EXIT STAGE LEFT FOR DARIO AND HELIO
Dario Franchitti and Helio Castroneves, drivers with six combined Indy 500 wins, were both forced to cut their Bump Day practicing short to make a flight out of Indianapolis bound for New York to handle race promotion duties, and for the Scot, the busy day at the track followed by a sprint to the airport helped to rob any real chance of celebrating his 40th birthday.
His morning, however, more than made up for it.
Franchitti's father George worked away in secret, looking for the first racing vehicle his son drove, and managed to acquire the exact go kart the four-time IndyCar Series champion used when he was five years old.
The elder Franchitti then arranged a fake garage tour for his son to lead – told him it was for a group of children – and despite his initial reluctance, Dario went along with it. By the time they got to the end of the garage, he found the surprise waiting for him – flown all the way from Scotland – which brought a rush of emotions to the Target Ganassi driver.
“I'm so amazed by it,” he told RACER. “I might have cried a little…”
Franchitti was surprised a second time in the afternoon when RACER contributor and NBC Sports Network reporter Robin Miller presented Dario with a framed photo of the famous 1964 Belgian Grand Prix shot depicting his hero Jim Clark sitting on the exhaust pipes of his Lotus while talking with Dan Gurney. Gurney signed the print for Franchitti, wishing him a happy 40th, which left Dario speechless.
With plenty to feel positive about this year at Indy, KV Racing's Simona de Silvestro came into the 2013 event in a different frame of mind.
The Lotus engine from 2012 that felt like a turbocharged torture device is long gone, and her previous experiences at the 500 – including a crash and fire that left lasting marks – are also fading into the background, leading the popular Swiss driver to commission a new Indy-themed helmet for the 97th running of the great race.
“It's really cool; my helmet painter came up with it, but I gave him an idea of what I kinda' thought would be good and he did a really, really amazing job. I just thought something fresh – you know, something new would be a good choice this year.”
MATT WILES UPDATE
I was pleased to run into GM Powertrain employee Matt Wiles – who some of you might know from the special GM tribute issue of RACER – who was assigned to work with the Ilmor Engineering team in the UK and is serving as Townsend Bell's Chevy engine technician at Indy.
The young American, whose expertise in GM's production direct-injection technology has been heavily utilized by Ilmor as it develops the Chevy IndyCar V6 powerplant, was awestruck by the opportunity to participate at the 500 as an embedded member of Panther Racing.
“In a few short words, it's awesome,” he said. “Being able to come to the track and see your efforts pay off is just a tremendous reward. To be here at Indy, as a racer, is an indescribable feeling. Very proud to be here with Team Chevy and to be here with Townsend Bell and Panther Racing.
“I've been here all week and will be here for the race…it's like a dream.”
KAT'S A QUICK STUDY
The term "comeuppance" is rarely used in the IndyCar Series, but it was certainly on the tongues of a few devoted Katherine Legge fans who relished in her Bump Day performance just months after being dropped by Dragon Racing.
Legge secured the 33rd and last starting spot after jumping into the No. 81 Angie's List car fielded by Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, turning a few dozen laps on Sunday after completing her refresher course – her first in an Indy car since the Fontana finale last September – and will start two rows directly behind Sebastian Saavedra, the driver signed to replace her in the No. 6 TrueCar Chevy.
Written off by Dragon for being too slow, Legge was only 1.7 mph shy of Saavedra, who had more than a week of practice before rolling into qualifying.
Schmidt team manager Rob Edwards opted to steer clear of discussing the backstory between Legge, her former team, and what making the field meant to her, but did share his thoughts on how impressed he was with her gutsy display on Sunday.
“We've got so many good guys in the shop with the Indy Lights group, and (former Ganassi Racing manager) John Cummiskey came in to run the car which made things a lot easier for me, and then Katherine just did a marvelous, marvelous job,” he said. “She'd done very few laps before sticking it in the line and qualifying. There was more speed there if we needed to use it, but fortunately, we didn't. She did everything we asked of her, and know what she's been through, everyone's incredibly happy.”
With the long first phase of the month of May now closed, I'm so glad I got permission from Team Penske's Will Power get to tell my favorite story from the past few weeks. He and I were on the phone yapping about something mindless when the Aussie had a second call come in.
“Hey mate, I think I've got a call from Indy, let me call you back,” he said. When he rang back two or three minutes later, Willy P was laughing hard.
“What's so funny?” I asked.
“I got a call from IMS. This is the second time they've done this,” he said.
“Second time they've done what?” I asked.
“Second time they've called me – they called last year, too – trying to sell me tickets to the 500…” he said before re-enacting the call.
“Hi, is Mr. William Power available?” said the IMS staffer.
“Yes, this is Mr. Power.”
“Hi, this is the Indianapolis Motor Speedway calling to see if you'd like to buy tickets to this year's Indy 500!”
“I think I'm pretty well covered for tickets, mate. I already have a pretty good seat…”
“Well, I see you attended last year's race--how did you enjoy it?” asked the salesman.
“I didn't enjoy it very much,” said Power “…I crashed out early…”
30 DEGREES OF DARIO
Another fun story came from Dario Franchitti when he recounted a sideways moment during practice on Wednesday.
“We made a change to the car and all of a sudden in [Turn] 2 I've got almighty oversteer,” he said as his eyes got big. “We're talking like 30 degrees of steering to catch it, then catch the next slide after that one.
“Well, the boys are watching all this as it's happening (on live telemetry monitors in the Ganassi pits) and come over the radio and tell me to pit…right when I'm trying to keep the thing off the wall… I'm like, ‘Thanks, got it…a bit busy at the moment, boys..."
ALL CLEAR SO FAR
The days following qualifying for the 2012 Indy 500 was a rather expensive affair for some teams. More than $300,000 in penalties was doled out after post-qualifying technical inspection was completed. A hard but intentional message was sent and it was met with plenty of furor from the team owners who had to pay the fines, but so far, it appears to have served its purpose.
Through Sunday night, no illegal parts or banned procedures had been found among the 33 cars that went across the tech pad. A deeper inspection will be performed on the pole-winning car of Ed Carpenter on Monday as the team was allowed to practice on Sunday under close supervision by the series.