The field of 33 for Sunday’s 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge were warped through station after station of activities for Media Day on Thursday.
At the top of the information conveyed to everyone was that the combo of Kyle Kirkwood and NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Benjamin Pedersen fulfilled their two-day old dream of becoming the pickleball champions of the driver’s bus lot Wednesday night.
Pedersen, who will start 11th in the No. 55 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet, handled the attire as the duo wore highlighter yellow shirts, socks and headband with vibrant orange shorts. Determined to back up their wardrobe decision, Kirkwood and Pedersen executed an unbeatable run that included taking down the favorites of the tournament, Josef Newgarden and Alex Palou, en route to the winner-take-all cash prize of $350 each.
“Yeah, they were the best competition, but we beat 'em,” Kirkwood said.
Pedersen echoed his pickleball partner’s words.
“We went straight into Josef Newgarden and Alex Palou, played them twice, and we won right away, both games,” Pedersen said. “And then, yeah, every game. Champions.”
The Ultimate Gift
Colton Herta, who will start 21st in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda for Andretti Autosport, will never be grounded again after giving the father Bryan Herta birthday gift that likely will never be topped.
Courtesy of his son, Bryan, who turned 53 on May 23, received his 1998 car that he raced at Team Rahal (now Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing) – the Reynard chassis and Ford Cosworth engine from his final CART victory at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“Somebody sent me a posting for it online, and this was about like a year and a half ago,” Colton Herta said. “I tried to do it for last year, but I couldn't get it done in time. I've been in contact with the guy for a year and a half and flew down. It was in Houston, so actually flew down to Houston about a month and a half to two months ago, and that's where I bought it.”
When asked if he knew it would mean that much to his father, Colton simply widely smiled and said, “Yeah.”
End of an Era…
Helio Castroneves and Tony Kanaan grew up together and have raced against each other for roughly four decades, including the past 20-plus years in North America’s premier open-wheel championship. With Kanaan calling Sunday’s Indy 500 his final INDYCAR SERIES start, which will begin from ninth in the No. 66 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, fellow Brazilian countryman Castroneves expressed the anticipated emotions of sharing the track with him one more time.
“If it's not, I will stop doing interviews for him again,” Castroneves said, laughing. “So, literally do not ask me to talk about him anymore. But obviously, his decision, it does impact my career, as well, because he's one of the guys that we started together, stayed together and now kind of like ending together, and I will always admire him as a driver, as a person, as a competitor. And yeah, being his last race, it'll very emotional, for sure. But at the end of the day when you put the helmet on, you got to still do your job, and his part and my part, as well. Certainly, we're going to see him around. He's not going to disappear into the dust. He'll still be around, for sure.”
Castroneves, who will start 20th in the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda for Meyer Shank Racing, shares the same age – 48 – as Kanaan and knows the feeling of a special moment, having won his fourth “500” in 2021. If Castroneves is unable to secure a record fifth victory Sunday, he hopes Kanaan will get that proper sendoff with his second win.
“All the veterans that are here still going, I think we pull for each other because new generations are coming, and it's natural it is going to continue,” Castroneves said. “This is a cycle, and it would be fantastic. He is a person I admire a lot, and he achieved a lot in his career. Yeah, would be a storybook, just like I had.”
For his part, Kanaan said expect some waterworks.
“It's going to be a mess,” Kanaan said. “It will stop when I put my helmet on, but up until then, I'm going to be a wreck, for sure. From the green room to driver's intro, I don't even want to think about it. It's one of the times that I enjoyed the most in the past. It's probably... I'm frightened. It's because your nerves are up there. Every single driver that is in the green room, we're ready to go.
“We've done all this, and the emotions are high, and then you're going to add it's the last one, and everybody's trying to make you feel good. I'm going to have to drink a couple extra bottles of water. That's how much crying I'm going to be doing.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay said Dreyer & Reinbold Racing will limit super-sub teammate Graham Rahal’s information to Chevrolet by giving him specific fuel mapping instructions, telling him which setting to use without saying what it means.
Hunter-Reay’s biggest worry in Sunday’s race?
“Making sure I don’t pull into the 28’s pits,” he said, laughing.
Hunter-Reay drove Andretti Autosport’s No. 28 car full time from 2010 through 2021, straying only once, in 2011 when he piloted A.J. Foyt’s No. 41 in the “500.”
Odds & Ends
- Should Scott McLaughlin find himself grasping the winner’s bottle of milk Sunday, he has no plans to dump the contents on his head. “You’re supposed to drink it,” he said. “Besides, it looks cleaner (to drink it).”
- Marco Andretti said he recently heard LeBron James say he’s spent half of his life in the NBA. Andretti wondered about his long stint in INDYCAR. Turns out he’s competing in his 18th “500” at age 36. “Wow,” he said.
- Andretti said his joke on James Hinchcliffe “might have backfired.” He recently bought Hinchcliffe a cute blue compact car with several decals on the condition the NBC broadcaster would use it every day in May. Hinchcliffe not only is driving it, he is enjoying it. Andretti said he got the idea for the purchase after they were recently together in the Bahamas, and Hinchcliffe picked him up from the airport in a similar car which had no air conditioning, a flat tire and was so small Andretti had to hold his bags in a cramped space.
- Kanaan was asked what advice he’d give honorary Pace Car driver Tyrese Haliburton, the Indiana Pacers guard. “Don’t wreck my car,” he said. The “500” winner receives one of the Pace Cars as a prize.
- Katherine Legge and Graham Rahal got to complete installation laps Thursday at IMS. Legge drove the No. 44 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing car involved in Monday’s Turn 1 accident with Stefan Wilson, and she has the same Honda engine, too. Rahal was in a backup No. 24 Dreyer & Reinbold Racing Chevrolet.
- Four-time “500” starter Ana Beatriz is in a different role at IMS. She will help broadcast the race on Brazilian television.
- Helio – the tortoise – won “The Greatest Spectacle in Tortoise Racing” on Wednesday at the Zoopolis 500 at the Indianapolis Zoo.
- Clay Filson, who normally spots for Graham Rahal, will handle Turn 3 spotter duties for Legge on Friday’s Miller Lite Carb Day final practice and Sunday’s 500-mile race.
- Abel Motorpsorts’ RC Enerson will use Friday’s two-hour practice session for one final chance to get familiar with the tools, noting he will focus on using them in traffic: “There's so many tools now at my disposal, and I haven't speedway raced since the Freedom 100 (in 2016).”
- Don’t count out Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud on Sunday. The 2019 Indy 500 winner will start 22nd, but he’s prepared to move forward: “My handling is there, no question. I've got a chance to win the race. Now, I don't have the speed, so if I found myself in the lead, I won't hold the lead very long. But if I can keep up with a faster car like (Alex) Palou, then I still have a shot because the draft is so strong. But it will take for me to time my passes really well to have a chance to win it. I followed (Benjamin) Pedersen for a while and he's got a rocket ship, and I was able to pass him despite the lack of our speed, and that was because our chassis was so good. So, I'm confident in our chances here, very confident.”
- AJ Foyt Racing’s Santino Ferrucci, who will start fourth, believes there are only six cars that can win the race on Sunday – “The Fast Six.”
- Ferrucci also spent past two days relaxing and playing golf at Brickyard Crossing, where he shot a 91 both days.
- Jack Harvey is a massive “Star Wars” fan and has every intention of meeting this year’s honorary starter, Adam Driver, who played Kylo Ren in the illustrious movie franchise. Said Harvey, “I have texted everybody I know at INDYCAR to ask if it would be possible to meet Adam Driver because I have never met anybody in a ‘Star Wars’ cast. And I'm not just like a little fan. I would call myself a super fan, and if they can bring Adam Driver to the track and I don't get to meet him, I will be miffed.” He also plans on bringing the ‘Star Wars’-themed helmet he wore in the 2022 Indy 500 that he will attempt to get Driver to sign.