We more than doubled in size, so we had a lot more people around to do some of things I was trying to do last year in addition to driving. Coming into this season, that was all I really wanted to do was drive. I worked hard to better myself as a driver so I could be focused on that part of the team. Not that I didn't care about the other parts, I just needed to do what I needed to do to better myself. I think it helped me a bunch. We've got great people and put the right people in the right places on this team."
TOWNSEND BELL (No. 90 Rock & Republic Dallara/Honda/Firestone): (What's going through your mind two days before the Indianapolis 500?): "The standard stuff. I'm trying to think about what the race is going to be like and what sort of mentality I want to have on Race Day. It's a long race. Even this morning on our last little outing, I think I went out with a pack of about 10 cars, and everybody was racing and trying to get in front to feel what the car felt like in traffic. It's pretty indicative of what is going to happen; you're going to have make smart moves all day long, be patient and make sure you maximize what you have. It's been such a trouble-free month from almost every standpoint that it seems like things just happened pretty seamlessly for us as a team, trying to add a third car. It just gives you confidence. I feel confident and comfortable and very excited about the race."
TOMAS SCHECKTER (No. 2 Vision Racing Dallara/Honda/Firestone): (What have you learned in your first four starts?): "It's a combination of things. I've learned that it's a 500 mile race, not a 450-mile race, first of all. There's so many different things to this race. It's great being here and having Rock & Republic on our cars; it's such a great young image. We get so much positive influence from the fans out there screaming. I enjoy having them on our car and wearing the jeans and their clothing, and the whole team has grown closer together this month. I think in this month Vision Racing has put itself in a category that it wasn't in before. We want to keep this ball rolling and make sure we get a good result when Sunday comes along." (About team dynamics): "The whole team is doing a great job of getting along. I've been with Ganassi, which has won championships, and I've been with Panther, and they've won championships. But how quickly this team has bonded has been great. The chemistry between me and Ed at the beginning and me and Townsend now. It all helps push the team a lot further."
FREEDOM 100 POST-RACE NOTES:
* This is Wade Cunningham's first win of the season and the second victory of his Indy Pro Series career.
* Cunningham is the fourth consecutive pole sitter to win the Freedom 100, joining Ed Carpenter (2003), Thiago Medeiros (2004) and Jaime Camara (2005).
* This is the second win for Brian Stewart Racing in the Indy Pro Series. It previously won with Cunningham at California Speedway last October.
* Cunningham has finished second and first in his first two starts at Indianapolis.
* This was the fastest race in Indy Pro Series history, with an average speed of 184.679. The previous best average speed was 173.112 mph at Michigan Speedway in 2004.
* This is the fifth Indy Pro Series race to run caution-free. The last caution-free race was at Pikes Peak in August, 2004.
* Jay Howard finished second, his fourth consecutive top-three finish.
* Jaime Camara finished third, his best finish of the season. His previous best finish was 11th at Homestead-Miami Speedway earlier this year.
* Geoff Dodge, who started 19th, finished eighth, the biggest move of any driver in the field.
CHECKERS/RALLY'S PIT STOP CHALLENGE NOTES:
* The winner of the Checkers/Rally's Pit Stop Challenge has gone on to win * the Indianapolis 500 five times: Bobby Unser, Penske Racing (1981); Danny * Sullivan, Penske Racing (1985); Jacques Villeneuve, Team Green (1995); * Helio Castroneves, Marlboro Team Penske (2002), Buddy Rice, Rahal * Letterman Racing (2004).
* Marlboro Team Penske won $50,000 of the $100,000 purse for winning the Checkers/Rally's Pit Stop Challenge. Andretti Green Racing earned $15,000.
* This is Marlboro Team Penske's ninth win in the Checkers/Rally's Pit Stop Challenge. It is the winningest team in the history of the contest. The last time Marlboro Team Penske won the contest was 2005 with Sam Hornish Jr. This is Helio Castroneves' second win. He also won in 2002, when he went on to win the Indianapolis 500 that year.
* Castroneves' team recorded two of the fastest pit stops in the history of the competition. His semifinal time of 7.7365 was the fastest time recorded, according to IRL Timing & Scoring, while his final round time of 8.0852 seconds was the fastest final round time recorded.
CHECKERS/RALLY'S PIT STOP CHALLENGE QUOTES:
HELIO CASTRONEVES (No. 3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "It's been interesting this month for the entire organization. Sam (Hornish) capturing almost every day of speed, number-one spot, even the pole position. Now, we've captured the pit stop competition. It's big for everyone, and every team out there knows. So hopefully we'll continue in that direction. These guys, I always feel like they're incredible. When Rick called me and asked me to come in and get some practice in, now I know what he means by hit the marks." (About the final): "What I did, I knew Dario (Franchitti) was waiting be for he left, and before I was like, right away on the green flag drop, so I saw he was waiting and I thought that I was going to mess up, as well, so I decided to wait and see if he messed up as well. I knew that I just had to beat him, and I knew that we'd be able to get the time and I'd be the fastest to come out. I almost messed up, I went too fast, but I stopped. The brakes worked, and I stopped right there."
TIMOTHY WHITE (Marlboro Penske left-rear tire changer): "I feel ecstatic. This is what we work all season for. We get excited because we get just a little window during the year to get some recognition, so this is what we try really hard for. Helio's the best driver to be a part of that."
RICK RINAMAN (Chief mechanic, #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "These guys did a great job. We practice pit stops, and specifically started practicing the Indy 500 pit stop back at the shop in January. We practiced all this week. We would have substitute drivers come in when Helio wasn't around, and they would come in and hit the marks for us. Sometimes they were long, sometimes they were short, and sometimes they were right on the marks. That's good for us to have that difference because it gives us the confidence that we can change no matter where we stop. We knew that Helio was coming into to town, so we got him back in the car, and it gives him an idea of what the brakes feel like and stuff like that. It was Helio's day off, but he came in to help us, and we appreciate that. He's behind us, and we're behind him, and boy, did it pay off today. He couldn't have hit his marks any better today, and these guys behind me, what a job they did. It's unbelievable." (About the fast semifinal stop): "I think we knew that we needed to step up the first one. We did an 8.6 seconds before that, and we knew that we could do better, so we stepped up and proved what we could do. Everyone was on the ball, and we knew that we could do a 7. And when we did that 7.7 in the semifinals, the object of the final stop was just to be smooth. I told them just do what you need to do, and hopefully we'll come out on top, and that's what we did today."
TIM CINDRIC (President, Penske Performance, Inc): "The main thing for us is to just stay focused throughout the year. This is what these guys come to do. We worked hard last year and weren't quite as successful, but these guys continue to not settle for anything but the best. These guys continue to be consistent and come in here and do the job. You see the results we had, and on a day like today it makes all of the practice worthwhile."
DAVE POPIELARZ (Chief mechanic, #27 Klein Tools/Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "Honestly, for us to come this far is really good. We are down a guy, and another guy is operating with a broken leg. We are walking wounded right now. The average age for this team is 40 (years old). We are working hard. We had some bad stops last year, and we worked hard over the winter. We are proud to be where we are right now."
DARIO FRANCHITTI (#27 Klein Tools/Canadian Club Dallara/Honda/Firestone): "They did really good. We had a tough time in Japan. It was a very impressive performance. These guys wanted to win badly, and hopefully we get it done Sunday." (About what the competition does for the team): "This was good for the guys. They practiced so bloody hard for this."
Rick Rinaman, chief mechanic for the #3 Marlboro Team Penske Dallara/Honda/ Firestone driven by Helio Castroneves, was named the winner of the 2006 True Grit Award. Chris Paulsen, owner of C & R Racing, Inc., announced Rinaman as the 10th winner of the True Grit Award, which was presented earlier today.Paulsen, an Indy-style chief mechanic for many years, presented the $5,000 award to Rinaman.
CHRIS PAULSEN (Owner, C & R Racing, Inc.): "Rick Rinaman definitely exemplifies my meaning of the True Grit Award. He has won six Indianapolis 500s and three of those victories he was chief mechanic. Rick has worked with Team Penske for over 23 years. He started as a truck driver and worked to be one of the best in the business."
RICK RINAMAN (True Grit Award winner): "My teammate (Clive Howell) is a past winner. I'm one of the elite group of chief mechanics to receive the award. It is an honor for me and the rest of my team."
There is no on-track activity scheduled for Saturday. The next on-track day is the Indianapolis 500 on May 28.