Story by Patrick Reynolds, Photo by Meesh Beer

  • Indianapolis 500 Final Practice

Ganassi Racing paced the final practice session prior to Sunday’s Indianapolis 500. Defending race winner Tony Kanaan set the fastest time and teammate Scott Dixon backed up the group’s strength by turning the second quickest lap.

However, neither driver placed much stock in the lap times translating to guaranteed success for the race.

“Lap times don’t count today,” said Kanaan. “It feels good to be up there but that’s not what it’s all about.”

Dixon said, “The times that you see now are kind of how you place yourself (in the draft). I think there are a few cars capable of the same thing (quick speed). Last year we did the same thing and the cars were horrible in the race.”

Both drivers indicated they were more interested in preparing to drive in traffic than topping the speed charts in practice or qualifying.

“I was able to help my engineer to understand that ‘if we work, we’re going to be OK,’” said Kanaan about his lack of being at the top of the speed charts earlier this month. “They (Ganassi) used to start up front, lead, and have dominant cars. So I kept it calm because I think if I concentrated on my racecar, like last year, we’d be able to do the job and I think we did a great job on Monday (previous practice). We felt pretty good today. It was different because, also my expectations were much higher than 16th, (where he qualified) especially with this car.”

“I don’t think I was that concerned,” said Dixon while addressing the same issue of not setting a fastest lap earlier in May but still being relatively quick. ”What’s different this year is that if you look at most of the practice times, when everybody’s running full fuel, we were pretty high up. I don’t think we were quickest on any day, but I think a majority of the time we were in the top six. It’s not like we miraculously found a ton of speed.”

However Dixon did express a concern about qualifying for the 500 better in the future.

“We’d like to roll out straight away and be quicker. I think the last couple of years we could have blamed some of the performance on Honda’s differences to the Chevy, but even then we still the quickest Honda. Ideally I think we have a lot of work to do with the qualifying setup for the car here for next year.”

The new Indycar chassis debuted in 2012 and has brought much tighter racing with record-setting lead changes in the 500 each of the past two years. Kanaan said a driver can only hold a lead for half of a lap with the drafting and passing capabilities of the new car.

“If the guy’s good enough he will pass you on the back (stretch) then you pass him on the front (stretch). At that point (in practice) I was trying to see if I could get a run on a guy before the start/finish line,” said Kanaan.

“I think at one point last year, Scott was saying he was 18th – and could see the leader,” Kanaan said. “This year I think is going to be even worse in that matter. I don’t think anyone is going to pull away. I don’t think anybody is going to want to lead, either. It’s going to be a pack race for sure.”

Dixon will start the Indy 500 from 11th position.

Townsend Bell, Helio Castroneves, and Russian rookie Mikhail Aleshin completed the top-five speeds. Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti, Alex Tagliani, Juan Pablo Montoya who returns to open wheel racing after several years in NASCAR, and Josef Newgarden set the sixth through tenth quickest practice times.

The 500’s polesitter Ed Carpenter was 13th and NASCAR’s Kurt Busch was 15th.

Kanaan summed up a typical racer’s feeling when discussing practice and qualifying times.

“Last year, nobody remembered where I qualified. People remembered where I finished.”

  • Indy Lights Freedom 100

Exciting finishes have become the norm for the Indy Lights Freedom 100. This year’s race continued that trend.

Gabby Chaves popped out of the draft and alongside Matthew Brabham down the frontstretch coming to the checkered flag. Chaves nosed ahead of Brabham to win by .005 seconds, a margin of just a few inches.
Chaves finished second in the classic four-wide 2013 Freedom 100 finish by .002 of a second to winner Peter Dempsey.

Runner up Brabham is the son of driver Geoff Brabham and grandson to Sir Jack Brabham, three-time Formula 1 Champion and who pioneered rear-engine cars competing in the Indianapolis 500. Jack Brabham passed away May 18.

The Freedom 100 was interrupted by a violent crash involving Chase Austin in turn one. Austin spun and crashed into the inside lap 15. The car made hard impact on the right side nearly splitting the machine in half. A lengthy cleanup resulted before the race could be restarted. Austin’s only injury was reported to be a fractured left wrist.

  • Pit Stop Contest

Scott Dixon and Ganassi Racing defeated Sage Karam and Dreyer and Reinbold’s effort to claim the annual Pit Stop competition 11.737 to 12.084 in the championship round.

Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Motor Week LIVE! Mondays 7pm ET/ 4pm PT