What accident? What penalty?
Santino Ferrucci and the entire Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing organization bounced back from a difficult and controversial Thursday to deliver high-fives Friday.
Ferrucci was medically cleared to return to competing in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on Friday morning, and once the various RLL crew members finished repairing his No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda, he went out and showed why he has finished seventh and fourth in his two Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval starts. Ferrucci was Rookie of the Year in 2019.
Around 4 p.m. Friday, when the track’s surface was its warmest, Ferrucci simulated a four-lap qualifying effort that had him second on the board at the time. Wearing a knee brace over his sore left knee and walking somewhat gingerly, Ferrucci celebrated with every crew member he could find.
“These guys worked through the night, and some of them didn’t leave until 4:30 this morning,” the 23-year-old driver said. “Some of them came back at 6. They’ve been non-stop working on this car since I crashed it.
“It’s the true American dream.”
Team co-owner Bobby Rahal said the car’s tub, gearbox and engine escaped damage in the hard, rear-first impact, but the staff rolled the repaired car to pit road before 2 p.m.
“Pretty amazing, really, because it happened (at 4:14 p.m.),” Rahal said. “It’s not like it happened at 10 in the morning. Great recovery. A great team effort getting the car done, and more than anything, I’m sure he’s sorer than he’s letting on, but to see him walking around, that’s a good sight.”
Teammates Takuma Sato, the defending “500” champion driving the No. 30 Panasonic/PeopleReady Honda, and Graham Rahal, piloting the No. 15 United Rentals Honda, had reasonably good days Friday, as well. They were eighth and 11th on the overall speed chart. Ferrucci was 14th overall.
Rahal finished with the second-fastest no-tow lap, which means there didn’t prove to be much of a setback to sit out the first 30 minutes as a penalty for improper conduct with Thursday’s front straightaway photo shoot.
“We should have made a formal request,” Rahal said. “In the end, that’s why I say we were penalized. We didn’t complain; we didn’t protest that penalty. We agreed with it.
“Onward and upward.”
Onward starts with Crown Royal Armed Forces Qualifying on Saturday. The team’s goal will be to earn a spot in Sunday’s Fast Nine Shootout.
Reunion of a Race-Winning Caliber
Sato and engineer Eddie Jones had a magical 2020 together in winning the “500” from the third qualifying position. Jones retired at season’s end, and Matt Beasley was promoted to work with Sato. But Beasley was unable to travel to Indianapolis from his native England due to personal reasons, and Jones was pressed into service.
Sato couldn’t be happier to have Jones, who is highly regarded as an engineer at Indy and won the “500” with Dan Wheldon in 2005, back at his side.
“Eddie was going to attend this event anyway to oversee and supervise the three (team cars),” Sato said. “Yeah, we’re lucky to have Eddie to be on standby, and it was kind of coincidence this coming together – (we) just feel natural, you felt melting into it immediately.”
Sato said Beasley is supporting the team online from England.
Prankster Kanaan Puts Palou on Notice
The subject of pranking young drivers came up Friday, and veteran Tony Kanaan, a legendary prankster, vowed that first-year Chip Ganassi Racing driver Alex Palou is soon to get pranked.
“We’re waiting for after qualifying,” 2013 “500” winner Kanaan said. “Next week he’ll get something.”
Palou said he is open to being pranked.
“If that’s going to give me a win, I’ll do whatever it takes,” he said. “I have something also in mind. I’ll get back (at them).”
Said Kanaan, “He’s talks a good game.”
McLaughlin Benefits from Mears
Series rookie Scott McLaughlin delivered Friday’s best quote when asked what is the best advice he has received from four-time “500” winner Rick Mears.
“Trust your ass, feel the car,” the three-time Australian V8 Supercars champion said. “Sorry, but that’s literally the best piece I’ve ever had. Trust it.
“If something doesn’t feel right, come in (to the pits). If it feels good, play with it, get used to it, the front bar, the rear bar, the weight jacker. Yeah, he’s been phenomenal.”
Speaking of McLaughlin, Josef Newgarden said one benefit to having him as a teammate was evident in Team Penske’s annual Fast Friday gathering.
“I had to make sure we brought someone else that hasn’t won (the race) in the team,” he said, laughing.
Newgarden had a point. Also being interviewed were former winners Will Power (2018), Simon Pagenaud (2019) and team president Tim Cindric, who has won eight times with six different drivers since joining the organization in 2001. Fortunately for Newgarden, team owner Roger Penske (18 wins) and Mears (four) weren’t present, as is usually the case.
Penske Drivers Eye Le Mans Ride
With it recently announced that Team Penske will partner with Porsche to compete in major endurance racing in 2023, the team’s four INDYCAR drivers were asked if they wanted to compete in the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans. The answers came swiftly.
Cindric refused to be drawn into the discussion.
“I don’t know,” he said of which drivers will be selected. “We’ll talk about it in a couple years.”
The Penske quartet may have to compete with the boss for a ride. It should be noted that Roger Penske, 84, recently drove the beautiful Porsche RS Spyder that won the 12 Hours of Sebring and ALMS’ LMP2 championship in 2008. The former sports car standout completed about 25 laps at the M1 Concourse circuit near his office in Michigan. The RS Spyder will be one of many in the Team Penske stable featured this year at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which is honoring and hosting Penske.
Odds and Ends
- Chip Ganassi has four drivers in this field, with seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson considering a run at the “500” in 2022. Ganassi said he would be open to fielding five cars if there was sponsorship to do so. “I think you’d certainly take a look at it, yeah,” he said.
- Ganassi sounds as if he has heard enough about INDYCAR’s batch of young drivers running at the front of races. “Youth movements come along, but champions endure,” he said. “That’s what Scott Dixon does.”
- Scott Dixon drives the No. 9 PNC Bank Grow Up Great Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing, and he had the day’s quickest single lap at 233.302 mph, but he struggled to get four clean laps to simulate a qualifying effort (his best was 12th on the list). As an example, he and Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) had to work around each other on pit exit. Dixon tried to keep Friday in perspective. “It was messy out there for everyone,” he said.
- INDYCAR returns to the annual Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear on June 11-13, and event officials announced that full attendance will be possible due to Michigan’s lifting of its outdoor restrictions as of June 1. The doubleheader wasn’t held last year due to the pandemic.