The big surprise of the year has been Sebastian Bourdais in 4th. SeaBass switched to the normally backmarker team of Dale Coyne Racing in the off season after KV Racing folded at the end of 2016. Dale reunited Bourdais with Craig Hampson, the engineer who helped Bourdais earn 4 ChampCar World Series championships in a row. The combo won at the opening round in St. Petersburg and was leading the points until Sebastian got caught up in a nasty first lap crash at Phoenix a few weeks ago. Bourdais really needs a good finish at Indy to get his championship back on track. While winning it is a long shot, finishing in the top 5 would be incredibly impressive for the tiny team.
Almost as shocking has been the season Will Power is having. The poor man can’t catch a break! Will landed on pole at St. Pete, but was sidelined with a failed fuel pump. At Long Beach, he missed it in qualifying, and ended up clipping Charlie Kimball on the first lap and losing two laps for repairs. Power was once again on the pole at Barber, but after dominating the race, he ended up with a puncture in the final stint and would only finish 14th. At Phoenix, once again Power was the man to beat, but an ill-timed yellow meant his teammate Pagenaud would get the win, and Will would be relegated to a distant 2nd. Power desperately needs a win to redirect his season and Indy’s road course has been good to him. He topped all in both practice sessions, making him the man to beat going into qualifying.
With the green flag set for 3pm Saturday, cars lined up in Gasoline Alley for qualifying on Friday. Indy road course qualifying is knockout style. The field sets out in two groups, with the fastest 6 of each advancing to the next round. Those 12 are narrowed to the Firestone Fast 6 and compete for the pole.
Tire strategy is important as teams only have so many sets of the harder primary (black) tire and the softer option (red) tire for the full weekend, so managing what tires to use when is key to both a good qualifying position, and a good race. Here, one of Conor Daly’s crewmen sets cold tire pressures as they prepare for qualifying. Remember, unlike F1 tire warmers are not allowed in IndyCar.
Long Beach Grand Prix winner, and Dancing with the Stars runner up, James Hinchcliffe stretches before he hops into his Honda powered SPM prepared car. All drivers have their own little pre-race ritual to loosen their muscles and relax their mind. Indy has been both cruel and kind to Hinchcliffe. In 2015, he nearly died in practice for the 500. In 2016, Hinch finished 3rd in the GP and went on to take pole for the 500.
Roger Penske chats with his most veteran driver Helio Castroneves, and Team Penske President Tim Cindric. Penske has locked out the poles this year, three with Will Power, and the other two with Helio. Unfortunately, the dancing Brazillian has yet to turn any of these poles into a win. At Long Beach, Helio faced overboost issues, limiting the power of his Chevy engine on a horsepower dependent track. Helio also got caught out by the same yellow that scuttled Will Power’s strong run at Phoenix. Helio is celebrating his 20th season in open wheel racing and would dearly like add another win or two to his resume…especially in 2 weeks at the 101st Indianapolis 500!