If the Friday warmup for Sunday's Centennial Indy 500 is any indication, the race itself is going to be a barnburner.
With liberal doses of thrills, spills, crushed aluminum cans and carbon fiber destined for the recycling bin, Carb Day delivered action in abundance. And I'm not talking about people dropping third-full cans of beer off the top of the grandstands on unsuspecting passers-by.
Despite threatening skies and chilly 50-something degree temperatures, the final IndyCar practice session and Firestone Indy Lights Freedom 100 race went off without a hitch. The bands played and many, many, many cans of carbonated beverages were drunk. Okay, so it's not that kind of "carb" but a relevant and often overlooked part of the tradition nonetheless. Part race day cram exam, part post-finals frat party, Carb Day had it all.
Scott Dixon (225.474 mph) paced the busy hour-long session, fending off challenges from Alex Tagliani (224.739 mph) and his own teammate and defending Indy 500 champion Dario Franchitti (224.658 mph) as the teams made the adjustment from qualifying to race trim. With the rain-shortened schedule this month, tires and engine miles were in abundance, and the 33 entrants posted 1406 incident-free laps in the hour long session. At the "oh no" end of the practice sheet, Takuma Sato posted the slowest speed (207.220 mph) as gearbox woes held the KV-Lotus Racing driver to just four laps. His teammates EJ Viso (219.815 mph) and Tomas Scheckter (220.480 mph) turned a few more laps (37 and 31, respectively) but rounded out the proverbial last row.
Surprises on the scoring sheet included AJ Foyt Racing's Vitor Meira (fourth/224.480 mph) and faux-Foyter Ryan Hunter-Reay (seventh/223.930 mph.) John Andretti (P10/223.852 mph) placed well ahead of his closest teammate Danica Patrick (20th/222.829 mph), signaling that Andretti Autosport's May swoon may not be over. Sam Schmidt's team was bolstered with the addition of Andretti Pole Day scapegoat Tom Anderson, who may be moving from worst (missing the field entirely with Mike Conway) to first, or Venom to milk, come Sunday afternoon.
On the Indy Lights side, Schmidt's Josef Newgarden outlasted his teammate Esteban Guerrieri and Team Moore Racing's Victor Garcia to win his pro oval debut in the Freedom 100. The race finished under caution as a frightening late-race multi-car crash saw the machine of Jorge Goncalvez get almost cut in half and airborne after a hard hit on the inside retaining wall catapulted the remnants of his chassis back across the track. Luckily for Goncalvez, the incident should end up in the And They Walked Away highlights, although his car did not appear as lucky. It was later announced that he had been treated and released from the hospital.
Finally, the annual pit crew challenge was won by Penske Racing and driver Ryan Briscoe, who edged Franchitti in the final round. Yes, I know how hard it is to believe that Penske and Ganassi were facing off to win a competition. Rumor has it the two principals were also looking to engage in a knock-down, drag-out game of Words With Friends after hours.
STRONG TURNOUT - The Carb Day crowd is way, way above and beyond any of the races that I've attended in the last decade. It also seemed decidedly younger, and dare I say, hipper than in the past. Can this be a result of IZOD's involvement and promotional management? New relevance to a younger generation? Centennial promotion paying off? Hmm.
I sat in traffic for almost two hours, inching along 16th Street towards the track. Time to invoke special evasive countermeasures and top secret cloaking devices for track entry Sunday morning. I have a plan, and I suggest that you have one too because if the downtown hotel vacancy is any indication, there are going to be a lot of people heading to the race.
THRILLING QUOTES - In an effort to keep the hungry media occupied between scheduled feeding sessions, several press conferences were held through the course of the day. As is usual in such a situation, a variety of completely-made-up-people-don't-actually-talk-like-that quotes were employed to express enthusiasm of the news. To wit:
"I have always been a great fan of William Rast denim and I am so excited for the new partnership with this great fashion brand and to be involved in the launch of William Rast eyewear," "said" Danica Patrick in the official release.
In her press conference Patrick backed it up with anecdotal story illustrating her need for free sunglasses; she previously had to BUY a pair. She went on to state she now has "lots of sunglasses... boxes of sunglasses." No word on whether those boxes of sunglasses will also be hightailing to NASCAR next year, nor, strangely, the duration of the contract.
Honda Racing announced that Chip Ganassi Racing will be the manufacturer's designated "anchor team" when the new car and engine packages take effect in 2012.
"We are thrilled to be able to announce this deal," "said" Chip Ganassi, who no doubt waited until the first check cleared to be "thrilled."
Further discussion of the development of the 2012 IndyCar (with matching PowerPoint presentation) morphed into the introduction of official turbocharger supplier BorgWarner.
"We are thrilled to add our latest turbocharging technology to our 100 year legacy of innovation at the Indianapolis 500," said Timothy Manganello, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of BorgWarner.