Friday, May 27, 2016

Tribute to the Fuson Form Chart

The 1976 Indianapolis 500 souvenir section produced by the Indianapolis News.
Something I always looked forward to each May was the Fuson Form Chart. This page of analysis was penned by Wayne Fuson, sports editor of the Indianapolis News, which was the afternoon paper in Indianapolis.

It was included in the souvenir preview section and was a staple of pre-race coverage. He had an engaging, unique style patterned off horse racing forms that was eminently readable and entertaining. It rated the jockey (driver), horse (car) and stable (team), advising readers how and where to place their bets in a good-natured, humorous manner.

Wayne Fuson's predictions for 1976. 
Mr. Fuson died in 1996. I had hoped his contributions would have been recognized during all the hoopla surrounding the 100th Indianapolis 500, but, sadly, I did not see anything about him and his Form Chart.

So consider the following a bit of a tribute to Mr. Fuson:

Car 3 Helio Castroneves 3-1
Jockey out of classy Team Penske stable looks to be the fourth four-time winner in 100th running of the Indianapolis 500. Horse looked a bit lame in qualifying, but bet the rent money to see if the Yellow Submarine surfaces in Victory Lane.

Car 9 Scott Dixon 3-1
Jockey is reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion and former 500 winner (2008). The Chip Ganassi stable has been underwhelming this month, but never count him out. Dig deep in your shopping cart for a big bet.

Car 22 Simon Pagenaud 4-1
No mistaking this jockey’s mount – it’s the familiar fluorescent yellow of Menards cars of the past, though it’s out of the Team Penske stable. Jockey has been the hottest in the Verizon IndyCar Series with three consecutive wins entering the 500. As the young people might say, go big or go home.

Car 2 Juan Pablo Montoya 4-1
Jockey knows his way around the venerable oval with two wins in three starts, including last year. Another strong contender out of the Team Penske stable, the classy Colombian is a strong bet across the board.

Car 5 James Hinchcliffe 4-1
Canadian jockey made triumphant comeback after near-fatal crash last year to claim first Indy pole. Never mind the exchange rates; wager high.

Car 28 Ryan Hunter-Reay 5-1
Jockey delivered ultimate prize for Andretti Autosport two years ago after thrilling duel with Helio Castroneves. His car is yellow, but you shouldn’t be when it comes to placing your bet.

Car 12 Will Power 5-1
Jockey had to settle for Place in last year’s race and has his sights firmly set on Win. Go Down Under your mattress if you need to find the cash to place on this determined Australian.

Car 21 Josef Newgarden 5-1
Young jockey was ousted from pole spot by James Hinchcliffe at the end of qualifying. Chevrolet mount has been quick all month. Bet the mortgage money today, and maybe you’ll burn your mortgage after the race.

Car 15 Graham Rahal 8-1
Son of 1986 champ Bobby would love to add to the family legacy.  Goes to the post 26th, not an ideal spot but not impossible, either – Johnny Rutherford won his first 500 from 25th. It’s only money.

Car 27 Marco Andretti 8-1
It’s been 10 years since jockey was pipped in the final few hundred yards by Sam Hornish Jr. in his first 500. The Andretti Curse doesn’t date back to the first Indianapolis 500 – it only seems that way. Dig up that can of money in the backyard if you must. You might be drinking something more than Snapple after the race.

Car 20 Ed Carpenter 10-1
Jockey, a two-time pole winner, has had a quiet month out of his own stable. Stepson of Tony George could keep some of the winnings in the house, so to speak, if he can pull off a victory. Don’t imbibe too much Fuzzy’s Premium Vodka before deciding how much to wager.

Car 29 Townsend Bell 10-1
Jockey runs only the Indianapolis 500, with a fourth in 2009 and a ninth in 2012. Part of resurgent Andretti Autosport stable.

Car 26 Carlos Munoz 10-1
Consistent jockey at Indianapolis. Probably not the winner, but if you can get a bet down for a top 10, take it.

Car 42 Charlie Kimball 10-1
Mount has new look and number for jockey out of Chip Ganassi stable. Underwhelming month, which may mean something or nothing – he finished third last year. Bet on a top 10.

Car 7 Mikhail Aleshin 12-1
New version of the Mad Russian executed (got away with?) some incredible lines in qualifying. Comes out of easy-to-root-for Schmidt Peterson stable. Put down a ruble or two. Can’t hurt.

Car 6 J.R. Hildebrand 15-1
Jockey was one turn away from glory as a rookie in 2011. If you believe in redemption, redeem a few cans and bottles and place your bet.

Car 10 Tony Kanaan 15-1
The 2013 500 champ seems to be rounding into form after lackluster month – and season. Put a few bucks on his nose for old time’s sake.

Car 14 Takuma Sato 18-1
Nearly won in 2012, winding up in the wall in the closing laps after duel with Dario Franchitti. His A.J. Foyt stable has struggled mightily this May, though this Japanese jockey has been a bright spot. If you have a yen for nostalgia, bet him across the board.

Car 11 Sebastien Bourdais 20-1
Frenchman out of KV stable won the Champ Car Series title four years in a row, but has been less than spectacular on ovals. Only if you have a spare franc or two.

Car 77 Oriol Servia 20-1
Capable jockey part of Schmidt Peterson stable, which features Hinchcliffe. Place a top 10 bet if you can.

Car 18 Conor Daly 20-1
Like Ed Carpenter, jockey has a connection to Brickyard royalty – he’s the stepson of IMS prez Doug Boles. Bacon-sponsored car went up in smoke before the green flag last year, so this year has to be better, right? Go easy.

Car 98 Alexander Rossi 20-1
Rookie Jockey has one of the most beautiful cars in the field, and his number (98) has proud winning heritage (Troy Ruttman, Parnelli Jones, Dan Wheldon). Bet on him for Rookie of the Year, but save the heavy stuff for the future.

Car 24 Sage Karam 20-1
Promising young jockey on the comeback trail after losing his ride at the end of last season. Give him time.

Car 61 Matt Brabham 25-1
Rookie jockey has fine bloodlines – granddad Sir Jack ignited rear-engine revolution in the 1960s while dad Geoff was an Indy regular for more than a decade. Someday, maybe.

Car 19 Gabby Chaves 30-1
Scout’s honor: second-year jockey could surprise. If you like long shots, Gabby might be your guy.

Car 41 Jack Hawksworth 33-1
Owner A.J. Foyt certainly knows the way to Victory Lane. Put a bob or two down on the young Englishman if you like because of A.J.

Car 4 Buddy Lazier 33-1
1996 champ has been saddled with subpar mount the past few years. If you’re the nostalgic type, take some of the money you would’ve used for that new Delta Faucet and put it on Buddy to Show.

Car 63 Pippa Mann 33-1
Lone female jockey racing for very worthy Susan G. Komen Foundation. Perhaps you should use your money for that instead.

Car 8 Max Chilton 33-1
Rookie jockey out of Chip Ganassi stable made a few waves after the Phoenix race by questioning the intelligence of his fellow competitors. Then he said hello to the walls at IMS on first day of qualifying. Easy does it.

Car 35 Alex Tagliani 33-1
Former pole winner has had a rough month out of the A.J. Foyt stable. Capable jockey deserves better. Save your money for another year.

Car 16 Spencer Pigot 33-1
Rookie jockey has come through the ranks after winning Indy Lights title last year. Give him time.

Car 88 Bryan Clauson 33-1
A real racer, jockey stays busy on the short tracks. Perhaps you should spend your money at Jonathan Byrd’s instead.

Car 25 Stefan Wilson 33-1
Brother of Justin Wilson making his first 500 start. Englishman has slick-looking car, but save your quid.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Hinchcliffe Fastest After First Day of Qualifying

Photo credit: Jim Haines/Indianapolis Motor Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS – Never mind the contrived formula designed to mitigate a lack of entries, Saturday’s qualifying for the 100th Indianapolis 500 was full of redemption, drama and surprise.

The drivers who advanced to today’s Fast Nine shootout that will determine the pole position for the race on May 29 represent a wide variety of storylines.

Start with Saturday’s fastest qualifier, James Hinchcliffe. The popular Canadian nearly died after a crash in practice before last year’s race. He averaged 230.946 mph on his four-lap run.

James Hinchcliffe
“I can’t thank (my crew) enough. What a difference a year makes,” Hinchcliffe said. “It validates all the effort the guys have put in.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay experienced a bit of redemption as well. The 2014 Indianapolis 500 champion was knocked out of the Fast Nine by Andretti Autosport teammate Marco Andretti in the closing minutes of qualifying.

“That was a pretty hairy few laps there – I was holding my breath the whole way,” Hunter-Reay said.

He bumped his way into the Fast Nine in convincing fashion, opening with a scorching lap of 231.315 mph, and wound up with a four-lap average of 230.805 mph to oust Andretti from pole contention.

Third-fastest was Will Power, who also had a stirring run late in the day to average 230.736 mph to lead Team Penske.

“This is the hardest qualifying I’ve ever done at this place,” said last year’s runner-up, who gets to do it all again today. “It was very hairy on the last lap.”

Teammate and three-time 500 champ Helio Castroneves was fourth quick, followed by Townsend Bell, an Indy-only specialist driving for Andretti Autosport, and Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing. Bell had the fastest single lap of the day at 231.582 mph.

The final three spots in the Fast Nine went to Mikhail Aleshin (Schmidt Peterson Motorsports), Carlos Munoz (Andretti Autosport) and Simon Pagenaud (Team Penske).

Aleshin, who did not compete in the Verizon IndyCar Series last year due to lack of sponsorship, had the last attempt of the day and nudged out rookie Alexander Rossi.

Munoz’ effort means he will start in the first three rows for the third time in four races. Pagenaud, who leads the points and has won the last three races, will go for his first pole in the 500.

The competition between the two engine manufacturers, Honda and Chevrolet, was about as even as possible: Five Hondas and four Chevrolets in the Fast Nine.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was that none of Chip Ganassi’s four cars made it into the Fast Nine. Scott Dixon, last year’s pole-sitter, was 13th after Saturday. The best the 2008 500 champ can start is 10th after today’s qualifying.

Teammate Tony Kanaan, who won the pole in 2005 and the race in 2013, was 19th on Saturday.

Juan Pablo Montoya, last year’s race winner, also missed the Fast Nine – the only member of Team Penske to miss the cut.

Morning rains, then stubborn “weepers” pushed the start of practice until 12:37 p.m. Because of the delay, qualifications didn’t start until 2:20 p.m. and were extended until 7 p.m., one hour later than normal.

A total of 30 cars qualified Saturday for the 33-car field. Still to qualify are rookie Max Chilton, who crashed during practice; Pippa Mann, who crashed during her qualifying attempt; and Gabby Chaves, who waved off his attempt late in the day.

Neither Chilton nor Mann were hurt and are expected to qualify today.

Today’s qualifying will set the order of the field. Positions 10-33 will be determined from 2:45-4:45 p.m. The Fast Nine Shootout, which will determine the pole position and the rest of the top nine spots, begins at 5 p.m.

Here are the results of Saturday’s qualifying:

Rookie Rossi Leads Practice

Photo credit: Chris Jones/Indianapolis Motor Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS – Alexander Rossi, with a lap of 231.249 mph, was the fastest in Saturday’s practice before qualifying for the 100th Indianapolis 500. The rookie, driving for Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian (that’s a mouthful, eh), was just ahead of fellow Honda driver Ryan Hunter-Reay (231.107 mph).

Several notables, including Simon Pagenaud, Marco Andretti and Ed Carpenter, did not practice at all. Scott Dixon, another potential Fast Nine contender, turned just three laps.

Qualifying is scheduled to begin at 2:15 p.m.
Photo of Tony Kanaan by Jeff Majeske

INDIANAPOLIS – When qualifications do get under way, Tony Kanaan is slated to go out first. At this point, the 2013 Indianapolis 500 champ does not look a contender for the pole, which he won in 2005, or even the Fast Nine – his best practice speed is 230.360.

I can’t find a quick link to the qualifying draw, so here’s the order. Mind you, there are only 33 car-and-driver combinations, but a total of 65 spots were drawn, including cars that haven’t practiced at speed yet, possibly have never even been on the track or maybe are still in the garage or on a transporter.

Anyway, here you go:
1.       Tony Kanaan
2.       Simon Pagenaud
3.       Sebastien Bourdais (backup)
4.       James Hinchcliffe (backup)
5.       Simon Pagenaud (backup)
6.       Marco Andretti
7.       Alexander Rossi
8.       Tony Kanaan (backup)
9.       Sebastien Bourdais
10.   Matt Brabham (backup)
11.   Josef Newgarden
12.   Alex Tagliani (backup)
13.   Oriol Servia (Note: This is listed as 12A because no one wants to be No. 13, right?)
14.   Bryan Clauson (backup)
15.   Max Chilton (backup)
16.   JR Hildebrand
17.   Mikhail Aleshin
18.   Gabby Chaves (backup)
19.   Charlie Kimball (backup)
20.   Will Power
21.   Helio Castroneves
22.   Ryan Hunter-Reay (backup)
23.   Bryan Clauson
24.   Ed Carpenter (backup)
25.   Juan Pablo Montoya (backup)
26.   Carlos Munoz (backup)
27.   Mikhail Aleshin (backup)
28.   JR Hildebrand (backup)
29.   Matt Brabham
30.   Scott Dixon
31.   Max Chilton
32.   Buddy Lazier
33.   Alex Tagliani
34.   Will Power (backup)
35.   Takuma Sato
36.   Helio Castroneves (backup)
37.   Townsend Bell
38.   Conor Daly (backup)
39.   Pippa Mann (backup)
40.   Takuma Sato (backup)
41.   Jack Hawksworth (backup)
42.   Spencer Pigot (backup)
43.   Marco Andretti (backup)
44.   Gabby Chaves
45.   Spencer Pigot
46.   Charlie Kimball
47.   Ryan Hunter-Reay
48.   Sage Karam (backup)
49.   Stefan Wilson
50.   Jack Hawksworth
51. Juan Pablo Montoya
52. James Hinchcliffe
53. Scott Dixon (backup)
54. Carlos Munoz
55. Oriol Servia (backup)
56. Graham Rahal (backup)
57. Sage Karam
58. Josef Newgarden (backup)
59. Stefan Wilson (backup)
60. Alexander Rossi (backup)
61. Pippa Mann
62. Ed Carpenter
63. Conor Daly
64. Graham Rahal
65. Townsend Bell (backup)

Rain Delays Start of Practice

Will Power at speed on Friday.
Photo credit: Walter Kuhn/Indianapolis Motor Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS – It’s raining at the World’s Greatest Race Course, so the practice session that was to begin at 8 a.m. is delayed.

It’s not a hard rain – just a light sprinkle. Clouds are clearing and trucks are out trying to dry the track. I’d be surprised if it’s a complete washout today, but it’s May in Indianapolis, so …

The fastest speeds of the month often are turned during the morning practice period. Top speed in practice is 232.672 mph by Will Power on Friday. Josef Newgarden also was above 232 at 232.344.

Here are the top practice speeds entering Saturday:

Friday, May 20, 2016

Mears Recounts First Pole Run

Rick Mears in 1979
Photo credit: Indianapolis Motor Speedway

INDIANAPOLIS - Rick Mears is arguably the greatest driver in Indianapolis 500 history. He’s tied for the most victories with four (matched earlier by A.J. Foyt and then Al Unser Sr.) and won the most poles (six).

The Bakersfield, California, native’s four victories came in a span of 13 races (1979 to 1991), less than Foyt (17; 1961-77) or Unser (18; 1970-87).  Mears’ first Indy pole – first pole of any kind, in fact - came in 1979.

That year, his was the last car eligible for the pole, and he was trying to dislodge Tom Sneva.

Sneva, incidentally, had won the pole in record-shattering fashion the previous two years driving for Roger Penske – who let Sneva go despite winning the national championship in 1977 and 1978.

And just to add a little more drama and pressure, Sneva and Mears were teammates in 1978, when Mears was a rookie and a part-time driver for Penske. For 1979, Mears was full-time and paired with Bobby Unser.

Mears was considered as smooth as he was fast, making his record-breaking four-lap, 10-mile qualifying runs look effortless. His pole effort in 1979 offers a glimpse as to how hard it really was.

“I was still learning the limits,” Mears recounted Friday morning during a press conference. “I was trying to run wide open, and coming through Turn 3 on I think the second lap, I started losing the front end right in the middle of the corner.”

Usually that means the driver is about to crash.

“I thought, ‘Oh, man, this is going to be close. I can either lift and make sure or leave it and hope,’ “ he said.

Mears didn’t lift. And his further explanation gives you some insight as to why Mears is considered by many to be the best ever on ovals.

“When I came around the next lap, going through Turn 3, I was looking at my black mark (from the tire), and I still had about 6, 8 inches left, so I had a lot more room out there than I thought,” he said.

Six to 8 inches of margin. At nearly 200 mph.

“I thought I was going to bounce off the fence off of Turn 3, but we made it, we cleared it,” Mears said. “When I came in and saw those smiles on all the guys’ faces, to me it was kind of payback for all the hard work they do.” 

Penske's Indy Passion Dates to 1951

Photo credit: Chris Jones/Indianapolis Motor Speedway

No car owner has been as successful in the Indianapolis 500 as Roger Penske. His team’s 16 victories with 11 drivers - including last year with Juan Pablo Montoya – are more than three times as many as the next best. (Lou Moore and Chip Ganassi each have five 500 victories.)

You might be surprised, though, that Penske, whose businesses generate an estimated $26 billion annually, was a fan long before he started entering cars in 1969.

He attended his first 500 in 1951 with his father, Julius.

“My dad worked for a company that sponsored a couple of laps, and (as a lap sponsor) he had a couple of tickets and asked if I wanted to go to the race,” Penske said during a press conference on Friday morning.

Like many other fans, he also listened to the radio broadcasts led by Sid Collins, the “voice” of the Indianapolis 500 from 1952-76.

Penske and his father had driven in from Cleveland, but arrived late and missed a lunch date. They went to the site anyway, where young Penske had his picture taken with a show car wearing a Cromwell helmet.

“I think that day I thought I wanted to drive,” said Penske, who became an accomplished road racer before turning his focus to business and running a racing team.

Penske was 14 at the time of his first visit. Lee Wallard won with an average speed of 126.244 mph.

“I think the speed here, the sensation of the track, and if you love cars like I did in those days, it was a place you wanted to be part of,” Penske said.

This year, Penske has a four-car team, and each driver is a potential winner. In addition to reigning champ Montoya are Helio Castroneves, a three-time 500 champ; Will Power, who finished second to Montoya by just 0.1046 of a second; and Simon Pagenaud, who has won the last three Verizon IndyCar Series events.

Team Penske in the Indianapolis 500
  • First start: 1969 (Mark Donohue)
  • Wins: 16
  • Winning drivers: Mark Donohue (1972), Rick Mears (1979, ’84, ’88, ’91), Bobby Unser (1981), Danny Sullivan (1985), Al Unser Sr. (1987), Emerson Fittipaldi (1993), Al Unser Jr. (1994), Helio Castroneves (2001, ’02, ’09), Gil De Ferran (2003), Sam Hornish Jr. (2006), Juan Pablo Montoya (2015)
  • Poles: 17
  • Pole-winning drivers: Tom Sneva (1977, ’78), Rick Mears (1979, ’82, ’86, ’88, ’89, ’91), Bobby Unser (1981), Emerson Fittipaldi (1990), Al Unser Jr. (1994), Helio Castroneves (2003, ’07, ’09, ’10), Sam Hornish Jr. (2006), Ryan Briscoe (2012) 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Let’s Go Brrracing!

A few thoughts on Saturday’s Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis now that my fingers have thawed out. Overall, we had a great time except for a few glitches, like:

The Weather
It was terrible. We ended up buying hats, hoodies and a blanket to try to stave off the chill. Plus we bought tickets to go inside the museum for an hour or so to warm up. Outside of a couple of tenderloins and a grape sno-cone, the $15 for the museum tickets may be the best money I’ve ever spent in my 40-some years going to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The new main gate at IMS. 

The New Main Gate
Gone is the familiar IMS wing and wheel. In its place is this new sign that reminds me of Disney World. I’m sure that’s not a coincidence. The Yellow Shirts at the entrance were extremely polite and friendly. Everything was great until …

The Confused Yellow Shirt
Our tickets are in Stand E, which is one of the most iconic and sought-after stands for the Indianapolis 500. They’re pretty good for the Grand Prix as well because you get a good look at the cars coming into the final complex before exiting down the straightaway.

Coming through the final complex before the main straightaway.

As we were heading up the stairs, we were stopped by said Yellow Shirt who wanted to see our tickets. No problem. I showed her the ticket and pointed to the sign behind her that said Stand E, Box 8-10. (We were in Box 9). She said, no, you can’t go up there because your ticket doesn’t say Penthouse. Finally, another Yellow Shirt came by and said yes, indeed, we were in the exact right spot and could proceed.

For a Yellow Shirt, this is the equivalent of crashing on the first lap. A little advice: Know your section. Please. The crowd for the Grand Prix is about a tenth of what you’ll get for the 500. Ms. Yellow Shirt, you have less than two weeks to figure this out. The people who sit in Stand E likely have been sitting there for decades and won’t take kindly to a rookie telling them they’re in the wrong spot.

Speaking of Crashing on the First Lap
It would be really nice if the boys could get through that first turn one time without a melee. Post-race analysis pointed the finger at Scott Dixon for starting the mess that eliminated his teammate, Tony Kanaan, and severely hampered Sebastien Bourdais.

A Romp for Pagenaud
Simon Pagenaud is so hot he’s glowing – sort of like the livery of his Menards/Team Penske car. He led 57 of the 82 laps to win his third straight Verizon IndyCar Series race in five starts. (Pagenaud finished second in the first two events.) Teammate Helio Castroneves was second and James Hinchcliffe, who was nearly killed in a crash in practice before last year’s Indianapolis 500, was third. Local boy Conor Daly raised hopes and opened eyes by finishing sixth and leading 14 laps.

The Crowd
Our section seemed like it had a few more people compared with last year. Certainly the miserable conditions did not help. This was a hardy bunch – especially those who decided that no race is complete without cold beer.

Looking north from our spot in Stand E.

Looking south from our spot in Stand E.

The Heat Is … Off?
So after freezing all day, we get to the hotel to check in, and the front-desk clerk tells they have no heat. Uh, what? That news certainly lit a fire in me. We left and started driving – all the way to Auburn, Indiana, which is north of Fort Wayne and about 20 miles from the Michigan state line. We found a very nice Holiday Inn Express that did have heat and ate at a nearby Steak n Shake (you’re welcome, Graham Rahal).

- All photos by Jeff Majeske