The Indianapolis 500 and the Month of May makes for interesting stories that no other motorsports event can match. Whether it's all the practice or the elongated qualifying or the hoopla of drivers that are added into the mix each year; all make for a fascinating brew of narratives unlike other sporting events.
The 96th Indy 500 has its fair share of twists and turns with storylines such as: Lotus' shrinking impact; Honda's supposed turbo advantage; Penske's and Chevrolet's domination this year and many more, including Ryan Briscoe grabbing the pole.
But, maybe the biggest story is about one of the newest drivers and smallest teams. Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing (SFHR), who normally has one car, will be fielding two cars for the Indy 500 and both are rookies. The team rolled off the truck with very fast cars - but even bigger news is how one of their rookies did in qualifying.
Josef Newgarden is SFHR's regular driver this year. They brought on an extra car and driver for just Indy with Bryan Clauson. Clauson was fast in practices leading up to qualifying but ended in the back row. However, Newgarden was a different story altogether.
Coming into the month of May, the Chevrolets had been outperforming the Hondas; but it was thought that the single turbocharged Hondas would do better on the ovals than the street and road courses. Essentially, the twin turbo would offer more torque whereas the single turbo would present better performance at the high-end of the power cycle. But even at that, it was determined (actually decided in the courts) that Honda would be given an added advantage for Indianapolis.
With that ruling, it was suggested that a Honda would take the pole when actually, the front two rows ended up being dominated by Penske Racing and Andretti Autosport drivers - all powered by Chevrolet.
Better than Ganassi?
Chip Ganassi along with Penske is considered the powerhouse team in the sport and certainly is when it comes to having Honda powerplants. But the Ganassi cars were nowhere to be found in the Top 10. In fact, Ganassi's two best drivers, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti qualified 15th and 16th, respectively.
The best Honda wasn't a Ganassi car or any of the other top Honda drivers so far this year like: Simon Pagenaud, Takuma Sato or Ganassi's other two young drivers, Graham Rahal or Charlie Kimball. No, the best Honda was Newgarden who ended up inside the third row. Quite a showing for a team and driver who didn't even sign up with Honda or have an engine until just shortly before the season started.
The 21 year old Newgarden is the highest qualified rookie in the field - and the Tennessean has already shown in the past that he has a knack for getting around the two-and-a-half mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Last season, driving an Indy Lights racecar, Newgarden won the 100 mile Indy event.
Newgarden's remarkable qualifying run wasn't a big surprised. As noted above, the SFHR-prepared cars were fast on the practice speed charts leading up to qualifying (source - Washington Post). But for all intents and purposes, this is a new team and yet they're doing so well and surpassing the biggest and best teams - has to be a testament to everyone at SFHR.
Whether or not this accomplishment translates into success on raceday during the Indy 500 obviously remains to be seen. So far, Newgarden has everyone's attention but the rookie has his eyes on the real prize when he said: "The race is the big show for us. That's where we want to shine."
Sources - IndyCar, Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing
Daryle has been involved in motorsports most of his life and has three decades of experience inside racemarketing, plus for several years has blogged about every type of racing.