Story and photo by Patrick Reynolds
INDIANAPOLIS- Team Penske held a media lunch on Thursday and more than one team member expressed confidence that their Chevrolet engines had a lot of reliability even though Hondas qualified in seven of the first ten Indy 500 starting positions. During Friday’s final Indy 500 practice, Chevrolet-powered Penske driver Helio Castroneves set the fastest speed to answer back Honda’s apparent upper hand.
“Today was a good way to finish practice like this,” Castroneves said. “We have a good car, a good balanced car and we’re going for the big one on Sunday.”
Castroneves led final practice with a top speed of 227.377 on lap 25 of his 28 total Friday laps.
James Hinchcliffe’s Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports Honda suffered an engine failure with around 15 minutes remaining, legitimizing talk of Honda’s speed but uncertain reliability. Hinchcliffe had 29 laps on that engine and will install a replacement unit for Sunday’s 500.
During the post-practice press conference Castroneves pumped his fist and whispered “Yes!” when told of Hinchcliffe’s Honda blow up.
Second-quickest in the final practice was Takuma Sato in an Andretti Autosport Honda.
“Monday after qualifying we did a lot of race sim with different sets of downforce changes,” Sato said. “We came to Carb Day to really kind of shake down the car,” said Sato. “The car felt really good.”
Alonso’s Final 500 Practice
Two-time Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso, also in a Honda, finished fifth quick, the same as his 500 qualifying position. Alonso downplayed any engine concerns.
“With this we can make sure that we learn, we save the engines for the race, so no concerns,” said Alonso.
“It (practice) was very smooth,” Alonso said. “The car felt the best so far in the last two weeks. I’m extremely happy with the car. They’re making some moves, some different lines just to try what I saw in the last three or four days, in different videos, in different years. So I was practicing that. I also did the simulator in the last two or three days.
“It was a lot of action today. In a one-hour session you have a lot of things happening. Everything is compressed in those 60 minutes. We had some yellow flags. We had some laps to test different things on the car- very normal things that for everyone else will be straightforward. For me I don’t know if you change something on the car… where to find it on the steering wheel. Simple things that I am still running behind a little bit,” Alonso said.
Indy Lights Freedom 100
Matheus Leist led every lap of the Freedom 100 for the win in his first oval track race. The Brazilian earned the pole in a rain-delayed qualifying session on Thursday and withstood a challenge from Aaron Telitz for the trophy.
The race’s only yellow flag waved on lap one when Colton Herta spun in turn two, after contact with Dalton Kellett. Herta collected Ryan Norman with a hard hit that badly damaged both cars and retired them from the race.
Kellett said, “It was pretty light contact. I really wasn’t worried (about his car’s condition).”
The 100 restarted on lap five and went through the remaining 35 laps to the checkered flag.
Third-starting Kellett passed Zachary Claman De Melo for second on lap 13. Telitz moved past Kellett to second on lap 19 and the leaders settled into single file until the final 15 miles.
Telitz pulled alongside Leist for the lead on lap 34 but could not complete the pass. The duo raced side-by-side until Telitz fell back into second slot. Telitz was then passed by Kellett on the next lap.
Telitz said, “I really was sizing up Matheus for almost all of the race. I tried to see if I could beat him back to the line by being on the outside of the racetrack by carrying more momentum and that’s actually where I lost all of my momentum.
“I was good behind cars and getting runs but when I would pull out of the draft to get by Matheus my car would just kind of stall out as I pulled around him. He just had more speed in a straight line and that’s how he did it,” Telitz said.
“I just got in the same line the whole race. He tried to overtake me but he didn’t manage to.” Leist simply stated.
Kellett tried to close the gap on Leist during the final lap but was instead overhauled by Telitz for second place on the frontstretch as they charged to the finish line.
Telitz said, “Starting the last lap, I knew I probably wouldn’t be able to get a great run through two (and) down the backstretch to pass Dalton. So I was really just setting it all up for turn four and getting a monster run off of that and really I got a little bit lucky. I still had a good run but I had a better run because Dalton was a little aggressive down on the curb trying to pass Matheus to the line. He slid up the race track and didn’t get a good run.”
Neil Alberico was fourth and Santi Urrutia completed the top-five.
Leist said, “I had a perfect car today. I thought that I would have the hardest race definitely but we managed to lead the whole race.”
Kyle Kaiser leads the championship standings with a ninth place finish in the 14-car field.
Pit Stop Competition
Will Power and Team Penske defeated James Hinchcliffe’s Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports entry in two out of three pit stops during the best-of-three final round.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Speedway Report Mondays 7:30 pm ET/ 4:30 pm PT on http://racersreunion.com/podcast-library . Follow on Twitter @SpeedwayPat.