By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana — Brazil was represented up front in the first two large pieces of Carb Day, the final day of practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500.
The final hour of practice for the Verizon IndyCar Series had several drivers practicing moves they would pull off in the race with passing and being passed. Team Penske was at the top of the speed chart as three time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves was fastest with a lap of 227.377 mph, the only driver in the 227 mph range.
Andretti Autosport driver Takuma Sato was second with a lap of 226.802 mph while Chip Ganassi Racing had third and fourth with Tony Kanaan (226.757 mph) leading Scott Dixon (226.685 mph). The McLaren Honda Andretti entry of Fernando Alonso was fifth fastest at 226.608 mph.
There was only one incident of wall contact as Conor Daly slightly tagged the inside wall on the frontstretch with the left side of his car. There was a second yellow as James Hinchcliffe’s Honda engine expired with 15 minutes left to go in the scheduled hour session which was extended due to the yellows.
The Freedom 100 took place soon after the practice was over and started with a first lap incident. Andretti Autosport had three of its four car armada involved as Colton Herta was overtaking teammate Dalton Kellett on the outside and the two of them touched, spinning Herta into the path of Ryan Norman. Herta and Norman were out on the spot and half of the Andretti team were wiped out.
The race progressed with Aaron Telitz moving up from sixth to second and then dropping back to third after Kellett caught up under a failed passing attempt. The next contender was Telitz’s teammate Santiago Urrutia. The Belardi Auto Racing Mazda was setting several fastest laps in the race but wall contact coming out of Turn 2 slowed the Uruguayan’s charge toward the front.
Leist led every lap, winning by .77 seconds over Telitz who was able to pass Kellett right at the end of the race for second place. Urrutia was fourth.
Leist’s victory is the fourth improving finish in a row. The 2016 British F3 champion finished seventh at the second race at Barber, fifth and third at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and with a win in the Freedom 100, the Brazilian moves to sixth in points, one point behind Telitz and Neil Alberico’s tie for fourth in points.
“My main goal is to win the championship this year so I think we still have chances to win the championship. We had some difficult moments in the beginning of the year but anyway we still have a lot of rounds and hopefully this one was my first win,” Leist said.
For Telitz, second was a disappointing result despite having five previous finishes of fifth, 13th, fifth, sixth and 13th. Why? Because his first Mazda Road to Indy and USF2000 victory was a few miles away at Lucas Oil Raceway, so winning the Freedom 100 would’ve made Telitz the first driver to win both at the little oval in Clermont and the big oval in Speedway.
“It would’ve meant everything, that would’ve been seriously awesome,” Telitz said. “That’s why I say that I was a little bummed to come in second place just because you come in here and everyone wants to win, you want to be down there kissing those bricks so to not win, it hurts.
“But at the same time you’ve got to take all the positives from today, we had a great race car, we came from 6th to 2nd and made up a lot of points in the championship and that’s all boring stuff obviously it’s more fun to win but it’s true, we had a good weekend,” Telitz added.
The last part of competitive activity wasn’t actually on the track but in the pits with the annual TAG Heuer Pit Stop Challenge. Round one had a matchup between Castroneves and Sage Karam with Castroneves the victor. Charlie Kimball and Mikhail Aleshin squared off in the second matchup in round one with Aleshin the victor.
The quarterfinals had four matchups with Hinchcliffe beating Castroneves, Graham Rahal beating Ed Carpenter after Carpenter was penalized five seconds for a wheel nut infraction, Scott Dixon beating Ryan Hunter-Reay and Will Power beating Aleshin.
In the semifinals, Hinchcliffe beat Rahal while Power beat Dixon, leading to an epic showdown. Penske vs Schmidt. Chevrolet vs Honda. Australia vs Canada.
In the double elimination last round, Power won the first matchup but Hinchcliffe was able to even the score with the closest victory of the day, leading to a winner-take-all finale. Power was able to come out on top and claim another pit stop challenge victory for Roger Penske.
The 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 is Sunday, May 28.