Sunday, May 12, 2013

Ed Carpenter Leads Opening Day Practice at Indianapolis

Helio Castroneves was first on the track on Opening Day at Indy in AJ Allmendinger's car
Other than a 15 minute delay for "moisture" on the track - Indy's euphemism for rain - Opening Day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway went off without a hitch. Chalk one up for the little guys as Ed Carpenter was fastest on the day. The traditional race to be the first car on the track was won by Helio Castroneves in A. J. Allmendinger's car but when Helio brought the car back to the pits after one lap lap with the engine bay smoking, you could see the looks of concern on the faces of Dinger and the Captain. Things like that are not supposed to happen to Indy's juggernaut Team Penske; turned out it was just a loose oil line fitting so no harm was done to the Chevy engine. After Helio shook the car down, A.J. went out later and passed all phases of his rookie test in about an hour and 20 minutes and seemed quite happy with his first day at Indy in the post-practice press conference.

The first day of practice at IMS is a rite of passage for spring in Indianapolis and yesterday was no different, as I saw lots of friends at the track in what has become a sort of annual reunion of people from all over. I even had a stranger come up to me and say "Hey, aren't you Indiana-ville? I read your blog!" That was a first and of course my photog friends had to give me grief over that when one of them said "So HE's the one!" as if only one person ever reads my blog posts. I had it coming to me though as I got to the track and realized I had taken my car reader out of my computer bag after my Talladega trip last weekend and had to borrow one from that same photog in order to download my pictures from the day. I'd be worried though if they weren't blowing me a bunch of crap so it just gets added to the goofy racetrack stories that I accumulate.

Helio supported Allmendinger during AJ's rookie orientation
One of the great things about Indycar racing is the teamwork and it was in evidence Saturday. All bets are off come race day but with the entry list now at 35 cars, there is the prospect of bumping and the rewards for winning the pole are significant in terms of publicity and prizes. Starting up front is also at a premium as I believe the lowest starting position for an Indy 500 winner is 28th so if you are outside the first nine rows, you have little chance of winning. So teamwork at the start of the month is key and Helio was on the radio with Allmendiger as AJ worked through the phases of his rookie test.

Hinchtown & Munoz worked closely Saturday
Teamwork was also evident at Andretti Autosport as James Hinchcliffe was in the ear of Carlos Munoz every time he came off the track, offering advice and support for the most impressive rookie on the day. Allmendinger's speed is no surprise with his wealth of open wheel experience in Champ Car, but Munoz could be the surprise of the race this year if his opening day results are any indication of things to come. It was nice to hear Munoz pay homage to his countryman Juan Pablo Montoya who won as a rookie in his only Indy 500 so clearly Carlos has motivation to repeat that feat and with the back of the 2013 season's strongest team so far, it is not outside the realm of possibility for him to start up front and challenge for an Indy win on May 26th. So much can happen between now and now so his biggest challenge may be complacency as it has come awfully easy so far and Indy is known to be a strict taskmaster for those who get lulled into a false sense of security.

Ed Carpenter
The happiest guy on the day must be Ed Carpenter although you wouldn't know it from his comments during the post-practice press conference. Ed has grown up at Indy and has now won two oval races in his Indycar career so he has to be considered a contender to win but he still feels the sting of poor performances here in years past, especially last year. People may not remember that Ed won the first Freedom 100 Indy Lights race here at the Speedway so he definitely knows the fast way around here. It would be a momentous occasion for his team and for the Hulman George family if Ed were to roll into Victory Lane and splash the milk on everyone to show that he has truly arrived as an Indycar driver. He has not always had a lot of support from fans and been derided in some circles for his family heritage but his racing prowess on ovals cannot be questioned so I look for him to continue to show speed and start near the front on race day.

Today is the second day of practice, and it is Mother's Day. Skies are clear of any rain chance today so I won't get hit with the "regenmeister" tag as so far this season, rain seems to go where I go racing:  two weeks ago at Salem, then last weekend at Talladega. I had a similar year in 2007 when it seemed like every race I worked had a rain delay. Today that will not be an issue but it is chilly so track temperature and generating heat in these Firestone tires might be a problem. As always at Indy people are looking at the forecasts for the week and it is going to warm up by Pole Day this coming Saturday but the chances of rain also increase as the week goes on. Today most teams should hit the track, complete their shakedown runs, and then start peeling off the downforce to find speed. To be fast at Indy you have to run on the knife's edge and these cars rarely get loose anymore but if you go over that edge, a snap loose condition is the last thing a driver wants going into Turn 1 or Turn 3. It usually doesn't end well.

I will call Mom from the track today so she can hear the roar of the cars as I have done for many years. She's used to me being here at IMS on Mother's Day and although she hasn't been feeling well lately, I'm still hoping she can make it back to Indy for the race from her home in Akron, Ohio. Not many little old white haired ladies dare brave this place at 78 years of age, but she's had the bug longer than I have and I love the fact that she still wants to go racing. Once a racer, always a racer!

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