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It’s late, no time for pics but here’s my qualifying, final Monday practice report

May 28, 2016

The Verizon IndyCar Series has been looking for something to give it Big Stage Status.

It found the answer on Sunday, May 22, leading up to the 100th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race. It’s Canadian, eh?

James Hinchcliffe’s last-man-out stealth of pole position for this monumental race was nothing if not magic. Magic! There’s also the possibility of Schmidt Peterson Motorsport capturing the 100th race in addition to its part in winning the 100th anniversary Indy 500 with Dan Wheldon – after earning that pole position five years ago with Alex Tagliani.

SPM has all three of its cars within the top 10: Hinch on pole, birthday boy Mikhail Aleshin seventh and Oriol Servia, best of the rest in 10th position. Wow, wow, wow.

Sunday’s pole run was the warmest of the race meeting to date and varying winds had many of the 33 cars having trouble figuring out how to cope with that, in particular when they were hitting speeds around 240mph heading into the first turn.

Mike Hull, who directs the Chip Ganassi four-car squad, spoke a bit while on pit road after watching reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon struggle to find speed after a 65-minute engine change following a problem in morning practice. He said that the wind really made life difficult for his four drivers – Dixon, Tony Kanaan, Charlie Kimball and rookie Max Chilton. That was evident with Dixon the top Ganassi driver in 13th, Kimball 16th, Kanaan sharing the sixth row in 18th and rookie Chilton 22nd in single-car qualifying.

Although Ed Carpenter Racing’s Josef Newgarden had a faster speed in qualifying, he couldn’t sustain consistent speed to retain pole position, settling for second place next to Hinchcliffe. Andretti Autosport’s Ryan Hunter-Reay completed the front row, giving Honda two of three with a clear view of the first turn come May 29th green flag.

Honda’s abilities to shine on the biggest stage of all showed throughout the top ten starting spots, with Townsend Bell and Carlos Munoz on the second row (with 2014 IndyCar champ Will Power’s Chevrolet), Aleshin in seventh and Oriol Servia’s 10th place result, leading a Honda lockout of the fourth row with Andretti Autosport rookie Alexander Rossi and Takuma Sato of A.J. Foyt Racing. What a change a year makes?

Everything changed – yet again – for the four-hour Monday practice session, which saw all 33 cars take to the track in frenetic fashion, anticipating weather anxieties for Carb Day on Friday. Everyone wanted to see how their cars would handle in hot, greasy weather (which is what they encountered on Monday), leading to a total of 2886 laps turned on the 2.5-mile IMS oval.

Munoz and rookie Chilton led the way with 117 laps each, fifth-placed (on the day) Pippa Mann drove 116 laps while rookie Stefan Wilson tabbed 115 tours of the historic oval. Even fast man Newgarden (227.414mph) racked up the lap total with his Chevrolet at 111 laps, performing pit stop activities in the waning stages of the session (which don’t count as full laps).

Newgarden led the entire group with his Chevrolet, with Tony Kanaan (2nd), teammate Scott Dixon (3rd), Sage Karam (4th), Charlie Kimball (6th), JR Hildebrand (8th) representing the BowTie Brand in the top ten.

It was Chevy time again at the pointy end of the field but Mann, Aleshin (7th), Rossi (9th) and Hunter-Reay were the best Honda drivers within the top 10 in all-skate practice. Hinchcliffe’s best lap placed him 17th for the day.

Aside from Jack Hawksworth’s tow-in when there was smoke and flame trailing from the rear of his A.J. Foyt Honda car, there were no incidents, which pleased everyone who was around for the Monday practice in 2015 that nearly robbed pole man Hinchcliffe of his life.

The track remains quiet until Indy Lights practice resumes on Thursday for Friday’s Freedom 100, which takes place after the Indy cars have their final, Carb Day practice. Changeable weather reports show everything from hot and sunny to hot and rainy for race day weekend, so we’ll take a pass and just wait to see what we encounter when it actually occurs!

By Anne Proffit

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