- Associated Press - Friday, May 18, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - IndyCar drivers rarely speak in unison when it comes to big issues.

They all want to go faster.

After series officials gave the cars an extra boost in horsepower for practice Friday, some drivers made a concerted pitch, pleading to keep the power boost for the May 27 race.

“Honestly, for me, it was actually better, the car seems to be more comfortable and yeah, I would love to have this kind of boost for the race,” three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves said. “Hopefully, they change their mind and we go for that.”

The plan was to give drivers the power boost for Friday’s practice and the qualifying sessions Saturday and Sunday.

That hasn’t changed as race organizers prepare to fill the top 24 spots in the 33-car Saturday. Drivers with the nine fastest four-lap qualifying averages will return to the track late in the afternoon for a 90-minute shootout with the winner taking the No. 1 starting spot. The remaining cars will qualify Sunday.

But the drop from 650-horsepower in last year’s car to what most believe is 600-horsepower now, substantially reduced the speeds in practice this week. IndyCar officials have not revealed the actual figure drivers have been using.

The fastest lap posted through Thursday was Marco Andretti’s 223.676. With the boost, 23 drivers surpassed that mark including Andretti whose lap of 227.540 was the fastest all week and some now believe it will at least take an average of 226 to win the pole.

Drivers have consistently said they believe the cars handle better than the old cars on Indy’s 2.5-mile oval, and they acknowledged that again Friday, even at faster speeds.

But there’s a reason IndyCar officials may not heed the advice.

“As a driver you always want more horsepower, more speed, it was actually a little more than I expected,” Canadian James Hinchcliffe said Friday. “This is an engine-manufacturer war era now. Back in the day, they had separate engines just for qualifying, so they’ve turned the boost up a little bit to get the most for qualifying, but there’s no way an engine’s going to last 500 miles at that limit.”

At the other end of the lineup are the Lotus cars, which have been substantially off the pace all week.

Rookie Jean Alesi, who made 201 career starts in Formula One, had a fast lap of 213.423 mph, ,more than 14 mph off Marco Andretti’s best lap of the day (227.540). Simona de Silvestro, the only other driver using a Lotus, was the slowest at 212.516.

Alesi said earlier this week he was worried the car would be a hazard to other drivers on the track and said he felt “unsafe.”

Penske driver Will Power concurred Friday.

“The speed difference is too great,” Power said. “Simona is one of the best drivers in the series, so it has nothing to do with her, it has to do with the situation she’s in, and it’s a pity if it comes to her not racing. But it is bloody dangerous, honestly.”

IndyCar vice president of technology Will Phillips said series officials continue to look at both issues.

“We are still closely monitoring the speeds on track and continue to be in discussions with our manufacturers regarding any potential changes,” he said.

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LUCKY DRAW: Tony Kanaan’s luck might be turning around at Indianapolis.

After years of race-day mishaps, the 2005 Indy pole winner drew the No. 1 spot in qualifying line Friday.

It means Kanaan will be able to make a qualifying attempt when qualifying begins at 11 a.m. Saturday, before the track heats up and the warm weather makes the 2.5-mile oval slick.

Kanaan had the 10th fastest lap in practice Friday at 225.322.

Three-time Indy winner Helio Castroneves drew the No. 14 spot.

One of the favorites, Marco Andretti, who turned the first 226 mph lap Friday and then posted a 227.540, could be hurt by the draw. He drew the next-to-last spot at No. 56.

Drivers can make three qualifying attempts between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. The nine fastest cars can make up to three more attempts in the shootout, which begins at 4:30 p.m.

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ENGINE TROUBLE: Though the Lotus engines have been slow all week at Indianapolis, two drivers with Honda engines have had their own problems this week.

American Graham Rahal blew an engine late in Tuesday’s practice, and Mexico’s Michel Jourdain Jr. blew one to bring brought out a rare yellow flag during Friday’s practice.

Both made unapproved engine changes, which will bring a 10-spot on the starting grid — at IndyCar’s next race at Belle Isle, Mich.

Series officials changed the rule so that nobody would be penalized at Indy.

And for Jourdain, who is running a one-off program with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, he will not be assessed any penalty.

The only other incident that occurred during practice this week was Josef Newgarden’s spin in the fourth turn Wednesday just before the practice session ended. Newgarden had light damage to the car but was still the second-fastest on the track Thursday at 222.709 mph.

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WHELDON TRIBUTE: Dan Wheldon’s widow, Suzie, will attend Indy’s drivers meeting May 26 and will receive Wheldon’s 2011 champion ring when she arrives in Indy.

Race organizers have a series of events scheduled to pay tribute to Wheldon, a two-time Indy winner who was killed in a horrific crash at Las Vegas last October.

All fans entering the track for the May 27 race will be given white cardboard sunglasses and will be asked to wear them on laps 26 and 98, the car numbers Wheldon used while driving to Victory Lane at Indy.

Bryan Herta, the team owner, will drive Wheldon’s car from last year for one lap during pre-race ceremonies. Sam Schmidt Motorsports restored the car.

And Wheldon’s image will appear on the race day technical inspection stickers attached to each car.

Wheldon’s winning car from 2011 also is on display at the track museum through Sunday and will be on display May 26 at the Pagoda Plaza.

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REMEMBERING THE TSUNAMI: Japanese driver Takuma Sato came to the track with a new cherry-blossom design on his helmet.

Sato says he received the helmet Thursday night at a charity function and is wearing it to honor survivors and victims of the catastrophic tsunami that hit Japan in March 2011.

“Before March, the 11th of March, this cherry blossom was covered by sea water by tsunami,” Sato said. “After that it bloom. It become a big hope for the older Japanese people because they couldn’t believe the tree was underwater, but it bloom beautifully. This becomes my helmet for the special 500.”

Sato isn’t the only driver with a special helmet this month.

Ryan Hunter-Reay has a helmet with an image of Dan Wheldon on one side and Indy’s traditional Borg-Warner Trophy on the winner.

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PIT STOPS: This is only the second time since 1988 that Indianapolis has not had a practice stopped for rain or cancelled because of rain. The only other time it happened in the past 24 years that was 1998. No rain is in the forecast for either day of qualifying this weekend or next Friday’s Carb Day. … The first 24 spots can be filled during the first five hours of Pole Day qualifications. The nine fastest cars will then have 90 minutes to qualify for the pole. Each of the nine cars must make at least one attempt. … About three hours into practice, Katherine Legge completed the third and final phase of her rookie test. … Bryan Clauson picked up Angie’s List as the primary sponsor of his No. 39 car.

Copyright © 2016 The Washington Times, LLC.

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