Quick Thoughts- The Season’s First Day

Robert Wickens returned to a race track for the first time since his accident. He spoke to the media. He is in good spirits and doing well.  Some excerpts:

“Being back at a race track makes everything a little better.”

“It was strange being on the smart side of the pit wall.”

“I’m getting some stuff back. Trying to utilize every day to get as healthy as I can.”

He called the fan support here at St. Petersburg “Amazing. I thought the fans would be more focused on the race cars.”  “Fan support has been a big motivation piece.”

“100%” he wants to race again. “I want tog et back into racing as I left off. I don’t want to just run at the back of the field.”

Wickens’ appearance was a great emotional lift for him. I think it was just as much as an emotional lift for the media. The press doesn’t usually applaud at the end of a conference.

A pleasant problem-Additional teams at a street course race means a more crowded paddock.

It’s not quite 10:30 and there is already a good sized crowd here.

The top six in Practice 1 were all Hondas. Rookie Felix Rosenqvist led the session with a time of 1:01.8215. Josef Newgarden was the fastest Chevy 0,35 seconds behind. The rookies I spoke with the other day are interested to see how the red tires work in today’s second session.

Dale Coyne announced a third car for James Davison for the 103rd Running of the Indianapolis 500. Davison drove for Belardi in partnership with A. J. Foyt Racing last year. he finished 33rd. Davison becomes the official 33rd entry for this year’s field.

Max Chilton has the best looking car.

 

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The Drama Everyone Hoped For; The Results Nobody Wanted

Fans hoped that the return of bumping would bring drama back to qualifying at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There was plenty to go around. As the gun sounded, however, many were not happy with the results. Two perennial favorites, Pippa Mann and James Hinchcliffe, were out of the field for the 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500, while another favorite, Conor Daly, fought his way onto the grid-twice.

James Davison, who had a hard crash Friday afternoon. sat for the last hour waiting to see if he would be bumped. His crew completed repairs around 2 am. Bob Lazier loaned the team  parts to rebuild the gearbox.

Davison was in a difficult position. He couldn’t withdraw his time until he was bumped. He had a spot and had to keep it. Mann wasn’t fast enough, and Hinchcliffe didn’t get another chance.

Conor Daly”s first attempt of the day ended with a 22.684 average. He was eventually bumped. His second effort put him back in the field. Oriol Servia, who was having a difficult day himself, bumped Daly on his third attempt of the day. Daly went out a third time and bumped Hinchcliffe out.

Servia had a problem on his first run and it was called off after laps of 201, 196, and 194. His second had two respectable laps in the low 220 range, but after he dropped to 217 on the third, the crew stopped the effort. He finally bumped his way in near the end of the day’.

In what would be Hinchcliffe’s final attempt of the day, he felt a vibration as he pulled out of pit lane. It went way, but it returned in turn 3 and he decided to pull in. The problem was a tire sensor broke and was rattling around inside the wheel. Hinchcliffe got back in line, but time ran out before he could get another try.

Press Conferences- Highs and Lows

The post qualifying press conferences ranged from silly to emotional. Foutr members of the Fast Nine- Helio Castroneves, Simon Pagenaud, Ed Carpenter, and Danica Patrick- spoke. They mostly joked around and all expected to be on the pole tomorrow.

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James Davison talked about how hard his crew worked to get the car ready after the crash on Friday.

“The only way to repay them (the crew) was  to make the race,” he said, “We owe them immensely.”

He sees no point in running hard Sunday to improve his position.

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Pippa Man and James Hinchcliffe also spoke in separate appearances. they both came from several rounds of on air interviews and team discussions. They both looked emotionally drained. I admire them both for making one last stop to talk to the media.

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In her brief emotional remarks, Mann said she knew Friday they might be in trouble when the car, which had performed well Wednesday and Thursday was not fast yesterday morning. Everything on the car was changed.

“We tried everything, obviously it wasn’t fast enough. It’s the worst feeling in the world.”

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Hinchcliffe was subdued and direct. ” This was our fault. Nobody failed us We failed us,” he told the media. His comments seemed pointed at those on social media blaming ABC, the drivers who went out just before him, and anyone else they could think of for his not getting into the race.

“This track has done worse to me in the past and we came back swinging,” he said, referring to his crash in 2015 followed by winning the pole the following year.

As to speculation that he might replace Jay Howard in the race, “I will do what Sam (Schmidt) and Rick (Peterson tell me to do, ” he answered.

 

As I said in a previous piece, the current qualifying format was designed for a field of 33 entries only. The rules need to be changed when there are more entries. We knew two cars were going home. We can’t be angry at the system because our favorite drivers are the ones left out. Sad for them, yes; disappointed, absolutely. More on this topic tomorrow.

I will post an update when I get to the track. The weather this afternoon looks iffy.

 

James Davison- Maximum Efforts, No Regrets

James Davison has had an on again, off again relationship with Indycar. When he was in Indy Lights, he competed against several current Indycar drivers. The last three years he has driven in the IMSA Weather Tech Series, winning the pole in GT Dayona class at the Rolex 24 and he won twice in Pirelli World Challenge driving for Nissan in 2015.Davison, speaking to fans as part of the Fast Cars Fast Girls podcast series, says while he enjoys racing, ‘The Indy 500 is where I want to be.”

He had his first start in the 500 in 2014, driving for KV Racing. He started 28th and finished 16th. The following year, driving for Dale Coyne, he started last because he had a sportscar commitment on qualifying weekend. Tristan Vautier qualified the car for Davison. He finished 27th after first lap contact and an incident in the pits.

Last year, he had a deal fall through because of the limited availability of Honda engines and chassis for Chevrolet teams. When Sebastien Bourdais was injured during qualifying, Davison got the call to replace him. He again started 33rd, but led two laps late in the race. His day ended in a five car pileup in turn one with about 16 laps to go. He feels that he lost a chance to win the race.

2018 is the earliest he has had a 500 program in place, driving the Johnathon Byrd car owned by Brian Belardi in a partnership with A. J. Foyt Racing. He admits the one off teams are behind the full timers, but he feels they can be competitive.

“if we don’t qualify but I know the team put forth maximum effort on everything, I will have no regrets.”

Davison discussed the new car and his thoughts echo what other drivers have said- it is difficult to pass and the front end is loose in the corners.

Davison has started in the back in each 500 he has been in, but has always improved his position. As long asm he qualifies, Davison will be someone to watch on race day.

Pit Lane Parley Podcast

Due to technical difficulties, recording of the Pit Lane Parley podcast had to be postponed. Recording is planned for this evening. I will announce the air date and time. They have a not so special guest I happen to know.