David Turner gives us his pit-side view from Indianapolis…….
Saturday May 13th and two weeks before the running of the 101st Indy 500. The Grand Prix marks the fifth round of the 2017 Indy Car Championship and the thousands of fans were treated to a beautiful spring day. Starting with a cool crisp morning leading to a wonderful afternoon of sun and racing. After what the locals tell me has been weeks of rain the day was blessed with a superb day dry and no wind at all – just magic. Looking slightly ahead and Pole day for the 500 next week has a chance of the weather closing in again but hey a week is a long time isn’t it?
The vibe around the speedway was kind of hints of the upcoming 500 even though this race means so much in the championship the thought in people’s minds had to be in two days time we go in 500 modes. Many of the one off entries for the 500 sitting quietly in the garage area and looking gleaming in brightly coloured paint schemes.
Grand Prix day kicked off very early with all three-support classes in the Road to Indy Series having races. Pro Mazda kicked things off at 8am followed by US F2000 then the Indy Lights battled it out for 35 laps. Two drivers completed weekend victory sweeps in the Mazda Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires development ladder races today.
Oliver Askew of Cape Motorsports won for the second straight day on the IMS road course and for the fifth time in six Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship races this season. Victor Franzoni (Juncos Racing, making their 500 debut) captured his second race of the weekend in the Pro Mazda Championship. Askew and Franzoni lead their respective championships.
In Indy Lights also presented by Cooper Tires, the top level of the Mazda Road to Indy, Kyle Kaiser of Juncos Racing drove to victory a day after Nico Jamin of Andretti Autosport won the first race of the weekend. With today’s win, Kaiser took over the championship lead by 13 points over Jamin. All in all a very busy two days for these teams. The Indy Lights return for the annual Freedom 100 race on the famed oval on Carb Day Friday.
Watching cars go the other way around after years of covering the 500 takes a little bit of getting used to but it’s a good sight and the track is so super smooth and looked stunning. It certainly feels a lot different to any 500 day that’s for sure, why you might ask? Yes the crowd is a part of it, yes the direction is part of it too but most of all its that sound of hearing cars at 223mph+ on the throttle all the time and it’s a sound that you can only ever associate with this place.
To the Grand Prix and for kiwi fans of Scott Dixon it was heart-beating moments as he stalled on the first of the two formation laps. He got going within seconds and took his P4 qualifying position. It was to be all about Will Power who dominated the IndyCar Grand Prix on the 2.439-mile, 14-turn road course to collect win No. 30 in his 13-year Indy car career. The milestone victory pushed the 36-year-old Power ahead of current teammate Helio Castroneves and retired Team Penske legend Rick Mears for sole possession of 11th place on the all-time list. For the first time in the history of the event the field made it past turn one so a new record was set there as well.
Power, making his 175th career start, led 61 of the 85 laps in the caution-free race and cruised across the finish line 5.283 seconds ahead of Scott Dixon in the No. 9 NTT Data Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing. Power has now won at least one race in 11 straight seasons and becomes the fifth different driver to win in as many Verizon IndyCar Series races this season.
“It feels really good to finally have a good day,” Power said. “Everyone on this team has been working really hard. We should have had a couple of wins by now.
“I think that is (win) No. 30; that is a good number. I want to make it 31 by the end of this month.”
Power owned the Grand Prix weekend. He was fastest in every practice session, earned the pole position Friday with a track-record lap in Verizon P1 Award qualifying and set a race record speed average of 120.813 mph. Amassing the maximum possible points, Power advanced two positions into fifth in the standings in his quest for a second series championship.
“After (morning) warm-up, I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’ve actually been quickest in every session. Yeah, it would be amazing to win the race.’
“It’s funny, momentum, once your whole team and crew believes that you have a shot at winning races – which we have had all year – but when you execute it, it definitely gives them confidence. It’s just good (to) get a win and very, very good for everyone.”
Dixon made his 275th career start and extended his consecutive starts streak to 212 races, breaking a tie for the second-longest all-time run with Jimmy Vasser. Only Dixon’s current teammate Tony Kanaan – who started his 270th straight race today – has run more Indy car races consecutively.
“I think today we got the most out of it,” said Dixon, the four-time Verizon IndyCar Series champion. “The car was pretty strong, we had good pace, but we just couldn’t hold on to the rears. I think the Honda was just too much for the (Firestone alternate) red tires for the most part.
“Good points for everybody on the NTT Data car, great day for Honda. Obviously not a win, but very close.” Again in my eyes Dixon and his team are the number one men at Ganasii that’s for sure.
Ryan Hunter-Reay moved from eighth on the starting grid to finish a season-best third in the No. 28 DHL Honda. It marked the 100th top-10 finish of the Andretti Autosport driver’s career and gave the 36-year-old American a feeling of momentum heading into Indianapolis 500 competition that starts with practice on Monday.
“It’s certainly a nice feeling,” said Hunter-Reay, the 2012 Verizon IndyCar Series and 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion. “This group isn’t happy if we’re not on the top step (of the podium), but we’ve had a lot of bad luck this year, a lot of misfortune. It’s been a frustrating start to the year, but we kept our heads down and today we came home with a solid result.
“This is nice to roll into the next two weeks, preparing for the biggest race in the world.”
Pagenaud now has 191 points to Dixon’s 181. Team Penske drivers Josef Newgarden (152), Castroneves (149) and Power (145) hold the third through fifth spots, respectively.
Teams will spend tomorrow Sunday setting cars into oval spec and the track will also be returned to oval spec ready for Monday’s first practice for the 500, the season is now alive.
While I have the chance a big shout out to two men turning heads in this series. The Julian brothers from New Plymouth New Zealand. Blair who is crew chef for Scott Dixon and has been with Scott all this time since he arrived in the US and risen to the role of Crew Chef and his brother Anton now returning to the series after been the Crew Chef at Andretti Autosport then Sarah Fisher Racing, Anton makes a one off appearance as Crew Chef this time for someone you might of heard of Mr Alonso. Well done boys, know your mum and dad are very proud.