Live blog from Carb Day at Indy

Castroneves and crew ace Pit Stop Challenge again

Helio Castroneves' Team Penske crew won the annual Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge for a record sixth time.

Castroneves edged Target Chip Ganassi Racing's Dario Franchitti in the final with a time of 14.475 seconds to Franchitti's 14.854.

The Penske crew performed a quicker four-tire pit stop -- 10.107 seconds versus 11.017 seconds -- and Franchitti wasn't able to make up the difference despite being quicker in and out of the pit box.

It was Penske Racing's 14th victory in the annual Carb Day competition.

"All three times, our guys were in the 'slow' lane, and they won all three," said Penske Racing president Tim Cindric. "And when you've won this thing six times like Helio has, the driver has something to do with it."

Castroneves' crew, led by Sean Hanrahan, also bested the crews of Tony Kanaan (KV Racing Technology) and Oriol Servia (DRR Panther Racing).

"These guys executed today. The team was excellent," said team owner Roger Penske. "Helio has won this before, but there's some new guys on that team who haven't won it, so I'm happiest for them.

"We're going home with a win, and that's what we want. The big focus is Sunday. We know the big one we want to win is on Sunday."

Over-the-wall crew members for Castroneves were chief mechanic and right front tire changer Sean Hanrahan, left front tire changer Doug Snyder, right rear tire changer Shaun Rinaman, left rear tire changer Mike Brown, airjack Gary Yingst and fueler Gary Prall.

A total of $100,000 was awarded, with the No. 3 Shell/Pennzoil crew earning $50,000 for winning the seven-team competition.

To put that into perspective, the winning driver of every IZOD IndyCar Series race other than the Indianapolis 500 receives $35,000 in bonus money. That limited prize money is augmented by a subsidy of $1.1 million per year per full-time entrant.

-- John Oreovicz



Courtney Force, Zanardi take in Carb Day

A couple of inspirational racers dropped by Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Carb Day.

Funny Car pilot Courtney Force, a multiple winner on the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing circuit and one of the most successful female racers of this era, was making her second visit to the famous oval.

"I came a few years ago with my dad the first time around," she said. "I just told him a few days ago I was coming to the Indy 500, and he got so upset I didn't invite him. I told him I was just going for fun, though it kind of turned into doing some media, so it's been work and fun. It's probably my only off weekend for the next month, but I just love watching racing and being at the races.

"I definitely love places where everything is kept the way it was. There's something unique about those tracks that gives them more character and more meaning when you come out here. Even though the technology of the cars has improved, it's great that they can still run around such a historic track."

Force had the pleasure of meeting Alex Zanardi, who won two CART-sanctioned Indy car championships in 1997 and '98 prior to a 2001 accident at EuroSpeedway Lausitz that left him without his legs. Undaunted, Zanardi returned to race BMW touring cars for a number of years and then turned his attention to hand cycling, winning a pair of gold medals in the 2012 London Paralympic Games.

Force enjoyed hearing Zanardi recite the tale of his first time at a drag race, which -- as always -- he described in great, entertaining detail.

Because of the split in Indy car racing, Zanardi never raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, though he dominated Indy car racing in the CART series in the late '90s. On Friday, he was a guest of his former team owner, Chip Ganassi.

"In Alex you see a guy who transcends all the issues of the day when we were racing in the mid-'90s," Ganassi said. "It was one of those things that, because of the timing or the political climate, it wasn't to be. It's nice that he can come back here today and have the reception that he's had and to be welcomed with open arms.

"That's the one thing about this place: Anyone who has ever been here in any capacity is welcomed to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with open arms. And that's a tribute to Tony [George] and his family."

-- John Oreovicz



Hondas make gains in Carb Day practice

Did the final Carb Day practice session make predicting what will happen in Sunday's Indianapolis 500 even more difficult?

As expected, with fresh engines installed, the Honda teams made gains on their Chevrolet competition. Simon Pagenaud of Sam Schmidt Motorsports paced the hourlong session, finding 225.827 mph in the No. 77 HP-sponsored machine.

"As I've been saying for two weeks, the car is really good in race trim," said Pagenaud, who will start 21st. "I'm happy with the way it uses the tires and the way it feels in traffic. HPD has been working hard and clearly we have an engine that's a lot better.

"I'm really happy for my guys. It's great to go into the race in such a positive mood."

In fact, Honda claimed six of the top 10 speeds in the final warm-up for the biggest race of the year. Target Ganassi teammates Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti both topped 224 mph to run fourth- and sixth-fastest on Friday, and Franchitti in particular was much happier.

"We're ready," declared the three-time Indianapolis champion. "We're all fully aware that the Honda teams have been struggling and we're coming from behind, but I want to thank the guys in the team for all their hard work. Honda has brought us a much better engine too, so I have to give big thanks to them."

Dixon and Franchitti were among five drivers who ran more than 50 laps, an unusually high number for Carb Day.

"In the past, you'd run only a handful of laps to do a systems check and make sure nothing is leaking," Dixon said. "But the last two years we've done a fair few laps, working until the last minute to get the balance right."

Andretti Autosport looked strong, with E.J. Viso second and defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay third, both running over 225 mph.

Pole winner Ed Carpenter ran just 18 laps, the second-fewest of any driver on Friday. Carpenter was 17th-fastest at 223.794 mph.

There were two incidents during the final hour of practice. Ana Beatriz lost control at pit entry and wiped out the nose of her Dale Coyne Racing Dallara. And Ryan Briscoe's car caught fire on the back straight as practice came to a close. Both cars can be repaired for the race.

-- John Oreovicz





Welcome to Carb Day!

INDIANAPOLIS -- After more than nine days of practice and two days of qualifying, we will finally learn today who has the fastest cars for the 97th running of the Indianapolis 500 (Sunday, noon ET, ABC).

The final practice session of the month of May, still quaintly known as Carb Day (officially, Coors Light Carb Day) is the first opportunity for drivers to run with their freshly installed race engines.

Last year, the engines Honda fired up on Carb Day were significantly more powerful -- and more economical -- than the ones used in the first four races of the 2012 season. Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon of Target Chip Ganassi Racing ran 1-2 in the Carb Day practice and went on to repeat that result in the race.

This year, qualifying was dominated even more by Chevrolet, with the Bowtie Brigade taking all nine spots in the pole shootout. But you can be certain that Chevy remembers what happened in the race last year and will pull out all the stops to prevent it from happening again.

Some speculate that the twin-turbocharger layout of the Chevrolet V-6 gains extra benefit from the marginal amount of extra boost allowed for qualifying. With race boost, the competing engines are more evenly matched, though Honda engineers are concerned that the cool temperatures in the 60s forecast for race day will help the twin turbo Chevys.

But we really won't know until today. We've waited two weeks and watched more than 13,000 practice laps.

By noon, we'll finally know who's fast.

-- John Oreovicz