The pickleball craze has hit the bus lot at Indianapolis Motor Speedway as NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers are set for their very own tournament ahead of the 107th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
Kyle Kirkwood took ownership of the idea, although he noted everyone seemed to think it was derived from the brain of Colton Herta, his Andretti Autosport teammate. The event will be held at 5 p.m. ET Wednesday in the bus lot (pickleball court, photo above), where all the drivers park their motorhomes for the Month of May.
There will be a $100 buy-in for the “driver’s only” competition, with two drivers making up one team in a knockout-style playoff format.
Anyone entering the tournament is likely targeting the unlikely partnership of Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou. That became apparent Sunday night after Palou earned the Indy 500 pole in a thrilling four-lap run of 234.217 mph in PPG presents Armed Forces Qualifying.
Last night’s pickleball warmup extended into darkness, too, as a generator was delivered around 10 p.m. to keep the lights on. According to Palou, Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean wasn’t pleased with the steady generator din outside his motorcoach.
One driver looking to participate but is currently without a partner is Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Ilott, although NBC INDYCAR analyst James Hinchcliffe suggested he might be open to providing his services, should he get an exemption to participate as a former driver.
Ed Carpenter Racing’s Conor Daly got his first-ever taste of pickleball Sunday night as Kirkwood’s partner. When asked how it went, Daly said Kirkwood “probably wants to punch me in the throat” and is doubting being more than a spectator Wednesday. Kirkwood confirmed Daly “definitely won’t be” sharing the court with him in the winner-take-all tournament and added he aims to have AJ Foyt Racing rookie Benjamin Pedersen alongside to challenge the likes of Newgarden and Palou.
Pedersen confirmed after today’s post-qualifying practice that Kirkwood called him at 11 p.m. last night to request his services, and Pedersen has obliged and accepted a team-up.
Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist plans on challenging for the money, while David Malukas (Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports) and RC Enerson (Abel Motorsports) might attend as spectators.
Pedersen’s teammate, Santino Ferrucci, has no plans on being part of the contest in any capacity, opting instead to relax over the next two days and play some golf at Brickyard Crossing.
Ganassi Keen To Keep Ericsson
Chip Ganassi has every intention to retain the services of defending Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner Marcus Ericsson.
Ericsson, who is in the final year of his contract, has expressed a desire to stay in the team’s No. 8 Honda.
“Yeah, I want him to stay,” Ganassi said. “Yeah, I'm working hard to do it.”
As for what it would take to make it happen, Ganassi was blunt, if nothing else.
“The same thing it takes for everything to happen,” said Ganassi, referencing the financial challenges. “I'm not a big guy to be talking about our deals or our contracts or anything, but Marcus has a big future in the sport, and I want it to be on this team, sure.”
Ganassi later added, “We just need to finalize some sponsorship, and away we go.”
But are the two sides close?
“I think we are,” he said. “Yeah.”
Odds & Ends
- Nearly 85,000 fans attended the PPG Presents Armed Forces Qualifying weekend – the most in over a decade.
- Yves Touron, technical director for Juncos Hollinger Racing, is back working with the team ahead of the Indianapolis 500 after a long absence for personal reasons dating back to the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in March.
- Riley Children’s Health kid Ty Arbogast was an honorary crew chief for Ed Carpenter Racing for Monday’s post-qualifying practice session.
- Felix Rosenqvist, who will start second for the Indy 500 after a four-lap average of 234.211 mph Sunday, expressed belief that a maximum pace under the current car configuration in qualifying – and track conditions – could generate a single unassisted lap of 236 mph. Three cars breached 235 mph for a single lap on Sunday without the assistance of a tow: Palou (235.131 mph), Pedersen (235.026 mph) and Rinus VeeKay (235.019 mph).
- Ahead of Monday’s practice session, Pato O’Ward said Arrow McLaren teammate Rosenqvist has the best car in race trim among the four drivers, also including Tony Kanaan and Alexander Rossi. Rosenqvist deflected that notion and put Rossi in that category. Kanaan’s No. 66 Chevrolet was fastest on the timesheets at the end of the practice session, ending up fifth with a flying lap of 227.094 mph.
- The annual photo of the field of 33 on the Yard of Bricks with the Borg-Warner Trophy took place moments before practice, but only 32 were ready for their close-up with the photographers. Everyone was left waiting for Rosenqvist, who ran through Gasoline Alley and down pit road and arrived to a standing ovation of cheers from his fellow competitors. Then, as Rosenqvist went to take his seat, Ed Carpenter swiftly and sneakily pulled it out from under the Swedish driver. Rosenqvist gathered himself after the close call with the ground as bellows of laughter from the surrounding ensemble of drivers followed.
- Following the practice crash involving Katherine Legge and Stefan Wilson, Bobby Rahal, co-owner of Legge’s No. 44 Hendrickson Honda, believes the primary car can be repaired and the team will not have to bring out a backup car. The same cannot be said for Wilson’s No. 24 DRR Cusick CareKeepers Chevrolet, though, as the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing crew members already brought out a backup car, completely unmarked and in its carbon fiber base, in the garage before the day’s activities were over.