Image33RACER's Marshall Pruett and Robin Miller close out the final day of running in preparation for the Indy 500 before Carb Day and touch on the pole-winner's Taco Bell robbery, James Davison's quick return, and more of the major threads from Monday at IMS.



Gabby lede IMS photoThere's the old line about waiting for a bus: You stand there for 45 minutes, and then three of them turn up at once.

It's kind of the same with new IndyCar teams. Up to this point, the number of full-time teams to have joined the series during the DW12 era stands at one: Ed Carpenter Racing. During the same period, the series has lost Dreyer & Reinbold, KV, Panther, Dragon, HVM, and Sarah Fisher Hartman, although DRR continues on as an Indy-only program, and part of SFHR was absorbed into Carpenter's team.

And yet if you look up and down pitlane at the Speedway this week, you can count as many as four teams with a car in the 500 and aspirations of creating something more permanent.

Some are closer than others. The Laziers have spoken in the past about their ambitions to one day run full-time, although that day might still lay some way off on the horizon. (If you were the speculating kind, you could look at third-generation racer Finn Lazier's appearance in USF2000 this year and do some math).

Michael Shank's near-miss in 2012 has become an emblem for some of the problems that IndyCar was still working to iron out five years ago, and while Shank now has more than enough to keep him busy with his factory Acura program in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, he told RACER last week that he's open to turning his team's debut Indy 500 program (the No.50 entry driven by Jack Harvey and run in conjunction with Andretti Autosport) into a permanent Michael Shank Racing presence if the right opportunity presents itself.

Highly successful MRTI team Juncos Racing has been building slowly toward IndyCar for several years. Having cut the ribbons on its new 40,000 headquarters in December, owner Ricardo Juncos spotted his opportunity to make the jump when KV Racing's assets came up for auction earlier this year.

And Harding Racing? From the outside, that one seemed to come out of left field. Owner Mike Harding's Harding Group has a long-standing association with Indianapolis Motor Speedway as a supplier of paving services, and hosts 4,000 guests – including all of its employees – in its own suite at the 500 every year. But the transition from that into car entrant came about through one of its employees: long-time Indy team manager Larry Curry.

Harding"Running a car has been a dream of mine, but the opportunity came about because of Larry," Harding (pictured) told RACER. "He and I talked about it this winter, and it just became a reality."

Of course, race teams don't "just become reality," and Curry himself traces the first seeds of the team back to last year's 500, when he was involved in running Buddy Lazier's car.

"I went up to the [Harding] suite after the race, and [Mike] said something about doing the 500," Curry recalls.

"He said, 'what do you think about us doing it?' And I said, 'Mike, do you want us to do a team?' He said yes, and the first thing I told him was that it is a big expense. And he said, 'I never asked you that. I asked if you'd do it with me'. So I said, 'Sure'."

Curry moved fast. Two months later, at the Brickyard 400, he set up a meeting with Chevrolet's Racing Director Mark Kent that resulted in access to Chevy engines. With that box ticked, it was time to track down a car.

"Our first plan was to buy one new car and then maybe find a good used one," Curry says. "And Mike said, 'no, I want you to get two new ones.' We took delivery of the first car on January the 10th, and took delivery of the second car on February the 10th."

Gabby harding IMSOne big advantage to Harding's relatively long lead time compared to fellow fledgling IndyCar team Juncos, which pulled its deal together in just a few months, is that it was able to get a head-start in assembling its crew.

"I was already interviewing people back in November to come and work with us in January," Curry says. "I've got five really good full-time guys."

A sixth "really good full-time guy" was announced in early April, when the team confirmed that it had signed Gabby Chaves as its pilot. The last big piece of the puzzle was in place, and the team immediately headed to the open test at Texas Motor Speedway on April 12. Those miles were valuable in providing the team an opportunity to shake down one of its new Dallaras while ironing out a few of the operational kinks that pop up with any new team – but they created an unexpected complication when the Harding crew prepared for its first day of Indy practice last Monday.

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"The first day was a bit of a challenge," Curry admits. "We ran one new car in Texas, so the plan when we came here was to run the other new car first, do a few laps, make sure all the systems work, and then change the engine. That's when we thought we'd start running at noon.

"Then IndyCar said, 'No, Gabby can't do the refresher because you guys tested at Texas.' So immediately I lost two hours. What I should have done, looking back on it, was say, 'OK guys, forget the engine change until tonight, we're going to stick with this car today, and then we'll go to the other car starting on Tuesday.'

"Well, we didn't. We tried to run it in, then we tried to do an engine change, and as we got the car back to the pit the gun went off and the day was over, so we never got a run in it. We started running it on Tuesday, and immediate the car came to life. By the end of the day we were almost up at 224, so we were very pleased and the guys did a great job."

CurryCurry (pictured) prides himself on the depth of IndyCar knowledge among his crew. Between himself, his son Matt, who is the engineer, and the mechanics, he estimates that they share more than 100 years of combined experience in running cars at Indy.

"And every one of these guys have either been on teams that won here, teams that sat on the pole here, teams that won championships in IndyCar," he says. "These guys are used to winning."

They're also used to playing smart. The team has already indicated its intention to follow up its appearance at Indy with outings at Texas and Pocono – both of which can be raced with the Indy aero package – ahead of a full-time program next year, when it can join all of the incumbent teams in switching to the new-spec body kit. And for the foreseeable future, Chaves will be the team's sole focus.

"To do a two-car deal, I've always had the philosophy that the first thing you have to do is be a really good one-car team," Curry says. "So let's start there, and then see where we can take it."

Davison IMS PhotoJames Davison certainly wasn't the most popular choice to replace Sebastien Bourdais in Dale Coyne's No. 18 Honda, but the hard-charging Australian hopefully quieted some of his doubters after Monday's performance.

It had been 729 days since Davison turned his last lap in an IndyCar – at the 2015 Indy 500 in a Coyne Honda – yet it only took five laps for the open-wheel and sports car racing ace to reach 217mph. So much for needing a refresher.

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"To be honest, you do this race once, you know what to expect," he said after posting a best of 223.670mph during 88 laps of running. "The cars are always going to be set up with a lot of downforce. The sticker Firestone tire's just phenomenal. You go out of the pits, you nearly want to go flat first time into Turn 3, having not been in the car for two years. It was no issue, yeah, being flat by lap two or three this morning, or early this afternoon."

Davison spent the day driving a car that has not been optimized for superspeedway competition, and by the sound of it, he'll race with it that way for 500 miles on Sunday. The spare DCR chassis, prepped for road course racing, lacks all of the special parts and aerodynamic fitment that reduces mechanical and aero drag in order to boost top speed.

"Yeah, in regard to what we can do with the state of our road course package, to be honest, I'll actually asked that question when we took a break in the middle of practice today," he said. "Yeah, I didn't really get an answer, to be honest. The engineers were just focusing on what we can do to get the handling in the window.

"I'm sure there's something we can do. But it can't be too, too big. As we know, a lot of these teams spend, especially my team, they spend months massaging the gearbox, uprights, getting the friction reduction done, the body fit right, in addition to the engineering."

Having seen Bourdais' primary car reach above 231mph, being stuck at 223mph in the road course backup was a visible demonstration of why teams spend months perfecting their superspeedway cars before arriving at Indy.

"Yeah, obviously Sebastien's crash, you know, that all went out the window," Davison added. "You've seen it in the past when I think Ed Carpenter wrecked in early morning qualifying probably two years ago. He gets out of the car, you can see he's more upset about the state of his racecar that can potentially win the race, because he knows their best foot's behind them."

Depending on the pace of the race, Davison's speed could allow him to be in the mix, but if it's a fast day, he knows climbing from 33rd and last on the grid will be all but impossible.

"We're just going to have to do the best with what we've got," he said.

Davison and the rest of the field will have one more chance to get ready for the Indy 500 on Friday when they roll out for the one-hour Carb Day session.

July17 feature leadIf there's one lesson to be taken from 84 previous editions of racing's greatest endurance event, it's this: Le Mans will always be Le Mans. Technology, sports science, safety and the track itself will continue to evolve, but the basic challenge remains much the same today as it did when André Lagache and René Léonard won the inaugural race in 1923. The 24 Hours of Le Mans asks more of a team and its drivers than any other single event.

Toyota offered a poignant reminder of that last year when its lead car broke down just a lap away from the checkered flag, a first win eluding it yet again. The world's biggest manufacturers can bring massive budgets and resources to bear, but at Le Mans that isn't necessarily enough.

Sometimes though, it is. By the standards of the time, Ford's Le Mans program in the 1960s was larger – way larger – than Toyota's is now, and 50 years ago, that firepower delivered all-American glory when FoMoCo, Dan Gurney, A.J. Foyt and Shelby American combined to deliver the Blue Oval a second successive win.

Despite shocking luck in previous visits to Le Mans, Gurney's part in the win was in some ways expected, given that he was already regarded as one of the best road racers of the era. But Foyt's natural habitat was ovals, and his contribution to the victory offered another reminder that the greatest drivers tend to be versatile drivers.

That versatility has become harder to replicate in today's more isolationist environment – which is why the entire racing world has been so energized by Fernando Alonso's plans to race in the Indy 500. The circumstances that led to the deal were unique, and moonlighting will remain the exception rather than the rule for the foreseeable future. But the fact that two million people worldwide tuned in on May 3 to watch Alonso lap the Speedway alone for his Rookie Orientation Program proves that when something like this does happen, the whole sport wins.

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Chilton Indy MPMax Chilton, who says he still feels like a rookie around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and Ed Jones, who is a rookie, led the way in Monday's manic four-hour practice period that saw all 33 drivers in action.

Chilton, who lines up 15th for Sunday's 101st Indianapolis 500, took advantage of the conga line of drafting to post the top speed of 228.592mph in the No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Gallagher Honda.

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"The day flew by but it was good," said Chilton, the ex-Formula 1 driver in his second season of IndyCar racing. "I don't think anyone is overly happy with their car in traffic but in clean air I'm OK.

"I still feel like a rookie, learning the feedback, but I'm thankful to have such a good car."

Jones, who qualified 11th for his first Indy 500, continued to impress in Dale Coyne's Honda and was the only other driver over 228mph (228.118); pole-sitter Scott Dixon ran 227.165mph in his Honda.

Rookie Jack Harvey posted the fastest non-tow speed of 224.6 in his No. 50 Michael Shank Racing with Andretti Autosport Honda.

Oriol Servia lost an engine in his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda but was getting a new one for the race along with everyone else except Fernando Alonso, James Davison and any of the May-only competitors.

Davison, replacing the injured Sebastien Bourdais, quickly reached 223mph in Dale Coyne's Honda.

"It's a road race backup car and we're aware of our situation," said Davison, a two-time Indy starter whose last appearance was in 2015. "We're just trying to get the cars handling with a lot of traffic because there's obviously going to be a lot of that in front of us since we're starting last."

Ty Dillon1 latWhen this season's rookie class started to take shape and conversations were had about who would be at the top of the list, Ty Dillon wasn't always included.

That's something Dillon expected. He is, after all, driving for the independent Germain Racing team. While there is a technical alliance with Richard Childress Racing – the company owned by Dillon's grandfather – the No. 13 team, led by Bootie Barker, works hard to make its own way.

So knowing he was going to be overshadowed by the likes of Erik Jones at Furniture Row Racing and Daniel Suarez at Joe Gibbs Racing, Dillon's mindset coming into the season was simple: shock and awe. Eleven races in, Dillon believes his team is off to a good start.

"Just look at our year," Dillon said over the weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway. "We have improved every time we've hit the racetrack. I know at the beginning of this year when I talked to a lot of you guys at Media Day, I told you that is our main goal is every time we hit the racetrack is to get a little bit better. We have definitely done that.

"We started off getting a bad finish in Daytona, but we ran pretty well and pretty strong all day. Ever since then we have gotten better. Look at our race at Richmond when we cashed in segment points, ran inside the top 10 and probably a racetrack that nobody expected us to be inside the top 10 racing the guys that we were racing."

Unfortunately for Dillon, contact coming to pit road negated his track position and he finished 26th. A week later, Dillon rebounded by avoiding the carnage of Talladega Superspeedway for a top-15 finish. It was the same two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway.

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Approaching the three-month mark of the season, Dillon finds himself 21st in the standings with seven top-20 finishes (one more than Jones but one less than Suarez). As for that rookie battle, Dillon is second in points behind Suarez, who leads his competition with three top-10 finishes.

Dillon's best finish in 11 races is a 13th at Talladega. His best start is a 14th at Texas Motor Speedway.

"We are sitting second in the rookie points and sitting in a good place to get the job done at the end of the year," Dillon said. "We are there. I think people, like I said at the beginning of the year, are going to underestimate us a little bit, but we are competing and beating a lot of these teams that have a lot more resources right at their fingertips."

The transition from Childress to Germain was hard, but Dillon said Germain has been like a family. But he hasn't completely severed family ties; he is still involved with Childress through the Xfinity Series, where he gets plenty of seat time on the weekends when he runs double-duty and participates in the weekly meetings.

"We have a great relationship with RCR and our technical alliance, but Bootie and all the guys at Germain Racing are working their tails off to put me in a position to go out and compete for this Rookie of the Year championship," Dillon said.

That's an accomplishment only Dillon and his team saw coming.

imsc5486aJeff Andretti's life was changed forever at the 1992 Indy 500. Mario's youngest son, making his third start at the Speedway, suffered troubling injuries in a Turn 2 crash that flattened the front of his A.J. Foyt Racing Lola-Chevy.

With badly broken feet and ankles to free from the tattered, shortened chassis, it took 18 excruciating minutes to remove Andretti from the car and clean up the debris field. Remembered for unreasonably high number of crashes – 13 in total – caused in part by the frigid temperatures, Andretti's accident was the heavy counterweight that balanced the cheer and celebration that came with Al Unser Jr.'s first Indy 500 win.

"Well, to look back to that day and stuff, it just was a dark day for motorsports," Andretti said of the 25-year-old race. "It was bright for one individual and it was dark for a lot of others. But it's one of those years where, I guess you could say we learned a lot about safety with our cars. We knew that, obviously, there was an issue that we were overlooking as far as safety of the car."

A lot of drivers spun and crashed, including Jeff's father, but his accident was due to a mechanical failure. While it might not matter, considering the end result and physical damage that followed, at least Andretti knows his life-altering incident wasn't because he made a driving mistake.

1992Andrettifamily 5372a"Yeah, we had a hub cage crack and come apart and the wheel just came completely off the car on entry to [Turn] 2," he said. "But, things happen. Parts break on cars, those are things that you can't foresee, they just happen. Again, that comes down to the danger that we accept in the sport, that stuff's going to break. Unfortunately, I was on the rear end of that stick, where the hubs broke on me, and I guess it writes itself after that."

Carbon fiber tubs were a vast improvement for driver safety in the early 1990s, but it took crashes like Andretti's to reinforce the need for rapid advancements in frontal impact resistance.

"The front of the cars were not as safe as we probably could have had them," he continued. "But, again, it's one of those things where, in those days, we were all about trying to keep the cars light and aerodynamic and everything. So they were getting away from the safety aspect of the cars and not even thinking about it because things weren't happening."

Searching for the only positive from the crash, Andretti says his pain helped – in small part – to advance the state of the art with open-wheel tub design.

"All of a sudden '92 happens and we got the feet injuries," he added. "Again, I try to put a positive spin on a negative. The good that came out of it is the fact that we changed the cars and made the cars safer, so other drivers don't ever have to experience what we've gone through."

The severity of Andretti's crash was enough to question whether he'd return to the cockpit. Of all the achievements in his somewhat brief career, fighting through the agony of rehabilitation allowed Andretti to make the Indy 500 grid in 1993.

"Oh yeah, I mean I worked my butt off to get back into the seat again," he said. "The first thing out of my mouth to Dr. Trammel was, 'Am I going to walk again?' 'Yes.' The next thing out of my mouth is, 'Well, when can I get back in the seat?' He said, 'Well, it's up to you.' When he said it's up to me, guess what? I accepted the challenge and I challenged myself and found I actually had an inner strength that I didn't even know I had. I fought really long and hard, and was able to come back to the speedway and be able to compete again at the level that I needed to."

Three-time Formula 1 world champion Nelson Piquet was the first to record the kind of crash that Andretti encountered in 1992. The Brazilian's accident came earlier in the month during practice, and with an uncommon bond bringing them together, Andretti was able to inspire his rival to make the same comeback in 1993.

"The cool part about that was I was able to get Nelson Piquet to come back too," he said. "Because him and I got hurt the same year, and I, in some way, gave him an extra push. Because he was going to call it quits in his career and I said, Absolutely not. I'm not going to have this three-time world champion call it quits over this, I said, 'You're going to come back to the speedway just like I am. We're going to compete here.' I'll be darned if we didn't do it. We sat down after the race and said, 'Yeah we did, didn't we? Yep, we managed to do it.'"

Andretti started 16th and finished 29th in his final 500 appearance, and went on to race sports cars and stock cars before hanging up his helmet at the end of the decade. He's stayed close to racing with driving education and racing-related marketing and youth education initiatives taking up most of his time these days.

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"We've created an online streaming television program called Andretti's FASTTRACK TV that's tied to S.T.E.A.M. education curriculum, that's actually used in the classroom around the country," he said. "We're going to start with middle-schoolers, but then we're going to be able to focus on high-school kids, middle-school kids, even down to the elementary level."

His IndyCar career was cut short, but you won't find a hint of bitterness in his voice when he recounts the 1992 Indy 500. Like the rest of his family, Jeff Andretti lives to fight.

"It just shows you that determination does pay off," he said. "If [there's] any message I could send to people, it's perseverance does pay off."

Listen to Andretti's full interview below.

chilton IMSWith an hour to go in Monday's practice period, Max Chilton had registered the fastest lap of 228.592mph in the Chip Ganassi Racing Gallagher Honda and rookie Ed Jones continued to impress with a lap of 228.118mph, good for second fastest.

Chilton, who lines up 15th for Sunday's 101st Indianapolis 500, took advantage of the conga line of drafting during the first three hours as did Jones, who will start 11th in Dale Coyne's Honda.

Rookie Jack Harvey posted the fastest non-tow speed of 224.6 in the Andretti Honda.

Oriol Servia lost an engine in his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda but was getting a new one for the race along with everyone else except Fernando Alonso, James Davison and any of the May-only competitors.

Davison, who is replacing the injured Sebastien Bourdais, quickly reached 223mph (27th fastest) in Dale Coyne's Honda.

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