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Mother’s day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway

May 12, 2013

There’s always something special about driving into the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time each May. Somehow the air is clearer, the sky is bluer, the grass is greener than it is anywhere else.

Just like swallows return to Capistrano in the spring, so do race fans come back to Indianapolis for the running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. It’s a rite of spring and one I wouldn’t miss for the world.

It’s a chilly weekend in Indy for opening days at IMS, but the atmosphere is still hot. Rookie orientation took place on Saturday with only Conor Daly absent from the group, as he was taking part in GP3 at Barcelona, where he finished third and sixth in the two races (not bad). He’ll perform his program on Modnay. (After the race, Daly moved up to fifth due to a penalty.)

AJ Allmendinger, Tristan Vautier and Carlos Munoz handily passed their ROP tests in about an hour, the Dinger doing it first and quickest of the trio, needing 66 laps to post 219.239mph. Munoz turned 62 laps with a best of 216.987 while Vautier lapped 54 times around the 2.5-mile oval for 214.747.

After the close of ROP, it was time for the balance of the field on-hand to take a few laps on what became a cold and blustery day. The most recent oval winner, Ed Carpenter was quickest on the day at 220.970 with his Chevy-powered Dallara DW12, followed by the Honda of Josef Newgarden (220.920) and rookie Munoz at 220.720. Charlie Kimball and Alex Tagliani rounded out the top five with their Honda-powerred machines. In all, 16 cars took to the track, several just for bed-in laps as teams worked furiously to convert cars from street-race spec to oval spec.

Sunday started a bit slower, with even colder temps and gusty winds. After finishing second in P2 during Saturday’s ALMS race on the Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, Ryan Briscoe did some shake-down laps to start the day. Mr Mayor, James Hinchcliffe took a few laps and then 2012 IZOD IndyCar champ Ryan Hunter-Rey climbed back into his car, re-set for him after Kurt Busch’s PR blitz and ROP on Thursday.

By 1:30PM nine drivers had taken valid laps around the historic Brickyard oval on Sunday with RHR still quickest. It appeared, with the cool weather, that 218-219 was going to be the best a driver could get for the day, but there were still 4-1/2 hours to go. Sporting Century 21 livery, Josef Newgarden returned to the track and was quickly up to speed, as he and Hinchcliffe renewed the battle they began on the streets of Sao Paulo.

With only 33 sets of tires for the entire race meeting and at least 10 necessary to complete the 500 on May 26, everyone’s got to be wicked careful about how they invest themselves in practice laps.

Some drivers will max out their first engines (2000 miles) during this month and start with a new engine, as well. Since the full-season teams will be using a new engine for Carb Day and the race, they’ll set aside the engine they began the month using and install the Carb/Race day mill, then go back to the other engine for Detroit and continue with it through those 2000 miles before using the Indy 500 engine. Confused? You should be.

Teams are limited to five engines for the year with penalties for over-use, and the usual and customary 10-place penalty for an unapproved engine change. Thus far, leading into the month of May there have been two unapproved engine changes, both for Honda engines: Josef Newgarden and Tristan Vautier. Both could be sourced to the difficulties with headers that Honda has had in the early part of the season.

Even with the continuing wind and cold (15-mph winds and 58-degree temps), speeds began to rise after the 4PM hour – as they so often do. As Happy Hour (5PM) came, EJ Viso led the standings at 222.298-mph – with a tow, of course. Teammates Marco Andretti, Carlos Munoz and Ryan Hunter-Reay were in the top four, with AJ Allmendinger and Ed Carpenter the fastest six – all using Chevy power.

That group was followed by Josef Newgarden, who’s been quick since the Speedway opened for business. Hinchcliffe came to sixth place shortly after 5PM, giving Andretti Autosport bragging honors for the time being. It was evident these times would change rapidly before the six-hour session ended at 6PM this afternoon.

In fact the first 15 minutes of Happy Hour turned into an Andretti Autosport tag team exercise, as the five members tried to take all five top positions. With Allmendinger sitting in the pits, round and round they went. Allmendinger kept his spot as fifth at the end, but it was Munoz on top – at 223.023, followed by Hunter-Reay at 222.825 and Viso third at 222.523. Marco Andretti’s 222.485 gave him fourth place. The fastest Honda was Charlie Kimball in seventh place at 219.778 and the slowest driver was Graham Rahal in 23rd, who took only 14 laps and ended up with a quick one of 214.092.

We’ve been told not to expect the Penske cars (and likely the Ganassi cars) until the weather turns a bit better – probably Tuesday.

By Anne Proffit

sorry, no photos but I’m not allowed on pit road…

 

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