Monday, May 28, 2007

Indy 500: Dario Franchitti Wins Indy's Longest Day

On a day when Mother Nature wreaked havoc at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Dario got Andretti Green Racing a 500 win, as the skies opened up for the second time after Marco Andretti walked away from a scary flip on the backstretch which brought out the final yellow. It was certainly the longest day I've ever spent at the Speedway and I was happy that the IRL did their best to get the whole race in. In the old days, the red and checkered flags likely would have come out the first time it rained at lap 113. For those that hung around, it was another 500 for the record books, as drivers tried to knock the walls down all around the track and the action got frantic each time the weather threatened.



Many of the expected contenders ran into problems (or someone else) as Kanaan and Weldon finished out of the top 10. My man Sam Hornish Jr. came back from a flat tire following contact with Scheckter to take 4th behind his teammate Helio who was exciting to watch all day. Scott Dixon took 2nd as he managed to keep his car clean and was in a position to challenge for the win before the final crash & rain sequence unfolded. And the Penske Junior team showed its stuff with my darkhorse pick Ryan Briscoe taking 5th. You can get the whole rundown at www.indy500.com and I'll be posting more pix from my Turn 2 vantage point later today at www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42.



Talk soon. What a day! There's no place like Indy...



Jay

Friday, May 25, 2007

Indy 500: Tony Kanaan Fastest on Carb Day; Andretti Green Top 3

The boys from Andretti Green Racing showed everyone the fast way around Indy in the final hour of practice this morning with TK, Dario and Michael Andretti topping the time sheets for Sunday's 500. Kanaan was the only driver over 225 while the rest followed at 223 or less. Helio was 4th for Penske but the biggest surprise of the day was Jaques Lazier in 5th in the oft-hated Panoz chassis - virtually all of the top runners are in the favored Dallara. Dan Wheldon was all the way back in 13th but he was either sandbagging or his car just didn't like the muggy conditions and turbulence kicked up by so many cars on the track. His teammate Scott Dixon was 6th followed by my man Sam Hornish Jr., Danica, Ryan Briscoe, Tomas Scheckter and Marco Andretti. This means all 5 Andretti Green cars were in the top 11 today so look out for them Sunday afternoon.



Not surprisingly Milka Duno was slowest at barely 211 so she better be driving with an eye on her mirrors come Sunday or she'll create problems. Hopefully, the IRL officials will keep the black flag handy if she can't keep up a good pace - watch for her to get lapped in the first 15 laps. It's been great PR for the 500 to have her in as the 3rd woman in the field, but it's time to go racing and she doesn't look ready to me.



It should be an awesome race so stay tuned. But what the heck do I know? This is only my 32nd straight 500 - I've seen every one since 1976. For this Hoosier, it doesn't get much better than this. See you in Turn 2!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Indy 500: Field is Full; Jimmy Kite Bumped Out in Final Qualifying


Let's go racing!



Bump Day at Indianapolis this year was anticlimactic after thousands of laps of running during two weeks of practice where less than four hours of green light time was lost to Mother Nature. Jimmy Kite was the only driver bumped out after taking a qualifying run Saturday of just more than 214, and the small PDM team had to take its beautiful car home after repairing it from a crash earlier in the week.



Phil Giebler got in the show after his Saturday crash, while Richie Hearn got the car that Jon Herb had originally crashed Tuesday of the first week of practice and was very impressive in qualifying after a minimal number of laps in his first time in a race car since the 2005 Indy 500. And wily veteran Roberto Moreno pulled a rabbit out of the hat, as the team withdrew their Saturday qualifying time and found 4 more mph to safely round out the field. I'm sure Marty Roth was happy as he ended up on the bubble with no serious challengers as Kite was stuck in the 214's and PJ Jones almost crashed twice in Turn 2 wrestling an evil handling car before calling it a month without ever presenting the car for qualifying.



So now we wait for Carb Day Friday and what many of us live for: the Greatest Spectacle in Racing this Sunday. 500 Miles at over 200 mph. 7 or 8 pit stops. Backmarkers by lap 15. Newcomers like Milka Duno who have little experience on ovals. And the juggernauts at the front: Target Ganassi, Penske and Andretti Green Racing. The winner is likely to come from one of these three teams, but again, keep an eye on Ryan Briscoe!



From the full tank runs I saw, watch for the cars bottoming out and shedding showers of sparks on full tanks and cold tires. To stay at the front, contenders will need to run consistently around 220, and there are some like Wheldon, Hornish and Kanaan who were able to rip off laps in the 224-225 range during race prep runs the last few days. So it should be another historic day Sunday. You should be here. Feel the breeze and smell the ethanol exhaust as they fly by on the opening lap. Trains of 10 cars or more rolling nose to tail. Noise like you've never heard or felt, all the way to your bones. You just can't get that on TV folks.



Of course, I'll be pulling for Sam Hornish Jr. to make it two in a row.



To see all the cars in this year's 500, go to www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42 and enjoy.



Jay

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Indy 500: Jimmy Kite Slowest with One Spot Open; Rookie Giebler Tags Turn 2 Fence

I have to admit this was a strange but wonderful qualifying day. And I must revise my bump speed prediction dramatically downward. After today's events where rookie Phil Giebler pushed up out of the groove in Turn 2 and slapped the wall following a lap over 221 during a qualifying attempot around 5:30, veteran Jimmy Kite accepted a qualifying run of a little more than 214 for the 32nd and slowest spot in the field near closing time. So rather than squeaking in with 219's, that speed looks pretty safe right now.



With the weather forecast for Sunday including a high of around 80, teams will need to thrash to find speed. Giebler should get in easily if his care can be repaired, then Kite becomes the target for people like PJ Jones, Richie Hearn (for Hemelgarn) and maybe even Larry Foyt if AJ decides to wheel a thirf Foyt car out of the garage. So there should be some bumping this year after all just to get in the race, and you never know who's walking around Gasoline Alley with helmet in hand ready to give it a go.



While I expect the top teams to run in packs again Sunday as they did today to test race trim, now the fight is just to get in the race for the lesser teams whose year revolves around just putting a car in the show. Anyone worried about their speed will be practicing too, and with each car having three attempts tomorrow, expect it to go right down to the wire at 6:00 like so many years before.



It should be a beautiful day for motor car racing - unless the slight chance of rain becomes a reality and then all bets are off as the team managers will watch the weather radar. Then the race will be just to get through tech and make a qualifying attempt.



See you in Turn 2!



Jay

Friday, May 18, 2007

Indy 500: Another Andretti for the Race; Bump Day is Sunday

Welcome back John Andretti-



It's good to have you back again after a 13 year hiatus running everything but open wheel. Indy is the better for your return. It was sure good to see you get up to speed Thursday on a day which veterans love to hate at the Speedway: cool, overcast, low track temperatures and a gusty headwind on the backstretch. Of course you handled it just fine.



And so far it's been a typical month of May. Hot. Then cold and windy. Now it's going to get hot again for bump day Sunday. With no significant rain to wash the track green, the groove is very dark in Turn 2 so there's lots of rubber down. This could turn to grease if the temperatures get up near 80 Sunday as predicted.



It looks to me like anyone that can run 222 should be safely in the field and 221 might even get in, but I think the bump speed will end up around 221.3 so Buddy Lazier, who is currently slowest in the field, should be safe. Now that Stephane Gregoire is out with a back injury, most of the remaining drivers are struggling to get to 220, so there may be some bumping around that mark. But I would not be at all surprised to see someone squeak in at 219+ in the last few minutes Sunday. Needless to say, a couple of crashes will throw the whole mix into the blender, but that's what makes Indy so great. For teams trying to find speed, conditions Wednesday and Thursday could not have been any worse. Today was almost ideal but as the air temperature creeps up, the asphalt at IMS changes from grippy to gripless sometimes, especially when qualifying with four perfect laps demands pushing it right to the edge.



Godspeed everyone. Bring them home safely this weekend. For a full photo rundown of the 22 drivers already qualified, go to www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42.



Jay

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Indy 500: Another Penske Pole; IRL Wins with Three Tries Format

Indianapolis is the mother of all race tracks and today she showed just how fickle she could be. Helio Castroneves drove a dagger through the heart of the competition today and snatched pole position in the final 15 minutes of Pole Day qualifying under the Indy Racing League's "three tries per car per day" format. The IRL must be riding high this evening as the format got its first true test after two consecutive years where weather prevented its use.



On a cloudless warm day with a tailwind on the frontstretch, Roger Penske's machine stole the pole position from the dominant team for the week: Ganassi Racing. I am certain the Chipster is not a happy camper tonight. I thought all morning that Dixon and Wheldon were sandbagging as whatever speed they had during the week was seemingly lost overnight. The Indy oval was sun baked and after more than two days of solid running, there was lots of rubber on the track, and conditions were dramatically different than Friday May 11th. As usual the gamblers and the more experienced teams stepped to the forefront and adapted as Penske and Andretti Green Racing went toe-to-toe all day. Dario Franchitti waited all afternoon to see if anyone would knock him off the pole, and Michael Andretti sweated out the last hour and a half on the 11th position bubble.



Sam Hornish had two tries and was running a pole winning speed but bobbles in each run cost him. Then Helio took another swing and was his normal emotional self after taking his second Indy pole. Franchitti's teammate Tony Kanaan almost knocked Helio off the pole in the last 5 minutes but had to settle for the middle of the front row, pushing Dario to the outside.



It was an awesome day at IMS with multiple bumps for the 11th position, and a thrilling duel for the pole among several drivers.



And how about that Ryan Briscoe and the Penske "junior" team? Didn't I tell you?



The best pole day in years in my opinion, and the first one since 2001 not effected by Mother Nature. This will be hard to top. Tomorrow we do it again for the next 11 positions and then get to rest our feet for a couple of days. Let's hope the traditional bump day next Sunday is half as exciting as today has been. See you in Turn 2!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Indy 500: Scott Dixon Fastest May 10th; Wheldon Second; Ganassi Stays Hot

On an absolutely perfect chamber of commerce day in Indianapolis, Scotty-D upstaged his Target Ganassi Racing teammate during Happy Hour at IMS today and pushed the fast time for the month to 226.47. Danny Boy was close behind at 226.39. It looks like Andretti Green is getting their act together as Danica was third quick by an eyelash at 226.35. Scheckter continues to shine for the Vision team as the 4th driver on the day over 226.



And what did I tell you about Ryan Briscoe? He couldn't have been any closer to 226 and was 5th fastest at 225.99. Marco Andretti seems to have regained his 06 Indy form to run 6th after abysmal showings on IRL ovals so far this season; he was closely followed by Helio, Hornish, Vitor and Kosuke, as those clocking 6th through 10th were all over 225. And with another full day on Fast Friday May 11th ahead to tweak their cars, the pole and Top 11 position shootout should be awesome Saturday once everyone drops their Honda qualifying engines in.



From my vantage point inside Turn 2 today, it looks like JR and Unser Sr. need to do some more coaching with Ms. Duno, as she never seemed to run the same line two laps in a row. And I still think it's weird to see an Unser driving for Foyt, and a Foyt driving for Tony George. Ad next week, it looks like we may have another Andretti try to qualify: cousin John. Welcome back!



More to follow here on Friday's action and I hope to have shots up on my flickr pager (www.flickr.com/photos/indyjay42) of every car that has been on the track so far this month.

Indy 500: Wheldon Rules for Ganassi Racing; Continues Indy Racing League Hot Streak

Since the veterans were only allowed on the track Tuesday May 8th for the first time - and then for only six hours - and with practice starting late yesterday due to a rain delay which provided barely two more hours of green light time, everyone has taken notice of the fast times put in by Ganassi's lead driver Dan Wheldon. Already with two wins out of four races this season, Danny-boy was the only driver over 225 Tuesday and the only one over 226 yesterday. The rest of the top 5 is rotating among Andretti Green, Penske, and even Vision Racing. It looks to me like Wheldon has them covered so far as he's gotten up to speed quickly and easily.

Of course his advantage could all go out the window Saturday if the IRL's Pole Day "three tries" rule gets its first true test. The weather forecast looks favorable, albeit a bit warm for early May, so it could be quite a shoot-out among the top teams.

Don't rule out Ryan Briscoe either. He's driving for Roger Penske's son Jay in a "separate" team, and I'm sure Ryan would love to show everyone his true mettle after his horrific Chicagoland crash a couple of years ago. I'm sure he's an excellent sports car driver, but c'mon - this is the Indy 500.

Naturally I'm pulling for Sam Hornish Jr. and the Captain to pull a rabbit out of the hat and take pole again. With Penske's resources, Rick Mears' coaching and Sam's famous smooth, hard charging style, I'd bet that a pole would go a long way to salve his Busch series wounds where results have not been to Sam's liking.

Go fast, turn left, boys. Bring it home Saturday then let's gear up for May 27th. I'll be there for the race again to keep my personal string alive since 1976, and if you've only seen Indy on TV, get off the couch and get to 16th & Georgetown. It's a whole different deal live and in person - television just does not do the race justice. Come smell the sweet ethanol in the breeze with us and someday you too can tell your grandkids that you were there when...

...another legend was made. Only at the Indy 500.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007