As race preparations for the 96th Indianapolis 500 drew to a close on Carb Day, off-track events also have intensified in the last few days with the influx of more people to Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Here's a look at a few from around the paddock:
GANASSI'S FIRST PIT STOP CHALLENGE WIN – Target Chip Ganassi Racing had been 0-for-2012 across all three series it competes in (IZOD IndyCar Series, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Grand-Am Rolex Series) before Friday. And while the win in the pit stop competition Friday afternoon isn't considered a race win, it was no less gratifying.
The TCGR crew delivered the win for Scott Dixon's No. 9 car, which edged out surprise finalist Oriol Servia for the Panther/DRR effort. It marks the first win for the team in the pit stop competition. This year, the format was changed to where the clock started from when cars launched, rather than when they entered the pit box.
“It's nice to have days like this and moments for the guys because, you know, they are forgotten sometimes but prepare harder than all of us,” Dixon said. “It's about them today. To actually win it, we've never done it, and I think it's a huge achievement right at the top with a lot of things we do and get to take credit for.”
The team had three prior runner-up finishes (1992, 2002, 2011) and earned $50,000 for its victory.
CARB DAY PRACTICE – As was somewhat expected, Hondas surged back into contention in Carb Day practice after Chevrolets dominated the speed charts both on Fast Friday and in qualifying. Four of the top six fastest speeds were Hondas, although they came from Dixon and pacesetter Dario Franchitti, Takuma Sato (RLL Racing) and Justin Wilson (Dale Coyne Racing) and not the erstwhile fast Honda driver Josef Newgarden of Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing.
Marco Andretti (third) and polesitter Ryan Briscoe (fifth) led the Chevrolet contingent. Down Lotus way, neither Simona de Silvestro nor Jean Alesi was able to top 206mph, and Alesi's colorful if perhaps unsettling comments about the engine's ability reached a peak. The Frenchman was quoted on the radio saying, “The engine is a disaster.” Not your typical ambassadorial language…
BERNARD MEETS THE MEDIA – After helping get the day started with Bob Jenkins waving the ceremonial green flag (RIGHT), IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard did take time out Friday morning for an update on some of the pressing topics that have emanated out of Gasoline Alley and elsewhere this month. Primarily, engine competition was a hot-button topic.
“We had some constructive criticism on how we can do things better. That's the most important thing,” Bernard said when asked whether IndyCar's relationship with Chevrolet has been at all damaged. “When a call is not made in their direction, of course they're going to be upset. Jim (Campbell) came to me after the appeal and said, ‘Listen, we're moving on, we made our best case, let's take the sport to the next level.'”
As for Lotus, Bernard believes they still are fully committed, and “didn't get any breaks to help them, really.” He said other manufacturers are “sniffing” to come in, but denied comment on who saying it would be unfair.
Bernard also discussed races on the radar for 2013. He wanted to “continue to discuss those options” regarding a Fort Lauderdale street race, discussed the seemingly annual possibilities of Elkhart Lake or Australia returning to the calendar, and explored looking at “any oval” which may remain interested in IndyCar. As for China this year, Bernard said the series is continuing on with the event as planned, and a signed contract is in place.
BREMBO'S FULL PRESENCE – When one thinks of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, one doesn't immediately think of brakes. Except that this year, the change for the IZOD IndyCar Series to carbon brakes is one of the less discussed talking points, and this race marks the first oval run for the DW12 and this set of brakes.
All 33 starters plus the pace car, the Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1, will be fitted with Brembo brakes on Sunday. The Corvette is the only production car in North America with carbon ceramic brakes.
At a press event on Thursday, Brembo – who had a number of people on hand from Italy this race – invited Rubens Barrichello in to describe some of the nuances and things he's noticed from his experience running with them on the DW12 IndyCar.
“I saw some guys in Sebring complaining about locking, but it's because they're so good when they work when you modulate the pedal!” he said. “It's still designed for safety all the way. I run a softer caliper than Tony Kanaan, for example, and he likes a stiffer pedal – he's just an animal.”
To celebrate Barrichello's 40th birthday (May 23), Brembo also presented him with a picture of a customized driving suit to match the Brazilian flag with the color of his BMC/Embrase KV Racing Technology car (ABOVE).
TRUECAR TEAM ON DISPLAY – TrueCar's been active and present with its fleet of six drivers this month, and has had two major events of note in the last two days. Thursday, TrueCar IndyCar driver Katherine Legge and Girl Scouts of the USA CEO Anna Maria Chavez announced a partnership where Legge will serve as Girl Scouts' first STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) ambassador and Girl Scouts' first motorsports athlete as a national spokesperson. She'll also wear the Girl Scouts' logo on her helmet to call attention to its ToGetHerThere program, just launched as a leadership program for young girls.
On Friday morning, Legge's TrueCar teammates across five other racing series – Ashley Freiberg (Star Mazda), Shannon McIntosh (USF2000), Shea Holbrook (Pirelli World Challenge Touring Car), Emilee Tominovich (Playboy Mazda MX-5 Cup) and Verena Mai (Rally America) – joined in a panel discussion and breakfast. Besides the drivers, speakers also included 1992 Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year Lyn St. James and automotive journalist legend Denise McCluggage. The latter's's speech was particularly inspiring as she discussed her struggle to become the first woman to make it into a media center. Legge makes her Indianapolis 500 debut while Freiberg and McIntosh race Saturday night at Lucas Oil Raceway in the Night Before the 500.
ADDITIONALLY – Bryan Clauson's Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing DW12-Honda relaunched Friday with a fresh livery (LEFT) in deference to new title sponsor Angie's List. The car has now adopted a green and black paint scheme as opposed to the blue and black which it ran during the first week.
Earlier Friday, I had a chance to test drive the DW12 on Simraceway's simulator, tested and developed by Franchitti, along with some other media members, so will have more information on that in the coming days.