05/24/14 On a picture perfect Chamber of Commerce day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway a large crowd, rumored to be 70,000 strong, turned out for the traditional Carb Day ahead of the Indy 500.
Gates opened at 8 a.m. and the gorgeous weather was key in Friday’s great turnout. It was an even bigger crowd than anyone at IMS expected.
On the driver front, rumor has it that Jacques Villeneuve wants to put a full time IndyCar ride together for 2015. This year he is only running the Indy 500 for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports with backing from Dollar General. Villeneuve finally shaved that god awful looking beard BTW. A couple of guys that were on his Players team when he won in 1995 are on his team now.
The number of media here this year is about the same as the past few years, and amounts to about 200 plus the photographers.
A third (11) of Sunday's 33 cars will be driven by Americans. Quite different than NASCAR, which thrives on American Xenophobic fans and the drivers they worship.
Spoke to James Davison for awhile today. Did you know that the first time Davison came to the Indy 500 was in 2006 and he sat in Turn 2 with Will Power. The Australian rookie has not had much time in the car so every lap he gets is important, including the ones today for Carb Day.
"I feel more confident than I did Monday (after the previous practice), going into the race," Davison said following today's session.
"With that said, we had our session cut short 20 minutes with a starter issue. That precluded us from making further headway on our car setup for the race.
We're in a better position than we were on Monday, so that's good for me to rest on. My goal is a top 15 (finish in the race). It's my rookie race, I haven't raced on an oval in five years and I'm the shortest program of the month. As the race goes on, I'm going to learn more and gain more confidence with that, and hopefully a little more speed. My goal right now is a top-15. I want to get to lap 130, see where we're at, and then hopefully go for it."
His sponsor, Always Evolving, was a question mark to us, so we asked him to explain it.
Always Evolving was a company started in 2007 by Roger Rodas and Erik Davis and initially was a performance tuning shop. Rodas was Paul Walker's wealth manager. When Rodas and Walker died (at an Always Evolving event BTW) the shop closed but then his partners decided it had name recognition and it could still be a viable entity. The business reemerged as a multi-platform brand encompassing motorsports merchandise, as well as lifestyle and entertainment endeavors.
Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles liked what he saw Friday. “We’re thrilled!" Miles said.
IndyCar ambassador Mario Andretti, the 1969 Indy 500 winner, 1967 Daytona 500 and 1978 Formula One world champion said, "the series, in my opinion, is really in good shape."
“I always said that the IndyCar champion is the only all-around champion that you could claim to be," he said.
Andretti says he’s excited about the sport’s future and many of the ideas of IndyCar’s new leaders. Interestingly, that now includes the Grand Prix of Indianapolis. Andretti has changed his views on the re-shaping of the IMS schedule to include that race early in May. Initially, he publicly expressed disappointment about the changes. Among other things, he was worried fans would not turn out for the event and that would get the month off to a stumbling start.
But after the Grand Prix, Andretti is a believer. He says the attendance and the racing were better than he expected.
“To me, as long as it’s successful, go for it," he now says.
Miles said the old schedule, with several weeks-long gaps, frustrated fans and drove them away.
“We’d start the season and then disappear from a month," he said. “You had a race in Baltimore Labor Day weekend and then the next race is in Houston is in October. I don’t know how a fan gets that (or) follows that."
Miles absolutely wants a return to “new track records" that commonly happened during the most popular years for the sport.
“If you grew up here, you remember that voice of Tom Carnegie over the (public address system)," Miles enthused. “It was something that happened. It was a drumbeat."
Andretti sees danger in the chase.
“Could the drivers do it? You’re darn right. Could the cars do it? You’re darn right. Is that really needed? Yes, but then you’re looking for it the next year. Another one. And the following year," he said, explaining a cycle that he fears would end badly. “And it’s not really necessary, quite honestly. We know the cars could do it, but again, we reach a stage where it could be a disaster also."
Miles says he’s convinced safety will not suffer in the chase for track records. He says he asked the question as soon as he took the job.
“Why are we that much slower than we were in 1996 of 97. And there were really good answers related to safety, and safety is paramount. And there’s always risks in this sport. But we became convinced we could be really pro-active about increasing safety while we had marginal increases in speed."
Miles predicts new track records either next year or by the 100th running of the 500 in 2016.
Do you know what car former Indy 500 winner and series champion Scott Dixon drives on the highway? If you guessed Corvette, Ferrari, or Mercedes, you would have guessed wrong. A Chevy Tahoe.
Did you know that in 1994 most of the staff at Honda HPD in southern California were Japanese and all the intercom announcement were made in Japanese. The Americans had to get what was said translated. Today mostly Americans work there and announcements are all in English.
The Indy Speedway closed one lane of the 3-lane tunnel under Turns 3 and 4 coming into the infield of the track for the concert stage. What a disaster. The traffic will be gridlock on Sunday if they don't open that lane by then.
Dario Franchitti has been a real help to 17-year old rookie Sage Karam, guiding him through the whole month of May. Franchitti was retained by Ganassi to play team coach to the drivers, a similar role to what Rick Mears does for the Penske team.
On the non-IndyCar front, but related, rumor has it that the V8 Supercar race from Surfers is going away. Since IndyCar is not there the race was never the same and the government has decided it is not going to put money into the event anymore.
In a one-hour session Friday Kurt Busch said, "I was a bit anxious to get back in the car and see how I was going to feel," Busch said. "There's a lot to be said about guys when they hit the wall, they lose confidence. I didn't lose my confidence, I just needed to make sure I didn't over adjust the car when I got back in traffic.
"I settled back in once I was able to make laps. When we jumped up on the speed chart, they threw in an adjustment based off my comfort level. The team is reading me well, I'm reading them well. I need to do a better job reading the traffic."
"There is the stop and smell the roses moment, but it's getting closer to race time," he said. "I've got to be focused, got to put the blinders on. I've had enough time to smell the roses."
Pace Car driver Dario Franchitti joked with the front row drivers that he was going to brake-check them on one of the pace laps. Mark C. reporting from Indy