News and notes from Indy qualifying day
Different car, same age-old problems at Indianapolis. After waiting all week to see how the new DW12 would stand up to an old-school Indianapolis 500 crash, we saw three of them on Saturday. Bryan Clauson, Oriol Servia and Ed Carpenter stacked up three chassis in three separate incidents Saturday, sending their respective teams scurrying for parts, time and their checkbooks.
Andy O’Gara of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing said of the Clauson crash - “We went to Dallara to get parts - new side pods, new underwing, new engine cowling, and other body pieces and mechanical bits. We went through tech around 9 o'clock this morning. The car was damaged pretty badly; it's a $200,000 hit. It was a big hit - left-side body work, left-side suspension, front and rear wings, engine, gear box, side covers, drive line, radiators, exhaust - big hit."
Alex Lloyd, who had a similar hit in his rookie year at the Speedway said that some things never change – “An early turn-in is all it’ll take at quals at Indy. I’ve done it before and it hurts.”
Carpenter’s guys actually nodded off on Pit Lane after working until the wee hours of the morning to rebuild the #20 Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka machine. They worked until 12:30 A.M. Saturday morning and then came back to work at 6 a.m. to finish the car. Servia’s Dreyer & Reinbold machine fared better than the crash footage showed, as the #22 car emerged with the gearbox intact after contact with the inside wall as well as the retaining wall at the entrance to Pit Lane.
“It looked a lot worse than it was, probably, but we didn't get into the side pods of the car,” said team co-owner Robbie Buhl. “The undertray wasn't too bad. The guys had the car back together by 11 last night, and we were out of here. I would say we were pretty lucky, all things considered.”
Keith Wiggins and his HVM squad knew that the first year was going to be a trying one with the new chassis and engine, especially when the team’s Lotus engines had such an inauspicious start to the month of May. In the end, Wiggins – who is a veteran of many Indy 500 and F1 wars - knew where he stood.
“To be honest," he said, "we're happy to be in and under the circumstances we're grateful that there's only 33 cars. Right now we've got some work to do. We've just got to focus on the race and make sure that next year we come back with much improved power."
Other drivers were mystified as to where their Friday speeds went on Saturday. Expectations went unfulfilled on a number of teams as weather conditions wreaked havoc on setups.
“We changed one gear and polished the car and somehow lost three miles-per-hour.” lamented Justin Wilson of his Dale Coyne Racing machine.
Marco Andretti was a little more ethereal with his thoughts on how his Fast Friday-leading car ended up fourth on the final grid.
“We lost an entire mile-per-hour yesterday. I have no idea where it went. That’s Indy I guess.”
Top among the notes over the weekend was in the touching tribute that Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe displayed in memorial to fallen countryman Greg Moore. Hinchcliffe had a signed pair of Moore’s signature red racing gloves under his uniform during his pole run, and showed them to the media after he climbed out of the car.
“Greg never got a chance to run here at Indianapolis, so we wanted to take him with us out there today,” Hinchcliffe said.
Moore was an extremely talented driver from British Columbia, Canada who lost his life in a racing accident at California Speedway in 1999. Prior to the accident Moore had signed to drive for Team Penske, a spot that instead went now to three-time Indy 500 champion Helio Castroneves.
Fan Force United driver Alesi is the oldest rookie to start in the Indianapolis 500. He will be 47 years, 351 days old on Race Day. The previous oldest rookie to start in the Indianapolis 500 was Jack Hewitt at 46 years, 320 days in 1998. Hewitt finished 12th, five laps down.
All five Andretti Autosport drivers - James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Ana Beatriz and Sebastian Saavedra - achieved career-best Indianapolis 500 starting spots this year. But the results came at a cost. The team paid out $95,000 in penalties because of technical infractions that were uncovered in pre- and post-qualifying inspections.
Much was made of the larger draft created by the DW12 and how much farther the aero effects will reach behind the car this year. Dreyer & Reinbold’s Oriol Servia thought that this year’s car felt the effects far earlier in the draft. “This car, you can feel the draft when you are 10 lengths behind when last year you didn’t get it until you were two or three lengths away.”
The drivers feel the effect earlier and some claim that the closer you get, the drastically more increased the draft gets. But this increased effect may not automatically make for better passing opportunities as the draft means that a driver will have to set up his passes earlier, as there is thought to a bigger penalty for being wrong on a proposed pass.
“To get to where the car really sucks up on another, you have to be on the throttle following them,” said Ryan Hunter-Reay. “You have to have a good run to the corner. You can’t be pedaling it back there. There’s a bigger penalty for a lift in traffic. You’ll drop back further.”